“I hate you sometimes!” Harsh words for a parent to hear, but certainly not unique to any particular family. It could be an argument about anything, but clearly the child is unhappy with a decision that was made for her. Despite what children may think, the decisions parents make aren’t simply to make children’s lives miserable. Parents make decisions for their children just as their parents made decisions for them. When you’re a baby, it might be something as mundane as what outfit you’ll be wearing or as significant as whether you’ll be a vegetarian or not. As children grow, parents face decisions like what schools to attend and what values are important. Parents decide whether or not to raise their children in a kosher home or keep Shabbat. Parents make choices, and children learn to live with them, at least while they’re children.
But it’s not just parents who make decisions for others. The fact is, some decisions affect only us and some affect those who come after us. Parshat Nitzavim, our parsha this week, teaches us this lesson quite clearly. It begins with God telling the Israelites about the covenant they are making with Him and how binding it is. In chapter 29, verses 13-14 we read “And not with you alone will I make this covenant and this oath; but with him who stands here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him who is not here with us this day.” This is the moment where God makes it clear that the covenant goes beyond those souls who were physically at Sinai.
Specifically, who are “those who are not here with us today?” Many people read these words as those who physically or even mentally were not present at Sinai. Others interpret this as the souls of every Jew who will ever live, meaning that all Jews souls were present at a Sinai moment. However you look at it, this text is speaking about uniting us in covenant and oath with God and generations past and future.
This covenant was an agreement to keep the mitzvot of the Torah, to follow the laws and remember our pact and connection to Torah. We might ask, like a child who disagrees with a parent’s decision, “What right did our ancestors have to impose the obligations of the covenant on us? Why do we have to feel bound by their actions?” The answer is that those obligations were designed to make their lives and ours holier. We shouldn’t be upset by the path our families have chosen to take if it brings us to goodness, health and happiness, rather we should be able to accept it.
Too often we fantasize about what might have been had we been born otherwise, or what could have been if we had made a different decision. This keeps us from living in the present. We cannot change the past, nor can we predict the future. We stand here today a product of our parents’ and grandparents’ decisions, and we move forward linked in covenant to continue to create holy communities based on love, respect and responsibility.
This Too is Torah: Have you ever created a time capsule? These collections of items are one way we can communicate to future generations. Many of them are buried below ground, while a few of them have been launched into space. As a family think about what would go in your time capsule? What do you think is most important to communicate to the future?