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   by Jacob Solomon

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'For you are a holy people to the Lord your G-d. He has chosen you to be a people treasured to Him - from all the peoples on the face of the Earth (14:2)

The Torah refers to the Israelites as a Chosen People in three places. In the Exodus, Moses was preparing the Israelites to receive the Torah by means of the Covenant. G-d called to him to put before the Israelites: 'If you will obey me, and observe My Covenant, you will be a treasured people to Me…' (Ex. 19:5).

That, however, was strictly conditional. An opportunity, yes. A free ride out of mere favoritism and ancestral merit - no. As expanded in Leviticus 26, widespread failure on the Israelites' part to keep their side of the Covenant would cause suffering of dire magnitude and consequences. And following in His Ways would mean their being His Chosen People out of merit; in their own right - added to those of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - their ancestors.

And in this Parasha, Moses picks up the theme twice. Firstly, he delivers the prohibition of personal physical self-mutilation. 'You are G-d's children' (14:1), he emphasizes - implying that G-d having made Man in His Image (c.f. Gen. 1:27), wants Mankind to look after Itself - in the capacity of being created in His Likeness. And the Israelites have an additional reason to take a pride in their physical being. They are the people G-d chose 'from all people on the face of the Earth' (14:2). But elsewhere that is qualified. They are not the Chosen People merely on the basis of their ancestry, but because they chose Him with: 'We will do whatever G-d commands' (Ex. 19:8).

Total commitment to G-d does not, however, mean mere fair-weather friendship. It also involves accepting demanding commandments that are beyond our spiritual sensitivity, as well as moral principles with which any right-minded society can readily identify. One can be a very healthy non-Jew and eat bacon - or shrimp, prawns, and the forbidden animals listed in the Parasha. And that level of faith - adhering to G-d's Commandments which do not lend themselves to simple comprehension enhance the Covenant to a much higher level - demonstrating the belief that He knows what is for our ultimate good. As Moses concludes the laws of what and what may not be eaten with another reference to being special: 'You are a holy people to the Lord your G-d'. (14:21)

So the three times the Torah describes the Israelites as a Chosen People have very specific contexts. Combining the three instances, G-d only gives them that status if they follow His Teachings even where they do not fully understand their meaning at the time…

And the Torah promises that it is that which will give the Israelites their desired place amongst Humanity. As Moses had already emphasized, the Torah is 'your framework of wisdom and understanding amongst the nations… and they will say, "This people is exclusively a wise and understanding people… with G-d close to them…"' (4:6-7)

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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