And yes, this is the source of my indefatigable love of life.
"Why Israel is the world's happiest country
Envy surrounds no country on Earth like the state of Israel, and with good reason: by objective measures, Israel is the happiest nation on Earth at the 60th anniversary of its founding. It is one of the wealthiest, freest and best-educated; and it enjoys a higher life expectancy than Germany or the Netherlands. But most remarkable is that Israelis appear to love life and hate death more than any other nation. If history is made not by rational design but by the demands of the human heart, as I argued last week , the light heart of the Israelis in face of continuous danger is a singularity worthy of a closer look.
Can it be a coincidence that this most ancient of nations , and the only nation persuaded that it was summoned into history for God's service, consists of individuals who appear to love life more than any other people? As a simple index of life-preference, I plot the fertility rate versus the suicide rate of 35 industrial countries, that is, the proportion of people who choose to create new life against the proportion who choose to destroy their own. Israel stands alone, positioned in the upper-left-hand-quadrant, or life-loving, portion of the chart ....
It's easy for the Jews to talk about life
The better one gets to know the Jews, the more peculiar they appear. "Remember us unto life, O King who delights in life," they pray on the solemn occasion of their New Year, which this year fell on September 13. Unfeigned and spontaneous delight in life is uniquely Jewish; the standard Jewish toast states, "To life!" while the most characteristic Jewish gibe admonishes, "Get a life!" We are not dealing here with so-called lust for life that involves a pile of broken dishes and a hangover the next morning. Instead, the Jews evince a liking for life as such. That is not only unusual; it is almost unnatural...
Life as such is not that likable. As Mephistopheles taunted Faust in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's tragedy, life in its totality was fit only for a god, too hard a cracker for ordinary humans to digest. That seems to be the prevalent opinion across epochs and cultures. Socrates told us to despise life and instead to view death as the highest good. Buddhism teaches us to regard it as an illusion to inure ourselves from its attendant pain. From the Spartans to the Vikings, the martial cultures of the pagan world showed contempt for life, for they often fought to the death. Pagans aspired to a glorious death; I can think of not a single instance in the history of the Jews, whose wars of antiquity were frequent and ferocious, of the mention of a "glorious death". The very notion is repulsive to Jewish sensibilities...
What makes the Jews different is their unique belief that the Covenant gives them eternal life, a belief grounded, to be sure, by
thousands of years of history, and survival against all odds against the depredations of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Alexandrine and Roman empires, not to mention more recent unpleasantness. It is not changing the baby's diapers or changing grandma's bedpan to which the Jews refer when they speak of delight in life, but rather the idealized, perpetual life of a kinship community...
Paradoxically, Jewish existence exercises a great gravitational pull on Christian faith. As the great German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig wrote:
That Christ is more than idea - no Christian can know this. But that Israel is more than an idea, the Christian knows, because he sees it. For we live. We are eternal, not in the way that an idea might be eternal, but we are eternal in full reality, if eternal we be at all. And thus we are the one thing that Christians cannot doubt. The parson argued conclusively in response to Frederick the Great's question about the proofs for Christianity: "Your Majesty, the Jews." The Christians can have no doubt about us. Our presence stands surety for their truth ... The continuing life of Judaism through all time, the Judaism witnessed in the Old Testament, to which it also bears living witness, is the unique kernel, whose glow invisibly nourishes the rays [of Christianity], which through Christianity breaks visibly and multiply-refracted into the night of the pagan world.