Rabbi's Message - August 3, 2021
In our weekly Torah reading, we are now well into the book of Deuteronomy, listening to Moses’ series of speeches before the Israelites enter the Promised Land. In these speeches Moses recaps all of the Israelite experiences of the Exodus and their journeys since. It can feel repetitive - because it is. Didn’t we just finish reading these stories? Why the review? Better yet, why did the Israelites need the review? Many of these Israelites had lived through these experiences. While it is likely they were too young to have understood the events in context, or not born yet, this was recent lived history with which they were very familiar. I believe that Moses could see that living history was not enough. We needed to learn from it.
Deuteronomy 32:7 teaches: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; ask your father - he will tell you, your elders - they will inform you.” From our place in the 21st century, we see why history holds such importance in our faith. History helps us better understand ourselves as a people and enables us to contextualize the differences we find in other cultures. Examining the past also helps us to identify historical patterns that often repeat themselves. We are taught by Ramban that: “All things that happen to the parents are a sign for the children.”
This is true in our individual lives, but it is also true for us as a people. Collective experiences help shape our shared purpose. Our identities are built upon our understanding of the past. These events and patterns shape who we are and what we value. In order for the Israelites and for us to take the next step forward in Jewish life, we must be able to recognize the meaning of the past and find a way to carry those values with us into the future. Daily changes are often unrecognized. This is why gradual changes must be examined from time to time. It is important that we stop and take notice of where we have been and where we must go and either celebrate or mourn the changes that we see. When we don’t stop to evaluate, we often lose sight of our purpose. None of us can afford to do that, especially now. As we creep closer to the month of Elul, let us take the time, as Moses did, to stop and recognize where we are, where we have been, and where we are going. Even if we don’t recognize the importance of our lives and our choices, as Ramban taught, they will inform the generations to come.