After giving a lecture in Rome, Rabbi Friedman got into a taxi to go to the airport. Driving through the streets of Rome, the traffic was miserable, and Rabbi Friedman commented to the driver “all these Romans are gonna make me miss my flight!”
“There are no more Romans” said the driver, “the only people still here from that time are the Jews!”
Clearly, the Jews achieved something unparalleled in human history. But how?
The secret to Jewish survival is our love of life. The Romans thought they could make themselves last by expanding and enhancing their existence. They built fortifications and cities, amassed gold and silver, conquered lands and built an empire. The Jews however never really worked on their existence, and throughout Jewish history, a Jew’s existence was pretty rough. But we never stopped living. We knew who we were, who God was, and most importantly, what he needed us to do.
What’s the difference between existing and living? Existing means taking care of your needs so that you can exist tomorrow. Living means using your existence to make a difference in the world. To exist means to focus on our own needs. To live means to focus on what we are needed for.
Ironically, those who devoted themselves to their existence, no longer exist. But those who focused on living are still here and stronger than ever.