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Never Forget Those Shoulders

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Talmud (Brachot 12b) states that the broad-based opinion of the sages is that, even after the final redemption of the Jewish People in the Messianic Era, we will still have a biblical obligation to remember the Exodus from Egypt. Although the main focus will be on the new, elevated, and peaceful Era, the sages said that the Exodus from Egypt should always remain a peripheral focus. The sages point out that this is analogous to the name-changing event found in Parshat Vayishlach. Although Ya’akov’s (Jacob’s) name was changed to Yisrael (Israel), he still retained the name Ya’akov. His name Ya’akov is still remembered and, subsequently, in both the Torah and the Prophets he is referred to as both Yisrael and Yaa’kov.

What is the meaning of this Talmudic passage? How is the concept of remembering the Exodus from Egypt during the Messianic age connected with Ya’akov being remembered by his old name Ya’akov after his name was changed to Yisrael?

The Maharal of Prague, the great 16th century scholar, suggests that the base upon which something is built should never be forgotten. Just as the solid earth supporting a building should be recognized as the essential platform which makes the building’s existence possible, so, too, should one never forget the building blocks upon which one’s present situation is built. The ground upon which the final redemption is built is the Exodus from Egypt. Had the Jewish people not been physically and spiritually redeemed from Egypt, there would be no final redemption. The spiritual elevation and formation of the Jewish people made the final redemption possible. The Hebrew translation of ‘Ya’akov’ is heel, as in the heel of a foot. The heel being the lowest part of the human body represents humility, lowliness, and a subjugation of the ego. Yisrael, on the other hand, is a name that carries with it nobility and strength. The ground upon which Ya’akov merited his loft title Yisrael, was his humility before God (symbolized by the name Ya’akov).

With our greater understanding of science and cutting edge technology, we tend to look upon previous generations as primitive, even plain ignorant and stupid. We forget that the explosion of knowledge and technology is because we are standing on the shoulders of millennia of great individuals laying the firm ground upon which we stand.

Friends, there is an even more fundamental and pertinent lesson for us. While celebrating our accomplishments and achievements, we should never forget the shoulders upon which we stand. We stand on the shoulders of parents, grandparents, and a national heritage which have instilled in us values, morals, and essential life principals. Yes, we must always remember upon whose shoulders we are standing. This allows us to celebrate our new eras with perspective, humility, and deep gratitude. And, finally friends, we must recall the cause of all causes upon whose shoulders all humankind stands, God almighty, with humility and gratitude.