We've followed the history of the choices made by the Hebrew Patriarchs which led them to become the ancestors of the Jewish People. Jacob had 12 sons, each of whom became fathers of the familes [tribes] of Israel. These were clans which grew in the Egyptian territory of Goshen after the sons of Jacob moved there as a result of a famine. Collectively these clans constituted the Children of Israel, or Israelites who had committed themselves
to the Covenants of the Patriarchs. Yet they were just that, a family of tribes, not a nation, and not certain of just what their commitment to God
should be. There are indications in the Book of Exodus that some Israelites had neglected to be circumcised, including Moses' sons. [Exod. 4:24-26]
God also ordained that at the first Passover SEDER, no uncircumcised male might attend. When God first appears to Moses, assigning him the role of
prophet-deliverer, Moses actually has to ask God to let him know which Divine Name he should use when telling the Israelites that their divine deliverance was at hand. The Isralites in Egypt were simply descendants of the Chosen Fathers who had covenanted with God, and nothng more. In order to become really commited to God, they had to choose a PLAN OF ACTION which would demonstrate their commitment to Him and thereby choose to become
a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" [Exodus 19:6].
God Himself set the tone for the new, more dynamic, relationship between Himself and the Israelites.
"You shall say to [Pharaoh], 'The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, "Let My people go, that they may serve Me."
The story of the Exodus is NOT a story about the release of slaves as modern polite interpreters say. The release of slaves is an aspect of the
story but the over-riding theme is that the people are to freed so that they may serve God rather than the king of Egypt. The service would constitute a deepening of a covenanted relationship. This service would separate Israelites from the rest of the world. The service would be what the world knows as the TORAH, a divine constitution consisiting of 613 rules.
Exodus 12:37-38: "Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude went up with them also."
We can't say who the mixed multitude were ethnically but Egypt was a cosmopolitan country whose population consisted of peoples from all over the civilized world. This mixed multitude of gentiles was still with Israel when they received the TORAH, thus integrating themselves in with the Israelites. In effect, they by choice, became Israelites by accepting the TORAH.
There is a legend that is thousands of years old that relates the following. God was looking for a nation to be His Chosen People, a nation which would accept His TORAH. And so He went to each of the 70 gentile nations and asked each one if it wold bind itself to Him. Each nation asked to see what was written in the TORAH, and when they saw, they immediately rejected it. Then at last, after being rejected by the 70 nations, he came to the
Israelites and asked THEM if THEY would accept. The response is very interesting.
Moses came and told the people all the words of God. The people responded with one voice and said, 'All the words that God has spoken, we will do.' Moses wrote down all the words of God. He arose early in the morning and built an altar beneath the mountain, and also twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent youths of the Sons of Israel and they offered burnt-offerings, and sacrificed oxen as peace offerings to God. Moses ... then took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the ears of the people. They said, 'All that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear.' [Exodus 24:3-7]
The statement "we will do, and we will hear," amounts to a commitment to carry out God's commandments even before hearing what the observance of those commandments actually involves. Only someone who is totally willing to shape his entire life around Torah observance would be willing to make such a commitment.
Deuteronomy 30:19 "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life [TORAH] and death [rejection of TORAH], blessings and curses. Now choose life [TORAH], so that you and your children may live."
With the receiving of the TORAH on SHAVUOT, the people were transformed into a new creation:
Numbers 23:9 "It is a people which dwells alone, and is not counted among the nations!"
I have said that Jews are people who are descended from people who chose to be Jewish. Before the giving of the TORAH, anyone could choose to be Jewish as the mixed multitude did. Also Jews could choose to stop being Jewish. After the TORAH was received, that choice was taken away. No Jew today can choose not to be Jewish. he may say he is not Jewish; he may even convert to another relgion - but according to Jewish self-definition, he will always still be Jewish. After the event at Sinai, there is only one way for a nonJew to become a Jew, by a structured conversion which is a religious process of dedicating oneself to the 613 commandments of the TORAH.
I'll next talk about some people who made that choice, and how the Pharisees, men responsible for the survival of the Jewish People, encouraged gentiles to become Jews.
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