The Chosen People?
One Torah concept that can cause misunderstanding is the idea of a “Chosen People,” selected by God. Notions of racial superiority come to mind, with all their sorry and bloody history. So it is important to clarify what this concept means in Torah.
Two Kinds of “Chosen”
Sometimes to be chosen means to be preferred: a “select” wine is one considered of superior quality to the others. At other times, however, the selection is based upon suitability to task rather than inherent value—while red wines are chosen to accompany meat dishes, this does not imply that red wines are superior to white.
When soldiers are chosen for a dangerous mission, it is true that they will be deemed heroes if they are successful. The potential consequences of failure, though, may leave their bunkmates quite happy to have been left out.
In this case, God chose the Jewish nation for a mission. This mission involves changing their daily lives, and abstaining from ordinary worldly behavior in many different ways. Yes, it is an honor and a privilege to be chosen, but it is hardly free from costs—and being chosen in this fashion also presents new opportunities to stumble that otherwise would not exist.
Or, as Rabbi Kalman Packouz writes, “The concept of Chosen People means both chosen and choosing. Chosen for the responsibility to be a light unto the nations, to be a moral signpost for the nations of the world. Choosing means that the Jewish people accepted on Mt. Sinai to fulfill this mandate and to do the will of God. We are not chosen for special benefits; we are chosen for extra responsibility.”
Anyone Can Join
Any individual can come close to the Almighty, and everyone can participate in the divine mission in accordance with the way that God has provided for him or her. In the words of the Talmud, “the Righteous of All Nations have a share in the World to Come.”
At the same time, the ultimate relationship with the Divine comes through entering the Covenant of Abraham and fulfilling God's Torah. This special relationship is open to any member of humanity who wishes to enter the Covenant, irrespective of race, gender, or national origin.