“And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse.” These are the words that G-d said to Avraham that became the consideration part of the contract which the L-rd made with this man, the first Jew.
As long as Avraham’s people accepted G-d as their one deity, the land of Israel would be their eternal inheritance and in furtherance of that promise, G-d assured that the nations which would lift up arms and persecute the Jewish people, would be forever cursed. Those nations that blessed the Jews, would know prosperity and the favor of the Almighty.
Now, I am not a religious man, nor am I a biblical scholar, far from it. However, there appears to be in many respects, a great deal of historical evidence that this particular passage, probably written 30 centuries or more ago, is more than prophetic, it is downright immutably factual.
The ancient pagan world, with the mighty Middle Eastern empires of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the various Canaanite kingdoms, and the proverbial enemy of Israel, the Philistines and the majesty of Pharaonic Egypt, all reside in the depths of desert sands. Only the pyramids of Giza bear testimony to an empire that, at one time, ruled the lands of northeast Africa and the Middle East.
The Greece of Alexander, that civilization of Aristotle, Archimedes, the pantheon of the Olympian gods and the pageantry of the gymnasium and the games, has been long gone and is only remembered in magnificent ruins of temples and statuary and the Attic Greek of their time, only spoken and read by scholars and students.
Alexander’s conquest of the mighty Persian Empire, a history replete with battles and great military strategies would not be complete without the reflection of how this great society came up against the Jews of his time in the land of Israel.
The Hellenism that the Greeks attempted to impose on the conquered Jews, the methodology employed to assimilate and acculturate the Jewish people through intermarriage, through implanting thousands of Greeks among the local inhabitants, failed at first, to gain them many adherents to their paganistic ways. It took the effrontery of a Syrian Greek despot, Antiochus Epiphanes, whose deliberate attempts to wipe out the Jewish faith through the banning of Hebrew language, the study of Torah and circumcision, that led to the Maccabean Revolt of 168 BCE, and the destruction of his mighty, elephant accompanied armies. Greece descended into a nation of shepherds and peasants, never to challenge the world again. The failure of the mighty Seleucid Empire to quell the small guerrilla forces of Yehudah ben Mattityahu and his brothers, certainly left the gates of the Middle East open to the next great conquerors, the Romans of Italy.
Unlike the Greeks, for decades the Romans only cared for two things from the conquered nations, peace and taxes. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans had no argument with the faith of the Jews. Indeed, there were more Romans who admired Judaism than Jews who wanted to be Romans. There were more Jews in Rome than there were in Jerusalem for decades. Seneca, a Roman poet and philosopher wrote that one could not walk down any of Rome’s main thoroughfares without finding a synagogue!
But when a mad emperor, named Nero, in 66 CE, decided to place his pagan symbols upon the gates of the Temple in Jerusalem, that sparked the first Roman-Jewish War that destroyed the Temple in 70CE and ended with the siege of Masada in 73CE.
But it was the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135 CE, that brought the Roman Empire to near bankruptcy. Jerusalem was liberated, the Temple’s rebuilding had begun, coins were struck with the words and numbers of the years of liberation from Roman rule. The emperor, Hadrian, had to recall his legions from as far as Britain and Spain to quell this Jewish rebellion and, in the end, Bar Kochba was brought in chains to die in Rome, Jerusalem was sown with salt and renamed Aelia Capitolina, Jews were forbidden to live there and he renamed Judea, Palestine (the land of the Philistines) to remove all Jewish attachment to the land. Yet, the coins he had minted to celebrate his victory, bore the words, “Iudea Capta,” “Judea is defeated.
Now, does this appear to fulfill G-d’s promise of cursing nations that harm the Jews? Yes, it does, because Rome never recovered from this war, it sank further and further into oblivion. Soon, the city of Rome itself would be sacked by barbarian tribes, over and over again-Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Alemanii, and hordes of others, along with a series of despotic emperors whose time on the throne of Rome would average three years and many of these would end up dragged on hooks and dumped into the Tiber River. The glory of Rome would last fewer centuries than the years between Jonah and Joshua.
