The 20th-century French essayist, Edmond Fleg, recalls the biblical Abraham and writes: “And I say to myself: from this remote ancestor right down to my own parents, all these ancestors have handed me a truth which flowed in their blood, which now flows in mine. Shall I not hand it on, with my blood, to those of my blood?
“And I say to you: Will you take it from me, my child? Will you hand it on? Perhaps you will wish to abandon it. If so, let it be for a greater truth, if there is one. I shall not blame you. It will be my fault; I shall have failed to hand it on as I received it. But of this I am sure: whether you abandon it or whether you follow it, [the People] Israel will journey on to the end of days.”
This is a kind of confession. Fleg may have lacked faith in himself and in his ability to inspire a Jewish life in his own children. Fleg may have lacked faith in his children to be open-minded enough to receive the profound and practical wisdom Judaism can provide. Fleg may have lacked faith in his children to be open-hearted enough to perceive the exquisite morality of Judaism. But he did not lack faith in the promise made to Abraham – he believed with perfect faith that the Jewish People is an eternal people.
When our patriarch entered into the covenant with God, he was promised progeny beyond his wildest dreams. God took him outside to the open desert sky by night and said: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them… so shall be your descendants.” (Genesis 15:5)
Shimon Ravidovitch may have referred to the Children of Israel as “the ever-dying people,” but Fleg articulated a faith that is also verified by history. Come what may – pogrom, inquisition or Holocaust. Come what may – the tremendous blessings of acceptance, opportunity, freedom, and privilege. Come what may, the Jewish People will endure.
The flurry of worry since the release of the Pew report is not new. Jewish continuity has been our number 1 concern from the very beginning. When Abraham and Isaac climbed together to the peak of Moriah, tension was thick in the air. The unspoken question between that first Jewish parent and that first Jewish child was: “What will become of us? Good God, what will become of us?!” But they both survive, they both carry on somehow, and God reinforces the promise of “descendants as many as the stars in the sky.” (Genesis 22:17)
These are the words we still long to hear. From here, the stars look tiny, but from the point of view of heaven, each one is a world unto itself. Around each descendant star an entire solar system might take shape. Abraham’s descendants may be small in number, but Rabbi Chayim of Tzantz teaches that each one is burning with potential,each one is an indispensable part of God’s plan for eternity. So let’s have a little faith.