From Generation to Generation
By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
Biologically speaking, it has been proved that we are different people from what we were seven years ago. All our cells (except for neurons and ova, in the case of women) renew themselves completely every seven years, which proves that our bodies today are not the same as they were when we were born, and not what they were seven years ago.
But not only biologically are we different from what we were in the past. We might work in a different place. Our friends are not necessarily the same friends as we had before (perhaps not even our spouses). The family grows up and widens, or at times contracts. Children are born; others, to our sorrow, die.
So how is it possible that we change so much and yet feel that we are the same persons?
It seems to me that the answer is connected to memory. Memory is the cord linking all the stages in the history of a person.
Even if we are biologically different from what we were seven years ago, memory
links the "I" of seven years ago with the "I" of today and makes them one person.
And what if we talk of a nation?
There is an incident regarding the late Professor Shaul Lieberman, a great researcher of the Talmud and literature of the Oral Law, who was visited in his office by a journalist of the New York Times. Prof. Lieberman was preoccupied with his studies and the journalist wandered around his room. There were books everywhere, even on chairs and on the floor.
Suddenly, the journalist approached Lieberman with a book in his hand.
"What is this?" he asked.
"This is the Torah that Moshe received at Mount Sinai."
"And this?" asked the journalist, holding another book.
"This is the Mishna which is an elaboration of the text of the Torah with the emphasis on halacha," answered Lieberman.
"And what about this book?" asked the journalist about a third book.
"This is the Talmud which is commentaries on the Mishna."
The journalist pointed to a fourth book which was Rashi's commentaries on the Talmud, and a fifh which was an analysis of Rashi's commentaries.
The journalist, who didn't know much about Judaism, turned to Professor Lieberman and said, "From your answers, I get the impression that Judaism is a conversation among the generations."
Professor Lieberman answered him, " I have never heard a more concise and accurate definition."
Judaism is a conversation between generations and the collective memory is the link that connects them.
The Passover Haggadah, for example. Every generation, even if its customs and leaders are different, is connected to a common past. The stories, the customs and the enthusiasm that I heard from my father and will pass on to my children – those are the things that make different generations into one people.
A few days ago I shed a tear when I heard my daughter sing "Ma nishtana" (the four questions) for the first time. But at the same time I felt a heavy weight of responsibility towards her. She is the next generation and will receive my heritage.
Will I succeed in giving it to her the way I received it? Will she succeed in preserving it the way I have done? How much depends on me and how much will it depend on her?
The Chafetz Chayim used to tell of an incident that he experienced.
In the town of Radin, where he was born, they used to heat the water in the mikveh by pouring in a boiler of boiling water. One day he asked the bath attendant if he had heated the water of the mikveh. The man answered that he had. The Chafetz Chayim entered the water of the mikveh and found it ice-cold.
He went to the boiler, put his hand into the water and found it lukewarm. Then he said, "Today I have learned something important. When the boiler is boiling, the mikveh is lukewarm. But when the water in the boiler is lukewarm, the water of the mikveh is freezing."
Rabeinu Tam used to say: "Words that come from the heart will go into the heart. Words that did not come from the heart but only from the mouth will get no further than the ear."
May we be able to pass the flame to the next generation, to our children and grandchildren, so that our story will go straight to the heart.