“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
It has always seemed unfair to call this saying a cliché. Clichés are phrases that are so often repeated that their original meaning is oftentimes lost, thus leaving the phrase hollow. This phrase, however, is still incredibly poignant, especially when discussing not only this week’s Torah portion, but also in framing our Mitzvah Corps New Orleans experience.
This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas (Numbers 25:10 -30:1), discusses the aftermath of Korach and reveals that the sons of Korach were not swallowed into the earth as previously reported in Parshat Korach. Why they were saved is not made explicitly clear, although rabbis have established hypotheses throughout various commentaries. Rabbi Vered L. Harris theorized that perhaps the sons of Korach were able to engage in t’shuvah, repentance, and thus change their ways. Rabbi Harris goes on to comment, “The descendants of Korach are credited as singers of Psalms 42-49. These moving verses recognize the human conditions of feeling lost, forgotten, and downcast.” These descendants of Korach did not face God’s wrath directly, as they had remembered their history; rather than acting ashamed and burying the reality of their past away, they utilized their truths for the better. It is now our turn to follow in those footsteps.
This Shabbat, we take time to remember our history. As Americans, it is more than just important to remember slavery; it is a frayed piece of fabric on the quilt that is American history, eroding at the ends and yet very much still entwined in our culture. To do so, we start our trip at Whitney Plantation, the only plantation museum in Louisiana with a focus on slavery. This experience will not glorify the antebellum era nor will it make light of the dark history associated with the plantation.
History cannot be changed. Instead, we learn from our past in an effort to not repeat it.
Jordy, Caleb, and Adam
Mitzvah Corps New Orleans 2017 Program Staff