Abraham gave rise to a nation of Hebrews – people who live "on the other side.


By Rabbi Ken Spiro
More than 100 years ago author Mark Twain pondered the enigma of the Jews and posed a fascinating question: If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning, are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all ages: and has done it with his hands tied behind him. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished... All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?1 The answer to his question can be found in the remote beginnings of the Jewish people – in the earliest stories in the Bible. Just as these early stories define the paradigm for future events, so too, the earliest personalities in Genesis define the model for the collective nature of the Jewish people throughout history.

” an essay by Mark Twain in Harper’s magazine. the most important biblical character to understand is Abraham – the first Jew. or social movement in world history. or perhaps more accurately. of course.a drive and intensity that has always characterized the Jewish people. “the proto-Jew. cause. Abraham was certainly one of the great truth-seekers of all time.” Abraham personifies everything that could be characterized as the “Jewish personality. labor unionization. This outstanding feature of Abraham’s personality can be seen manifest in every generation of the Jewish people as an indelible mark of the collective Jewish character. etc. the one attribute that stands out more than any other is his uncompromising drive to change the world – this drive truly epitomized the essence of what Abraham was about and it came to epitomize his descendants. many educated people would name Freud. 249. September 1897.” The first believer was. New York: Doubleday: 1963. civil rights. Abraham. In a world where Jews are only a tiny percentage of the population.If this is the case. the sons of believers. to dedicate oneself. then from the Jewish perspective. the Jewish people. for an explanation of how Abraham used hospitality as a tool to bring people he encountered back to God.)4 Notes social philosopher Ernest Van den Haag in his classic work The Jewish Mystique: Asked to make a list of the men who have most dominated the thinking of the modern world. “They (the Jews) are believers. Einstein. 3 See Talmud. (Jews have not only been awarded a disproportionate number of Nobel prizes for their intellectual contributions. He passed on to his children a kind of spiritual genetics -. but have led movements such as communism. feminism. only Darwin was not Jewish. It is because of this drive that the Jews have historically been tremendous over-achievers and have stood at the forefront of virtually every major advance. Of these four. He was also famous for his kindness and hospitality.3 But in studying his story. 2 The Talmud (in Tractate Shabbat 97a) discusses this concept and uses the phrase Hem maminim b’nei maminim. The Complete Essays of Mark Twain. To stand alone for thousands of years against the entire world. Mark. Tractate Sota 10b. socialism. what is the secret of the disproportionate importance the Jews have had in the history of Western culture? 5 . See also “Concerning the Jews. 1 Twain.” His strength. Marx and Darwin. sense of mission and idealism are reflected in all the generations of the Jewish people that have come after him. p. heart and soul. to the ultimate cause of Tikkun HaOlam requires tremendous strength of character.

