Who has said that the Jewish people are the moral conscience of the world?
No, it’s not a great Jewish prophet, or a righteous non-Jew who admired the Jewish people. These words are ascribed to none other than Adolf Hitler, may his name be erased.
In Hitler’s words, “Conscience is a Jewish invention; it is a blemish like circumcision.”
He also said: “If one little Jewish boy survives without any Jewish education, with no synagogue and no Hebrew school, it [Judaism] is in his soul. Even if there had never been a synagogue or a Jewish school or an Old Testament, the Jewish spirit would still exist and exert its influence. It has been there from the beginning, and there is no Jew, not a single one, who does not personify it.” (Hitler’s Apocalypse)
To Hitler, having a moral conscience was repugnant and despicable; scruples could deprive an individual from realizing his self-gratifying goals. Unbelievably, Hitler understood, too, that every Jewish soul inherently has such an ethical spirit.
In this week’s Torah portion we are introduced to the first Jew and the forefather of our people, Abraham. Abraham is called Ivri, a Hebrew, and the name has stuck for his descendants. On a simple level, he was called Ivri because geographically he came from ever hanahar, the “other side of the river.” On a deeper level, he stood on the “other side” of the world in his principles and moral standing. In a dark decadent world, he shined the light of monotheism and divine moral clarity.
It’s a job description that not only is arduous, but has caused genuine envy as well as the deepest and most vile hatred. Most of humanity would rather yield to the prevailing status quo and social pressure, rather than deviate.
Abraham, too, could easily have chosen to follow the norm; instead, he followed his soul. As a result he was thrown into a burning furnace, was expelled from his home, was tested countless times, and only miraculously escaped with his life. Nevertheless, he stood tall and firm in what he knew to be the truth.
He passed on this legacy to his descendants.
Throughout our lives, we too have choices, to follow the tide or to swim upstream. To be satisfied with the status quo, or to improve our world through a higher spiritual service or a greater moral code, or by pursuing social venues to service others. Throughout the centuries, Abraham’s descendants have made disproportionate contributions in all these areas.
Our greatest haters realized that this was our fate. They also realized that this desire to make our world a home for G‑d is inherently embedded within our Jewish soul.
Within each and every one of us.