Beit Midrash

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Why Did G-d Make Israel Special?

Why is the Nation of Israel considered greater than others? Why does G-d relate to Israel differently than the other peoples? Is this not discrimination? Why were the others created, if from the outset Israel takes precedence?


Rabbi Oriel Twito

Elul 26 5781

Translated by Hillel Fendel

I have several questions in matters of emuna, as follows:

1. Why is the Nation of Israel considered greater than others? Why does G-d relate to Israel differently than the other peoples? Is this not discrimination? Why were the others created, if from the outset Israel takes precedence?

2. If G-d planned it all out in advance that the Gentiles are not commanded to keep the Torah, what complaints can there be against them when they do not keep commandments?  And why do we have the privilege of keeping the Torah, and they do not?

3. I searched on my own for an answer, and I found a Midrashic teaching that states that G-d approached all the nations and asked if they wanted the Torah, and each one of them found a reason to refuse; the only one who agreed was Israel. So this answers most of my questions – but the Midrash somewhat contradicts a passage in the Talmud that says that the Torah, Israel, Teshuva, and the name of the Mashiah were all created, in this order, before the rest of the world – which would again indicate that everything was planned out in advance…

4. Why are some of the Torah's punishments seemingly so cruel? Capital punishment, it's true, was very rare – but why does it exist at all? And even if we say it's for the sake of deterrence, why are there other punishments, such as some that are stated in the Talmud, that seem to be quite harsh for "light" sins?

Answer: All of Creation is one interwoven fabric of entities that work together to fulfill the purpose for which G-d created the world. Within Creation, the various creatures, including Man, have different functions, and G-d has given each one the special talent that is right for, and that is required for, him to be able to fulfill his unique role in advancing Creation towards its ultimate goal. 


And just like every human being has his own function and assignment, the same is true for every nation. The assignment given to the Nation of Israel is spelled out in the Book of Exodus (19,6): "And you shall be unto Me a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation." 


And just like every nation enjoys a relationship with G-d that is adapted to its nature and its abilities, so too the Nation of Israel has a unique relationship that corresponds to its abilities and special function in the world. The special character of the People of Israel is what entitles it to its unique relationship with G-d, as is correspondingly true for every people. Just as individual people and their missions are different, entitling them to receive different gifts and abilities from G-d, the same is true for entire nations and their unique characters, abilities, and gifts. 


To specifically answer your question on this point, you are right: The Gentiles are not faulted for not fulfilling the Torah that was given to Israel. They are blameworthy only when they don't fulfill the commandments that were given specifically to them, namely, the Seven Noahide commandments. 


You are also right that the differences between the nations stem from when they were first created, and not by virtue of their own Free Choice. This is why they in fact refused to accept the Torah, because they sensed – correctly – that it was not suitable for the nature of their natural soul, which had been set well in advance. 


Regarding punishment and suffering: The purpose of suffering in the world, generally, is to straighten man's ways. Man has weaknesses, and he is drawn to the physical and material. Tribulations come upon him to set boundaries in these areas, and to mark the way to rise above material pleasures, so that he can build himself spiritually towards true closeness to G-d. 


Furthermore, sufferings direct the person to live a moral and just life. When a person's behavior, or outlook, or way of life is lacking in these areas of justice and ethics, G-d sends him a message in the form of afflictions that will guide him to make the necessary improvements. As Maimonides explains (Laws of Fasts 1, 2-3): 


This practice [of crying out to G-d when troubles occur] is one of the paths of Teshuva – for when trouble arises, and the people cry out and sound the trumpets, everyone will realize that the trouble occurred because of their evil conduct, as stated in Jeremiah 5,25: "Your sins have turned away [the rains, etc.]" This [realization] will cause the removal of this difficulty. But if the people [do not do this, but rather] say, "That which befell us is merely a natural phenomenon or chance occurrence," this is actually a form of cruelty, as it causes them to remain attached to their wicked deeds…"


Of course, only G-d Himself knows the secret of what suffering, and how much, would be effective for any given person to rectify what he can and raise him up from his debased status to a better and more rewarding life. Not always does the person involved understand the purpose of the tribulations and how they work, and therefore he finds himself with questions about the function of sadness and suffering in the world – leading him to jump to false conclusions as to which punishment is too strong for which sin, etc. 


At the same time, we must recognize that some of our holy Sages' statements dealing with Divine reward and punishment are not to be understood perfectly literally. Rather, they actually have great profundity that is alluded to precisely in those facets of their words that appear strange and incomprehensible to us. The Sages chose sometimes to "hide" their messages so that only those who are truly worthy could decode them. 

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