Light unto the nations
Light to the nations (Hebrew: אור לגויים, romanized: Or la'Goyim; also light of the nations, light of all nations, light for all nations) is a term originated from the prophet Isaiah which may express the universal designation of God's kingdom of priests as a mentor for spiritual and moral guidance for the entire world.
Origins in the Classical texts
The term originated from verses in the Book of Isaiah:
- "Yea, He saith, 'It is too light a thing for you to be My servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the scions of Israel, and I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth' Isaiah 49:6.
- "I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people's covenant, as a light unto the nations" Isaiah 42:6.
- "And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising" Isaiah 60:3.
In the first of these instances, Rashi interpreted 'nations' as referring to the tribes of Israel and not to the Gentiles. The second, and especially the third are clear references to other nations. The context of these three references (ch. 41–42, 49, and 60) are a prophecy of comfort (Hebrew: נבואת נחמה) and a promise to the people of Israel, in which God will restore the people of Israel to their land, and this return will cause the rest of the nations to open their eyes, and look up to the people of Israel, as well as to walk in the way of the One God.
Use of the term in modern times
From the commencement of the era of the national revival of the Jewish people (Tekufat ha-Tehiyah, 19th-20th century), various Jewish philosophers began to see in the national revival a chance to fulfill the prophets' vision of a "Light Unto the Nations". One example that may give an insight into the term's meaning, is the one of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook ("HaRaAYaH"), one of the chief leaders of the Religious Zionist Movement, saw in the aspiration of the people of Israel to be a "light unto the nations" a noble part of its designation.
Upon his return from Thailand on a volunteer service trip with American Jewish World Service, Rabbi David Wolpe said to his congregation at Sinai Temple, "We don't sufficiently think about the fact that because the idea is that you're supposed to be an or lagoim, that is a light to the nations, that you can't do it if you never do anything among the nations. If you only have your light on at home, nobody else sees it. ... Nowhere in any Jewish scripture that I'm aware of will you see, 'Jews must only help other Jews.' It doesn't exist. Some Jews will tell you that, but Judaism doesn't tell you that."
The State of Israel as a light unto the nations
In his writings and speeches, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973) emphasized his vision of the state of Israel as a moral and social beacon to the whole world, and by that, in his view, it shall implement the vision of the prophets. The selection of the Menorah as the Emblem of Israel was derived from the image of the state of Israel as a "Light Unto the Nations".
"You are dealing with our people's fate because it is clear today that the fate of the Jewish people is the fate of the Jewish state. There is no demographic or practical existence for the Jewish people without a Jewish state. This doesn't mean that the Jewish state does not face tremendous challenges, but our existence, our future, is here. The greatest change that came with the establishment of the Jewish state was that Jews became more than just a collection of individuals, communities and fragments of communities. They became a sovereign collective in their own territory. Our ability as a collective to determine our own destiny is what grants us the tools to shape our future—no longer as a ruled people, defeated and persecuted, but as a proud people with a magnificent country and one which always aspires to serve as 'Light Unto the Nations'."
- Ariel, David S. "Chosen People: Some Modern Views." MyJewishLearning. 29 October 2013.
- Edwin A. Abbott ,The 'Son of Man', Cambridge University Press, (1910) 2014 reprint pp.497–8 n.4.
- Gellman, Ezra. "Essays on the Thought and Philosophy of Rabbi Kook." Google Books. 29 October 2013.
- Wolpe, David. "Mitzvot Thai Style." Facebook. 19 October 2013. Web. 29 October 2013.
- "U.S. Jewry Will Not Survive Without Link with Israel, Ben Guion Says." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 13 June 1958. 29 October 2013.
- Netanyahu, Benjamin. "Address by PM Netanyahu at the Herzliya Conference." Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 3 February 2010. 29 October 2013.