>There is a famous native American proverb: ‘We do not inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’ I have always been taken by this proverb and the idea within it. We are currently the guardians of the world, but we are also links in a chain which stretches backwards and forwards. Often this is stated in connection to the environment and the way in which we use and abuse the natural world. But it extends beyond that; with the massive government borrowing, which has taken place to combat the global economic downturn, we have debts which will be paid off by our children, and many commentators have talked about mortgaging our futures.
At my age I find myself in an interesting transitional stage. I used to relate to this proverb as one of the children from whom the world is borrowed. But as my friends begin having children, I am increasingly aware that I am part of the group currently possessing the world and borrowing it from our children. And as such I am beginning to relate differently to the world and my role in it.
In this week’s Torah portion we have a Jewish version of the proverb, as God reaffirms the covenant with the people, on the eve of entering the Promised Land. The text stresses that everyone was present, standing before God: “your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer” (Deuteronomy 29:9-10). However, it also includes: “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, 14 but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day” (Deuteronomy 29:13-14). The covenant reaches back to Abraham, but also includes future generations who will ultimately uphold the covenant and join it.
These future generations were not present at the agreeing of the covenant, they were unable to suggest any amendments or changes, their parents and their parent’s parents made the commitment for them – and essentially for us.
Today, while we may not be entering into covenants with God, we are the guardians of the Jewish tradition, and we will eventually pass our Judaism on to future generations. As inheritors of a Reform Jewish tradition we have the ability to engage and challenge what it means to be Jewish. My parents were born into a Judaism which lacked female Rabbis and was not fully egalitarian, by the time I was born there were women Rabbis, and increasing openness to all members of society regardless of gender or sexual orientation. What will the Reform Judaism that we pass on to our children look like?
We will never forget where we have come from, and we will respect and honour our traditions. But at the same time we must be true to our name Re-forming Judaism when it is necessary and important. This is not a covenant which we only make with God, it is a covenant which we must make with each other as members of our community, ensuring that we will protect our heritage so that we can be proud of what we pass on to our children.
The decisions we make will have implications for generations not yet born, and will determine what type of a Jewish community our children are born into. If we consider our Judaism as something we simultaneously inherit from our ancestors, while also borrowing it from our children we will be able to fashion a dynamic and engaging Reform Judaism.