It’s three months after the Exodus. The Israelites have reached the wilderness of Sinai and camp at the foot of Mount Sinai.
G-d speaks to the people and says: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep my covenant, you shall be My treasured possession (am segulah) among all the peoples…. You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Without first hearing what this covenant would entail, the people reply in unison: “All that Adonai has spoken, we will do!”
This covenant, entered into with loyalty and love, is the basis for the idea of Jews as the Chosen People—a public relations nightmare that has resulted in centuries of accusations and prejudices against the Jewish people.
How should we understand this idea of chosenness? Does it mean that we think we are superior or have greater rights than others? Is it a denigration of the rest of humanity? No. It’s not about privilege—it’s about responsibility.
And, it has more to do with the tension between the universal and the particular within Judaism. As Jews we embrace universal values and recognize the inherent dignity of all human beings; and, at the same time, we embrace our particular way of leading our lives.
What were we chosen for? To live a life of mitzvot informed by Torah. To accept and to internalize a sense of sacred obligation: to care about and to care for one another; to help repair the world; to know that what we do and what we say matters to G-d, to our internal community, and to the larger world community.
As Jews, it’s not so much that we were chosen, but that we continually choose a particular path in life. Our challenge: to choose well.
Kol Tuv ~ Rabbi Teri