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January 9, 2015

My Jewish identity

by Rabbi Dovid Felt

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 away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in the 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

Mark Twain ends without an answer to a question that history begs. However, the Torah makes sure to give us the answer. The Possuk tells us in this weeks Parsha that “These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Yaakov, each man and his household came” (Shmos 1:1) The commentaries explain the need for the second half of this Possuk, is to underscore the source of Bnei Yisroel’s ability to persevere through the dark days of Golus Mitzrayim. It is the integrity of the Jewish household that is the greatest single strength in the survival of the Jewish people. This integrity says the Medrash was maintained by Bnei Yisroel not changing their names, language and attire.

This message is an eternal one, it is what got Bnei Yisroel through Golus Bavel as well as what will get them through Golus Edom. This message needs to be transmitted to our children – if we want to be part of the continued survival of the Jewish people we need to be vigilant in not losing our identity as Jews and vigilant in making sure our children internalize this message.

Felt Tips

While not changing one’s names, language or attire are all external attributes and one may question and ask what difference does it make if I wear baggy pants or if I use inappropriate language? the reality is – it does make a significant difference. The Messilas Yeshorim (The RAMCHAL) tells us how the external influences the internal. This idea can be used both from a negative perspective as well from positive one. As an example perhaps is addressing one’s child with their Hebrew name. It speaks volumes about who he is. In a world where the majority of individuals are seeking an identity let us do all we can to help our children with theirs.

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