Re'ei: The Janissary’s Paradox
The Janissaries were Christian children captured and converted by the Ottoman state with a chance to climb the social ladder at the expense of despising their own people and forgetting their own past. They had to choose between their future and their past. The Ottomans promised a miserable future if they were no willing to war against their past.
We are constantly reminded of our past as slaves in Egypt. The Torah warns us against forgetting our past and offers us numerous opportunities to use our past to build our future: We are commanded to shower a departing servant with gifts, and warned against allowing him to leave empty-handed. (Deuteronomy 15:13-14) Our past as slaves in Egypt helps us understand the plight of this servant. It pushes us to act in beautiful ways: The Mitzvah/Concept to give gifts is described as Ha’anaka – A Beautiful Necklace.
This is a perfect lesson as we enter the Teshuva period that begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul. It is easy to fall into a trap of believing that Teshuva offers the Janissary’s Paradox: You must reject your past in order to have a future. It is not true. One of the three main themes of Rosh Hashana is Zichronot – Timelessness. Teshuva is our opportunity to shape our future and repairing the past.
We are not Janissaries; We are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to reach across time, backward and forward, and prepare for a better future.
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