Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Coping with Difficulties
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Meir b"r Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

Likened to the Olive On Jewish Perseverance

Despite all their suffering, Israel holds a central spiritual place in the world. The Jewish people are recognized as a people of faith, a people of the Bible, and a people whose entire existence is illuminated by the Torah.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

21 Adar 5762
The Jewish people's capacity to endure suffering appears to be limitless.
The ability of the Jewish people to persevere, despite repeated blows and continuous misfortune is astounding. There is no nation on earth who has suffered so much hardship and misfortune as have the Jewish people. Other nations who suffered less were unable to bear the affliction and hence disappeared from the stage of history. The Jews, though, manage to persevere and refuse to be broken. The Sages liken Israel to the dust. Just as dust is trampled by many yet continues to exist, so the Jews, trampled by many, continue to exist. Other nations are likened to metals - gold, silver, bronze, and iron; these metals, while seemingly more important than dust, are worn away by the dust. The metals deteriorate; the dust perseveres.

Not only have all these difficulties not succeeded in putting an end to the Jewish people, they have in fact strengthened them. Hardships serve to cleanse, purify and refine. Israel is likened to the olive, "God called your name a green olive tree, attractive and with impressive fruit." (Jeremiah 11:16) Why did Jeremiah see fit to liken Israel to the olive? Just as olives are beaten down from the tree, brought to the olive press, placed in the grinding-mill and ground, encircled by ropes and pressed by heavy stones before finally producing oil, so too Israel: The nations of the world come and beat them from place to place, bind them and tie them, until they finally repent. And God says to them, "As it is written, 'And the Children of Israel cried out [to God in repentance] because of the hard work,' (Exodus 2:23) and 'When you are in distress and all of these things come upon you, in the end of days, you shall return to Lord your God and hear His voice for the Lord your God is a kind God" (Deuteronomy 4:30).

All of the difficulties which the People of Israel have suffered have not succeeded in lessening their great hopes. Israel has never ceased longing to reach the highest of heights, as promised in the passage: "To make you the greatest of all of the people of the earth" (Ibid. 28:1). In the lowest of depths, while the entire world disdained them, they continued to dream and to long for greatness. In the most critical and hopeless of hours, their existence hanging in the air, when it seemed as if at any moment they would be crushed, they maintained faith and hope, were certain of their great future, and looked forward to the arrival of God's lofty kingdom on earth. They were neither broken nor discouraged. The nation of Israel is one of a kind. There is none like them when it comes to suffering, and there is none like them when it comes to hope and faith. They are a truly miraculous people.

Though Israel lives amidst a sea of hardships, they lead a lofty and spiritual life, clinging to the one true God and bearing His word. Their faith in one God has influenced large portions of mankind. Despite all their suffering Israel holds a central spiritual place in the world. The Jewish people are recognized as a people of faith, a people of learning, a people of the Bible, a people whose entire existence is illuminated by the Torah.

Even in our own generation, with all of its trials and spiritual crises, with all of its hardships and difficulties - in the midst of all this the nation succeeds in nurturing a wonderful nucleus of faithful and pious individuals, people of impeccable spirit who love, and are set upon strengthening, their people and their land. They are the heart of the nation, the source of its existence and the foundation of its renaissance. These individuals are leading the nation down the twisted road of redemption, to the great future which awaits us - the complete redemption. They are like a glowing coal which will become a "fire and a flame," as it is written: "And the house of Jacob shall be fire, the house of Joseph, a flame, and the house of Esau, for straw, and they will kindle them and devour them, and nothing will remain of the house of Esau, so has God spoken" (Obadiah 1:18).

The redemption process is continuously advancing. Having come this far, our perseverance and capacity to withstand suffering will no doubt maintain us even in these confusing times. God willing, we will overcome and expel from our midst all hatred and confusion, emerging from this terrible crisis doubly united; we will continue with abundant elevation and might to proceed towards the great goal set out for us, the goal of all generations - a goal which we are closer to now than ever before.
"God will give might to His people; God will bless his people with peace" (Psalms 29:11).

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