פרופ’ פנחס פלאי, תשס”ג
The inscription at the entrance to Yad Vashem, the shrine of the memory of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, contains the following saying, taken from the writings of one of the Hasidic masters, Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav: “In remembrance is the foundation of redemption.” The Torah, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy, enjoins us time and again “to remember” and “not to forget.” Even in his last words, in his parting address which is formulated in poetic style, Moses tells the people:
Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of ages past;
Ask your father, he will inform you,
Your elders, they will tell you.
What Moses adds here is that the “remembrance” of historical facts is not sufficient, rather one must also consider and contemplate them in order to understand their significance.
Ordinarily, the Torah would not repeat the maxim of Plutarch that “History repeats itself.” No, it does not repeat itself. We are the ones who repeat its failures as well as its achievements. The remembrance and understanding of the past aids us in placing events within their proper perspective. Even if we view ourselves as wise, resourceful, and technologically advanced, the study of history teaches us there still are some things that we can learn from our parents, and even our fathers´ fathers possessed a certain happiness that we would do well to share with them.
Long before it became fashionable to search for one´s roots, the Jews already possessed the sense of pride ensuing from a knowledge of one´s past. This pride is not intended to inflate man´s feelings of self-importance or to foster in him shallow conceit, and certainly not to impart privileges and the exalted status of a blue-blooded elite. To the contrary, our lineage constituted a reason to accept more obligations and restrictions.
To Learn and to Teach
When our parents taught us to be proud of our family roots, they also always reminded us that it is better to be the “head” and first in a distinguished lineage, and not its “tail” and last. Our parents and ancestors inspire us with pride, not only when we hang their dreams on the walls of our house, but also because they and their lives provide us with exemplary values that guide us and make our lives better.
The modern period prevents many from maintaining a close and direct relationship with their parents. At times we witness a “lost generation” in the direct chain of the tradition. “Ask your father, he will inform you, your elders, they will tell you” – when we do what the Torah advises us to do, that is, “ask your father,” we find that “he” – the father – “will inform you” that “your elders, they will tell you” – it´s best to ask your grandfather. Your father still recalls the Jewish way of life as he saw and experienced it in Grandfather´s house, but he is no longer capable of explaining it to us in all its detail, and therefore directs us to Grandfather.
One day, we ourselves will be grandfathers. What will we tell our grandchildren then? Will we be able to explain everything to them? If we do not learn today, what will we be capable of teaching and bequeathing tomorrow and the day after?
A person´s pride in the knowledge of his origins, of the roots of his culture, and his quest for these roots is a complex and sophisticated endeavor. The transmission of a heritage is an undertaking that requires much study. Muki Tzur, a kibbutz member and educator, tells about an individual who learned the importance of “roots” and resolved to rise up early every day to uproot the sapling he had planted the previous day, to check its roots. Needless to say, the sapling did not grow into a tree. A close examination of roots requires great wisdom and the knowledge of when and how to engage in such a quest.
Courtesy of the KKL