“How odd of God to choose the Jews.”

Jackson Snyder, March 20, 2005

 

INCOMPLETE

 

Just started this one, However there are some good Talmud portions below.

 

“How odd of God to choose the Jews.”

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That famous couplet was written by British journalist William Norman Ewer (1885-1976).  Yet, in the beginning, “God” didn’t exactly choose “the Jews” at all.  The word “Jew” is a contraction of “Yahudim,” which means, “those of Yahweh.”  The very name of this religious group implies that if there was any choosing to have been done, the Jews chose first and named themselves after Yahweh prior to a time when he might’ve chosen them.

   The fact of the matter is that G-d didn’t choose the Jews – He chose the Israelites, the race of people who sprang from Adam in Eden, a family-nation of Syrians (Aramaeans), the progeny of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abram, the latter a Syrian man who was born outside his own country, in south Babylon, at Ur (Genesis 11:28).  It was to this one man, Abram, that the Almighty made the eternal promise, saying –

Genesis 22:16-18.  “I have sworn … because you have … not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you (Abram) have obeyed my voice.” 

   Abram’s descendants through Isaac then Jacob would be a source of blessing to all the nations for all the generations for all of history.  Why?  Because one man, Abram, was obedient to keep covenant with Yahweh, and ever since, through years as the sands of the seashore, some Jacobite has remained true. 

   Today, those of Abram’s blood who remain in covenant with Yahweh continue to thrive on earth, despite every attempt the devil has made to wipe them all out.  Furthermore, many new children have been born to Abram though he’s been dead for thirty-five hundred years.  Those who have covenanted with Abram’s god have become his children despite what blood nurtured them in the womb.

   This is the meaning of the prophecy, “descendants as sands of the sea and stars of the sky” – there’re earthly descendants numerous as the sand upon shoreline through Abram’s bloodlineand there’re those counted as descendants not because of Abram’s blood, but because of the blood of one of Abram’s descendants.  Though the sands of the sea can be numbered, the descendants of Abram born of His spirit are as the stars in heaven, uncountable.

 

   In our day, we have the benefit of spying salvation history from the end to the beginning.  We recognized how privileged we are to be grafted in with so much instruction that’s accumulated through centuries of faith.  But despite our favor, Yahweh tells his people they must remember the humble and detested origin from whence they came. 

   When the Israelite brought his offering before the priest as his part in covenant with Yahweh, he must say aloud, “A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5).

   From a humble beginning, the two houses of Israel comprising Jew and Gentile, sands and stars, have become a huge consortium of kings and priests all over the face of the earth and in heaven.  We can see now that G-d’s choice of Israel wasn’t so odd after all, as we consider a story from the Talmud that’s almost as well known as the couplet I first quoted.  Listen:

   When Yahweh revealed Himself to give the Torah, He revealed Himself not only to the Covenant of Israel but to all other nations as well.  First Yahweh went to the Children of Esau.  He asked them: “Will you accept the Torah?”  They said right to His face: “What is written in it?”  He said: “You shall not murder.”  They replied: “Master of the Universe, this goes against our grain.  Our father, whose ‘hands are the hands of Esau’ (Genesis 27:22), led us to rely only on the sword, because his father (Isaac) told him, ‘by your sword shall you live’ (Genesis 27:40).  Therefore, we cannot accept Your Torah.”

   He then went to the children of Ammon and Moab, and asked them: “Will you accept the Torah?”  They said right to His face: “What is written in it?”  He said: "You shall not commit adultery.”  They replied: “Master of the Universe, our very origin is in adultery, for it is written, ‘And so were the daughters of Lot with child by their father’ (Genesis 19:36).  Therefore, we cannot accept Your Torah.”

   He then went to the children of Ishmael, and asked them:  “Will you accept the Torah?”  They said right to His face: “What is written in it?”  He said: “You shall not steal.”  They replied: “Master of the Universe, it is in our nature to live off what we steal and what is gotten by assault.  Of our ancestor Ishmael it is written, ‘And he shall be a wild-ass of a man, and every man’s hand against him’ (Genesis 16:12).  Therefore, we cannot accept Your Torah.” 

