Remember the days of the past, understand the years of generation after generation. (Devarim 32:7)
A lot of protesting is taking place now, especially since the U.S. Presidential Election is gearing up. There’s a lot of clamoring to be heard to affect the direction of the U.S. policy, at home and abroad, and understandably so. As the Bush Administration has proven over the last four years, a lot can happen and very quickly, that can completely change the direction of American life.
Just ask the average Hollywood movie star who has ventured into International Politics, and who has a very strong and well-vocalized opinion about American Foreign Policy about world history over the last fifty years, and you won’t need that much time to hear his summary. Go back a hundred years, and the details become quite scant. Go back even further, and it may seem as if history began only 150 years ago.
This privilege is not restricted to movie stars, but many of the voters are also fighting hard to put their opinions into the White House, or 10 Downing Street, or the House of Commons, or the Knesset. Opinions we have plenty of; it’s the informed fraction that seems to be rare today.
It never really was much different in the world, but it may matter more today since history seems to be winding down, and the dynamics of world history today seem to be somewhat explosive. It may be peaceful today, but if you pay attention to the movements of the world and the direction of history, you will notice many things falling into place that can certainly be a recipe for worldwide disaster. A little bit of this and a little bit of that, and voila! A worldwide crisis.
This attitude seems to be present in all aspects of life. We live today with little regard for our past and not much regard for our future. It’s as if the attitude of the French nobility from the time of the revolution outlived them and took over the minds of the Western world: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die!
It’s not that war is a good thing, and usually it’s not, but sometimes it is necessary and it is defined in the Torah. And, if anyone hates killing, it is G-d Himself, the Father of all living beings. Yet, the Torah prescribes the death penalty for certain transgressions, because society cannot survive without it in such circumstances. The Torah prescribes lashes in lesser cases, to allow society to run more smoothly and morally. You just have to know what the guidelines are for executing such severe responses to the irresponsible behavior of the citizens.
You have to know the guidelines. It sounds simple enough, but it is knowledge that we spend decades trying to impart to our children, and quite frankly, and more often than not, it is a case of the blind leading the blind. How can parents who do not understand the guidelines necessary for a productive life, pass that information on to their own children? What is passed on to the next generation, more often than not, is an opinion, and even more often than not, a not very informed opinion.
What constitutes an informed opinion?
It’s very simple. This world works according to the principle of cause-and- effect. This means that nothing occurs without a reason, and nothing occurs without an effect. The cause may not affect us, or the effect may not interest us, but they are there nevertheless, and often more important and relevant to our lives than we may know. The whole world works this way: Physics, Medicine, etc. And if the world didn’t work this way, getting out of bed in the morning would be too frightening since you’d never know what to expect that day.
Therefore, an informed person is one who understands this cause-and-effect relationship of life. The more areas in which he understands how it works, the more informed he is, and the more accurate and valuable is his opinion. For, what good is an opinion if it ignores the dynamics of Creation, no matter how confident one is in expressing it? It would not be a bad idea to make people sign a binding document that makes them responsible for the implementation of their ideas.
Ask your father and he will relate it you, your elders and they will tell you. (Devarim 32:7)
Indeed, it is amazing how cautious people become about expressing their opinions when they stop being just a face in a crowd, and when what they say is pinned directly on them. This is certainly the case when they sense a loss of money involved in being so vocal.
When someone presses me about speaking about the End-of-Days, and about warning of potential impending disaster, I offer him a deal. I will desist from going public about my opinions and the information I have organized, if he will sign an official document taking responsibility for the people that might have been saved had I continued. To date, there have been no takers.
I explain to them that I have plenty to write about without broaching the topic of Moshiach and redemption. I tell them that to this very day I cringe when addressing such topics in front of strangers because of the stereotypical images that still haunt the recesses of my mind. The only reason I persist in this direction, I explain to them, is because the facts and history speak so clearly to me that I would feel irresponsible if I don’t carry through with what I believe. I believe I will have to answer to G-d, in this end, for not having shared with others what was shared with me.
During the Holocaust, there were small numbers of Jews who were saved because of inside information. Someone knew something and passed it on to others, they in turn acted on the information and got out of Europe while there was still time. Take Spain, for example, or any number of other places Jews have been murdered en masse throughout our 3300 year history.
True, people live or die as a result of Hashgochah Pratis (Divine Providence) as we remind ourselves at least once a year during the Aseres Yemai Teshuvah. It is the same Hashgochah that inspires people to say what they say, and which supplies them with the information in the first place to be shared with others. If it happens, it was meant to happen, and the question is, what are we supposed to do about it? How are we supposed to react?
