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Parshat Ki Tavo The Concept of Chosenness

By: Reb Norman Meskin

Given the emergence (or re-emergence), in recent years, of a virulent form of anti-Semitism on a global scale, this week’s Sedra contains a potential “bombshell”:



And the Lord has affirmed this day that you are, as He promised you, His treasured people who shall observe all His commandments, and that He will set you, in fame and renown and glory, high above all the nations that He has made; and that you shall be, as He promised, a holy people to the Lord your G-d.

With the current upswing in racism, in general, and anti-Semitism, in particular, there is a greater need now, more than ever, to clarify what this concept of “chosenness” means. There are many people in the gentile world who claim that the idea of being “chosen” or “treasured” reflects an extreme racist and exclusionary attitude.  Unfortunately, there are many Jews, be they liberal or neo-Zionist, who also find this concept unacceptable and, even, embarrassing. 

The idea that the Lord “chose us out of all the nations,” coupled with specific seemingly “discriminatory” halachot (laws) regarding interactions with non-Jews, combine, for these critics, to contradict the fundamental humanist idea that all human beings are born equal.

Throughout the centuries, great Jewish scholars and philosophers have gone to great lengths to attempt to explain what it really means to be “chosen” and to demonstrate that Judaism is definitely NOT based on any form of racist attitude.

Many different arguments have been put forward to demonstrate conclusively that Judaism is a religion that is concerned with the betterment of Mankind, in general, and not specifically only with Jews. What follows is a brief review of several of these arguments.

One approach that has been taken to demonstrate the universalistic nature of Judaism focuses on the fact that all human beings have one common ancestor – Adam – and that, further, all human beings were created by God in His Image and, by definition , therefore, they were all created equal.

A second approach stresses the fact Judaism is not a restricted “Members Only” club, but that it accepts all persons who choose to accept its major tenets and beliefs. Furthermore, it can be demonstrated that many pivotal individuals in Jewish history were themselves “converts” or the descendents of converts (e.g., Ruth, King David, Onkelos and some great Rabbis and Sages).

The third approach, which will be discussed in a bit more detail, centers on a better understanding of what the meaning and implications of “chosenness” really are.

According to this line of reasoning, Bnei Yisrael were “chosen” by Hashem to assume a tremendous, enduring responsibility with universalistic overtones and NOT to merit some special privileges or rights! These specials “obligations” are the mandate to live by the entirety of Torah, with all its mitzvot and halachot, which constitutes their “Divine Orders” in the world and for the world as a whole.

Their assignment: To show the world what can be accomplished if mankind would only accept God’s dominion and behave according to the rules of the Torah.

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi described this “special” status of the Jews in relationship to the other nations as being similar to that of the heart to the other parts of the body.  For him, the heart is subject to the most ailments of all the organs, yet it is also the most endowed with health. In other words, the heart is subject to greater risks, but has more strength to withstand problems compared to the other organs.

All that Judaism seeks is that the Jews be left alone and not hindered in fulfilling their obligations and that everyone acknowledge the presence of G-d in the world and recognize His will.

In conclusion, it is clear that the Jewish notion of a chosen people is very far from the modern concept of racism. Shabbat Shalom!