Do the references to the Am Yisroel in tanach, which speak about their uniqueness in the world, refer only to observant Jews or to all Jews ?
The answer is that it refers to the Am Yisroel. The Am Yisroel however, is a specific term. It’s not a general term for all of the people who are technically Jews. The Gemara says that Am Yisroel means: עושה מעשה עמך – those Jews who behave like the Am Yisroel behaves. To be a part of the Am Yisroel means that you behave like the nation of Hashem is expected to behave.
Like Rabbeinu Sa’adya Gaon said: אין אומתינו אומה אלא בתורה – “We are bound together as a nation only by the Torah” (Sefer Emunos V’dayos 3:7). And when Moshe Rabbeinu wrote the Torah and he handed it to the people he said: היום הזה נהייתה לעם – “Today you became a people” (D’varim 27:9). Which means, without the Torah we’re not a people. So those Jews who are outside the Torah are not included in the Am Yisroel.
Now it doesn’t mean they’re not a Yisroel. ישראל אף על פי שחטא ישראל הוא – “A Jew who sins is still a Jew,” which means that he still remains responsible to fulfill everything and he’ll be punished for everything that he disregards. And also, if he repents he’s still a Jew. Or if, let’s say, an irreligious couple have a daughter and the daughter is a frum girl, so she’s a kasher bas Yisroel, because her parents are Yisroel. אף על פי שחטא ישראל הוא. But they don’t belong to the Am Yisroel unless they behave like a Yisroel. To be included in the Am Yisroel, a person has to be together with the Am Yisroel in keeping the Torah, and there are no two ways about that.
TAPE # 200 (January 1977)