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Max Roytenberg

max Roytenberg: Our World of Wonders

by Max Roytenberg, December 20, 2015




One of the obvious wonders of our world is the whole internet thing which has transformed our world. On this fifth day of Chanukah, another miracle of history, into my email message box came this story of a boy, a survivor of the Holocaust. One of the American soldiers who liberated the camp where this young was being held, was Jewish. This child attracted the soldier’s attention because, in rags as he was, he carried with him a Chanukiah. His sole possession, he had managed to retain it from his home. The soldier spoke to him a number of times, and became attached to him, watching over him in the camp. Eventually, he offered to adopt the boy and take him back with him to New York, when he returned home. The boy agreed.


In New York, a curator of a Jewish museum, hearing of the boy’s story and his possession, came to see him. On examining it, the curator marveled at its unique design. He informed the boy that it was very old, and very valuable. The curator offered to buy it for his museum for fifty thousand dollars. The boy refused. It was the only thing connecting him with the family that he had lost.


During the Chanukah holiday, they lit the Chanukiah and they put on the window sill where it could be seen from the street. The boy was in his room carrying out his school studies. There was a knock at the door. When the former soldier answered the door, there stood a woman. She explained, that in passing, she had seen the Chanukiah. It was exactly like the one she had had in her home in Europe. Could she see it and speak to its owner. The soldier explained that it belonged to his son who was upstairs doing his homework. This was how the boy was re-united with his mother.


We live in a world of wonders. This is not the only story we have heard of this kind. Every one of them tells us about a miracle. Every one of them speaks to lives being born again. Like the story of Chanukah, these are tales of re-birth, and the eternal struggle for freedom and self-determination. The story of the Hebrews, the Israelites, is a tale showing the amazing resiliency of the concept they launched upon the world more than three thousand years ago.


In the years after the rendering of the unitary kingdom initiated under King Saul, and solidified under David, with the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians, when Israel was a rump statelet made up primarily of the tribe of Judah, King Hezekiah redefined its religious idea as more than the possession of the Promised Land. It was also a corpus of law, handed to the Hebrews by God from Mount Sinai, which united them wherever they were. Foreshadowing the Babylonian exile, and the return, under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia, to rebuild the Second Temple, the Hebrews were a people wherever they were located.  


The discovery of ancient scrolls in the Temple during the rule of Josiah, eight hundred years before the Common Era, renewed this concept of Judaism, while centralizing religious observance in the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Hellenists defiled the Temple with idols, five hundred years later, the people were roused to such a fury under the Maccabees, that they threw off the heavy burden of Empire, For a brief period, Israel was a proselytizing force in the region, under Simon, the last of the Maccabees, achieving independence and the maximum historical size.


When disunity led Israel to surrender to Rome, the constant rebellious drive of the people to freely observe their ancient beliefs, led ultimately to the destruction of the Second Temple, and our dispersion for almost two thousand years. The survival of Yochanan Bar Yochai, and his school, after the destruction, launching the Rabbinic era, was crucial. It paved the way for Israel to survive as a people committed to Torah, and its message to the world of law, justice and equal rights. It had its foundation on the idea that Israel’s mission was not solely dependent on its occupancy of the Promised Land. All of these developments were wonders. Israel is tiny, but the concepts of Monotheism and its laws for living are huge.


Is there a wonder more miraculous than the re-birth of Israel? We need only look around us at the world we currently inhabit to appreciate what a wonder this geopolitical fact is. Could we have imagined this world we see before us so soon after the Holocaust? As if we needed more enemies, even our supposed friends carry on a masquerade. Was there ever a time when it was more important for Israel to exist? Of course. The years 1933-45. But, these very days, as well.


I agree that we do not have to look far afield to appreciate the wonders of the lives that we enjoy. There are intrusions into our earthly paradise every day to bring us back to reality. But, nevertheless, we are here. We are not in so many of those other places. We know that we must be alert to defend what we have. We know that we often do not get the outcomes we fervently hope for. We also know that we must never surrender to despair, and we must be ready to do our part, and fight the good fight in defense of a world where we can strive and hope for a continuation of the splendid wonders of this world.


Chag Sameach!

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