Judaism: Moving Forward
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
On the one hand , the roads of our lives continue to surprise us with unexpected turns. Challenges on the national or personal level may confound and confuse us.
On the other hand, we all want our lives to have meaning. We all want our endeavors to produce fruit. We all truly want our journeys to have purpose. Avraham our forefather gives us clues and direction. The verse in the Torah portion tells us that,".. Abraham was old, advanced in days ( Ba Be Yamim), and Hashem had blessed Abraham with everything.(Genesis 24:1)
The phrase "advanced in days" ( Ba Be Yamim) is actually more literally translated as coming into his days. What does that truly mean ?
There are two ways of looking at "time".
One way which has overwhelmed western thinking comes from Hellenist roots. In this approach “Time” is viewed as a linear line moving from point A to point B. It is always moving ahead leaving the past behind. Shakespeare in his play "Richard the II" writes "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me". We lose time as time passes us by like a raging river.
Yet in the Jewish and Biblical view of the world specific dates and appointed times are gates through which time flows in a cyclical and upward spiral fashion, toward a purpose. Rabbi Moshe Shapiro of Jerusalem teaches that the Hebrew word for "time" - "zman" is derived from the same root word as the word hazmana which means invitation .Time is not a raging river that carries us into the unknown away from our beginnings. It is actually an invitation into an appointed destiny, a Moed.
Looking back exclusively can imprison us as well. Several years ago A group of students had entered our shop and we began what became a very heated discussion about the situation in the Middle East. As we were speaking a man had entered the shop with his wife and he stood by and listened.
As we began a discussion of the June 67 war the man became animated and in a very heavy Israeli accent asked to say some words. He pointed to a large poster showing three paratroopers after the liberation of the Western Wall. "You see that picture," he pointed urgently, "that's me." I asked him which one of the three soldiers was him. He said, "no, no, see the nose, the man whose face is covered except for his nose... that is me."
He then continued to describe how he had succeeded in surviving those terrible years of evil in Europe and was brought to Israel as a teenager. Those were the days of the State's birth and they were years of war. He described how he had been quickly taught how to shoot a “Sten” gun and was sent into battle. The fear was overwhelming but that war in 1948 was not destined to be the last war. He grudgingly and fearfully participated in all of them. He joined the armor corps and made a vow never to leave his armored car or tank during battle. After years of fear and lack of protection in war ravaged Europe he was not able to disengage from the protection of the steel walls of his vehicle.
That was until that day in the summer of 1967. In June, 1967 he was in Jerusalem with his unit and he remembers clearly the message he heard on the tank radio. "We found it, we found the alleyway to the Kotel ... it’s in our hands".
He does not remember how or why but he remembered that he soon found himself out of the tank. He started running through the streets of the old city, past smoldering buses and turned over cars. There were still shots being fired but he remembered only a burning passion to get to the wall.
When he got there he heard the prayers and the blowing of the shofar and he felt overwhelmed.
Then he said to us, "You know I never turned around to look at the wall." He did not continue and none of us dared to say anything - we sensed there was great pain in that comment.
“You see," he continued, "I knew that if I looked back I would see my mother, father and sisters at the wall. Even though they were butchered in the camps, I knew they were there. So I could not look back."
At this point he apologized, turned and walked out the door, into the future and his destiny.
Therein lies the true meaning of the phrase Ba Beyamim . It is about coming into ones days with vigor and filling them with purpose. It is all about the direction wherein you view time and life. It is important to remember where you came from, but we cannot allow that to dominate and imprison us.
If one has a constant sense that Time is slipping away and as a result is always looking back, then time begins to be lost and one begins to lose one's way.
If on the other hand one looks ever forward to a moed, an appointed time ,then one finds that opportunities will always appear to help overcome those obstacles in our national and personal journey and fill those days with purpose.