Chosen or Choosing?

On Sunday the Jewish people will observe the 3,300 year anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. We call it zman matan Torahtainu… the time of the GIVING of our Torah. But in translation, I propose that it should be called zman kabbalat Torahtainu….the time of RECEIVING our Torah.

Where would we be if God had offered us His Torah and we refused to accept it? But because we did accept it we were called the CHOSEN people…. Am asher bachar banu… the people (or nation) whom He chose.

But we could also be referred to as the CHOOSING people. We Jews and God are in partnership. He created the world and we are the “managers” of His Estate. Our task is to be “tikkun ha olam”, perfecters of the world, to help God’s world to be a better place in which mankind can live in peace.

Has there ever been a time in the 4000 years of our history when we were not surrounded by hostile neighbors?  Canaanites,  Perizites, Hittites, Hivites,  Girgashites, Jebusites, Amorites….  seven “nations” who dwelt in the land which God promised to us.

And our not-so-close neighbors… Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians…who enslaved us or took us into a captivity in exile, far from Zion and Jerusalem.

For two thousand years we were dispersed, wanderers among the nations of the world, most of them hostile to us. We were beaten, burned, brutalized, forced to convert to the faith of the enemy, pogroms, massacres, inquisitions and holocausts. And in spite of being suffering servants of the Most High God we rejoiced in being His special people, even an “am k’shai oref”, a stiff-necked stubborn people.

I firmly believe that it was in suffering that our Jewish faith was preserved. Had we been allowed to live among other peoples as equals we would have assimilated into alien cultures and nothing of our past Jewish heritage would have remained.

Take note that when a Jewish male is called up for an Aliyah to the Torah, in the final words he thanks God for GIVING us the Torah. The Hebrew word “notain ha Torah” is in the present tense, it is not “natan ha Torah”, who GAVE us the Torah. The present tense means that the giving is still alive.  it is not a once-upon-a-time gift. It is not WAS but rather IS. Torah lives with us both as a Chosen people and as a Choosing people.

There is a rabbinic statement which clarifies our relationship to God in accepting His Torah and living our lives by its laws and commandments.

“Torah ainena overet b’yerusha. Kol dor va dor tzarich l’chadesh ota”… the Torah is not a hand-me-down as an inheritance alone; each and every generation is obligated to renew it.

When Moses received the commandments at Sinai, he did not speak to the assembled Israelites of blintzes and cheese-cakes. He spoke only of the sweetness of our Torah. And in later generations the rabbis taught that on Shavuot we should eat sweet foods to remember and to commemorate the sweetness of Torah.

But we have still remained, after 4000 years, an “am kshai oref”, a stiff-necked and stubborn people. We have not yet learned how to live with one another, in spite of our differences. Where there are two Jews there are three synagogues… and one is for the synagogue which we do not enter to pray.

Our country was founded mainly by Jews who, although they never denied God, chose not to serve Him religiously. Following in the footsteps of Theodor Herzl, the dreamer of Zion, a completely secular and assimilated Jew, they built a Jewish nation for all Jews, believers and non-believers.

And sadly there has been hostility between the two factions ever since the founding of our independent Jewish State.

I do personally regret that Israeli Jews are denied freedom of religious expression. There are thousands of Jews among us who would like to worship God in accordance with their own traditions but are “enslaved” by rabbis who remain chained to 16th century Judaism and who reject the cultures of other lands and peoples.

It is not the Jewish religion which has preserved us as a people. That is the myth that Orthodox rabbis enjoy clinging to . We were preserved by a common history. We were all slaves in Egypt. We all stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai when Moses descended with the two tablets of the law. We were all driven into Babylonian and later Roman exile. And we all perished in flames, both in the Catholic Spain of Cardinal Tomas de Torquemada’s Inquisition and centuries later in the ovens of Hitler’s Auschwitz.

It is that common history which binds us as one people.

On Shavuot, while eating blintzes or burekas, cholent or chumus, let us pride ourselves on our two nomenclatures: we are a CHOSEN people and we are a CHOOSING people. And each one of us serves our God in our own preferred way.

…..’asher bachar banu mikol ha amim v’natan lanu et Torahto”… who chose us from among all peoples (nations) and who gave us His Torah.

“Baruch ata Hashem, NOTAIN ha Torah”… Blessed are you, O God, who GIVES us the Torah of life.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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