“A grandfather stands before his newly born grandchild filled with paradoxical thoughts. Feelings of renewal merge with fading memories of the past. For the Torah-committed Jew, this scene has an added dimension. Gazing at the newborn, the grandfather also experiences a sense of ‘generation awareness.’ What is generation awareness?” (Reflections of the Rav Vol. 2)
I think we can find the answer to this question in this week’s parasha, which begins with the Mitzvah of Bikkurim – the bringing of the first fruits of the harvest to Jerusalem. The law itself is actually quite interesting. When the Jews finally conquer and settle in the Land of Israel and when the land begins to yield its produce, they are encouraged not to forget the hardships their ancestors endured for them to see the fruits of their labour. Upon presenting his basket of fruits to the kohein, the farmer is required to recite the following verses:
A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard slavery. And when we cried to the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labour, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egyptwith a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesomeness, and with signs, and with wonders. And he has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land that flows with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land, which you, O Lord, have given me. And you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God. (Deut. 26:5-10)
We cannot view our success in neither a spiritual nor a historical vacuum. We must recognize our lowly beginnings and the divine hand, which constantly guides us.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, explains that the Jewish religious experience requires a consciousness of time. A slave is not attuned to the nuances of time’s passage, because his time belongs to the will of his master. A free person, however, observes time and masters its use for his own advancement.In order to achieve this mastery, one must comprehend three dimensions of time: past, present and future. Thus, time awareness consists of retrospection, appreciation and anticipation.
The declaration of the farmer amalgamatesall three dimensions of time. It recalls the past afflictions of our nation with the story of our descent to Egypt; it acknowledges G-d’s present benevolence to us in the Landof Israelwith its lush produce; and it ends by beseeching G-d to extend his blessings upon us in the future.
The commandment of the Bikkurim teaches us an amazing lesson: the Torahconsiders us capable of and requires us to affirm the veracity of events that occurred to our forefathers thousands of years ago even though we did not personally witness them. We can make this declaration because Jews of the past, present and future are united in their commitment not only to the Divine teachings of the Torah but also to the historical destiny of the Jew.
In his shiurim, the Rav would vividly dramatize the study of Talmud as an actual multigenerational meeting between the teacher, the class, the Tanna’im, the Amora’im and the Rishonim. Rashi and Rambam would argue their different views of Rav Yochanan’s opinion. Rav Chaim Brisker would then arrive to defend Rambam from the severest attacks. The young students attending the class would debate these sages of the past with an air of familiarity, all in pursuit of the same goal and with a common vision.
Through proper recognition of our past, we empower ourselves to use the present in order to pave the way for the glorious Jewish future that awaits us, as individuals and as a people.