Picture your grandparents. Try to visualize them. Now try to picture your great-grandparents. Try to visualize them wherever they came from and, if you can, set them in a synagogue. Imagine them singing while holding the Torah scroll in their arms during Simchat Torah.
Now go back a generation — to your great-great-grandparents. You probably have not even seen pictures of them. But try to imagine what they looked like and imagine, if you can, them speaking to you and you to them while sitting in a sukkah.
And now go all the way back to your great-great-great grandparents. That would take you back to the late 18th century. Imagine them listening to the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
And now go even further back and imagine your ancestors who might have lived in the 17th century in Poland, or the 16th century in Germany, or the 14th century in Spain, or the 8th century in Babylonia, or 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel.
And now, go back further to the days of Jeremiah the prophet, and, holding the hand of a great-great ancestor, you see Jerusalem in flames.
And now further, to the days of King Solomon, you are standing in the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem listening to the high priest on Yom Kippur.
And now further: You are hot and tired. The sun is beating down on you. You are standing with your family at the foot of a hill just east of the Jordan River. You want to cross over the river into the Promised Land, but your ancestors tell you that Moses wants to deliver a message to the entire people before they cross over to take possession of the land promised to God. You look at your ancestors and you see they are crying. You ask why, and they explain that Moses said he will not be able to cross the Jordan River with you, but that, after delivering his last message, he will climb up the mountain and die.
Thousands of people crowd in around you, and it is absolutely silent. You clutch the hands of your ancestors, and you listen to the voice of Moses. He calls on both the heaven and the earth to hear his words, to be his witness. Moses urges the people that in the new land they must establish a just society based upon the teachings of the Torah, and that it is the responsibility of each Jew to hand the Torah down from generation to generation.
Moses is concerned that the teachings of Judaism should never be forgotten by his fellow Jews. Jews who fail to transmit the teachings of the Torah will break the chain of tradition and will preclude future generations of Jews to be connected with our ancestors who stood before Moses.
Now imagine your descendants, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and imagine them being linked with your ancestors.
The best way to remember and to honor our ancestors is to study Torah. I am convinced that the Jewish people survived because of the Torah, and frankly, I do not understand why many Jews refuse to study it. Those who criticize it as antiquated and outdated have never seriously studied Torah. Trust me, the Torah is more than a book of cute stories.
Our family’s history, the Torah, is the number one bestselling book of all time. We should be proud of that fact.
We have a moral obligation to study Torah and to teach Torah to our children. Our failure to do so could disconnect our descendants from our ancestors. When so many generations of Jews died in order to preserve the Torah, do we want to be known as the generation that discarded the Torah?
Recently I had a dream. In my dream, I walked into the sanctuary for services and it was packed with people. I greeted everyone with “Chag sameach…Happy High Holidays.” One person turned to me, with a puzzled look, and said to me, “Rabbi, it is not the High Holidays, we’re here to study Torah.” Like I said, it was a dream.
Please do not break the chain of tradition that links our ancestors with our descendants….please study the Torah.