What It Means To Be The Chosen People
August 6, 2010
This week’s Parsha instructs the Jewish people: “For you are a holy people to Hashem, your G-d, and Hashem has chosen you for Himself to be a treasured people, from among all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Devarim 14:2). Elsewhere in the Torah the Jewish people are likened to “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemos 19:6). Last week we were reminded that we were chosen not because we were “more numerous than all the peoples,” (in fact we were the fewest of all the peoples), but because of Hashem’s love for us “and because He observes the oath that He swore to” the Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov” (Devarim 7:7-8). In Rabbinic literature the Jews are often referred to as “the Chosen people.” But for what purpose were the Jews chosen?
First, it must be noted that the reference above to the Jewish people as a nation of priests does not refer to Kohanim who are descendents of Aharon and serve in the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple). Rather, like the Kohanim who served a priestly function in the Temple, the purpose of every Jew is to bring G-d to the world and the world closer to G-d. It is our job to be what the prophet Yeshya dubbed a “light unto the nations.”
Our tradition explains that everything in this world has a purpose. The same principal applies to each and every individual and group of people. The Jewish people have the unique task of spreading the ideas of ethical monotheism, morality, and knowledge of Hashem throughout the world – in Israel and throughout the Diaspora. It is not an easy task. It is well-known that generations of Jews have suffered and sacrificed for this sacred mission. By studying Torah – Hashem’s guide to living – and applying it to his or her life the Jew elevates the surrounding environment. Each mitzvah performed brings out more of the holiness hidden within our world and makes our world a dwelling place for Hashem. In this way, the Jew has the unique ability to draw down Hashem’s presence into the world as well as elevating it. When the world is finally a place worthy of hosting Hashem’s Divine presence, we will have achieved the goal of Creation. It is the Jewish people’s collective responsibility to usher in an age of peace and intense awareness of Hashem’s presence which we refer to as the era of Moshiach, may it come speedily and in our days.
Originally the mitzvos of the Torah were meant for all peoples. However, our Midrash teaches that the other peoples of the world rejected its lofty teachings and did not wish to live according to its rules. Clearly most of the world was not yet ready for the Torah. Understandably most people were not comfortable with having to handle so much responsibility. It was surely a daunting task to agree to uphold all of Hashem’s sacred laws in a world so driven by immediate, physical gratification. But the Jewish people, whom we are taught were the fewest in number and prestige at the time, answered Hashem’s call to adopt the Torah: “na’eseh v’nishma,” meaning “we will do and then we will hear.” The Jewish people are meant to be a nation of teachers guiding the rest of humanity to a higher, more ethical standard of living. In fact while non-Jews are not obligated to keep the mitzvos of the Torah, they are obliged to observe the Seven Laws of Noach. These laws are concerned with the basic areas of morality that every human being is expected to uphold. For more information on this: http://www.noahide.org/.
A Jew who feels overwhelmed by the thought of having been assigned such an important mission may ask: “Isn’t it enough for a Jew to simply follow the 7 laws of Noach?” The answer is no, because everything in this world has its own unique and special purpose. For example, in an orchestra each instrument plays a different note. However, when the musicians play in harmony the different notes produce a beautiful symphony. In this way the world can be likened to a song and everything in it must play its respective note in order to create a universal harmony. For this reason, it is the obligation of each and every Jew to fulfill his or her mission by studying Torah and observing the mitzvos.
If the Jewish people abdicate their holy responsibility and choose to disappear into the mass of humanity then there will be no one to guide the nations in perfecting the world. Every Jew must make an effort to live up to his or her potential. A Jew need not be afraid to fail. Hashem only gives us tasks we are able to perform. In fact, every Jew is outfitted with a special soul called a neshama that enables us to carry out our mission.
Our Torah promises great rewards in this world and the next to the Jew that makes this mission the bedrock of his or her life. It even says that when we observe the laws of the Torah – even the seemingly insignificant ones above the understanding of human reason – the nations of the world will increase in their admiration and respect for us. Unlike a contract, a covenant is one that is unconditionally binding. Hashem has never strayed from the covenant He made with our forefathers, even in times when we mistakenly believed He did just that. Therefore it is our duty to uphold our end of the agreement. We owe it to ourselves and to the rest of humanity to do our best in living up to our exalted title of chosen people.
Will Gotkin is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews
Dubov, Rabbi Nissan Dovid. Key Jewish F.A.Q.’s