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How Odd of God to Choose the Jews.

When it comes to Torah Portions, this week's Parsha, VaEtchanan is a doozie. As the Israelites are preparing to enter the Land of Israel, Moses recounts the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai in great detail and in all its glory. From there, it moves to the foundational statement of the Jewish religion… The Shema:

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד
Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One.

This is followed immediately by the V'Ahavta: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might…." etc., etc., etc. It's hard to top this, but for our discussion, I'd like to address another section of the Parsha that has actually caused the Jewish People untold suffering for the past 3,000 years.

כִּ֣י עַ֤ם קָדוֹשׁ֙ אַתָּ֔ה לַֽיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּךָ֞ בָּחַ֣ר | יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ לִֽהְי֥וֹת לוֹ֙ לְעַ֣ם סְגֻלָּ֔ה
מִכֹּל֙ הָֽעַמִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָֽאֲדָמָֽה
לֹ֣א מֵֽרֻבְּכֶ֞ם מִכָּל־הָֽעַמִּ֗ים חָשַׁ֧ק יְהֹוָ֛ה בָּכֶ֖ם וַיִּבְחַ֣ר בָּכֶ֑ם
כִּֽי־אַתֶּ֥ם הַמְעַ֖ט מִכָּל־הָֽעַמִּֽים
כִּי֩ מֵאַֽהֲבַ֨ת יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶתְכֶ֗ם

"For you are a holy people to the Lord, your God. God has chosen you to be the most treasured people, out of all the peoples upon the face of the earth. Not because you are more numerous than any people did the Lord delight in you and choose you, for you are the least of all the peoples, but because God loves you." Deuteronomy 7:6-8

This is the passage that says We, the Jewish People, are God's Chosen People. We are the ones that God loves more than any other people on earth. We are the closest to God. We are… We are……. fooling ourselves if we really believe this to be so. This passage has been the source of persecution and antisemitism for thousands of years. Nobody, not another religion, ethnic group, or nationality, wants to hear that someone else is better or closer to God than they are. The fact is that every people, every ethnicity, every faith tradition, and every nation have something unique to contribute to the world. Are the Jews "Chosen?" Absolutely! What are we chosen for? That I cannot say, but I believe every people is chosen for something.

I have always seen the world as a huge "spiritual business." Each distinct people, even each distinct species, just like in a business, plays its role in the operation of the business. As the mathematical principle says: "The Whole is equal to the sum of all its parts." Every group, every individual, every animal, and every plant, plays a role in the effective functioning of the "business." If a manufacturing company doesn't have a marketing department, the company will fail. If a snack food company doesn't have a quality control department, the company will fail. If this spiritual business of the world, of life, doesn't have all its departments functioning… it will fail. Simply stated, if the whole is equal to the sum of all its parts, but one or more of its parts is missing, then the whole will never be complete.

There are others who follow the Psychological Gestalt Theory1, which maintains that "the whole is something else or something different than the sum of its parts. Merely adding up the component parts is meaningless compared with the 'part-whole' relationship. This principle describes the synergy, which exists between individuals working together in a cooperative effort. Collectively, they are able to achieve an outcome superior to that of 1 or 2 people working alone."2 The same can be said for the collective.

Unfortunately, we humans have not yet been able to overcome the mentality of distinctiveness. We may have recognized that the whole is equal to the sum of all its parts, that's just simple math. Still, we have yet to recognize that if each of the parts of Creation was respected equally and recognized for its unique qualities and gifts, and if we worked together, then we could achieve something far, far greater than just the sum of our parts.

This brings us back to Chapter 4:7 of our Parsha, the fundamental, foundational basis of Judaism: the Shema.

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד
Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One.

The Shema calls us to recognize the Oneness, the infinite Unity of the Divine, the Lifeforce of the Universe. I'm not talking about an old man with a long white beard on top of Mt. Sinai. I understand the Shema to be speaking about what is described in the Kabbalistic literature as אור אין סוף, the Infinite Light. An infinite, endless emanation of primordial energy that contains everything that is, was, or ever will be in its noncorporal state. Call it "God," call it "Higher Power," call it whatever you like, but it is this realm of Infinite Unity that the Kabbalah says exists beyond our perception, beyond the confines of time and space, and which brought our physical universe into existence. According to the Kabbalah, this infinite realm of Unity is reflected in our finite, fragmented universe. The challenge to us, we humans, is to unify the fragments.

As discussed in previous "Water Torah" posts, Judaism teaches that every physical being, humans, animals, plants, etc., contains a spark, a soul from that Infinite realm, because we are physical reflections of that spiritual realm of pure Unity. Yet, if everything in this world is a reflection of its true spiritual nature in the Infinite Realm, אין סוף, what then is the reflection in our world of the אור אין סוף the Infinite Light? This deeply profound question was addressed in an ancient Kabbalistic text called Sefer HaBahir. The Bahir focuses primarily on the first chapter of the Book of Genesis and what is referred to as "Maaseh Bereshit," "the works of Creation". The Bahir states explicitly:

אור החיים של מים
(The Infinite) Light, (in this world) is the Life of Water.

Sefer HaBahir 126

There is no greater unifying force on Earth than water. Every human being, regardless of their race, their religion, their ethnicity, their gender identity, their sexual orientation… every human being is mostly water. Indeed, every living organism is mostly water. Yet we fail to see that Unity.

We continue to fragment our societies and separate ourselves from those who are fundamentally the same as us. In our world of fragmentation, we speak of the Unity of "God" but fail to see that Unity as it is manifest in Creation and us. Yes, we are part of the whole. One piece, separate from all the other pieces of this puzzle of creation… and the whole is equal to the sum of all its parts. Just imagine however, what could be done if we recognized that force that unifies all life. Suppose we treated the water in our bodies and on our planet with respect and care rather than as a possession or a commodity. Imagine if we saw water not as a product to sell but as a fundamental human right.

In the morning prayers we say:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה‘ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם פּוֹקֵֽחַ עִוְרִים
Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who opens the eyes of the blind.

Open your eyes and look around you. Whether you live near the Ocean or in a desert, look around you with new, open eyes. And see the Unity that water brings to all humanity and to all of Creation.


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