Scheherazade in “One Thousand and One Nights” tells stories that keep her alive. So long as the king is enchanted by what comes next, night after night, he will ensure her safety.
When contemplating the astonishing survival of the Jewish people, I sometimes think of Scheherazade. There is a great deal of emphasis on Jewish law and interpretation and text and ritual. But history — the Jewish story — is an ever-branching tree that has flourished for thousands of years. “And you shall tell your children,” we are admonished over and over again. Our story sustains us.
The story is always changing. We uncover new bits and change some old ones. A fragment is unearthed, a memory recalled, a new angle lends freshness to a familiar tale. At times, popular recounting and historical accuracy do not precisely mesh. Yet through it all, the thread of narrative — these things happened, you should remember them, you should repeat them to those who come after — wraps itself around the hearts of generations.
As the British writer Philip Pullman said: “‘Thou shalt not’ might reach the head, but it takes ‘Once upon a time’ to reach the heart. We are the Jewish people — let us tell you a story.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).