‘Being Chosen does not mean that we are better than any other people, but we are definitely not worse.’
Being a strong believer in G-d, I realize that we humans are not given the knowledge and intellect to fully understand G-d’s ways and intentions for human destiny. With the above in mind, let us analyze Jewish chosenness by looking back at our historical (often very difficult) experience in an attempt to distinguish between things we were chosen for and things we were not chosen for.
Things We Were Chosen For
The Jewish people were chosen for:
- Bringing the World the understanding that there is one G-d for all.
- Being freed from slavery.
- Bringing the World the Torah.
- Keeping our Jewish faith.
- Having, in a traditional religious interpretation, a covenant with G-d. (It seems that it would be more appropriate to say “a solemn promise to G-d,” rather than a “covenant,” because who are we, compared to the unimaginably great G-d, for G-d to make a covenant with us?)
- Establishing, more than 3,000 years ago, a statehood in the Promised Land.
- Bringing the World moral teachings in the form of G-d’s commandments, doing our best to be worthy of these teachings, and working to become a moral beacon to the world.
- Bringing the World the idea about the messianic age to come.
- Being, most of the time, an example of warm and loving family relationships.
- Representing to the world Jewish philosophy and culture, which are influenced by G-d’s teachings.
- Having been blessed with exceptional intellectual ability (which makes Jews among the best in every field of human activity).
- Being successful in every place and country we reside. (By the way, the envy caused by this is one of the reasons for anti-Semitism, but that is a subject for another article.)
- Being able, despite all odds, to reestablish our homeland – the state of Israel
- Being victorious over much more numerous enemies while establishing and protecting our Jewish state. (Yes, this was the struggle, sacrifice, and hard work of the Israeli Jews, but the Jewish communities of the world provided assistance and moral support according to their ability, and some diaspora Jews went to fight for Israel.)
- Reviving after thousands of years our native language – Hebrew.
- Working for tikkun olam – improving and saving the world. (The Jews made and are making a disproportionate impact on the well-being, development, and advancement of the countries they live in.)
All that we were chosen for still required peoples’ sacrifices and hard work. G-d wants people (according to the laws of nature established by G-d) to work hard and even sacrifice to accomplish what we were chosen for. We should remember that being Chosen does not mean that we are better than any other people, but we are definitely not worse.
Of course, the complete list of what we are Chosen for requires the efforts of a theological expert, which yours truly is not.
Things We Were Not Chosen For
Now let us talk about the events we experienced in our history, not because of being Chosen, but because things happen in this world according to the law of nature created by G-d and the rule of free will established by G-d. Here are some of them:
- The Kingdom of Israel breaking up into two: Judah and Israel. This led to weakening of the Jewish people’s ability to defend themselves, and even worse, wars between ourselves (often in alliance with hostile neighbors), and contributed to future tragic events. This happened because of our ancestors’ own fault, and the stupidity and ambitions of the rulers, in particular King Rehoboam and his advisers. Unfortunately, his father, King Solomon, with all his wisdom was not able to prepare an heir who would be able to keep the kingdom united (perhaps being busy with his 1,000-strong harem plus the Queen of Sheba).
- Conquering of the Kingdom of Israel by Assyria and the exile of the Ten Tribes to Assyria, with all the hardship which followed and the eventual disappearance of these tribes. (Some individuals were able to escape to the kingdom of Judah before exile.)
- Babylonian conquest, and the terrible devastation, suffering, and destruction of the First Temple by Babylon.
- Greek occupation of the Jews who managed to return to Zion.
- Roman brutal occupation and destruction of the Second Temple, with many Jews killed, crucified, sold as slaves, and expelled from their land. The Diaspora begins.
- Crusades in which Jews were attacked in Europe and massacred in Israel.
- Continual expulsion of the Jews from the countries of Europe, with thousands killed and thousands who died from diseases and hardship.
- Being falsely accused of spreading the Black Death, with thousands of Jews slain by mobs.
- Being forced into a miserable existence in ghettos.
- Being subject to Blood Libel accusations in Europe.
- Chmielnicki bands slaying between 100,000 to 300,000 Jews in Ukraine in less than 2 years, with thousands killed in Poland, Russia, and Lithuania in the following years.
- Being subject to waves of pogroms in Russia, including the most known Kishinev pogrom, which continued for 40 years with tens of thousands murdered.
- The Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were brutally tortured and murdered.
- Wide-spread anti-Semitism in the past and during our time.
The list of all the terrible things which happened to Jews can take up volumes.
The Factors Causing this Suffering and Death
In general, some obvious factors which caused all of this suffering and death are the following:
- Our ancestors not being able, or not being wise enough, to safeguard a united strong kingdom and, as a result, Jews losing our land and being expelled.
- Becoming a defenseless minority in different countries of Europe; becoming a scapegoat.
- Anti-Jewish brainwashing of the masses by some fanatical, cruel Church leaders.
- Anti-Semitic, cruel, and blood-thirsty rulers directing unhappy masses against Jews.
- Being subject to the envy of the masses due to Jewish abilities and successes in periods when Jews were left alone.
- The cruelty of mobs, which is often part of human nature. (Masses can be brainwashed to hate, but it takes cruelty to kill and torture. For example, Germans were brainwashed by Nazis, but the killing, torturing, and burning alive of Jewish, and not only Jewish, adults and CHILDREN in response to Nazi propaganda required terrible cruelty and ferocity of thousands of average Germans.)
- Present day anti-Semitism instigated by racist groups, by some fanatical and cruel Muslim clerics, by envy, and so on.
- To analyze all the general and particular causes of Jewish suffering and persecution is a task for sociology and history experts, and again, would take volumes to write about it.
What Jewish People Must Do So the Painful Parts of Our History Do Not Repeat Again
In my humble opinion, we can take the following steps to avoid repeating past mistakes:
- Being proud of the things we were chosen for.
- Acting, working, and behaving in accordance with what we were chosen for.
- Strengthening our unity, despite having sometimes different opinions on some issues.
- Supporting Israel – the guarantor of our future, the source of our pride, and the place of our refuge. In the past, when bad things were happening to us, we never had a place of refuge. Some Jewish people, being ignorant in Israeli affairs and in Jewish history, make their support of Israel subject to their approval or disapproval of the policies of a particular government. (Being Jewish is not always insurance for being wise.) In case of danger in the place they live, they will still look to Israel for safety.
- Supporting Israel unconditionally and regardless of being in agreement with a particular government of Israel.
- Being wise and, with support from Israel, strong to be able to protect ourselves.
Being a member for many years of different Synagogues, I never heard a congregational rabbi addressing the concept of us being Chosen people in relation to our difficult history. Maybe this article will trigger a helpful discussion, hopefully with some rabbis’ participation.
Arkady Mamaysky is a retired mechanical engineer who emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1979 and now lives in New York. His opinion pieces have appeared in more than a dozen Jewish publications, including the Forward.