“Those were the days.” We say it with a hint of nostalgia as we think back to yesteryear, remembering an especially great family vacation from childhood or the easy summer nights when the only rule was be home by dark. When we think back,it’s often with a selective memory. That perfect family vacation was probably with great moments . . . and some moments that were not quite as idyllic. We might not choose to recall that one fight,the bout of grumpiness, or a stubborn moment that briefly disturbed the peace. Instead, we let the shining moments take center stage in our memories.
This week we begin the fourth book of the Torah, Sefer Bamidbar. The Israelites are now in the desert, and the structure of their lives has been set. Army leaders are appointed to lead alongside Moses and Aaron, a census is taken of the people, and we learn that the camps are situated in a specific order, each with a flag in the center that tells us which tribe is there. The time spent in Egypt is a distant memory at this point.
This book shows us the generation of the Israelites that left Egypt, and in the 38years that is covered in Sefer Bamidbar,this generation dies off. As this happens a new generation becomes the leaders of the people, one that only remembers the blessings of freedom. This new generation has never known slavery; the events at Sinai are foggy at best. Instead of a real memory, Sinai is a tradition, a history passed down from prior generations. At this moment, the Israelites who stand poised to enter into the Promised Land are a generation who can only vaguely look back on yesteryear. At this point,the Torah moves forward, pushing the reader to understand that while the pastis important and does inform how we got to be where we are now, it is the next generation that will lead us into the future.
As an educator it blows my mind to think about the days when there were no computers in the classroom, since today thinking about teaching without the SMART board gives me a panic attack. I am constantly reminded that this next generation we are educating is made up completely of digital natives. Snail mail is a quaint tradition and newspapers and corded phones are play items and museum displays. Our Torah portion reminds us that it is our obligation not to focus solely on the past with fondness and nostalgia, but to look forward and prepare the next generation to stand tall and firm as confident leaders who know their past, their history,and who they are.
As we read about the Israelites preparing to enter into their Promised Land we are reminded that the “promised”part of Promised Land is what you make of it. Remember and cherish what came before, but also consider your job in the present. What are you going to do to make this a time that people remember fondly?
THIS TOO IS TORAH:What do you remember from your childhood that’s out of date or old fashioned now? Do you think about it with nostalgia?