The History begins in Sumer and with two Jews as well. Terah and his son Abraham, who, wandering from Ur, through Babylon, Mari, Haran and Hamath to Palestine, is the father of the Arabs (through Ishmael and hence the name of Ishmaelites) and of the Jews, fruit of Isaac.
As the Jews were nomadic, their legacy could not be physical (statues) but spiritual (the Torah), whose content, although partly shared (imported?) from neighbouring peoples (e.g. the flood), nevertheless has a fundamental distinguishing factor.
While the Sumerians left inscriptions justifying the fall of kings with the “wheel of life” (prosperity, heyday, decline, and death), the Hebrews explained calamities with sins before God: sin, disaster, repentance, and glory.
Between the wheel of the first and the second there is a “small big difference”: the cause of the movement of the wheel. For the Sumerians, fatality, it is life… For the Jews, self-guilt and hence the sense of responsibility.
The commandments don’t say do not unless. You are excused if (… you had a troubled childhood… or the society is unfair or…). Pure and simply it is haram. Prohibited. Everyone’s duty. No excuses. The accomplishment depending exclusively of me. All being equal, as a matter of principle. Because if there are too many exceptions, the rule of equality before the law (the commandments) ceases to exist.
Hebrew history is thus imbued with three mysteries.
That of preservation. How does a people survive four thousand years, most of them in diaspora, before and after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD by Titus?
That of suffering. Slavery in Egypt. Pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. Holocaust during World War II. Indifference in the meantime. British government opposition to the birth of Israel (intensified by Bevin, the foreign affairs minister).
And finally the resonance (of a small people). And here resonance, whether intellectual or spiritual.
Intellectual because e.g. when the Nazis decided to burn books by Jews, they had to include the works of Einstein, Freud, Schoenberg, Martin Buber, etc.
And spiritual because more than replacing animism (spirit of nature) and polytheism with monotheism, the Torah brought the sense of responsibility that is the price of freedom and the source of progress. This concept of responsibility is also at the heart of the Talmud and consequently of evolution and improvement.
On the opposite side?: the cult of excuse, enemy of 1) God and men, by killing 2) equality and 3) progress.
Hence Churchill considered the Jews to be the most extraordinary people.
But remember that while the Talmud (and Kabbalah) can and should naturally be sectarian, the Torah is universalist, and consequently applied to the chosen people and the gentiles (goyim). For one and other. For all. Equally.
Article by Jorge Sá (MBA Drucker School / PhD Columbia University / Jean Monnet Chair)