Friday, 9 December, 2022 - 1:02 am

A priest says to his Jewish friend, that he has a perfect way of eating for free in restaurants.
"I go in at well past 9 o'clock in the evening, eat several courses slowly, and linger over coffee, port, and a cigar.
Come 2 o'clock, as they are clearing everything away, I just keep sitting there until eventually a waiter comes up and asks me to pay.
Then I say: 'I've already paid your colleague who has left.' Because I am a man of the cloth, they take my word for it, and I leave."
The friend is impressed and says: "Let's try it together this evening."
So, the priest books them into a restaurant, and come 2 o'clock they are both still quietly sitting there after a very full meal.
Sure enough, a waiter comes over and asks them to pay. The priest just says:
"I've already paid your colleague who has left."
And the friend adds: "And we are still waiting for the change!"
When Jacob left his father’s home in Be’er Sheva and set out for Charan, he was alone, a penniless pauper fleeing for his life. Twenty years later, he returned a wealthy man, with a large and growing family, an army of servants, and immense flocks of sheep and cattle. G-d’s promise to him “I shall be with you, and protect you wherever you will go, and bring you back to this land”—had been fulfilled in every respect.
This is what Jacob says to G-d in the opening of this week’s portion Vayishlach:
I have become small by all the kindnesses and by all the truth that You have done Your servant, for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and I have become two camps.                      
But if I would shower you with kindness, wealth, and blessing would you feel small as a result? You might feel grateful, thankful, and indebted; but why small? On the contrary, you would feel big, large, successful, and capable; you would feel your worth and value! What did Jacob mean by these words? Even if you feel you are undeserving of so many blessings, does it make you feel small? It makes you feel loved, important, and valued!
Rashi chooses another approach. “My merits have become small from all of the kindness.” Jacob was feeling that all the merits he gained during his lifetime had decreased because of G-d’s grace. He did not mean that he has become smaller from the kindness, but rather that his merits have diminished.
It was Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), presents a remarkable insight. It is in this single word “I have become small,” that Jacob articulated one of the most central themes in Judaism, namely the concept of the Chosen People.
One of the most uncomfortable things you can tell a Jew is not that he is overweight; that he has a Jewish nose; or that he speaks too much. No! Do you want to make a Jew feel awkward? Introduce him as a member of the Chosen People. Let’s face it: Many of us don’t like the idea.
CP (Chosen People) is just not PC (politically correct).
Virtually every other nation has perceived itself as chosen or otherwise divinely special. The British thought they were chosen, and the Muslims and Christians of course see themselves as chosen. And they would love to hear it. But when you tell a Jew you are chosen, he says: “Me? Never. I am just a human being.”
To us, it sounds chauvinistic. It sounds racist. And it sounds irrational, if not bizarre. In an age when we try to promote equality and universalism, embracing the notion that all men and women are created equal, deserving of liberty, dignity, and equal rights for all, the notion of CP seems divisive, dangerous, and hazardous.
In truth, of course, Jewish chosenness cannot be racist. The Jews are not a race; there are Jews of every race. What is more, any person of any race, ethnicity, or nationality can become a member of the Jewish people and thereby be as chosen as Abraham, Moses, Maimonides, the Baal Shem Tov, or the chief rabbi of Israel.
Can reason alone explain the insane fact that since the day the first Jaw walked our planet, evil has consistently targeted the Jews? We can discuss the fact that over the last four millennia almost every major empire and tyrant has been single-handedly obsessed with targeting the tiny nation we call the Jews. And nothing of this changed in our times.
Nazi Germany was more concerned with exterminating the Jews than with winning World War II.
Throughout its 70-year history, the Soviet Union persecuted its Jews and tried to extinguish Judaism. The hatred of Jews was the only thing Communists and Nazis shared.
The United Nations has spent more time discussing and condemning the Jewish state than any other country in the world.
Much of the contemporary Muslim world — and many in the Arab world — is obsessed with annihilating the lone Jewish state.
