My question has to do with the concept of the Jewish soul. I am Jewish but was raised as a devout, strict atheist. We were told by my father, a college professor, "We are Jews. We are G‑d's chosen people. There is no G‑d." Four children. Three successfully indoctrinated atheists, one (me) unsuccessful.

My question has to do with why a person has a Jewish soul, and when did he acquire one. Why is it that we were the remnant of the children of Israel who did not assimilate into the Egyptian culture and religion? After that long period of testing we were freed. When?-at the base of Sinai or did we have a Jewish soul prior in heaven and just signed the contract at Sinai. I hope my question is clear. There has to be a logical progression to becoming a soul devoted to God. Birth, testing, more testing, until you finally arrive at where G‑d would like to you to be. What is the progression? Do you know?


Your summary of your father's message made me laugh. It reminds me of the story of the Jewish family who sent their son to an upper class private school that happened to be Catholic, and when he came home singing carols, he father grabbed him and yelled, "Listen kid, there's only one G‑d and we don't believe in Him!"

Jews have this intricate bond with G‑d: He exists for us as much in denial as in acceptance—and some ways, even more so.

Here's how the Jewish soul works, according to the classics1: We are children of the three greatest people that ever lived, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They tied a bond between their children and G‑d forever after them. Nevertheless, in Egypt many of their children chose to slip away. At Mount Sinai, a new covenant was made and those souls came into a bond that can never be broken. Yes, there were many souls since then that slipped away. Our population is a tiny fraction of what it would be otherwise. As Maimonides stated in a famous letter, those that dropped away must have been souls that did not stand at Mount Sinai when that bond was made.

So we today are the ultimate product of smelting, sifting and resifting, the children of martyrs and those who held on tight no matter what. We are stubborn, obsessive and survival oriented, because that is how G‑d's hand in history has formed us. We have proved ourselves to be the leaders of enlightenment, progress and revolution wherever we have traveled—although the historians continue to try to bury these facts.

In that way, we are chosen, and in that way, we have performed our chosenness. If it were not for Jews, there would be no concept of human dignity, of meaning and purpose, of the right of every person to education and knowledge, of social justice and of the value of world peace. These (along with psychology, relativity, quantum physics, anthropology, Hollywood and superheroes) are among our many vital contributions to the world.

Here are some great books that are right up your line:
A Letter in the Scroll by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks (chief rabbi of the UK)
The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Bringing Heaven Down To Earth by yours truly

Please browse around our site, as well. And keep writing to us. Wherever you want to go, we're here to help you do it right.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman