Seven Wonders of Jewish History
Seven remarkable milestones that defy historical patterns and fulfill ancient prophecies.
Imagine an alien landing on this planet. On his first day here, he witnesses two events: the parting of the Red Sea and the birth of a baby. Which would he say is the greater miracle?
Most aliens would say that the birth of a child seems a greater miracle than the parting of the waters. However, if we asked you whether the birth of a child is a miracle, you might not agree. Why is that?
Because childbirth happens all the time, about every seven seconds or so in this country. When something happens all the time, we take it for granted and think it's natural. But when we look at it, as an alien, we can see what an incredible miracle it is.
Now let's look at Jewish history from a similar perspective, putting aside any prior knowledge we have. Do the events of our nation throughout the past 3000 years seem like ordinary events, or is something and perhaps miraculous going on here?
As a matter of fact, let's pretend we've never even heard of the Jewish people. And let's decide: Are these events coincidental or providential?
King Louis XIV once had an interesting discussion with the famous 17th century Roman Catholic philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal. The king asked Pascal to show him evidence of the supernatural, and Pascal responded. "The Jews, Your Majesty, the Jews!"
Everyone who studies Jewish history perceives that there's something about it. What many people don't know, however, is that the unusual and illogical course of Jewish history was predicted in detail in our Torah. Let's examine seven phenomena to Jewish history and seven prophecies precisely forecasting these phenomena. Then it'll be up to you to evaluate whether these events could have occurred through the natural channels of human history or whether, perhaps, someone's been pulling the strings, behind the scenes.
WONDER #1: THE JEWISH PEOPLE ARE ETERNAL
In Bereishis 17:7, God promises Abraham that the Jewish people will be eternal. God says:
"And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you, throughout the generations, an eternal covenant to be your God, and the God of your descendants after you."
Now we all know that treaties are only as good as the two sides who keep up their part of the bargain. If one party bails out, the treaty is void. What will happen if the Jews don't keep their covenant with God?
Take a look at this prophecy:
"Yet even so, even while they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject or spurn them, lest I break My covenant with them by destroying them, for I am their God. I will remember them because of the covenant I made with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the Land of Egypt under the eyes of the nations, so that I might be their God." (Vayikra 26:44-45)
In other words, even when things go sour, even when the Jewish people stop following the Torah, the covenant will not be breached. God promises that this relationship will exist forever.
Now if you're at all familiar with world history, you'll notice right away that this is a very strange prediction. After all, nations rise and fall. They don't exist forever. Do you know any Edomites personally? Anyone have a good friend who's a Moabite? History has seen the rise of many powerful civilizations: the Persians, the Babylonians, the Moabites, the Edomites, the Romans. But they've long since disappeared.
Why would the Torah predict eternal survival for the Jewish people? Even more strange, how is it that the Jews, a civilization way older than the Persians or the Babylonians, are, indeed, still around?
Many people have noticed this strange phenomenon. One of the most famous is Mark Twain who wrote an essay called "Concerning the Jews" (The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, p. 249):
"The Egyptian, the Babylonian, the Persian, rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dreamstuff and passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed, made a vast noise and they are gone. Other peoples have sprung up, 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 weaking 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?"
Leo Tolstoy, a believing Christian, also wonders about this. He writes (Jewish World, London, 1908:
"The Jew is the emblem of eternity. He whom neither slaughter, nor torture of thousands of years could destroy, he whom neither fire, nor sword, nor inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth; he who was the first to produce the oracle of God, he who has been for so long the guardian of prophecy and who transmitted it to the rest of the world. Such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is as everlasting as eternity itself."
Have you heard of a book called: "The Protocols of the Elder of Zion"?
The Protocols is a book that claims to be the minutes of secret meetings held every hundred years by Jewish rabbis around the world, for the purpose of plotting the course of world history for the next hundred years.
The Protocols, by the way, has sold more copies than any other book in history, except the Bible. Why do people swallow it? People have hated blacks, people have hated Orientals, but you don't find books called "The Protocols of the Elders of Motown." Somehow, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" makes sense in people's minds. People read the book and think, "Yes! Those Jews get together every hundred years and plan out world history!"
Somehow, in their collective consciousness, the world has noticed that we Jews are always around.
Paul Johnson, a non-Jewish historian, wrote a bestseller called A History of the Jews. At the end of the book, he gives us a thesis as to why the Jews have survived so long: "The Jews believed that they were a special people, with such unanimity and passion, over so long a span of time, that they became one." In other words, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Two problems immediately emerge. First of all, does anyone here think Jews can believe anything with unanimity? You've heard the expression, "Two Jews, three opinions"?
(As a matter of fact, we were once in Phoenix, Arizona, and a teacher said, "You know how it is - two Jews, three opinions...," when a gentleman raises his hand and, in all seriousness, says, "Rabbi, I heard it was three Jews, four opinions." The teacher looked at him and said, "Thank you, Sir. You've just proved my point!")
Second - does it make sense that only the Jews willed themselves into becoming an eternal nation?! And all the other nations thought, "Nah, that's okay. We've gone on long enough. Suppose it's about time to get conquered and become extinct..."
Finally, even if the Jews did believe they were an eternal people, does simply believing something make it so?
If I just keep believing I'm a doctor, will I eventually become one?
Obviously things don't work that way. Nations don't will themselves into destruction. Neither do they will themselves into becoming an eternal nation.
WONDER #2: DISPERSION
The fact that we are an eternal nation becomes even more amazing when we consider that the Jews don't even possess the basic characteristics that define a nation:
Land, language and history.
Do the Jewish people have a land in common?
Well, for 2000 years, the vast majority of the Jewish people never set foot in the land of Israel. All other nations in the world had a land in common that they settled and lived in, but for the majority of our history, the Jews never had a land to call their own. Israel was a common dream, yes, but not a common land.
Now how many of you speak Hebrew? How many speak it well? For the vast majority of our history, most Jews didn't speak the language. Sure, the Torah portion was read aloud in Hebrew, in shul, but the spoken languages were Aramaic, Ladino, Yiddish, French, English and many others.
How about a common history? Well, you've got to go pretty far back in time to get to one. For the last several centuries, Jews have been scattered across the globe. We certainly don't have a history in common.
So, not only are the Jewish people poor candidates for being an eternal nation - without a common land, language or history -we're hardly candidates to be any kind of nation at all!
WONDER #3: ANTI-SEMITISM
Let's look at the flip side. What are the three factors that cause nations to disintegrate and disappear?
First, they're conquered by another nation and eventually they assimilate into the dominant culture. But what happens between conquest and assimilation?
The stronger nation comes in and says, "We don't like that you dress differently, speak a different language, worship differently... We think you should be like us."
Sociologists call this "The dislike of the unlike."
Eventually, someone figures out, "Hey, you know why we're being persecuted? It's that 'dislike of the unlike' business! Let's drop our differences and we'll be treated better."
And it works. The more they drop their differences, the better they're treated. Before you know it, they've been absorbed into the conquering nation.
You ever hear anyone say there's too much Edomite influence in the government nowadays? The Babylonians are controlling the media? Of course not. These nations have long since lost their identities. That's what happens when nations assimilate into the dominant culture.
So what happens when the Jews try to assimilate?
Where do we find that the Jews, en masse, try to assimilate into the surrounding culture?
Germany. In Germany, 150 years ago, we find one of the most concentrated attempts on the part of masses of Jews to assimilate into German society. After generations of intolerance and persecution, the Enlightenment came and many Jews thought they finally had a way out. "Now's our chance to get rid of all this 'dislike and unlike,'" they said. "The Germans say they hate us because we eat differently, dress differently, worship differently, don't marry their daughters. So we'll drop all our differences and become just like them!"
And what happens? A historical anomaly. For the very first time in history, instead of the dislike of the unlike, suddenly it's the dislike of the like! The Nazis say, "We don't hate you because you're different; now we hate you because you're trying to become like us!" And they respond with the most vicious brutality the world has ever seen.
What's going on here? The more we drop our differences, the easier it's supposed to be to blend in with the dominant culture! The Holocaust was completely contrary to all normal rules of history!
Why is it that, in some strange way, all the rules of history are overturned when it comes to the Jews?
It's a basic law of physics that the colder something is, the denser it becomes and therefore the heavier. Heat causes molecules to expand and therefore become lighter. For example, hot water rises and cold water, being heavier, falls to the bottom.
If you stand in a bathtub, for instance, you'll notice that the warmer water is at the top and your toes are probably colder because the cold water has sunk to the bottom.
What's the coldest water possible? Ice. Take a look at the cup of soda when you put ice cubes in. Have you ever wondered why the ice flows to the top? Of course not. It just does.
What happens in the winter when a lake freezes over? Where does the ice form? At the top! Isn't that strange? If ice is the coldest form of water, it should naturally be more dense and sink to the bottom.
Ask any physicist, why is it that ice floats? And he will tell you that it's a fundamental law of physics. The molecules in water become denser as they get colder, until they reach a degree and a half above freezing, whereupon the molecules suddenly start to expand and get lighter. So when it turns to ice, it naturally floats.
But why does the law of physics work that way? Why does water suddenly become lighter when it was previously getting heavier?
And your friendly physicist has an explanation for that too. He will say, "Because it's an exception."
We have a different answer. The physicist didn't create the laws of physics. God did. Now, God may not care if ice floats to the top of your soda cup, but he does care that ice floats to the top of a lake.
What would happen if all the ice sunk to the bottom? All plant and animal life in the seas and oceans would freeze and die, and when the ice defrosted in the spring, the waters of the earth would be putrid and vile. So God says, "I did not make a world to be uninhabited. In the case of ice, I'll just overturn the natural law."
Similarly, God says to the Jews, "I did not make a world for the Jews to become extinct. You are to be an eternal nation. So, in your case, the laws of history are going to be overturned. For every other nation ever persecuted, there will be 'the dislike of the unlike.' They'll drop their differences and disappear. But when you Jews try to shed your national identity, I will not allow it to happen. Instead of assimilation easing your persecution, you'll be hated all the more for it."
God controls history the same way He controls physics, science and nature. If God promises the Jews that they will be an eternal people, then the laws of nature will just have to cooperate.
How would you fill in the following blank?
"The Wandering ____."
Did anyone write "The Wandering Italian"? "The Wandering Ecuadorian"? We Jews are known throughout the world as the nation that wanders. We've lived most of our national life in exile, dispersed throughout the globe.
Can you think of anything less conducive to being an eternal nation?
We're intelligent people here; let's try to figure this out logically. What characteristic could this nation have that will keep them unified despite their dispersion?
How about this: The Jews will be so beloved in the eyes of the entire world that the nations will make sure they continue to exist, no matter where we are. "Ah, those wonderful Jews, we must keep them alive and well, forever."
This reminds me of a story. A new electronics store opened up in Texas and announced that it would giving away free TV sets to the first hundred people who walked into the store. Already the night before, there were about three hundred people in line. At the front of the line was this huge Texan, so excited he could hardly wait. Suddenly this little Jew comes walking up from the back of the line and, without so much as a glance around, goes right up to the front.
The Texan looks at him and says, "Where the heck do you think you're going?" The Jews says nothing; he just keeps walking. The Texan picks him up, punches him in the face and knocks him out on the floor. The poor little Jew struggles to his feet, dusts himself off and again starts walking towards the front. The Texan says, "I said, where do you think you're going?" The Jew doesn't say a word. The Texan picks him up and knocks him down again.
Suddenly, a policeman comes by. "What's goin' on here?" he says to the Texan.
And the Texan says, "Ah been waitin' heah all night. I'll be darned if I'm gonna let this little Jew get in front of me!"
The cop turns to the Jew and says, "And what's your story?"
The Jew says, "If this guy knocks me down vun more time, I don't open up de store."
Are we so beloved by the world that they've made sure of our continuing existence?
