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Home » Passover, Vaeirah

Vaeirah: Proud to be Chosen

Submitted by on January 22, 2006 – 4:33 amNo Comment | 1,305 views

Hiding our Culture

There was a time when nations readily acknowledged that the Jews were chosen. There was a time when we openly acknowledged that we were chosen. There was a time when no Jew was ashamed of being chosen. Today’s world is a little different. Jews long to fit in and be accepted as equals. The culture and conduct of the international community has become the hallmark towards which Jews strive. To stand out as Jewish is, to many Jews, a matter of shame.

We hide our cultural and religious origins in the deepest regions of our secret closets. Many Jews are self conscious when they encounter a Jewish spectacle in public. “Judaism mustn’t be worn on the sleeve,” they say, “It ought be practiced behind closed doors.”

They hide from the world’s eyes when they eat kugel and sip borscht. They secure the bolts before they don teffilin. They never kindle the Chanukah lights in public. As comedian Jackie Mason put it, “G-d forbid, the world should think us too Jewish.”

Reality Check

It was not always this way. When G-d liberated our ancestors from Egypt, the world knew that Jews had received preferential treatment from the Creator. All men were created equal, but G-d chose the Jews. The nations knew it and stood in awe. They respected us for the love that G-d demonstrated to us and understood that we were the focal point of creation. (1)

This idea is reflected in the theme of this week’s Torah portion. In this week’s portion we read about the plagues that befell Egypt in punishment of their cruel treatment of our ancestors. (2)

In total there were ten plagues and the question is often asked, why so many? G-d could have killed all the Egyptians with one plague. Why was it necessary to draw it out? (3)

The Torah tells us that G-d’s purpose was to make himself known to Pharaoh and to those Egyptians who formerly denied his existence, when Pharaoh brazenly declared, “Who is the G-d of Israel that I should heed his voice?” (4) (5)

Ten plagues drawn out over ten months forced the Egyptians to acknowledge the Divine. proud to be chosen - innerstreamThis was one G-d they would never again deny. This was one G-d they would never forget. This was one G-d with whom they would never trifle. G-d could have annihilated Egypt in one plague, but Egyptians would not have learned of G-d before they died.

This answer, in and of itself, seems plausible yet Rashi, the eleventh century commentator, was unsatisfied and sought a deeper perspective. Rashi explained that the purpose of the ten plagues was not simply so that Egypt would learn to acknowledge G-d but so that Jews would learn to understand G-d and to fear his might. (6)

Why the Jews?

The simple question is, what drove Rashi to force the Jewish component into this argument? Is it not plausible that G-d would strike Egyptians for a purpose that served only Egyptians? Must Jews be involved in the reason for Egyptian suffering? Moreover, if he wanted to show his might to the Jews why did he not strike the Jews?

The answer is that Jews are the focal point of the universe and are at the center of every occurrence. The Midrash teaches that Jews are the purpose of creation, and since G-d recreates the world at every moment, the purpose of creation must be reaffirmed at every moment. In other words, every moment of existence is a new point of creation and the purpose of each created moment is the Jew. (7) (8)

Every occurrence throughout the globe, at every time and at every place, is wrapped up with the Jew. If G-d recreates the world at a given moment and provides a particular experience for the people that he recreated in that moment, then the Jew, who is the focal point of that created moment, must be the purpose of that experience.

If Egyptians were infused with G-d’s vivifying force and were made to suffer a plague, then it must, in some way, have served a Jewish purpose. If it did not serve the Jew then G-d would not have created the Egyptian and his suffering at that very moment. Rashi was therefore driven to find a Jewish component to the purpose of the plagues.

It was not enough to know that Egyptians would learn of G-d through their plagues. If it did not somehow serve the Jew then the plague would not have occurred. This is Rashi’s profound expression of faith.

Do We Believe?

Conceited, isn’t it? It may sound conceited but that does not diminish the truth of this fact. Jews never asked to be chosen. We were not chosen because we were better. G-d chose us for reasons of his own and he created the universe so that we might serve him in it.

There was a time when we all believed this and were proud of it, we were proud to be chosen. There was a time when the nations of the world simply knew it and respected us for it.

Today many Jews are ashamed of it. “Don’t speak this way,” we are cautioned, “The world will hate us for it. They will accuse us of discrimination.” Those who worry about the world’s condemnation ought to look within themselves. Is it the condemnation of others they seek to avoid or is it their own?

Are we shy about being chosen because of the reaction of others or because we don’t believe it ourselves? If the answer is the latter then we have our work cut out for us. We need to embrace the basics of Torah and learn to take pride in them. It may take a while to reach that stage but at least we know the path we ought to tread. (9)

Footnotes

  1. Midrash Tanchuma, Deuteronomy, Ki Tetze, ch. 9. See also Rashi’s (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes, France, 1040-1105) commentary to Deuteronomy 25: 18.
  2. Exodus 6-10.
  3. See Abarbanel (Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, Spain,1437-1508) and Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, Russia, 1809-1879) on Exodus 7: 18. See also Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619) on Exodus 7: 17 and Orach Chayim (R. Chaim Ibn Atar, Morocco, 1696-1743) on Exodus 8: 4.
  4. Exodus 6: 5.
  5. Exodus 5: 2.
  6. See Rashi’s commentary to Exodus 7: 3.
  7. Vayikra Rabbah 36: 4. See also Rashi’s Commentary to Genesis 1: 1.
  8. See Shaar Hayichud V’haemunah, ch. 2. (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813). The argument simply put is that every object, left to its own devices, always returns to its state of equilibrium. Since every created object’s state of equilibrium is nothingness, for it was nothing before G-d created it and turned it into something, it follows that without something continuously forcing it out of its state of nothingness and into its state of existence it must naturally revert to its equilibrium state of non-existence. This is very different from an artisan who crafts a table out of wood and does not need to continually recreate the table lest it revert to a plank of wood. The table was not created ex-nihilo. It was formed from a pre-existing piece of wood. The wood itself, however, was created out of nothing and would revert to its state of nothingness unless forced out of this state by continual recreation by G-d.
  9. This essay is based on Likutei Sichos, v. XXXVI, p. 33 (R. Menachem M Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, NY, 1902-1994).
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