46th Torah Portion, 3rd in Deuteronomy

By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

46thTorah Portion, 3rdin Deuteronomy

Eikev7:12-11:25 (111 verses)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

 

Synopsis:

Moses reminds the people of the virtues of keeping God’s commandments and if they do then the nations on the other side of the Jordan will not harm them. He tells them that they will dispossess those who are living in the land because they are idolaters. Moses reminds them of their trespasses. He tells them that the land will flow with milk and honey if they follow the commandments and teach them to their children.

Commentary:

           The portion makes it clear that the Israelites are rewarded not by how remarkable or virtuous they are but because of the merit of their ancestors and, at the same time, how vile the neighboring nations are. They are chosen for Torah andmitzvotonly if they rise to the challenge. Only then will there be blessings for all of humanity through their chosenness.

How, after two thousand years of anti-Semitism can we Jews possibly think that we are chosen? And yet despite the attempt to eradicate us from the earth, we remain a presence on the earth. Perhaps the message is that God wants us to behave better than those who hurt us.  We are different, not because God thinks we are better or we think we are better, we are different because our parents want us to study those sacred books, so that we might know what God expects of us.

Rabbi Leo Baeck has taught us, God is equally available to all.  God is not particularly related to one people.  Ethical monotheism is universally available to any people. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus – people of many faiths – feel their sense of “chosenness.”  All of these faith groups uniquely pledge themselves to God and historically identify with the idea of ethical monotheism.  According to Baeck, Jews are “chosen” because they chose to devote themselves to God.  This is the foundation of an ethnic life as well as an ethical life. 

As Reform Jews we are taught to strive after wisdom, compassion, peace, and understanding. We are taught that there are many paths to God. We hope that we may embody this prayer of chosenness instead. Perhaps we will be able to influence others.Baruch atah Adonai, eloheynu ruakh ha’olam, asher bachar banu im kol ha’amim—  “We bless You, the Breath of Life and the World, who has chosen us — unfolded us in our uniqueness– along with the complementary uniqueness of the other peoples whom You have also called/ unfolded into being, and whose differentness from us is vital to our lives.”

Questions:

 

1.     How do you reflect on your own chosenness?

2.     How does your chosenness affect your relationship with those of different religious beliefs?

Focus:

 

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg writes, “God says, I chose you not because you are more numerous or more powerful, and not because you are morally, spiritually, or intellectually superior. You are not. I chose you out of my unknowable will.”

Ray Lederman recalls a teaching by a Hassidic Rabbi that said that when the Messiah comes, the value of all holy texts (Torah, Koran, New Testament, etc) would merge and complete each other. Perhaps we are chosen to provide the wisdom of Torah to augment and complement the teachings of other faiths.