Rabbi Lewis Warshuaer
The philosopher George Santayana wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. His words have been often used and more often misused. The past is not a document that can simply be pulled out of a file. The past is what we remember it to have been. How we remember it depends on how we have told it. The Torah is, among other things, a record of how the Jewish people told, or were told, its past.
Yet the Torah is difficult to use as a memory book. If an extraterrestrial being were to come to Earth and ask you about the past of the Jewish people, you would not want to hand over the Torah and say: Read this. Many of the narratives appear to be too long, repetitious and even useless in the words of Maimonides. Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed (III:50) confronts head-on the challenge often posed to the Bible - that many sections are just too wordy. He points out that there is a difference between what an individual sees and what is set down in writing. When one sees an event, one can recognize the important details. When those same details are recorded in writing, they appear to the reader, who did not see them, as unnecessary. Maimonides uses as a case in point the opening verses of Parashat Masei, which are a recapitulation of the journeys of the children of Israel in the wilderness. Each stop along the way is mentioned. For instance, why tell that the nation journeyed from a place called Rimmon Peretz to another place called Livnah (Numbers 33:19)? Is this part of the Torah nothing more than a glorified travelogue? For Maimonides, it is vitally important to the Torah, and indeed to the entire enterprise of Judaism, that these details be mentioned. The journey of the Israelites in the wilderness was no mere excursion. It was a miracle. For forty years, God protected the people from harsh conditions and fed them with manna. If the story were merely repeated orally, future listeners might consider it to be false. The detailed, written exposition of these events in the Torah is reliable testimony, according to Maimonides, that these miracles actually occurred.
The problem with Maimonides' explanation is that many Jews do not believe that the Torah is a reliable testimony to the past, and therefore is not particularly worth remembering. Forget about the theoretical extraterrestrial who wants to know about the past of the Jewish people. Too many Jews today cannot answer basic questions on or about the history of our people, where we came from and where we journeyed.
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for additional insights on this week's parsha and others, visit The JTS Torah Commentary archive: http://www.jtsa.edu
May Their Memories Be For a Blessing
Toby Leib Myers
Florence Bobry Robert
7/29/2014 (2 Av)
Milton (Billy) Graub
7/31/2014 (4 Av)
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Friday, July 25th
6 p.m. Chapel
9 a.m. Services, Sanctuary
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SATURDAY NIGHT LEARNING July 19
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Shabbat Youth Activities will resume in the fall.
Fall Events for Camp Ramah
Camp Heremelin, 12:30 p.m. at the home of Doreen Hermelin
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"Making Sense of the Machzor"
A 3-Part Series as part of SNL, Saturday Night Learning
Shabbat, September 6, 13, 20 - 6:30 pm
Prepare for the Yamim Noraim over Seudah Shlishit, as we wrap up the season's Saturday Night Learning sessions.
"Reflections on the Siddur," with Dr. Mitch Parker
will return in the fall.
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