My peers and their parents assumed that the term “Chosen People” meant that Jews believe they are superior, a better race and are God’s favorite. It is not only misunderstood by gentiles, but very often Jews themselves have no inkling of what it means to be chosen by Hashem. With the exception of the Kuzari, almost all Rishonim (medieval scholars) make it very clear that every human being, Jew and gentile alike, is created in the Divine image. The term tzelem Elokim is ascribed to all of humanity—not just Jews. Every human being is created in God’s image (i.e., we were all created with an abstract intellect that enables us to perceive the knowledge of God through the prisms of physics and metaphysics). No human being is inherently better than any other human being. If that is the case, then what does it mean that Jews are the Am Hanivchar, the Chosen Nation?
Am Hanivchar means that we were chosen to engage in a mission. We were chosen by God, and in turn, we chose to partner with God in the mission of the transformation and perfection of humanity. All human beings have an obligation to lead a life of ethical monotheism, which is encapsulated in the covenant that God made with humanity. We refer to that covenant as the Seven Mitzvot Bnei Noach. The Jewish people, by adopting the covenant of the Torah and its 613 mitzvot, not only adopted a change in their lifestyle, but adopted a system and society of perfected ethical monotheism. The Jewish nation does not have its own perfection as the end goal and purpose of the covenant. That covenant demands that we are responsible for the destiny of all of humanity. On the one hand, this is an awesome responsibility, and on the other, it is the greatest opportunity that a human being can have, to be able to work and partner with his Creator.
Jews are often accused of being parochial because the Torah demands that we view fellow members of the covenantal community as our brothers and sisters. However, no one is as universal and has a sense of responsibility for the welfare of all of humanity like the Jew. The same Torah that demands a familial affinity insists upon responsibility for all of God’s creations—from a cherry tree to an overburdened ox to one’s fellow human being. When a Jew takes the concept of Am Hanivchar to heart, he or she looks at the world with a sense of breadth and perspective that transcends the trivial and small-minded mentality that so many people have. The responsibility and blessing of being a member of the Am Hanivchar creates a love, an appreciation and a concern for the welfare of one’s community, neighbor and society. It shapes our dreams, directs our energies and sensitizes us to the needs of others. This responsibility and opportunity of being a member of the Chosen People is not a cause for arrogance, but just the opposite—it engenders a profound sense of humility. Our mission, as God’s partners, is to create a world driven by ethical and moral principles and to develop a philosophical and theological perspective of humanity’s relationship to the reality of its own existence and its relationship to God. Even though the world has grown technologically, economically and scientifically in quantum leaps, we have a long way to go ethically, morally, philosophically and theologically.
Rabbi Steven Weil, “The Chosen People”, Jewish Action (Spring 2013), 10.