In a strange ceremony to prove to Avram that Hashem will certainly cause him to inherit the land of Israel, Hashem asks for the following, “…Take for Me three heifers and three goats and three rams, and a turtle dove and a young bird.” And he took for Him all these, and he divided them in the middle, and he placed each part opposite its mate, but he did not divide the birds.” (Gen. 15:9-10) Avram prepares a pathway for Hashem breaking the animals in half and putting one in front of the other… but he did not cut the birds in half. Why? Some commentators take a rational approach and say that because the birds are so tiny if you cut them in half nobody will be able to see them and for that reason he just placed one whole bird in front of the other (See the Rashbam and Bechor Shor among others).
The Midrash provides us with a different interpretation, “Because other nations are compared to bulls, rams and goats…and Israel is compared to young doves… he therefore divided the animals indicating that other nations will gradually perish but “the birds split he not”, suggesting thereby that Israel will live forever” (Rashi based on Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 28). In order to demonstrate that the people of Israel will be eternal, Avram does not break the birds. The Radak (David Kimhi, Provence, S. X) explain this powerful metaphor saying that gradually the nations of the world “would successively fight wars, the younger one against the older one, one wiping out the other eventually… All of this would be caused as a result of their competitive spirit, each nation trying to achieve dominance over the others.” And in the last 4000 years, since the beginnings of the Jewish people, this is exactly what happened but despite all, and with all the adversities possible, the Jewish people, like the birds in this story are still standing full and complete.
The last question is how we were able to remain united as one people while many other nations divided themselves into many different cultures and people? The answer, according to Radak, is also found metaphorically in our story: “The word bird includes both the pigeon and the turtle dove, seeing that the Jewish people are scattered in the four directions of the globe and have yet remained a single people, clinging to their Torah and their faith in spite of being scattered all over the world.” We remained like the bird, undivided, because we put the Torah and the Mitzvot in the center of our lives. This is the secret of our eternal existence.
Mark Twain, in his own words, reflected about the eternity of our people:
“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, the Persian, rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream stuff and passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed, made a vast noise and they are gone. Other peoples have sprung up, 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?” (The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, p. 249)
We have the answer to his question? Living a life of Torah and Mitzvot.
Shabbat Shalom and Am Israel Chai!