   There was not a single nation among the nations to whom Yahweh did not go, speak, knock on its door, asking whether it would be willing to accept the Torah.  As it is said, “All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O Yah, for they have heard the words of thy mouth” (Psalms 138:4). 

   At long last He came to Israel and asked them:  “Will you accept the Torah?”  They said, “All that Yahweh has said we will do; whatever we are commanded” (Exodus 24:7).  So Israel accepted the Torah, with all its explanations and details as well as the seven commandments that the children of Noah had not been able to observe and had cast off.[1] 

 

Perhaps now we can understand better why an anonymous someone added a second couplet to Ewer’s first:

How odd of God to choose the Jews.

Not odd of God. Goyim annoy’im.

 

Goyim of course refers to all non-Jews – like the Ammonites, Moabites and all the other “ites.”  Obviously, this codicil was added by a Jewish mother.  We know that, though Jews are in some sense “chosen people,” they also annoyed him far more than any other group of people in the world except the Israelites, if the Bible is to be the judge of the matter.  For we know if we go back before the Jews existed anywhere except in the mind of the creator, that Yahweh chose particular men and women to know him by name and come into covenant with him. 

    We spoke of Abram, who became Abraham, the father of many nations, but before him was a righteous man named Noah, who built a big boat and saved creation and Adam’s race from extinction.  Noah was a righteous man to who

 

Genesis 6: 7.  So the Lord said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." 

 8.  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. 

 9.  These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.  a

 

 

With respect G-d's commandments, all of humanity is divided into two general classifications: the Children of Israel and the Children of Noah.

 

The Children of Israel are the Jews, the descendants of the Patriarch Jacob. They are commanded to fulfill the 613 commandments of the Torah.

 

The Children of Noah are the Gentiles, comprising the seventy nations of the world. They are commanded concerning the Seven Universal Laws, also known as the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah or the Seven Noachide Laws.

 

These Seven Universal Laws pertain to:

 

Avodah Zarah: Prohibition on idolatry.

Birchat HaShem: Prohibition on blasphemy and cursing the Name of G-d.

Shefichat Damim: Prohibition on murder.

Gezel: Prohibition on robbery and theft.

Gilui Arayot: Prohibition on immorality and forbidden sexual relations.

Ever Min HaChay: Prohibition on removing and eating a limb from a live animal.

Dinim: Requirement to establish a justice system and courts of law to enforce the other 6 laws.

Men and women are equal in their responsibility to observe the Seven Universal Laws.

 

When a Gentile resolves to fulfill the Seven Universal Laws, his or her soul is elevated. This person becomes one of the "Chasidei Umot Haolam" (Pious Ones of the Nations) and receives a share of the World to Come. The Torah calls one who accepts the yoke of fulfilling the Seven Universal Laws a "Ger Toshav" (a Proselyte of the Gate).

 

This person is permitted to live in the land of Israel and to enter to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and to offer sacrifices to the G-d of Israel.

 

 “‘I Am the Lord Thy God’ (Ex 20.2). Why were the Ten Commandments not said at the beginning of the Torah? They give a parable. To what may this be compared? To the following: A king who entered a province said to the people: May I be your king? But the people said to him: Have you done anything good for us that you should rule over us? What did he do then? He built the city wall for them, he brought in the water supply for them, and he fought their battles. Then when he said to them: May I be your king? They said to him: Yes, yes. Likewise, God. He brought the Israelites out of Egypt, divided the sea for them, sent down the manna for them, brought up the well for them, brought the quails for them. He fought for them the battle with Amalek. Then He said to them: I am to be your king. And they said to Him: Yes, yes.”[2] (Mekilta: Bahodesh 5)

 

        Of Hashem's successive attempts to give the Torah, it is written,

        "Hashem came to Sinai - having shone forth to them at Seir [with

        the children of Esau] and having appeared at Mt. Paran [with the

        children of Ishmael], finally approaching the holy myriads [the

        children of Israel] - from His right hand He presented the fiery

        Torah to them (Devarim 33:2)."

