Not Just Chosen, But Chosen To…

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Parshas Yisro refelections on todays challenges to Am Yisrael

Throughout our history, we have been compelled to defend ourselves in Disputations, confronting accusations against the Jewish people and our  Holy Texts. However, never before have we faced such a disgraceful accusation as Israel faces in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where Israel stands accused of committing genocide in Gaza. This charge is unprecedented and casts a dark shadow on the accusers.

How appropriate that in this weeks torah reading Parshas  Yisro we read of the eternal promise to the Jewish people, designated as God’s “treasured nation”.:

וְעַתָּ֗ה אִם־שָׁמ֤וֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ בְּקֹלִ֔י וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֑י וִהְיִ֨יתֶם לִ֤י סְגֻלָּה֙ מִכׇּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים כִּי־לִ֖י כׇּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine.

In another verse, it is written (Devorim 14:2):

כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה לַה’ אֱלֹקיךָ וּבְךָ בָּחַר ה’ לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה מִכֹּל הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה.

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be His treasured people from all the nations that are on the face of the earth.

Every day in our Tefillot, we affirm that ‘G-d chose us from all the nations.’ Yet for two thousand years, we have endured brutal exile and persecution, raising questions  about  the  meaning of our presumed ‘chosen’ status. Living in exile for two millennia, we faced expulsions, slaughter, and perversion of justice – ‘In the place of justice, there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness, that wickedness was there,’ ומקום הצדק שמה הרשע (Koheles 3:16). Culminating last week in one of the most egregious displays of anti-Semitism when Israel was falsely accused of genocide.

Two thousand years of brutal exile and relentless persecution have weighed heavily on us. This suffering has led us to question the meaning of our ‘chosen’ status. We’ve been forcefully cast out from Spain, brutally expelled from Germany, and rudely dismissed from the fabric of England. Pogroms scarred our collective spirit; Inquisitions shook our foundations,  Pogroms and the Holocausts left indelible wounds. The chapters of history unfold, and it’s a senseless narrative, a puzzle missing crucial pieces .This notion of the “Chosen People” resonates with bitter irony. Chosen, but for what? Picked to suffer? Selected to face persecution? Chosen to be treated unfairly? Is this what being the chosen nation is all about? It’s hard to make sense of it all. Is this the destiny of the Chosen Nation?

The eternal promise at Mount Sinai chose the Jews not for privilege but responsibility—not just being chosen but chosen to —to convey morality ethics and defiance of hatred. “And you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Bereshis 19:6).

The Klausenberger Rebbe Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam embodied the role of the Chosen People under Nazi torture. When they took him out to humiliate him, a Nazi hit and pulled his beard, asking if he was from the “chosen People.” The Rebbe defiantly said “Yes!” They knocked him to the ground, kicking him. “Still think you’re chosen, lying there?”

The Rebbe responded: “Because as long as I am not the one doing the hitting and kicking, I know I am one of the chosen People and you are not. I still am a Jew and I act like a Jew – and that gives me immeasurable value.”

In 1173, the Jewish community of Yemen was suffering challenges: including  an Islamic fundamentalist crusade was pressuring Jews into forced conversion. The community contacted the Rambam seeking guidance and ideological support. In response, the Rambam penned a famous letter known to history as the Iggeret Teiman..

Within the letter, the Rambam cited a verse in Yeshayahu 54:17 that describes the historically recurrent assaults upon the Jewish people

כל כלי יוצר עליך לא יצלח וכל לשון תקום אתך למשפט תרשיעי 

Weapons forged against you will fail while tongues hoisted against you in judgment will be impeached.

Commenting on this dual language, the Rambam observed that throughout history, Jews have been threatened with two very different weapons. Throughout history, we have faced countless physical assaults, more than any other people Alongside physical battering, Jews have also faced a fusillade of verbal assaults.  The Navi Yeshayahu assures us that each of these assaults will fail. With this quote from Yeshayahu, the Rambam provided historical assurance to the Jews of Yemen.  Today  Israel faces   the enemies of ” weapons forged against you” as the Hamas and “tongues hoisted against you in judgment” as at The Court of Justice as well as the virulent anti-Semitism throughout the world.

