All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality? So wrote Mark Twain concerning the Jews.
At the dawn of our history the gentile prophet Balaam offers a most profound insight. He is brought to the hills overlooking the Jewish camp in order to inflict damage by being critical of it. Instead he finds himself being hugely complimentary.
As he gazes down on the Jewish people he realizes that ordinary prose will not suffice to describe them. He asks the same question which historians and poets have asked for millennia: What is the secret of its immortality?
Instead he resorts to using a parable: “From its origin, I see it rock-like”. Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, explains firstly, that Balaam is comparing the Jewish people to a rock. In other words “all other forces pass, but he remains”. Secondly, that this rock-like strength is embedded into their spiritual DNA as a result of their ancestors, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
The keyword used here to describe the secret of the Jew is the word “rock”. But what is the nature of that strength and from where does it emanate?
The answer lies in the next sentence of the verse: “It is a People that dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations”.
Implicit in those words is the secret of Jewish survival, something with which we as a people were endowed. It is the unwavering faith our ancestors have had in G-d and their willingness to make any sacrifice to implement His universal utopian vision.
Even the gentile prophet realized that the secret to Jewish immortality was not because we Jews were “a people like all other people”. On the contrary, it is because “We are a People that dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations”.
Our rock-like strength is our unwavering faith in the ultimate reality of all existence, namely G-d. The more subservient we are to him the stronger we become. This is the core identity of the Jew. This is the secret of our immortality.