Haazinu: Memory and Legacy

Haazinu, Deuteronomy chapter 32, serves a sort of bridge portion between the conclusion of the High Holidays and the beginning of Sukkot. The portion is the poetic “Song of Moses” and provides another glimpse in the recapitulation of Israel’s history up to that moment.

Moses continues to caution the people and to celebrate Ha Tzur–The Rock (God). We also see another famous verse that speaks to us and our generation in 32:7. That verse reads: “Remember the days of ages old, consider the years of ages past; ask your parent who will inform you, your elders, who will tell you.” Moses here is reminding the people to remember where they came from and the divisions of Peoples that had been established by God. But, if we look at this small verse in relationship to our world we can interpret the verse in some ways that can speak to us.

One of the issues that still faces the contemporary Jewish world is that, despite the fact that the median age of our community is 50 (Pew report) and that close to 25% of our community is 65 years of age and over, the mood of the community, in many ways,is to ignore this growing cohort. There  resides in every congregation a wealth of life experience, what may be called “spiritual capital”,  that goes largely untapped. Slowly, some communities are looking at how to engage multi-generations in the life of the community, an attempt to “de-silo” segments of the community. The fact of the matter is that the growing cohort of z’kainim, or elders, are living longer and better and have a wealth of life experience. How a congregation, and  a community taps into this reservoir may help ensure that community’s future.

There is also another way of looking at the verse. Increasingly, congregations are developing types of “life review” programs. They ask the elders to look at their own life journey and to see the spiritual aspects of that experience. This is often part of a longer series of discussions that may involve end of life issues and decisions. This life review project can be helpful in seeing the journey image as parallel to the Wilderness experience of the Israelites. There are a variety of texts, both ancient and contemporary that are used to facilitate this program’s discussions; from the one in our portion this Shabbat to the famous Alvin Fine poem “Birth is a beginning.”

The point of this is to remind our community that there is power and merit in memory. After all, we just completed a day on Yom Kippur, which in many ways celebrates memory and the contributions of past generations. The celebration of remembering “ages past” may allow us to harvest the life experiences of a generation in such a way that Sukkot, our “harvest” festival, may serve as another reminder that we have now the possibility to “harvest” the life experience of a generation, a generation of Jewish Baby Boomers who, when given the chance, have much to teach. Let the “elders” tell you and all will share in that bounty.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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