The Uniqueness of Jewish History

Yael Eckstein  |  July 12, 2022

From the rocky peaks I see them,
    from the heights I view them.
I see a people who live apart
    and do not consider themselves one of the nations.
— Numbers 23:9

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Balak, after the king of the Moabites, from Numbers 22:2–25:9.

The history of the Jewish people is unique in many ways. No other nation spent literally thousands of years without a land, scattered to every corner of the earth, and still managed to hold onto their national identity.

There are many reasons that almost all the ancient nations that we read about in the Bible are no longer in existence today. They were conquered, exiled, and lost their national identities as they assimilated into the mix of peoples among whom they were exiled. After a few generations, their original nationalities were gone forever.

But the Jewish people remained separate and distinct, even though this separateness was often a contributing factor to the vicious hatred that has been directed our way. Along the way there were some Jews who chose to give up their Jewishness and mix in with the majority of the population. In almost all cases, within a few generations, those Jews were gone, no longer part of our people’s future.

The uniqueness of Jewish history is part of God’s plan. By miraculously breaking the rules of history, the Jewish people reveal God’s special relationship to our destiny.

The Uniqueness of Jewish History

We see this idea expressed in this week’s Torah portion. Balaam, the wicked sorcerer who was hired to curse Israel, was forced by God to bless them instead. The sages teach that since Balaam’s real intent was to curse Israel, if we look at the blessings that he spoke, we can see hints at the curse that he really had in mind.

In the first blessing spoken by Balaam, he said, “From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them. I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.” Seeing the nation of Israel as separate, “a people who live apart and do not consider themselves as one of the nations,” has been the basis for much hatred of Israel throughout the centuries.

By saying this, Balaam revealed what he thought would be a curse. But our separateness has also been the source of our greatest blessing. It is what has kept our faith intact and has kept us united as a people.

We have lived with full faith in the promises of God’s covenant throughout even the darkest times in our history. While the return to our land to flourish and prosper there again seemed historically unrealistic, it was the blessing of Balaam that constantly reminded us of the uniqueness of Jewish history.

When it comes to the story of Israel, the normal rules of history just don’t apply.

Your Turn:

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