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What Is the Cause of Antisemitism?

What Is the Cause of Antisemitism?

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There are two mysteries that have defied explanation for as long as anyone can remember. The first mystery is anti-Semitism, which is a mystery because there are few things in history that have been as consistent, as universal, and as predictable as anti-Semitism. From one country to another, from one culture to another, from one religion to another -- although lifestyles, philosophies, and so forth are extremely different, there is one thing all of the peoples of the world had in common: They all, at one point or another, included individuals, and even large segments of their populations, who did not like Jews.

What did these people know about Jews? Sometimes a lot, sometimes very little, sometimes nothing at all. And yet all of them have a discomfort with Jews. Some of the things anti-Semites come up with concerning Jews and Judaism, make us wonder, "What did we do? What could we possibly have done to cause them to suspect such a thing?"

For example, there's the accusation that Jews are plotting to take over the world. We have our faults, we're vulnerable to some legitimate criticism sometimes, but, plotting to take over the world? Where did that come from? In order to examine the mystery of anti-Semitism, one needs to have an understanding of its target, which is the Jewish people.

But that's not so simple, and brings us to the second mystery: What exactly is a Jew? What is Judaism? A religion, a culture, a family, a nation? What? What is it about Jews that everyone hates?

Jews have always been called the "chosen people," because that's how we are described in the Bible. A more recent definition was provided by a non-Jewish professor at an Israeli University, a former priest who teaches philosophy. He was upset about the criticism of Israel when Israel went into Lebanon. He was more upset than the Jews themselves (who were being apologetic about it), so he held a press conference and said that Israel had every right to do what it did. It was a moral thing, it was the right thing, and so on. At the press conference, he was asked how he defines Jews. He replied, "A Jew is someone who is religious without knowing it, and this is true for all Jews from the extreme right to the extreme left." In fact, he said, this uniqueness is evident even in Jews who convert to Christianity.

These two descriptions of Jewish people, however, raise more questions than they answer. Chosen? Chosen for what? How did we get to be chosen? Why did G-d have to choose a people? And what does it mean to be religious without knowing it? How can a person be religious without knowing it?

On Being Chosen

In the story of Creation, we see that G-d doesn't "choose" anything. He decides beforehand what He wants to create and He creates it. What does it mean, then, that He chose the Jewish people? If He wants a Jewish people, He creates a Jewish people. To "choose" a Jewish people implies that all people were originally alike, but then G-d decided that He wanted one nation to do a special job, or whatever He chose us for, and so He went around and checked out the candidates and decided that He would choose us, and so we are the chosen people -- we're the Jews.

What that implies is that it could have been anybody -- it was a choice and G-d chose us, but He could have chosen somebody else and then they would have been Jewish. But this doesn't make any sense. If G-d wants a chosen people, then He creates one. And, if one is created chosen, then what's the choice? If there is really a difference, a uniqueness that makes the Jew Jewish, then what is there to choose?

Living in America and being enamored with the idea of egalitarianism and equality and everybody being equal and everybody being the same, we're very uncomfortable with the idea of a chosen people and we try to minimize it, to neutralize it. We try to say that being chosen doesn't mean that we're different, it's just that, well, your grandfather could have been chosen but, uh, he wasn't educated, but our grandfather was already reading Hebrew, was already wise, so he was chosen.

But if that's the case, then what was the choice? A choice exists when there are a number of things that are truly equal, serving the same purpose and satisfying the same need -- there are many and you need only one, so you have to choose. But if there is only one that will satisfy your particular need, if only one "grandfather" had the qualifications to serve G-d in a specific way (while the other "grandfathers" satisfied other needs), then... what's the choice?

For example, if a person has a craving for an orange, and there's a bowl of fruit with one orange in it, and an assortment of other fruits, he takes the orange out of the bowl. That's not a choice. He didn't choose an orange over the other fruits; he wanted that orange in the first place. The orange is the only fruit that can satisfy his need, so it's not a "choice," because the other fruits won't do.

There's a Midrash in which G-d offers the Torah to the other nations, and each of them in turn declines it. So then He offers it to the Jews, and they accept. Does this mean that anyone could have been Jewish, whoever accepted the Torah first?

