Often what characterizes Jewish law is whether or not something was the practice of our forefathers. Today what defines in many instances the dress of the various sects of Jews is how their parents and grandparents wore their garbs. The Jewish people have developed a profound respect and admiration for our predecessors and this reverence often dictates the nature of our observance.
This allegiance has been a driving force for centuries and has to a great extent made the connection between the past and the future so vital for our people. Rabbi Soloveitchik so beautifully articulates that the Jew is a combination of the past the present and the future of our people. What allows us to act in the present is our past driving us and directing us to practice Judaism appropriately. This past also impacts profoundly on us, thrusting us into our glorious future, giving us the strength and foresight to act responsibly in knowing that we are a cherished nation with a rich and powerful history.
This focus on the respect for our past is perhaps implicit in the first Rashi commentary in the Torah. Rashi begins his monumental commentary with the words of Rabbi Yitzchak. Bearing in mind that the person who Rashi is referring to could have been a great sage who lived in previous generations, one could also posit the idea that perhaps Rashi was paying tribute to his father Rabbi Yitzchaki; As if to say that all the greatness that was attributed to Rashi, came from his father Rabbi Yitzchak. In essence, perhaps Rashi in his opening commentary was paying tribute to his past in recognizing the great part his father played in the writing of his commentary.
This thought came to me as I was participating in a brit milah that took place in the Me’arat Hamachpela, the cave of Machpelah in the city of Chevron, Israel. This was the cave that Abraham our forefather and his wife Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, and Yaakov and Leah were buried in. This cave is one of the most authentic burial sites in Israel. We know this from a long chain of tradition dating back over many centuries.
The Torah states that Abraham was commanded by Almighty G-d to circumcise himself as well as his son Yitzchak. This was to become the everlasting covenant between the Jews and Almighty G-d expressing the special relationship that G-d has with his chosen people, the Jews.
Standing in the morning on a cold winter day at the Cave of Machpelah, watching all of this unfold before me, I realized the profound and enormous responsibility a Jew has to his past in shaping his behavior in the future. Each time the bracha was recited, every movement of the Mohel, was an orchestra of the past generating into the future and guiding us in our everyday activities.
When one loses site of this powerful connection to our past a great disservice is performed for our people. We have no right to change any tradition of our people if the ultimate action will show a lack of respect to our glorious past. To do so would destroy the four thousand year link to our Jewish history which is the source propelling us into the future.
I can recall vividly my father’s actions and his way of presenting himself at all times expressing the glory and the regality of the Jewish people. His life and the lives of his illustrious parents and grandparents have always had a profound effect on the life that I lead today.
It is this past, overpoweringly impacting on my present, that I in turn teach my children and grandchildren insuring our future.