In Sefer Dvarim, we are treated to one of several places where Hashem uses a particular term of endearment for B’nei Yisroel, referring to us as the “Am Segulah”, a treasured nation (Vaeschanan, 7:6, Re’ei,14:2 and Ki Savo 26:18). There are a myriad of other places where B’nei Yisroel are referred to as the “Am Hanivchar” – the “chosen people” (Vaeschanan, 4:37), Hashem’s “children” (Re’eh, 14:1-2) and even Hashem’s “first born” (Shemos, 4:22),. What is the meaning of this special status?
Contemporary scientists would scream that there are no superior genome by race, class or ethnicity – and they may be right. But consider, Since the dawn of the 20th century, more than 20% of all Nobel prizes have been won by Jews. In fields of science, music, peace, literature etc., Jews have dominated the accumulation of Nobel prize recipients. Jews represent roughly .2% of the world’s population. How can we possibly account for two tenths of 1% of the world’s population garnering 20% of the Nobel prizes in the last 120 years? That is a statistical anomaly of a factor of 100. In other words, Jews win 100 more times the Nobel prizes as would be expected for their share of the world’s population!! Staggering.
Initially, the rationalists will try and point out that Jews are disproportionally wealthy, creatures of privilege that have benefitted from their superior class in society. For those born after 1960, let me assure you that was not at all the case for the first 70 years of the 20th century. Jews suffered through pogroms, a holocaust, and even in 1965 were still denied access to many positions and opportunities. Indeed, unlike today where Spielberg, Golden-Mayer and Katzen are lauded names in the entertainment industry, in the 1960’s most Jews had to change their names to break into the coveted arts. In fact, Jews faced rampant and open antisemitism in America well into the 1960’s. Not only have Jews not been beneficiaries of their status, for most of the relevant time frame, they were outcasts and had limited opportunities and lived in abject poverty. Yet by a factor of 100, they have risen above their gentile counterparts in virtually every category and discipline in the secular world. We truly are a “special people”.
To deny the reality that Jews are a “Special People” is simply to deny the facts. Historians and notables from Thomas Jefferson to Mark Twain noted the remarkable resiliency and unexplainable contributions to society made by this numerically insignificant people. So what are we to make of this special status? Do we pat ourselves on the back and relish in our elitist bubble? Hardly. A more careful analysis will show the actual gift of being a “Special People” is far more complex.
The actual “gift” to the Jewish people is not that we are great but rather that we excel. When a goy wants to steal he goes to the corner liquor store and robs it. When a Jew wants to steal, we have Bernie Madoff. When a goy wants to sell stolen merchandise, he goes to a pawn shop. The Jew sells kidneys and other body organs. We don’t mess around. Whatever we do, we do BIG. And that is where the great responsibility comes in. We have this great gift of having our actions magnified and accentuated. Whatever we do makes a disproportionate impact on the world around us. When we act in a moral and honest way, the impact on the world is unmistakable. When we falter, we are sending a signal to the rest of the peoples that they need not act in a moral or holy way. That is why we are the Ohr Lagoyim (Yeshaya 42:6). That is why the world is obsessed with a tiny little country in the middle east called Israel. They know that we are Hashem’s people and they take their cues from us.
Moshe Rabbeinu understood and exemplified this concept his whole life. Moshe was known as Anav Mikal Adam – the humblest of people. What exactly does that mean? Could it be that Moshe did not realize his greatness? Obviously, he was aware that Hashem was not speaking to anyone else, there was no one else splitting the sea or invited up to Har Sinai. Moshe had to know he was not like everyone else. In fact, Moshe was keenly aware of his special status – that is why he lived his life very differently than everyone else. He knew he was special and had been given special gifts. He was the chosen one of the chosen people. Moshe’s anivos was in that he understood that any gifts which he had simply gave him more responsibility to use those gifts in service of Hashem and His will.
At the end of the day, that is the key factor we need to recognize as we prepare for Rosh Hashana. We are special. We all have talents and abilities. Are we using them to be M’kadesh Shem Shamayim? Of course, it’s very difficult to use one’s abilities to impact the world around them if we can’t even admit that we have talents. Let’s make that our first New Year’s resolution – Identify three things that you have a talent or unique ability for and think about how to best use that ability to serve the Klal and illuminate your corner of the world. If we all could do that, it would make for a much brighter place to live. And let’s remember, while Rosh Hashana is certainly a somber time and a time for introspection, it is also a Z’man for fresh starts. Last years Din is now over. Today is a day for new beginnings. Let’s not let inactions or mistakes in our past keep us from making outstanding tomorrows.