Torah Inspires the Future


True leadership requires a thorough comprehension of the present, but also the capacity to imagine the future.

Inscribed beneath the dome of the Jefferson Memorial are these words: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” You might think Thomas Jefferson had King George III in mind. But no, written in 1800, these words referred to the efforts of some in the nascent republic to establish Christianity as the state religion and Jefferson’s fear for the future in which religion might threaten American democracy. Together with James Madison and others, Jefferson enshrined the “wall of separation between church and State” in the First Amendment to protect American against the plague of religious tyranny.

The narrative of the 10 plagues reaches its climax in Parshat Bo. Locusts strip Egypt of what little is left after hail decimates the land. A thick darkness blankets Egypt for three days. Moses threatens Pharaoh with the final terrifying plague. Yet before God enacts the death of the firstborn of Egypt, before Moses even instructs the Israelites to “Go, pick out lambs for your families and slaughter the passover offering” and paint lintels and doorposts with its blood (Exodus 12:21f), Torah steps away from the ongoing narrative to address how future generations would look back and commemorate an event that had not yet occurred: “This is how you shall eat [the paschal lamb]: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly” (Exodus 12:11). Imagining future generations living in the Land of Israel commemorating an event that had not yet happened, Torah instructs: “When your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?’ you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to Adonai, because [God] passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when [God] smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses’” (Exodus 12:26-27).

In this way, Torah teaches us to look for meaning in present events that will teach and inspire future generations. It also teaches us to think ahead to what future generations will need to sustain that meaning and live the values fundamental to our tradition. Indeed, locating our people’s origins in slavery generated values that shaped a tradition that not both sustains us and contributes to humanity: compassion toward those who suffer persecution and justice for those are oppressed. Today in America we see some forwarding these values but others working against them — in the name of religion. Fortunate for us that Jefferson and Madison built a proper wall. Fortunate for us that Torah built an edifice of the values of justice and compassion.

Rabbi Amy Scheinerman is community hospice rabbi in Howard County. 

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