Not at all. On the contrary, the point of the Midrash is to demonstrate that nobody could accept the Torah other than Jews, because the Torah is meant specifically for the Jews and the Torah fits only the Jews. In other words, this Midrash doesn't mean that G-d offered the other nations kashrut and Passover. It wouldn't make sense to come to the Egyptians and command them to eat matzah and maror because of the suffering of their forefathers in Egypt. G-d came to the other nations and offered them not the 613 mitzvahs of Torah that are addressed to Jews. He offered them the seven mitzvahs which the Torah demands of them and said, "Do you accept these seven mitzvahs without hesitation and without question?" And they said no; they first wanted to hear what the commandments were before accepting. Whereas when G-d came to the Jews and offered us the 613 commandments, we didn't say we wanted to hear a few examples. We accepted.

So it certainly doesn't mean that G-d went around asking other people whether they wanted to be the Jewish people. They weren't Jewish and they weren't going to be Jewish. If you want Jews, you go to Abraham; if you want Egyptians, you go to Egypt. There is no choice.

One further consideration. The statement that we are the chosen people comes from the description of the giving of the Torah. Just prior to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, G-d commanded Moses to tell the people to prepare to receive the Torah and become to Him "a chosen people." But if we think about it, we realize that G-d was referring to the people whom He had already taken out of Egypt, with ten plagues and with miracles and with the crossing of the sea and so forth, because they were Jewish. He took them out of Egypt and brought them to Mt. Sinai, in order to give them the Torah. If they became a "chosen people" upon receiving the Torah, the question is, who were they until then? They certainly weren't strangers to G-d. They were obviously already distinguished; they were already earmarked for something special. Otherwise, why did G-d take them out of Egypt?

What Is a Jew?

The chosen aspect of being Jewish is not really a description of the Jew. A Jew is a created condition. G-d created grass, trees, stones, water, animals, humans, and Jews. A Jew is a unique creation, so the soul of a Jew is inherently and basically different than the soul of a non-Jew. The Kabbalah says that all things were created by what the Torah refers to as G-d's speech. G-d said, "Let there be light," and there was light, etc. All creation came about through G-d's speech, except the Jew.

The Zohar says that the soul of the Jew was created by G-d's thought -- thought rather than speech. Speech is something you can do or not do. "There is a time to speak and a time to refrain from speaking." Thought, on the other hand, is not something one can discontinue; thought goes on constantly.

That which is created by speech is finite because there was a time when G-d had not yet said "Let there be light," so before He said it light did not exist and after He said it, it did. So the world once was not, and now it is, and therefore it's finite and limited. But the statement that the soul of a Jew comes from G-d's "thought" means that the soul of a Jew is not something that comes from an external expression such as speech, but rather from an internal, personal, intimate place similar to thought. Therefore the soul of a Jew is "a part of G-d" (as the Tanya puts it) and not a "creation" at all.

The essence of a Jew, that which makes him Jewish, is his soul, and his soul is not a creation. The soul of the Jew is an eternal, infinite part of the eternal, infinite G-d; the Jew is a piece of G-d. Whoever has this soul is Jewish. Whoever doesn't have this soul is not Jewish, but rather is a human being created by G-d, created in the six days of creation through G-d's speech.

[Wherever the Torah talks about a convert, the expression used is never "a non-Jew who converts to Judaism," it's "the convert who converts to Judaism." A non-Jew can not become a Jew, and a Jew can't become a non-Jew. "The convert who converts" means there are three kinds of people. There is the Jew, there is the non-Jew, and there is the convert before he converts. So a convert is someone who is something between Jewish and non-Jewish until he converts, and then he becomes fully Jewish. Some people are born non-Jewish and are therefore not Jewish, yet they carry within them some spark of a Jewish soul that demands and yearns to go back to being Jewish. Therefore, the person can't rest until he has converted. A person in this condition, who has the spark or dimension of a Jewish soul (not Jewish "qualities" that we think we can recognize, because Jewishness is a part of a Jewish soul and it's not visible), feels uncomfortable and his soul forces him to convert. That's why the traditional response to a would-be convert is to discourage him. We put him off and tell him it's difficult and not worth it, it's dangerous, and so forth. If he refuses to be discouraged, we know he is this kind of convert who is moved by some spark in his soul to become Jewish and it is irresistible - he himself cannot say no to it.]

We find throughout the Torah statements that have parallels. For example, we are told to love G-d our G-d with all our hearts, all our souls and all our might; and we are told to love our fellow Jews as ourselves. Another example is that we are told that just as we must fear G-d, we must fear the tzaddik (righteous person). In other words, anything we're going to do for G-d, we must do for our fellow Jews, and anything we must do for our fellow Jews, we must do for G-d. We are to treat other Jews as Divine beings, because that's what they are, and that's why to love G-d is to follow commandments but also to love each other. Our feelings for G-d carry over to the parts of G-d that exist in this physical world (our fellow Jews), and our feelings about these parts of G-d eventually carry over to G-d Himself.

