"Remember the days of old. Consider the years of ages past. Ask your father, he will inform you, your elders, they will tell you." (Deuteronomy 32:7)
Rashi, the Commentator of commentators, was a master of putting Torah in context. We will honor his teaching as we try to do the same.
Just before he climbs Mount Nebo where he will die, Moses delivers a message to the people of Israel in the form of a poem. He implores them to remember their history and their special relationship with God, who guided and cared for their ancestors. Moses advises them to ask their parents to tell them about their past.
Each week we will select one theme from the parashah that is directly relevant to our lives.
Moses knew that the survival of Judaism depended upon the people remembering their history and sharing it with future generations. Our personal stories can also become a part of the ongoing saga of the Jewish people. Remembering and recording our family history tells us who we are in relationship to those who came before us. While our parents and our grandparents are alive, we would be wise to follow the advice given by Moses in this week's Torah portion.
A Sage Speaks
Each week we will learn from a Talmid Chacham - a disciple of the wise.
It is quite feasible that one of the reasons why Judaism has managed to survive for more than three thousand years is because of Moses' insistence that the people remember their history. We have only to turn to the sacred books of Judaism to read about the patriarchs and matriarchs, the revelation at Mount Sinai, the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, and many other ancient tales that recount our history.
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1150), better known as Rashi, suggests that one should "remember" and consider history "in order to be conscious of what may happen in the future." He explains that understanding how God created the heavens and earth, spread human beings throughout the world, made a covenant with Abraham, divided peoples into lands, and gave the Torah with its laws to the people of Israel helps to promote an appreciation of God's power and presence in human life. The knowledge of what God has done encourages faith in what God will continue to do. "(Comments on Deuteronomy 32.7)
Modern commentator, Pinchas Peli, challenges us to learn about the past. He writes, "Even though we may think of ourselves as wise, resourceful, and technologically advanced, we are brought to realize that there is still much we can learn from our parents and even our grandparents have much that is worth sharing with us." (Harvey Fields, A Torah Commentary for Our Times, p.183)
Ultimately, we are a product of all of the generations that preceded us. If we take the opportunity to uncover and listen to their stories, we will come to know ourselves in new and different ways. "Every event touches not only those who witnessed it but also their children and their children's children. Our identity is shaped, at least in part, by our family history. Indeed, our most treasured history is learned at home, the place where our most powerful memories reside." (Facing History and Ourselves, p.479)
The Torah and You
Questions and/or activities for families:
- With older children (10+)
- According to Rashi, why is it so important to "remember the days of old"?
- The Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber said, "We Jews are a community by virtue of historic memory. We have been held together and upheld by common remembering." Think of one example of something you do as a Jewish family that can be linked to an ancient Jewish tradition.
- Make a list of things you would like to know about what life was like for your parents or grandparents when they were your age. Interview them using a video camera to record their answers.
- Create a family tree. Research the names of family members as far back as you can. You can find help at a Jewish genealogical site such as www.jewishgen.org.
- With younger children (6-9)
- What is your favorite Torah story? What does it teach you about the Jewish people of long ago?
- Ask your parents or grandparents to tell you their favorite stories about their childhood. Write these stories down and create a "Family History Book". When you hear new stories, you can add them. Find a special place where you might save this book.
- How far back can you trace your family? Ask your parents to help you make a list of all of the members of your family. See if you can find pictures of all of these people in your family picture album.
- Ask your parents to arrange a visit to a Retirement Home for the Elderly where you might ask some of the residents to share some of their stories with you.