The generation in which we live, has been dubbed the, “Me Generation.” It is certainly not a flattering term for an entire generation. As its name alludes, this generation looks to satisfy, please, enrich, make happy, and gratify oneself. Since the 1960’s, this phenomenon began with the Civil Rights movement, and continued with the Women’s Liberation movement, constantly emphasizing the rights of the individual. This enormous social movement then, shifted its attention and focus of society from the welfare of the group to the welfare of the individual. While in the past, the rights and welfare of the individual may have been restricted – or even sacrificed for the welfare and advancement of society – now it is completely the opposite; the rights and welfare of society have been overlooked and sacrificed for the rights and welfare of the individual. This shift has taken place in government, in the courts and in society in general.
Another aspect of the “Me Generation” is the neglect, or abandonment, of others; specifically of others in the past or of those who have no concern for the welfare of future generations. In other words, the “Me Generation” looks at oneself only in the here-and-now, without any horizontal concern or vertical responsibility.
This week’s Perashat Nissabim, is invariably read the Shabbat prior to Rosh HaShanah. It contains one of the last parts of Moshe’s final sermon, prior to his death. As he delivers his words in front of an assembled People of Israel, he calls upon everyone to stand firm and committed to the teachings and to the wisdom of the Torah; to continue to be loyal to G-d and to His commandments.
Moshe uses an interesting phrase when summoning the People to the call. He said: “Not with you alone do I seal this covenant…but with whoever is here, standing with us today…and with whomever is not here with us today.”
It is clear from the words of Moshe, that an individual does not live alone. A sense of belonging and societal responsibility does exist as a matter of principle and fact. A human being is known to be a social being, an entity that needs and enjoys companionship, as well as being a member of a group – at least this much is what the disciplines of sociology and psychology tells us.
With these words as part of his final Sermon, Moshe invoked the previous generations and marshalled not only his own generation – but all the generations to follow, and committed them all to be bound by this covenant which he was making with the People of Israel. Many commentators argue as to how could one generation obligate individuals and future generations to continue a covenant that they, the future generations, were not even aware of, and might not be interested in being a part of. These same commentators respond that each individual is responsible for his, or her, fellow human beings. They go even further stating that each generation ought to consider itself as a continuation of the previous generation. This means that they are responsible for all of the generations that follow their own. A generation, just like an individual, does not live in a vacuum. We all have a responsibility toward the society we live in. Therefore, the “Me generation” should really be the “We Generation.”
On this Rosh HaShanah, we ought to learn and deeply internalize this lesson in our efforts and in our prayers.
Shabbat Shalom and Tizku L’Shanim Rabbot,
Rabbi Elie Abadie, M.D.