In  Igeres Teiman, Rambam, responding to persecution, writes that the continuity of the Jewish people is guaranteed by HaShem and we will endure forever. This is a special guarantee granted to “זרע יעקב, הזרע הטהור והנקי.” He then states that these are the people who stood at Har Sinai, accepted the Torah and said נעשה ונשמע..

He writes the follows relevant to us today:

 וכן הבטיחנו הבורא על ידי נביאיו שלא נאבד ולא יעשה עמנו כליה, ולא נסור לעולם מלהיות אומה חסידה. וכמו שאי אפשר שיתבטל מציאותו של הקב”ה, כן אי אפשר שנאבד ונתבטל מן העולם…

שהם יחידים, והם האנשים שעמדו אבותם על הר סיני, ושמעו הדיבור מפי הגבורה, ושלחו ידיהם ואמונתם לברית, וקבלו על עצמם המעשה והקבלה, ואמרו כל אשר דבר ה’ נעשה ונשמע. וחייבו דבר זה עליהם ועל הבאים אחריהם, שכן כתוב דברים כ”ט כ”ח “לנו ולבנינו עד עולם”.

Also, the Creator assured us through His prophets that we will not be lost, and no harm will permanently befall us. We will never cease to be a righteous nation. Just as it is impossible for the existence of the Almighty to be nullified, so it is impossible for us to be lost and disappear from the world.

…Understand that they are unique, the individuals who stood, their forefathers, at Mount Sinai, heard the words from the mouth of the Almighty, extended their hands, and affirmed their faith in the covenant. They accepted upon themselves the deed and the commitment, saying, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do and we will hear” (Shemos 24:7). This obligation applies to them and those who come after them, as it is written in Devarim 29:28, “For us and our children forever.”

Being “chosen” is a burdensome responsibility, not a privilege. Jews are “chosen  to” fulfill difficult duties:

Far more than an arrogant claim of superiority, the mantle of Jewish “choseness” is a burdensome obligation to fulfill an exalted yet difficult purpose. As Isaiah proclaimed, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” The Jews have been selected not solely for divine favor but to perform challenging duties. The eternal promise at Mount Sinai chose the Jews not for privilege but responsibility the designation of “chosen” imposes a sense of duty.

What are these difficult responsibilities? To be a “light unto the nations,” conveying moral courage against hatred; affirming the innate holiness within all people being  created in His Image; spreading a message of justice, repentance, and loving kindness even in exile. Tragically, the “chosen” status has resulted more in anti-Semitic persecution than privilege. Yet in the face of two millennia of discrimination, pogroms, and Holocausts, the Jewish people have not relinquished this burden.

As witnesses from Moshe  to the Klausenberger Rebbe have shown…the Jews persist in difficult duties despite two millennia of suffering, revealing that with faith, redemption remains possible however much darkness instills doubt. The Jewish people have been selected not just for Divine favor but taxing duties few groups could withstand .Indeed Jews have actively fought against injustice and oppression even in the face of their own struggles.

 The Navi Yechezkel  (Yechezkel 36:24-28) prophesied:

I will take you from among the nations and gather you…And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit into you…And you shall dwell in the land I have given to your forefathers; and you shall be My people, and I will be your G-d. Ani Hashem.

In  the future… with two words — ‘Ani Hashem,’ I am Hashem, everything will become eminently clear. Just like the brothers of Yosef, who, with the two words of ‘Ani Yosef,’ I am Yosef’ understood all the troubles and all that happened to them, the Navi tells us that in the future, when we hear — Ani Hashem –, when there will be an end to this bitter Exile, we will also be able to look back and say “We understand it all — all the Holocausts, all the persecution, all the troubles.” One day, we will look back and understand the depth of our hardship !אמן

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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