The Secret of Jewish Survival

Yael Eckstein  |  February 24, 2022

And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. — Exodus 37:5

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. This week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel, which means “assembled,” from Exodus 35:1—38:20.

As a Jew who was born in the United States and chose to make aliyah (immigrateto Israel), I often find myself thinking about the historical developments that brought me to where I am today. Like many Jews who come back to their biblical homeland, I did not move to Israel because I was a victim of persecution or poverty.

So why did I move? Simply put, my husband and I could not continue to live on the sidelines of the fulfilment of the biblical promise and just be witnesses to the ingathering of the Jewish people to our homeland after surviving 2,000 years of wandering and exile.

But how did we do it? How did the Jewish people hold on to their faith living as a minority scattered to the four corners of the earth? How did we remain one people, with a shared faith and identity, despite being cut off from each other for so long? The answer is what these devotions are all about — the weekly Torah portion.

The Secret of Jewish Survival

Think about it. Over the course of so many centuries, the Jewish communities all over the globe were largely cut off from each other. Jews in Yemen, Russia, and India, for example, had no real contact. And yet, in modern times, when we reconnected, lo and behold, we all had the same Jewish calendar, the exact same text of the Torah, and the same weekly Torah portion. Even though we were dispersed and cut off from each other, we remained one people through the Torah.

In this week’s Torah portion, we are told of the construction of the Holy Ark. The ark housed the two tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, inscribed with God’s law. The ark had two poles attached to its sides so that it could be carried. Strangely, the Bible states that the poles were never allowed to be removed, even when the ark was sitting in the Holy of Holies. (Read about it in Exodus 25:15.) Why? If the poles were for transporting the ark, why not remove them when they were not needed?

The message of the ark poles is that one of the defining qualities of the Torah, of the Word of God, is that it travels with us. It’s portable. The Torah goes with us wherever we go. That is the secret of Jewish survival.

Your Turn:

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