The Purpose Embedded in Every Nation


The struggle to understand how God could choose just one nation, and give such purpose and responsibility to one nation, has been a persistent question for Jews and non-Jews alike throughout history. This sentiment is perhaps best encapsulated by Tevye, the protagonist in Sholem Aleichem’s famous short stories Tevye the Dairyman, who famously beseeches God, saying, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

This poignant plea prompts reflection on the notion of chosenness and purpose. It compels one to ponder whether there can be one particular nation that has been uniquely chosen or whether every nation is chosen to fulfill a unique purpose in the world. Indeed, what Tevye failed to realize is that divine selection extends beyond the Jewish nation. As former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth Lord Immanuel Jakobovits argued, in the same way that each individual is chosen to fulfill some God-given purpose, every nation is chosen to fill a distinct role. 

Consider the Greeks, who made lasting contributions in philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy. For one, the famous Socratic method stems from Ancient Greek philosophy. Socrates developed this form of learning based on cooperative, argumentative dialogue. Through asking questions and sparking discussion, this method forces students to examine their beliefs and seek a deeper understanding of the topic at hand. The Socratic method has heavily influenced modern society, as evidenced by its widespread adoption in schools around the world. 

Additionally, the discoveries made by Ancient Greek mathematicians such as Pythagoras, Euclid, and Archimedes are still used in mathematical teachings today. This includes the basic rules of geometry, the concept of formal mathematical proof, as well as discoveries in mathematical analysis, applied mathematics, and number theory. The Greeks also made great innovations in the field of astronomy, discovering that planets are in motion and that the Earth rotates on its axis, as well as proposing the modern system of apparent magnitudes. Their pioneering insights into philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy advanced human evolution, and left us a clear example of how one nation can fulfill its purpose.

The same way the Greeks were chosen to fulfill a unique purpose, so too, the Romans had something wholly their own to offer the world. The Romans introduced unique court systems that are still used globally as well as created a praetor system for settling conflicts. This system included a praetor, a powerful government official, who took written complaints from citizens and, after investigation, authorized the case to go to trial. At trial, the plaintiff and the defendant would present evidence to the praetor, who acted as the judge and decided the fate of the case. 

Later, the Romans added a jury court system, which allowed some cases to be heard in front of a jury of up to seventy-five men. A trial in Ancient Rome would have looked similar to a trial today: an opening speech, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, introduction of evidence, and closing speeches. It is clear that the Ancient Roman court system served as a foundation for the current court systems in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The enduring legacy of Roman judicial law across the globe shows the impact this civilization had on human development of the legal system, fulfilling a clear and distinct purpose in the world.

Comparably, Britain’s influence on human advancement is indelible, particularly through the country’s introduction of parliamentary rule into society. The first English Parliament was convened in 1215 with the creation and signing of the Magna Carta. Over the years, the Parliament split into the House of Commons and the House of Lords and expanded in its lawmaking powers. Today, under the United Kingdom’s constitutional monarchy, the two houses of Parliament are the only bodies with the authority to create legislation and laws. This kind of parliamentary system is widely seen in contemporary societies, reminding us of Britain’s enduring influence. 

Meanwhile, God chose the Jewish people for the purpose of moral and religious inspiration, as seen in Biblical texts. In the Book of Exodus, God declares that if the Jewish people keep the covenant we will be a “treasured possession among all peoples” and “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:5-6). The renowned Biblical commentator, Rabbi Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno (commonly known as “Sforno”), explained that “kingdom of priests” means that as a nation, the Jewish people are a kingdom of priests to the entire human race. 

In the Jewish tradition, a priest’s role is to connect the Jewish people to God. Thus, since the Jewish people are like a kingdom of priests to the entire world, it is our role to connect all people to God. This understanding makes it clear that the role of the Jewish people is to act as an example of a moral, religious life. Additionally, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks commented on Yeshayahu (Isaiah) saying about Israel, “You are My witness—declares the Lord—that I am God,” by explaining that this passage is intended to teach that the Jewish people’s purpose is to share our understanding of God with the world (43:10). This emphasizes the notion that the Jewish people’s purpose is to spread religious teachings.

Indeed, the essence of chosenness extends beyond trite narratives, and rather, points to the unique purpose that lies within each nation. From the intellectual legacy of Ancient Greece, to the Roman advancements in judicial law, and Britain’s enduring example of parliamentary rule, alongside the Jewish people’s religious responsibilities, each nation develops the world further and helps to shape history. By acknowledging the varied manifestations of chosenness, we embrace the rich diversity of human purpose. 

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