The Past Guides Our Future

How should we remember the past so that it best teaches us how to live our lives into the future?

Parashat Ki Tavo gives us a very interesting answer and model for us to use.

Israelite farmers were commanded to bring the first cuttings from their produce in a basket to the Temple where the Kohein (priest) would place them in front of the altar.

The farmer then had to recite a declarative paragraph casting himself as an actor in the history of the Israelite people (Devarim/ Deuteronomy 26:5-10):

  ... אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב

5 … 'A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.

          .ו  וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁ

6 And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.

.ז  וַנִּצְעַק, אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ; וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה אֶת-קֹלֵנוּ, וַיַּרְא אֶת-עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּוְ אֶת-לַחֲצֵנו

7 And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.

.ח  וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָה, מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל--וּבְאֹתוֹת, וּבְמֹפְתִים

8 And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.

.ט  וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ

9 And He has brought us into this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

.י  וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, יְהוָה; וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ

10 And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which You, O LORD, have given me.'

That first-person internalization is doubtless one of the reasons why the rabbis included much of this declaration in our Pesach Haggadah.

What we decide to remember and retell about the past informs us about who we are and what we want to be in the future-- which is what makes CAJE’s Leo Martin March of the Living program such an educational challenge.

Are we remembering the Shoah (Holocaust) just… to remember?!? And what parts exactly are we going to remember?

Never Again!’ is a common cry, but it’s too late. Genocidal acts have already happened… just to other people. So is it ‘Never Again!’ for us Jews? Surveying world history, I think we have a right to be self-centered in this instance and protect ourselves first-- but of course we shouldn’t stop there.

We are not yet sure if an International March of the Living can take place given the pandemic, but our team at CAJE is exploring all the possible scenarios for our students in the hopes the learning can continue nonetheless.

It’s a tall order to create an experience like the March. In a regular year, Marchers learn about the reality of the Shoah, become witnesses for life, see Israel in a new way, and appreciate their Jewish identity as never before.

Like the farmer in this week’s parsha, our Marchers deeply internalize the message of peoplehood and history.

On October 29th, CAJE will be holding our virtual “Comedy for a Cause” Celebration raising money for the March of the Living and honoring four amazing people who have dedicated themselves to helping the March thrive into the future.

Please click here to register for this meaningful and fun evening.

A few years ago, I had a fascinating conversation with Ido Frommer, who runs the Science Center in Yerucham (Miami’s partnership city). Ido is an officer in the Air Force and former fighter pilot, so his Zionist credentials are unimpeachable. He is also the child of survivors— one of the Nazis and the other of Stalin.

At dinner, I asked him what he believes the Shoah teaches us. His answer was eye-opening! There are 2 main lessons of the Shoah for him, and each of them relates to how he perceives Israel. One lesson comes from the narrative of the victims and one from the narrative of the murderers.

The indiscriminate killing of Jews and the inability of world Jewry to do anything much to stop it (the narrative of the victims) teaches us that we need a Jewish state— a sovereign country with a strong military where Jewish lives are a top priority and Jews can come home to it whenever they have need or desire.

The unimaginable cruelty and evil perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews and so many others (let’s not forget them) teaches us that Israel needs to be a moral state—a country that serves as ‘Or La’Goyim’ (to paraphrase the prophet Isaiah 49:6), a City on the Hill, a beacon of morality in an immoral world that applies Jewish values to the complexities of statecraft.

And then he noted: “The right-wing in Israel only seem to remember the narrative of the victims and the left-wing only seem to recall the lessons we learned from the murderers, but the best course of action is for the State of Israel to work on achieving the delicate dialectical balance between both of these essential teachings.”

What lessons do you want to recall from the Shoah? How do they inform your idea of what the State of Israel should be?

And in general, how do you want to remember the past so that it best teaches you and your family how to live your lives into the future?

Shabbat Shalom


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