Al HaNissim is recited in the Shemoneh Esrai and Birkat Hamazon on the two rabbinically-enacted chagim of Chanukah and Purim. Chanukah’s version contains the expression “am’echa Yisrael (Your people, Israel).” In truth, we are no strangers to this term, as it appears each week in Tefilat Minchah for Shabbat: “Atah echad v’shimchah echad, u’mi k’am’echa Yisrael (You are one and Your essence is one, and who may be compared to Your people Israel?)”
What does it really mean to be Hashem’s people? One cannot help but think that this phrase conceals far more than it reveals.
We are fortunate that my rebbe and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zatzal (the Rav”), analyzed our expression in a public lecture delivered in Boston on Dec. 18, 1971. (The following quotes are based upon my partial transcription of the shiur.) The Rav notes that am’echa Yisrael first and foremost means “we belong to Thee, even when we go astray, [and that] we are still committed to Thee even when we are guilty of certain offenses and certain sins.”
The Rav continues the theme of the indestructible link that eternally joins our people to the Master of the Universe by noting, “in am’echa what comes to expression is the old idea, Yisrael af al pi sh’chata Yisrael hu (A Jew, even when he sins, remains a Jew)” (Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 44a).
What does this maxim mean? The Rav analyzes it by first asking, “What did Chazal [our sages] want to express through this expression?” His answer goes a long way in helping us understand the authentic meaning of am’echa Yisrael: “It means that there is an eternal commitment in the Jew to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Sometimes it is a conscious commitment, sometimes it is a non-conscious commitment, but there is a commitment … [and] that commitment is like a load resting upon the frail shoulders of every Jew. … He might fight this commitment, he might hate this commitment — but there is a commitment on the part of every Jew.
For the Rav, am’echa Yisrael means that there is “compulsory belonging on the part of the Jew to G-d — willy-nilly he belongs to Him.” The Rav points out that we learn from the writings of Chabad that “the Jew has a natural love for G-d, an ahavah tevayit, whether he wants to love G-d or does not want to love G-d.” This is based on “an instinctual drive, an urge to find G-d that is in the Jew.”
As the founder of Chabad Chasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi zatzal states in his work, Tanya I:19, “There is an “ahavah tevayit of the divine soul that is found in all Jews, the intrinsic desire and will to be attached to its origin and source in the light of the Ein Sof (He who is without end).” For the Rav, therefore, the Jewish people’s natural love of, and search for, Hashem reflects the very essence of our being, and thereby represents what it ultimately means to be am’echa Yisrael.
With Hashem’s help and our most powerful desire, may we be zocheh (merit) to ever express our ahavah tevayit for Him as we continue our life-long journey to find His holy presence. V’chane yihi ratzon.