I'm Jewish ... Now What?

SATISFYING A UNIQUE SPIRITUAL DILEMMA

If most Jewish people today were to be completely honest, we might admit to being uncertain or even embarrassed at times by the idea that we are God’s chosen people. To think that God especially chooses any people as special or unique seems to be somewhat narrow-minded and arrogant when viewed through the lens of our modern multicultural world.

What does it mean to be Jewish? Our history is important; the Holocaust, the modern State of Israel and antisemitism all concern us. Less serious matters — from Grandma’s chicken soup for a cold to getting straight As in school — pop into our minds too! We all know the shtick, but I believe we also want deeper and more thoughtful answers about our identity and even about our relationship with the God who allegedly chose us.

Maybe one of the most important questions to ask is “What does it mean to be chosen?” The Jewish understanding of being chosen by God has been elusive and mysterious. After all, the impact of believing that there is a God who created us as individuals and called us as a people to some divine purpose could be profound — if we found it to be true. We would certainly want to discover what that divine purpose is for our lives and for our people, would we not?

In order to understand the idea of “chosenness” in Judaism, we need to examine the biblical passages where the idea is described. In Genesis chapter 12, verse 3, we learn from the Creator Himself the divine rationale for the existence of the Jewish people. This fact — further confirmed in the writings of the Jewish prophets — is that the nation of Israel was created and chosen by God for the benefit of the nations of the world (goyim). The nations and tell the world about a good God who demanded righteousness from the citizens of His kingdom.

Although the Jewish people were created and called by God to bring blessings to the world, we were not told specifically what these blessings might be. Should we relegate the blessings Jewish people were to bring to the world to ethical monotheism, as so many do — especially in comparative religion textbooks — or should we look for something more?

So what’s so special about being Jewish? Besides belief in one God, the beauty of the Hebrew Scriptures and the volumes of Jewish ethics we have developed for the overall good of society, is there more? And to ask a very personal question, “What is in it for us?” Did the Lord simply choose us for the benefit of others and not concern Himself with our good?

God chose the Jewish people to have a relationship with Him personally and to pass along the greatness of this relationship to the nations of the world. The Jewish Scriptures tell us how this will happen. There is a promise described throughout the Bible that speaks of a day when the Messiah would come, and through this unique leader, both Israel and the nations would find their greatest sense of purpose, joy, peace and prosperity! Ultimately, the greatest blessing the Jewish people were to bring to the world was this very Messiah. But how and when Messiah would come is the question of the ages! God, in fact, planned a Messianic “surprise appearance,” as the Messiah entered the scene in a wholly unforeseen way... or did he?