Despite sweltering heat, Chicagoans and their international guests were out in force. It was erev Lollapalooza and the city was gearing up for the big event. The freshly minted parks were eager to accept swarms of children and exhausted adults. And as we strolled around throughout the day I noticed one other tzitzit and kippah clad gentleman which made two of us, or rather, five of us if we include family. I felt the weight of the verse in this week parsha: ‘Hashem will scatter you among the peoples and you will be left few in number among the nations where Hashem will lead you’.

Due to the fact that Jews often stick together in tight knit communities, it can feel like the opposite. And if we took the amount of media coverage as any indication of size it would appear that we made up at least a billion people. But the reality is we like to trumpet our 3,500 years of existence and if we grew naturally like any other civilization, again the numbers should be staggering. But we remain, ‘few in number’ only recently climbing to even keel from pre holocaust days.

So what is this statement, ‘few in number’? Is it a threat or a statement of fact; why does it have to be? And if our mission in life is to be a light unto the nations then it would seem that the more Jews to do the job, the better. To gain a foothold into the problem we have to view the role of the Jew a bit differently and it will also illuminate some of the issues we’ve had in exile.

The Talmud states the following: Says R’ Abba, it is better to be pursued than to be a pursuer, as there is no bird that is pursued more than the turtledoves and they are brought up to the alter. (Babba Kamma 93a.) What is the meaning of this? It means that things that have a natural spiritual quality to them will feature less prominently in the physical world. And those animals that dominate the physical world, the hunters, are not kosher or brought to the temple. They are too entrenched in ruling this world that they can’t connect to the next world. This goes the same with sheep, cows, and goats- they are the hunted and therefore get a place on the alter. This principle applies to the Jewish people. We have constantly been pursued and kept physically weak and it is no accident.

While we can enjoy the physical world and strive to do well, the message is clear. That is not where we are supposed to thrive and channel all our energies. There is no need for a Jewish empire and we shouldn’t be looking to dominate through physical means alone. We are small in number for a reason, we are supposed to float above the confines of material success. From that perch, though, small in number we are able to maintain spiritual leadership. [1]

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoni Ganger

(Rabbi Yoni Ganger graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a major in Psychology-Philosophy-Neuroscience and a minor in Spanish. He is currently in his tenth year of deferment from the University of Illinois Medical School, as he continues to polish his Rabbinic practice. He learned with the best Jewish educators in the world for nine years in Israel before taking over the helm at MEOR Harvard.)
See Netzach Israel chapter 15