 

However, the Talmud adds another aspect of our acceptance of the Torah:

 

        "And they stood under the mountain (Shemot 19:17)." Rav Avdimi

        bar Chama said:  The verse implies that the Holy One held up the

        mountain over them, like an inverted cask and said to them: If you

        accept My Torah, it is well; if not, your grave will be right here!

                                                           (Gemara Shabbat 88a)

 

 

In our current, ultra-sensitive political environment, some folks have taken the couplet as anti-Semitic. A funny Jewish rejoinder I have heard is, "Not odd of God. / Goyim annoy 'im."

 

How--- of Christ(?) to save the slave / knave(?)

 

The following is from www.catholic.com/thisrock/2002/0209bt.asp

I've never thought the original is anti-Semitic. It seems to me simply a cute, rhyming formulation of what the Old Testament itself says about God's election of the Jews. In Deuteronomy, God is explicit about the fact that he did not make the Jews his chosen people because of special qualities but because of his love and his promises to the Patriarchs:

 

"It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deut. 7:7-8).

 

There is a lot of oddness connected with God. Sometimes this perplexes people. At various points in their lives, people may become suddenly aware of how something about God or what he has done is profoundly odd, more so than they previously realized.

 

This especially happens during the course of conversions. If someone is becoming a Catholic after living with a different set of beliefs, the oddness of certain things in the apostolic deposit leaps out at him. Because humans are uncomfortable with odd claims, these at first are a stumbling block to faith.

 

It is the job of apologetics to clear them away. This is done either by pointing out (1) that they are not actually as odd as it first seemed, (2) that there is direct evidence for them, or (3) that there is indirect evidence for them (i.e., they're part of the package with Catholicism, and there is good evidence that Catholicism is true).

 

Even once apologetics has done its job, the person may still feel discomfort. When the human mind encounters an unexpectedly odd idea-even after the mind has accepted the truth of the concept-it needs to live with the idea for a while before it gets comfortable. People need to have an item as part of their mental furniture for a time before they become confident.

 

Those who have accepted the Catholic faith-especially those who have grown up in it-should bear this in mind when dealing with converts. To better appreciate how unexpected or unforeseeable some of the things God chooses to do can be, it may be helpful to review a few of them:

 

First, God makes stuff out of nothing. This is really amazing. If he wanted, he could have just stayed alone, an eternal communion of infinite Persons, needing nothing besides himself for his infinite beatitude. Yet he chose to make stuff-things that by definition have to be tiny and trivial compared to his incomparable Reality. And since there wasn't anything around yet to make them out of, he just said, "Let there be . . . " and there was.

 

The oddness doesn't stop there. When God chose to make our universe, he decided to have the vast, overwhelming majority of it be nothing but empty space. All matter and energy is spread so thin in the universe that it is next to nothing compared to the overall volume of the cosmos.

 

And God keeps making empty space. If current astronomical theories are correct, not only is the universe expanding, but its rate of expansion is accelerating, with volumes and volumes of new empty space being created at growth rate that far outstrips the speed of light (which means that the visible part of the universe is a bright tiny speck in a vast darkness). Even the solid things that God made are themselves mostly empty space, the distances between atoms and their constituent elements being comparable in scale to the distances between stars and planets.

 

Most of the objects in the universe not only are not alive, there is no possibility they will ever have life or come in contact with living things. Even if there turn out to be inhabited planets out there, the great majority of the universe is and always will be lifeless.

 

In the one spot where we know that God made life-Earth-he made the vast majority of living creatures (all except our own species) unintelligent, nonrational beings. And if current ideas about the history of the earth are correct, he made humans very late in the game, with billions of prior years of earth history before he put us on the scene, despite the fact that all terrestrial creation was building up to our arrival.

 

Then, after man's fall into sin, God starts his program of redemption, which is itself a marvel. But he doesn't start it by writing REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL in glowing letters across the sky for everyone to see. Instead, he starts his plan small, with one guy-Abraham-from whom eventually he draws a single nation to be the chosen people representing him.

