THERE IS AN inexorable law of nature that everything that lives must grow old and die; that everything that exists must deteriorate and perish. According to many scientists, even the sun-the source of all energy on earth in our solar system-will someday become cold and lifeless. No one has to lose any sleep about it now, as we are assured that this is not bound to happen for another two or three billion years.

This law applies not only to physical things, but to the intellectual realm as well. Take for example the great theories of the past. At one time they appeared to be fixed and permanent. For more than a thousand years, the philosophy of Aristotle ruled the mind of man. During that millennium, very few dared to challenge his authority. At the present time, however, Aristotle is of interest mainly to historians. Most of his teachings and opinions have been modified or discarded. Pick up an old textbook that you have used in your schooldays and you will discover how outdated it has become. When I took a course in Child Psychology in the 1930s, we were taught to let the child alone-not to reprimand or punish him for anything he does. Let the child do as he will, or he may grow up to be a frustrated individual. And to be frustrated was the most dreadful thing that could happen to a person. Today students are taught that children can and should be reprimanded, and even punished from time to time, providing it is done with tact and good sense.

So you see that even theories and ideas run a natural course. They have their beginning and their end. One sphere in life, however, is not subject to the law of deterioration and death-and that is the realm of the spirit. The profound and noble teachings of our tradition-like good wine-become better and stronger with the passage of time. The older the Torah grows, the more beautiful does its truth shine to those who have eyes with which to see. The older we become, the deeper we appreciate the words of the psalmists and prophets, the wisdom of the sages, and the logic of the commandments of God.

That is what I see in a rabbinic comment on the part of the sidrah which deals with the lechem hapanim, the twelve loaves of bread which were placed on the table in the Sanctuary each week. The Talmud informs us that nes gadol naaseh be-lechem hapanim, that a great miracle occurred with the show bread. Kesiduro ken silooko, when the loaves were removed from the table at the end of the week, they were as fresh and warm as when they were placed upon it (Chagigah 26b).

Now miracles do not come to pass haphazardly. God does not suspend or change the laws of nature unless there is a good reason for it. The freshness and warmth of the show-bread were intended to impress the people with the fact that the passage of time does not affect the life-span of things that are sacred; that the teachings of God are not subject to the laws of deterioration, debility and death.

Our sages say that this is also God's way of manifesting His love for Israel. All nations have made their contributions to the welfare of mankind. Rome built roads. Greece erected beautiful buildings and made lovely works of art. These were contributions of an essentially materialistic nature, and therefore subject to the ravages of time. Israel's contribution belongs solely to the spiritual realm. We built no buildings of note, erected no statues and painted no paintings. In fact our religion discouraged such ventures in the Ten Commandments. "Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Exod. 20:4). Israel's contribution stands above time, and as long as we continue to be true to our Tradition, the eternity of our people is assured.

As we mark with joy the thirtieth anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel, I would like to comment on two terms that are usually applied to our people. The words are ancient and old. I see a basic difference between them. An object may be ancient but not necessarily old, and conversely, something may be old but not ancient.

Ancient signifies that a thing exists or has existed for a very long time; something that has a very long history. Thus we speak of ancient forests and ancient civilizations, ancient history and ancient ideas.

The word old, on the other hand, generally denotes advancement in years of life. When we speak of an "old man," we mean a person who 110 longer possesses the vitality of youth or of middle age; one whose physical constitution is slowly deteriorating. When the term old is used for objects it signifies that they have outlived their usefulness. An old coat or an old pair of shoes have served their purpose, and all one can do with them is sell them to a ragman or throw them into the garbage pail.

Alas, too many of our sons and daughters speak of the "old mail" and the "old lady" as of people who are lagging behind the times, and who are no longer of any use to anyone.

In our conversations let us not use the wrong word with reference to our people. Let us not say of Israel that it is an old people. That simply isn't so. An old people could not build a land or create a modern State. We are an ancient people. This is precisely the phrase used by the Kabalists, by Jewish mystics: Atik Yomin, ancient of days. God is also known in Kabalah as Atik Yomin, Ancient of Days.

Being ancient but not old is a divine attribute. Israel has become an eternal people by incorporating the ideas of the Atik Yomin into the very fabric of its national character and its national life. Let us go forth with the resolve to continue that tradition-to be an ancient people but not old.

Back Page Contents Next Page