The Torah reading of this week, in essence, completes for us the narrative portion of the Torah. The 40-year sojourn, with its triumphs, defeats, accomplishments, and failures, is now ending. The Jewish people are poisedto establish their own homeland, that the Lord promised their ancestors centuries earlier. But it is not only those who were present who influenced those actions and the events of the time.
The Torah teaches us that not only those who are physically alive at the time of an event, but indirectly, Jews always feel the presence of those no longer alive at these special times. It is not only the generation that succeeded the Jewish people that actually left Egypt and accepted the Torah at Sinai, which is present at the moment when the Jewish people are about to enter the land of Israel. It is obvious that the Torah continues to remind the Jewish people of the covenant that the Lord made with their ancestors, centuries earlier.
The agreements made regarding behaviors and attitudes that mark their lives are no longer to be considered history, but, rather, are current events that influence and color all the present circumstances and challenges that the Jewish people face. Thus, it is not only Joshua who is leading the Jewish people into the land of Israel, but it is also Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and our mothers that are in the forefront of this effort and part of this most memorable occurrence.
The history of a people, or even of a family, is oftentimes felt to be a burden, and not necessarily a privilege. Children of great people oftentimes simply resent being reminded of their ancestry. Furthermore, they resent being held to the standards of behavior, attitudes, and the visions of their predecessors. People would like to start life with a completely clean slate, with no background information that imposes potential feelings of guilt and inadequacy upon them.
There have been many studies about children who were abandoned or given up for adoption, and they later search for any scrap of information that can be provided for them while they were only infants. Invariably, when, somehow, they discover that the family that raised them, loved them, and provided for them was not their biological ancestry, those individuals invariably begin to search for their biological parents, and try to determine their historical ancestry. It is an amazing, almost instinctive, drive within us to know more about our parentage. We wish to discover our blood relatives.
This week’s Torah reading describes the journey of the Jewish people in the desert of Sinai. Rashi points out that this is the story of a father telling a son about what led to his reaching adulthood. The adult youngster is incomplete without the knowledge of his or her true past. The great disconnect in much of the Jewish world today, which leads to so much frustration and even self-denial and often, in the extreme, self-hate, is simply due to that individual knowing anything about his or her heritage. It is hard to begin a journey with an unknown destination if one is not even aware of where that journey began.
Rabbi Berel Wein