Appreciating the Advantages and Opportunities we Have in our Time
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
This week’s parasha, Parshat Ki Tavo, opens with the mitzva to bring the first fruits of one’s new harvest to “the place where Adonai your God will choose to establish His name,” (Deuteronomy 26:2), which we know eventually was designated as Jerusalem. The next verse continues, “You shall go to the Cohen (priest) in charge at that time…” After reciting the proper recitations, the fruits were given to that Cohen.
Rashi notes how very odd it is that we are told to bring those fruits to the Cohen “in charge at that time.” To what another Cohen could we possibly have given them? To the Cohen of a time gone by? He said that these apparently redundant words suggest: you have none else than the priest who lives in your days.
You can find two similar phrases in Parashat Shoftim with regard to the judges whom the people would consult. It is written: “appear before… the magistrate in charge at that time, and present your problem” (Deuteronomy 17:9). Later in that same parasha, we learned that “the two parties to the dispute shall appear… before the magistrates in authority at that time” (Deuteronomy 19:17).
The Talmud derives a meaningful lesson from these three phrases which all stress “… at that time.” The lesson is that we are not to denigrate the leaders, judges or priests, of our time. We are not to say that the leaders from past generations were well-suited to their positions, but that the leaders of our own times are inferior and unqualified.
We are not supposed to compare the leaders of one generation to those of another. Each generation has its own special character and unique requirements, and the leaders who emerge, are precisely the ones most appropriate for that generation. As Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, said: “Every generation shines with its own qualities.”
Very often we hear from people, especially from old people, saying: “I remember when things were different and better, back in the good old days!” or “The past was a better time.”
The Torah and tradition teach us that there are not best times, each generation has its own qualities. Thus, we should respect and value our leaders, and the opportunities and advantages we have in our time.
It is written in the Book of Kohelet: “Don’t say, ‘How has it happened that former times were better than these?’ For it is not wise of you to ask that question.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
Rashi explains the last part of the phrase, saying: “For everything depends upon the merit of the generations.”
In this time of the year, close to the High Holidays, when we are reflecting on our past, present, and future; let’s take a moment to recognize and appreciate the advantages and great opportunities we have in our time.