July 23, 2024
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Many people associate being Jewish with being hated. Hashem has a different association. Though He created all human beings in His image, the Jewish people have a special place in Hashem’s world and are especially beloved to Him.

Hashem determined the nations of the world and their place on the map based on the future of the Jewish people. This concept is beautifully expressed by Shirat Ha’azinu, the Torah’s song of praise and prophecy, which begins its description of world history by making this point: “When the Most High (Hashem) gave nations their homes and set the divisions of humanity, He fixed the boundaries of peoples in relation to Israel’s numbers (Devarim 32:7–9).”

 

Where Our Relationship Began

Sefer Shemot recounts how Hashem established His special relationship with us. The first step was Yetziat Mitzrayim. The exodus not only liberated us from servitude to the Egyptians; it also generated our personal relationship with Hashem.

The fourth of the four languages that describe the stages of redemption makes this point. After Hashem mentioned the first three languages briefly in one pasuk (Shemot 6:6), he devoted a full pasuk to the fourth: “And I will take you to Me as My people, and I will be your God, and you will know that I am Hashem, your God, who removes you from under the suffering in Egypt (Ibid 6:7).”

After liberating the Jewish people, Hashem formally offered them the choice to opt into a special relationship with Him at Har Sinai: “You saw what I did to Mitzrayim and how I carried you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you heed My voice and abide by My covenant, you will be My chosen nation… And you will be My kingdom of priests and holy nation (Shemot 19:4-6).” After the Jews consented, Hashem addressed them personally and gave them the luchot that embodied the covenant.

The luchot were housed in the Aron HaBrit (ark of the covenant), which stood in the holiest inner chamber of the Mishkan Ha’Eidut—the sanctuary that bore testimony to the covenant. As part of the covenant, Hashem placed “His presence” above the Aron in the Mishkan. Though Hashem relates to the entire world, His presence resides uniquely among the Jewish people.

Hashem continued showing His special love for the Jewish people by leading us through the desert and caring for our every need (Devarim 32:9-11). His many requests to count the Jewish people also reflect our belovedness (Rashi, Bamidbar 1:1). Like people who constantly count and review what is most precious to them, Hashem’s love for us is personal and profound.

 

Father-Son Relationship

Hashem equated His relationship with us to that of a father and son. This comparison was the basis of Makat Bechorot. Hashem sees all Jews as His firstborn children. Because Pharaoh refused to release His firstborns, Hashem exterminated all of Mitzrayim’s firstborns (Shemot 4:22).

This father-son relationship has halachic ramifications as well. The Torah prohibits slashing ourselves or tearing out patches of hair in mourning because we are Hashem’s sons—“banim atem laHashem Elokeichem (Devarim 14:1).” As Hashem’s children, we need to carry ourselves with dignity (Rashi, ibid). Appreciating His love for us should also deter extreme reactions to personal loss because we know that Hashem, our loving father, has our best interests in mind (Ibn Ezra ibid).

Rebbe Akiva and his talmidim further emphasized the significance of our father-son relationship with Hashem.

Rebbe Akiva saw it as the source of the Jewish people’s distinctive belovedness. Though Hashem created all humans in His image, He chose the Jewish people as His own children (Avot 3:17). We do not just resemble God. We also have a personal relationship with Him.

Rebbe Akiva also saw this personal relationship as a basis for prayer. When the prayers of others failed to evoke Hashem’s mercy during a drought, Rebbe Akiva addressed Him as “Avinu Malkeinu (our father, our king),” and it immediately began raining (Ta’anit 25b). This invocation of “Avinu Malkeinu” reflects the intimate relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, akin to a father’s response to his children’s cries. No matter how desperate our situation is, we can always turn to Hashem, our father, to ask for forgiveness and assistance.

Children can also ask their father for help with their personal growth. Rebbe Akiva used this point to inspire belief in the potency of Yom Kippur even after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Though we no longer have the Avodat Yom HaKippurim and the Sa’ir HaMishtalei’ach to atone for our sins, our “Father” in heaven is still available to purify us (Yoma 85b).

One of Rebbe Akiva’s central talmidim, Rebbe Meir, used Hashem’s description of us as His children as proof of the eternal nature of our special relationship with Him. Just as a son always maintains that distinction, we too remain Hashem’s people—even if we sin (Kiddushin 36a). Even a rebellious child remains one’s child.

Hashem Himself made this point to Hoshei’a when He commanded him to marry and have children with a harlot (Hoshei’a 1:2). The Gemara (Pesachim 87a) explains the backdrop to this perplexing command. After Hoshei’a responded to Hashem’s complaint about the sinful Jewish people by suggesting that He exchange them for another nation, Hashem helped him appreciate His relationship with the Jewish people by challenging him to separate himself from his own disloyal wife and her children. Hashem’s relationship with us, like the relationship of all parents with their children, is natural and (thus) eternal. No sin—no matter how severe—can sever it.

 

Lovers

Chazal saw our relationship with Hashem as even more intimate. They compared it to the relationship between husband and wife. The source for this is the fashioning of the keruvim, which stood on top of the Aron and from between which Hashem addressed Moshe and the Jewish people, in the forms of a man and woman. This teaches us to view our relationship with Hashem as similar to that of a husband and wife.

This is why the medrash compared the Jewish people’s commitment and “meeting” with Hashem at Har Sinai to a bride at her wedding canopy (Mechilta Bachodesh 3), why Rebbe Akiva saw Shir HaShirim as a homily for the love between God and the Jewish people (Yadayim 3:5), and the Rambam (Teshuvah 10:3) used the lovesickness of a man for a woman as a model for Ahavat Hashem.

This intimate comparison helps us understand and feel the depth of our relationship with Hashem.

 

Making Life Meaningful

Being Jewish means being a member of Hashem’s chosen people—the people He cares for as His precious children and loves personally.

Being Jewish adds meaning to our lives. We express this appreciation in one of the first prayers we recite upon awakening—L’Olam Y’hei Adam. We begin the tefillah by reminding ourselves that most of man’s attributes and accomplishments are insignificant because they end when we die. What, then, makes our lives meaningful? We answer this question by emphasizing that we are Hashem’s chosen people, part of His covenant. Our special peoplehood predates the world and continues beyond our own lives. It connects us to something truly and eternally meaningful.

May reminding ourselves of this help us appreciate and maximize the great zechut of being Jewish.


Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.

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