“You have chosen us from among the nations” (Siddur). The Jews are referred to as “the Chosen People”. Many Jews themselves ask, “for which task have we been chosen?”
The answer to this question lies in the Torah passage (Exodus 19:3-6) in which G–d addresses Moshe immediately prior to His revelation at Sinai:
Moshe ascended to G–d, and G–d called to him from the mountain, saying, “So shall you say to the House of Jacob, and relate to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I have borne you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire world. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you shall speak to the Children of Israel.”
These words encapsulate the reason G–d “chose” the Jews; namely, to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.
The reference here to priests does not refer to the Kohanim, priests who are descendants of Aaron the High Priest, for clearly all Israel are not priests in that sense. Rather, the reference here is to the “priestly function”.
The priest’s function is to “bring” G–d to the people, and to elevate the people to be nearer to G–d. The purpose of the Jews is to bring G–d to the world and the world closer to G–d.
In our association with the outside world every one of us – man or woman – must fulfil priestly functions. The juxtaposition of a “kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation” indicates that through being holy and dedicated to Torah and mitzvot in our private lives we can be successful ambassadors to the outside world. Our impact on the outside world is intrinsically related to our dedication to Torah and mitzvot.
This “priestly function” was termed by the prophet Isaiah as a “light to the nations”.
Wherever Jews find themselves, in the Diaspora or in the Land of Israel, even a single Jew in a remote corner of the earth, it behoves every Jew, and every Jewish community to remember that they are part of, and representatives of, the entire Jewish people, and hence mandated with this task. Even when Jews are in Galut (exile) it is only the Jewish body that is in exile. The Jewish soul is never exiled and is free from any external subjugation. Consequently, while in exile, Jews must not ignore their task, nor underestimate their capacities, however limited their material powers may be.
The extent of one’s duty is in direct proportion to one’s station in life. It is all the greater in the case of an individual who occupies a position of some prominence which gives him an opportunity to exercise influence over others, especially youth. Such people must fully appreciate the privilege and responsibility which Divine Providence has vested in them to spread the light of the Torah and to fight darkness wherever and in whatever form it may rear its head.
Let no one think, “who am I, and what am I, to have such tremendous powers?” For we have seen – to our sorrow – what even a small quantity of matter can do in the way of destruction through the release of atomic energy. If such power is concealed in a small quantity of matter for destructiveness – in denial of the design and purpose of creation – how much greater is the creative power entrusted to every individual to work in harmony with the Divine purpose. In this case, one is given special abilities and opportunities by Divine Providence to attain the goal for which we have been created; the realisation of a world in which, “Each creature shall recognise that You created him, and every breathing soul shall declare, ‘G–d, the G–d of Israel, is King, and His reign is supreme over all’” (Rosh Hashanah prayers).
Not by might or power but with spirit
The Jewish people have been given the directive, “Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit, says G–d.” To the Jewish people and Jewish community (even to the Jew as an individual), special Divine capacities have been given to carry out their task in the fullest measure. For, where Jews are concerned, their physical powers are linked with, and subordinated to, their spiritual powers, which are infinite.
An historic example of this is found in the time of King Solomon when the Jewish people stood out among the nations of the world by virtue of having attained the highest degree of its perfection. Our Sages, referring to that state, describe it as being like “the moon in its fullness”, for, as is well known, the Jewish people are likened to the moon, and they “reckon” their times (calendar months) by the moon. One of the explanations of this is that just as the moon goes through periodic changes in its appearance, according to its position vis-à-vis the sun, whose light it reflects, so the Jewish people go through changes according to the measure of their reflecting the light of G–d, of Whom it is written, “For G–d Elokim is sun and shield.”
This perfection in the time of King Solomon (notwithstanding the fact that, even then, Jews constituted numerically and physically “the fewest of all the nations”) expressed itself in quite a distinctive form in the relations between the Jewish people and the other nations of the world. The reputation of King Solomon’s wisdom aroused a strong desire among kings and leaders to come and see his conduct and learn from his wisdom – the wisdom he had prayed for and received from G–d; permeated with G–dliness.
And when they came they also saw how, under his leadership, there lived a people, even in its material life, “with security, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree”, in a land where, “the eyes of G–d, your G–d, are constantly on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” And this is what brought peace between the Jews and the nations all around.
Thus it was clearly demonstrated that when Jews live in accord with Torah, true peace is attained, and they serve as a guiding light for the nations – “the nations will go by your light” – the light of Torah and mitzvot.
The task of the Jew and of the Jewish community is not limited to the time when they are in a state of a “full moon”, but also when in exile, “spread and dispersed among the nations.”
For even then they are one people, whose laws are different from those of all other nations, a fact that is known and acknowledged by all nations of the world.