Q. I am uncomfortable about the morning blessing which refers to God not having made me a gentile. Can this b’rachah be justified?
A. You cannot avoid the implication that by means of this benediction we are stressing our distinctiveness as Jews. Some versions do not put it negatively, “who has not made me a gentile”, but positively, “who has made me an Israelite”.
The idea of Jewish “chosenness” offends many as arrogant. But the belief that we are a unique people does not give us exclusive rights to salvation. Jewish teaching is clear: “The righteous of all nations have a share in the World to Come”.
But what does righteousness mean? For this, says Judaism, the world needed a teacher. Our belief is that Israel had long ago reached such an advanced point of development in moral consciousness that it was equipped to spread righteousness throughout the world.
It is not for privilege that Israel was “chosen”, but for responsibility, to be “a light to the nations.” Isidore Epstein put it this way: “Not for themselves alone have the Jewish people been chosen, but for God and His righteousness. It is His work that they were called upon to do, and they must do it in the whole world, transforming the darkest corners of the earth.”
How does one do God’s work? By making one’s life conform to the highest standards of morals and ethics, and giving an example of righteousness to others. We are not a perfect people: yet the world has a long way to go before it begins to approach the Jewish ideals of mutual concern and social justice.