Those who are not Jewish probably aren’t aware of how much pressure we Jews have on us. I won’t even go into all of the political stuff going on and the world examining Israel through a microscope and holding us responsible for all of the hardships being experienced by the Palestinians (a subject for a full blog in and of itself). Rather I’m talking about the additional pressure that the Jews have taken upon themselves of Chosen-ness and being a leader among peoples in the world.
To be fair, this wasn’t really our own initiative or idea – after all, God Himself told us in the Torah that Israel would be His Chosen people (Deuteronomy 14:2) and in the Book of Isaiah, Israel is told that they are to be a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).
I can’t help but to wonder, though, if we’ve either missed the point of what that was meant to be.
In the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye asks God “I know we are the chosen people. But once in a while, can't you choose someone else?” This is a great line, but in a way, I think that it emphasizes the manner in which “Chosen-ness” has been misunderstood.
For many people, the natural interpretation of it is that God “chose” us to be His people – the “favorite” son, as it were. A brief glance at Jewish history would seem to indicate that we apparently have not been granted some special “Stay Away From Troubles” free card, or an overly forgiving proverbial pat on the head and chuckling in amusement when we’ve acted badly.
While all people in the world have an obligation to meet a particular code of morals and behavior, the Children of Israel have been chosen to be obligated to the rules, regs and expectations specifically spelled out in the Torah.
But even that’s not quite so clear-cut, because in most places the laws given to us in the Torah are extremely vague, and it took hundreds of years of the greatest Jewish scholars exegeting in the Talmud to bring us to the specific laws and how they relate to our daily lives. And once they set us on the right path, scholars in every generation since have kept the laws relevant to that generation.
But too many of us – Jews and Gentiles alike – have taken this “chosen-ness” to think that we’re special in some way – that we have extra privileges, bonus points, whatever. Even worse, many anti-Semites throughout history have used it as an excuse to turn up the heat of their hatred – either because they saw many Jews acting as though they were especially “entitled” in some way for being the “Chosen People”, or because they saw the Jewish people as receiving special treatment that they would have wanted for themselves. Whatever the reason, whatever the impetus, the whole concept of “Chosen-ness” didn’t help.
The “chosen-ness” is a responsibility, not a privilege. If we indeed meet that obligation, if we conduct ourselves in a manner conducive to what the Torah teaches us, then we won’t have time to think of ourselves as “special”, nor would we have the inclination to do so.
Given current political happenings in the Middle East, this could be especially relevant. Recently we have seen one government overthrown in Tunisia, another one on very shaky legs right now in Egypt, and the government in Lebanon brought down from within itself by Hezbollah factions in the government. Several other Muslim countries have seen the beginnings of similar demonstrations within their own lands, and have demonstrated a readiness to deal with the revolutions that their fellow states have been experiencing.
The response of the Egyptian government has resulted in hundreds of people killed and thousands wounded by the military trying to suppress the demonstrations. The government has closed off access to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.
In Syria, a pre-emptive response before demonstrations have even started, the government has also shut down these international social outlets to their people.
Israel is the only true democracy in the region, the only country here in which a violent demonstration would never be (and has never been) the means to replace a government, and the only country in the in the area which always does and always will allow full access to all international news reports and world-wide web social networks.
Nevertheless, Israel is all too often cast in the role of the “bad guy” in the Middle East. We, and our policies are apparently the stumbling block of regional peace and stability.
Now, more than ever before is the time for us to truly fulfill our chosen-ness. That means that the policies we pursue have to encompass both Israel’s best interests, as well as a morally right way to be. Not because we owe the Palestinians or our Arab neighbors anything, but because we have an obligation to act and to treat all peoples in a particular manner.
We will still be the villain in the eyes of much of the world and the world media. Probably because no matter what the facts and the realities are, the media has a tendency to always pull for the underdog - no matter why they’re the underdog and how they got to that place.
But our responsibility is to ourselves, and to our relationship with God. It’s time for us to choose the right way to be. Eventually people may be able to recognize that for what it is and we can truly be a Light Unto The Nations.