The idea of the Jews as Or Lagoyim – a “Light to the Nations” – originates in the book of Isaiah. In chapter 42, God says to the people of Israel:
I, the Eternal, in My grace, have summoned you,
And I have grasped you by the hand.
I created you, and appointed you
A covenant people, a light of nations.
This is a message of comfort to an exiled and suffering people. It is not exactly clear what “light to the nations” originally means, but it is clear that it implies a relationship with God and a responsibility to be present to the other nations.
Many Jewish thinkers have therefore understood “Or Lagoyim” as a commandment to be an example to the world – of spirituality, ethics, and Godliness. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, saw the revival of the Jewish state as the fulfillment of this ancient prophecy. Rabbi David Einhorn, an early Reform rabbi, famously formulated the idea into a “mission of Israel” – an instruction to be a beacon of morality, compassion, and spiritual goodness. And indeed, Reform Jewish thinking continues to “reaffirm social action and social justice as a central prophetic focus” (from the 1999 Pittsburgh Principles for Reform Judaism).
As part of this larger mandate, it is important to build relationships with communities of other faiths. This is especially important because we so often share ethical and spiritual goals, and a desire to make the world a better place. However, the goal of such relationship building measures is generally not to convince others to follow the mitzvot that Jews believe in, but rather to find ways to work together to serve our communities.
The best way to be Or Lagoyim is to live according to our own values, to commit ourselves to Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), and to work together with congregations of other faiths to repair the world that we share.