Community Rabbi Corner, Feb. 7, 2020

Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky ‘02
Congregation Beth El
South Orange, NJ
Parashat Beshallach

At the beginning of Parashat Beshallach, as the Israelites left Egypt, they gathered their belongings and they gathered their goods. They gathered as much as they could carry on their backs. They tried to find room for the gifts of jewelry and precious goods that we are taught the Egyptians gave to them upon leaving. But as the Israelites journeyed ahead, Moses couldn’t leave without bringing something else with him. Moses carried Joseph’s bones out of Egypt.
In doing so, Moses was fulfilling a promise made 400 years prior at the conclusion of the book of Genesis. But Moses was also doing more than that. Moses was literally carrying his ancestry with him. Moses was holding on to his past, to his loved ones, and making sure that they remained a part of his life. He knew that no matter what, he carried his past with him. This is a reminder that we too are a link in a chain. We too stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. And we too are responsible to plant for our children.
Next week, we celebrate Tu B’shevat, the new year of the trees. We plant, literally and figuratively, not for our own benefit, but for our future. The famous Talmudic story from Taanit 23a tells of Honi who saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked this man how long it will take for the tree to bear fruit and the man responded: “Seventy year.” Honi scoffed and challenged the man: “How do you know that you will be alive in seventy year?” The man concludes: “Just as my ancestors planted for me, so too I will plant for my children.”
As a community rabbi and as a GOA parent, I am grateful for the joy in which Golda Och Academy students learn and live Judaism. I saw this joy just this week at the second grade Chumash Celebration. I see this every day when my children come home and tell me what they’ve learned. By giving our children a Golda Och Academy education, we know that we are planting seeds for them. We know that they will truly be able to appreciate the fruits of Torah not just as children, but when they are adults and have children of their own one day. As parents and grandparents, we provide them with this community and education, not for our benefit, but truly for theirs. Just as our ancestors planted for us, so too, do we plant for our children. And we take comfort in knowing that just as we are a link in this chain of tradition, so are they. Just as Moses carried his ancestors with him when the Israelites left Egypt, by giving our children the joyful Jewish educational experience of Golda Och Academy, they will carry us and our traditions with them when they one day build a home for themselves. May we continue to plant for our children and inspire them to metaphorically carry us with them wherever they may go.