Yom Kippur Yizkor 5765 – 2004
There is an old-time wooden telephone mounted on the wall of my study at home, above the computer, one that served in the pre-War era through the 1920s. It has no touchtone, no speeddial, no bluetooth. What good is an old phone like that? I use it to call my old friends. And you never have to change the battery. But most old things simply get tossed out.
If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. … You shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land. I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts, and no sword shall cross your land. … I will look with favor upon you, and make you fertile and multiply you; and I will maintain My covenant with you. You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make room for the new. I will establish My abode in your midst … I will be ever present in your midst: I will be your God, and you shall be My people (Lev. 26:3ff).
“You shall have to clear out the old to make room for the new.” That is the theme of the New Year, of Yom Kippur, of the Days of Awe. We want to close out the account from last year by taking stock and doing teshuva, to purge, expunge and expel, and start with a clean conscience and good relations.
“Out with the Old, In with the New” is a recurring theme in our lives. At Pesạh we get rid of the old Ḥamets; in the autumn we replace our wardrobe. When we go off to college, we jettison our old toys; when we reach middle age, we get rid of our old car, or our house or spouse. Out with the old, in with the new.
The Torah presents this as one among several blessings. But is this a blessing, or is it a curse?
You can’t get anything fixed these days, you just have to get a new one. Sometimes it seems, frankly, like a waste, even a crime, to throw the old one out. If you are the rare person who can mend a garment, glue a chair leg, or rebuild an engine, then maybe, if you have the time, you can keep the old one. But most young people like me (don’t laugh) do not have those skills. Sure, I can replace a harddrive, but don’t ask me to change the oil or sew on a button. Usually, to fix it doesn’t pay. If your computer, your TV, your stereo breaks, you may as well toss it. Out with the old, in with the new.
When our students move up a grade, or graduate into a new school, they forget about their old teachers. The old ones are just a fading memory.
In the workplace, we may be replaced by younger, less experienced workers. They are new, filled with energy, and may work for less. The old worker, no matter how great the seniority, how deep the loyalty, how vast the experience, is out.
In our civic organization — political party, community organ, even a synagogue, new leaders rise and the old are forgotten. The years of experience, the decades of dedication, the cumulative contribution. It’s the new members’ Shabbat, not the “last year’s dues payers Shabbat.” At worst, the old are forgotten or excluded; at best, taken for granted.
I sometimes hear folks say, “I don’t fit in at BEKI anymore. The young people — even the children — all speak Hebrew, read Torah and know so much more than I do.” I am obsolete.
In our families, the revered parent who once provided for the children, cooked and cleaned, sacrificed, prepared and led a seder, now becomes too much of a bother, too troublesome, to be included in every activity. The beloved grandparent or aunt or uncle gives way to our own lives, to caring for our children.
You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make room for the new.
Is this a blessing, or a curse? It depends on how you approach it.
If the old teacher is remembered and recognized, even after ten, twenty, thirty or more years, it makes it worth it. What can be more gratifying to a teacher — and some of you have experienced this — than to hear from a student of yesteryear who says, “Thank you. You made a difference to me” &mdash that, and an ample State pension, make it all worthwhile.
When the old worker retires, he may serve as a volunteer or payed consultant. Just a phone call away. Where are the files? How do you do this? How should I handle this? Their expertise can be a goldmine for a well-run company.
In the civic organization, or the synagogue, including us here at BEKI, there is no greater wish on the desire of the leaders to be replaced. I think our current President, Gila Reinstein, expressed this after about three weeks. People who work hard and contribute a lot to the synagogue want to know that there will be a new leadership, that there will be others to follow them, to replace them.
And in our families, what greater joy for a mother or father to taste the successfully replicated matza ball, to hear a grandchild sound a shofar or recite the four questions or light the menora. It is considered the greatest honor (zehkut) to live to see the next generation continue the traditions and carry on the mission. It’s not that they don’t want to pass the batton, it is that they want to be absolutely sure there is someone to carry it when they let go.
So what about our verse? The agricultural model of the “new produce” pushing out the old is a sign of plenty, of success. It means the previous crop was sufficient to provide sustenance and to serve as a seed crop, that it lasted long enough.
As the Psalmist wrote,
May Adonai bless you from Zion.
May you see Jerusalem prosper all the days of your life.
May you live to see your children’s children,
Peace upon Israel.
Please rise for the Yizkor Memorial service.
© Jon-Jay Tilsen 2004