9 Av 5772 / July 27-28, 2012
This Shabbat, we begin reading the Book of Deuteronomy – Book #5 of the 5 Books of Moses. The entire book is largely a speech given by Moses to the Israelites on the eastern bank of the Jordan River before they enter the Promised Land. In this speech, Moses recaps just about everything that happened between the Exodus from Egypt and that moment, over 40 years later.
The Israelites who were there to hear his speech were the children of those who had left Egypt. It had been 40 years of wandering in the desert, and the Exodus generation had all passed away.
Of those who left Egypt, only 2 would be permitted to enter the Promised Land: Joshua and Caleb (the two spies who had brought back favorable reports). Everyone else, including Moses, will have died before entering.
But here we find Moses addressing the nation – knowing that he does not get to go with them. He begins to recap their battles and adventures in this week’s portion; many of which the current Israelites are not old enough to remember and are too young to have participated in. In a sense he is serving as a historian, and in another, he is providing the context and framing for the battles the nation will face when entering the Promised Land.
Knowing where we’ve come from is an essential piece of knowing where we’re going.
I was fortunate enough to visit my grandparents in California this past weekend and was able to learn quite a bit about my grandmother’s past. My grandmother was part of the Kindertransport out of Germany in 1939 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindertransport). She was separated from her family at age 10 and sent to England to be housed with a family there. She never saw her parents (her father was a kosher butcher) or a number of her siblings (she was one of seven) again. She spent the next few years in Liverpool and did not attend high school – her schooling ceased at age 14 when she went to work. She moved to London for a couple of years and eventually made her way to Israel when she was 20 years old in order to join the fledgling Israeli army. In my conversation with her, I learned that her parents had actually originally been from Poland, and that one of her siblings had been on the Kindertransport with her, but had been housed with a different family in Liverpool.
Needless to say, there is a quite a bit to unpack in the above paragraph, and through further conversations with my grandmother, I intend to dive even deeper into her experiences. I cannot help but reflect on my own life when learning about hers, and without question, as a result, my lens narrows and my personal goals come into sharper focus.
This week, make it a point to look into your own family history. Like the Israelites, who were provided with historical context before their venture into the Promised Land, make the time learn about where you come from, as inevitably, doing so will help you focus on where it is you’re trying to go.