“YOU ARE THE SONS OF THE LORD YOUR GOD” (Deuteronomy 14:1)
“THUS SAYS THE LORD: ISRAEL IS MY SON, MY FIRST BORN.” (Exodus 4:22)
Commentary by Rabbi Allen Maller
Does this mean that Jews, either as individuals or as a people, are Divine? Of course not. No Rabbi from the most Orthodox to the most Reform has ever taken these verses of the Torah literally. What about Jesus? Didn’t he call himself the Son of God? No! According to the Gospels, Jesus frequently referred to himself as the Son of Man. It was only others who called him a son of God and most of them meant it the same way Torah means it i.e. a holy man or a holy people. The term son/child of God should never be taken literally. It is a metaphor. It must be interpreted
To say that every verse must be interpreted is not being disrespectful. To the contrary. It means that we have to give some thought and study to each verse in a Divine text. We cannot read Torah the way we read the newspaper. Jews dialogue with Torah. She challenges, inspires and questions us, and we examine and embrace her. The Jewish mystics asserted that each verse in the Torah is capable of being interpreted in seventy different ways. Throughout the generations Rabbis have offered different meanings and views of Torah verses but according to the Talmud God said, “Both these (views) and those (views) are the words of the living God.” God lives because of the ongoing interaction between the Divine revelation and its adherents. Without this dialogue the text would be a dead letter text and we would lack spiritual vitality and growth.
Divine revelation should always be taken seriously. Divine revelation should never be taken literally, in a simplistic way that contradicts reason, morality or other texts. Some verses were meant for special historical circumstances or conditions. Some verses have to be understood in the light of other verses. And all verses have to be interpreted with the guidance and insight of the many generations of commentators who have preceded us, as well as the best understandings of our own age. Here are some examples of Midrash (the interpretive process at work) for “sons of God”.
Sons in Hebrew means children. Women are as close to God as men.
Children indicates a very close loving relationship unlike that of King and subject. Millions of people can love a King but a King can’t love millions of people. God can.
First-born son indicates that God will send prophets to other nations in later generations.
First-born refers to the historical fact that Torah is the oldest of the living holy books that have come down to us. The older Epic of Gilgamesh text that mentions the man in the ark had been dead for more than 15 centuries.
The Torah says Israel is
God’s first-born but not God’s only
child. Just as parents love all their children so too does God love
all nations and religions. Just as parents can have many children who
look different one from the other, so too does God’s revelation
appear in different forms in different religions, and within each
religion there are different interpretations of God’s revelation.
Yet the first born is unique. As the Qur'an says, "Remember Moses said to his people: "O my people! Call in remembrance the favor of God unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples." (Surah Al Ma'idah 5:20) This is what the Biblical teaching that Israel is God's chosen people i.e. God's first chosen people, means. There were holy men and women prior to Abraham and Moses but none of their communities preserved even a small part of the revelation that was given to them. Only with Israel, and then later with the Christian and Muslim communities do we have communities that remain faithful to their revelation for all generations.
In Jewish thought God proposed a marriage covenant to the Jewish people at Sinai.God said to Moses “Speak thus to the house of Jacob, and tell this to the children of Israel… Now if you listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the peoples, for the whole earth is mine. You will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation. These words you shall speak to the people of Israel” (this is the proposal) “Moses came and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all these proposals as God had commanded him. All the people answered together, “All that God has proposed, we will do. (the acceptance, similar to the “I do” at a wedding) Moses brought this answer back to the Lord.” (Exodus 19:5-8)
Why the Jews? Because God loved their ancestors.
“Only the Lord cared for your ancestors loving them and chose their descendants after them from all nations, as you are this day.” (Deut. 10:15)
“I will fulfill my covenant between myself and you (Abraham) and your descendants after you, generation after generation, an everlasting covenant, to be your God, yours and your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7)
“All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you (Jacob) and your descendants.” (Genesis 28:14)
Why the Jews? Divine love isn’t based on popularity or large numbers.
“It was not because you were more numerous than any other nation that the Lord cared about you and chose you, for you are the smallest of nations; it was because of the Lord’s love for you, and his oath to your ancestors.” (Deut. 7:7-8)
Is being chosen and special make you better? No. Being in a committed loving relationship results in more giving (Mitsvot), more receiving (Torah, Prophets and sages) and more grief (because each cares about the other).
“For you alone have I cared among all the nations of the world, therefore I will castigate you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)
Israel can’t adore any other God but God can and does redeem other nations.
“Are not Israelites like Ethiopians to me? Says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Crete and the Aramaeans from Kir?” (Amos 9:7)
.Jews are not THE chosen people; they are A chosen people, the first of several monotheistic religions. A parent can have many children but only one is firstborn.
“These are the words of the Lord, Israel is my first-born son.” (Exodus 4:22)
The Jewish people was the first community to enter into a sacred relationship with God but they are not the only ones. In later centuries other communities were formed that Jews see as our younger siblings. That process will continue until all nations have a sacred relationship to the one God of Israel. “Each nation will walk in the name of its God, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5) Even in the Messianic Age the other nations will be free to faithfully follow their vision of God.
What is Israel chosen for? To be an agent of holiness and enlightenment.
“You are the children of the Lord your God…You are a people holy to the Lord your God (see Leviticus 19) and the Lord has chosen you out of all the nations on earth to be his special possession.” (Deut. 14:1-2) “I will make you a light for the nations” (Isaiah 49:6) So other nations will also be blessed through their own religions that were sparked by Israel’s covenant with God at Sinai, thus fulfilling the promise to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
HOW ODD OF GOD TO CHOOSE THE JEWS
IT’S NOT SO ODD, THE JEWS CHOSE GOD.
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