By Rabbi Michael Beyo
In Parashat Ki Tavo we find the terminology of Chosen People. Moshe speaking to the Children of Israel says to them (26:18) “And the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments.”
It must be noted that this is not the first time that the Torah refers to the Jews as the Chosen People, at Mount Sinai, in Shemot 19:5, God says to us, “And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.” Additionally, it says in Parashat Vaetchanan 7:6, “For you are a holy people to the Lord, your God: the Lord your God has chosen you to be His treasured people, out of all the peoples upon the face of the earth.”
Different approaches have been given to the meaning of Chosen People and too often, unfortunately, this has been understood and taught to mean that we Jews are inherently better than non-Jews. It has become part of the mantra for most of the Orthodox world that we Jews are better, that we have a better soul, that we are closer to Hashem, and that we are in a way superior to non-Jews.
A close reading of the Torah reveals that nothing could be further from the truth. In all three instances, the Torah imposes upon us an obligation to become a holy and chosen people – nowhere the Torah says that we are already. Furthermore, in our parasha the Torah describes the relationship between us to Hashem and not between Hashem and the Jews.
So what makes us the Chosen People – my understanding is that we have an obligation to strive to be Holy and when we realize that we are not actually and inherently holy, but by behaving in a certain way we can turn our existence into a higher – holy - existence. That is the essence of Chosen People.