Miracles are not unknown to the Jewish people. There was the time, to cite just one of many examples, when the Maccabees lit the paltry one-day supply of menorah oil in a rededication of the desecrated Beis HaMikdash and without rhyme or reason it continued to burn for eight whole days.
But there is another miracle that is far greater in scope, breadth, and capacity. The odds of this phenomenon occurring are, in fact, so staggering as to be incomprehensible, and yet through the vicissitudes of time this miracle has taken shape and endures now like a unique and vibrant spirit. That singular, unfathomable modern miracle is… you.
That you are a miracle should not be perfunctorily consigned to the brimming bin of familiar homilies. If a miracle is something whose likelihood is unimaginable, then your very existence is something to be marveled over.
There are three (earthly) components to the inimitable miracle of you: your biological heritage, your socioeconomic heritage, and your religious heritage. The first two are common to all humans, but the latter is particular to the Jewish people.
Let’s start with the biological component. Your birth is quite remarkable, in that one individual sperm among 76 million won the competition for a single egg in your unique conception. If any of the others had come in first, you wouldn’t be you.
As heady as the extreme reproductive odds are, just as staggering are the socioeconomic factors that led to your parents, both sets of your grandparents, all your grandparents’ parents, their parents and grandparents, and all your ancestors before them going back untold generations meeting and mating in the exact order they did. For if even one – just one – person in this entire long and variegated lineage were different, you wouldn’t be here today, and neither would your children and their children and their children to come and on and on.
Indeed, an incalculable number of factors determined that all your forebears were in the circumstances that resulted in their meeting their mates as they did and continuing the genetic sequence that ultimately led to your birth. Not only did world events, contemporary to them and before them all through history, affect where your ancestors lived, worked, had family and friends, and so much more, but the most capricious deed, action or movement in a fleeting moment by an ancestor could have resulted in some change that could have altered your whole family lineage from that point on.
Something as simple as coughing, turning around, looking up, or wiping sweat off one’s face could have resulted in a conversation, for example, with a stranger who in one way or another might have changed the whole social destiny of that person or of that person’s child or family member or friend and the consequent lineage. But the stranger being there at that particular time and place may itself have been attributable to a whole range of other factors, each of which had its own range of factors that influenced it, on and on ad infinitum, like a domino effect of an infinite number of factors that triggered each other to bring the stranger to that particular geographical point at that particular time.
Finally, religious heritage is indubitably a factor in the birth of Jewish human beings. The reasons are twofold: First, Jews historically married within their religion; marrying outside was always taboo. Second, going back to their earliest days, Jews, as both a people and as individuals, have been subjected to harsh treatment that affected where and how they lived, with whom they consorted, and with whom they reproduced, which may have had an effect on their lineage all the way down to you.
Jews have been subjected to myriad forms of anti-Semitism, including persecutions, pogroms, forced conversions, deportations, expulsions, tortures, executions, exterminations, scapegoating, and outlawing of religious practices. In turn, Jews reacted by resisting, rebelling, revolting, and fleeing (sometimes not just for survival but for a better life). All these actions, against the Jews and by the Jews, affected the Jewish family tree.
All this is to say that birth, with the incalculable number of factors that impacted on social circles and mating choices through the millennia is, if not a miracle in itself, then something that closely approximates it; and that there is a Jewish continuum that has resulted over time for good reasons and bad, and you, as a product of that heritage, are part of it.
You are a link in a long great chain of people bounded by a heritage that stretches back nearly six thousand years. But a chain, of course, is only as strong as its links, and therefore it is vital that Jewish life be robust and dynamic for the continuum to be maintained.
Part and parcel of a healthy continuum is the maintenance of a strong Jewish identity by each successive generation. This is achieved by Jews having some connection to the circle of Jewish life, keeping it alive and vigorous, and passing it down to future generations. If the wicked powers of the past had had their way, the torch of Jewish life would long ago have been extinguished, but it was kept alive by our tenacious Jewish forebears, and it is our responsibility to keep that torch burning today – to keep the Jewish light burning and burning and burning, just as it miraculously did in the rededicated Temple so long ago.
About the Author: Harvey Rachlin is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series "History's Lost and Found". He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.
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