In Parshat Haazinu, the Torah writes, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of each generation; ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say it to you” (32:7). Based on this Pasuk, Rabbi Yissochor Frand (in his writings) develops the concept of the importance of history in Jewish life. This Pasuk tells us that every single Jewish person must remember past events in Jewish history, such as Yetziat Mitzrayim, the receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai, and any other events in our nation’s past. Together all of these events form the basis and foundation of today’s beliefs and observations. Everyone must understand the traces of Hashem in every past event and their consequences. As American philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
All of this is well understood today. But what is the significance of the repetitive language of “remember the days of old” and “consider the years of each generation?” How are they different?
The Menachem Tzion answers this question homiletically (using a second definition of a word). He says that “Shenot,” “the years,” can also be translated as “the changes.” We should remember the days – preserve and understand our history, as we discussed above – and consider “the changes” of each generation. It must be understood that the lessons of the past must be applied to the present with wisdom and good judgment. Times change; people change; circumstances change. Not everything that worked in the past will work today, and not everything that failed in the past will fail today. Obviously, the Torah cannot be changed, although it does have enough flexibility to allow it to adapt to all times and places. But we must think and consider hard before we apply it in a particular way. History is our guiding principle in accordance with “remember the days of old,” but it must always be tempered with an awareness of “the changes of each generation.”