“You shall be Mine — a treasure among all the nations, though all the earth is Mine ” Exodus 19:5
What is the best thing about being Jewish? Bagels and smoked salmon? Anybody can eat them! A sense of a connection with all Jews everywhere? Not all Jews feel that! A love of Israel? Ditto! A love of Jewish culture? Again, ditto.
Speaking personally, I love bagels; not so keen on smoked salmon. But I love Chinese food too (kosher, obviously!). I feel connected with Jews around the world, but I am ashamed to be associated with some of them. I love Israel, but I love Britain also. I love Jewish culture, but also love exploring the cultures of other peoples and faiths.
And I confess to not understanding those who would be “cultural Jews” but who exclude Jewish religion from their purview. Until the late 19th century, Jewish culture was almost exclusively religious.
For me, the best thing about being Jewish is spiritual. Being Jewish brings with it a rich spiritual heritage that, if viewed from the right angle, can translate into a truly spiritual, mindful way of life.
My great-grandparents were Kobriner Chasidim before they went to America, members of the sect founded by Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin (1784-1858).
A brief comment on the verse quoted above is recorded in the name of Rabbi Moshe. On the phrase “You shall be Mine — a treasure,” the Kobriner commented, on God’s behalf, as it were: “Being Mine is the greatest treasure of all”.
For me, all the other positive aspects of being Jewish pale before our special Jewish connection with God, expressed communally and personally, through prayer, ritual and ethical observance, and culture.
Is this “special”’ connection to God an invitation to ethnic arrogance? Absolutely not! It is a call to spiritual and ethical responsibility, to becoming “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.