 

Then, when the time is right, he takes the amazing step of actually becoming a man! But he doesn't just create a human nature for himself out of nothing. Instead, he decides to enter humanity through the process of growing in the womb, being born, and growing to adulthood. Only it isn't the usual process, because he dispenses with having a human father and provides for a miraculous birth as well. Once he has grown to adulthood in human form, he starts his ministry but hides from the general public the fact that he is the promised Messiah and God in the flesh.

 

And this is not all. He reveals that though he is God, he is one of three Persons in the Godhead, so that God is a Trinity-something we would have had no way of deducing for ourselves by reason alone. It is something that only God could reveal to us about himself.

 

He also tells us that he is "gentle and humble in heart" (Matt. 11:29, NIV). Who would have imagined that the Lord God, infinite Ruler and Creator of the Universe, is humble? In fact, he's so humble that he has chosen to die as a man-and not die peacefully in old age but allow himself to be executed, while still a young man, as a criminal against the state. God himself, mind you!

 

In doing this, he tells us, he is making satisfaction for the sins of the world, offering his own life to his Father as a human sacrifice (the sacrifice of a Person with a human nature)-something that has otherwise been completely forbidden. He also has decided that, after having been so sacrificed, he is going to return to human form by bringing himself back to life-and in a transfigured way such that his body will be supernaturalized and able to do many things it previously couldn't.

 

However, he isn't going to stay on earth and reign in the flesh over mankind-yet. Instead, he's going to take his glorified body back with him to heaven and wait while his movement on earth grows. After a final conflict with the forces of evil, which will almost destroy his movement, he will return from heaven in bodily form, rescue his followers, and physically renovate all of heaven and earth.

 

Oh, yes—and part of that renovation will be restoring to their bodies everyone who has ever lived, many of them now having the same kind of glorified, transfigured body that God does. They will then be judged, the good ones going to eternal reward, and the evil ones going to eternal suffering.

 

Wow!

 

Amazing!

 

You would never guess this stuff, yet it all makes sense. When you look at it close up (closer than we can here), it all hangs together in a logical way. And there is good evidence for all of it.

 

You can't deduce what God is going to do the same way you can deduce the laws of mathematics. His actions are a matter of his own free choice. You also can't predict what he's going to do based on how humans use their free will, because-setting aside the Incarnation-he isn't human. His own essential, divine nature is far above us, something we can't understand or predict.

 

As he tells us in the book of Isaiah, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Is. 55:8-9).

 

Amen!

 

Some people balk at things like the Eucharist or the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary as if they were strange things. But when you think about it, they are no stranger than the things we've already seen God do. They have their own inner logic, just like the items above. There is good evidence for them as well.

 

But to balk at them on the grounds that they seem odd to a person who isn't used to them? One wants to say, "Wait a minute! What kind of a God do you suppose you are dealing with? This is just more of the same. It's what we'd expect a God this unpredictable to do. All we can count on is that what God does will be good, not that it won't be strange."

 

On the other hand, to those who are impatient with converts as they come to terms with things like the Eucharist or the Immaculate Conception, it can be helpful to say, "Just a second: Have you considered the oddness of some of the other things God has done?"

 

For God to be odd is as it should be. Any God worth worshiping, any God that is truly infinite, is bound to appear strange and do strange things from a limited human vantage point. As the Catechism puts it, "Even when he reveals himself, God remains a mystery beyond words: 'If you understood him, it would not be God'" (CCC 230, quoting Augustine, Sermons 52:6:16 and 117:3:5).

Now your children can learn Hebrew



[1] Mine is a synthesis of several versions, however, the main secondary sources are Sifre Deut. (ed. Ish Shalom) 343, p.142b; Mekilta (ed. Lauterbach, 3 vols. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society), II, 234f.; Hagigah 3a; Numbers Rabbah 14:10 and many parallels.

[2] Mekilta: Bahodesh 5.