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Our greatest contributions to the world summarized in five words: memory, optimism, faith, family, and responsibility.

Scholars have long wondered why Jews who number less than one-quarter of 1% of the world have had such a profound influence on almost every field of human endeavor.

In the 20th century, Jews, more than any other minority, have been recipients of the Nobel Prize, with almost one-fifth of all Nobel laureates being Jewish.

Perhaps, it all goes back to the very beginning of the birth of our people and the Passover holiday.

Passover conveys five major concepts that became our mantras for how to lead successful and productive lives. They are the five most important things to know about Passover, and to incorporate into every day of the rest of the year. Because we’ve absorbed them into our national psyche for the thousands of years since the Exodus, we’ve been privileged to fulfill in great measure our prophetically mandated role to become a light unto the nations.

They are our greatest contributions to the world and can be summarized in five words: memory, optimism, faith, family and responsibility.

Importance of Memory

The Irish Catholic writer Thomas Cahill was so overwhelmed by how the Jewish people literally transformed the world that he authored the international bestseller, The Gifts of the Jews. One of the major gifts he credits to Jewish genius is the invention of the idea of history.

Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Remember that the Lord took you out of the bondage of slavery. Remember is a biblical mandate that had never seemed important to anyone else before the Jewish people. It was the Passover story that initiated a commitment to memory.

Memory links our past to our future. It turns history into destiny. Learning to treasure it was the first step in our climb up the ladder of greatness.

Importance of Optimism

The true miracle of Passover and its relevance for the ages is the message that with God’s help, no difficulty is insurmountable. A tyrant like Pharaoh could be overthrown. Slaves could become free men.

It was the biblical record of the Exodus that enabled the spirit of optimism to prevail for the followers of Martin Luther King in their quest for equal rights, because they were stirred by the vision of Moses leading his people to the Promised Land.

That optimistic spirit, based on our own miraculous history, is the second great gift we have given to mankind and defines our identity.

Importance of Faith

A pessimist, it’s been said, is someone who has no invisible means of support.

Jewish optimism is rooted in a contrary notion, a firmly held belief that we are blessed with support from above by a caring God. And that faith in a personal God gives us faith in ourselves, in our future and in our ability to help change the world.

Faith gives us the certainty that whatever our present-day problems, history moves in the direction of the final messianic redemption. That is what has always motivated us to believe in progress and to participate in tikkun olam, efforts to improve the world.

Importance of Family

Passover taught us yet another major truth: the way to perfect the world is to begin with our own families.

God built His nation by asking Jews to turn their homes into places of family worship at a seder devoted primarily to answering the questions of children.

Children are our future. They are the ones who most require our attention. The home is where we first form our identities and discover our values.

At the seder table, the children are encouraged to be the stars and their questions are treated with respect. And that is the first step to developing Jewish genius.

Importance of Empathy for Others

As we celebrate our Divine deliverance from slavery, we may ask why did God allow us to become victims of such terrible mistreatment in the first place?

We were slaves in Egypt, so we have empathy for the downtrodden in every generation. We experienced oppression, so we can understand the pain of the oppressed.

We began the seder by inviting the hungry and the homeless to join with us. We concluded the seder by opening the door for Elijah. It is our acceptance of responsibility to others that is the key to hastening the arrival of the Messiah.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University His website is For a longer version of this essay, visit

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