Someone asked me recently what my attitude is toward the Jews and Judaism. I can sum it up in two words: profound gratitude. So to all my Jewish friends, I say, Thank you. Thank you for:
· The faith of Abraham. He dared to believe God could give him a home and a land of his own … and a child in his and Sarah’s twilight years. He also had the faith to accept that God could be counted upon to keep His promises – and thus became the progenitor of a great nation, and the father of all who come to the Lord and simply believe.
· The resilience of Joseph. From his position of privilege as his father’s favorite child; to a near-death experience (at the hand of his own brothers, no less); to the chains of slavery; to another enviable post as a wealthy Egyptian’s right-hand man; to a dungeon; to his greatest accomplishment, the Vice Presidency of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh: Joseph never gave in to despair and disbelief. God rewarded Joseph and used him to save the lives of his own family and through them the entire nation of Israel.
· The audacity of Moses. After fleeing Egypt with a price on his head, wanted for murder, Moses listened to a burning bush in the wilderness that told him to go back to Egypt. Back to the scene of the crime – literally. And Moses agreed, albeit somewhat reluctantly, and went back to stand before the head of the government, Pharaoh, likely the son of the man from whom Moses fled 40 years before. Oh, and for good measure, he demanded Pharaoh agree to liberate an entire class of slaves. Audacious, indeed.
· The military genius of Joshua. How would you like to be given the mission to move into hostile territory, filled with large and fiercely warlike people, and dispossess these tribes and occupy their land and cities, without anything resembling modern military equipment or intelligence? That was the charge entrusted to Joshua as he led the wandering people of Israel into Canaan, the Promised Land, and he succeeded. Even today soldiers who are Christians look to Joshua as an example to follow — a man who was a warrior, a leader and a lover of God.
· The devotion of Ruth. She stayed with her mother-in-law when few women would have … and God honored her by placing her in the lineage of King David, and Jesus.
· The self-sacrificial love of Esther. It was a time when women were considered chattel, when a woman – even a queen – dared not enter unbidden into the presence of a king. Yet Esther (aka Hadassah) took her life into her hands and went to King Ahaseurus of Persia to plead for the lives of her people, the Jews. Her willingness to lose her own life resulted in the survival of the nation.
· The longsuffering of Job. Think you’ve got it rough? Read about Job’s afflictions – if you have a strong stomach. (I suggest not reading it right before dinner.) (Or right after.) His tribulations are legendary, the paradigm of those who suffer everywhere and at all times. Because of this, his story has brought comfort, encouragement and inspiration to countless other sufferers.
· The contrite heart of David. Israel’s greatest king was also a great sinner. Everyone knows about his illicit fling with Bathsheba. That was bad – really bad – but it pales in comparison with some of his other transgressions: having Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed in battle; ordering a census that angered God so much that He sent His angel throughout the land, visiting death upon thousands and thousands more. And yet, even so, David was an even greater repent-er … hence his designation as “a man after God’s own heart.”
· The guts of the prophets. They weren’t polite. They weren’t socially acceptable. They weren’t politically correct. And they weren’t ignored, either. They boldly proclaimed God’s words to God’s people, and let the chips fall wherever they may.
· The brilliance of the Torah, what we Christians call the Old Testament. It contains the magnificent language of Genesis 1, the ethical genius of Exodus 20, the beloved poetry of Psalm 23, the timeless wisdom of Proverbs, the fearless fire of the prophets. In addition, Mosaic Law forms the backdrop and foundation for the laws of the United States of America.
· The overwhelmingly Jewish composition of the disciples and the early church. All 12 of the original disciples / apostles; the vast majority of the early converts to Christianity; and all the New Testament writers save Luke were Jewish. There is no way to truly understand and appreciate the New Testament or the Christian faith without understanding how deeply rooted they are in the soil of Judaism.
· And most of all – I want to say Thank you for my Messiah, Jesus, who was, and is, a Jew.
Baruch hatah Adonai / Blessed be the Lord.
For those who are interested:
Israel is a small country. Estimates vary, but it is approximately 8,019 square miles: 290 miles long, 85 miles wide at its widest point and 35 miles wide at its narrowest point – an area slightly smaller than New Jersey. It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, speaks the same language and worships the same God as it did 3000 years ago. And it is surrounded by numerous larger and more populous nations that openly wish its destruction.
100 years ago, more than 80% of all Jews lived in Europe. Thanks to Hitler, the Third Reich and World War II, today 80% of all Jews live in Israel or the U.S. (The second-largest Jewish population in the U.S. is here in South Florida.) When Hitler came to power there were nine million Jews in Europe; in less than six years he killed six million of them. One-and-one-half million of them were children. In 1939 there were 16 million Jews in the entire world. Today there are just under 14 million (around 0.2% of the world population, or one in every 500 people).
In spite of this, Jews have won a total of 41% of all the Nobel Prizes in Economics, 28% of Medicine, 26% of Physics, 19% of Chemistry, 13% of Literature and 9% of all Peace awards. In all, Nobel Prizes have been awarded to over 850 individuals, of whom at least 20% have been Jews.
America has historically been the most welcoming, tolerant nation to Jews in the world (see the excerpt from George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island* below). May we always continue to be, and especially in these times of increasing intolerance toward religious faith and expression.
– I am indebted to a number of people and sources for these facts and statistics, especially Charles Krauthammer’s best-selling book, Things That Matter.
*George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island
August 18, 1790
… The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
… May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.
[Each year, Newport’s Congregation Kahal Kadosh Yeshuat Israel, now known as the Touro Synagogue, re-reads Washington’s letter in a public ceremony.]