Bravo to Morah Dassi and Mrs. Greenwald for another wonderful Zimriyah! This one was somewhat significant for me personally because I have been a Beatles fan for many years. One Saturday night back in late 1985 when I a UMASS student a friend who lived down the hall from me and I listened to many of our combined Beatles records (those were the days before CDs) all night while consuming large amounts of pizza. I even saw Beatlemania at a bar not far from campus. In fact, in high school when I attempted to take guitar lessons, being left-handed I had the guitar re-strung so I could play like Paul McCartney. How did those lessons go? Let’s just say having a left-handed strung guitar was as close as I ever got to playing like Paul McCartney. The Zimriyah was wonderful - not just for the hard work Morah Dassi and Rachel put in to make sure our students shine, but for the opportunity it provided me to stroll down memory lane.
This week we read Parshat Shelach which relates the famous episode of the spies. Moshe sends 12 men into the Land of Israel with a list of things for which to look while there. When they return, 40 days later, 10 give a report which results in complete hysteria on the part of the rest of the people. The 10 spies report that there are giants in the land, and that the land devours its inhabitants. When the people hear this report they immediately begin to cry, “If only we had died in Egypt . . . Why is HaShem bringing us to this to this land to die by the sword?”
When the people begin to cry, the Torah text says, “The entire assembly raised up its voice; the people wept . . .” The Hebrew root the Torah uses means “lift up” and it is used, along with the word for crying in three other places in the Torah when there was some feeling of hopelessness or complete despair on the part of the person, or people, crying. The people had the feeling that they had no future; the land to which HaShem was bringing them was fraught with danger. They wanted to return to Egypt, they wanted to return to the past.
In contrast to their 10 compatriots, it was Joshua and Caleb who looked towards to the future. Caleb silences the people, “We shall surely ascend and conquer it [the land], for we surely can do it.” Both he Joshua later say, “The Land is a very, very good land . . . if HaShem desire He will bring us to the Land . . . do not fear.” Unfortunately their words are for naught.
Wednesday night we say Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” which has the phrase “ . . . and now I long for yesterday.” The lyrics of the song indicate a longing for the past. In 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected president, he used Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow” as a theme song. It is a song about the future.
The Talmud relates a story about several rabbis who came upon the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem. When they saw a fox emerge from the ruins they began to weep. However, Rabbi Akiva began to laugh. His companions asked why he was laughing. His response was poignant, “Why are you weeping? Just as Uriah’s prophecy of the Temple being plowed came true, so shall Zechariah’s prophecy (“Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem” Zecharia 8:4) come true.” Rabbi Akiva was looking at the future when Jerusalem would be rebuilt.
As the 2016-2017 school year wanes and the summer approaches it is a time to reflect on the past year and examine the good and the not-so-good of the year. Successes of the past are for us to build upon, to strengthen. The failures are often more significant for they are our teachers. They allow us to find ways to improve and become better. However, the tricky part is not to become stuck in the mire of self-doubt. The Israelites looked to the past, which ultimately was their downfall for that generation was condemned to wander the desert for 40 years. Joshua and Caleb looked to the future and in doing so they merited to enter the Land of Israel.
This past school year was wonderful to be sure. Thank you to all the teachers who work so hard to teach the students each day. Thank you to the parents for entrusting your children to us. Thank you to the PTO for everything they do to support our school. There were so many successes, and there were those challenging moments as well. The past is the past, it can’t be changed. May Joshua and Caleb, and Rabbi Akiva be models for us. The future is in our hands. 2017-2018 awaits us. It is bright and full of opportunity.
Wishing you all a wonderful, restful and safe summer.
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger