How exactly are Jews supposed to be influencing the world? Jews are called the "Chosen People", but few Jews have thought about what this "choseness" means and where it comes from. In the Torah, in the section called Yitro, G-d choses us for a mission, stating that we are precious to Him, and then we are given what is in essence our mission statement. We are instructed to be a Holy people and a "Kingdom of Priests". Holy implies that we are to separate ourselves from the behavior of our pagan neighbors, leaving idolatry, sexual immorality, and child sacrifice behind. We are to act more G-d like, learning to give to others, caring for the poor, the widow and orphan, visiting the sick, loving the stranger, and doing the myriad of other Mitzvot, (religious obligations) that are outlined throughout the Torah.
The more puzzling part of the mission statement is the instruction to be a "Kingdom of Priests". We know that for the Jews, the Kohens. (kohanim) are to take on the priestly role, leading the service in the Temple, as well as teaching Jews their religious obligations, but the statement in the Torah implies that all Jews are to be priests. Here's how Rabbi Blech puts it in his book, "Understanding Judaism", Rabbi Blech writes: "The commentators are intrigued by the phrase "a kingdom of priests". Surely the Jewish people will not all be priests. The twelve tribes were divided into Priests, Levites, and Israelites; most Jews are simply Israelites. Why does G-d say that the Jewish people in its entirety will become a kingdom of priests? Yehuda Levi explained that even as the priests were to be the teachers and holy leaders for the rest of the Jewish people, so, too, the Jews are to become the holy leader (teachers) for the rest of the World."
The Artscroll Stone edition says this, based on Rashi's commentary: "A kingdom of ministers; the whole nation of Israel is to be dedicated to leading the world toward an understanding and acceptance of G-d's mission". Here's the Commentary in the Hertz edition: "A priestly kingdom...as it is the duty of the priest to bring man nearer to G-d, so Israel has been called to play the part of a priest to other nations; ie to bring them closer to G-d and Righteousness. This spiritual kingdom constitutes the highest mission of Israel." If all this isn't enough, Maimonidies (Rambam), in his compilation of the 613 commandments states that one of the positive commandments for all Jews to do is to teach the world the seven universal or Noahide laws and bring the non Jews to G-d.
Later on , in the very same Torah portion where Jews are given their mission statement, we are presented with the Ten Commandments. One commandment in particular is of special interest to our mission, as it is the only one of the ten that G-d says he will not forgive us for violating. The third commandment is frequently translated as, "Do not take G-ds name in vain" which has been inferred to mean do not swear something that is absurd or false in G-ds name. However as Rabbi Telushkin and others point out, the words in the third commandment literally state, Do not CARRY G-d's name in vain.
Few people realize that the Jews literally carry G-ds name. How is this so? The word Jew comes from the hebrew word Yehudah, or Judah, which literally means, thank G-d. Leah named her fourth son Judah (Yehuda) which is a combination of the four letter name of G-d that we never pronounce, (Yud Hey Vav Hey) with a Daled added to account for the thankfulness, from the word todah. The Word Jew came about because we are descendents of the tribe of Judah. When the Daled is removed we are left with other letters of G-ds name. Jew then literally means G-d, and as a people we literally carry G-ds name. The prophets Daniel, Ezekial and Jeremiah all speak of a time when we will be called by G-ds name, ie Jeremiah 14:9 Thou G-d (Yud Hey Vav Hey) art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name.
Now that we have established that the Jews literally carry G-ds name, we should define what it means to carry G-ds name in vain. Well, since Jews have been given a mission to bring the world to G-d, as teachers or priests to the world, we would be carrying G-ds name in vain by ignoring our mission. What would our mission look like? Included in Rambam's description of the 613 commandments, is the commandment to love G-d, which in his definition requires spreading the knowledge of G-d to the world, specifically teaching the non Jewish world the Seven Laws of Noah, which are: not to blaspheme G-ds name, not to murder, steal, or commit sexual immorality, not to perform idolatry, not to eat the limb of a living animal, and the positive commandment to set up courts to enforce the other six laws.
