Biblical Judean

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Biblical Judean


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Biblical Judean

The Last Jew on Earth

THE LAST JEW ON EARTH

A Modern Midrash on Jewish Survival

Rabbi Leo Michel Abrami

It happened, in the course of time, that the Jewish people which had achieved many extraordinary feats in virtually every field of science  and medicine in the last four thousand years, began to falter and lose faith in the vocation that had inspired its ancestors. As a consequence, they rapidly assimilated to the mores of the fellow citizens in the  countries in which they lived. In just a few generations, they all but vanished from existence.

There remained but one authentic Jew in the whole world. Realizing the uniqueness of this situation, the curator of the National Museum of Anthropology invited him to become a docent in Jewish culture and civilization. Visitors from everywhere, would come to hear the last representative of the Israelite people narrate the saga of his ancestors through four millennia of history.

Day after day, he would retell, with deep emotion, the story of the rise and fall of his people. He would recount the glorious past of Israel, from its origins to modern times, the significant role which the biblical prophets had played in the development of a mature faith and morality and how Christianity and Islam had become the two daughter-religions of Judaism. He would recall some of the important contributions which Jews had made to the world, and refer to the lives of erudite scholars and scientists, Nobel prize laureates, writers, doctors and lawyers, professors, composers, movie producers and politicians who had made an impact on human culture and civilization.

He would remind his audience that the spiritual masters of Judaism had always emphasized the fact that the main task of every person is to respect the integrity of his/her fellow human beings and to love them as themselves. "Love your neighbor as yourself" and "Love the stranger as yourself" were some of the great affirmations Moses had proclaimed over three thousand years ago. He would also explain that these ethical principles had motivated the Jewish people to fight against all forms of discrimination and intolerance and to work for the establishment of a world of peace and fraternity.

On a more personal way, he would recall with nostalgia and sadness, all the happy moments he had known as a child, the festive celebration of the holidays which were presided by his parents and grandparents.

"But then, for reasons I never understood," he would add to these comments, "the members of my family and all their friends, abandoned, one by one, the religion of their ancestors. They progressively gave up the sublime ideals which their ancestors had cherished for thousands of years and I remained the only one of my family and my community to hold on to the tradition of my ancestors and the teachings of my religion."

One day, as the members of the audience were listening to the lecture with great attention,a most heartbreaking event took place at the Museum. After delivering his major lecture on the history of the Jews, our lone docent suddenly interrupted his lecture; he collapsed and succumbed. A great silence swept through the audience and a feeling of profound grief was experienced by all those who were present. The last remnant of Israel had just faded away.

The members of the audience were still under the shock caused by the death of this unusual man, when an extra-ordinary occurrence took place at the Museum. One of the visitors, who had been touched by the docent's sincerity and integrity, stood up and began to speak with great emotion:

"Friends, we cannot let the longstanding tradition of the Hebrew people disappear with the demise of this man. We must not let the lofty ideals and profound insights of the Biblical prophets be forgotten. The cultural treasures of the Hebrew people must not become another collection of ancient artifacts, which will be on display in some exhibit hall in this museum.

We must endeavor to revive the legacy of this people. We must bring it back to life, until we succeed in realizing the kingdom of peace and justice that their seers had envisioned. "If we want it with all our heart," had said one of their leaders, "it will not be a dream." It can, indeed, become a reality for us and our children.

Let those who have been touched by the wisdom of this docent's message, now form a new community of faith, which will be like a beacon of light to the next generation of humans. For it is not enough to remember the past, it behooves us to build the future…"

An organizing committee was formed right then, and a plan of action was devised to bring about a revival of the Jewish heritage. It attracted many people of good will from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The movement spread far and wide and a new spirituality, never reached before, emanated from the new community. The dream of prophet Ezekiel was being fulfilled:

"I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit within you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you and I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully observe My rules. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; you shall be My people and I will be your God."

