We Are What We Remember! One reason religion has survived in the modern world despite four centuries of secularisation
is that it answers the three questions every reflective human being will ask at some time in his or her life:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
How then shall I live?
These cannot be answered by the four great institutions of the modern West:
science, technology, the market economy and the liberal democratic state.
Science tells us how but not why.
Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use that power.
The market gives us choices but does not tell us which choices to make.
The liberal democratic state as a matter of principle holds back from endorsing any particular way of life.
The result is that,
contemporary culture sets before us an almost infinite range of possibilities,
but does not tell us
who we are,
why we are here,
and how we should live.
these are fundamental questions.
Moses’ first question to God in their first encounter at the burning bush was:
" Who am I?”
The real meaning of this verse is that it was a rhetorical question:
Who am I to undertake the extraordinary task of leading an entire people to freedom?
More deeper, the plain sense was a genuine question of identity.
Moses had been brought up by an Egyptian princess, the daughter of Pharaoh.
He then married Zipporah, one of Jethro’s daughters, and spent decades as a Midianite shepherd.
So when he asked God, “Who am I?” there was a real question.
Am I an Egyptian, a Midianite, or a Jew?
By upbringing he was an Egyptian,
by experience he was a Midianite.
Yet, what was decisive, was his ancestry.
He was a descendant of Abraham, the child of Amram and Yocheved.
When he asked God his second question,
“Who are you?”
God first told him,
“I will be what I will be.”
But then he gave him a second answer:
Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, the name you shall call Me from generation to generation.
Jews have told the story of who we are for longer and more devotedly than any other people on the face of the earth. That is what makes Jewish identity so rich. In an age in which computer and smartphone memories have grown so fast, from kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes, while human memories have become so foreshortened, there is an important Jewish message to humanity as a whole.
You can’t delegate memory to machines. You have to renew it regularly and teach it to the next generation.
Winston Churchill said: “The longer you can look back, the further you can see forward.”
Or to put it slightly differently:
Those who tell the story of their past have already begun to build their children’s future.