socialism. Rather than fill the text of the Bible with pages of details. The explanation of this phenomenon is that nothing comes as close to Abraham’s original mission to perfect the world as a cause.The Jews have invented more ideas. anti-apartheid. socialists or communists. anti-globalization. 1969. God is the exact opposite. Their awareness of their Judaism is shared by others simply because their denial is so ambivalent. but do act it out symptomatically. They won’t give up being Jewish even when they consciously try to – when they change their names. the moral mission of being Jews – of preserving themselves as such. intermarry and do everything to deny Jewishness. the vast majority of whom are disconnected from their Jewish heritage.” Abraham’s Journey We know that the Bible isn’t like the writings of Charles Dickens. New York: Stein and Day. always unintentionally and certainly not in concert. Dickens got paid by the word. labor unionization. and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. they 4 “Disproportionate” is really an understatement. they cling to it. They may even dislike their Jewishness and deny it in scientific terms. have made the world more intelligible for a longer span and for more people than any other group. from your birthplace. 13. As Van den Haag concludes: Jews continue to feel the yoke.) and if it wasn’t founded by Jews (who make up just one-quarter of one percent of the world’s population) it is disproportionately run by Jews. The moral mission of the Jews was called into action. rarely do they refuse to carry it. of refusing to become anything else. at least part of every Jew does not want to give up the legacy of Abraham. giving us only relevant information that we need to know. Unconscious or not.. This explains why so many Jews today. and he would be as verbose as possible. and to the surprise. but nevertheless comprehensibly. “Go forth from your land.. civil rights. Unconscious or not. state this command so emphatically and seemingly repetitively? “Go forth from . or atheists. and at times hatred of the rest of the world. But. The Jewish Mystique. p. Ernest. feminism etc. Yet they remain aware of it. He limits the narrative to the bare minimum. scorn. the task. SDS. Jews may call themselves humanists. when God spoke to Abraham (then called Abram) and sent him on a journey of a lifetime – a journey which still continues for his descendants: God said to Abram. 5 Van Den Haag. Who uses words so sparingly throughout the whole Bible... may repress it. Take virtually any cause in modern history (communism. So the question we have to ask is: Why does God. nonetheless still have that high-powered Jewish soul pushing them to make an impact. at least some part of every Jew does not want to give up its Jewishness.. and though repudiating it.. They have done this indirectly.

In this command to Abraham.”9 As noted.) The third unique aspect of Jewish history we see in the next verse: “I will make you into a great nation. that would be the place to come to mind. which will be repeated by God several times thereafter..” .” The journey that God is directing Abraham to undertake is not just a physical journey. p. So God is saying to Abraham: “Don’t just leave your land and your hometown. 38. 12:2. no matter where you 6 The 7 The Jewish Mystique. we see God directing him not only to leave his homeland. This is the first unique characteristic of Jewish history. This is the initial promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants. separate yourself from it all on the most basic emotional level.” If you grew up in a specific house for a specific period of time. we see this concept of the Jews as a unique nation manifesting itself in the double-standard constantly applied to modern Israel. Abraham is going to become a father to a unique nation with a unique destiny: “a nation that dwells alone and is not reckoned among the rest of the nations.” More importantly – from the macrocosmic. (We will discuss this relationship in more detail in the next class. Whenever you would think of home.”10 9 Numbers 10 Genesis 23:9.your land” and “from your birthplace” and “from your father’s house. it’s a journey through history that is going to be different from anyone else’s.. Jewish Mystique. and therefore to the Jewish people. pp. had lived after that and how comfortable you had been. 38-44. 8 Genesis 12:1. historical perspective – God is saying to Abraham. and you will be a blessing. we will see that there is a special relationship between the Land of Israel and the Jews. This special relationship is the second unique aspect of Jewish history. This verse conveys God’s promise that He will be actively involved in Jewish history: “I will make you. but to go to a specific piece of real estate which will later be know as the Land of Israel. Connection to home is very deep and fundamental. From this point on. I will bless you and make your name great. that would be home for you. his descendants: “Separate yourself completely and go in a different direction.

the great French philosopher of the Enlightenment. demonstrating that the life of this people is governed by special predetermination. “The Jewish people.. 1935. A miracle happened. This is so because the Jews are a nation with a unique mission. To live for 2. London: World. all these point to the particular and mysterious foundations of their destiny.. To re-establish a homeland in the place that was yours 2. It’s unprecedented in human history.. But it didn’t. The Meaning of History. and that should have been it. The fourth is found in the latter half of the verse quoted earlier: “…and . Their survival is a mysterious and wonderful phenomenon.000 years as a nation without a national homeland is not normal. outlasting even the greatest empires. A Blessing There are more unique aspects of Jewish history spelled out in God’s communication to Abraham. The survival of the Jews.11 The Jewish people came into being miraculously and survived all of human history miraculously. 11 Berdyaev..” Why? Because he realized that for the Jewish people to survive to the 17th century.000 years ago is not normal. and his mission would have died with him. Can you imagine what he’d say seeing that the Jews made it to the 20th century?! Jewish history is a supernatural phenomenon. Abraham would have died childless. Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren. their resistance to destruction. The Jewish people should never have come into existence. Besides Pascal. a nation with a unique history – a nation whose role is so essential that they cannot be allowed to disappear. pp. Writes the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev: [The Jews’] destiny is too imbued with the “metaphysical” to be explained either by material or positive historical terms.. he answered. their endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions and the fateful role played by them in history.. Things have happened to the Jews that haven’t happened to other peoples.In the 17th century when Blaise Pascal. was asked by Louis XIV for proof of the supernatural. 86-87. many scholars and well-known personalities have taken note that Jewish history is in fact unique and that it violates all the laws of history. It’s unique in human history. violated all the laws of history. Nikolai. your Majesty.

