“So,” I have heard people say. “You Jews are ‘the Chosen People.’ Does that mean you think you are better than everybody else?”
No, not at all!
This week, we read in the Torah that God chose Abraham, Sarah and their descendants to start a new way of life to create a just caring and compassionate society.
Yes, I believe God chooses specific individuals for specific tasks. I believe God chose Abraham to begin the journey that created the Jewish people. I believe God chose Moses to lead us out of Egypt. I believe God chose William Harvey to teach humanity about the circulation of blood, and I believe God chose the Wright brothers to inaugurate the era of aviation. I believe God chose Abraham Lincoln to end slavery in this country, and I believe God chose Martin Luther King to make the dream of racial equality more of a reality in our society.
If individuals can have destinies, why not peoples as a whole? Just as God chooses individuals for certain tasks, so too does God choose peoples for certain tasks. As I look at history, I agree with the late Professor of Labor Relations at Cornell, Milton R. Konvitz who wrote, “Many are Called And Many are Chosen.” He noted that God chose the ancient Greeks to bring the world an unprecedented sense of beauty, and God chose the Romans to teach the world new ideas about order.
God chose us Jews too. God chose us, as Thomas Cahill teaches in his best selling The Gifts of the Jews, to give the world a sense of the sanctity of time. Before we came along, Cahill notes, people perceived life as a series of repeating cyclical events.
“The Jews were the first people to break out of this circle, to find a new way of thinking and experiencing, a new way of understanding and feeling the world…” Cahill’s book is a defense of the concept of chosenness.
Nearly three thousand years ago the Prophet Amos taught that we are not better than others, but that we have particular responsibilities. “Amos wrote: “I have known you uniquely among the peoples of the earth. Therefore I will hold you accountable for every one of your transgressions.”
No, to be chosen does not mean we consider ourselves better than anyone else. Still, many Jews, both famous and ordinary, shy away from the concept of chosenness because they fear anti-Semitic reactions. Do we really think we will mollify anti-Semites by disavowing our destiny as a people?
Think again. Anti-Semitism is the responsibility of anti Semites, not the responsibility of us Jews. Abandoning the idea that God has chosen us for the task of bringing the ideals based on Torah to the world will not stop either anti-Semites or anti-Semitism.
Jews do not hold exclusive rights to acts of goodness. God revealed Torah to us, the Midrash teaches, in the desert, so we would know that its ideals are open to everyone who wishes to embrace them. They are not the exclusive property of any one faith or people.
It is well and good that other peoples have adopted those ideals. Let them pursue them in their own ways. Their ways often inspire those who follow them to remarkable acts of caring and compassion that we do well to emulate.
Still, Judaism has done so much to civilize this world. It is no accident that Jews who represent less than ½ of one per cent of the worlds’ population have won more than 30% of the world’s Nobel Prizes. It is the product of a religious and cultural system that has stressed learning and literacy as ways of serving God. It is the product of a religious and cultural system, which teaches us, Lo Toochal liheetalaym. You must not remain indifferent to the suffering of another even if the other is our enemy. It is the product of a religious system that calls on us to be “L’or Goyim, a light to the nations.” (Isaiah 49:6)
Look at the values and culture of the world around us. Look at the violence that stalks our schools, our cities and our towns. Is it really time for us to turn away from a way of life that has done so much for humanity over the centuries? Can we really afford to be less particular in our Jewish practices and studies? Should we trade Jewish worship and practice for a generalized civil religion, which says, “just be a good person?”
No, let us cherish the belief that God chose us out to bring the ideas of Torah to the whole world. Chosenness does not mean privilege, and chosenness does not mean exclusiveness. Still, there are people who want no part of it. We have often been the targets of enemies, and many have looked at our history and our suffering and said with Tevye the Dairyman, “God if this is what it means to be chosen, please, choose someone else.”
And yet, we continue to persist and exist, and with God’s help we shall continue to do so.
Chosenness is a choice, a challenge and an achievement. The choice to be chosen is ours to make or reject. Choosing to be chosen, I believe, is to believe that God cares deeply about the choices we make— not only as individuals but also as a people whom God chose to bring the ideals of Torah to the constant attention of the world.
9 thoughts on “Choosing to Be Chosen”
I think that choosiness has more to do with responsibility than anything else. Chosen does not come with perks, rather obligations!!
Yes! Thank you, Rabbi. I think that is what Amos meant! Shabbat Shalom!
“How odd of God to choose the Jews”.
“Rejoice, the choice annoys the Goys.”
BTW Who are the Christians to give us broiges about being “chosen”?!
Their doctrine of supercession (sp) proclaims that they are the new Israel, with a new covenant with God — as God’s “elect”– in place of the Jews.
I think the biggest message from Judaism is Shabbat. When we stop, think, and reflect, we are better people.
For awhile in this country the Jewish stores were closed on Saturday, and the others Sunday, and sometimes Monday. Some Jewish places are still closed on Saturday. But most places are open 7 days a week. No time for people to sit back and relax. Now stores are opening on Thanksgiving. Hospitals need to be open 7 days a week but not everybody else.
But our society is far too concerned with making a profit.
In our choice to be Jews, we need to listen to the ancient commandment to remember and keep the sabbath, so we can reflect on who we are, and make the world better. And hopefully the rest will chose to learn the value of stopping.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks to both of you for your comments!
LikeLiked by 1 person
“Just as God chooses individuals for certain tasks, so too does God choose peoples for certain tasks.”
I think each of us has been chosen by God for a divine purpose. The hard part is identifying Which and then setting our hearts to that task.
Blessings to you, Stephen, in yours.
With heart & hope,
I agree, Dani! I would only add that it is also hard for so many to see that they are chosen for “a divine purpose.” Once we realize that it is still very hard–although a bit easier than without realization–to identify it and set our hearts to the task. Thank you for this insightful comment!
I like Rabbi’s flow of thoughts here. There is no need to be jealousy about a called person, because it is not perks but responsibility. There is nothing wrong about being this or that tribe or nation. Being a tribalist, however, is quite another matter.
Thank you for you thoughtful comment, Joseph. I am not sure what a tribalist is, but I think we should all–as individuals and as groups–take pride in our destiny and how we can work to make the world better for all.