Remember the days of old

September 17, 2021

I have always considered these weeks between Rosh Hashanah and Simhat Torah a strange period in our Torah reading cycle. If Rosh Hashanah is the “beginning” of the new year if it is our celebration of the birth of the world as we know it, then why not coincide the Torah portions to begin reading the story of Genesis on the holiday that celebrates the world’s creation, Rosh Hashanah?

In fact, for years I have reflected on this disconnect without resolve. Until today, until being placed in a position to “see” this week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, through the lens of my community role at the Jewish Federation, I simply never noticed the obvious message of Deuteronomy 32:7, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations…”

Philosopher and writer, George Santayana, captured the essence of this verse many years later, variations of which have been quoted by history teachers ever since, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

It is in these last few weeks of Torah portions, before we once again rewind and reread the Torah from the beginning in celebration of Simhat Torah, that Gd reminds us of the importance of understanding history in order to see what the future can offer.

It would be easy for the message of the last few verses of the Torah to go unnoticed. However, by extending the readings to emphasize the reflection of Moses’ life, the lessons the Hebrews learned in the wilderness, and the wisdom of this great sage, we are reminded that in a few weeks we will start reading the Torah again. But, before we enter that mindset, we must ask ourselves; have we really reflected enough on how we have grown this year, what have we learned, and what wisdom do those around us have to offer that we have not yet gleaned?

In the simplest of interpretations, the text is asking us, have we shown our elders their due kavod (“respect”)? Have we expressed to them the great appreciation for providing us the guidance and wisdom of their lifetime endeavors? Did we truly listen to them when they shared their stories of yesteryear?

Not only will we miss our elders in the most obvious and painful ways when they are no longer with us, but how much regret will there be when we realize that we neglected to truly hear their stories and internalize their wisdom when we had the chance?

Every year we read the identical text of the Torah. Our laws on scribing a Torah are so intricate and unique that no error can be made in the creation of the Torah because the words must be the same for every Jew around the world for every generation. Yet, no two Jews are equally as identical. Therefore, it is during these extended weeks, that we are reminded to appreciate each individual elder’s great wisdom, expertise, and lifetime endeavors before we go back to the start and focus on the new and exciting repeated beginnings.

This week’s mitzvah is to reach out to an elder and ask them to share an important memory, and consequently, the message or value that they learned from the experience. Truly give them the time to share their story while we share the moment. This is the message of this week’s Torah portion. It is because of experiences like this that we are Stronger Together, and why the Jewish Federation is…

HERE for you.

HERE for our community.

HERE for our future.

Shabbat shalom,