Living for the FutureMarch 17, 2014 - 5:00 am
On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. — Leviticus 9:1
The Torah portion for this week is Shemini, which means “eighth,” from Leviticus 9:1–11:47, and the Haftorah is from 2 Samuel 6:1–7:17.
It’s been said you can’t move ahead in life by looking in the rearview mirror. In other words, while we certainly need to learn from our past, we shouldn’t live in it!
This week’s Torah portion begins: “On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons . . .” However, when we take a look at the original Hebrew, the verse literally reads: “And it was on the eighth day that Moses summoned Aaron and his sons . . .” Why is this significant? Because the word vayehi, “and it was,” is a buzz word in Jewish tradition. The Sages teach that whenever the word vayehi is used in the Bible, it indicates a time of woe.
Two common illustrations of this concept can be found in the book of Esther and the book of Ruth, which both begin with the Hebrew word vayehi. In the case of Esther, the word is a reference to the state of exile of the Jewish people and to the evil decree about to be implemented by Haman. In the story of Ruth, the word relates to the time of famine that afflicted the land of Israel and the tragedy that was about to befall Naomi’s family – her husband and sons would soon die. When the word vayehi appears in the Bible, beware! A time of sorrow is at hand.
In our Torah portion, the tragedy about to unfold was the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron. As the celebrations for the inauguration of the Tabernacle got underway, the two brothers brought “unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command” (Leviticus 10:1). Their actions were not seen favorably by God, and the two were punished with death. A time of sorrow indeed!
The Sages explain that in contrast to the word vayehi, the word vehaya, which means “and it will be,” indicates a time of joy. These two similar words have opposite meanings and they allude to diametrically opposed views on life. One word focuses on the past, the other on the future. Just as these words indicate two very different time periods when they appear in the Bible, they also refer to different outlooks on life and experiences in life.
A man once said to his friend: “You look depressed! What are you thinking about?” The friend answered, “My future.” “What makes it look so hopeless?” asked the man. His friend replied, “My past.”
And so it goes with us all. If we dwell in the sorrow of our past, we sacrifice the joy and hope of our future. We can begin the story of each day with the words, “And it was . . .” or we can begin with the words, “And it will be . . .”
How will you begin your story today?