“You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance” (Shemos 15:17).
The word the Torah uses here for “inheritance” is nachalah. Elsewhere, it uses a different word, yerushah. Interestingly, the Gemara (Yevamos 62a) says that nachalah is confined to Jews; yerushah is for other people. But what’s the difference between these two words?
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch maintains that nachalah comes from nachal, which means both a stream that flows down from the heights as well as a lowland or valley through which such a stream flows. Yerushah meanwhile comes from yarash, which means to take possession in place of someone else or to dispossess someone.
A child who doesn’t respect his parents and a generation that doesn’t venerate its predecessors is a yoresh. The “more vigorous [generation] supplants the older decrepit generation and steps into its shoes.” It wishes “to start afresh, does not want to learn anything from the past.”
This attitude should be foreign to the Jewish people. “[O]ne generation is supposed to flow into the other like a stream. The older generation hands over its strength and powers, its spiritual and material treasures, to the younger.” And the inheriting generation is truly just a lowland or valley – facilitating the flow of these treasures – since each generation is really just a link in a much larger chain. “The heir receives his heritage to hand it down in his turn.”
In the 21st century, people sometimes boast that college is where you learn to question everything your parents taught you. While Judaism of course encourages intellectual query, it rejects this disrespect of our forbearers. Our national inheritance is supposed to be a nachalah, not a yerushah.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.
Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.