Chosen, But for What?

Print Article

We just finished celebrating a Yom Tov during which we said in davening and Kiddush, over and over again, Asher bachar banu mi’kol am, You have chosen us from all the nations.  We may have said it, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.


If you consider the current condition of the Jews in the world, you can easily fall into despair. Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas, the continued captivity of our precious hostages, and the unrelenting threat of Iran, are exhausting first and foremost for our brothers and sisters in Israel, but also, in a smaller but significant way, for all who care desperately about our homeland and our people. The metastasizing antisemitic cancer rapidly spreading throughout college campuses, the systemic hate of the Jew even among professors and administrators of institutes of “higher” learning, the distortions and lies of the media, the bias and discrimination of Jews by members of Congress, can easily breed a sense of hopelessness. When “friends” and “allies” use the right words and issue eloquent statements but fail to take meaningful action, you can’t help but wonder, how will this end? 


The post-October 7 energy of being part a united, tenacious people, determined to defeat our enemies, restore security and fight for peace for all decent people feels like it is dissipating and giving way to the cruel reality of what feels like an endless existential loneliness and isolation.  The adrenaline that powered our soldiers and their families in Israel, that energized protests and advocacy in America, and that inspired contributions and donations from all over, is draining, potentially leaving in its place fatigue, fear, and despondency.   


One expects the UN to unfairly condemn Israel, and it would be upsetting but certainly not surprising if the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Netanyahu, but when America withholds a weapons shipment to Israel while the IDF is bearing the burden and paying the human price of fighting a shared savage enemy, it leaves Jews and those who love Israel wondering if we have anyone to turn to or count on. 


If this is what being the chosen people feels like, maybe we can be less chosen and more safe and secure.


As we were marking Yom HaShoah, the day designated to remember the six million Kedoshim, the martyrs of the Holocaust, and to honor the survivors on whose shoulders we stand, the IDF began a long-awaited invasion of Rafah to battle our current enemy and to rid the world of the modern continuation of the ideology of the Nazis. 


Reflecting on the confluence of these two events, I thought about the Jewish condition in the world 80 years ago, what it is today, and how one may be able to educate us about the other.


The Klausenberger Rebbe, Rav Yekusial Yehuda Halberstam (1905-1994), was taken to Auschwitz, where his wife and 11 children perished. He survived the war and came to America, where he remarried, had more children, and built a grand Chassidic movement. He moved to Israel where he built a thriving community in Netanya and established the Laniado hospital. He was a truly extraordinary individual and a brand new Artscroll biography tells his remarkable life story. 


I have seen different versions of the following story, but the way it is told by Rav YY Jacobson,  in the concentration camp, the SS guards began taunting and teasing the Klausenberger Rebbe, pulling his beard and pushing him around. The vile soldiers trained their guns on him as the commander began to speak. "Tell us, Rabbi," sneered the officer, "do you really believe that you are the Chosen People?"


The soldiers guarding the crowd howled in laughter. But the Rebbe did not. In a serene voice, he answered loud and clear, "Most certainly." The officer became enraged. He lifted his rifle above his head and sent it crashing on the head of the Rebbe. The Rebbe fell to the ground. There was a rage in the officer's voice. "Do you still think you are the Chosen People?" he yelled.


Once again, the Rebbe nodded his head and said, "Yes, we are." The officer became infuriated. He kicked the rebbe in the chin and repeated. "You stupid Jew, you lie here on the ground, beaten and humiliated, in a puddle of blood. What makes you think that you are the Chosen People?"


With his mouth gushing blood, the Rebbe replied, “As long as we are not the ones kicking, beating, and murdering innocent people, we are the chosen people.”


Before our precious soldiers entered Rafah, they did several things that no other army in the world does.  American leaders and the media told us that it would take weeks to evacuate the refugees from Rafah, but within three hours, over 100,000 refugees from East Rafah were safely relocated. They said it would take weeks for the IDF to enter Rafah from the moment the evacuation began but the IDF, in a staggered operation, entered Rafah within a few hours with no civilian casualties.


The IDF did this by not only announcing they were coming, they not only notified civilians to relocate, but helped them.  The IDF dropped leaflets, sent text messages, and made phone calls.  A recording of one of those calls was released and it reflects the contrast of our peoples: 


IDF: We must do everything within our means to prevent any fatalities.

Gazan: We want to die and our children also must die.

IDF: No, God forbid.

Gazan: We love death the way you love life.


As long as we love life, even while they celebrate death, we are the chosen people.  As long as we have the most moral and ethical army in history and are fighting the most moral war ever, despite opposing vicious, savage, immoral monsters, we are the chosen people. 


Before the soldiers entered, they gathered to do what the Torah instructs Jews to do before going out to battle: they prayed, asking Hashem for victory and for peace.  As long as while our enemies pray for war, we pray for peace, we are the chosen people. 


We don’t rely on the media, America, the international community, or the UN to know or feel that we are the chosen people.  It is up to our rising to the moment, to be proud, practicing, moral, ethical, Torah Jews, to demonstrate we are indeed the chosen people. 


The Klausenberger Rebbe suffered devastating loss.  He was knocked down, but far from out.  He never lost his faith in Hashem, his resolve, or his mission.   Yes, he suffered and he grieved, but then he put one foot in front of the other and he not only survived, but he thrived.  He did it by never doubting for a moment that he was a member of the people chosen by Hashem. We grieve as well now, we have suffered, but as members of that same people, that same Father, with that same mission, we too will thrive, no matter who stands with us, supports us, or understands us.