The Talmud in one section, Pesachim 87b, goes even further, stating that Jews were sent into exile only for the purpose of gathering converts. Given Jews reluctance to proselytize, this seems like a radical statement. There was a time however, when Jews did take on this role and it is said that Jews would go to the ends of the earth to seek one convert. Ten percent of Rome were converts at that time. We also know that Hillel would even lie to a potential convert in order to teach him. One example is the famous story where the non Jew came to Hillel's door stating the he would like to convert, but only if he could become the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, and wear the priestly garments. Instead of chasing him away, Hillel readily took him in in order to teach him. Converting non Jews freely came to an end when Rome made it a capital offense for a Jew to convert or teach a non Jew Torah, and many Jews and their non Jewish students were executed. This had a profound effect on Jews stopping their mission to bring non Jews to G-d.
Who are these potential converts that Jews have been exiled to the ends of the earth to gather as stated in the Talmud? One interesting possibility are those non Jews who were originally part of the Ten lost tribes. Few know the history, but in the year 973 BCE shortly after the death of King Solomon, the ten Northern tribes came to the new King, Solomon's son, and asked for their taxes to be lowered. After some consideration with his advisors, the new king actually raised their taxes, and the 10 northern tribes separated themselves from Judah and Benjamin, forming their own country, the Kingdom of Israel, while the two remaining tribes which included Jerusalem become Judaea, or the Kingdom of Judah. The northern tribes created their own temple and began idolatrous practices. Eventually G-d punished them after 200 years, causing the Assyrians to disperse them and they were assimilated and lost to the Jewish people. Thus there are literally millions or perhaps billions of people in the world who were originally part of the 10 tribes and have a spark of Judaism inside of them. This may explain while some potential converts who may come from the lineage of the 10 lost tribes, feel like their soul was also present at Sinai.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that the statement in the Talmud of Jews being dispersed throughout the world in order to gather converts, implied gathering these sparks of the 10 lost tribes, as there are several prophesies implying that in the end of days the 10 lost tribes will rejoin the Jewish people. As Hosea states, " Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together and appoint themselves one head...."
So how should Jews go about their mission of being a Kingdom of Priests? Well for some Jews it will just mean being better examples to others, doing the commandments in a more joyful manner, for others it will mean being the best employee at work, and for others it will involve being the most friendly customer in the store while wearing a Kippah rather than being the loudest complainer. In this way non-Jews will be impressed, and wonder who is this G-d of the Jews who created such a wonderful people and they will want to learn more.
Some Jews will want to be more proactive and actively teach non-Jews the Seven Laws of Noah, while others will want to help those non Jews who are inspired to convert, many who may be sparks of the 10 lost tribes. We will invite them to our homes for Shabbat, as we actively "Love the stranger" as we are commanded to do. On Shavuoth we should remember that we celebrate the convert Ruth on that day, reading her story, recalling that the messiah will eventually come from her lineage.
As commentator Dennis Prager states, Jews are a lot like Jonah. We read every Yom Kippur how G-d instructed Jonah to go to the non Jews of Nineveh to help them return to G-ds ways. Instead of listening to G-d, Jonah runs away, ending up on a ship. The seas become stormy, and eventually Jonah admits that he is the cause of the storm, because he is not doing the mission that G-d has given him. He is thrown overboard and the seas calm.
Like Jonah, Jews should stop running away from the mission that G-d has given us, to be a Kingdom of Priests and bring the world to the knowledge of G-d, as Rambam instructed us to do as well. We should stop carrying G-ds name in vain, and instead become A "Light unto the Nations." We should stop ignoring the world like the Amish, and hopefully by doing our role, like Jonah, we will live in a world of better people and values, calming the stormy seas of the world that we all now live in.