You would think in 2022 the world would know better. But it does not. From Paris to Sydney, despising and attacking Jews somehow makes perfect sense to millions of people. Why? Why? In my mind, the obsession with one of the smallest countries and smallest peoples on earth, and the unique hatred of the Jews and the Jewish state by the world’s most vicious ideologies over 4000 years can be best explained only in transcendent terms. Namely that G-d chose the Jews.
What is more, can reason alone explain how a hodgepodge of ex-slaves was able to change history — to introduce the moral Creator we know as G-d, to devise ethical monotheism; to write the world’s most influential book, the Bible; to be the only civilization to deny the cyclical world view and give humanity belief in a linear (i.e., purposeful) history; to provide morality-driven prophets, and so much more — without G-d playing the decisive role in this people’s history?
Without the Jews, there would be no Christianity (a fact acknowledged by the great majority of Christians); and no Islam (a fact acknowledged by almost no Muslims). Read Thomas Cahill’s “The Gifts of the Jews” or Paul Johnson’s “History of the Jews” to get an idea about how much this person changed history.
But we are still perturbed. We are still uncomfortable. Why did it have to be this way? Who needs this idea that one people is chosen over any other people? It seems creepy, wrong, and unenlightened. To suggest that as Jews we are somehow closer to G-d than all other nations smacks of arrogance, elitism, and prejudice. Even if not racist, it is chauvinistic. How is that any different from anti-Semitism?
This story takes us back to some two centuries ago. In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Z. of Liadi, founder of Chabad, was arrested and charged with treason, on the basis of petitions to the Czar by opponents of Chassidism. It was a devastating moment. He could have been given capital punishment, and that would have been the end not only of Chabad, but of much of the Chassidic movement, as he was its chief defender, intellectual advocate, and most influential figure. After 53 days of imprisonment, he was exonerated of all charges and freed. The event—celebrated to this day on the 19th of Kislev, Next Tuesday, December 13 —marked the decisive victory of the Chassidic movement over its foes, and the onset of a new, expanded phase in the dissemination of Chassidic teaching.
Upon his release, Rabbi Schneur Z. dispatched a short but powerful letter to all his followers. It is one of the most extraordinary letters one can read. The man suffered so much because of his opponents; they persecuted him and his followers even before the arrest. Then came the arrest and terrifying trial. Yet in this letter, he warns his Chassidim against any feelings of pride and superiority over their opponents because of their victory. He instructs them not to denigrate them, tease them, and demonstrate disdain for them.
The letter opens with the verse we quoted above: “I have become small by all the kindnesses and by all the truth that You have done Your servant.”  The Alter Rebbe is perturbed by our above question. Instead of bolstering Jacob’s ego, instead of giving him confidence in his continued success, Jacob was humbled because of the gifts he received. Why? It is natural that a show of kindness by G-d to a person should increase his self-regard; so why, asked Rabbi Schneur Z. did it evoke the opposite response in Jacob?
The Alter Rebbe conveys a most fascinating and profound idea of what it means to be shown grace by G-d. What does it mean that G-d chooses someone? What does it mean that G-d shows someone unique love?
When you feel chosen over others, it can result in three emotions: 1) you may become arrogant and narcissistic, not leaving room for others, or worse, denigrating and mistreating them. 2) It blinds you from seeing your faults. The more pride you have the less critical and honest you might become with me.  

3) You cannot recognize anything greater than yourself.
These are all serious hazards for human civilization—and that is why we loath the concept of “chosen people.” We try to stay away from it as much as we can.
But these results are true only if it is a human king who chooses you from among all his subjects. When a mortal power shows favoritism towards a subject, that subject will become more arrogant as a result. The closer you are to the king, the more significant you are, and the more significant you are the higher respect you feel you deserve, and you look down at other human beings.
