The Jewish Quest

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

In an 1898 article for Harper’s Magazine, this is what Mark Twain had to say about the Jews:

“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.

He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream stuff and passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone. Other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.

What is the secret of his immortality?”

What inspired Mark Twain to write so eloquently on this subject?

In Moses’ parting speech, he describes a future more bizarre than anything Isaac Asimov could dream up:“G-d will scatter you among the nations, and you will be left small in number.” (Deuteronomy 4:27). Here is what happens to every other nation in such a situation: the scattered ones assimilate, and the small ones disappear, and the small scattered ones don’t even get a chance to blink.

But not the Jews! Look at what Tolstoy had to say in 1891:

“Let us see what kind of peculiar creature the Jew is, which all the rulers and all the nations have together and separately abused and molested, oppressed and persecuted, trampled and butchered, burned and hanged, and in spite of all this is yet alive ... Such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is everlasting as is eternity itself.”

Remarkably, Moses adds that rather than be angry at G-d, we will seek G-d! “And from there you will seek G-d your Lord, and if you will search for Him with all your heart and soul, you will eventually find Him” (Deuteronomy 4:29).

Note the inference here, that Jews won’t believe in G-d, but they will search for Him!They will search but know not what they are looking for.

What is this search that Moses is referring to?

“Behold, days are coming ... when I will send a famine in the land, not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water...” (Amos 8:11).

What Twain witnessed was a thirsting soul. When a Jew thinks happiness is to be had in a big house, then his (or hers) will be the biggest. If it’s a fancy car, then it will be the fanciest. And if it will be in a great family then it will be the best.

As Jews, we cannot turn off this drive; all we can do is direct it.

In the words of Rabbi Ibn Gevirol: “Tell me, you who have investigated all sciences, ancient and new: Is there any joy like the joy of the heart?”

“Is there any wealth like the richness of the soul?”

By Rabbi Stephen Baars

 Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. He did nine years of post-graduate studies at the Aish HaTorah Rabbinical College in Jerusalem, and has been an educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years. Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at and