Perhaps you've wondered, as have many scholars, how the Jews have survived as a people throughout so many centuries of wandering. No other nation has been able to maintain its identity without geographic boundaries. No other nation has survived centuries of persecution with its identity intact.
Wise men the world over have debated this question, but one fact is indisputable: the Jewish people is not a single monolithic entity that can be destroyed by a single attack. The Jewish people has not one nucleus, but millions of nuclei. These are our families. Our family is our strength. It is through our families that the promise is kept: Torah will never be forgotten by the nation of Israel. The midrash on the verse “Two are better than one” says the following: Fortunate is a tzaddik, a righteous person, who is also the son of a tzaddik, for if trouble falls upon a family the merit of both will counteract it. If there are two such tzaddikim in a family, that family will succeed (Shochar Tov, Tehillim 59).
Russia had just begun providing railroad service. A Russian nobleman decided that he would avail himself of this newfangled transportation. He had no idea how train travel worked, and he didn’t bother to find out. He simply marched up to the ticket office and said he wanted to buy a ticket to Moscow. The ticket seller looked at the nobleman, noted the richness of his fur hat and coat and the gold rings on his fingers, and sold the man a first-class ticket.
The train arrived, and the nobleman entered the first open car. It happened to be a third-class compartment and was full of peasants carrying large bundles, live chickens, and screaming children. He settled himself uncomfortably on the narrow wooden bench, thinking that railroad travel was not very pleasant.
The train lurched forward. After a while, the nobleman saw all the travelers preparing their tickets for inspection by the conductor. He watched curiously, then with increasing trepidation. Everyone else had a blue ticket; his ticket was red. What could this mean? He asked the peasant next to him. The peasant, feeling as “warmly” toward the nobleman as most Russian peasants of the time, decided to have some fun. He winked at his friends and put on a serious face.
“Oh no!” he cried. “You have a red ticket because you didn’t pay enough money. When the conductor sees it, he’ll throw you off the train!”
One of the peasants, barely able to keep from laughing, pointed to the bench, indicating that the nobleman could hide there until the conductor moved on to the next compartment. The terrified nobleman thanked him and quickly scrambled under the seat, soiling his fancy fur coat and getting soot all over his hands and face. The peasant propped his shoes in front of the nobleman's face, thus hiding him from the conductor.
The conductor arrived and inspected the travelers' tickets. As he was about to move on, one of the peasants grinned and pointed under the seat. Roughly, the conductor hauled the nobleman out, expecting to find a stowaway. The nobleman pleaded for mercy, holding out his red first-class ticket.
“You fool!” cried the conductor when he realized what had happened. “If you'd only bothered to learn about our train system, you could have been sitting the entire journey in a comfortable first-class compartment! And here you are, not only traveling third class, but third class under a bench!” (Mishlei HaChafetz Chaim)
We alone, among all the world's nations, are the chosen people. G-d created the entire universe, and all the world's creatures trembled as our King revealed Himself on Har Sinai to teach the Jewish nation Torah and mitzvos. As Jews, we have been given a first-class ticket for the journey of life. If only we would take the time to learn the Jewish system of living, which among other things instructs us in ways and means of creating harmony in the home, we could use our first-class ticket correctly and thus avoid ending up in a third-class compartment — or, even worse, under a bench hiding our identity. How sad it is to see so many Jews adopting other cultures and lifestyles, totally ignorant of our own glorious heritage.
Many of the world's non-Jewish cultures have displaced the family from its age-old position of centrality. People escape their homes as quickly and as often as possible, fleeing to their business, the mall, or the workplace. The home no longer serves as a haven.
Ironically, now more than ever, people need a strong home behind them as they venture into the world. Studies show that sixty years ago, the pressing issues in the New York public school system were reported to be littering, gum chewing, and not lining up properly in the morning assembly. In the light (or, more accurately, the dark) of rising violence, crime, and exposure to unsavory adult behavior, today’s society longs for those innocent times.
Social scientists claim that these tragic phenomena are the result of the disintegration of the nuclear family unit. Statistics show that divorce is holding steady at the grim rate of more than one in two marriages. (Politicians now include family values as part of their election platforms, recognizing that a strong family is the solution to the social ills invading modern society.)
Yet for Jews who hold fast to Jewish family laws and values, which are rooted in Torah and handed down from generation to generation, divorce rates are low and the frightful ailments so common in modern society are virtually nonexistent.
Adapted from “Our Family Our Strength” by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org