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Jewish Quest

V'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

"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 the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. 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.

"The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.

"What is the secret of his immortality?"
(Mark Twain, "Concerning The Jews," Harper's Magazine, 1898)

In our Parsha, Moses is about to die. His parting speech
warns of what will befall the Jewish people if they stray from their appointed

"God will scatter you among the nations, and you will be left small in number among the nations." (Deuteronomy 4:27)

Historically, a scattered nation always assimilates into the surrounding nations. But the Jewish people are unique. Even when scattered, they still retain their national, religious and cultural identity.

Furthermore, nations do not remain small in number. Either they grow or they disappear. This, however, is not true of the Jewish people, who for long periods have survived - while remarkably remaining numerically small.

"Let us see what kind of peculiar creature the Jew is, which all the rulers and all the nations have together and separately abused and molested, oppressed and persecuted, trampled and butchered, burned and hanged, and in spite of all this is yet alive... Such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is everlasting as is eternity itself." (Leo Tolstoy, "What is a Jew," 1891)

Moses continues to explain what such a future amongst the nations of the world will be like.

"And from there you will seek God your Lord, and if you will search for Him with all your heart and soul, you will eventually find Him." (Deuteronomy 4:29)

3500 year ago Moses tells the Jewish people that they will search for God.They may not believe in God.But they will search for Him!

This search is not like Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the lost Ark".Rather it is part of the Jews' innate and unconscious drive and compulsion to find greater meaning and purpose in life.

We are not dealing with a passive, easy-to-please nation. We are dealing with a determined, striving nation. But most know not for what they strive. It's a nation with a thirst - but not the knowledge of how it will be quenched.

"Behold, days are coming...when I will send a famine in the land, not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of God..." (Amos 8:11)

"Tell me, you who have investigated all sciences, ancient and new.Is there any joy like the joy of the heart? Is there any wealth like the richness of the soul?" (Rabbi Ibn Gevirol)

Beneath that ambitious Jewish man or woman, is a soul thirsting for a greater meaning in life.

Perhaps this is why the Torah's rules for raising Jewish children are especially elaborate. Boiling an egg in a pressure cooker is far more complex than boiling it in a pan. If you don't know what you're doing, there's liable to be an explosion. (Even when everything on the surface seems perfectly okay!)

In the good ole days, raising healthy children seemed far more predictable; today it seems fraught with difficulties. Once, life seemed stable and certain to produce harmony and fulfillment; today few seem to find such peace. This battle, this struggle, this Jewish quest, is something we have been wrestling with for 3500 years. Before you attempt to solve this perplexing riddle of "life" on your own, it would be prudent to first look into some of the answers our deep, rich and time-tested tradition has already yielded.

* * *


Question 1: Step back for a moment and ask yourself: Do the words "searching" and "seeking" apply to those people closest to you?

Question 2: Do the words "searching" and "seeking" apply to your life?

Question 3: What do you think is the "secret" of the Jewish People?


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