This past week, with no sense of irony whatsoever, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stood next to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Germany and said that Israel had perpetrated fifty Holocausts on the Palestinian people. Nearly 80 years after the Holocaust, the world Jewish population has not reached its pre-WWII level and the Palestinian population in Israel and the territories has grown fivefold. But, President Abbas would have us believe that Israel has perpetrated fifty Holocausts on the Palestinian people.
If that were the only example of antisemitism from this past week, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. However, we also know that antisemitic graffiti was found on a synagogue in New York and another synagogue had to cancel services last Saturday because one of its regular members is a judge who issued a search warrant that was unpopular with some people. And there was more.
It all made me think of “Fiddler on the Roof.” In one of the play’s more famous lines, Tevye the Milkman turns to his face to the heavens and says, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
The truth is that Tevye was expressing something that most Jews feel at one time or another. We are uncomfortable with the idea of being chosen. And if we have been the Chosen People, why does our history seem to be a progression of destruction, exile, inquisition, expulsion, pogroms, genocide and war?
Nonetheless, one of the first prayers we expect our young people to master as they prepare to become B. Mitzvah is the blessing over the Torah. It is a prayer imbued with the idea of chosenness – we thank God “Who has chosen us from among the nations.” The Reconstructionist Movement changed the wording of this prayer to praise God “Who has brought us closer to God” (but has not chosen us).
We feel uncomfortable with the concept that we are somehow better than other people just by virtue of being born into this community – or even choosing to enter this community. When I discuss intermarriage in our community, I point out that many of the non-Jewish people that we Jews meet in school, on websites, at work, etc., are attractive, intelligent, funny, interesting people. If they weren’t, there’d be no intermarriage. They’re just like us.
So, what do we do with this concept of chosen-ness? How do we explain it?
In this week’s Torah portion, we read: “Know, then, that it is not for any virtue of yours that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess; for you are a stiff-necked people (Deut 9:6).”
In other words, we are not inherently special. God didn’t choose us because our ancestors were particularly attractive, intelligent, funny or interesting. God chose us DESPITE all of our faults.
God chose us to show the world that the Torah – God’s ways – can lift anyone up to become a moral exemplar for the rest of the world. It’s not who we are that makes us God’s unique people; it’s what we DO. And anyone can choose to do what God asks of us. It’s within our power. So, the next time you are faced with a choice where you could go either way, try to think about what would be God’s way – and start heading in that direction.