And this is the crux of the matter. The reason we have an issue with CP is that our perception of G-d is often somewhat Pagan. We understand G-d to be the “big strong daddy who can beat you up,” so if this mighty G-d chose me over you, ha—I am awesome, and you are an ant.
But the concept of CP is not just different, but the opposite. In Judaism, G-d is the core of reality—the entire reality of existence. We are all part of reality, we are all in reality; we are all part of G-d, in G-d. There is an organic oneness that unites all of existence, all of humanity, all the cosmos—and that organic unity is what we call G-d. G-d is one, which does not only mean there is one G-d and not twenty gods; it means that G-d is synonymous with oneness. The word G-d is another way of saying that “there is only one.” There is the oneness that pervades all of existence. We are all reflections of One reality: one core. We are all manifestations—diverse expressions—of a singular reality.
To be conscious of G-d means, in other words, to never allow your ego to wrap you in its superficial imagination. “Ego” stands for Easing G-d Out. When I do not realize my true greatness and value, as a reflection of G-d’s infinite oneness, I must resort to my ego to feel good about myself and to put you down. Becoming G-d conscious means that at every moment I need not protect my ego, as I become completely comfortable with my true reality, as an expression of Divine light. The more G-d conscious I am, the smaller I become and the greater I become: On one level I become nothing, as there is nothing but the organic oneness, the absolute infinity of G-d, which pervades all. At the same time—I become the greatest, as my life becomes a full and seamless expression of the higher, unifying, integrating, eternal consciousness of the eternal core of all reality.    
We were chosen not by the Czar or the Kaiser, but by G-d. And the closer you are to G-d, the more you sense your insignificance. While being buddy-buddy with a human leader inflates your ego, a relationship with G-d bursts your selfish bubble. Because G-d is an infinite being, and all delusions of petty self-importance fall away when you stand before infinity. Being close to G-d summons you to respect others more, not less. If you are aware of G-d’s presence, you realize that your fellow human being is also part of G-d just like you. You can’t “own” G-d; you must surrender to G-d. The more G-d conscious, the more loving and charitable you become, as you are aware that G-d’s light pervades every person and every creature.
The moment you become arrogant, the moment you feel superior to others in the sense that you could denigrate them, mistreat them, ignore them—you obviously are not experiencing yourself as being chosen by G-d, for if you did, you would realize that you are ONE WITH THE OTHER PERSON. You would recognize how much holiness exists in that person and you would love him or her passionately and sincerely.
This is the idea of the Chosen People -- a nation of individuals who have been given the opportunity to sense G-d's closeness, hear His truth and relay his message to the world.
Anyone from any ethnic background can convert to Judaism and become chosen. Jewish chosenness is not a gene, it is a state of the soul. Anyone wishing to take it upon themselves is welcome -- as long as they are ready to have their bubble burst. Anyone can join this group of “chosen people” if they are ready to experience themselves as nothing…
And that is a Jew.
This is what it means to think of a Jew. When you were blessed with a gift, when you were showered with a blessing—the first instinct of the Jew is: Why to me alone? I’m I better than anyone else? are we not all part of G-d’s singular reality? So why only me? It must be that G-d gave this to me to share with others, to bless others, to enrich others!
Jacob became humble because of their kindness. With every kindness he felt the closeness of G-d, and the closer you are to G-d, the humbler you become, the less judgmental, the more loving, the more kind, the more forgiving, and the more sensitive and compassionate.
Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once said: I learned the meaning of love from a drunk. I once passed two drunks drinking in a gutter and overheard the following conversation between them:
Drunk #1: “I love you!”
Drunk #2: “No, you don’t.”
Drunk #1: “Yes, yes, I do. I love you with all my heart.”
Drunk #2: “No, you don’t. If you love me, why don’t you know what hurts me?”
Reb Levi Yitzchak was not only teaching us what love us; he was also teaching us what religion is. Being close to G-d means that you feel the presence of the Divine in all and thus your heart overflows with love for all. And you can truly sense what another is feeling because if G-d is real, you and he are really one.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky



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