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may you be chosen

05/22/2020 02:20:43 PM

May22

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

The word “chosen” has frequently been applied to the Jewish people over the centuries, sometimes in a not-so-loving way. There are those that feel that the appellation “The Chosen People” reeks of hubris, that “my religion is better than yours”. It has been one of many excuses for anti-Semitism. Not that anti-Semites need excuses, for there no excuse for anti-Semitism. I believe that the word “chosen” and the concept behind it has been horrifically misunderstood and misapplied. As our counting period of the Omer is soon to conclude, with the festival of Shavuot beginning next week, I offer a perspective on the concept of “chosen”.

At Mt. Sinai, the Israelites accepted God and God’s code of law with the statement Na-aseh V’nishma, we will do and we will obey. A set of responsibilities were foisted upon the Israelites by their acceptance of God, enumerated in the Torah, codified and refined through centuries of commentators, and known as mitzvot. These commandments, for that is what mitzvot means, describe our responsibilities to God as well as our responsibilities to our fellow human beings. Our task, as specified by God, is to make the world a better place through mitzvot. Before we assume this huge engagement, we have to do our best to make ourselves a better self, to be the best self we can be. By personally engaging in mitzvot, we experience the beauty and the challenges of each mitzvah, and thus position ourselves to better understand implementation for others.

Over these past nine weeks, we have seen unlimited examples of fellow human beings performing mitzvot, and it has been a wonderful thing to observe. I personally experienced countless mitzvot in the days, weeks and months after the massacre in Tree of Life on 10.27.  The potential exists in all humans, much like the potential energy that is stored in a battery. A battery stored in a drawer serves no one. When it is properly installed in a device, the potential energy becomes kinetic energy, powering the device. So too with mitzvot. Learning about them is important, but that is only the beginning. If the knowledge remains locked in your head and not applied, then mitzvot remain solely an intellectual matter. The selfless acts that we continue to see model for us how potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy, how the meta-physical properties of mitzvot can become the physical properties of mitzvot.

That is my vision of the concept of “chosen”, which is a rather unfortunate choice of words. Some have used the term “elected”; I prefer something along the lines of “given responsibilities”. What is most important is not the application of a label, because one size does not fit all. Rather, it is the application of the concept. What have you “chosen” to do with the mitzvot to improve our society. These past nine weeks have given each of us time to reflect.  The Torah remains our eternal guide, always ready to be opened, studied and applied. Perhaps one of the best compliments that any one might receive, now, or at any time, might be a smile, a nod of the head, and the words “that was a mitzvah”.  May you be “chosen” to receive that compliment regularly.

Thu, October 1 2020 13 Tishrei 5781