What we're talking about is the soul of a person, and the soul is G-d. When we refer to the Shechinah, the feminine part of G-d, the part of G-d that dwells on earth, the part of G-d that is within us, it means the collective Jewish soul. That's the part of G-d that dwells on earth, and that's why it has been said by non-Jewish theologians that Jews are the presence of G-d on earth. That's why those individuals in history who have excelled in a hatred of G-d were determined to wipe out the Jews, because the Jews are G-d's presence on earth. There are two different and distinct entities: the human being, and the Jew who is that part of G-d which He invests into creation. There's really no choice.

Knowing what a Jew is, a part of G-d, the disturbing question is: Why would G-d send a part of Himself into a finite, limited, and sometimes even gross physical condition? It doesn't seem right and it doesn't seem appropriate for a Divine Being to be present in such un-G-dly conditions. So why would G-d send the soul from the highest heights down to the lowest depths? The question comes from the recognition that the soul of a Jew is not part of creation, and we therefore wonder what the soul is doing here in the created world.

The First Commentary

Rashi asks a question about the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the Torah, "In the beginning G-d created Heaven and earth." Rashi's question is, why does the Torah begin with a description of creation rather than with commandments? Since the Torah is basically a book of commandments and a guide as to how we should behave in our daily life, the Torah should get right down to instructing us on our behavior. And yet it begins with a lengthy description of creation and the history of what happened from creation until the giving of the Torah. Rashi answers that this was done because there would come a time when the nations would accuse the Jews of being crooks and imperialists. They would say, "You stole the land from the nations!" Therefore, the Torah begins with the story of creation so that we will know how to respond to this charge.

We will say: "G-d created Heaven and earth. Earth belongs to G-d. G-d gave it to the Canaanites for a while, then he took it from them and gave it to us." So our answer is that we can't "steal" the land because it belongs to G-d, and G-d gives it to whomever he wants.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, commenting on this Rashi, asks: All this, a book and a half, so that we will know what to say to an anti-Semite who calls us crooks? This doesn't seem right. In addition, couldn't Rashi find a more appropriate explanation for a five-year old (Rashi wrote his commentary for children)? Does a five-year old have to know about anti-Semitism and imperialism?

The Rebbe points out that this Rashi, which is basically a quote from the Talmud, doesn't say "the Land of Israel." It doesn't say we will be accused of stealing "the Land of Israel" -- it says that we will be accused of stealing the land of the nations. What is "the land of the nations"? In addition, Rashi doesn't say that this is the response to the accusation of an anti-Semite. This is a response to the Jew who thinks that the anti-Semite in this case might be correct. Why would a Jew agree with an anti-Semite? For this, we need to understand exactly what it was that happened at Mt. Sinai.

When the Jews left Egypt, they were told by Moses that they had to leave Egypt because the Egyptians were not a holy people and they, the Jews, were to become a holy people, a kingdom of priests. How was this going to happen? By receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. So the Jewish people came to Mt. Sinai expecting to hear "Heavenly things." But what were they actually going to hear? They were going to hear, "Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Honor your mother and father." They wouldn't have survived the shock.

Therefore, they needed some kind of introduction, some kind of warning that what was about to be revealed was going to sound very simple and down to earth. They needed such a warning because they were expecting spiritual, holy, Heavenly things, and for good reason -- they had just been told that they had to leave Egypt because they were a holy people. They were not going to understand these "pedestrian" commandments; they'd think, "Here we're gathered at Mt. Sinai to become a holy people, and we're told not to steal?! You told us not to work on Shabbos, but what about the rest of the week? If we're a Heavenly people, we shouldn't work on any of the days! If we're a Heavenly people, it's not enough to say 'don't steal' -- we shouldn't have money altogether! What do You mean, run an honest business? We shouldn't be running businesses at all! What do You mean eat kosher animals? How does that make us holy? We shouldn't eat at all! We should be fasting as much as possible, and if that means dying, so what? We belong in Heaven anyway!" In short, what they would say is: "If we are a Heavenly people, then what are we doing on earth? Why are we engaged in earthy activities?"

Therefore, it's not only the anti-Semite, but also the Jew who is bothered by this question of Jewish people occupying earthly land, and the Jew thinks: "Wait a minute. We're trespassing. We are taking away the land of the nations."

