Dear Rabbi Rami,
Is it true that the Jews are God’s Chosen People? What does it mean?
The Jews are God’s Chosen People the way Jesus is the Son of God, Krishna is God, Thomas A. Anderson (aka Neo) is the One, and Superman (aka Kal–El, aka Clark Kent) is the son of Krypton’s greatest scientist, Jor-El. Each of these statements is true within the narrative that affirms them, and that is the only realm of truth we humans have.
Regardless of specific content we all live within the narrative frames of race, ethnicity, religion, philosophy, nationality, class, gender, etc. We are all characters in stories that are greater than ourselves: verbal creations to which we often cling in a desperate effort to avoid having to face our own individuality. But without the story, the narrative frame, none of this matters. Without the narrative supporting the idea of a god who chooses one people over all others, the notion of Jewish chosenness is absurd.
If chosenness is a narrative, what value does it hold? There is no one answer to this because the narrative of Jewish chosenness splinters into many competing narratives each with its own constituency. The Orthodox Jewish community in which I was raised, for example, takes Chosenness to mean that we Jews were chosen to live out the 613 mitzvot (commandments) God revealed in Torah through the wisdom of our rabbis. The liberal Jews with whom I work see Chosenness to be somewhat content free: while affirming that God chose us to be a light unto the nations, they often balk at linking halacha (jewish law) to this mission.
Within the narrative of Judaism as I choose to read it, Jews are chosen to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). We become this blessing by freeing ourselves outwardly and inwardly of the biases that keep us from seeing the world as God sees it (Genesis 12:1–2): a greater unity manifesting a dynamic diversity within and even greater nonduality.
Being a blessing to all the families of the earth (human and otherwise) means that we treat all life justly and with compassion (Micah 6:8) and work tirelessly to create a world where people where we beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, where nations no longer train for or engage in war, and people have enough to eat and drink, and no one makes another afraid, (Micah 4:3–4). I turn to halacha as a resource to achieving this goal, adapting tradition to my needs as I see fit (which is why I am not an Orthodox Jew).
Outside the narrative of Judaism the notion of being God’s Chosen People is simply a marketing ploy no different from Coke’s claim to the “real thing” and it implicit claim that Pepsi is the fake thing.
So, bottom line, truth is always true within a story. The question we should ask ourselves isn’t “Are the Jews God’s Chosen People,” but “does the narrative that affirms we are God’s Chosen People make us more just and kind, or simply more narcissist and self–serving?”