What is the biggest miracle of our generation? The fall of Communism? The peaceful political transition in South Africa? That Fidel Castro still runs Cuba?

Surely for us, indisputably, the greatest miracle of all must be that after the Holocaust the Jewish people picked themselves up and rebuilt Jewish life and Jewish communities. Is there anything more extraordinary than that Jews who were singled out for extermination because of their faith should nonetheless want to embrace that same faith and still be Jewish?

This week we enter the period of the “Nine Days” leading up to Tisha B’Av, our national day of mourning. We remember the destruction of both our Temples, and pray for Jerusalem to be restored to her former glory.

In Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, which we read on Tisha B’Av, there is a verse (3:22) that reads, “G‑d’s kindness surely has not ended, nor are His mercies exhausted.” Rashi offers an alternative interpretation: it is by G‑d’s kindness that we have not come to an end. In the words of the Midrash, “He spent His wrath on the wood and stones” of the Temple structure—His house was destroyed but His people survived.

So this is an appropriate time to reflect on Jewish survival. In the face of the demise of all the great ancient civilizations and empires—Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Persia, and more recently, the Third Reich—what is the unique secret of Jewish survival? Despite the destructions and diasporas, notwithstanding the holocausts that have decimated us through the ages, how did we survive? How do we survive? And, most importantly, how will we survive?

Of course, the simple answer is that G‑d will never allow us to disappear. We live by the ongoing miracles of divine intervention. But let us take a quick tour of history to see if we can put our finger on the most important ingredient in our unbelievable tenacity of spirit.

Some people might say it is our national homeland that has been the one key element in our continuity. Indeed, Israel is our eternal homeland, and we pray for the return to Zion three times a day and more. It is central to everything we believe in; it is our heart and soul. It unites us wherever we are and wherever we have been. It is in our dreams, hopes and aspirations.

But, while we will never relinquish our eternal claim to it, the reality is that we have been away from our homeland longer than we’ve been in it. The fact of the matter is that, even today, there are more Jews scattered around the world than there are in Israel. So, as uncompromisingly committed as we are to our homeland today, and as critical as it is to our global stature and security, geography could not have been the main factor in our survival throughout history.

Is it, perhaps, a common language? Indeed, Hebrew is our national language, and is still the language of our prayerbook. But are there not people reading these lines who could not read them if they were in Hebrew? Certainly, the vast majority of Jews today do not speak Hebrew, and I shudder to estimate the percentage of intelligent Jews who are Jewishly illiterate.

Throughout history we had a variety of vernaculars. Aramaic, Greek, and even Arabic, were at one time the most popular languages in Jewish communities of old. In more recent generations Yiddish or Ladino, like English today, have been the preferred vehicles of communication for most Jews. We simply cannot claim a common language to be the overwhelming factor in our continued uninterrupted existence.

How about culture? Well, have you ever tried offering a Sephardic Jew gefilte fish? Or an Ashkenazi Jew couscous? Food and music are cornerstones of any culture; both will vary markedly between East and West. A regular synagogue-goer from Golders Green will probably be totally lost at a service in Singapore. And vice versa. Honestly speaking, we actually do not have one common culture. We have adopted many nuances of style in food, music and dress from our host societies. Environment affects.

The one and only feature absolutely common to all our people all the time, the uniquely unifying entity that has gone beyond borders, across continents, cultures, languages and lifestyle, has been the Torah. Whether in Israel or Babylon, Minsk or Madrid, Sydney or San Francisco, Johannesburg or Jerusalem, the Jewish way of life as enshrined in our holy Torah and its commandments has been the single most important element in keeping the Jewish spirit alive and vibrant. Not some vague, sentimental sense of “Yiddishkeit” either, but a clearly defined value system that has been transmitted faithfully down the generations wherever we have lived.

The clearest proof of this idea is the fact that where there has been an abandonment of the traditions of Torah, assimilation has followed almost immediately—and with tragic consequences. Those pockets of Jews have simply not survived.

Of course, G‑d is the ultimate miracle maker of Jewish survival. But there’s no magic at work here. G‑d has given us the secret. We hold His key in our hands. Just being Jewish by birth does not guarantee survival of any kind. Only where there has been a concrete commitment to the study of Torah, to teaching it to our children, and to the fulfilment of its eternal practices, has this miracle been seen to happen.

May our dedication to Torah grow, so that Jewish survival and the flourishing of Jewish life may be assured forever. Please G‑d, our prayers for the rebuilding of Zion and the wholeness of our land and our people will soon be answered. Amen.