ועתה, אם-שמוע תשמעו בקולי, ושמרתם, את-בריתי – והייתם לי סגולה מכל-העמים, כי לי כל-הארץ-. ואתם תהיו-לי ממלכת כוהנים, וגוי קדוש
Yesterday we explained that the giving of the Tora can also be seen as the signing of a contract between HaShem and His chosen people, Israel. The Sages deepened this comparison by saying that, in this regard, receiving the Tora was like receiving the Ketuba, the marriage contract the husband delivers his wife at their wedding.
When HaShem presented the people of Israel the terms of this contract He said: (Shemot 19: 5-6) “And now if you accept My commandments and keep My covenant , you will become My treasure (segula) among all peoples … and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests (mamlekhet kohanim ) and a holy nation (goy qadosh) “.
Understanding these three concepts, segulah, mamlekhet cohanim and goy qadosh is essential not only to understand the essence of Shabu’ot but also the nature of the people of Israel.
The Tora says that by accepting the covenant we will become God’s “segula ” . But, what is “segula”? “Segula” is an uncommon word in the Tanakh. In Dibre haYamim (I, 29: 3) “segula” indicates a personal treasure. Addressing the people of Israel, King David said that he has assigned the Kingdom reserves of gold and silver to build the Bet haMiqdash. Then, he said: “In addition, and in my desire [to build ] the temple for my God, I will also donate my personal treasure (= segulati) of gold and silver for the Temple .. “. King David called his personal treasure “segula”.
Being the “segula” of HaShem means, literally, to be the most precious of God’s possessions. His private “treasure”. With this beautiful and profound metaphor, the Tora wants to indicate that HaShem promises to care and protect us in the same way a man protects his private treasure, his most valuable possession. This promise, to be “HaShem’s segula” is God assurance that the Jewish people as a nation will never disappear. Israel will be “treasured” and protected directly by God. Against all odds, and after having been persecuted since time immemorial by almost all peoples and civilizations in history, we are still alive as a nation, thanks to the most powerful segula: the direct supervision of God on His People Israel.
The second concept, Mamlekhet Cohanim, means that the Jewish people are called to be a nation “of priests.”
As we know, the Jews are divided into Cohanim (priests), Leviim (Levites) and Israel. The Cohanim / priests are the Yehudim who used to devote himself exclusively to God’s service. In the times of Bet haMiqdash the Cohanim had very specific functions.
1. They were the teachers of the Jewish people. Before the destruction of the second Temple there were no “rabbis”. For centuries, the people in charge of preserving and teaching the Torah to the rest of the nation were the Cohanim. The Cohanim were the teachers of Am Israel.
2. The Cohanim were also in charge of the central operations of the Bet haMiqdash. They were divided into 24 watches (mishmarot) and dealing with all tasks concerning the daily sacrifices (qorban hatamid) and festivities. The Cohanim were the closest to God in the fields of education and religious services.
3. But by being closer to the service of God, the Cohanim had more responsibilities and more limitations than ordinary Jews. There are a number of restrictions relating to marriage or mourning, that still apply only to the Cohanim. The privilege of serving God implies a higher level of obligations ( “noblesse oblige”).
Now we can better understand what it means that the people of Israel is designated as a nation of “Cohanim”. In a sense, the Jewish people was chosen to be the rest of the world, what the Cohanim are about the people of Israel.
Let us begin from the end
1. The Jewish people have more obligations and restrictions that non-Jews. While the Torah indicates that a Yehudi must observe 613 precepts, a non-Jew has only seven commandments.
2. The Jewish people is assigned to the service of HaShem. We feel so close to Him that in our Tefilot (prayers) we turn to Him in the second person singular: we use the “You” to address Him (Blessed are You, HaShem ….).
3. Our “global” mission as a chosen people is to teach the rest of the world about the existence of God. Not with words, speeches or proselytizing, but by our example. Each Yehudi should be a role model, an inspiration for the rest of the world (or lagoyim). When this occurs, and gentiles see that Jews proceed with integrity and decency, and with devotion and care for our religious principles, then we are fulfilling our global mission, “Qiddush haShem” sanctification of God’s name, inspiring others to recognize the Presence and will of God in this world.