Well, it depends. What exactly is it that Heaven wants from us? The Torah’s answer:
Ask your father and he will relate it you, your elders and they will tell you.
The answer to the present lies in the past, because that is the nature of the cause-and-effect relationship of Creation. The first thing a doctor does when he tries to cure a new patient is to get the patient’s medical history. Experience (a history word) has proven that valuable information to the present state of the patient lies in his past, and it is the key to his future remedy.
This is certainly true in the realm of psychology. Yes, there are strains of psychology that focus only on the present situation of the troubled patient, ignoring the often painful and drawn out process of investigating his buried past. However, they are not saying that the cause of the effect was not there back at the early stages of the patient’s life, just that it may be possible to deal with them without actually having to surface them.
One book I recently saw goes so far to say that the people we choose to marry are replicas of our primary caretakers as we were growing up, for better or for worst, and often for worst. As the theory goes, we don’t always get a chance to resolve key emotional issues that arise while growing up before moving on in life, and we humans like closure. Therefore, the book states, we marry our spouses with the unconscious hope of being able to continue and complete the childhood process inside marriage.
This is why we often over-react to things our spouses say or do, which results in an argument or worst, G-d forbid. The spouse may have meant little or no harm by what he or she said, but it resembled something from the other spouse’s past too closely, and all of a sudden it is a parent, not the spouse, with whom he or she is now arguing. Sometimes it is so obvious that this is the case, other times it is only after investigation that it becomes clear what is going on below the surface, unconsciously.
Regardless of whether or not this is true or accurate across the board, what is true is the role the past plays in shaping the present and the future. Talk to someone in their thirties or forties about increased anti- Semitism, and you won’t hear too much concern. Talk to someone in their eighties or nineties, and you leave the room with a whole different perspective of the events of today, and a more accurate sense of the direction history can turn at a moment’s notice.
We use history books to sit on these days, figuratively speaking. We don’t learn about the past all that much, being more interested in the Down Jones average or the sports scores, and we don’t respect our elders who represent it. Thus, the Talmud says one of the signs that Moshiach is about to come is that the younger generation will embarrass the older one (Sanhedrin 97a). Sons will no longer fear their fathers, and daughters will no longer show respect to their mothers.
It is an orphaned generation, one that has become severed from its past.
Return Israel to Hashem your G-d, for you have stumbled in your iniquity . . . For it is with You that an orphan finds mercy. (Hoshea 14:2, 4)
There is a fundamental difference between secular Jews in the Diaspora and secular Jews in Israel. Living in the Diaspora among gentiles for so long, and spread out far and wide, a Jew may have had little, if any, contact with anything Jewish. More than likely, he or she had little exposure to Tanach or those who live by it, at least in any direct and meaningful way.
Chilonim, as they are called here in Israel, know more Torah than the average secular Jew. Until recently, it was mandatory in the secular schools to learn Tanach, though it was taught more as fiction than fact. And, Orthodox Jews are everywhere in Israel, often living elbow-to-elbow in many communities around Eretz Yisroel.
Yet, the chilonim live their lives as if Torah could NEVER be true, and as if the Orthodox can ONLY be backwards. And, if they are not actively trying to lessen Torah’s impact in the dynamics of the country, then they are ignoring it, as if doing so somehow makes it even less true. They don’t seem the least bit concerned about the warnings in the Torah for living a secular life.
Yet, though they may feel confident arguing about the validity of the Torah, even though they lack the arguments to disprove it, they can’t argue with history. They can only ignore it, at least until it comes to haunt them and us, as it always seems to do at some point in time. And, a quick glance through our three-millennia past reveals that the two – Torah and Jewish history, seem inseparable.
Let’s say, for example, I dent someone’s car and drive away. Maybe I didn’t even notice that I did it, but the person whose car I hit didn’t know that, and being angry he goes in hot pursuit of me. All of a sudden, at the next light, he gets out of his car and pulls me out of mine, and before I can ask him what he is doing, he hits me and runs off.
Rubbing a newly sore nose, I think to myself, “There are crazy people in this world!” making no connection between what I did and what the man’s response was to my original offence. But, does it really make a difference in the end, especially to the man who hit me, and who is happily driving off believing he got his revenge?