I don't think so.
No matter where they go, the Jewish people suffer from a hatred the likes of which the world has never seen. It's not just: "We don't want these people in our country club." It's not just: "We don't want them in the front of the bus." It's: "We don't want these people alive."
Not only is anti-Semitism intense, it is also irrational. We're the only religion that absolutely prohibits the eating of any kind of blood, yet we are plagued with blood libels. They say we're poisoning the wells of Europe, yet they completely ignore the fact that we're drinking from the same wells! Anti-Semitism is a hatred unbelievably intense, totally irrational and absolutely universal.
In Israel, in 1987, there was a colloquium on anti-Semitism, commissioned by President Chaim Herzog. Professor Michael Curtis of Rutgers University spoke on the irrationality of anti-Semitism:
"The ness of anti-Semitism lies in the fact that no other people in the world have ever been charged simultaneously with alienation from society and with cosmopolitanism, with being capitalistic exploiters and also revolutionary communist advocators. The Jews were accused of having an imperious mentality, and at the same time they're the people of the book. They're accused of being militant aggressors, at the same time as being cowardly pacifists. With being a chosen people, and also having an inferior human nature. With both arrogance and timidity. With both extreme individualism and community adherence. With being guilty of the crucifixion of Jesus and at the same time held to account for the invention of Christianity... Everything and its opposite becomes a reason for anti-Semitism."
This is how irrational anti-Semitism is. Whatever you hate, that's what the Jew is.
WONDER #4: FEW IN NUMBER
How have other nations, China or India, for example, managed to stick around for so long? Maybe their success can help us understand what happened with the Jews.
The Chinese and the Indians obviously have the advantages of land, language and history. But there have definitely been conquests of these civilizations. Why didn't they disappear?
Their sheer numbers! There are so many of them that when the conqueror comes in, the conqueror gets swallowed up! There are just too many of them to simply fade into extinction. Put it this way: If any of you here are contemplating conquering a country in the near future, stay clear of China and India.
So maybe that's the secret! Maybe the Jews will be so numerous, they'll be unable to overpower. True, it's strange to predict an eternal nation. True, exile and dispersion don't make sense. True, there'll be tremendous anti-Semitism. But maybe there'll be so many of them that they just won't be able to be swallowed up.
There's a story about an old man who moves out to California. He gets ill and gets worse, and as he's on his last breath, he calls his friend in New York.
"Irving," he says.
"This is Harold."
"What is it, Harold?"
"Come to California, Irving. I'm dying and I have something terrible to confess."
So Irving flies out on the next flight and goes to see Harold on his deathbed.
"Irving," Harold whispers, "I have a big confession to make."
"Tell me, Harold, what is it?"
"Yeh, I converted."
"I can't believe it, Harold. All your life you were a good Jew! And now, in the last few months of your life, you've converted?" "Well," he says, "I figured it out... You know how many gentiles there are in the world? You know how many Jews there are in the world? Better one of them should die, than one of us..."
That's what you call a Yiddishe kop!
Do you know how many Jews there are in the world? I would estimate about 14 to 15 million. There's a graph from Lashinsky's The Jewish Dispersion. At the very bottom of the graph, there's a little broken line that keeps bouncing along the bottom of the graph. That little line represents the number of Jews in the world. During the Roman Empire, the Jews constituted 9% of the population. Simple demographics tell us that without the Crusades, the pogroms, the Holocaust, assimilation...the Jewish people today would number well into the hundred millions.
We've lost 90 to 95% of our nation. We keep diminishing and diminishing, yet we're still bouncing up and down there, barely hanging on, at the bottom of the graph. Demographically, we should just pack it in. Why don't we?
"And you shall remain few in number among the nations to which God shall lead you." (Devarim 4:27)
Despite the fact that our tiny size would almost guarantee the failure of the prophecy of an eternal nation, the Torah predicts precisely this. Yes, you'll be persecuted, yes, many of you will be wiped out, but you'll remain a nation.
The Torah tells us, "Zechor yemot olam." Keep your eyes on history. And when you do, you begin to perceive that something or someone is pulling the strings. It doesn't matter if the world hates you, persecutes you, scatters you throughout the globe...somehow you're going to remain with your identity intact, even if you're the tiniest nation in existence.
WONDER #5: A LIGHT UNTO THE NATIONS
The Jews are told that they shall be, "A light unto the nations."
What does that mean?
How is it possible for a tiny people, exiled and dispersed around the globe, despised by every nation on earth, to be "a light unto the nations?" Now this is getting totally unreasonable. Who's even going to pay attention to us?
There's a book called Great Religions of the World. Who would you think is in there? Christianity. Buddhism. Islam. And, of course, there's a chapter on the Jews.
What makes Christianity one of the greatest religions in the world? A billion and a half adherents! What makes Islam one of the great religions in the world? 800 million people, maybe more. How about the Jews? With only 12 or 14 million people, why are we one of the "great" religions of the world?
If not for the Jews, you wouldn't have Christianity; you wouldn't have Islam. Both are built on the foundations laid by Judaism. Prior to the Jewish religion, the world was paganistic, with no concept of monotheism. The Jews changed all that, and now half the world believes in the concept of one God.
We're tiny, we're scattered and we're hated. Likely candidates for world influence? Clearly not. Yet somehow, just as the Torah predicted, we're the ones who have made more of an impact on the world than any other nation.
Rabbi Motty Berger, a well-known Discovery lecturer, once had a young Chinese artist by the name of Jin Gan living in his house. Now Jin Gan was a very bright fellow who had come to America to study. He was very eager to learn the English language, so every day he read the entire front page of the New York Times. After a while, he began to notice that there were three countries that almost always made the headlines: The United States, the Soviet Union and Israel.
Not being very familiar with Israel, Jin Gan asked Rabbi Berger where this country was. Rabbi Berger pulled out a map and pointed to the Middle East.
"You see the brown space over there?"
"Okay, that's Egypt. Now you see this country over here, the little green area?"
"That's Syria. Now, come a little closer. You see this little thing over here, this dot on the map? The one that's so small, the cities have to be written out in the Mediterranean Sea? That dot there -- that's Israel!"
"That's Israel?" he says. "I can't believe it! That tiny dot is the country that makes the front page every day? How many people live there?"
"Oh, about 5 million Jews."
"Five million Jews? In a recent census conducted in China, there are now over one billion, one hundred million Chinese -- with a statistical error of 48 million! That means," he said, "that there are 12 times as many people statistically unaccounted for in China as there are Jews in Israel!"
If you want to read a story about China you have to turn to Page 17 in the New York Times. To get on the front page, they have to kill thousands of students in Tiananmen Square. For Israel to get on the front page, you need six kids throwing rocks at a Chevy. Why is this?
Somehow, small as we are, the world is always watching.
There's a book called "The Jewish Mystique," written by Ernest Vanderhaag. He writes that in the last 50 years of Western civilization, there were four people who shaped the world: Marx, Freud, Einstein, and Darwin. (Three of them were Jewish - and one of them was wrong!) And this is only in the last 150 years of western civilization; just decades after Jews were even permitted into universities!
The eternal nation, dispersed throughout the world, few in number, enduring anti-Semitism the likes of which the world has never seen - and at the same time, we're a light unto the nations.
Ridiculous? It's just what the Torah predicted, that at the time of the Messiah, the nations will beg us, "Teach us about God. You seem to know a lot about Him."
People sometimes explain this by saying that since the Jews were such a persecuted, downtrodden people, the prophets made this up to give them hope and encouragement.
Now I don't know about you, but if I were a downtrodden people, would that pick me up? "Just keep on going, even though you're down and out, because some day every nation in the world will come to you to teach them about God???"
If I wanted to be picked up by the Prophets, I would have them say something like, "Some day, God will meet your enemies and utterly destroy them. And you will go in and take over their property and money. Then, you'll live happily ever after."
But, no. No matter what we suffer, we are to be a light to the nations.
WONDER #6: THE INTERDEPENDENCE BETWEEN THE JEWISH PEOPLE AND THE LAND OF ISRAEL
The land of Israel was known to be fertile for millennia. When you were back in sixth grade, learning about the Middle East, do you remember what that region of the world was it called?
It was called, "The Fertile Crescent." The Middle East was strategically important. It controlled the trade routes from Europe, Asia, and Africa. All of ancient civilization wanted to possess it and keep it flourishing.
But we see a very strange thing. As long as the Jews are living in the land, the land remains fertile. As soon as the Jews leave, the land becomes a desert and no other nation is able to cultivate it.
There is a fascinating quote from Mark Twain, who visited Israel in 1867.
"We traversed some miles of the desolate country, whose soil is rich enough but is given wholly to weeds, as silent, mournful expanse. A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tavor safely. [Tavor is in the north, in the Galilee, the most fertile part of the land.] We never saw a human being on the whole route. We pressed on towards the goal..., renowned Jerusalem. The further we went, the hotter the sun got, the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bound the approaches to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mournful, dreary and lifeless. I would not desire to live there." (Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, Vol. II, Harper and Brothers, 1922, NY)
Has anyone been to Israel recently? Does this sound accurate to you? Once again, a startling and strange phenomenon, completely defying the laws of nature: When the Jews are not in the land, the land becomes a desolate wilderness.
Has this ever happened anywhere else in the world? The white men came to this country and took it over from the American Indians. It had amber waves of grain. Did the land suddenly become a desert? Of course not! It doesn't make a difference who's living in the land. If a land is fertile, it's fertile; if it's a desert, it's a desert.
Not so with the land of Israel. Only there does the land become uninhabitable when the Jews are exiled.
WONDER #7: THE MIRACULOUS RETURN OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE TO THEIR HOMELAND
In the seventh and final wonder, the Jews are promised that they will one day return to their land. And they are told what they will find when they do: Suddenly, after years of desolation, the land will come to life again.
If you've been to Israel recently, you've seen this with your own eyes. The land has indeed begun to bloom and the markets are full of produce.
Cecil Roth, an Oxford professor and non-observant Jew, wrote a book called, "The History of the Jews." At the very end of the book, he writes as follows:
"Our survey of three and a half millennia of Jewish history is closed. But the story which we have set ourselves to tell is unended. Today the Jewish people has in it still those elements of strength and endurance which enabled it to surmount all of the crises of its past, surviving thus the most powerful empires of antiquity. Throughout our history, there have been weaker elements who have shirked the sacrifices which Judaism entails; they have been swallowed up, long since, in the great majority. Only the more stalwart have carried on the traditions of their ancestors and can now look back with pride in their superb heritage. Are we to be numbered with the weak majority or the stalwart minority? It is of course, for ourselves, to decide, but in a reading of Jewish history, one factor emerges which may perhaps help us in our decision: the preservation of the Jew was certainly not casual. He has endured through the power of a certain ideal, based upon the recognition of the influence of a higher power in human affairs. Indeed, time after time in his history he has been saved from disaster in a manner which cannot be described as anything but providential. This author has deliberately attempted to write this book in a secular spirit, but he does not think that his readers can fail to see on every page, a higher immanence."
Obviously, when Cecil Roth looked at history, just as you're looking at it now, he saw the impossible contradictions: an eternal nation, exiled and dispersed throughout the globe; subject to intense anti-Semitism which should assure their extinction; few in number, and yet, despite that, a light unto the nations. One contradiction after another. The land produces nothing when their enemies inhabit it, yet when the Jews return, the desert blooms once again.
You know, the idea of the Jewish people returning to their homeland was truly seen as absurd by most of the world. When the Reform movement was founded in Germany in the 1820's, one of the first elements of Jewish belief that they rejected was the concept of a return to the land of Israel. They declared, "Germany is our fatherland. Berlin is our Jerusalem." They understood it was ridiculous to think of going to settle the desert of Palestine. "Here we are in Europe - it's obvious that we're here to stay - look how well