Which nations? You name it. Wherever Jews have gone, they've been accused of taking away someone's land, of trespassing. We went to Spain. We were told, "You can't stay here, this is not your place." We went to France, England, Poland, Germany, Russia. They each had their expulsion dates when Jews were thrown out because we were occupying someone else's land and we had to move on. Every country we've been to has made the same argument, and the argument is: "You are a Heavenly people, it says so in the Bible. So fine, go to Heaven. But if you're going to live on earth and be normal human beings, then you're trespassing. This is our property. It belongs to the nations of the earth."

Strangers in a Strange Land

The world belongs to the nations. We are not of the world, we are of Heaven. We are strangers so we're trespassing on their land. Which land? Any land. Earth belongs to the nations of the world (which is why they're called the nations of the world).

So G-d starts the Torah not with the first commandment, because the commandments are all related to the physical world and we wouldn't have been able to understand. G-d first had to warn us by telling us that in the beginning He created Heaven and earth. Heaven is not any more a place for G-d than is earth; the Heavens also were created by G-d. Therefore, the part of G-d which is the soul of the Jew doesn't belong in Heaven any more than it belongs on earth.

The reason for the existence of Heaven is that it was a stepping stone toward the creation of the earth. The purpose of creation is to reveal G-dliness that is not immediately evident in the physical world, to bring that which is otherwise un-G-dly to G-dliness. How is this to be done? By having the Jewish soul come down into this world to engage in physical, worldly activity, but from a G-dly perspective, that is, through the mitzvahs of Torah.

The Torah says that Jews are to be a light unto the nations of the world. This means that whereas the nature of the physical condition seems to imply that the world created itself, and therefore has no allegiance to the Creator and is not indebted to a Creator, when we do mitzvahs in the physical world, using physical objects, we reveal a fundamental truth. The physical world is not something separate from G-d, but is G-d's creation, created for a G-dly reason, which is to reveal the G-dliness that is concealed within the physical condition.

Looking at a table tells us nothing about G-d. On the contrary, it distracts us from G-d. It seems to be saying, "Look! I'm a table! Been here all along. I'm a reality unto myself." But by doing mitzvahs within the physical world, we make it a bit more transparent, like washing the dirt off of a dirty window so that we can see through it more clearly. We can see that physicality is not meant to block G-d out; on the contrary, it, the physical thing, can become and must become a window to G-d.

This is what elevates the world and gives it a G-dly purpose. If we don't elevate the world, the world remains what it appears to be, which is a contradiction to G-d.

A Jew is therefore a G-dly being sent to this world on a mission. So the Jew experiences a certain discontent, which is unique to Jews, and the essence of that discontent is: "Why am I here? What am I doing here?" Every human being asks himself this question, because every human being has a desire to accomplish something. For an intelligent person, life has to make sense and have a purpose. But with a Jew it's slightly different. Intelligent beings ask, "How do we make the most of this existence?" The Jewish condition is that inwardly, consciously or unconsciously, we not only want to know how to make the best of life, but we don't understand why there's life at all. Everybody can ask this question in a philosophy class, but the Jew is truly bothered by it, bothered in his gut. What is this all about? Not, "How do I make the most of this life?" Not, "What am I supposed to do?" But, "Why life? Why existence at all?"

And because we find it difficult to answer that question, we find a disproportionate number of Jews in the world who don't know what to do with themselves. It's not an exaggeration that although we are less than 2% of the general population in the US, at the same time we are over 40% of all the cults, of all the searching, of all the revolutions and upheavals and changes that take place in the world. This is because we are not content; we sense that something to do with the very condition of existence needs to be explained, and we are not finding an explanation. So we're ready to turn everything upside down and throw everything away and start all over again in order to find the justification for existence.

The Jewish Mission

A non-Jew gives charity and a Jew gives charity. But they are doing two different things.

When a poor person comes to a Jew and asks for something to eat, the Jew is actually lowering himself to give the poor person a meal, because this is not his field. The person hasn't asked for spiritual nourishment, for Torah. He's asked for mundane, everyday, physical nourishment. Stomachs and food -- where does that fit in? We are a G-dly people, we have G-dly souls. Our place is in Heaven, in fact higher than Heaven because Heaven is also a created place, and we are a part of G-d. When the Jews came to Moses in the desert and said, "We need meat," Moses turned to G-d and said, "Do you hear what they want from me? They want me to provide them with meat! I'm a teacher, a Rabbi, a prophet, and they want me to give them meat?! What has the world come to?" And G-d said, "Yes, give them meat."

