Once upon a time, the great Napoleon paid a state visit to Russia. Proud of the enlightened way his country, France, treated its Jewish population, he asked to see some Russian Jews. His hosts brought him to a St. Petersburg synagogue.
Entering the synagogue lit by only a few flickering candles, they found it filled with Jews sitting on the floor weeping in the dark. Napoleon swung around accusingly to his Russian hosts and asked, “What did you do to them?”
Just as astonished, the Russians hastily denied complicity in whatever horrible calamity had produced this misery. Napoleon turned to the bereft community and asked what tragedy had befallen them.
The rabbi stepped forward and softly sobbed, “Our Temple has been destroyed.”
Turning a reproachful face to his Russian guides, Napoleon asked why the Czar had done such a terrible thing. His hosts insisted that they were baffled by the accusation.
Questioning further, Napoleon soon discovered that the Temple in question had stood not in Russia but in Jerusalem, and had been destroyed not recently but over 2,000 years earlier.
Napoleon is said to have proclaimed, “Any nation linked so powerfully to its history that it agonizes over such an ancient loss will ultimately outlive both France and Russia.”