In Parshat Acharey Mot, we are commanded not to go in the way of the goyim. This halacha is better known as “Chukot Hagoy”. The beginning of this week’s Parsha begins with the positive commandment that we must keep to the ways of G-d, which is explained by the commentators as the Torah and the Halachah.
Throughout history we have been a nation which has suffered terribly from persecution, inequality and hatred. But if for a moment we put ourselves in the mind of an intellectual gentile who has learnt about Jewish law, he will probably be offended. Not only do we have our own unique way which we forbid any other nation to participate in, but we also have many laws which forbid us to assimilate ourselves in any way to the gentiles. This includes the prohibition of drinking their wine or eating their bread. The reason for these prohibitions is to prevent assimilation, as food is known to be one of the main ways of socializing. What I am trying to say is that objectively, we are seemingly no better than all the others who discriminate other religions and ways!
An interesting question discussed in the Encyclopaedia Britannica is about the definition of the concept “Mishum darkey shalom”, meaning that there are certain actions which are forbidden by the Torah, but our Rabbis decided to permit it because these prohibitions could cause hatred from the other nations. For example, it is forbidden to desecrate the Sabbath in order to save the life of a gentile, but because of “darkey shalom” it is permitted. This I find very disturbing because I would imagine that when it comes to saving someone’s life, there should be no differentiation between a Jew and a gentile. Indeed, the Me’iri and others hold that in our time a goy should be saved on Shabbat because of the inherent positive value in itself and not only because of the “technical” reason of darkey shalom. However, the encyclopaedia explains that the Jewish people have two sides to their religion; one is the spiritual side which is unique to them, reflecting them as a chosen nation, while the other is dealing with the materialistic world around them. Therefore, the concept “darkey shalom” is not just a way of preventing a problem, which is not the ideal, but is in fact the correct way to act just like any other halacha. This special halacha also comes under the category of “bechukotai teleichu”, which in itself includes the commandment of “not going in there ways” and the recognition that Shabbat has a greater spiritual purpose.
The whole concept of being the chosen nation includes behaving like a chosen nation, and sadly one of the reasons that the world does not recognize this point, is because we on one hand preach about how we are more important than the other nations and that we mustn’t affiliate ourselves with the gentiles, but on the other hand we behave just like any other average human being, so therefore it is no surprise that today these issues upset the world around us. The Sefat Emet discusses that one of the reasons G-d gave us the Shabbat, is to remind us that even though we have been spending the entire week working and focusing on ourselves, we must remember that everything is controlled and given to us by G-d, therefore on Shabbat we are completely dependent on G-d, and we mustn’t discuss our materialistic needs. The same applies in our case, that if we are the chosen nation we can easily get carried away with the sense of power and control over the other nations, but we mustn’t forget that we are the chosen nation of G-d and we therefore must go in His ways, otherwise we are warned that the results could be disastrous. Maybe, each one of us should do a little self-introspection, and see if we are really behaving like the chosen children of the King, and then with the help of G-d we shall return to Zion and once again be recognized by the other nations as a true source of inspiration.