So every Jew, when he is faced with someone who is hungry, could say, "This is not my business. My business is with G-dly things, holy things." But G-d said, "Keep kosher, eat kosher animals, don't eat non-kosher animals. If you see someone is hungry, feed him. If someone needs clothes, dress him. If someone is sick, heal him." So we say, "OK, if that's what G-d wants, we'll do it. It's not our line, it's not our field, it's not our place, but it's our mission. And because it's our mission, we will leave our place and get involved with the physical world; we'll feed the hungry, dress the poor, heal the sick, and so on."

This explains why the first instruction given to the first Jew, Abraham, was that he should go away from his father's home and his birthplace, go away from his natural condition, tendencies and impulses. This applies not only to the first Jew but to every Jew, to every Jewish soul. Every Jewish soul is told by G-d, "You must leave your place with Me, your native home, and go to the place I will tell you. Not to the place where you belong, but to the place where I will send you. Leave the place in which you belong and fulfill the mission for which you are sent to earth. That mission is to obey My commandments."

When a Jew gives tzedakah, he's basically a Divine being accepting human obligations; he is basically humbling himself, lowering himself into the worldly human condition. When a non-Jew gives charity, he is basically a human being trying to elevate himself to something more Divine. So are the Jew and the non-Jew doing the same thing? Not at all. They're doing opposite things. The same act, but coming from opposite directions and accomplishing opposite results.

A non-Jew once heard this and he told me, "That explains something. I always wondered why Christianity is so unforgiving, so condemning. Whereas in Judaism, if you fail, so you'll do better next time, you'll try again. A Jew is a Divine being sent to do something for the world, to accomplish something, to bring some G-dliness to the worldly condition. By eating kosher food, he does something for the animal kingdom, he gives animals a purpose within G-d's scheme of things. If he didn't keep kosher yesterday, what will happen? He'll keep kosher today. If he doesn't do it today, he'll do it tomorrow. But he'll do it because that's what he's here for. For the non-Jew who makes it his goal to become Divine, well, if you didn't do it, you're not Divine. If you didn't arrive at some Divine condition, then you're nowhere, you're where you were before, nothing's been accomplished. And that's why no matter how much good you've done, if you still lust in your heart, then you're condemned because you're still human. What have you accomplished? Nothing's changed because you're still human. So unless you can stop lusting in your heart, and become superhuman, you haven't accomplished anything at all and you're damned and that's the end of it."

Anti-Semitism

Let's return to the question of anti-Semitism. The non-Jew comes to the Jew and says, "What are you? Explain yourself." What do we respond?

We make up stories, we make excuses, we start from Adam and Eve, we discuss Noah, and we give a history lesson, but we don't answer the question. Sometimes the question is asked more bluntly: "You are the chosen people. It says so in the Bible. What does this mean?" To which we respond, "Chosen? I don't know about chosen, maybe we're a little different . . ."

The non-Jew can't get a straight answer. Jews don't give straight answers to this type of question because we don't know how to answer. We don't know what we are because nobody ever answered that question for us. We were told we're Jewish, our mothers are Jewish, our grandparents are Jewish, so we're Jewish and that's it. But the non-Jew isn't asking, "Who is a Jew," he's asking "What is a Jew," and we don't know, so we fake it and we make up stories that don't hold water.

But nobody in the world believes for a moment that we don't know who we are. They reason that if they were the chosen people, they would know it. How can you be chosen and not know it? It's ridiculous. So when the non-Jew comes to the Jew and the Jew says that he doesn't know and can't give a straight answer, what is the non-Jew supposed to think? He goes home and asks himself why the Jews won't give a straight answer.

So if there are some Jews in Minsk, for example, he figures the Jews of Minsk are up to something, they're out to do something terrible and they're trying to hide it. What could they be doing terrible in Minsk? They must be poisoning the well. And when he hears from his cousin in Paris that the Jews in Paris also don't tell anybody who they are, and when he hears that the same thing is happening in Morocco, the Jews there don't tell anybody what they are either, he thinks, "This is a global plot!" What else should he think? And what's a universal global plot? To take over the world. This actually makes sense -- what other excuse could there possibly be for people who are supposed to be G-d's chosen people, it says so in the Bible, yet won't answer, won't tell anyone what they're about?

