Ki Tavo: It all depends on the choice we make

Moshe Rabbeinu notes two choices: one being Am Yisrael choosing loyalty to G-d and the second being G-d’s choice of Am Yisrael as a “chosen people.”

IDF soldiers after returning to Israel from Gaza August 5, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF soldiers after returning to Israel from Gaza August 5, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, we read the conclusion of Moshe Rabbeinu’s long and significant speech before the nation, after which he gives shorter speeches.
Moshe chooses to conclude his long speech with the following words: “You have selected the Lord this day, to be your G-d, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him. And the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments, and to make you supreme, above all the nations that He made, [so that you will have] praise, a [distinguished] name and glory; and so that you will be a holy people to the Lord, your God, as He spoke.” (Deuteronomy 26, 17-19) The unique words “he’emarta/ ha’amirecha” (“you have selected/has selected you”) have been explained by commentators as being parallel to supremacy and loftiness. Or, put simply, as an expression of choice.
Moshe Rabbeinu notes two choices: one being Am Yisrael choosing loyalty to G-d, “to walk in His ways...and to obey Him,” and the second being G-d’s choice of Am Yisrael as a “chosen people” supreme to all other nations.
Here we must clarify an important point: Many mistake the meaning of “supreme” in this context. It is not meant, heaven forbid, as racist or as to insinuate superiority over other nations. The meaning, as understood from analysis of these verses, is that other nations look upon Am Yisrael [so that you will have] praise, a [distinguished] name and glory. When all the nations see Am Yisrael as a symbol of moral and ideological behavior – then the choice of Am Yisrael takes place.
A current example of this “supreme” behavior can be seen in the recent war fought by the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza strip. Even the honest critics of the State of Israel and of the IDF, (not those whose hatred of Israel colors their every thought), cannot help but compare the quality of the moral code guiding the actions of the State of Israel, which avoided many important military actions out of fear of harming people not involved in the fighting, versus the heinous lack of morality displayed by our enemies who intentionally and blatantly act to kill citizens, women and children, both Israelis and of their own nation.
The meaning of Moshe’s words regarding both these choices is twofold.
First, it is significant to emphasize the fact that Am Yisrael chose to be loyal to G-d and that G-d chose the Jewish nation to give it the Torah and the Land of Israel. Second, it is important to note the mutual dependency of these choices.
Moral supremacy does not happen on its own. For Am Yisrael to be worthy of the title “G-d’s Chosen People,” it has to want it and choose it, to examine its own behavior and constantly work to improve it. Only then, after Am Yisrael chooses the worthy path, does it merit G-d’s selection of it as the Chosen People of moral supremacy discernible to all other nations.
This understanding is especially crucial nowadays. We are now only a week and a half away from Rosh Hashana, which according to Jewish tradition is a day of introspection, the day of judgment of the past, the day when our fate for next year is determined. Each and every one of us wants next year to be good and successful, for us personally and for all of Am Yisrael. This desire of ours, if translated into the biblical words quoted above, is actually the desire that G-d should select us, that also for this coming year, we should be worthy of the name “Chosen People.”
But to be worthy of this, we must show readiness. To merit G-d’s choice, we must choose Him. In general, we must remember that we have been given free will. We are not obligated to do one thing or another; there is no one who forces us to do good, or heaven forbid, bad. Each and every one of us can choose to do good and thus merit that good chooses us. If we succeed in choosing to do good, we will have good reason to expect next year to be better, for each of us in all areas of our lives, and for all of Am Yisrael.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.