“A new truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
— Max Planck
If we were to meet someone who thought that the sun revolved around the earth today, we would consider them at best, misinformed and at worst, insane. But there was a time (for most of human history) when considering the sun to be at the centre of our planetary system was heretical and dangerous. Max Planck suggests that the way for a truth to triumph is not by convincing, but by generational renewal. Hukat brings us just such a renewal.
The casual reader would likely not know it, but we jump 38 years into the future with this week’s parasha.
“G-d separated between the light and the darkness…” (Bereshit, 1:4)
This refers to the book of Bemidbar which separates between those who left Egypt and those who would enter the Land of Israel.
Bereshit Rabba, 3:5
The constituents of the nation in perashat Hukat are not those of last week’s in perashat Korah — it is their children. An entire generation, including Aharon and Miriam, die in the desert. The generation we read of this week has not been raised in slavery. They are free people who know only independence and the presence of G-d in their midst.
The people who left Egypt did not complete the journey to the Promised Land. They did not successfully move from a life of slavery to one of freedom. Yet, their death was not a necessity for establishing a new paradigm. The decree came about because of their refusal to walk into a new life with new ideas and new circumstances. When they rejected the new land because it was not what they had imagined, their fate was sealed.
Their children, however, thought differently, and they were poised for mastering futures that their predecessors could not dream of.
Your little ones, whom you said would become plunder — I will let them enter, they shall come to know the land that you have spurned. (14:31)
While it is certain that those who left Egypt dreamed of freedom and a promised land, the dream was limited by the confines of their mind. Often, our image of what the future will look like poorly resembles how it manifests and when it is not as we imagined, we can either bravely accept the truth or protest it as we hold onto a perception that will never be. But time and future continue unaffected by protests. The fate of our ancestors who left Egypt reminds us that our dreams are wonderful starting points, but G-d often dreams differently than we do. We can be part of the world’s development if we keep our assumptions to a minimum and remain open to what the future has in store, even when it proves to be nothing like we might have imagined.
While Planck’s description of generational renewal is often how it goes, it is not essential in order for people to accept truths. One need not drown in the tides of change. The loss of the generation in the desert was only a result of protest against change not a mere circumstantial necessity. When members of an earlier generation can recognize, become familiar with, and support a new paradigm, it creates a formidable chain of development with deep roots that is not easily broken. Our children will inevitably grow up in a world that does not resemble our own. When we see reality as flowing rather than static, we open ourselves to the journey on which it will take us. As faithful travelers of reality’s journey, we maintain relevance in life as we experience all the surprising developments the future has in store.
Shabbat Shalom to you all,
Rabbi Joseph Dweck
e-mail: [email protected]