The Torah records for us the travels of the Jewish people in the desert of Sinai during their forty-year sojourn there. All of the stops and way stations are mentioned. Rashi explains that this is analogous to a parent reviewing to a grown child the record of a long family trip that was taken long ago and recalling how the then young child reacted to the matter at each and every location.
We are all acquainted with the cliché (trite as it may seem but nevertheless true) that life itself is a journey. When people travel and go forth on a journey they take photographs so that when they return home they can remember and recall the locations visited and the events that occurred in those places.
There is an inner drive within us to remember where we have visited and been in life. In fact, this is the basis for all memoirs and autobiographies. We do not wish to forget what happened to us on our life’s journey and we do not wish to be forgotten by others that come after us.
This drive to remember and recall and then to retell our story is a very powerful one. If all politics is local then all history is personal and individual. Therefore the review in this week’s parsha of all of the stops and locations in the desert made and visited by the Jewish people carries with it special and poignant meaning. It speaks to our human emotions and not only to our intellect and sense of the past.
Part of the benefit of reviewing past events and their locations is to enable us to learn from those experiences and not to foolishly repeat past errors and wrong decisions. That is what Rashi means when he recounts for us the example of the parent and child revisiting their long trip – “Here your head hurt, here you tripped and fell, etc.” The parent is telling the child to watch out in the coming years and not to be so negligent in the future.
The entire thrust of knowing Jewish history and understanding and appreciating our past is to guide our attitudes and behavior in the present and future and not to unnecessarily repeat past errors and wrongs. An individual or a nation that knows little or next to nothing of its past cannot realistically expect to make wise decisions in the present or immediate future.
The Jewish people have had such a long, eventful and rich history. We have lived everywhere on this planet and experienced every type of government rule ever known to humankind. Our travels, so to speak, should have given us the ability to judge current problems in the light of past experience. But this ability is naturally contingent on somehow remembering and recalling the events of the past.
The abysmal ignorance of a large section of the Jewish people regarding this long past of ours has contributed to much of the dissonance in our current Jewish world. We should take out our old photo album and study it.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com