Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Yisro) Mid Flight Exchange

It is quite common that we strike up a conversation with our seatmate on a plane, and often worthwhile business connections are thus forged. At times, the person sitting next to you is a fellow Jew and inevitably the conversation turns to affiliations, beliefs, Israel and family.

A friend of mine related that he was seated next to a man on a plane who was studying the Artscroll Talmud with English translation. There was one thing that he couldn’t understand; the man wasn’t wearing a Yarmukah, which is similar to one praying without a Yarmukah.

He finally built up enough courage and politely offered him a head covering. “I don’t need one, because I am not Jewish,” was his reply. Quite bewildered, my friend asked how he got interested in Talmud study. He explained that he has a religious Jewish business associate who studies a page of Talmud a day, known as Daf Yomi, and he was intrigued by the discipline and analytical thought process, and decided to purchase the Talmud and follow the system of study himself!

I personally, and others have told me that they have gotten comments like; “I see that you are Jewish, can you please explain to me something that has always fascinated me. What is it about the Jewish people that have kept them going for so long, and what has given them the stamina to endure so much?”

People often offer various superficial answers to this inquiry. For example:

“We are a mighty and strong nation.” But then again, has it always been that way?

 “Maybe it was our wealth and influence.” But did that always help?

“Perhaps it was due to the large population of Jews.” Wait, aren’t we less than one percent of the world population?

At times one hears, “Isn’t it amazing? You know, I recall reading an essay written by Mark Twain who had this same question, asking, “What is the secret of the immortality of the Jew?” “Twain didn’t really come up with an answer, and I’m as perplexed as you are. I guess we’re in good company.”

However we can certainly do better! The Torah portion we are going to read publicly this Shabbos is called Yisro. Within it lies the answer to this question. The uniqueness of the Jewish Nation is the special relationship that we have with G-d. This connection began when G-d took the entire nation out of Egypt and performed many miracles on their behalf, showing His mastery and control over all happenings. This connection was forged even deeper when the Jewish people were the only nation willing to accept the entire Torah – G-d’s law – without any stipulations.

The Torah describes G-d’s appearance at Mount Sinai where He proclaimed the Ten Commandments which contain all 613 commandments. The Torah scroll, which G-d gave to the Jewish people through His loyal servant Moshe, describes this awesome event, namely, that G-d appeared to an entire nation of approximately 2.5 million people. This is an event to which only the Jews can lay claim to.

The Torah itself has a built in protection against any claims or allegations that the Torah was humanly fabricated and not of a Divine source, for the Torah tells us that it will never be lost or forgotten. The Torah clearly states that the people who witnessed these awesome events passed down the Torah scroll to their children, who through an uninterrupted and continuous chain passed them on to us. Thus, we today, have the same exact Torah as our ancestors.

It is the clarity of belief in these happenings and the commitment that the Jews have to the Torah, which obligates each person to study and observe, that has kept us going throughout the most difficult situations.

This short and to the point answer is not only a response to an inquiry from someone else; it is something every Jew must regularly review in order to keep focused on our uniqueness and the mission we have been endowed with. In fact, at the conclusion of each of our daily prayers we recite the Alaiynu prayer. Clearly spelled out and continually reviewed in this special prayer are the tenets of our belief in the Almighty and our uniqueness as a nation.

There are incredible opportunities for us to pursue the vast teachings, laws and lessons of the Torah, such as attending a class, learning with a study partner or online (www.aish.com). All it takes is our eagerness and curiosity to pursue and absorb the wonderful teachings of our Torah.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks