Monday, April 10, 2006


Pictures of the Past
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
A few days ago I was looking, together with a relative, at some digital photographs of my daughter since birth. "Say, Gustavo," he asked, "does she always smile in photographs?"

Actually, no. She knows how to cry a lot. And also, when you photograph her, she sometimes closes her eyes, and sometimes looks tense or irritable, or angry. But (this is the advantage of digital cameras) if we don't like the picture, we simply erase it.

I sometimes miss those days when we used to go to a store to develop pictures, and out of 24 there were 5 with closed eyes, another 7 with red eyes, 2 completely blank and 10 which were...reasonable. True, we threw money away. But at least those pictures represented our lives more accurately.

We don't always smile and radiate (in fact, most of the time we don't). There are two faces to life. Sometimes our pictures are not as good as we wanted them to be. Sometimes we see a picture and feel annoyed: "Hey, I was so young", or "thin", or "I used to have hair." But what can we do?...That's how life is.

A similar thing happens when we talk about pictures, not of people, but of a nation. Sometimes nations look at pictures of the past, see something unpleasant in them, and decide to wipe it out.

Why remember the unpleasant things? Why keep in our memories those pictures which represent the dark side of our lives? These nations are convinced that the best way to deal with their misdeeds of the past is to erase them from their collective memory! (These same nations would appreciate the invention of the digital camera).

But other nations, and I say this with great pride, like our nation, are convinced that wiping out the pictures of the past is a cowardly and sick practice. Our sages taught us that the story of the Hagadah should be told in the form of "first disgrace and then praise ("matchilim bige'nut u'mesaymim bi'shevach"), starting with the bad and ending with the good.

"You want to celebrate?", they ask us.
"Is the gefilte fish tasty?". "Grandma's soup smells good?"

Wait. Start with the bad. Do not erase the past! Remember the suffering, the tears, the cries, the blood, the agony. There are thorns in our past too.

During the Festival of Passover every year we learn that our nation must not live with a selective approach to our past. "We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt." That is not a pleasant thing. It is even humiliating. But that is the story of our nation.

There are pictures which we must never erase.