Jonathan Muskat

I Know We Are Your Chosen People. But Can’t You Choose Someone Else?

I think it’s safe to say that many of us are wondering, “What’s next?”  After the devastating year that we all have experienced during the COVID pandemic, we were hoping to finally return to some semblance of normalcy. In Israel, the pandemic is essentially over because of the speed with which the country was vaccinated, and we were ready to celebrate Lag Ba’Omer in full force, when tragedy struck in Meron. As the nation was still grieving and was in the process of figuring out what went wrong at Meron,  we were ready to celebrate the 54th reunification of Jerusalem on Yom Yerushalayim. Then riots erupted and terror struck. We find ourselves under attack.  As we ready ourselves for Shavuot, another opportunity to celebrate, I wonder what’s in store for us in Israel. Is there any end to these tragic events, one after another?  Is this simply the fate of being Jewish?  To quote Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

Perhaps we can find some inspiration from the upcoming holiday of Shavuot and the theology of ‘chosenness’. After all, we are familiar with the tension between different statements by our Sages about our acceptance of the Torah during this holiday. The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat states that God placed a mountain over our heads and said that if we don’t accept the Torah then we will be buried under the mountain, and a Midrash in Eichah Rabbah states that God approached all the nations of the world and asked them to accept the Torah and everyone refused except for the Bnei Yisrael who willingly accepted the Torah. Did we accept the Torah willingly or were we forced to accept the Torah?

Rabbi Lamm once resolved this tension by asserting that we have two traditions.  On the one hand, we had no choice in becoming God’s nation, and on the other hand, we chose God.  These two traditions underscore the central meaning of the theology of chosenness.  Both are necessary – God choosing us and we choosing Him.  Both the mountain over our heads and the Bnei Yisrael exclaiming “naaseh v’nishma.”  God only chose us once at Sinai, but the choice then devolves upon every Jew in any place at any time.  We must choose anew in every generation.

Now chosenness has both obligations and privileges, difficulties and joys. At birth, every Jew inherits all of the agonies of bearing God’s word to an unrepentant and unredeemed world. However, if we choose God, then we experience Kedusha, which provides us with joy and delight. For the Jew who is only chosen, Jewishness is a fate. For the Jew who also chooses, then it’s a fortune.

Unfortunately, being chosen by God at this time may mean continued attacks and continued biased denunciations and isolation in the international community.  However, we also can see ourselves as more than being chosen. We can see ourselves as a nation that can choose God. We can see ourselves as a nation that packed the Kotel on Yom Yerushalayim despite the riots that were taking place on the Temple Mount. We can see ourselves as a nation that danced throughout the city on Yom Yerushalayim despite the fact that for two minutes seven rockets were fired in the direction of Jerusalem. Let us pray for the safety of our brethren in Israel and stand with them to defend themselves in whatever way is necessary to provide safety to Israel’s citizens. And on Shavuot, when we remember and re-experience the Sinai revelation, we will choose God once again, giving our lives meaning and purpose and ensuring that our chosenness will not crush us but it will elevate us.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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