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The Systems of the Jewish Year

The Challenge of Chosenness

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

After the Nazis invaded the small village of Klausenberg, they began to celebrate in their usual sadistic fashion. They gathered the Jews into a circle in the center of town, and then paraded their Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusial Yehuda Halberstam, into the center. They began taunting and teasing him, 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 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 shin and repeated. “You stupid Jew, you lie here on the ground, beaten and humiliated. What makes you think that you are the Chosen People?” From the depths of humiliation clouded in dust, the Rebbe replied. “As long as we are not the ones kicking and beating innocent people, we can call ourselves chosen.” (heard from Rabbi Mordechai Kaminetzky)

This difficult portion of the Torah ends with the ultimate charge from Hashem, “I will always remember your forefathers. I will always remember Eretz Yisroel. Even during the worst times when you are in the land of your enemies I will not detest you and retract on the covenant that I made with you. You are chosen!

G-d’s challenge is to remember that we are chosen; our challenge is to remember that we are chosen, even during the most trying times.

It’s difficult to listen as G-d speaks to us about the blessing and the curses that can come upon the Jewish people. As a people we have been tortured, killed and humiliated. We have been tossed from country to country. Yet, today we can also see the blessings. For the first time in 2000 years Israel is green and flourishing. There are yiddishe simchas every day and there are more children studying Torah then perhaps any other period in history. The Jewish story is full of highs and lows. In our generation, all at the same time. This Parsha is alive and mind-boggling.

It’s all about being the Chosen people. G-d speaks to us like a father speaks to his children explaining the importance of their every decision in life. He says, “Your whole life stands before you. Make the right decisions and you will be blessed. Make the wrong decisions and your life will be miserable.” The stakes are high! These are the ramifications of chosenness.

When life turns tragic; chosenness becomes a challenge.

Do we maintain our dignity and our character when life takes a downturn? Do we maintain our composure when others would lose their temper? Can we refrain from taking revenge when we are being persecuted? Can we hold our character level when we seem to be lone rangers? If we can remain Jews we are indeed chosen. That was the message of the Klausenberg Rebbe.

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