The Meaning of Being Chosen

BY: Rabbi David Wolpe

 

Continued from page 1

At times in the Bible, chosenness seems to be conditional--the Children of Israel are chosen if they act in accordance with God's wishes.  At other times, however, chosenness seems inherent in Israel, and even in disobedience they are chosen.  Indeed, the severity of their punishment for disobedience is one more piece of evidence that they are chosen.  We are harder on those we love.  In the Bible, God, like human beings, regards wickedness in the beloved more seriously than wickedness in others.

Chosenness is not primarily for the benefit of the chosen, however. Recall the scheme of the Bible: God creates the world, and it quickly degenerates into wickedness. After the end of Eden, the tower of Babel, and the cataclysm of the flood, God decides to try to work the Divine will on a representative group. Perhaps if one people can carry out God's will it will elevate the general moral tone. Thus God tells Abraham (in Chapter 12 of Genesis) not merely that Abraham will be blessed, but that he will be a blessing. Abraham's task is to conduct himself in a way that benefits the world.

Judaism that does not provide a model for others traduces the tradition. If Judaism is lived quietly, out of the hustle of the world, it cannot serve its original purpose.

A chosenness that matters is a chosenness boldly asserted, but not exclusive. It is possible for Judaism to be chosen for certain tasks in this world. A cursory reading of history makes clear that Judaism has indeed had an exceptional, tumultuous, and often glorious journey. That does not mean that other peoples -- even other faiths -- are not chosen for other purposes in this world. The gazelle may be singled out for her grace, but she does not detract from the specialness of the eagle.

Judaism introduced the idea of one God in the world, and still upholds that ideal in the teeth of modernity. To be chosen for that task is itself a remarkable destiny. For two thousand years Jews have struggled. Their struggle has been imperfect. Propoganda should not spill over into history; Jews have been venal, and cruel, and dismally narrow, just as have been all other peoples. Nonetheless, they have also achieved remarkably in this world, despite the almost unimaginable disadvantages under which they have labored. Perhaps the line between a chosen people and a choosing people is blurry. Jews have never ceased choosing; in the end that may be the only evidence for chosenness that endures.

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