“I am making this covenant… not only with you who are standing here with us today… but also with those who are not here today” Deuteronomy 29:13-14
The importance of wisdom and responsibility across time and throughout generations is an essential element in the covenant made at Sinai. Moses reminds us again of that covenant in this week’s double parashah, as he does in the whole of the Book of Devarim.
Contempt for the past and disregard for the future are both problems of the present.
Unthinking veneration of the past is obviously folly, but dismissing the insights of our ancestors is also an error, especially when the reason is that they did not think exactly as we think; that, after all, is precisely the reason why we should consider what they have to say, anything to break the echo chambers we often inhabit.
Recently students at SOAS called for white philosophers like Plato and Kant to be excluded from the syllabus because they wrote in a “colonial context”. If that attitude were implemented, it would be the destruction of education.
By contrast, G.K. Chesterton was right to commend tradition, because it “asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father”.
The world’s cavalier approach to long-term problems, like climate change and demographic trends, demonstrates a disregard for the condition of future generations. Why should our concern end with our earthly deaths? Authentic care follows the example of the Almighty whose “kindness extends to children’s children”.
Moses’s two-fold teaching, that we have to be mindful of the past and the future as part of our duty to God who is ever-present, is the best guide to a life of wisdom and authentic responsibility. RABBI DR BENJAMIN ELTON