We were raised that Yehudim are special and HKB”H favorite, due to the Avos and our ‘chesed ne’erayich’. I have a friend who insists that ‘special’ only means that we received the mitzvos and that we are no different then the rest of Humanity. Tefilah regularly seems to indicate that my friend is wrong. Can you elaborate?
As you rightly note, many verses and passages of the prayer services imply that the Jewish people is favored by Hashem.
For instance, take the prayer that we recite on festivals: “You have chosen us from all the nations, loved us and desired us; and raised us above all the tongues, and sanctified us with your mitzvos, and Your have drawn us close, our King, to Your service; and You have called Your great and holy Name upon us.”
This principle can be backed up by numerous verses, and it is the reason why Christianity, wishing to “supersede” Judaism, declared that it is the “new Israel,” and applied the verses of love for Israel to itself.
This ‘favoritism’ is the result of a number of factors, such as the love of the Patriarchs, and relates specifically to the purpose of the nation of Israel, which is to reveal Hashem in the world (Yeshayahu 21:43). Other nations certainly have purposes, but the purpose of revealing Hashem is the ‘most important’ purpose of all, and because this purpose defines our essence, it is good reason for ‘favoritism.’
It is important to note that being the “chosen nation” is a privilege that goes with a deep and grave responsibility, and if we fail in our duty, the results are far more severe than failures of other nations.
In our age of universalism, the concept of ‘favoritism’ or even basic ‘particularism’ causes some people discomfort. However, upon reflection it does make sense that different peoples, who clearly have different dispositions, different character (as reflected in language differences), and so on, also have different purposes in the world.
The special ‘purpose’ of Israel gives the nation a special relationship with Hashem. This closeness is the idea of ‘favoritism’ you mention.