What Is Our Responsibility to Future Generations?
The Torah is a guidebook that unifies the Jewish people, provides a how-to manual to create the unique Jewish culture that is ours, and gives us a way to tell our story for the future – a gift with distinct and incredible power.
This week’s Torah portion, Parashat T’tzaveh, begins by dictating the process of adorning the Kohen Gadol, the high priest, Aaron, in priestly garments, including a special cape, colorful apron, golden plate for the forehead, and a breastplate with 12 precious stones.
The sacred process of dressing Aaron in clothes exclusive to the high priest is personal, not only providing him with unique garments and a position that towers above other priests, but also recognizing him as one of the most powerful, respected, and holy leaders of the Jewish people. Yet, instead of focusing on Aaron during his initiation into the priesthood, the Torah focuses on how he constantly is accommodated by his sons – Nadab, Abihu, Ithamar, and Eleazar.
Why were Aaron’s younger sons able to experience the consecration of their father as the High Priest as he receives his particular outfit? A story in the Talmud may help us understand the sons’ presence.
One day, Choni the Circle Maker was walking along his path, when he saw a man planting a carob tree. Curious, Choni asked the man, “This tree, how long will it take for it to bear fruit?”
The man responded dutifully and honestly, “Seventy years.”
Choni was appalled. Seventy years? That’s a really long time for a tree to grow. Why would anyone plant a tree that wasn’t even going to bear fruit in his lifetime?
When Choni asked the planter this question, the man responded, “My grandparents planted a carob tree so that I would be able to reap its fruit. Now I shall do the same for my grandchildren.”
Choni, perplexed by the man’s perspective on the future, did what anyone would do after such a confusing conversation: He sat down for a nice meal and then settled in for a quick nap. His “quick nap,” however, morphed into a 70-year deep sleep. When he woke up, he saw a young man plucking fruit from a fully grown carob tree. Rubbing his eyes, he sauntered over to the man. “Hey,” he said. “did you plant this tree?”
The man shook his head. “My grandfather planted it for me, knowing that 70 years later, it would be something I could cherish and use.”
Choni’s story not only teaches us that we have a responsibility to make the world as good a place as we can while we are alive, but also that it is our responsibility to plant carob trees: to grow them and take care of them for the generations to come. The story instills in the Jewish people the importance of having respect and compassion for the people who will be the future.
Thus, having Aaron’s sons present in the ritual of the priestly garments is not an intrusion on a private anointment; rather it is planting in their minds a carob seed they can nurture and grow for the future. Their presence demonstrates the compassion, care, and inclusiveness of Aaron’s generation toward generations to come and the commitment to build a community and a world that future generation can cherish and thrive in.
From Aaron to his sons and now to us – l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation – we are reminded of our responsibility not only to ourselves and the world we live in, but also to the people and the world that will follow us. By bringing his sons into such a holy experience, Aaron was not only exemplifying the importance of caring for the future, but also demonstrating that performing acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world) or g’milut chasadim (deeds of loving-kindness) have no boundaries. Regardless of age or other parameters, everyone has the power and the responsibility to make a difference.
In that way, Parashat T’tzaveh is prophetic, encapsulating the strength of our generation in its words. In the past year or so, we have seen young people demonstrate tremendous passion, mobilize widely, and exhibit remarkable strength around causes and issues they care deeply about. In 2018 alone, thousands of people swarmed Washington D.C. in the “March for Our Lives,” led and organized by students, not simply to advocate for young people, but also to hear them speak truth to power.
Our own NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement has not only brought every one of us here today, but also taught us that the pursuit of justice belongs in our hands – teenagers like you and me. It’s time for us to make our difference in this world we have been given. It’s our turn to reap from the carob tree left for us and plant the seeds of new trees for our descendants. We can do this because we are powerful, we are strong, and we can shape our own stories for the future.
This Ten Minutes of Torah essay is adapted from this year’s winning entry in the Blickstein D’var Torah Competition. Read the full essay, as well as the second-place essay by Shira Hoffer and the third-place essay by Lex McDermott. April will deliver her d’var Torah at NFTY Convention, a biennial conference for Reform Jewish teens, happening this weekend in Dallas, TX. Watch live at NFTYConvention.org/Livestream on Saturday, February 16, at 10:30 a.m. CST.