I do not see a way of rationally explaining the obsessive hatred to Israel and Jews without the faith that Jews are G-d’s chosen people to make the world a place of goodness and kindness.
The obsession with Jews, a people that does not even constitute a quarter of a percent of humanity, is going on for almost 4000 years. It makes no sense. 500,000 people were murdered in Syria, including tens of thousands of children, and I did not hear of one demonstration. Israel is trying to protect its children from being slaughtered, fighting an enemy that wants its own children to die, so Israel can be demonized, and yet the Jews are condemned.
Traumatized self-hating Jews and anti-Semites even have the chutzpah to call Gaza a Jewish “concentration camp,” when Israel expelled every last Jew from Gaza in 2005. Had the Gaza population not voted in Hamas in 2006 and chosen to spend all its resources to murder Jews, Gaza could have been the Singapore of the Middle East. They blame Israel for having checkpoints, which only exist because without them, there would be terrorists’ attacks on a daily basis. They want an airport in Gaza, so that planes can murder tens of thousands of Jews daily?
The obsession with Israel makes no sense unless you can appreciate the truth that we are G-d’s people. We were chosen to serve as a light onto the nations, a Divine flame lit on the cosmic way, hence we trigger the world in unimaginable ways.
But this is not easy for Jews to accept, even though the world knows it. Virtually every other nation has perceived itself as chosen or otherwise divinely special. For example, China means “Middle Kingdom” in Chinese – meaning that China is at the center of the world; and Japan considers itself the land where the sun originates (“Land of the Rising Sun”). The British thought they were chosen, and the Muslims and Christians of course see themselves as chosen. And they would love hearing it. But when you tell a Jew you are chosen, he says: “Me? Never. I am just a human being.”
Of course, Jewish chosen-ness cannot be racist because Jews are not a race; there are Jews of every race. What is more, any person of any race, ethnicity, or nationality can become a member of the Jewish people and thereby be as chosen as Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Maimonides, or the chief rabbi of Israel.
Can reason alone explain how a hodgepodge of ex-slaves was able to change history — to introduce the moral Creator we know as G-d, to devise ethical monotheism; to write the world’s most influential book, the Bible; to be the only civilization to deny the cyclical worldview and give humanity belief in a linear (i.e., purposeful) history; to provide morality-driven prophets; and so much more — without G-d playing the decisive role in this people’s history?
But we are still uncomfortable. Why did it have to be this way? Who needs this idea that one people is chosen? It seems unenlightened. To suggest that as Jews we are somehow closer to G-d than all other nation smacks of arrogance, elitism, and prejudice.
It’s because we don’t understand what “chosen” means.
The Rebbe’s 1798 Letter
This story takes us back some two centuries ago. In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad, known as the Alter Rebbe, was arrested and charged with treason, on the basis of petitions to the Czar by opponents of Chassidism. It was a devastating moment in Jewish history. He could have been given capital punishment, heaven forbid—and that would have been the end not only of Chabad, but of much of the Chassidic movement, as he was its chief defender, intellectual advocate, and most influential figure. After 53 days of imprisonment, he was exonerated of all charges and freed. The event—celebrated to this day on the 19th day of Kislev, this Shabbos December 2 —marked the decisive victory of the Chassidic movement and the onset of a new, expanded phase in the exploration and dissemination of the infinite spiritual depth of Judaism, embodied in Chassidism.
Upon his release, Rabbi Schneur Zalman dispatched a short but powerful letter to all his followers. It is one of the most extraordinary letters one can read. (It is published in Tanya, Igeres Hakodesh, chapter 2). The Rebbe suffered so much as a result of his opponents; they persecuted him and his followers even before the arrest; then came the arrest and his terrifying trial. Yet in this letter, he warns his disciples against any display of haughtiness as a result of their victory. He instructs them not to denigrate, tease, and show disdain to those who craved their downfall.
The letter opens with the verse stated by Jacob in Genesis: “I have become small by all the kindnesses and by all the truth that You have done Your servant.” (This verse appears in the beginning of the Torah section of Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43), which was the Torah reading for the Shabbat preceding the day of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s release, Tuesday, 19 Kislev, 5759-1798). The Alter Rebbe is perturbed by the obvious question. Why was Jacob humbled by all the kindness he was shown? Why did it not bolster his pride? If G-d gave this all to me, I probably deserve it!
תניא אגרת הקודש סימן ב: פי' שבכל חסד וחסד שהקדוש ב"ה עושה לאדם צריך להיות שפל רוח במאד, כי חסד דרועא ימינא. וימינו תחבקני. שהיא בחי' קרבת אלהים ממש ביתר שאת מלפנים. וכל הקרוב אל ה' ביתר שאת והגבה למעלה מעלה, צריך להיות יותר שפל רוח למטה מטה כמ"ש מרחוק ה' נראה לי. וכנודע דכולא קמי' דווקא כלא חשיב. וא"כ כל שהוא קמי' יותר הוא יותר כלא ואין ואפס וזו בחי' ימין שבקדושה וחסד לאברהם שאמר אנכי עפר ואפר. וזו היא ג"כ מדתו של יעקב... משא"כ בזלע"ז הוא ישמעאל חסד דקליפה. כל שהחסד גדול הוא הולך וגדל בגובה וגסות הרוח ורוחב לבו.
