OU Torah Insights ProjectParashat Ki Tavo
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 times passage, because his time belongs to the will and whim 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.
Parshas Ki Savo repeats the mitzvah of delivering first-fruits to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and introduces a related mitzvah, mikra bikkurim. Upon presenting the kohein with his basket of fruits, the pilgrim recites a selection from our parshah:
"A wandering Aramean was my father, and he descended to Egypt.... And the Egyptians mistreated us and tormented us.... But we cried out to Hashem, G-d of our fathers...and He extracted us from Egypt with a strong Hand.... Then He brought us to this place, and he gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold I have brought the first fruits of the land that You, Hashem, have given me."
Then after this praise, the Sefer Hachinuch writes, he asks G-d to continue bestowing blessings upon him and his family.
This declaration amalgamates all three dimensions of time. It recalls the past straits of our nation with the story of our descent to Egypt; it acknowledges G-ds present benevolence to us in the Land of Israel with its lush produce; and it ends by beseeching Hashem to extend his blessings upon us in the future.
From this mitzvah we draw a stunning conclusion: the Torah does consider us capable of affirming 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 our collective Jewish memory comes alive. And in so doing, we increase our faith in Hashem and our fervor for His service.
Contemporary experience bears this out. Rav Soloveitchik viewed our binding cord to Eretz Yisrael, for example, as explicable only in terms of Jewish experiential memory.
Likewise, in his shiurim, the Rav would vividly dramatize the study of Talmud as an actual multigenerational meeting between the teacher, the class, the Tannaim, the Amoraim and the Rishonim.
Rashi and Rambam would argue their different views of Rav Yochanans opinion. Rav Chaim Brisker would then arrive to defend Rambam from the severest attacks. Anyone who attended Rav Soloveitchiks shiur vividly recalls this confrontation of the ages.
This vivid Jewish memory sustains many segments of Klal Yisrael. One Rabbi told me of his mothers recollections of her work in an umbrella factory more than fifty years ago. On Passover, her Jewish co-workers would bring in matzah sandwicheswith ham. They had forgotten kashrus but remembered Pesach.
It is surely the children and grandchildren of such Yidden who return to the fold. As long as there is a sustained Jewish memory, there remains a spark of Yiddishkeit to ignite. Should these embers go out, G-d forbid, outreach becomes exponentially more difficult.
Those who are already Torah observant are equally challenged to make Moshe Rabbeinu, Rabbi Akiva, and Sarah Schnerer come alive to deliver their special messages to us in a vibrant and resonant way. Let us use the means we have to recognize and promote positive and substantive Jewish memories in ourselves as well as in our wandering Jewish brethren.
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. To quote the popular Jewish radio personality, Nachum Segal, "Remember the past, live the present, and trust the future."
Rabbi Mordechai Yehuda Tropp
Rabbi Tropp is the Regional Director of Etz Chaim Region (New Jersey) NCSY.