Earlier today, a friend posted on Facebook asking for thoughts on the concept of being a/the Chosen People. Some respondents affirmed chosenness as a call to duty, others commented on the problematic exclusive nature of Chosenness, the superiority in it, others asserted that many peoples are chosen and one simply posted the alternative, emended language of the blessing over Torah, “Praised are You…Who chose us WITH all the nations” (“אשר בחר בנו עם כל העמים”), instead of the traditional “Who chose us FROM all the nations (“אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים”). The whole chain is on Rabbi Elie Kaunfer’s Facebook wall. My comments might interest Jewschoolers, so in the spirit of The Jeffersons, I’m spinning them off here.
“ברוך…אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו.”
Praised are You…Who chose us from all the nations by giving us Your Torah. (The traditional blessing over Torah study and for receiving an aliyah at public Torah reading)
[Background premise: I do not believe that, on the whole, most people do the most good through universal humanism. For the most part, people live in stories and those stories shape their ability to do specific good. John Lennon's song "Imagine" is a dystopic nightmare to my ears.]
I remember being a slave to Pharaoh in Egypt. I remember things changing — it seemed all of a sudden at the time, though in retrospect, I can now remember pieces that must have been lead-ins to it.
I remember being brought up out of Egypt.
I remember receiving Torah at Sinai.
I remember being in awe and fear of The One Who Spoke.
I remember weeping in gratitude even as I feared.
I remember feeling that I was worthless and doomed and I remember moments of exhilaration that I mattered, that I was being entrusted with The One’s truly awesome word.
Ever since, I’m trying to make sense of that word. The memory can get confusing, but in my better moments, when I feel most worthy as a person, I feel an awesome responsibility to share the word, to share Torah, with the world, the feeling that the world needs Torah and cannot possibly be expected to know it unless we share it, because we were there and they weren’t. The One Who Spoke Creation chose Israel to share Torah with the world, because Israel were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.
When I was younger, I thought that this meant that we were better than other peoples; I could testify to our chosenness and I couldn’t testify to anyone else’s chosenness, so therefore, we were winning 1-0. But, then, as an adult, as I started sharing Torah with the world, I had the opportunity to listen, too. A lot of other peoples know a lot of stuff that we don’t know and they seem to have their own inspiration. And I realized that the reason that I can’t testify to their revelations is because I wasn’t there, just as they weren’t at Sinai. I don’t know who else was chosen for what; it would be spiritually colonialist for me to start spreading their gospels or testifying to any other people’s chosenness. I can’t possibly know anything about that, but I listen and take people at their word, at their testimony to their experience, just as I hope they’ll take my word and listen to my testimony of my experience.
We were not chosen WITH other peoples; we were chosen separately from other peoples, with Torah. It is our gift and our responsibility, and we should not expect anyone else to feel and remember it as their own. But we have no reason to doubt anyone else’s testimony to inspiration or revelation through their history, unless they testify to utter barbarism. All we say about other traditions is that we cannot take any testimony seriously if it violates one of the 7 Noahide laws: If a people claims that many gods should be served simultaneously, or that God wants them to abolish all law and order, or to steal, or to tear limbs from animals — such a testimony we do not believe. But any testimony that is civilized we have no reason not to believe and learn from, through their mediation.
We were chosen through Torah. We have no direct information as to whether anyone else was chosen, but it sure seems like many were, and the more I think about it, the more I hope so.