Monday, December 18, 2006

The Greatest Story on Earth

It was 11 PM. I was in Charlotte, North Carolina and returning to my hotel room after a wedding. I turned on the television, hoping to get a mindless rerun, but to my surprise….I got an evangelical sermon!! The preacher was encapsulating his sermon into four points. The first of these points was: “There Cannot be Another Holocaust”. He reminded his audience about Genesis 12:3, God’s promise to Abraham (“in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed”) and then explained how Christians must protect Jews, and how critical Jewish survival is to the world. I was pleasantly surprised by the content, and thought to myself:


It is gratifying to see that many Christians are now dedicated to preserving our survival. (I’m sure my great grandfather would have found this hard to believe.) . But at the same time I was saddened. How many Jews think this way about themselves? How many of us take Genesis 12:3 as an inspiration?

I know some expressions of Jewish uniqueness can be arrogant and triumphalistic; however, for Jews to therefore ignore their own story is foolish. Even a casual observer cannot overlook the epic history of the Jews. As Winston Churchill put it: "Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world." Many non-Jews, like Churchill and this preacher, recognize the remarkable Jewish heritage. Simply put, the Jews have the most remarkable story in history.

And yet, too many Jews ignore their own story. Leon Weiseltier calls them “slacker Jews”, who are content with a trivial “lox and bagels Judaism”, and are too lazy to learn about their own heritage. The little they do know is negative, and relates to the Holocaust and other catastrophes. It’s a shame that too many Jews have no idea what Genesis 12:3 is about, or why a preacher on late night TV is preaching about Jewish destiny.

It’s time to stop being “slacker Jews”. If we want to be part of the greatest story on earth, we better know something about it. We need to go beyond the tragic and the trivial.

The Talmud tells about Rabbi Hanina Ben Teradyon’s martyrdom. Hanina was wrapped in a Torah scroll, and together they were burned at the stake. As Hanina was dying, he told his students that as he saw the Torah’s parchment burning, but the letters flying in the air.

Hanina is telling us an important message: Beyond the destruction, there is inspiration. Despite the burning parchment, the letters live on, ready to inspire another generation. The flying letters are the key to a Jewish future.

The Jewish future cannot be about ashes alone. We need to catch the flying letters, and tell the greatest story on earth.

1 comment:

yitz said...

the flying letters are interesting also, because as the midrash tells us, our souls flew up out of our bodies at every utterance on har sinai--and as we know as well, there is a letter in the torah for each of the 600,000 Jewish neshamot.. so the flying letters, along with the fire was all symbolic of matan torah on har sinai.

also, his students told him to open his mouth and let the flames in, to quicken his death, because they couldn't take his suffering. but his reply was: No, I will let the one who gave me life, take it from me.

As Jews we never give up, and even on fire, awaiting certain demise, we use our last moments to acknowledge HaShem's lordship over us.