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The Good Old Days

Friday, 28 August, 2020 - 10:37 am

Last month a member of our community placed a greeting in our Jewish Art Calendar that I found to be quite unique. I am not going to give the person’s name without their permission but you can see it when the calendar arrives. The greeting reads – “Chadesh Yameinu K’kedem.” This is a quote from chapter five of Lamentations which means, “Renew our days as of old.” I do not profess to know what the intended message was in the greeting. Perhaps there were multiple applications. But I would like to spend a moment on what we might derive from the words.

One of the things we hear constantly during this “twilight zone” of a time in which we live, is the yearning to go back to “normal.” Some say there will only be a “new normal,” implying that we can never return to what once was. In general people like to engage in nostalgic reflections about the “good old days.” “Back in the day” things were much better or much different. We didn’t have to deal with this or that…

Are we really looking forward merely to return to the “good old days?” Do we not have greater aspirations for a universe improved beyond what once was?

Let’s take a look at the original quote and what it means in that context. The Prophet Jeremiah is expressing the sentiment of the Jewish people following the destruction of the First Temple. He proclaims in their voice, “Restore us to You, O L-rd, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.” Some commentators explain, that the people were yearning for the time before the destruction, when they had a glorious temple and an opportunity for great closeness to Hashem. Others offer the explanation that they were yearning for the “days of old” – meaning the era of the Exodus from Egypt when G-d initiated the relationship with the people of Israel.

Kabbala often defines the term Kedem (which we define – as before – days of old) in the context of Kadmon, primordial. In other words, it is not just what once was, but rather deepest potential for what could ever be.

The Rebbe in a letter to then president of Israel Yitzchak ben Zvi, writes, “From the time I was a schoolchild—and even before—a vision of the future Redemption began to form in my mind: Such a Redemption that all the suffering of exile, the persecutions and mass destruction will finally be understood. And understood in the fullest sense, with a complete heart, to the point that we will look back and say thank you to Gā€‘d for all that we went through.”

Clearly, it is not sufficient for us to return to “normal” because then the experience will have been wasted. Somehow we are meant to come out of an unusually challenging experience with a renewed perspective on what is valuable. We are supposed to grow and be stronger. And from a spiritual standpoint, to quote the Maharal of Prague, “real change can only come about when the old paradigm disintegrates and the renewal forms “over the ashes” of the old.” It is vital for us to seek growth from our end coming from a challenge such as the current times. At the same time we are to expect from Hashem’s end, that something incomparably greater emerge on the other end of the challenge.  

Speaking of nostalgia, I invite you all to join me and two of my closest friends from Yeshiva as we get together in a virtual discussion about Rosh Hashanah next Thursday. See below for more details.

I sign off with a wish for the new year, “Chadesh Yameinu K’kedem” renew our days, not just like the good old days, but greater than we could even imagine.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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