Torah is almost completed this week; Moses is offering his final messages, transmitted in the form of a magnificent poem, with parallel images and the most vital teachings. Among the most compelling, is this one:
"Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; Ask your parent, who will inform you, Your elders, who will tell you." (Deut. 32:7)
Possibly this verse was a charge to earlier generations of Jews to learn from those who had come previously, and to record and retain our history. As well, it could be read as an admonition to each generation to teach the next generation, so that Jewish life and lore would not be lost.
But, what about today?
Today, admittedly we live in a day far from the shtetl, or from the Lower East Side, or Boyle Heights, where Jewish grandparents lived with their children and grandchildren, where generations learned and lived with one another. In that day, recipes were passed down, melodies were repeated and passed down, and Jewish wisdom of the ages was safeguarded. It was a wonderful and rich system, memorialized and idealized in Fiddler on the Roof... and lost to subsequent generations, like ours.
Yes, that idyllic "world of our fathers," as Irving Howe termed it in his landmark history, is gone forever, as is its rich Jewish life. Yet, not all is lost... as Torah includes its own solution to its potential loss:
"Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; Ask your parent, who will inform you, Your elders, who will tell you."
The only way to renew Jewish life, to maintain our cultural richness and to continually invigorate Jewish scholarship and wisdom, is to return to the original message - that we turn to our elders and seniors, and mine their wisdom, dig into their experience.
As we commence our New Year of 5779, there is no better time than now to ask and inquire, to hear what our elders will tell us, and to consider again the wisdom of ages past. Our future generations will thank us!
Shabbat Shalom and Mo'adim l'Simcha -
for Seasons and Festivals of Joy,