Anti-Semitism obviously has other causes but it also comes about when we behave the way we shouldn't, and the problem occurs because we behave mysteriously. We don't talk straight or know what to say about ourselves, and they find that hard to believe. We are causing suspicion by not being able to answer their questions We've seen this over and over again with Israel in recent years. When Israel tries to lean over backwards and be super-nice to the Arabs, it's misunderstood. It's taken as a sign of guilt, because if you're right, if you did right, then you have nothing to apologize for.

So we say, "We're not apologizing, it's because we're nice, it's because we want peace." But nobody buys that, nobody accepts that. When you win a war, you win the war, you don't give back anything. So they say, "Oh, the Jews give back because they feel guilty for having taken it; they must know that it's not theirs, and that's why they want to give it back."

When we try to be nice and we say, "Look, we're not the chosen people, you can be the chosen people, we're all the chosen people, we're not any different, we're like you, you're like us, we're just minding our own business, all we want to do is quietly live on the same street with you, pay our taxes and go to shul in the evening," our neighbors say, "No, that's not what you're all about. We know better. We know you are a Heavenly people because it says so in the Bible. Our grandmothers told us Jews are a Heavenly people, so why are you walking around on the streets making like you live here, like you belong here? Tell us what you really are!" "Oh, I'm just the neighbor who lives down the street." "No, you're not. You're not from this block or this neighborhood or this city; you're not from this world! Therefore, tell me, explain what you're here for, what you're doing." "Who, me? I'm the same as you." "No, you're not the same as me! This is my land, my world, my created condition, and you come from some other world, so why are you here?"

So we can't say we're ordinary people like everyone else because they see that we're not like them, we're a Heavenly people, and they want to know why we're pretending to be like them, why we're "stealing" their land.

To give an analogy, if a teacher came into a classroom, dressed like the students, and he sat down on the floor with the students and he said, "OK what should we do now?" -- everyone in the class would hate him. It would be unanimous. If he comes into the classroom with a good lesson prepared, and he's got something to say, a few will be disinterested, a few will be annoyed by the lesson because they don't want to learn, but the intelligent students will be thrilled and they will usually be the majority.

If You're Chosen, Act It!

If we're going to come into this world and be the chosen people, then we have to stand up straight and act that way. Otherwise, we generate suspicion. If we walk into the classroom and we're from Heaven, a part of G-d sent into this world to do something for the world, and we sit there and say, "Well, I don't know. . . I have the same questions you have, and I have the same problems you have!" -- they're all going to hate us. We are the teachers, so we have to get up and teach or get out of the classroom.

And this, in a nutshell, is anti-Semitism: "Either show me what makes you chosen and what you're sent to do, or get off of my property, you're stealing my land." That's why when we behave like Jews, when we behave like chosen people, nobody has any questions.

Equality doesn't mean that we have to be the same. I've never heard of anybody who hates Einstein for being smart. If somebody's brilliant, a lot smarter than me, then fine, he's smarter, I don't hate him for that because there's no suspicion, I know exactly who he is. He's very smart, so he's the smart guy. And if somebody's Beethoven, I don't hate him for it or complain what gives him the right to have talent. A talented man is a person who uses his talents -- there's no mystery there and no hatred there. What's to complain about?

But when we stand around saying, "I'm not chosen, I don't know," then the world says, "You're not telling the truth. Why? What are you trying to pull? What are you up to? Why do you insult my intelligence by playing dumb? I've read the Bible, it says you're chosen, so why won't you admit it?"

I know a Baptist Minister who brings his class to Lubavitch House to hear and learn about Judaism. He told me he took his class to one of the local synagogues, a non-Orthodox synagogue, and they talked about the chosen people, and the Rabbi there explained that he doesn't believe in this idea of chosenness; he rejects the concept as being contrary to egalitarian and democratic principles and therefore the whole thing is irrelevant to him, and the whole business of being chosen is an immoral concept. The Minister said that he talked to the students about it on the way home, and the students said that they didn't believe that Rabbi. In other words, they know that the Jews are the chosen people, and they didn't believe that the Rabbi was unaware or did not believe that he was chosen. They found it very disturbing and disappointing, and they decided not to go back there.

The world is not only willing to accept that Jews are different, the world wants Jews to be different. The world is not only willing to enjoy the talents and uniqueness of the Jewish people, the world needs these talents and this uniqueness, particularly today.

For example, why is Israel always in the news? Why is Israel blamed for the problems in the Middle East? Because they know that Israel can and will be the answer. Nobody else. Syria's not going to be the answer, nor is Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia, or any other country. The world wants leadership and who are they going to look to for moral leadership if not the Jews? They don't want to hear, "Oh, no, we're no different, we're no better." They're not willing to accept that and they don't buy it. It only makes them suspicious that we're up to no good.

When we're asked this question and we have to answer standing on one foot, we have to find the right words with which to convey our message. A Jew is a different kind of creature with a different soul, and our purpose on earth is to elevate the physical condition, thereby making it easier for all people to serve G-d.

That's what we're here for. What makes a Jew a Jew is not the fact that we were chosen at some point in history, but that we were created this way to begin with -- a Jew is a piece of G-d sent to earth and in that there is no choice. When it says in the Torah that at Mt. Sinai we became the chosen people, the Torah is referring to that area where a choice would be necessary, in that area where a Jew and a non-Jew are alike, in the human condition which we do share with the non-Jew, which is the body and the physical existence.

When the Torah was given, the Jew's physical condition, the body of the Jew, was chosen. Although the Jewish body had been the same as other people's bodies, it was chosen at Mt. Sinai. From then on, the soul was not going to be a stranger in a strange land, in the body, but the body was going to become Jewish as well.

The Torah gives us instructions on how we are to bring a unique Divine soul into action in the physical world. Here you have a Divine soul, it's living on earth, it has a mission, but how is it going to operate -- what is it going to do? It doesn't want to eat, it doesn't want money, it doesn't want physical comforts, what does it want to do in this physical world.

The Torah was given to us so that the soul can do physical things without compromising its Divinity. When the Torah says eat this way, this is a way that the soul can eat. When the Torah says dress modestly, conduct business honestly, etc., that makes it possible for a Divine soul to engage in these physical activities without doing violence to itself.

So what happened at the giving of the Torah is that our holy souls, which we had all along, which make us Jewish to begin with, gained access to the physical world because the commandments permit the Divine soul to do physical things in a Divine fashion. What that means is that not only is the soul Divine, but now, as a result of the Torah, the body becomes Divine. Our bodies were chosen at the giving of the Torah, but as far as our souls are concerned, we were always Jewish, and there was never any choice.

That's why there is no question about being chosen; the question is about what makes us Jewish. Where is the evidence? The class from the Baptist school once asked this question, "How does being the chosen people express itself?"

This question was asked a short time after the raid on Entebbe, so I explained that the raid on Entebbe was a case where a seemingly political body, the State of Israel, had captives taken hostage in another country, and Israel had to do something about it. The way of the world is to negotiate, that's how it had been all along, but Israel came along and said, "No, we don't negotiate." It's against Jewish principle to give in to exorbitant ransom demands. It's an old Jewish law and we've had plenty of experience with it. The Rabbi of a community may not be ransomed for an exorbitant amount because this would encourage kidnapping, so the Rabbi of a community must be abandoned if the ransom is exorbitant. Therefore, Israel refused and said, "No we don't negotiate with terrorists. No ransom, no exchange of prisoners, nothing. Forget it." This was not a political move. Politically it was a very dangerous thing to do, because rescuing the hostages involved violating all sorts of laws -- the Israelis entered into the airspace of other countries and so on -- and yet the world was thrilled, because here was a political body that did something on purely ideological grounds. There was no other reason for it; they could have easily exchanged prisoners, they were doing it all the time in those days, and they chose not to.

Will the non-Jews accept this explanation? There's no question. When they're given this explanation, they feel relieved and unburdened; finally they understand that which was a mystery all these years, and they want to understand.

To sum up, in being chosen, we have one of three options. Either we're going to continue to insist we never heard of it. Or we're going to continue to vacillate and not know whether we're coming or going, or what to say.

Or we're going to stand up straight and say, "Yes, we're different, we're special, we're Jewish, we're created from G-d's thought. Yes, we are chosen and we therefore must live up to that title."

Rabbi Manis Friedman, a noted Chassidic philosopher, author and lecturer, is dean of Bais Chanah Women's Institute of Jewish Studies.
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Discussion (187)
July 30, 2014
@Meira Shana: There is a good recent book, "Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition" which discusses the history of Jew-hatred going back, as you suggest, long before the turn of the common era. It's not an easy slog, but well worth reading.
Michael Jacobs
Columbia, MD
July 28, 2014
All these word games only leave me more convinced that ever that we should love ALL others as ourselves, irrespective of their faith or heritage and not just other Jews, or there can be no peace.
ruth
July 28, 2014
Anti-Semitism - from before C.E.
It dawned on me the other day that anti-Semitism did not start when Christianity started!! It was already happening long before then ...

