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Thursday, 26 November, 2015 - 1:43 pm

CP (Chosen People) is just not PC (politically correct).

The Setting: O'Brien & Goldstein, a highly successful law firm in Los Angeles in the 1960's.

A Jewish man walks in one day to retain the firm's services for a high powered case, and is ushered into the office of one of the two senior partners. Behind the desk is an old Jewish man puffing on a cigar.

“You know,” says the prospective client, “Before we begin, I just want to say how impressed I am by you. I assume that you’re a Jewish immigrant, just like I am, but I find it tremendously admirable how you’ve managed to integrate so well in this society. You even founded this law firm, and with a gentile!”

“You think that’s impressive?” says the elderly lawyer in a heavily Jewish-accented English, raising his bushy eyebrows. “I’m O’Brien.”

In this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, we read how Jacob left his father’s home and set out for Charan as a lone, penniless pauper fleeing for his life. Twenty years later he returned as 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.

“I have become small by all the kindnesses and by all the truths that You have done Your servant,” Yaakov declares in our portion. Imagine, if I would shower you with kindness, wealth and blessings, would you feel small as a result? You might feel grateful, thankful, indebted; but why small?

Even if you feel you are undeserving of so much blessing, does it makes you feel small? It makes you feel loved, important and valued!

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, presents a remarkable insight. It is in the word “katanti,” “I have become small,” that Jacob articulated one of the most central themes in Judaism: the concept of the Chosen People.

In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman 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. After 53 days of imprisonment, he was exonerated of all charges and freed. The event—celebrated to this day on the 19th of Kislev, which falls out this year on Tuesday, December 1, 2015—marked the decisive victory of the Chassidic movement over its foes, and the onset of a new, expanded phase in the dissemination of Chassidic teachings.

Upon his release, Rabbi Schneur Zalman dispatched a short but powerful letter to all his followers. It is a most extraordinary letter (and is published in Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh, chapter 2). He had suffered so much as a result of his opponents; they persecuted him and his followers even before the arrest. Then came the arrest and a terrifying trial. Yet, in this letter, he warned his Chassidim against any feelings of pride and superiority over their opponents as a result of their victory.

The letter opens up with the verse quoted above: “I have become small by all the kindnesses and by all the truths that You have done Your servant." The Alter Rebbe was perturbed by the point mentioned earlier. Instead of bolstering Jacob’s ego, and giving him confidence in his continued success, Jacob was humbled as a result 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 Zalman, did it evoke the opposite response in Jacob?

The Rebbe conveys a most fascinating and profound idea of what it means to be shown grace by G-d.

When you feel chosen over others, it can result in three emotions: 1) you may become arrogant and narcissistic, or worse, denigrating and mistreating of them. 2) It blinds you from seeing your faults. 3) You cannot recognize anything greater than yourself.

These are all serious hazards for human civilization—and that is why we are loath to accept the concept of “chosen people.” We try to stay away from it as much as we can.  CP (Chosen People) is just not PC (politically correct).

But the concept of CP is not just different, but the opposite of that. In Judaism, G-d is the core of reality—the entire reality of existence. There is an organic oneness that unites all of existence, all of humanity, all of the cosmos—and that organic unity is what we call G-d. We are all part of G-d. “Hashem Echad,” G-d is one, 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 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 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 am 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, but by G-d. And the closer you are to G-d, the more you sense your insignificance.

The moment you become arrogant, the moment you feel superior to others in the sense that you can denigrate or mistreat 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 chosen-ness is not a gene, it is a state of the soul. Anyone can join this group of “chosen people” as long as they are ready to experience themselves as nothing… And that is a Jew.

We have been chosen to teach that we all have been chosen to serve G-d and be an ambassador of love, light and goodness in His world.

When I look at our people, I ask myself one question: Has our belief that we are the chosen people turned us into a murderous people who feel we have the right to abuse, persecute, target and annihilate other cultures and peoples who are different? Or has it made us feel responsible to share, give, contribute and help others? Has the idea of CP turned us into people who are never introspective, or perhaps into the most self-critical and introspective nation on earth? The true test of chosen-ness is how humble you are. Most Jews today pass this test with flying colors. Their humility is so deep, it doesn't allow them to accept that they are chosen. While most other religious groups are quite comfortable claiming that they are the best, we Jews will do anything to say that we are nothing special. Now, that's what we call a Chosen People!

This, explained Rabbi Schneur Zalman, was the hallmark of Jacob. Jacob became humble as a result of G-d's kindness. With every kindness he felt the closeness of G-d, and the closer you are to G-d, you become less judgmental, and more humble, loving, kind, forgiving, sensitive, and compassionate.

A beautiful Chassidic tale tells of a distraught man who came to the great master Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev (one of the closest friends of the Alter Rebbe). Standing in the study, he said, "Rabbi, my business partners are about to make a terrible mistake. They want to take a new partner. But the man they have chosen does not even love G-d!"

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak looked worried. "Yes, that would be very bad. But tell me about this man they chose. Is he generous?"

"Well, yes, Rabbi. He even gives huge banquets and invites the poor. But he isn't pious!"

"And tell me," the Rabbi continued. "When others succeed, is he happy or jealous?"

"I guess he is happy. When I recently received the honor of providing the local count with supplies, this man invited me to his house to congratulate me. But he doesn't even attend synagogue!"

"I see. My friend, I would like to tell you a story." The rabbi stood up and began pacing back and forth as he spoke:

"There was once a king whose land was being invaded by a mighty army. His general went out with many soldiers to repel the invaders, but was defeated. So the king appointed another general. "The second general succeeded.

"Now the royal counselors came to the king with an accusation: The first general, they said, had obviously been a traitor. If not, he would have won. After all, he commanded the same army that later prevailed!

"The king was in a quandary. This accusation was very serious. But how would the king determine whether the first general had tried to succeed or had purposely failed?

"Unable to solve this problem, the king summoned an old man who lived at the edge of the city, and was known for his wisdom. When the old man heard the king's tale, he said, 'I will devise a test, your majesty. Please schedule a victory parade for the winning general!'

"Two days later, the city turned out for the parade. As the victorious general marched through the city, the grateful populace lined the streets. They cheered and shouted praises for the one who had saved them from their enemy.

"The old man had arranged for the parade to pass the home of the first failing general. He told the king to clandestinely go and observe what the first general did when the parade passed. When the victor strode by, the defeated general stood at his window, cheering as loudly as all the others, throwing flowers across his rival's path.

"The old man turned to the king. 'Have no fear, your majesty! The first general loves you so much that he even rejoices when his rival achieves a victory for you.'"

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak stopped his pacing and looked at the man in his study. "You see, my friend, we are all created by G-d to strive against the evil inclination within us. Many of us love G-d deeply but are defeated in that bitter struggle against our evil urges.

"How can you recognize those who honestly struggle to love G-d but have been defeated? By their ability to share whole-heartedly in the happiness of G-d's other children.

"My friend, please help this man obey all the commandments, if you can. But as long as he shows this deep, enthusiastic love for other struggling humans, you must never doubt his love for G-d!" This, indeed, remains the eternal litmus test for religion. If you love G-d, you love people. If you believe in G-d, you believe in people. If you cherish G-d, you cherish people. If you are chosen by G-d, you make sure that every person feels chosen to fulfill his or her mission to bring redemption to our world.

Today we indeed give thanks to Almighty G-d! May G-d bless all of you and your loved ones. May G-d bless Israel and the United States of America. May G-d bless the world.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak 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 is; 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.



Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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