Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Nation of Israel: Chosen for a Different Task

Growing up as a Jew I always felt different than the other kids. In the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where I was the only Jew in my elementary school, I heard everything from playful teasing to out-and-out racial slurs from my classmates, and once even from a teacher.

In Hebrew school, being different meant experiencing horrible tragedies: the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms, and of course the Holocaust. If being the chosen people meant undergoing tragedy, God could choose somebody else.

Only in my young adulthood, after learning more about Judaism than the tragedies we underwent, did I embrace this difference; yet still I still didn’t fully understand it.

One insight that struck me was from the Kabbalist and philosopher Rabbi Yehuda Lowe of Prague, known as the Maharal. He explains that we have a unique relationship with God, a parent-child relationship. With our chosenness comes greater expectations, and with that greater punishment. But there is also greater consolation. This all stems from an essential difference in our nature.

One way of understanding this point is that the Jewish Nation is not bound by the laws of history. No nation has ever left its land for 2000 years (much less even a fraction of that), maintained its identity, and then returned home. The establishment of the modern State of Israel as a Jewish State flies in the face of the laws of history. And its continuing success despite coming under constant attack testifies that Israel runs by a different set of rules.

This is only one expression of our unique identity, but it’s one that we should feel a sense of pride in. It doesn’t mean that we are better than other nations, only that we have a unique message to give to the world. Teaching the world about the oneness of God is not a simple mission; the stakes are high, but this is our special task.

And despite the pain that the Jewish people have faced and still face, maybe the State of Israel, with all its miracles, is the beginning of the consolation that we have been awaiting for so long.

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