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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Pinchas

Pinchas: Embracing Our Past

Submitted by on July 7, 2009 – 2:11 amNo Comment | 2,322 views


They tell a story of a man dressed in the traditional garb of an orthodox Rabbi who was reprimanded by a progressive Jew for living in the darkness of the Middle Ages and for forming the impression that Jews are a backward people. Excuse me, replied the man in traditional garb, but I am not Jewish, in fact, I’m Amish. My apologies cried the progressive, had I known I would never have accosted you this way. I have always admired your people for living and respecting your traditions.

In the classic film, “Fiddler On The Roof,” there is a delightful scene where Tevia wonders why Jews practice so many rituals. After a fair bit of musing he concludes, “I don’t know, perhaps it is just tradition!” Embracing traditional forms of living can seem enchanting, but does it not also mire us in the past and stifle growth?

It is a tradition during Jewish festivals to chant the Biblical passages that describe the sacrifices offered in the ancient temple during that respective festival. Though the Temple is no longer extant and the sacrificial rite has long been abolished our sages taught that it is possible achieve the merit of those sacrifices by studying the relevant Biblical passages that describe them.

The question is why should we bother? Why must we embrace a ritual that has not been practiced for nearly two millennia? For that matter we may as well ask why we should bother with Passover altogether. Why should a contemporary people celebrate a three-thousand year old liberation from bondage? Of what import is this fact to a people whose relation to their ancestors has waned with the passage of time?


The answer is that we are molded by the experiences of our infancy and youth. The loving care bestowed on us by our parents nurtures our confidence and inner strength in adulthood. Children who are sadly abused grow up insecure and afraid; unable to confide and unable to love. We cannot simply discard our ties to our past. The past informs our present and directs our future. For better or for worse, it molds our character and shapes our identity.

As a people we can no more discard our past than we can deny who we are; our tradition is our identity. The fabric of our people and our national conscience was formed by the seminal events of our past. The rituals and traditions that have been observed for thousands of years inform our nationhood and serve as our national bond.

Jews used to live in one country, but today we are a dispersed people. Our culture, art and music are no longer uniform. Our dress and language are no longer the binding agents of our people. Jews are bound only by their tradition. The Jew in Copenhagen and the Jew in Melbourne are bound by the Matzah they eat on Passover. The Jew from Tel Aviv and the Jew from Brooklyn are one on account of the lights they kindle on Chanukah. The Jew from Johannesburg and the Jew from Tokyo are related because of the Shofar they sound on Rosh Hashanah.

The nation of Israel has no claim to the land of Israel outside of the tradition that binds us to it. The Balfour declaration and United Nations Mandate notwithstanding the only reason the Jewish soul responds to the Jewish land is because G-d granted it to our ancestors thousands of years ago. We can no more ignore that promise than we can ignore our national identity; one is wrapped up in the other.

The Jewish spirit flourishes in the Holy Land and the Holy Land responds to the Jewish presence only because they are linked at their roots. Their destinies were entwined when their pasts were merged, forging a bond for all time. Abandoning our tradition is tantamount to abandoning ourselves; which is why, regardless of our background, we are always at home when we encounter our traditions.

Around the Globe

On a recent trip to Australia I followed the clock half way across the globe. As we traveled west we kept falling back in time; we were traveling into our past. We departed New York at four o’clock and several hours later it was four o’clock again. As we continued to travel the clock fell further back until we fell behind by more hours than I cared to count.embracing our past - innerstream

Then we crossed the International Dateline and suddenly we were ahead; not by hours, but by an entire day. The lesson was clear. Traveling back into our past to embrace the traditions of old is the bridge that links to our future. Without our past our future is imperiled; it loses purpose and direction.

The opposite is also true when traveling in an easterly direction. Traveling to Europe one gains time with every moment of travel. By the time we reach the International Dateline from the other direction we are countless hours ahead of our original time of departure. Yet we cannot outpace ourselves; our essence does not adapt to the rigors of change. Regardless of the progress made by our advance we ultimately return to our point of equilibrium. The moment we pass the dateline the clock turns back to yesterday.

This lesson is equally clear. Traveling into our future with no bond to our past is futile. Despite the impressive gains of science and modern technology, the wisdom of our ancestors is irreplaceable. Modern technology can provide more comfortable ways to live, but our ancient wisdom teaches us how to live and this wisdom is irreplaceable. We might race forward and sever all ties to our past. For a while we might appear to be making progress, but with time we realize the futility of this path. In the end we are forced to return to the fundamental teachings of the ancients and to the traditions of our past

The dateline teaches us an important lesson: Racing ahead into our future with no regard for our past is futile. It only by retracing the steps of our past that we can form a bridge into our future.