The Christian nations of Europe throughout the centuries also had their innings at bat against the Jewish people. From the Crusades with the massacre of over 10,000 Jewish communities from France to the Rhine valley and eastern Europe on the trail to conquer the holy Land from the Muslims. From the autos-da-fes of the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century, to the Chmielnicki slaughter of almost a million Jews in Poland in 1648, and the pogroms at the hands of the Slavic peoples of the Russian Empire-just a sampling of Jew hatred that has led, not to the destruction of Israel, but rather to the debilitating of those nations and the rebirth of Jewish strength.
The Crusades ended in a bloodbath of Christian knights and treasures. The Spanish Inquisition gave impetus to the emigration of thousands of Jews to the New World and brought an equal, or greater number to return to the land of Israel and the growing economic power of the Islamic world. The Chmielnicki massacres gave birth to a new Judaism, the rise of the Chassidic movement, which brought new life to millions of Jews looking for answers for their sufferings and the slaughter, brought the downfall of Polish independence as it disappeared through German and Russian machinations.
The pogroms brought about the movement of young, educated Russian Jews to the banner of the Haskalah, the Enlightenment, and gave impetus to the emigration of idealistic men and women to seek new lives in both America and the land of their forefathers. The books of men such as Pinsker, Hess and Bialik gave rise to a generation of Jews who would be re-invigorated with the spirit of their ancient forebears. Indeed, after the horrific massacres in Kishinev and throughout the Ukraine, the seeds were planted for the end of the Czarist regime.
After 80 years of Soviet doctrine to wipe out the Jewish faith, over a million of my fellow Jews, have renewed their ties with the land of Israel. After declaring Zionism a crime and even making the teaching of the Hebrew language punishable by imprisonment in the gulags of Siberia, a man brought up in the Soviet Union, imprisoned for learning and tutoring others in Hebrew, today sits as speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. And the mighty Soviet Union, is no more.
The barbarous and savage Nazis, probably the most dangerous and cruelest enemy of the Jewish people, after slaughtering one third of the world’s Jews, two-thirds of European Jewry, was blasted to death and after claiming to live for a thousand years, befouled the Earth for only twelve. Germany was destroyed and the mark of Cain will forever be upon that nation, even for another thousand centuries.
All these civilizations have suffered and bled and died for their crimes against the Jewish people. Yes, the Jews suffered, bled and died as well, but only renewed their strength time and time again. Dreyfus yielded Herzl and the British Empire caved in before the men and women of the Irgun. Where is the mighty British lion today and the lion of Judah roars proudly and defiantly before the world that sought and still seeks to silence him?
Some pundits say that G-d is punishing Europe for 20 centuries of anti-Semitism by sending it millions of Muslims. Is this to be the cursing of those who have hated the people of Avraham? Is Europe, in all its former majesty about to become the new Assyria and Philistia?
As I wrote, I am not religious, but somehow, I see the hand of G-d in all this. Will the blustering of Iran and the Islamist threats to Israel lead to their demise as well? Will the current challenges to Israel’s existence lead to more death and destruction or the renewal of Hebrew civilization?
The challenges and threats to our survival throughout time and geography have been great, but we have outlived all those who have tried to liquidate this tiny Jewish nation of ours and this centuries old faith of thousands of years standing. Our survival, if I were a religious man, is a miracle,,,,,,,,,but maybe a miracle doesn’t have to be religious, it just has to be real.
There are thousands of volumes that discuss this which are far more theological and scholarly than my poor attempt here. but all I know is that this morning, the sun rose over the hills of the Judean desert, and warmed the soil of an independent Jewish state, which for all intents and historical evidence, should have been laying alongside the graves of those who tried to destroy it. The people of Israel lives and so does my tiny Jewish country.