Hello, Shana Tova. I’m Michael Rabin, Congregation Beth Shalom President. Since this is Rosh Hashana, a time for reflection, a time to ask questions, I thought it appropriate we play a game- the Weakest link. Please answer these questions as
quickly as possible. Ready? How many daughters did Jacob have?… What instrument did David play?… Who cut Samson’s hair?… Why are we here? …. I’m sure you knew that Jacob had one daughter, Dina and the instrument David played
was the Harp and Samson’s hair was cut by Delilah’s servant. But why are we here? Maybe you said, ‘I’m here because this is Rosh Hashana and I’m Jewish.’ A good answer- but wrong! Jane Lynch would say- “You are the weakest link- goodbye”. That’s not the question I asked; it’s the question you heard but there is a much deeper question I’m asking, why are we here? I’m not asking about you, I’m asking about us. And I’m not asking about this particular synagogue. Why are we here?
Rabbi Kalman Packouz asked this question in his article – The Seven Wonders of Jewish History. He pointed out that the Jewish people have existed for 3500 years, that’s over 100 generations. A chain unbroken for millennia. We have watched
Egyptian, Babylonian, Roman, Spanish, Persian, Ottoman, British, German, French, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires all come and go. Yet here we remain. How is that even possible?
Mark Twain, the agnostic skeptic wrote, “He (the Jew) has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages… The Egyptian, Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed
away… Other peoples have sprung up, and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out … The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was… no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal- but the Jew… What is the secret of his immortality?”
What is the secret? What are the odds of this happening? We are a tiny number of people- an insignificant number of people- less than ½ of 1% of the world’s population. A people based on a leap of faith; the odds of surviving are less than winning the lottery. Honestly, we shouldn’t be here. How is it even possible that we are? Rabbi Packouz continues pointing out: No nation has ever survived forcible expulsion from their land- yet the Jews have survived not one but two exiles, first by the Babylonians and then the Romans. Unheard of. Not only expelled from our own lands but from the nations where we took refuge- subjected in every instance to atrocities. How do we still exist? And why?
Jews were the victims of oppression, of antisemitism, of genocide. The British historian Sir Martin Gilbert wrote in 1985 “…as my research into Jewish history progressed, I was surprised, depressed, and to some extent overwhelmed by the perpetual and irrational violence which pursued the Jews in every country and to almost every corner of the globe. If, therefore, persecution, expulsion, torture, humiliation, and mass murder haunt these pages, it is because they also haunt the Jewish story.”
Lloyd George, Prime Minister of England during WWI, wrote in 1923 “…The Jews cannot vindicate themselves in the eyes of fanatics. If the Jews are rich, they are victims of theft and extortion. If they are poor, they are victims of ridicule. If they take sides in a war, it is because they wish to gain advantage from the spilling of non-Jewish blood. If they espouse peace, it is because they are scared and anxious by nature- or traitors to their country. If the Jew dwells in a foreign land he is persecuted and expelled. If he wishes to return to his own land, he is prevented from doing so.”
On top of this, it’s a difficult religion- there are dietary laws, there are over 100 blessings a devout Jew recites daily, there is circumcision and 613 mitzvot. It’s not easy, yet still we exist.
It’s not a pretty picture. The generational chain has been tested, each link has been stretched and strained, again and again. Yet somehow that chain has survived. Somehow, we have remained the strongest link. So, I ask again, why are we here?
Despite being hated, dispersed, beaten and forced into hiding, the Jews are not only still alive but are considered one of the most influential people in the world. Many of the world religions developed out of Judaism- there is even a term for it- the Abrahamic religions. Jews are widely recognized for introducing ethical monotheism and morality. Jews have received 116 Nobel Peace Prizes, 1/5 of the total. Repeatedly, Jews have been recognized for their accomplishments in every realm of life. When the Wall Street Journal chose the three most influential men in the 20 th century- who did they choose? Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein. All Jews.
So why have we survived? Is it the Jewish food? There is some really good Jewish foods, though some I could do without. I love latkes, but gefilte fish- no way. I love Corned Beef, but tongue, not so much. Don’t even get me started on chopped liver.
Is it our incredible good looks? What about my handsome face? Is it our health- Gastrointestinal diseases, genetic diseases, and others plague our people.
Is it the jokes? Tim Whatley, a character on Seinfeld famously converted to Judaism so he could tell Jewish jokes.
No, it’s not about our food, our good looks or our jokes. Historians have suggested that we had the Torah and it forced an illiterate people to read and gain an advantage. We were banned from farming and forced to learn business. We worked in banking when others shunned it. We honored our parents and loved our families; we were a community that despite the diaspora looked out for each other. We had the Ten Commandments and we followed them. But is this enough?
Rabbi Packouz is a Chabad rabbi and he concludes that the only answer is God. When King Louis XIV of France asked Pascal, the great Christian philosopher for proof of God, Pascal replied- “Why the Jews your majesty, the Jews!”
Is it because of God? Maybe. But I don’t believe that’s all. God acts through people. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Moses, King David, Solomon…and you.
I believe the answer has been overlooked: You are the reason we are here. You and the connections to those who came before. Jews have survived because we are connected to every one of the previous 100 generations; are any other people so
connected? Think about it… Only the Jewish people trace our lineage as a people back to biblical times, even to creation, no other nation does that. The Torah makes a point of remembering our ancestors. It’s so important there are pages devoted to
it. Boring, but important. Where the Torah ends history takes over. Call it Jewish Guilt or call it the covenant with God. We are connected. We are connected to the past, to the present and yes, the future. I hope you feel it. I do.
I am here because I am Jewish. I am here because I am a part of a community. I am here to support the Jewish people. I am here to honor my parents. I am here to honor the sacrifices our ancestors made for me; I am here to pass down the heritage. I am helping the Jewish people survive by keeping the chain unbroken. When I meet God, I will honestly be able to say I kept the covenant, I honored my parents, I kept the chain unbroken, I was not the weakest link, I built Jewish community, I donated, I volunteered, yes, I even attended services. Can you say the same?
Why are you here? You and I are a part of the same chain. It doesn’t matter if you converted or married non-Jewish partners, by being here you are maintaining the chain. But, after your children celebrate their b’nai mitzvot, will you turn your back on the Jewish community? When you walk out after Yom Kippur will you forget the way back for Shabbat services? When you sit down and pay your bills will you neglect our synagogue? When you volunteer at school will you volunteer here as well? What will you say to God when you are judged? Please- don’t let God say to you- “You are the Weakest Link- goodbye.”
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah, children will be passing baskets for our annual campaign- please consider what I have said and give generously.