(Ezekiel 36:26-28)

Moved by the vibrant spirit which animated the members of this growing community, many descendants of Jews were moved to come back to the religion of their ancestors. A spiritual metamorphosis took place in the heart of many, who had but scant memories of their Jewish ancestry. The descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel were now leading the way of the Return. As Prophet Zechariah had predicted long ago:

Many peoples and powerful nations shall come to seek Adonay Tsevaot in Jerusalem, to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says Adonay Tsevaot: In those days, ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."

(Zechariah 8:22-23)

Derelict Jewish schools and abandoned synagogues were restored and re-opened to accommodate the many who sought spiritual guidance in the teachings of the Jewish tradition. They studied Bible and Talmud and their commentaries, ethics and philosophy, for they were yearning for religious knowledge and spirituality. What had seemed to be a lost cause in the past, had become a vital source of inspiration for the new seekers of spirituality.

Such an eagerness to learn and a willingness to follow the path of holiness had not been seen in centuries. The teachings of the Sages of Israel were being rediscovered and carefully studied. What had been consigned to a few shelves in the Museum, had become a living testimony, exemplified by deeds of love and kindness. What Ezekiel had dreamed of, some twenty six hundred years ago, was becoming a reality.

The new adepts of the Jewish community did not need to be reminded of their religious and moral obligations on Yom Kippur. They fully understood the message of Isaiah which proclaim the great affirmations of the Jewish religion which we just read in the haftarah of this day:

This is the fast I desire:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness,

And untie the cords of lawlessness,

To let the oppressed go free,

To break off every yoke of servitude.

It is to share your bread with the hungry,

And to take the wretched poor into your home;

When you see the naked, to clothe him,

And not to ignore your own kin."

(Isaiah 58:6-7)

This prophecy, my friends, has been a source of inspiration to our ancestors all through the centuries and there is no doubt that it will sustain our determination to defend these principles and fight for the respect and dignity of all human beings.

Like the lone docent at the Museum, we sometimes have the impression, that we are the last representatives of this prophetic tradition. But it shall surely not be so. More than once, in our history, there seemed to remain but a few individuals willing to dedicate themselves to it. And they succeeded in their endeavors.

Prophet Jeremiah suffered from existential loneliness in his days. No one would listen to him. He was the last faithful Jew in Jerusalem, when the city was besieged by the Babylonians. Had the Judeans listened to him, Jerusalem would not have been destroyed.

Daniel was one of the few young Jews who kept his faith in the Covenant when he was brought to Nebuchadnezzar's court. In spite of the the false accusations of his detractors and the severe punishments he suffered, he did not waver from his convictions and he succeeded in making a whole generation of our ancestors aware of their spiritual vocation.

The Anussim, the Marranos of Spain and Portugal, retained their convictions in their heart for several centuries. There are still some of them in Portugal and in Spain who believe that they are the only descendants of the Jews left in the world.

We are indeed more fortunate. In spite of the hostility, Israel is facing in the Middle East and from  many members of the United Nations, our people has achieved a high level of recognition in the world. It behooves us, therefore, to continue sharing not only our findings in the field of science and medicine but also the sublime message of righteousness and justice which was the hallmark of our prophets. Even one of the most successful investors in this country and one of the most wealthy men on earth, Warren Buffet, recognized this fact recently:

"If you go to the Middle East looking for oil, you don't need to stop in Israel. But if you go looking for brains, energy and integrity, it is the only stop."

Let us hope that the new year will prove once more, that Warren Buffet was right. Let us continue to sharpen our brains to find ways of helping humanity by our scientific advances and let us have the courage and determination to make integrity the highest virtue of our endeavors. Let us pray that Providence may help us attain the lofty goals of peace and fraternity, in this country, in Israel, in the Middle East, and in the whole world. Amen!

Leo Michel Abrami is teaching at the Jewish Studies Institute of Phoenix and the Arizona Institute of Logotherapy. He is the author of 'Evading the Nazis, the story of a hidden child in Normandy', a revised French version 'A l'ombre de l'étoile, souvenirs d'un enfant caché' published June 2010 and 'Reading Hebrew, the Mnemonic way'.

 

National Geographic - Riddles of the Bible: Dead Sea Scrolls 1/5

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