The Sage and the Missionary! Thoughts on a Midrashic Tale – by Rabbi Elchanan Shoff

Shemos

“The entire soul that came from Yaakov were 70 souls”

Shemos 1:5

There was once an idolater who approached Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha and asked him “it says in your Torah (Shemos 23:2) ‘you shall follow the majority.’ We idolaters are more numerous than you Jews, why do you not join together with us, and worship as we do?”He replied, “Do you have children?” “There you go reminding me of my troubles,” responded the idolater, “I have many children. When they come to eat in my home, this one offers blessings to his god, and the other to his god, and the next thing you know, they are crushed each others skulls.” So Rabbi Yehoshua said to him “do you succeed in getting them to join together in worship?” The man responded “no!” So the Rabbi said to him, “before you attempt to get us to join together with you, perhaps you ought to work on your own family first.” The idolater hurried away (See Metzudas Tzion to Divrei Hayamim 2 21:20 s.v. nidchaf). Once the idolater left, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha’s students said to him “Rabbi, you pushed him away with a broken stick, (see Yeshaya 42:3) but tell us the real answer [to why we don’t follow the rest of the worlds views, since they are the majority after all.]” He said to them, “when the Torah speaks of Esav (Bereshis 36:6) he was only with six people and yet they are called ‘nefashos – souls’ in the plural, but when it speaks of Yaakov and all seventy members of his family, it refers to them as a “soul” in the singular. Since Esav served many gods, his family is referred to as many souls. Yaakov serves on God, and thus all who were with him were one soul.” (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 4:6)

 

Peace is an ideal that has eluded mankind for the most part. People of different ideals have battled, and continue to, and sometimes it seems like there is no hope of mankind living in harmony. An idolater came to missionize to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha; after all, if the Jews would just be like everyone else would that not bring harmony to the world? Why must we be different, and celebrate our own holidays, eat our own food, and marry our own kind? Wouldn’t things be simpler if we were all the same? Rabbi Yehoshua pointed the man to his own family, who could not get along at all. They shared no common purpose.  They joined together because they were related to one another by blood – and family obligation brought them to the table to break bread together. They did not sit down with shared vision, and common purpose. And so they fought, and beat one another. Each one was nothing more and nothing less than an obstacle in the way of the other. There was no bringing them together. The Rabbi explained to his students; only one thing can turn a group of people into one. A belief in monotheism, universal truth; that we all live in the same world, with right and wrong defined by the same Infinite source of Truth. If things are subjective, then even should we sit at the same table we can never share anything truly. Yaakov’s family was unified for they, all seventy of them believed in one God, and shared a common mission.

 

When we are all working toward the same goals, we are all brought together. We can all root for one another. We yearn for the day when the Messiah comes. We are told that the lion will lay with the lamb, and that there will be no war between nations. We are also told that the world will be filled with the knowledge of God as water fills the seas. These are not two independently nice things. They are one and the same. When we truly share values we are brought together, but when we each develop our own systems and ideals, we are always farther apart.

 

Though there are far more people who are fighting with one another in the world, we can not follow the majority. For they are all individuals, not comprising a majority in any way. There is never more than one person on any team. It is only when we are connected to the truth that our connection to one another can have any meaning at all. Surely, following the majority is the right path. One must connect with his community, his people and his neighbors. But that can only begin when he has a real understanding of how the world works. Without that, there can be no unity. “Love truth and peace”, said the prophet. (Zecharia 8:19) Truth, and peace. In that order. It is the only way.

 

 

Post Tags
About Author: Elchanan Shoff