To know where to go,look at where you started from

Look for wrong turns and poor choices that Jewish history makes plain.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Judaism Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein

The Torah reading of this past week marks not only the conclusion of the book of Bamidbar but also of the narrative portion which tells of the formation of the Jewish people. It has truly been a long journey from the Garden of Eden, from original man to the banks of the Jordan River. It tells of the development of a special people whose influence and contribution to the world will be in far greater measure than its numbers would indicate.

All of the travels of the Jewish people in the desert of Sinai are enumerated in this week's Torah reading. To a certain extent, we are being taught a fundamental life lesson. Unless one knows and realizes where one has been and where one comes from, it is very difficult to successfully understand where one is supposed to go in the future.

It is impossible to admit error if one does not know that one committed error.
Rashi indicates this in his commentary when he explains that each of the stops in the desert was meant to jog the memory of the people, to recall their errors and foibles and to enshrine in their minds their triumphs and accomplishments. It is not the place itself that is so important to remember as it is what occurred there.

We should know what lessons can be learned from the events that took place at that location and to apply those lessons to future stops on the journey of the Jewish people. Truly, if we do not know where we have been, how we entered the maze of our history, then we will continually be blindsided and disconcerted by the events that will undoubtedly occur to us in our present and future.

King Solomon instructed us that  “there are no new things under the sun.” He obviously was not referring to advances in technology, medicine and other fields where we witness almost daily “new things.” Rather, he was referring to the patterns of humanity here and the overriding narrative of the story of the Jewish people.

It should be abundantly clear by now where we took wrong turns and when we made poor choices. But since we constantly repeat those poor choices, and even glorify them, as somehow being sacrosanct and positive, we allow for a great deal of unpleasantness and frustration to enter our national life.

All of the blandishments of the utopian Left have been proven to be hollow, misleading and eventually disastrous. Yet, amazingly enough, we are unable to admit to our error and change our course. A great deal of the blame for this shortsightedness on our part is due to the fact that most Jews know very little about our history, the stops on the way and the occurrences that dominated our story.

It is impossible to admit error if one does not know that one committed error. The current discussion regarding what type of curriculum and what subjects should be taught in our schools somehow overlooks the basic requirement of knowing our story and recalling where we have been and what happened to us at those historical stops. Therefore, this parsha of Maasei should be drummed into us for it alone can help us chart a correct course for our future.