Rabbi Yair D. Robinson
Congregation Beth Emeth
Parashat Ki Tetzei
A story of the Rashbatz, Rabbi Shmuel Betzalel Sheftel, as told by Yossy Gordon:
In a small town in Russia lived a porter who made his living by transporting people and packages to and from the train station. The porter had a young son who assisted him with his work. Every morning the two would awaken very early, recite their morning prayers, eat breakfast, prepare the horse and wagon, and hit the road. During the summer months, when the sun often rose as early as 3:00 AM, the porter and his son awoke even earlier.
A summer fast day arrived on the Jewish calendar. The porter roused his son at the usual time, and off to the synagogue they went. When they had finished praying, the porter informed his son that today there would be no eating due to the fast.The day wore on. The son grew hungrier and hungrier. He began to ask his father incessantly when they would finally eat. Finally, the day ended and his hunger was satisfied.
“Ah, my son, have no fear,” replied the porter. “Today is not yesterday.”
Whenever the Rashbatz told this story, he would tap his listener on the shoulder, as if to exclaim, “Get up! Get up! Today is not yesterday!”
The following morning, the boy refused to budge when his father tried to wake him. With an air of indignation the boy told his father, “I do not want to get up, and I do not want to work. I am afraid that you will not let me eat anything today either!”
This past week I was visiting family and friends on Cape Cod. I love going back, seeing my son play on the same playground I grew up going to, seeing him and my dad enjoy each other’s company as only grandson and grandfather can. I love spending time with friends I’ve had for more than twenty years, friends with whom I share a fierce loyalty and love. But even as I sit in the pub with old buddies, or walk to the ice cream parlor with my parents, I’m under no illusions that I can recapture something of my past, nor would I want to.
Today is not yesterday. It may feel the same—we awake in the same place, go to the same daily tasks, see the same people, but it is a new day, with new possibilities, new opportunities,
But we encounter today as if it were yesterday, with yesterday’s defeats and triumphs, yesterday’s pains and successes, yesterday’s ignorance and learning.
Today is not yesterday. But to appreciate that, to truly embrace today, we must let go of yesterday. The good, and the bad.
Surely there are aspects of the past we want to hold onto—memories of loved ones, moments of joy shared. And there are memories we can’t let go of, the pain of the event seared into our brains seemingly indelibly, and one word takes us back to that place or time again.
This week, at the very end of our Torah reading, we are told to blot out the memory of Amalek for what they did to Israel as we left Egypt. How, without fear of God, they attacked the rearguard of our people—the slow, the sick, the old, the young—and while they should be blotted out, we should also always remember what they did.
Why? Not just because of the attack, or the brazenness of it, but because of the effect on the Jewish people. As we were leaving Egypt, we were full of hope and optimism, with a sense of purpose—we were God’s people now. But Amalek surprised Israel—korcha—a word the rabbis relate to ‘chill’. Amalek didn’t just do violence on Israel but on the dream of Israel, robbing us of our idealism, teaching us to see everyone as a possible Amalek.
Today is not the same as yesterday, and yet yesterday is our Amalek, robbing us of our confidence, our optimism, our faith. In his book Watchmen Alan Moore writes “Every day, the future looks a little bit darker. But the past... even the grimy parts of it... keep on getting brighter.”
Today is not the same as yesterday, and we must have the courage to let yesterday go. To remember it, to learn from it, but to embrace the new, the now, with all of ourselves, instead of trying to live back there. The past may seem brighter, the future murky, but we must live in the moment we are in now. Be present with those in our lives now. Serve our God now, full of hope and optimism, undaunted by the past.
The new year is coming—it’s coming sooner than we think. And it’s time to get up. Today is yesterday. Let us all get up!