Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
The term Chosen People may bring an assortment of words to mind. Some might think elitist; others - preferred; and, still others may think egotistical. Before forming your own opinion, it is important to know what is meant by the “Chosen People”.
There are several references in the Torah to the Jewish people being a Chosen People.
In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, it states “It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you – indeed, you are the smallest of peoples; but it was because the Lord favored you and kept the oath He made to your fathers…”.
Further in Deuteronomy we are told: “For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your G-d: the Lord your G-d chose you from among all other peoples on earth to be His treasured people” (Deuteronomy 14:2).
The funny thing is that the Midrash (investigation) tells us the Jewish people were not the first ones approached by G-d. The Torah was presented to other peoples. Some asked what was in it. Others decided they were not capable of following G-d’s laws. When the Jewish people were approached, they accepted the Torah without asking any questions.
Two stories of our acceptance come from other Midrashim. In one, the Jews were gathered together at Mount Sinai, G-d held the mountain over our heads and threatened us into being ‘chosen’. The other states that G-d lifted the mountain and the Jewish people came under because we trusted G-d.
Either way – the designation of being chosen has little to do with elitism and much to do with responsibility. Becoming G-d’s Chosen People has an assignment attached to it. That undertaking involves assisting G-d in perfecting the world, and we do this by following the Ten Commandments and other Laws laid out to us in the Torah and other Jewish texts.
Rather than feeling privileged, the Jewish people are humbled. In Isaiah 42:6, it states “…a covenant people, a light of nations…”. It is a call for Jewish people to be united in moral and ethical behavior, to live a life of Torah, and to be a role model for all of mankind.
The fact that we are still in existence is evidence for the “chosen” status of the Jewish people. We are a people found in all corners of the world and despite assimilating into the cultures in which we live – we are still tied to the Torah. Never before has a people been so dispersed and still maintained its identity. Hebrew, the language of the Jewish people, was once threatened with extinction. Following the Bar Kokhba war, it was revitalized as the spoken language in Israel. The Jewish people have overcome repeated attacks – attacks where our armies were much smaller and weaker and, yet, we were still able to come out on top. The never-ending existence of the Jewish people is pure evidence of being a “chosen people”.
All other monotheistic religions stemmed from Judaism. While anyone may inquire about converting to Judaism, Jewish people do not proselytize. Yet, all men are created equal in the eyes of G-d and in the hearts of the Jewish people. Judaism further teachers that there exists a mandate given from G-d that all people must follow the Seven Noahide Laws. These laws apply to all descendants of Noah and include instructions not to worship idols, not to show irreverence, not to murder or steal, not to be involved in illicit sexual behavior, not to be cruel to animals, and to establish courts of justice.
It is G-d’s intention that each person abides by these instructions as they fulfill their personal missions in our world. The people of the world are interdependent upon each other. Like the different parts of the human body, where each organ is essential to the successful functioning of the whole – the peoples of the world each have their own role in carrying out G-d’s intentions for our existence.
The notion of the Jewish people as a Chosen people is simply (and not so simply) a description of our role and obligation in G-d’s world.