Was it because Jews dressed and acted differently? Was it because Jews were well-read and educated?

It's for sure Jews were not in abundance back in the 'good ole days.'

In recorded time, when did hatred of Jews begin and by whom?
Meira Shana
San Diego
July 27, 2014
To Ruth, who admits trying to "justify" the UNjustifiable
Those who hate Jews have lots of phony excuses to "justify" their inhumanity.

Hitler's "Mein Kamf" says that there is a war between survival of the fittest and the demands of conscience. He said that the Germans represent the fittest, while the Jews represent conscience. He objected to conscience.

In other words, he objected to the Torah, to the Ten Commandments, to kindness and decency. That's what he hated about the Jews.

When times are good, people's Jew-hatred abates and they become tolerant. When times are hard, people look for a scapegoat and for this they choose the Jews.

It is the Jews who respect our common humanity. The Jews were the first to send medical attention to Haiti, to Japan, to anyone suffering who is willing to accept help.

That's why people hate Jews: because Jews absolutely care about humanity.
Rachel
Cinncinnati
July 27, 2014
Judaism
Antisemitism is caused by Jewish elitism + Christian/Islamic supremacism

Nothing else.
Anonymous
Albany
July 27, 2014
Dear Ruth;
You made a good point for those who have an ego problem. However, the Rabbi expressed what we are not doing right, and it is not ego, but a since of fear. However, we were told at Sinai what our mission is, and we said as a people that we shall do and we shall learn. Have you?
Also, it was said at Sinai that "All" the souls of Israel... The commentary is that all the souls mean not only those in our time, who have the Torah, and are born from a Jewish Mother; this comment also refers to all the converts. This was explained pretty well, and in a small space. But think; if you were raised in X religion, and after whatever, you decided to convert to Judaism, your soul had already made this decision, and you, in your body, are acquiescing to it. Face it; we were given a job to do. Until we get it right, we shall not accomplish what HaShem wants us to.
Yechiel Shlipshon
July 27, 2014
What are we doing here?
There are of course diverse world views on why we are created. If one 'chooses' materialism/existentialism- (ie there is no other purpose than to feed ourselves and procreate), than we humans are little more than talking Mr. Ed's. All that sophisticated culture and accumulated knowledge goes down with the ship at the end of every civilization- forgotten. If you think that humanism without a divine context is our ultimate situation, then cultural diversity is unnecessary. I choose to believe that creation and culture is not a random expression of human needs, nor a hodge-podge of brilliance and barbarianism. Judaism asserts that every culture has been created with a specific purpose- Hashem's purpose. I choose to affirm the Jewish notion: that each culture is an exquisite expression, each playing its role to bring about an ultimate human 'revelation'-Knowledge of our Creator, our relationship with Him and our purpose within a divine context.
Liora
Israel
July 27, 2014
Oh dear! I seem to remember similar words about being "special" being voiced by a more public sinister figure during World War II with a uniform and a moustache. Jews are simply human beings with a particular faith and who share a common genetic heritage - no more. Once they see themselves as anything more, there is an ever-present danger that they lose that humanity they share with other peoples and justify the unjustifiable.
ruth
July 25, 2014
Dear Yehudit
An description is not necessary an approval. I am personally in full agreement with you on the value of cultural distinctions. My point is that, in the story of humanity, refusing to assimilate has always been dangerous. As you know anthropology, you know, for example, the importance for humans of eating together. Shared food creates trust. People who refused to share food with the villagers (or refused to marry the beautiful village girl) would have had immediately triggered incomprehension, strong negative emotions and violent reactions from the locals. Not assimilating, even if understandable, was, and still is, quite a dangerous choice in the real world and in our specific case a good explanation for "basic" antisemitism. Just my opinion on how humans really are and react, not an approval of it.
Politics
July 24, 2014
Dear "Politics"
First of all, if you study anthropology, you find many ethnic groups who strive to maintain their ethnic identity. Would you prefer to have all of these people assimilate into the big 'melting pot' where there no longer exists any cultural distinctions? Would you like all peoples to have nothing left of their heritages and rich histories? Perhaps instead you should ask what is it about any particular ethnic group that, precisely because of their distinctiveness, enriches the world? Once they assimilate, this richness is lost in the void of common culture, replaced with shopping malls and vampire movies. What does YOUR ethnic heritage contribute to higher culture, or do you even have one? Your angst of your own lost ethnicity and heritage is painfully apparent. Don't be jealous that others strive to maintain their own.
Yehudit
ISRAEL
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