My college advisor once made a remark that Jews are a stubborn people.
My dear professor, there is a difference between being strong-minded and being stubborn.
A strong minded person seeks truth and is not afraid to listen to evidence to the contrary. However, just don't try to sway him by threat, enticement, or flattery. Only true and convincing evidence will work.
A stubborn person doesn't want to listen. He maintains his position no matter what.
The Jewish people are strong-willed. We have a heritage from Abraham. Something told Abraham that worshipping idols of stone are wrong and that there was but one great G-d. Initially he was a lone dissenter. He belonged to a one-man religion. He lived and taught that truth of a religion does not rely on the number of its followers.
A persecuted minority, the Jewish people will resist extinction because they believe that they are right and they will be vindicated in the end.
The Rabbis turn badges of shame into badges of pride. A discriminatory law is enacted to make every Jew sew an identifying patch on their clothing. A question is posed about wearing it during Shabbos, when one may not carry things in the street. The Rabbi MAHARAM instructs the people to fasten the badges securely to their clothing. When asked about wearing the pointed hat which was mandated by another law, he responds that he would wear it in his sleep, would it be more comfortable.
There is a legend about a great Rabbi who asked in a dream for the identity of his study partner in the next world. He was given the persons name and his village. The Rabbi traveled there and asked a resident for the synagogue where this person prayed. The puzzled resident responded that this person never attends services. He is the village water carrier and can be found by the well. The Rabbi went to the well and found a very husky and grizzly character. To his horror, he saw the rough and raw way this person ate, spoke, and treated others. Quite confused and no longer able to control himself, he approached the man and asked him why he ate so much.
The man responded with the following. "When I was a young child they took my father away and burned him before my eyes. He was a thin and scrawny person and made a small fire. I seek to be huge. When they burn me I want to make a big fire."
Fire was one of the many ordeals for the Jewish people. The King of France burns every Talmudic manuscript he can find. Without books, the academies of Judaisms Torah center are forced to shut down. It looks like the end of the Oral Torah and all of Judaism. Then, with G-d's help, a single person writes a book, the Ohr Zaruah, in which he captures the Talmudic knowledge base of his time. For several crucial decades, it serves to bridge the gap.
These were times when it was easy to give up. Many gave up and converted. Even some Rabbis caved in. However, most of the Jewish people didn't give up.
By Divine direction, the abuse is spread out over time and location, sparing and preserving much of the Jewish population at any one given time. Life is not terrifying everywhere and at the same time.
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Preserving a near-lost legacy and heritage.