The Alter Rebbe conveys a profound idea.
Who Chose You?
In the Jewish understanding, chosenness leads not to arrogance, but rather to humility. If it were some human king who chose us to be his special people, then your assumption would be correct — we would become elitists. When a mortal power shows favoritism towards a subject, that subject will become more arrogant as a result — the closer you are to the king, the more significant you are, and the more significant you are the higher respect you feel you deserve.
But we were chosen by G-d. And the closer you are to G‑d, the more you sense your insignificance. While being buddy-buddy with a human leader inflates your ego, a relationship with G‑d bursts your selfish bubble. Because G‑d is an infinite being, and all delusions of petty self-importance fall away when you stand before infinity. Being close with G‑d demands introspection and self-improvement, not smugness.
In Judaism, G-d is the core of reality—the entire reality of existence. We are all part of reality, we are all in reality; we are all part of G-d, in G-d, in reality. There is an organic oneness that unites all of existence, all of humanity, all of the cosmos—and that organic unity is what we call G-d. “Hashem Echad,” G-d is one, does not only mean there is one G-d and not twenty gods; it means that G-d is synonymous with oneness. The word G-d is another way of saying that “there is only one.” There is oneness that pervades all of existence. We are all reflections of One reality; One core. We are all manifestations—diverse expressions—of a singular reality.
To be conscious of G-d means to never allow your ego to wrap you in its superficial imagination. “Ego” stands for Easing G-d Out. When I do not realize my true greatness and value, as a reflection of G-d’s infinite oneness, I must resort to my ego to feel good about myself and to put you down. Becoming G-d conscious means that at every moment I need not protect my ego, as I become completely comfortable with my true reality, as an expression of Divine light. The more G-d conscious I am, the smaller I become and the greater I become: On one level I become nothing, as there is nothing but the organic oneness, the absolute infinity of G-d, which pervades all. At the same time—I become the greatest, as my life becomes a full and seamless expression of the higher, unifying, integrating, eternal consciousness of the eternal core of all reality.
Being close to G-d summons you to respect others more, not less. The more G-d conscious, the more loving and charitable you become, as you are aware that G-d’s light pervades every person and every creature. When in the name of chosenness a person becomes bigoted, disrespectful, elitist and arrogant—they missed the boat. When you become aware of G-d choosing you, it eliminates the judgementalism we resort to in order to protect our egos and feel better about ourselves and our place in the world. Your success never equals my failure. I reflect one aspect of G-d, as you reflect another one.
This is the idea of the Chosen People — a nation of individuals who have been given the opportunity to sense G‑d's closeness, hear His truth and relay His message to the world. All agree that it was the Jews that introduced the world to monotheism and a system of ethics and morals that has shaped the modern view of life and its purpose. And it is the survival of Judaism to this day that attests to the eternal value of this system.
Anyone from any ethnic background can convert to Judaism and become chosen. Jewish chosenness is not a gene, it is a state of the soul. Anyone wishing to take it upon themselves is welcome -- as long as they are ready to have their bubble burst. Anyone can join this group of “chosen people” as long as they are ready to experience themselves as nothing…
And that is a Jew.
And that is why so many people loathe the Jewish people.
We have been chosen to teach each and every person alive that each of them has been chosen—to serve G-d and become an ambassador of love, light, and goodness to His world.
What Did Chosen-ness Do To Us?
When I look at our people, I ask myself one question: Has our belief that we are the chosen people turned us into murderous people who feel they have the right to abuse, persecute, target, and annihilate other cultures and peoples who are different? Or has it made us feel responsible to share, give, contribute, and help others? Has the idea of Chosen People turned us into people who are never introspective, or perhaps into the most self-critical and introspective nation on earth? (Often, the worst critics of Israel are Jews!)
The true test of chosenness is how humble you are. Most Jews today have passed this test with flying colors. Their humility is so deep, it doesn't allow them to accept that they are chosen. While most other religious groups are quite comfortable claiming that they are the best, we Jews will do anything to say that we are nothing special. Now that's what we call a Chosen People!
This, explained Rabbi Schneur Zalman, was the hallmark of Jacob. To the self-absorbed person, a kindness from G-d is proof of his own significance and worth. To the spiritually mature person, however, a kindness from G-d is, first and foremost, an act of divine love: G-d is drawing the person closer to Him. And the closer one comes to G-d, the more one realizes one’s own insignificance in the face of the divine infinity.
This is what it means to think as a Jew. When you were blessed with a gift, when you were showered with a blessing—the first instinct of the Jew is: Katonti! I am humbled.
This, the Alter Rebbe taught, must be the response of his followers to the grace they have seen: to become far more humble, authentic, and Divine. To suspend their egos and become channels for Divine oneness.
When we realize we have been chosen, we cultivate a healthy confidence that comes not from ego but from humility. It is about respecting our role as Divine ambassadors for goodness and truth. Then we never duck to the pressure of those who want us to compromise our eternal mission to eliminate evil and cultivate goodness.