The relationship between the Creator and the Jews, including converts, is unique.
Hashem is the personal Savior of each and every Jew, as well as all Jews collectively, and he loves each and every one of us.1 Each one of us looks up to Hashem as a personal G-d, King, Helper, Savior, Rescuer, and Shield. We, and all who join us, no matter where they come from, are the Chosen People.
Where did this special status come from, and what does it mean to be Chosen?
It is rooted in ancient history.
The Historical Source
When there was almost no one in the world worshiping or even acknowledging the Creator, a man named Abram (later called Abraham) began to publicly call the Creator by the Name “L-rd” (in Hebrew).
Today we use the term “Hashem,” which means “The Name.” It is a reference to the Name of the Creator, the Tetragrammaton, which means “the four-letter Name of G-d.”2 Each Name of G-d denotes and means something different about how G-d interacts with the universe. This Name denotes mercy. By calling G-d “Hashem,” we are saying that G-d is merciful.
Abraham was fully devoted to Hashem the Creator. He taught others to acknowledge the Creator, and he was one of the most righteous people who ever lived. Abraham taught the world that Hashem is loving and wants everyone to treat everyone else with love and kindness. Hashem also wants us to fully develop ourselves spiritually.
Hashem told Abraham that his descendants would have to go through numerous exiles. In the first exile his descendants would be slaves. After that, we would be taken out of exile, the people who harmed us would be judged, and we would be given the Torah, the richest possession in the world.
Abraham’s son Isaac was also as righteous, and so was Isaac’s son Jacob. So Hashem promised them that He would choose their descendants to continue the work that Abraham had begun.
An angel gave Jacob the name Israel, and Hashem agreed to it. Therefore, we, his descendants, are called the Children of Israel.
The Children of Israel went down to Egypt, as part of Hashem’s promise. Though we were in terrible exile, in horrible slavery, though our children were taken from us and baked into bricks before our very eyes, we never lost our faith in Hashem. And we never assimilated or intermarried among the Gentiles. We were recognizably Jews, even among the other slaves.
After many years of the slavery, Hashem took us out of Egypt with many miracles and proofs of Hashem’s power and might. Hashem thereby chose us as a special People to Him. Hashem called us “My son, My firstborn, Israel.”3
Hashem then split the Reed Sea, crossed us over it while the ground was dry, and drowned the Egyptians who were chasing us. Hashem then brought us through the desert to Mount Sinai. At Mount Sinai, Hashem offered us the choice to accept the Torah, and we did. We therefore owe a special debt of gratitude to Hashem for all the miracles He did for us, and especially for giving us the Torah. We began showing that gratitude by accepting the Torah and declaring Hashem our G-d, and us His People.
Why Choose Us?
Our relationship with Hashem is based on the fact that Hashem chose us because we chose Him. As the Torah tells us, “Now if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be My special treasure among all nations, even though all the world is Mine. You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Me.”4
Why did Hashem choose us in the first place? It was not in our own merit, though we did have merit. Hashem chose us because He had made a promise to our forefathers. As the Torah says:
“You are a nation consecrated to Hashem your G-d. Hashem your G-d chose you to be His special people among all the nations on the face of the earth. It was not because you had greater numbers than all the other nations that Hashem embraced you and chose you; you are among the smallest of all the nations. It was because of Hashem’s love for you, and because He was keeping the oath that He made to your fathers. Hashem therefore brought you out with a mighty hand, liberating you from the slave house, and from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. You must realize that Hashem your G-d is the Supreme Being. He is the faithful G-d, who keeps in mind
His covenant and love for a thousand generations when it comes to those who love Him and keep His commandments.”5
So it was not only because we accepted Hashem as our G-d. That is a part of it, but it was also, or perhaps primarily, because of the Patriarchs. The promise Hashem made to them will last for at least one thousand generations, which is 20 thousand years, even when we sin. So far, it’s been only 4,000 years since the Patriarchs, not 20,000. Therefore, Hashem’s promise is still in effect.
So since our merit was not the reason Hashem chose us, our sins and lack of merit can’t take it away. Hashem made a promise, and Hashem will never break that promise.
Who is Included in This?
Hashem continues to treat us—and anyone who properly joins the covenant—as His Chosen People. Anyone who chooses to become a full servant of Hashem joins the Chosen, as it says:
“And the foreigners who attach themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love Hashem’s Name, to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and doesn’t profane it and who holds fast to My covenant; I will bring them to My holy mountain, and will let them rejoice in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted favorably on My altar, for My Temple shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”6
Those who join us are also following in the ways of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and thus become one of their descendants.
What Does it Mean to be «Chosen?»
Being chosen doesn’t mean that we get special privileges. It means we are held to a higher standard. As it says, “Of all the nations of the earth I loved only you. That is why I will punish you for all your sins.”7
As quoted above, the Torah tells us, “You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Me.” What does this entail? The Rabbis8 explain, «You will be a kingdom appointed to serve Me; a holy nation that adheres to the Holy G-d, as the Torah says9, ‘You must be holy, since I am Hashem your G-d [and] I am holy.’”
We are a people dedicated to being holy for the sake of Hashem, and to serve Him.
It means we have to maintain a higher morality in the face of the entire world. It means that we must not learn our morals and ideals from the rest of the world, but from Hashem, by learning and keeping the Commandments and Teachings of the Torah.
Just as we did not assimilate in Egypt, just as we kept our own values and we served Hashem even when we were slaves, we must continue to do so today. Even later, when we will no longer be in exile, when the Messiah will come, we will still be obligated to serve Hashem. We must do this for as long as this world will last. Our purpose, our reason for existence, what we have been chosen for, is to fulfill the Torah — which is Hashem’s command to us — to the best of our abilities.
1. See, for example, Deuteronomy 23:6; Isaiah 43:3-4; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16; Jeremiah
2. You may have seen it in English as Y-H-V-H.
3. Exodus 4:22
4. Exodus 19:5-6
5. Deuteronomy 7:6-9
6. Isaiah 6:6-7
7. Amos 3:2
8. Commentary of Nachmanides, Exodus 19:6
9. Exodus 19:2