This week’s parasha is Parashat Ha’azinu. The parasha between Yom Kippur and the upcoming festival of Sukkot.
Parashat Ha’azinu Summary
- The song of Moses
- Hashem’s kindness to Israel
- The cycle of sin, punishment and repentance
- Moshe is shown the Land Of Israel.
זְכֹר֙ יְמ֣וֹת עוֹלָ֔ם בִּ֖ינוּ שְׁנ֣וֹת דּוֹר־וָד֑וֹר אָבִ֙יךָ֙ וְיַגֵּ֔דְךָ זְקֵנֶ֖יךָ וְיֹ֥אמְרוּ לָֽךְ׃
Remember the days of old, Consider the years of ages past; Ask your father, he will inform you, Your elders, they will tell you:
Moses introduces his song to the people with a plea to refer to the elders. This, of course, should make sense. The collective wisdom of the past should be respected, cherished, harnassed and embraced. But that is not necessarily the case. All too often we dismiss the thoughts of the previous generation as old-fashioned. We prefer the new. The elders certainly cannot provide us with anything they are yesterday and we are tomorrow people.
This approach is not healthy and is dangerous. George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” This is a warning we should certainly be aware of.
Learn From Our Past
Moshe is telling us that to understand the world that we live in we have to consult with our elders. We are not born in a vacuum. The world we enter is a result of decisions made in the past. Sometimes hundreds of years in the past. They once asked a historian whether he thought that the French Revolution was a success or a failure. His reply was, “Too early to tell!”
This event took place over 200 years ago! Moshe is instructing us, that to understand where we are, we need to understand history. Where do we come from? What happened before our arrival? No matter what we do, whether it is starting a new job, joining a community becoming involved in politics. We first need to understand what is the lay of the land before we can comment.
Parashat Ha’azinu – The Key, A Mentor
But there is more. There is so much wisdom available to us if only we would talk to our seniors. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (1:6) – Ethics of our fathers teaches, make for yourself a teacher and acquire a friend. We all need mentors in our lives.
As much as we learn in school, university or even Yeshiva, there is a need to spend time learning from those in the know. The Talmud already states that one needs שימוש הרב – time spent serving a rabbi. For it is through spending time with them that one learns what to do in different situations. This idea is known as mentoring.
In all professions, we know its value. Judaism is no different. Without mentoring how are we to know what to do? What is a law, what is a stringency? What is the right practice for me at this moment in my life? A mentor is key.
So many times in my career it has been the sound advice of those older than me that have been able to guide me through the rapids.
A white-haired head needs to be embraced and cherished, for what they have forgotten we have yet to learn.
Every time I visit the seniors of my community I have learned something new. What we read in books they lived through. They connect us to the world that was.
Poland Our Heritage
One of the most meaningful experiences I had, was traveling to Poland, first with the March of the Living in 2007 and then last year on the Israel Study Tour. The big difference between the two trips was, that in 2007 we traveled with a Holocaust survivor. In 2018 we did not have a survivor. As we traveled I remembered the stories that Tuvia had told me. When I shared the stories with the IST group of 2018, I realised that I was the witness to the witness. We had no survivor, but we still were able to hear the voice of Tuvia as we traveled. The trip was transformed from a trip to a journey. It was the stories that I heard that linked a new generation with first-hand experiences of a Shoah survivor.
Maybe this is another reason that Moshe instructs us to speak to our elders, for their story becomes our story that we then transmit to the next generation. Judaism is about the transmission of the tradition. It is a living tradition. I receive from the past and hand it over to the future. I am the link that connects our past with our future.
So ask the elders. Speak to your grandparents and the seniors in your life. Don’t wait till they are gone. For once they are gone, so are their memories and experiences.
Moshe’s command is a call to us to record as much as it is to learn.