In fact, it is worst for me. I suffer and I don’t know why. My suffering seems random and without justification, and to make things worse, I even feel angery. I now want revenge, but can’t have it because I don’t know who hit me. So instead, I might go back to work and get angry with someone else, and ruin a good relationship. Who knows where the thing is actually going to end?
Hence, many secular Israelis today feel despair. The world, once again, is slowly closing in on us. We can’t seem to do anything right, and no matter what goes wrong with either the other side or with us, we are to blame. We are forced to appease nations that live to overcome us or will never like us, at least until Moshiach comes. We lack unity, and our economy does not offer much solace either.
To a Torah Jew who learns from the past, this too is not new under the sun. It’s happened many times before, and quite frankly, it is to be expected. While this does not solve the crisis, it makes it more meaningful, meaningful in as much as it is leading to something more important, towards the Final Redemption. This does not mean one can throw caution to the wind, but it does allow one to approach today’s world with a greater sense of determination to come closer to G-d in spite of so many counter forces.
History is no mystery when seen through the eyes of the Torah. Somewhere along the line many Jews broke the chain of transmission in their family line, and it has resulted in generations afloat in a sea of confusion, upon shifts whose tour guides are spiritually blind. Is there a raging waterfall filled with lots of sharp rocks I hear up ahead?
For the ways of Hashem are straight; the righteous walk in them and sinners stumble over them. (Hoshea 14:10)
This is the last posuk of Hoshea and of this week’s special Haftarah, and one of my favorites because it so accurately describes the dilemma of history. For we are all part of one world, one history, walking but one path. And yet, while some people glide down that path to fulfillment, others stumble and collapse along the way.
Okay, so you don’t want to learn Torah and can’t take it seriously. Well, at least learn history. So don’t read the script, at least watch the play! Take a pen and a piece of paper, and draw a horizontal line. At the left, put the earliest date of history you know about and believe is true, and at the far right, put the present date. Leave enough room between the two points to add all kinds of pertinent information.
Then, get out the books. Start locating important historical events that have made a tremendous impact on the Jewish people, and write down where it occurred in the world. Check out the rate of assimilation at that time, if possible, and write that down too. Keep adding as much information as possible on your timeline and see what emerges.
Even though today seems to be big in our eyes, as if it encompasses the entire universe, in truth, it is one more point on the timeline, one more bead on the chain. We got here today coming from yesterday, and it will lead us to tomorrow. Even within this lifetime it will become insignificant, except that without it, the future would become completely severed from the past. It is only a small picture, but without it, the big picture is incomplete.
And, without the big picture, the small picture is unimportant and meaningless. The message of today only becomes relevant in terms of what it has meant in the past, and only in that context can it talk about the future. If you will not become wise by what is written in the Torah, then at least become wiser by the reality of time for which it is the basis.
“Those who forget are doomed to repeat.” They are doomed to miss messages that Heaven goes out of its way, so-to-speak, to communicate to us. Just as Torah is a vehicle for the Divine message, so too is world history with all of its events. And yes, even the price of tea in China; and how much more so earthquakes, hurricanes, and terrorist attacks? How much more so a world closing in on the Jewish people, again?
Thus, the Torah’s directive is, in a sense, saying, “If you want to have an opinion, make it an informed one. If you want to play a role in the direction of history, make sure you understand what history is about, not just the time frame you happen to find yourself in. Just because something appears important to you today, doesn’t mean that it will be in the future, or vice versa.” Amazingly, human beings have a phenomenal knack for making mountains out of mole hills and mole hills out of mountains.
Only over time do things get sorted out, long after the generations who made the mistakes are long gone and not able to learn from the mistakes to do it better the next time. However, the NEXT generation can learn from the mistakes and the good accomplishments of the previous generations, and build upon their successes. How many teenagers have told us, “You can’t compare our generation to yours! We’re different, and we do things differently!” And then, depressingly, we have to watch them go out and make the same avoidable mistakes on their own.
It is Shabbos Shuvah, right after Rosh Hashanah and right before Yom Kippur. We have a Torah, and we have a history. And now, in our generation, we have phenomenal access to both no matter where we live. Instead of contemplating our previous year, we have to contemplate all our previous years – the entire history of the Jewish people. We have to look and see what went right and what went wrong, and learn from both situations.
We have to realize that history is really HIS story, the script of the Creator of the Universe.
This is the only hope we have to bring Moshiach peacefully. And, if this sounds awkward or out of place, then go back to the beginning of our history, and see what all of this has been about in the first place.
Gmar HaTov and a Great Shabbos Shuvah,