Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s parsha initiates the second Book of the Torah, Shemot, in which the family of the Patriarchs was transformed into a unique nation with a very specific purpose.
Whatever your opinion of the Jews, you must admit that there is no people like them. All other nations have come into being by chance, as a result of economic, geographical, racial, demographic, and political factors. These countries retain the freedom to determine their own destiny, whether for good or for evil.
Although numerous empires have arisen in the course of history, none have been able to learn the secret of perpetuity. They made lots of noise and accomplished “great” things in their time. They virtually ruled the world and seemed invincible, but all have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Not all of the “great” nations have disappeared. Some, like France, Spain, and England are still around, but in a much diminished capacity. Their “moment in the sun” is behind them, largely because World War II was a turning point in history.
After the war, the entire world order was rearranged, and the U.S. emerged as the most powerful and dominant superpower in history. Thankfully, ours is a decent and magnanimous country that has done more to advance the cause of freedom and social progress than any other.
No country can make the claim that its existence is essential to the wellbeing of mankind and thus is guaranteed immortality. However, there is an exception to the rule that nations, like individuals, are finite and subject to expiration. That exception is the Jewish people.
The Jews are an eternal people. Though many have sought to nullify this existential reality, none have succeeded (although some, most recently the Nazis, have come too close for comfort).
The brief respite from virulent anti-Semitism that set in after the shock of the Holocaust has now dissipated . A storm of murderous Jew hatred once again engulfs the world, and Israel has been targeted for annihilation by the brutal Iranian regime. But the ultimate ambition of the haters is in vain.
How can we be so sure? The Rambam expounds the doctrine of Jewish immortality in his famous “Epistle to the Jews of Yemen.” When these people came under harsh decrees that banned the practice of mitzvot, they turned to the great Torah luminary for guidance.
Rambam used this occasion to expound the principle of Jewish eternity. He stated that, although there will be periods of persecution, they will be brief. Further, he said, “We are in possession of the divine assurance that Israel is indestructible and imperishable, and will always continue to be a preeminent community. As it impossible for G-d to cease to exist, so is Israel’s destruction and disappearance from the world unthinkable, as we read, “For I the Lord change not, and you, O sons of Jacob, will not be consumed.” (Malachi. 3:6)
Why are the Jews different? What makes them immune from the laws of nature, which decree that all living entities must perish?
We can find the answer in Shemot, which describes the founding of the Jewish nation. This people did not emerge as a result of the ordinary laws of nature; rather, this was a divinely ordained happening. The Creator of the universe intervened in the world of human affairs to create a special society. Hashem declared, “I fashioned this nation for Myself, that it might declare my praise.” ( Isaiah 43:21)
G-d broke the chains of His people’s bondage, destroyed their captors, and brought them out of Egypt with great wealth. The ultimate bond was forged on Mount Sinai, when He gathered the entire nation and proclaimed from heaven, “I am Hashem your G-d Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” Why did He do this? In order “to be a G-d unto you”. We are an eternal people because of our special relationship with the eternal G-d.
Our special relationship with Hashem should enhance our appreciation of our Jewish identity. We must draw renewed inspiration from the awareness that we are part of a society founded by Hashem to be the instrument of His purpose in creating mankind: that all the world should recognize G-d’s existence and behave according to the moral program He communicated in His Torah.