A basic study of Jewish history could lead to the conclusion that the Jews being called the "chosen people" means chosen to suffer. The Jewish nation has been persecuted and humiliated far more than any other people. The trend begins in his week's Torah portion of Shmot when the Jewish people are enslaved by the Egyptians and forced into backbreaking labor. What was the cause for this auspicious b eginning, and why has so much misery followed for the Jewish nation?

One explanation of the suffering in Egypt is that the Jews could be compared to a bar of iron. The slavery in Egypt was to refine their impurities prior to their becoming the Jewish nation when they accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Egypt was the furnace that refined them. Another approach is that the misery in Egypt helped the Jewish nation better appreciate Hashem's gifts. Like anything else in life, freedom under Hashem's guidance is fully appreciated only by working hard for it.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk, offers another view. The mistake made by the children of Jacob in Egypt, and repeated by following generations of Jews, was their desire to assimilate into a secular society. The original plan was that their stay in Egypt would be temporary. Unfortunately, they became settlers instead. They moved out from the province of Goshen and spread all over Egypt. This endangered their separate Jewish identity and made it easier to become even more Egyptian than the Egyptians. This forsaking of the G-d of their fathers in their attempt to assimilate was the reason for their punishment. The Egyptians turned on them, enslaving them for hundreds of years.

The Jewish people have repeated that error of assimilation and have been punished for it throughout history. They tried to assimilate with the Persians in the times of Esther. Hashem saved them from annihilation by Haman only because of their repentance. Again during the second Temple period, the Jews were persecuted because they adapted to the Greek way of life. They were saved only after the Maccabees reminded them of their Jewish identity. We must take this lesson to heart and fight against the strong pull of the secular world.

The answer, then, is that being the chosen people means chosen for the opportunity to emulate and appreciate Hashem's beautiful way of life, the life of the spiritual nourishment and guidance of the Torah.

Good Shabbos!

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