Dear Jew in the City-
Doesn’t being the “Chosen People” make it easier for Jews to be arrogant?
Thanks for your question. We discussed the whole “chosen people” thing a few months ago, so let’s recap what that’s about.
I have very dear friends and their kids are special to me. I take them places and remember their birthdays because they’re like family. I’m sure your kids are very nice and I wish them well but I don’t do special things for them because they’re not like family. That’s kind of like the Jews’ relationship with God. At a time when the world was idolatrous, Abraham had a special relationship with God, so God promised to continue that relationship with Abraham’s descendants. In Genesis 17:7, God tells Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and your descendants after you throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant, to be a God for you and to your descendants after you.”
The idea that the Jews are “chosen” (whatever that means) appears passingly in numerous places, including in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, but it is a frequent theme throughout the book of Isaiah. It is stated so often in that book that it’s Isaiah who likely cemented the phrase “chosen people.” One key quote is, “But you, Israel My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham, who loved Me, whom I grasped from the ends of the earth, from its nobles I called you and I said to you, ‘You are My servant.’ I chose you and I did not reject you” (Is. 41:8-9).
But what does it mean to be chosen? Isaiah 42:1 spells it out: “Behold My servant, I will support him; My chosen one, whom My soul desires; I have placed My spirit upon him, he will bring justice to the nations” In other words, the Jews were chosen to serve as an example to the other nations of the world. They were chosen for responsibility.
The prophet Amos adds to this idea: “Only you have I chosen from all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your sins” (Amos 3:2). With responsibility comes accountability.
Even though being “chosen” doesn’t mean inherent superiority, it means more responsibility, I can see the idea of being chosen going to some people’s heads. That doesn’t mean that it has to. It’s perfectly reasonable for a person to be aware of their strengths without being arrogant about them.
Let’s use Moses as an example. Exodus 33:11 tells us that Moses – and only Moses – could speak to God “face to face,” all other prophets receiving messages while in trances. Numbers 12:3, on the other hand, tells us that Moses was the most humble person on the face of the Earth. People find this contradictory. “How could Moses be humble? Didn’t he know that only he could speak to God while wide awake?” Of course he knew this! He wrote it down earlier in the Torah! He just didn’t think it made him any better than anyone else. He recognized that it was a gift from God.
Being aware of one’s strengths isn’t automatically a cause for arrogance. I know that I write well; I recognize that this ability is a gift from God. I am equally aware that I can’t sing; that’s a gift I haven’t been given. Other people have been given musical aptitude, athletic prowess, acting ability, psychological insight and a multitude of other gifts. Is Michael Jordan better than Sir Paul McCartney because the former Beatle can’t dunk? Is Paul superior because Jordan never wrote a hit song? Is either of them better than you or me? In truth, we’re all equal, we just have different gifts.
It would be silly for Paul McCartney to deny having musical talent or for Michael Jordan to deny having sports skills. It would be equally silly for Moses to deny that only he could speak to God while remaining in possession of his faculties. Similarly, it would be ridiculous for Jews to deny that God has a special relationship with us since the Torah says so in many places. But it’s necessary that we recognize that this is a gift that He gave us because of His relationship with Abraham. As with other gifts, the fact that it was given says more about the giver (God) than it does about the recipient (us). It’s not a reason for anyone to get a big head.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
JITC Educational Correspondent