Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: ” The ‘other’ “

The exodus from Egypt was an emergence from bondage to freedom, marking the beginning of the formation and development of the Jewish People.

At the same time, however, the Exodus constituted a change in the nature of the Jewish People, the beginning of Israel’s separateness and distinction.

The Jewish People became “a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations.”

When the earliest anti-Semites claimed the existence of “a feeling of hatred that the Jewish People harbors toward all the nations,” they hit upon this very same point, despite distorting its inner meaning.

Not for naught did they regard the Exodus as an event that established the eternal isolation of the Jewish People, the fact that it is always, in all generations, the “other.”

The Jewish People’s otherness, its apartness, is not a manifestation of hatred toward the world, but it undoubtedly underlies the alienation felt by the Jewish People throughout the generations, both while dwelling in its own land and while living in exile.

Already in Second Temple times, Greek authors write about this otherness of the Jews, clearly indicating that this quality is not an exilic “defense mechanism” but an intrinsic part of the Jewish spiritual character.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz