web analytics
October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

In The Past We See Our Future

Safran-052512

The past is never dead. It’s not even past. – William Faulkner

We Jews are a people of memories. Our past defines who we are. The past infuses our religious lives with context, purpose and meaning. How could we be if not for knowing how we were?

Our festivals and Yomim Tovim speak to our relationship with our past in unique and powerful ways. However, even in this uniqueness, Shavuot stands out.

Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev offered three explanations as to why Shavuot is also referred to as Atzeret, even though the Torah only uses the term Atzeret in association with the festival of Shemini Atzeret, not Shavuot. First, while labor is forbidden on all Yomim Tovim, festivals have specific practical mitzvah observances associated with their celebration. On Pesach, we eat matzah and drink four cups of wine. On Sukkot, we dwell in the sukkah and take the daled minim. But on Shavuot only the cessation of work is commanded. Thus, Shavuot is known as Atzeret, signifying its only form of Yom Tov.

The Kedushat Levi further explained that the names of all Yomim Tovim reflect a specific historical event to be commemorated in subsequent generations in a religious sense. Shavuot, however, is not a name reflecting any historical event. It is an identifier of time, the completion of the mitzvah of counting Sefirat Ha’Omer. Celebrating a “conclusion” seems at odds with Jewish practice. We celebrate in anticipation of coming celebrations, of the mitzvot to be fulfilled more than those already fulfilled. Our joyous anticipation is the reason for reciting the Shehecheyanu prior to observing a mitzvah rather than at its conclusion.

Even so, Judaism teaches that joy and religious ecstasy are derived from accomplishment and fulfillment. For the religious and learned Jew, there is no greater joy than the joy found in celebrating a siyum – celebrating the privilege and opportunity in having completed a significant part of Torah. The siyum is not unbridled celebration, however. Although it marks completed accomplishment, it does so with full awareness of the anxieties of finality.

We fear completion as much as we celebrate it. Imagine the overwhelming joy of the soon to be celebrated Siyum HaShas – completing of all Shas once in seven years, while simultaneously anxious whether seven years hence I will be able to rejoice yet again. Seven years is a long time. For this reason the committed student of Torah proclaims “Hadran halach” – “I shall return to you.”

The genuine Jew wants not only to celebrate the joys of yesterday, but even more to anticipate the hopes of tomorrow.

This, then, is the essence of the Shavuot Atzeret experience. Rashi comments that it is Shemini Atzeret that focuses on our need to linger, to continue the joys of celebration rather than allow them to come to an abrupt ending – shekashe alai peridatchem. Shavuot marks the completion of the mitzvah of counting the Omer. Atzeret induces us to continue the effect of the goals toward which we counted.

The Kedushat Levi, in concluding that when a Jew experiences a religious awakening and reaches a spiritual elevation he embraces an inner urge to translate the love, ecstasy, and yearning into practical application, is in accord with the Ramban.

The Ramban interprets the verse in the Song of Songs “Mah tairu umah teoreru et ha’ahavah ad shetechpatz” – “That you awaken not, nor stir up love, until it pleases” – to mean that free and unfettered love is mere “sound and fury” unless it finds a mode of practical expression. In the same way, one cannot love or worship God in theory. Religious inspiration and exultation demand ad shetechpatz. Such a religious fervor calls for the creation of chefetz, keli, a vessel through which to express and manifest these innermost feelings and emotions.

The Jews at Sinai obviously reached these highest levels of religious exultation and fervor, but did not as yet possess any practical means of expression other than the fulfillment of the negative command to hold back and refrain from “touching the mountain.” Thus the Yom Tov is known as Atzeret, recalling the one and only commandment, the only “vessel” now available to translate their deep religious feelings.

The three reasons given by Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev as to why Shavuot is referred to as Atzeret correspond powerfully to three explanations of that great expression of remembering, the recitation of Yizkor.

There are those who view the past merely as history, as dead. To them, the past has no valuable lessons or implications to impart for the present or future. For them, the past is not merely past, but it is valueless for the here and now. Jews who cling to this sense of the past find no meaning in rituals of mourning. For them, tearing k’riah, sitting shiva, and observing the halachic and historical modes of mourning are archaic. For them, the past is ancient history that has no meaningful or practical expression. Their Jewish past is over and gone, it ceased with the passing of parents or grandparents. It is abstract, it has no practical methods of contemporary expression.

Then there are those Jews who are able to find a more meaningful yet incomplete method of reciting Yizkor, of remembering the past. For them, recalling the past evokes warm and tender feelings and sentiments, but those emotions affect them only to a point. They are willing to “visit” the past, but they will not allow the past to “visit” the present. They refuse to allow the past to affect their present or future. These are Jews who respect the past, study and analyze it, do research and issue studies and journals about the world of our fathers, the shtetl, , the world of yesteryear.

These are Jews who are unable to proclaim Hadran halach. The passing of grandparents and parents is an abrupt end, without anxieties of kasheh alai pertdatchem – without the inducement to continue the legacy of those who taught us.

Then there is the third way, the only genuine and authentic method of reciting Yizkor. This way is to be able to translate and transform memories, emotions, and past love into new realities. Solomon exclaimed, “Why awaken or rouse the love, unless you are willing to create a new vessel to contain it?”

Recalling the past is meaningful only when one is able to transfer the ahavah into a new chefetz. Genuine and credible tears, memories, and emotions are an acknowledgment that the present has only been made possible because of its connection with the past, and that any future must likewise be connected with the present. Mourning and recalling those who preceded us, with their love and dedication, must include an acknowledgment that our present is not only their past but also the future of the next generation.

The past, then, is the key to our future.

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is OU Kosher’s vice president of communications and marketing.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at e1948s@aol.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “In The Past We See Our Future”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Facebook post from man believed to be Canadian convert to Islam who rammed soldiers with his car in possible terrorist attack, Oct. 20, 2014.
‘Radicalized’ Convert to Islam Attempted to Murder Canadian Soldiers [video]
Latest Indepth Stories
Map of Syria-Turkish border area, pinpointing Kurdish border town of Kobani, just taken by ISIS terror forces Oct 7, 2014.

Turkey and Iran the 2 regional powers surrounding the ISIS conflict gain from a partial ISIS victory

The Rosenstrasse area of Berlin, where Jewish husbands of non-Jewish German wives were held.

Emigration from Israel is at an all-time low, far lower than immigration to Israel from Europe.

NY rally against Met Opera's 'Death of Klinghoffer' opera. Sept. 22, 2014.

Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters: “‘Klinghoffer’ is justified as ‘a work of art’…This is an outrage.”

Guess who's behind the door?

Do you seriously think that as you kidnap our children we should medically treat and help yours?

Sometimes collective action against the heinous acts of the majority is not enough. The world should not only support the blockade of Gaza; it must enforce the dismantling of Hamas.

The Arab Spring has challenged Jordan with the task of gradual reform with regard to its monarchy.

Israel offered Syria the entire Golan Heights, only to find that the Syrians were demanding MORE!

Israeli hasbara too can be described at best as pathetic, at worst non existent.

A ‘good news’ story from the Nepal avalanche disaster to warm your heart. Take out your Kleenex.

Journalists see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as morality play: Israel=evil; Palestine=innocent

Warsaw Ghetto: At its height, the Nazis walled in some 500,000 Jews within the1.3 square mile area.

While police officers face dangers every day on the job, Jews also face danger in their daily lives.

Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”

If Hamas is ISIS, the world asks, why didn’t Israel destroy it given justification and opportunity?

That key is the disarming of Hamas and the demilitarization of Gaza – as the U.S., EU, and others agreed to in principle at the end of Operation Protective Edge.

We have no doubt there are those who deeply desire to present themselves as being of a gender that is not consistent with their anatomy, and we take no joy in the pain and embarrassment they suffer.

More Articles from Rabbi Eliyahu Safran
Jonah and the Whale (2012) 23 x 23, bronze relief by Lynda Caspe.

Yes, God judges, but His judgment is that of a loving father who longs for his child’s quick return.

Eisenstock-082914

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

What defines kana’ut these days? Throwing rocks at passing cars on Shabbos? Burning an Israeli flag on Yom Ha’Atzmaut?

One who may leave his wife an agunah is not included in the general rule that we may not imprison on Shabbos.

“Fulfill my requests for good, grant my request, be mindful of us for deliverance and compassion…remember us for a good, long life…give us bread to eat, clothes to wear…”

Too often, as parents and teachers, we think it means talking at our children, delivering to them good and worthy content that they should simply hear and assimilate into their minds and hearts.

I was singing, dancing, jumping and, sweating. Just joy and happiness. One child on my shoulders after another. What happiness! And then, the little boy on my shoulders – he could not have been older than six – began to cry.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/in-the-past-we-see-our-future/2012/05/23/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: