How Do You Remember?
Just a few short weeks ago our Torah portions were the exciting narratives of our religious identity – the show-down between God, represented by Moses, and Pharaoh; our timely and miraculous escape across the ‘Sea of Reeds,’ as God parted the waters for us before bringing them back to drown our Egyptian pursuers; and our covenant with God at Mount Sinai.
And now we’re reading details for building the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the priestly garments and rituals. Easy to get turned off and ignore the ideas that the Torah is teaching now!
But think about it: we have just had incredible, mind-blowing experiences, truly ‘peak experiences’! And we want to remember them always, to give them form and substance. How do we do that?
How do we do that? Look around your home: what are the things that mean the most to you? Perhaps pictures, or souvenirs from travel; perhaps gifts from loved ones or family heirlooms. Each one has a story to tell; each is important because of what we recall when we see it.
The Tabernacle, with all its details and pageantry, was our ancestors’ effort to remind those who had just escaped from slavery of their experiences, to remember the sense of those peak moments so they would never forget those feelingsand what those events meant.
Perhaps we would have chosen a different way to remember. But our ancestors built a place that would remind them of their journey from slavery to freedom, from Pharaoh’s oppression to God’s covenant. If and when you get bogged down in the details of the Tabernacle over the next number of weeks, put it in perspective: this is our effort at communal memory. This is our attempt to hold onto a feeling, a sense, a sound, a voice – our experiences of becoming the Jewish people.
It is difficult to believe that in Israel the ground is thawing and the tree sap is rising. While (so far) this winter has not been as cold or snowy as last, our season is a long way from spring. And yet, every year, we tie ourselves again to the calendar in Israel with Tu BiShvat, the New Year for trees.
Preparing the Seder for the festival, I thought a great deal about similarities and differences with the Pesach Seder. The number four is an easy parallel, with four cups of the fruit of the vine at each, but the four children was the image that intrigued me.
Do you know only four kinds of children? I know many kinds – and each of them incorporates many kinds of traits. I know no children that are only ‘wise, wicked, simple, or silent.’ Every one I know combines those traits, depending on situation and circumstances (plus many others). And so, I put a selection of more than one child’s voice in our Temple Shalom Seder.
Of course, we are all called “b’nai Israel – the Children of Israel” throughout our Scripture, TaNaKh, because we all are, in some ways, always children. Are not we all wise in some things, and so ignorant in others that we are silent? Do we not all have that urge on occasion (some more frequently than others) to be the troublemaker, the one who either asks the impossible questions or the one who likes to ‘stir the pot’ and get a rise out of someone? Aren’t we all ‘simple’ about some things, wanting only a succinct or even cursory answer, or altogether leaving the issue in the “too hard box”? By putting several additional voices in our TuBiShvat Seder, I wanted to emphasize that there are, and we each have, many voices.
Along with the new growth of trees in Israel and the promise of spring, may this time of waiting hopefully for it to arrive in our more wintery climes be a time when we listen to our innermost voice, treasure it, and ready ourselves for it bursting forth with new buds and blossoms!