Dear Rabbi Fried,
Why are the Jewish people called the Chosen People, and not the Chinese, Hispanics or Christians, for that matter?
Thank you, Seth K.
Before we ponder why we are called the Chosen People, let us first consider what it means to be “Chosen.” Chosen for what? What does Chosen entitle us to?
One of the morning blessings in the Siddur prayer book recited daily says, “Blessed are You, God, King of the universe, Who has chosen us from among the nations and given us His Torah, blessed are You, G d Who gives us His Torah.”
This blessing is predicated upon the concept that we are, indeed, Chosen. It also defines that Chosenness: We were chosen to be the recipients of God’s Torah. As recipients and custodians of God’s Torah we were given a mission — that of “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).
The word “Torah” comes from the root orah, which means light or illumination. Carrying the message of Torah to the world illuminates the entire world with the will of God. The Jews have done just that throughout the generations by introducing to mankind the concepts of monotheism, the precepts of the Torah as they apply to the world at large (and, of course, bagels, lox and guilt).
The Talmud explains that the Torah was first offered to the other nations of the world, to give them a chance to be the receivers, before finally offering it to the Jewish nation. One by one, they turned it down after asking what it says and finding it unsuitable for what they considered their role in the world. The Jews accepted it unconditionally, out of the love and trust in God that was handed down by the patriarchs and matriarchs, and thereby became the Chosen People, entrusted with instructing the world in God’s design and purpose to creation and life.
This Chosenness comes with many obligations, together with its “perks” of special endearment and closeness to God, by fulfilling the charge we have been entrusted and empowered to fulfill. It is a concept that has, sadly, been largely lost to today’s generation of Jews. The loss of this awareness is probably the single greatest cause for the widespread assimilation we are witnessing today. The key antidote for assimilation is a deeply felt Jewish pride in what we are and what we represent. Only with the notion of Chosenness can we truly perpetuate that pride and the dedication that goes with it to ensure marrying Jewish and remaining involved in the Jewish community. Without Chosenness, we are, with the nations, all essentially the same in our purpose in this world. Hence, sadly, many feel there’s no reason to remain Jewish.
The morning Torah blessing teaches that through study of Torah we retain that connectedness and Chosenness — and hence — Jewish continuity.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA).
Dear Rabbi Fried,