From pagan times down to this very moment, the Jews have been widely reviled by other people. Anti-Semites will say that makes sense, since there really is something obnoxious about Jews. While anti-Jewish prejudice can be explained in part by reference to other religions and their holy books, or by a demonic strain in ancient and modern cultures, I think there may be something not wholly irrational in the anti-Semite’s complaint against us. The Torah portion for this week, Shemot
(Exodus 1:1-6:1), sheds light on this.
When God launched the project of acquainting his human creatures with himself, he chose neither to overwhelm them with his presence, which would have ruled out a meaningful relationship with man, nor to allow them the “out” of readily explaining away his signs as purely natural phenomena, which would similarly imperil the goal that God had in mind. So he chose Moses as his spokesman to the Jews precisely because the man was not an articulate, compelling or otherwise charismatic leader or orator. That emerges from a verse in the parsha
. On being informed of his assigned role, Moses complained that he was a nobody, to which God answered that was exactly why he wanted him for the job: “Just this will be the sign unto thee that I have sent thee” (Exodus 3:12). As Rav Hirsch
explains, the “sign” that he was God’s choice would be the fact that Moses had no natural, personal resources that would allow him to accomplish as a leader what he was about to do. His success would have to be explained in Godly, not natural, terms.
So too God gave the Jews the hard and rocky land of Israel because its ability to flourish, unlike Egypt’s with its yearly rising Nile, would be dependent not on natural factors but on spiritual ones. The holy land would not flower under the hand of just any people. Thus also with the world itself that God created and all the life in it that he made to serve mankind’s needs. Creation cannot be explained satisfactorily in terms of entirely material, mechanical, unguided forces. At the same time it doesn’t overwhelm us with evidence of the Creator’s design. This is a theme we’ve discussed here often.
And so too, finally, the Jews themselves, his Kingdom of Priests with their assigned role of spreading knowledge of the One God to other peoples. If the success of the Jews in this could be explained away as a result of some natural, fortuitous gift of charisma or attractiveness, if everyone just loved and admired Jews and automatically wanted them in their fancy colleges and country clubs, then it might well be explained away in just that fashion. To forestall the possibility, what did God do? If the logic behind his selecting Moses applies as well to his selection of the Jewish people as a whole, then it would not be suitable at all if the Jews were a people naturally crowned with outstanding charm, grace, elegance, tastefulness, decorum, beautiful speech and manners, and other likely characteristics that draw human beings to other human beings. A “sign” of having been chosen could be a lack of such gifts relative to what you might expect, perhaps detectable most clearly in religious Jews.
Anyway, it’s a hypothesis.