We will see this pattern time and time again as we go through the history of the Jews in Diaspora. will be blessed all the families of the earth. your country is going to benefit. Poland. most nations have treated the Jews both benevolently and malevolently. Germany. creative. You can literally chart the rise and fall of virtually all the nations of the Western World and the Middle East by how they treated the Jews. United States of America. Consider. And finally. If you crush those people and expel them. In the words of John Adams. The most basic of all is that the Jews have contributed the values that are now linked with democracy – the values that come from the Torah – respect for life. because if you have a group of people living within your country – an educated. Empires. Turkey. 1806. will be under God’s protection. equality. loyal. They have given religion to three quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind. by the way.A. etc. And He repeats that the whole world is going to be changed positively by the Jewish people. and through you.you will be a blessing. there is no doubt that the world has been profoundly blessed by the Jews. justice. nations and peoples that are bad to the Jews will do poorly. and curse those who curse you. nations and peoples that are good to the Jews will do well. social responsibility etc. for example. . ancient or modern. is not so supernatural.12 More than 3. driven. It is an oft repeated pattern that the Jews are first invited into a country and later persecuted and expelled from the same country. dedicated. his letter to F. peace. “I will bless those who bless you.. his descendants. the fifth unique aspect of Jewish history: 12 For 13 From a more detailed explanation of this impact see WorldPerfect: The Jewish Impact on Civilization. more and more happily than any other nation. second president of the United States: I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation.13 You can see the incredibly positive impact the Jews have had on the world.”14 God is saying here to Abraham that he and the Jewish people. education. love. Spain. well-connected people – and if you’re nice to them and you allow them to participate and contribute in a meaningful way.700 years after the birth of Abraham. Van der Kemp. (Ironically. The empires..) Part of this phenomenon.” The tiny Jewish nation that should never have come into existence and should certainly never have survived will profoundly impact all of humanity.

because of the economic fallout. Abraham’s journey is the paradigm... 15 Gould. the Bishop of Bristol.15 So we have a final pattern – the rise and fall of nations and empires is going to be based on how they treat the Jews. which is an amazing idea. Allan ed. In the words of Thomas Newton. . and one you can clearly demonstrate in human history. What Did They Think of the Jews? Northvale. are all come to ruin… And if such has been the fatal end of the enemies and oppressors of the 14 Genesis 12:3. let it serve as a warning to all those.you’re going to suffer. We see that the great empires. But. Nor is the Providence of God less remarkable in the destruction of their enemies. there’s much more going on than just that. of what Jewish history is all about. who at any time or upon any occasion are for raising a clamor and persecution against them. NJ: Jason Aronson. So from these three verses in Genesis we see the key underlying patterns of all of Jewish history. 92-93. Jews. than in their preservation. pp. a microcosm. who lived in the late 1700s: The preservation of the Jews is really one of the most signal and illustrious acts of Divine Providence… and what but a supernatural power could have preserved them in such a manner as none other nation upon earth has been preserved. His personal life (and the life of his immediate descendants) is going to be a mini-version. 1997. of course.. which in their turn subdued and oppressed the people of God.

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