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A Lesson in Chosenness

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Apr 1, 2014
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The story of yetziat Mitzrayim in Maggid begins with a brief description of the roots of the Jewish family. These pesukim, excerpted from the last perek of Sefer Yehoshua, feature Yehoshua’s final speech to the Jewish people before his death, when he gathers the Jews to Shechem and reestablishes the covenant between them and Hashem. Yehoshua begins by describing the early history of the Jews. Terach was the father of Avraham and Nachor, and worshipped avodah zarah. Avraham was chosen and brought to the Land of Israel, where Yitzchak was born to him. Yaakov and Eisav were then born to Yitzchak; Eisav was given Mt. Seir, and Yaakov and his family went to Egypt. Yehoshua continues with a description of the salvation from Egypt and the conquest of the Land of Israel. He then tells the people that they could either remove their foreign gods and serve Hashem or worship the foreign gods of their ancestors, but that he himself was going to serve Hashem. The people respond that they would continue to serve Hashem, because He was the one who took them out of Egypt and brought them to Israel. Yehoshua reminds the Jews of the consequences of choosing to serve Hashem, but the Jews are adamant. They then renew the covenant, which Yehoshua writes down in a “book of Hashem’s Torah,” and then Yehoshua puts up a stone as a monument and sends the people home.


Among the many questions that can be asked on this perek, there are two that stand out in connection to the seder:


1.       Why does Yehoshua start his story with Terach? Why not begin at a later point in time, such as the actual descent to Egypt? This question is highlighted by the fact that the Jews do not reference this part of their history in their declaration that they will serve Hashem.


2.       Of Yehoshua’s whole speech, why does the Haggadah quote specifically this part?


The first of these questions is addressed by Metzudat David, Alshich, and Malbim.


Metzudat David says that these pesukim emphasize the kindness that Hashem provided to the Jewish people. Although the Jews had humble beginnings, starting out as idol worshippers, Hashem, in His kindness, brought Avraham to the Land of Israel to remove him from that path.


Alshich explains that these pesukim are about how Avraham was chosen as the start of the Jewish people. Although the Jews technically descended from Terach, the fact that he served idols and we do not, highlights the fact that our true spiritual ancestry begins at Avraham.


Unlike Metzudat David and Alshich, Malbim does not explain these pesukim as a contrast between the current Am Yisrael and the idol worshipping forefathers they left behind. Rather, he focuses on the way the pesukim highlight the process necessary for the Jews to develop into the nation they became. He explains that until the time of Avraham, only a select few people were Godly people, yet there was a necessity for the Jews to develop into a Godly nation of 70. There were three reasons why the Jews were not yet worthy: their location, their ancestry, and their lack of preparedness to serve Hashem. The pesukim describe the process to lose each of these negative attributes. Avraham was sent to Israel, so their place changed. Avraham then had only some descendants who were chosen, in the process weeding out the negative traits which were found among his ancestors. Finally, the descent to Egypt gave the Jews a chance to become accustomed to serving Hashem.


What these three interpretations have in common is that they highlight the chosenness of the Jewish people. In the Metzudat David’s read, Hashem’s special kindness to the Jews signifies that He chose them to be His people, and Avraham to be the one to start them on that path. Alshich also highlights the chosenness of Avraham. The Malbim, by explaining the process needed for the development of the Jewish people, is explaining how Hashem developed the Jewish people so that they would be ready to be chosen on a national level.


This discussion of chosenness is fitting for the renewal of the treaty between the Jewish people and Hashem. Hashem has chosen us even before we became a nation, and so it is proper for us to choose him in return. This also explains why Yehoshua mentioned a choice of serving Hashem or other gods—choosing Him is not a choice if there are no alternatives.


 


It is also understandable why this section is mentioned in the Haggadah of Pesach. On Pesach, we are celebrating the Exodus from Egypt. Because of our focus on yetziat Mitzrayim, when we were already a large group of people, we may think that this marks the point that Hashem chose us. Starting Maggid from here reminds us that in fact, the start of our journey began much earlier. It was because Hashem chose us that we were able to become a nation, and we continue to renew our commitment to Him to this day.

Machshava:
Pesach 

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Yehoshua 24:1-28

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Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by the Goldberg and Mernick families to mark the yahrzeit of Samuel M. Goldberg, R’ Shmuel Meir ben R’ Eliyahu HaCohen z”l and by Mutty & Aliza Lehrman for a Hodu LHashem Ki Tov