Experience is a great teacher! How many times have we thought or spoken the words “If I only knew, when I was younger, what I know now, I would have…….!”. Hind-sight, as they say, can be 20-20. This thought crossed my mind when I looked at one of the more famous passages in Torah. It is from this week’s portion, “Ki Tisa”. Moses is filled with doubt. The Israelites, in their fear, created the golden calf. Moses is angered. He seeks guidance from God. He wants a face to face meeting to be reassured that all is OK. God, int he Torah portion, cautions Moses that no one can “see” God, but that he will pass by Moses, hide from him His face as Moses is in the cleft of a rock. So Moses his hidden and “I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away My hand and will see My back, but My face must not be seen”. (Exodus 33:22,23).
What lesson can we take from this passage? Obviously many, but one that struck me was the message that, try as we might, and wish as we may, we cannot “see” the future. We can, however, “see” the past and learn from it. By the time we reach our age, we have all lived a little. We have accumulated a wealth of experience and how we see that experience and understand can help us live in the present and, perhaps, chart a meaningful path going forward. Many have taught that we can only create a future by understanding our past. We look back to learn how to move forward. To stay looking back, enslaves us to stagnation. No matter what age we are, Judaism does teach us to keep growing, learning and, yes, dreaming.
There is a wonderful modern Midrash on this thought from a book called “Jacob’s Ladder” by Noah ben Shea.(*) It is from a series of little books around a person called Jacob the Baker. The books are little stories, starring Jacob, each of which has a lovely message. In one, Jacob is explaining to a young man, Jonah, who is questioning the way of the world. Jacob says: The Hebrew word for heart begins with the last letter of the Bible and ends with the first letter in the Bible.”
“Why is it backwards?” asked Jonah.
“Because”, said Jacob, “life is lived foreword but understood backward. We arrive at the end of our learning only to discover what has been true from the beginning”.
By examining our life as we lived it, maybe we can understand what was really important and not what was, looking back, temporal. That word for heart is spelled “lamed, vet”…heart which, many suggest, really symbolizes love. Maybe, as we look backward, we understand that in charting our future, the most powerful of emotions and needs is that of love.
Rabbi Richard F Address.
(*): “Jacob’s Ladder”: Noah ben Shea. Villard Books.New Yor. 1997