The Six Elements of Resilience Inherent in the Jewish Tradition


There is no denying that Jews are resilient. Judaism is one of the oldest religions in the world. For over 3,000 years, Jews have been persecuted, killed, and marginalized. Through all this, the Jewish people have not only survived but thrived, enduring thanks to our resilience. The ideas behind Jewish resilience come from our tradition going back all the way to some of the earliest events of the Torah.

Through careful thought, I have come up with six core elements that define resilience: endurance, hope, living with uncertainty, remembering the past, the ability to rebuild, and strength of belief. All six of these elements can be found in the Jewish tradition either as rabbinic teachings or in a biblical story that perfectly showcases the value.


Endurance is the ability to suffer something patiently and without giving way, even when facing difficulties or opposition. This trait can be seen as far back in the Jewish tradition as the book of Genesis, in the stories of our forefathers. In Parshat Toldot, there is a seemingly insignificant story about Isaac digging wells after he was expelled from the land of the Philistines. Isaac dug one well but the local people fought over it and took it from him. Isaac dug a second well, but still it was claimed by the local shepherds. Finally, he dug a third well that wasn’t fought over, and then he praised God. Many commentaries on the Torah ask why this story merits inclusion in the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim, a respected rabbi from the nineteenth century, wrote that the purpose of the story is to teach us the value of persistence and endurance. Isaac endured, even when everyone was trying to stop him. By exhibiting endurance, we reinforce our resilience. 


Having hope is also part of being resilient. If Jews had not been optimistic in our approach to life, then we would have been a religion lost to time. This trait of hope is found in the teachings of the rabbinic Sages. Tradition tells us that Rabbi Akiva taught the idea: “Everything that God does, He does for the best.” In this concept, Rabbi Akiva is instilling optimism in us. We have to believe in God and that everything will turn out well. The Talmud includes a story in Masechet Berachot, daf 60:b, about Rabbi Akiva and this principle: 

“There was an incident, when Rabbi Akiva was walking along the road and came to a certain city, he inquired about lodging and they did not give him any. He said: ‘Everything that God does, He does for the best.’ He went and slept in a field, and he had with him a rooster, a donkey, and a candle. A gust of wind came and extinguished the candle; a cat came and ate the rooster; and a lion came and ate the donkey. He said: ‘Everything that God does, He does for the best.’ That night, an army came and took the city into captivity. It turned out that Rabbi Akiva alone, who was not in the city and had no lit candle, noisy rooster, or donkey to give away his location, was saved.” 

Despite Rabbi Akiva’s hardship, he stayed optimistic. And he survived. By keeping hope alive, we are resilient. 

Living with Uncertainty

It is a basic concept in Judaism to live life without knowing what lies ahead of you; and living with uncertainty improves resilience. This idea of living with uncertainty comes up in our holidays, specifically Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in which we cast our lives into the hands of God. We do not know whether we will live or die. We say this specifically in the prayer Unetaneh Tokef, which says: “As a shepherd herds his flock, directing his sheep to pass under his staff, so do You pass, count, and record the souls of all living, and decree a limit to each person’s days, and inscribe their final judgment.” We live with this uncertainty that God could decide our fate at any moment. By living with this uncertainty, we display resilience. 

Remembering the Past

Throughout the generations, the Jewish people have remained resilient chiefly thanks to our emphasis on remembering the past. Looking to the past accomplishes two things. It allows us to learn from our mistakes, and more importantly, it allows us to not solely be concerned with our personal plight, but also the history of the Jewish people and our nation as a whole. Remembering the past allows us to view ourselves as a continuation of the Jewish people throughout time. We are a link in the chain. This act of remembering is clearly transmitted in the Jewish tradition. For example, we are required to remember certain events, one of those being the exodus from Egypt. The exodus was a turning point in Jewish history and marks our origins as a nation. Remembering this not only teaches us that we owe everything to God, but also that we are a continuation of those people who experienced the exodus first hand. In fact, the Passover Haggadah emphasizes the importance of not only seeing our ancestors as having gone through the experience of slavery, but also seeing ourselves as having been slaves in Egypt. The exodus teaches us that we have something to live for and we have something to pass down to the next generation. We also re-read the entire Torah every year, as the stories remind us of our shared history. The Jewish calendar is full of holidays and fast days that are specifically geared towards reminding us of shared elements of our past. If the Jewish people lived only in the present, we would have no chance of survival. By looking to the past, we strengthen our resilience

Ability to Rebuild

The Jewish people have been expelled from almost everywhere we have ever lived. We have lost everything and had to rebuild from scratch time and time again. We first see this rebuilding in the story of Avraham, when he re-establishes his entire life after leaving his homeland and family at God’s direction. In fact, built into Judaism, specifically in the institution of the Oral Torah, the laws passed down through the Rabbis, is the ability to rebuild. The Oral Torah   provides the basis for rabbis to debate certain topics and interpret the Torah in different ways, making Judaism flexible in ways other religions may not be. Our flexibility is an important part of being able to rebuild. An example of the Oral Torah in action is that after the destruction of the Second Temple, there was a rabbinic decision to establish daily prayers to mirror the services previously held in the Beit Hamikdash: the Temple that stood as the center of worship for the Jews for a thousand years. If the Rabbis had not taken this decision, there is no telling whether  Judaism would exist today, because we would have had no way to connect to our religion in the diaspora for nearly 2,000 years. By remaining flexible and strengthening our ability to rebuild, we aid our resilience

Strength of Belief

Resilience cannot exist without having strength in your beliefs. A mishnah in tractate Rosh Hashanah chapter 3:8 questions why Moses raising his hands caused the Israelites to win the battle against Amalek in the Book of Exodus. It explains that, rather than a miracle, Moses raising his hands made the Jewish people look up and believe in God. They had a newfound sense of belief in the Divine, which made them resilient and able to win the war. Only by possessing strength in our beliefs can we stay resilient. The necessity of holding on to our beliefs is also expressed in Deuteronomy 20:19, which says: “For man is a tree of the field.” In comparing humans to trees, the verse is telling us that we should be deeply rooted in our beliefs, just like trees’ roots go deep into the ground. We should not fall under pressure, just like a tree doesn’t fall in a storm. By being deeply rooted, we are resilient.

Jewish people are resilient, and this resilience is not simply a consequence of circumstance; rather, it is taught in our tradition. Resilience can be defined by six ideals: endurance, hope, living with uncertainty, remembering the past, the ability to rebuild, and strength of belief. All of these ideals are found in the teachings of the Torah or the Rabbis. In today’s dark and often uncertain times, we need to take these teachings and apply them to our lives. In the face of adversity and uncertainty, the Jewish people need to remember our origins, and we will be rewarded with calming, confident resilience.

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