This famous English rhyme, written by William Norman Ewer, captures the world’s attitude toward the Jews as a Chosen People.
Indeed, why did God choose the Jews?
Before we can get to this question, we need to ask another question.
What is a Jew?
Whenever I am asked this, I say that the Jews are like everybody else, only more so. “More so” means we are wiser, we are faster, and we are more generous. We are more vicious, we are crankier, and we are more obstinate. We contain everything every human being has – just in a larger size.
And we have more obligations!
Jose Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher/sociologist, wrote a book entitled The Revolt of the Masses, in which he says that nobility is best expressed by the French expression noblesse oblig?. Nobility is not about rights or riches; it’s about obligations. The higher someone’s noble rank, the more obligations he has.
Being Jewish means that we have obligations from the moment we open our eyes to the moment we go to sleep, from the day we are born to the day we are buried. They never leave us, not for one moment. There is no time in which we can say, “Okay, dear God, now we’ll part ways. We’ll meet again sometime.”
Being a Jew means that God intervenes in our pocketbooks, in our kitchens, in our bedrooms. It doesn’t mean that we’re not allowed to do anything. We’re allowed to do lots of things – but always with the notion that Somebody is there, and He’s keeping count.
Take the kitchen. Why should God care what we do with milk and meat? Why should He care if we eat a small piece of bacon, a bit of catfish? But He interferes and He says “That – yes,” and “That – no.”
Why did God choose us?
In my opinion, God chose us for our stamina and stubbornness. We are possibly the only nation that could bear such a great burden.
Psalm 29 says, “Render unto God, you sons of the giants,” because it requires great strength to lead a life that is loyal to God. At times we may wish that we could take a vacation from our many obligations. Say, between the ages of 14 and 65. Yet we go on not merely obeying, but also trying to deepen our connection with God.
When the Jews, immediately after receiving the Torah, made the Golden Calf, Moses prayed to God asking Him to forgive the people for this terrible sin. He said, “Ki am kishei oref hu. Visalachta? for it is a stiff-necked people, and you shall forgive…” This seems strange. If they are an obstinate people, then why should God forgive them?
The Ramban, Rabbi Moses Ben Nachman who lived in the 13th century in Spain, answered this question. He wrote that the verse means that Moses says to God:
“You know your people. They are a terribly obstinate people. To move them from one level to another, from one position to another, takes a long time. Because of this, you should forgive them. You must remember that they lived 400 years amidst an evil nation. You want them to change? You can’t expect them to change in a day. It will take them years and years to change. But when they are changed, the same obstinacy will be on your side. They will never leave you.”