In this week’s parsha Moshe (Moses) continues his final address, a song, to B’nai Yisroel (the Children of Israel): “Remember the days of old, understand the years [shnot] of each generation.”
What is the significance of the repetitive language of the verse? How does “remember the days of old” differ from “understand the years of each generation”?
Rabbi Yissocher Frand cites the explanation of the Menachem Tzion: the key is the word shnot, spelled shin-nun-tav. It is the plural of the word shanah, “year”, but also can be derived from the Hebrew word shoneh, “different” or “changed”. We can thus read the text as “Understand the changes/differences of each generation.”
Writes Rav Frand: “Understand that the lessons of the past must be applied to the present with wisdom and discernment. 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. The Torah can never be changed but it has enough built-in flexibility to allow it to adapt perfectly to all times and places. We have to think and consider hard before we make the application.”
Dear parents, the New Year represents a time for change. We are not condemned to repeat the same patterns of behavior of past years; we are urged to examine our past, learn from it and make changes that can improve our future and that of our children. Nor are we destined to be the same kind of parents as our own parents if we choose not to be. Just as our parents made decisions based on the circumstances and the times in which they lived, so must we carefully consider the changes dictated by current times and circumstances.
Rav Frand’s article on this subject appears at torah.org/learning/ravfrand/5770/haazinu.html