(Random Musings Before Shabbat - Ekev 5759 Recycled for 5760)
There is a sad and painful tendency in the (liberal) Jewish community to downplay the idea of choseness as being problematic in relating as a minority to the rest of the peoples of the world, lest they take offense at this claim. But this is largely because we Jews ourselves often misunderstand the meaning of choseness. It's not about being better or superior, it's simply about covenant.
What better indicator and reminder of this do we need other than the words of D'varim 9:6-7:
"Know then, that it is not for any virtue of yours that the Lrd your Gd is giving you this good land to occupy, for you are a stiff-necked people...from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you reached this place, you have continued defiant towards the Lrd." (JPS)
No, the people Israel are no better at anyone else at heeding the words of Gd. Time and again we fail and reap our just punishments. Time and again we fail, yet Gd still shows us mercy and compassion and love, and we are still here.
How hard can it be? All that Gd asks of us, Moshe Rabbeinu tells us, is to revere Gd, walk only in Gd's ways, love Gd, and serve Gd with all your heart and soul. Keep Gd's commandments for your own good! (D'varim 10:12-13)
Very hard, apparently. Our ancestors never seemed quite able to live up to it. Nor are we doing much better these days. The thickening about our hearts has grown thicker and our stiff necks even stiffer! (see D'varim 10:16)
Is our inability to follow these simple instructions at the root of our insecurity regarding accepting the reality of Israel's election to a covenant with Gd? Is it two millennia of persecution that shapes our caution? Is it a genuine effort to follow the instructions of D'varim 10:19 that we must befriend the stranger for we were strangers ourselves in Egypt?
What is it that we fear? We are so many of us unable to stand up and say, proudly, that we, the Jewish people, were chosen by Gd to have a covenant with Gd, to be Gd's chosen people?
Yes, many horrible things have happened to us over the centuries. But we are still here. Have we the hubris to believe this is only the result of our stiff-neckedness and our unique skills at coexisting with the majority cultures we live in as a minority? Our is there another force at work-the one that continues to watch over us - the One who never slumbers nor sleeps, but watches over Israel?
I, for one, do not believe our cunning and stubbornness alone have enabled us to survive so long. Many other cultures and religions have been wiped out throughout our long history. We could just as easily have been destroyed and become a footnote in religious history. Even the most recent attempt to destroy us, as horrible and devastating as it was, did not succeed in wiping us out.
Now, there is a danger in my viewpoint. For if we say so about Judaism, then Xtianity too can lay claim to some of that. This itinerant rabbi/preacher who was crucified by the Romans, could have, and theoretically should have, been but a mere footnote in history. Xtianity has survived against incredible odds, too (albeit Judaism has had a tougher time overall.) Other religions flourish around the globe. Here in the U.S., Islam is the fastest growing religion. They, too, have all survived against the odds.
But this same danger is also an opportunity. It should enable to us declare proudly our choseness, our covenant with Gd. The other religions have naught to fear from that. For they, too are survivors, perhaps through Gd's compassion and help, too. It is only the literalist, the fundamentalist, who cannot accept less than a black and white, yes or no, Gd's people or heathen viewpoint of the world.
Why does the Gd with whom we have a covenant allow all these other religions to flourish? I do not know nor should I presume to. Some might say they are to serve as foils for us (and for each other?) I choose to chalk this whole issue up to the ineffability of Gd for now. (As I mature in my religious outlook, I find that less and less of a "cop out.")
Yes, other religious traditions flourish, outnumber us. But we have our covenant, and also this commandment from D'varim 11:16
"Take care not to be lured away to serve other gds and bow to them. For the Lrd's anger will flare up against you..."
This Shabbat, and always, be proud to be one of the "chosen people."
© 1999 by Adrian A. Durlester
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