Whenever one gets called up to the Torah, he pronounces the blessing established by the early sages that ends with the words “who has chosen us from among the nations and has given us His Torah.” It’s a blessing that encapsulates a basic component of our faith – that we are the “chosen people” by virtue of the Torah we received.
We were chosen to be these recipients because we accepted the Torah, saying “We will do it [whatever it commands] and we will listen [accept]” (Ex.24:7). It seems, however, that the process of “choosing” started before the Torah had yet been given, with Avraham Avinu, often referred to as the “first Jew.”
Of Avraham, God said: “I love [know] him because he will command his descendants after him to keep the path of God” (Gen.18:19). This all leads to the conclusion that there is a strong connection between the Jewish nation accepting the mitzvot and thereby deserving the designation of being the “the chosen ones” – i.e. that being chosen is driven by the recognition that the Torah is Divine.
And since Avraham Avinu had already recognized that long before the torah was given, the process of “choosing” must have started before Sinai. This explains why Avraham is sometimes referred to as “Avraham Ha–ivri” (Gen.14:13). “Ha-ivri,” usually translated as “the Hebrew,” actually means “from the other side,” which connotes that once he was so chosen, he and his progeny were and would remain on the other side.
The Gemara makes a homonymic connection between “Sinai” and sinah – hatred – to the effect that Sinai and the giving of the Torah (which was the culmination of the process of the Jews becoming the chosen people) engendered a sense of hatred on the part of the nations of the world toward the Jews.
We all know that sibling rivalry and jealousy can easily engender hatred. But even among many Jews the principle of a “chosen people” does not sit well. After all, they ask, are we all not part of the same human fabric?
A deeper dimension lies within this Divine choosing process. Looking into midrashic sources we find intriguing statements such as:
* [The thought of the future] Israel ascended [way back] within the Divine Thought [which preceded actual Creation] – Tikunei Zohar 6:1, 79:2, Bereishis Rabbah 1:5
* “With whom did God take counsel [as to whether create or not]? [He took counsel] from the souls of [future] tzaddikim – Bereishis Rabbah 8:6
As we believe that God is the Creator, and that creation began with His Will to create, we can’t help but attempt to find reasons that might have activated such a will. One reason offered is that since God is good, he decided to generate recipients of his goodness. Another reason is that He wanted His Kingship to be acknowledged, and since “there can be no king without subjects,” He foresaw the righteous ones who would become the acceptors of His Rulership. To that effect, he would give them commands, the obedience to which would demonstrate their acceptance of His Rulership.
Accordingly, from time immemorial it was the Divine plan that a segment of human society would become the symbolic emblem of “acceptance” – and the segment God chose is the Jewish people. As it is philosophically impossible to extrapolate backward in order to reach conclusions about the beginning of time and the ensuing millennia, we have to rely on the God-given tradition received at Sinai that spells out this divine plan.
The plan will eventually culminate with the Messianic era, during which God’s sovereignty will be accepted fully by all mankind. Since man was created in the image of God, we apply the terms “speech” and “thought” on the Godly plane from which we all originate. The process of creation is spoken of as the Ten Utterances of Godly Speech (Avot 5:1). As thought always precedes speech, so too the “God Speech” of Creation was preceded by the Divine Thought process, mapping out the overall plan and direction that the creative process should and will culminate with.
Hence “Israel ascended within the Divine Thought.” Jewish souls – so born or converted – have thus been part of the Divine equation from way back, designated and chosen for this plan. It is not a negative aspersion on others but, rather, something that Jews should gratefully treasure.