For a people which has become accustomed to exile over such a long period (so much so that it has changed the name of this phenomena from “galut – exile” to “tefutzah – diaspora), it is sometimes hard to understand the significance of exile and the potential loss of identity that it entails. This sense, however, was not lost on the prophets whose people experienced firsthand the immediacy of exile. They knew and understood its inimical forces. They also felt on their flesh the sense that exile was punishment – a loss of intimacy with God and identity. This idea is central to Amos’ message: “For I (God) will give the order and shake the House of Israel through all the nations as one shakes [sand] through a sieve, and not a pebble falls to the ground.” (9:9)
The following midrash takes this sense of existential angst and tries to find a life and identity affirming message found in this verse: “Happy are Israel, for wherever they have been tarried in the four corners of the world, to the north, to the south, to the south and the north; to the east and to the west, to the west and to the east, they are still at the center [of God’s concern]: ‘For I (God) will give the order and shake the House of Israel through all the nations as one shakes [sand] through a sieve, and not a pebble falls to the ground.’ If the verse would have said: ‘and the pebble shall fall to the ground’, ‘my heart would have been broken within me and all my bones would grow weak’ (see Jeremiah 23:9) since it is the nature of things that when they fall to the ground they are lost. Instead, it reads: ‘and not a pebble falls to the ground’. As a grain which a person shakes back and forth in a sieve ends up in the center of the sieve, so, too, Israel remains at the center of God’s concerns.” (Midrash Eliyahu Rabbah 5, Ish Shalom edition p. 25)
This midrash provides a critical message for all Jews. Wherever we may live, we and our lives as Jews are precious to God and it is incumbent upon us to live with this inspiration in our hearts. We must not let our ourselves get lost as Jews, “to fall through the sieve”. We must live our Jewish lives vibrantly and with God’s spirit in mind, knowing fully that we and our Jewish lives are the “center of God’s concerns” always.