We just celebrated the holiday of Shavuot and the 3,333rd anniversary of the giving of the Torah. It was the formal beginning of the Jews as a people.

Jewish history does not end with Mt. Sinai, of course. Much happened afterwards (bagels and lox!) - in fact the very name of the people changed. At Mt. Sinai the Jews are referred to as 'B'nei Yisrael', or the children of Israel. Today, though Israel is certainly still used, the terms 'Jew' or 'Judaism' are used to describe our people and faith.

Today I thought we'd explore Jewish history from the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai up to the time when the term 'Jew' arose:

Upon receiving the Torah on the holiday that gave us the Ten Commandments (and cheesecake), the Jews continued to wander the nearby deserts for four decades (due to their concern that 'real life' living in Israel would leave them no time for spiritual pursuits). Finally, in 1273 BCE, they were led into the Promised Land by Joshua, starting with the ancient city of Jericho. The ‘Judges’ - nearly 20 consecutive leaders, including two women - lead the Jews in Israel for the following two centuries.

The last of these Judges, the prophet Shmuel (Samuel), anointed the first monarch the Jews ever had, King Shaul (Saul). The Talmud describes Shaul as an exceedingly righteous man, who was also the ancestor of Queen Esther in the Purim story.

King Shaul was succeeded by King David, who began his 40 year reign in the holy city of Chevron, south of Jerusalem. King David's great grandmother, Ruth, was a convert to Judaism and a renowned righteous individual (her father, Eglon, had been the king of the powerful state of Moav).

After reconquering Jerusalem from the Canaanites, David moved to the holy city, taking the ark with the Ten Commands with him. (Jerusalem had originally been given to Shem, the son of Noah and ancestor of the Jews after the great flood. Shem's nephew, Canaan, invaded and added Israel to his territory.)

Chiram, the king of the Phoenician city-state of Tyre (which exists today under the same name), offered David the services of expert Phoenician craftsman to build a royal palace in Jerusalem. (In recent years Phoenician architecture was discovered at the ruins of David's palace).

It was King David’s son, Shlomo (Solomon), who built the first Bet Hamikdash (Temple) on what had already long been the holiest site in Judaism, transforming the site into the Temple Mount. It was also King Solomon who established the ritual washing of one’s hands, or ‘Netilat Yadayim'.

Upon Solomon’s passing in 796 BCE the kingdom of Israel, with its millions of inhabitants, fractured into two. The ten northern tribes chose a new king, Yeravam ben Nevat, while only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin stuck with Solomon’s son and successor, Rechavam. This split into two parallel Jewish kingdoms, the north being called ‘Israel’ and the south ‘Judah’, has never since been repaired.

The northern kingdom, while producing many great sages such as the prophets Elijah, Elisha and Jonah, were led by a string of unruly kings and queens. One such king, Omri, constructed a new capital city for the northern kingdom which he named 'Shomron' (Samaria) after the site's previous owner, Shemer.

Omri’s name surfaces in the Mesha Stele currently housed at the Louvre, in the Obelisk of Shalmaneser at the British Museum and in other ancient writings.

Omri's son King Achav, whom Elijah the prophet tried to influence to abandon his wayward ways, expanded this city, as well as the royal palace which he furnished lavishly with ivory furniture. This palace was unearthed by archaeologists from Harvard University in 1909 who indeed discovered many ivory artifacts amongst the ruins.

The northern Kingdom of Israel was invaded and destroyed by the Assyrian King Sennacherib, famed for being the first true empire builder and utterly cruel, in 555 BCE. Its entire Jewish population was exiled, never to be seen again. This is the exile of the 'Ten Lost Tribes'.

When Sennacherib turned his mighty army south to the kingdom of Judah then ruled by the righteous King Chizkiyahu, G‑d told the Jewish king that Sennacherib would fail and Jerusalem would remain safe. The Torah writes that during the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, their army was wiped out by G‑d. In reliefs found in Sennacherib's palace in modern day Iraq, he boasts of conquering Lachish, Judah's second largest city, yet admits to failing to capture Jerusalem.

With the ten tribes of the northern kingdom gone, the Jews and Judaism's historical path continued almost exclusively with the Kingdom of Judah - hence Jews being called 'Jews' (i.e. from Judah) from then onward. The Kingdom of Judah would exist for a further century before itself being conquered and exiled by ancient Babylon.

Judah, or Yehudah in Hebrew, means to 'acknowledge' or 'recognize'. Since the days of the Kingdom of Judah, when the term 'Jew' began, it is nothing short of miraculous that the Jewish people are still here. It almost compels us, as the very name 'Jew' suggests, to acknowledge and recognize G‑d's protection that brought us this far.

Although Jews are still under threat from inexcusable evil - whether in Israel or on the streets of New York and LA - the Jewish people thrive today and will continue to thrive.

In the words of King David:
ה׳ עוז לעמו יתן ה׳ יברך את עמו בשלום
May G‑d grant strength to his people, may G‑d bless his people with peace.

Rabbi Avrohom