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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.

3 See Talmud.3 But in studying his story. “the proto-Jew. September 1897. Einstein. or social movement in world history. The Complete Essays of Mark Twain. of course. Abraham. sense of mission and idealism are reflected in all the generations of the Jewish people that have come after him. p. Abraham was certainly one of the great truth-seekers of all time.a drive and intensity that has always characterized the Jewish people. Marx and Darwin. only Darwin was not Jewish.” an essay by Mark Twain in Harper’s magazine. 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. what is the secret of the disproportionate importance the Jews have had in the history of Western culture? 5 . the Jewish people. New York: Doubleday: 1963. 249. 2 The Talmud (in Tractate Shabbat 97a) discusses this concept and uses the phrase Hem maminim b’nei maminim. labor unionization. etc. the sons of believers. civil rights.If this is the case. to dedicate oneself. but have led movements such as communism.” Abraham personifies everything that could be characterized as the “Jewish personality. then from the Jewish perspective. Tractate Sota 10b. 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. 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.)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. socialism. In a world where Jews are only a tiny percentage of the population. for an explanation of how Abraham used hospitality as a tool to bring people he encountered back to God.” The first believer was. (Jews have not only been awarded a disproportionate number of Nobel prizes for their intellectual contributions. To stand alone for thousands of years against the entire world. 1 Twain. “They (the Jews) are believers. See also “Concerning the Jews.” His strength. heart and soul. or perhaps more accurately. He passed on to his children a kind of spiritual genetics -. He was also famous for his kindness and hospitality. Mark. feminism. the most important biblical character to understand is Abraham – the first Jew. Of these four. to the ultimate cause of Tikkun HaOlam requires tremendous strength of character. cause. many educated people would name Freud.

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

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

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

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

because of the economic fallout. Abraham’s journey is the paradigm.. . His personal life (and the life of his immediate descendants) is going to be a mini-version.. Jews. are all come to ruin… And if such has been the fatal end of the enemies and oppressors of the 14 Genesis 12:3. 92-93. there’s much more going on than just that. Nor is the Providence of God less remarkable in the destruction of their enemies. than in their preservation. 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. which in their turn subdued and oppressed the people of God. 1997. 15 Gould. a microcosm. and one you can clearly demonstrate in human history. of course.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. pp. But.. What Did They Think of the Jews? Northvale. let it serve as a warning to all those. NJ: Jason Aronson. We see that the great’re going to suffer. the Bishop of Bristol. who at any time or upon any occasion are for raising a clamor and persecution against them. So from these three verses in Genesis we see the key underlying patterns of all of Jewish history. In the words of Thomas Newton. of what Jewish history is all about. Allan ed. which is an amazing idea.