Chosen people against anti-Semitism

Term chosen directs Jewish people to serve others through affirmation of highest morality.

Bibi netanyahu (photo credit: JPost Staff)
Bibi netanyahu
(photo credit: JPost Staff)
As we again reflect this year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 19, it is fitting to consider one of the leading drives behind anti-Semitism around the world: the misguided and dangerous interpretation, whether by Jew or gentile, that the term, "chosen," or "choosing people," represents a claim to superiority rather than to exceptionalism.
While the former undermines the biblical affirmation that all are created in God’s image, the latter asserts that any people can heed a calling to excellence in one field or another.
Such a calling is more a responsibility than a privilege. Unfortunately, some people—Jews and gentiles alike—use the aforementioned terms to assert the ugly specter of a supposed Jewish claim to superiority. Yet the important question is not whether the Jews are a chosen or choosing people, but rather what they are chosen for.
The biblical and rabbinic concepts of a chosen people in eternal covenant with God have undergone various, non-exclusionary, interpretations down to our own day:
-- As a people chosen or choosing to be a moral “light to the nations," a throwback to a time when idolatry and human blood sacrifice were rampant in the known world.
--  As a people pleading with the heavens to open and announce the coming of the Messiah to Israel and to all nations through the concentration and advancement of spiritual qualities, and through witness to God’s presence among us: “For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” [Isaiah 56:7].
In the highest Jewish tradition, the  primary meaning to the term chosen is to be one nation serving the others through the affirmation of universal morality, waging an eternal struggle against moral relativism by which the ends wrongly justify the means(such as idolatry and human blood sacrifice).  This struggle has been the task, even the burden, of the Jewish people since the covenant at Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. .
As such, chosenness, in both a spiritual and practical sense, is the antithesis of superiority. It is a call to service. The Jewish people are the bearer of the torch, but not the source of its light. And yet for millennia, chosenness has been used by anti-Semites as an indictment against the Jews.
Scripture emphasizes the virtues and uniqueness of a, chosen people among an idolatrous world and the blessings and curses in the Bible are the result of God's call for His people to struggle against idolatry, both inwardly and outwardly.
Even today, where other nations are rightly affirming their own exceptionalism and acceptance of divinely inspired morality, the mission of the Chosen people remains unchanged.
The world still suffers from idolatry and idolaters, and the biblical calling, therefore, could not be more imperative in the area most precious to the Jewish faith. In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, anti-Semitism should be confronted through the affirmation of chosenness, not its denial or belittlement.  It is interesting to note that the Hebrew term for exceptionalism is hitstayonut, which shares the same root as ”Zion.”
A fitting parable is useful to deepen understanding of the lofty significance of chosenness for our own day:
The teacher is distributing educational assignments in class.  Each pupil is asked to write a paper on his assigned subject and present it to the others.  Young Jacob is assigned the topic of “universal morality."
Such an assignment does not make Jacob superior to others in the class and neither does he even need to be amorally sound person himself in order to present the paper to his class.
Jacob is only special in the sense that he has a special assignment, as all the other pupils have theirs, to perform a service for the enlightenment of the class. He will only be exceptional based on the quality of his presentation, as will all the other pupils, with theirs.
As such, the old Jewish quip, “Why can’t you choose someone else for a while?" is nonsensical. The teacher provides Jacob, like Jonah, with no escape.
Likewise, no one group of people should be singled out for attack because it has been given a special assignment.  The US should not be attacked for being perceived as the upholders of freedom. So why the Jews?
Despite other group's beliefs in a higher common purpose, anti-Semites continue to relish in their indictment of only one chosen people.  The best that can be said on their behalf is that they don’t realize that they are abetting the diabolical forces that would also subjugate them.  Let them look to Zion for their personal and communal chill-out.
Let Jews internalize the covenantal message that the battle against anti-Semitism is not just for ourselves, but for all humanity. Over just a few war years, 30 million died in Europe alone because of this cancer.
On a pragmatic level, measuring the people of Israel against a higher moral standard simply because “we say that we are supposed to be better," is a clear cop-out.  The paradigm is not morality versus immorality, rather it is of universal morality versus moral relativism. This means fighting present-day oppression, whether in the guise of a master race or a jihad. The latter is a cancerous aberration of Islam, just as Nazism was of Nationalism. The aberrations are thus idolatrous.
This paradigm shift means that the chosen people’s calling to serve the world in an ongoing struggle against idolatry takes precedence over any calling to be “the better ones.” No amount of moral rectitude on the part of the sheep will keep the wolf away. It can only happen by gathering together in God's name around the eternal fire of His word.
In the liturgical prayer Adon Olam, Jews recite the words "Hu haya, hu hoveh, hu yihye, and yehaveh" which means, "He was, he is, he will be and he will cause to become.
Become what?  Become united as Israel, our namesake, in the mission to combat idolatry today.
The writer is a Hebrew University graduate (class of 1963) and retired U.S. foreign service officer now living again in Jerusalem. He spent half of his 30-year foreign service career living and working in Arab and Muslim countries.