Jews say that they have kept the Torah for thousands of years, not becauseof miracles or any other supernatural phenomena of Jewish history, butbecause they
stood at Mount Sinai and heard God speak, and forgeneration after generation that very fact was passed down. And the storyof the survival of the Jews as a people is, to a large extent, the story of thechain of transmission of Torah from one generation to the next.
A Nation is Born
At Mount Sinai, the descendants of Jacob and his 12 sons, who had escapedfrom slavery in Egypt, who had been known until then as Hebrews and/orIsraelites, become the Nation of Israel. This is another unique event whichsays a lot about the Jewish people.What’s so unique about it? Well, consider how the French became “theFrench.” Did they all wake up one morning to collectively decide they likedwhite wine and blue cheese, and they were going to speak French? No. Itwas a long process. As with every other nation, this process involved apeople living in a specific geographic area for an extended period of timeand evolving a common language and a common culture born of a sharedhistorical experience. Eventually, this people developed a political entity andgovernment (with a king at its head) and they defined their boundaries,flew a flag, minted coins and called the whole thing France.For Jews, the process of becoming a nation started outside their nationalhomeland – in fact, while they were in bondage and under the most adverseconditions designed to erase any cultural or historical identity. Jews did notbecome a nation by pledging allegiance to the State of Israel. A scragglyband of escaped slaves became a nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinaiand saying to God, “We will do and we will listen” – that is, pledging to fulfillthe commandments of the Torah and with time to understand the missionthat came with it.Just as Abraham many generations earlier made the choice andcommitment to live, and if necessary to die, for the reality of the one God,so too, these descendants of Abraham made the same commitment. And