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Shavuot - Chosen

Shavuot - Chosen

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Published by bgeller4936

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Published by: bgeller4936 on Aug 24, 2009
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"Aish.com" <newsletterserver@aish.com>
May 21, 2007 11:59:00 AM CDT (CA)
Subject: Shavuot - Chosen
It's not ourIntelligenceQuotients thatcount, but ourRighteousnessQuotients.
The Holiday of Shavuot begins Tuesday evening May 22,2007, through Thursday night, May 24.Shavuot at Aish.com
In the April issue of 
, a scholar dared to raise one of the fewremaining issues still considered impolite these days for public discussion: Jewishintelligence.In an essay entitled "Jewish Genius," political scientist and writer Charles Murray --who is not Jewish -- outlines the historical and statistical data suggesting Jewishintellectual acumen and accomplishment, as well as a variety of theories seekingto explain them.While most of us Jews will readily admit that we personally know many membersof the tribe who are not very smart at all, Dr. Murray insists that "the average Jewis at the 75th percentile" of the IQ scale and that "the proportion of Jews with IQsof 140 or higher is somewhere around six times the proportion of everyone else."Some, moreover, have noticed that a number of world-changing ideas, bothreligious ones like monotheism and scientific ones like relativity, have their rootsin a certain ethnicity.After exploring a number of theories addressing the anomaly, Dr. Murray is lessthan satisfied. Recent historical circumstances might have genetically favored Jews of higher intellect, he allows; but he suspects that Jewish intellectual ability isancient, that the Jews may "have had some degree of unusual verbal skills goingback to the time of Moses." And so, he writes, he remains "naked before theevolutionary psychologists' ultimate challenge: Why should one particular tribe at
the time of Moses, living in the same environment as other nomadic andagricultural peoples of the Middle East, have already evolved elevated intelligencewhen the others did not?" Then, tongue -- at least partially -- in cheek, he concludes:
"At this point, I take sanctuary in my remaining hypothesis, uniquely  parsimonious and happily irrefutable. The Jews are God's chosen people."
Well, the thought is certainly timely. We will soon be celebrating Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the cementing of the Jewish people's chosenstatus: the covenant forged at Sinai.I don't know, or much care, whether or not intelligence plays any role in the Jewishelection. But if it does, it is peripheral to the essence of our chosenness.Because what Jews are chosen for is to serve the Creator -- with our intellects,yes, but also with our hearts and with our bodies. To be sure, the Torah itself refers to the Jewish people as "a wise nation" -- but alsoas a stubborn one, and sometimes even worse. The bottom line: It's not ourIntelligence Quotients that count but our Righteousness Quotients. What counts isthe service, not the smarts. The Sages of the Talmud did not generally stressinherent abilities -- mental or otherwise -- but rather focused on how we utilizewhatever blessings we have. Their greatest honorifics customarily ran not towords like "genius" or brilliant" but to ones like "righteous" and "God fearing."Even though the Jews' election was merited through the dedication of theirancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and through another choice -- that of theirdescendants, at Sinai, to accept the laws and teachings of the Torah; and eventhough the exclusive Jewish club is open to any sincere convert willing toundertake to observe the Torah, the idea of Jewish chosenness has perturbedsome non-Jews since, well, since Sinai.Of late, though, anti-Semites tend to feed at other troughs of hate-fodder, likeIsrael's existence (and its imagined evildoing). These days, ironically, the idea of the Jewish people as divinely chosen is more likely to disturb... Jews. That is because the truism that every human being has limitless value andpotential has morphed into the notion that all people are interchangeable, if notidentical. To suggest that different individuals or groups may have differentfunctions or responsibilities has become uncouth, if not sexist or racist. Judaism,however, unapologetically assigns roles -- to men and to women; to scholars andto laypeople; to descendants of the Biblical Aaron and to the rest of the Jewishpeople. And to the Jewish people qua people, too. There's no escaping it. A blessing all Jews are enjoined to pronounce each morningstates the fact clearly: "Blessed are You... Who chose us from among all thenations and gave us His Torah..."
While history is littered with the deaths and destruction sown by self-proclaimedUbermenschen, Jewish specialness is not a license but a gift; and its sole import isa responsibility to live lives of holiness and thereby inspire others -- to be theproverbial light unto the nations.While some have the custom to spend the entire first night of Shavuot (andothers, both nights) studying Torah, there is no Shavuot cognate-commandmentto Passover's seder or Sukkot's huts. Shavuot is a time, it would seem, for turninginward and focusing on the giving of the Torah and how it defines who we are as Jews. A time to realize that our essence lies not in our talents and not in ourintelligence, but in our mission.
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