Foundation And Beyond

Louis XIV once asked Pascal for one single piece of evidence of the existence of God. Pascal replied with four words: "The Jews, your Majesty."

It doesn't take the vision of a prophet to recognize that the continued existence of the Jewish people in a hostile world - "a lamb among seventy wolves" - is a unique puzzle that demands a solution.

Historians find themselves at a loss to explain Jewish continuity. Why should a small tribe from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea have survived and prospered through two thousand years of both oppression and assimilation?

No historical theory has given a satisfactory explanation for why only the Jewish people have outlived the Persian, the Babylonian, the Greek, and the Roman nations. As Mark Twain once wrote: "The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and he is today what he was then... Everyone is mortal in this world, except the Jew... What is the secret of his eternity?"

The English historian Arnold Toynbee called the Jewish people "the fossils of history." Paul Johnson, at the end of his A History of the Jews, fares little better. Johnson comes within a hairbreadth of admitting that the "unhistorical history" of the Jews bespeaks a Divine Historian. However, with his professional credibility on the line, he retreats, writing: "The Jews believed they were a special people with such unanimity and passion and, over so long a span, that they became one."

Didn't the British, the Nazis, the Parthians, the Babylonians et al. also believe they were "the Chosen People"? You can believe what you like, but that won't change reality. You can believe with all your heart you're a Martian, but I doubt that you will turn green and sprout antennae.

When God created the world, He didn't create it as a vast expanse of existence all at once. Rather, He created a single point, and from there He drew out the entire universe.

We know where that place, that first point, is. It's about a mile from where I'm writing this. In Jerusalem, behind an ancient wall, on a hill where now there sits a mosque, is a stone. That stone is called the Even Shetiya - the Foundation Stone.

From that stone, the entire universe was drawn out. When God created the world, there was a single point of contact between the world above and this world.

The site of that stone was the place where God tested Avraham, where Yaakov had his dream of a ladder, and where two Holy Temples stood. And it is around that stone that we long to see the third and final Temple.

In psalm 50, Mizmor L'Assaf, it says: "Out of Zion, consummation of beauty, God appeared." God appears in this world at a place called "Zion." Zion connects the world above to this world. Zion is the place of the Foundation Stone - the gateway to that which is beyond this world.

The word Zion is related to the word l'tzayein, meaning "to indicate," "to show something."

When we say that the world was founded on that point called "Zion," it means that the whole world stands on the principle that its very existence is to be metzayein - to indicate something.

When you found a nation, a club, or a company, you make a declaration of its goals. When the American colonies seceded, they drew up a "Declaration of Independence." That was the foundation of the United States. The foundation of something necessarily includes the aspirations and the ultimate purpose of that entity. When we say, then, that the world is founded on Zion, not only is Zion its point of departure - but it is also its purpose.

The purpose of Zion is to indicate that there is a world above this one.

As we mentioned, Zion is where the site of the Temple was revealed to Yaakov. How was the Holy Temple revealed to him?

As a ladder.

Nothing in the Torah is coincidental. What is the idea of a ladder? A ladder is that which connects one place to another. Yaakov's ladder tells us that there is a place called Zion that reveals the connection between the upper and the lower.

The fast of the seventeenth of Tammuz begins a three-week period of mourning for the loss of our Holy Temple, culminating in Tisha B'Av, the ninth of Av. It is a time of crying, but who can cry anymore? Our senses have become so dulled, our perceptions so blunted. We have no way to even begin to understand the significance of the loss of our Beit HaMikdash, our Holy Temple.

You can never describe a beautiful sunset to a person who has been sightless all his life. You can never describe Brahms' First Symphony to someone who has always been deaf. And we can never imagine the majesty and the awe of the Holy Temple since we live in a world without it.

When the Holy Temple was destroyed, the connection between Heaven and earth was severed. From then on, we perceive Heaven and earth as totally separate entities. Yaakov's ladder is no longer.

Or so it seems...

Moshe called God "the Great, the Mighty, and the Awesome" (Devarim 10:17).

When the prophet Yirmeyahu witnessed the destruction of the Holy Temple by the Babylonians, he said, "Foreigners are cavorting in God's Sanctuary - where is His Awe? Don't call God 'Awesome' anymore." Yirmeyahu meant that we cannot relate to God as "Awesome" anymore when we see foreigners profaning the holiest place on this earth.

Some seventy years later, when Ezra came back from the Babylonian exile, he saw things from a different vantage point. Ezra, and the Men of the Great Assembly who returned with him, saw that the Jewish people were a "lamb surrounded by seventy wolves," and yet the lamb had survived.

The very survival of the Jewish people was "Awesome." This was how God's Awe would be revealed in a world without a Holy Temple.

This perception "returned the crown to its former glory." It was again possible to perceive God as "Awesome."

When Pascal said, "The Jews, your Majesty," he was recognizing that the miraculous survival of the Jews is a "Zion," an "indicator" that God's providential guidance rules the world, that things are not mere happenstance; that there is a connection between the upper worlds and this world.

Zion stands like a monolith pointing skyward proclaiming, "There is a higher world. And our very existence proves it."

More articles available at Ohr Somayach's website.