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What does it mean being the chosen nation?

Updated: Jul 1

R

abbi Tuly Brycks


At first glance, the concept of “Am Hanivchar” (Chosen Nation) can appear at odds with the idea of pluralism or the American ideal that “All men are created equal[1].” After more careful analysis, the Jewish approach is actually a beautiful synthesis of pride in oneself coupled with respect for others:

The Jewish claim of being chosen is not unique to Jews: Most religions and philosophies believe that they were “chosen.” For example, most Christians believe that G-d originally chose the Jews,[2] then sent down Jesus, and now the Christians are “chosen.”[3] Most Muslims believe that G-d originally chose the Jews,[4] sent down Mohamed, and now the Muslims are “chosen.”[5] Jews believe that G-d originally chose the Jews and never changed His mind.[6] The belief in one’s “chosenness” or some other form of superiority is not limited to religions. Thomas Jefferson’s Manifest Destiny was the belief in a Divine destiny to redeem and remake the world in the image of the United States of America.[7] Even if aspects of the Manifest Destiny, such as the Divine mission, are no longer widely accepted, the belief among many Americans that their way of life is superior is alive and well today. From colonialism, to imperialism, to the current drive to spread capitalism and democracy, the struggle by the Western World to educate “inferior” cultures continues.[8] Communists and socialists similarly maintain that their way of life is the best,[9] insisting that the right way of doing things is for more communal sharing and greater economic and social equality. Totalitarian regimes would argue for the efficiency and effectiveness of their methods.[10] And even the various rebellions and Arab Springs across the globe contain rebel visions of a better way of life. Sometimes the rebels are guided by a “superior” ideology such as democracy.[11] Other times, they’re guided by a “superior” philosophy and practice of religion.[12] In some cases, the rebellions against totalitarian regimes are guided by the desire for the rebels to set up their own leadership, which may be even more restrictive and domineering than the one it replaces.[13] The bottom line is that whether by Divine right or logical proclamation, just about everyone claims or believes that their way of life is “chosen”.

Jews need not be ashamed for standing by their convictions: Believing that your philosophy is right does not mean that you are egotistical or that you don’t respect others. Rather, it means that you have convictions and stand by them. An atheist is convinced that there is no G-d. As such, from his perspective, someone who believes in G-d is wrong. A believer would maintain that the atheist is wrong. They cannot both be right. Either there is a G-d or there isn’t a G-d. The believer can and should respect the atheist’s right to his opinion, while still maintaining his conviction that the atheist is wrong. Similarly, either Jesus was the Messiah or he wasn’t. We can’t all be right. So even in a pluralistic society, when it comes to factual opinions, those who have confidence in their convictions will necessarily believe that the opposing view is wrong.

Judaism is among the most accepting and complimentary toward other religions: While Judaism is clearly not alone in believing that its way of life is correct, Judaism is unique in its philosophy that we are all G-d’s children, Jews and non-Jews alike. Unlike many other religions that maintain that only their followers can be saved,[14] Judaism maintains that all humans can share in the eternal after life.[15] Furthermore, not only do we not demand that non-Jews convert to Judaism to achieve some sort of salvation, we actually discourage conversion.[16]

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