Bo-“Tomorrow”

On the verse in our parsha ((Bo, Ex. 13:14), “When your son asks you tomorrow, saying ‘what is this,’ you shall answer him, ‘with a strong arm G-d took us out,” Rashi explains, “There is a tomorrow which occurs in the present, and there is a tomorrow that occurs much later. [The latter] corresponds to the meaning of our verse, as well as of the verse (Joshua 22:24), “Lest tomorrow, your children say to our children, the children of Gad and Reuven…[regarding the tribesman of Reuven and Gad that returned to the east bank of the Jordan after the conquering and division of the land of Israel].”

Rashi’s main point seems to be that the word “tomorrow” as it appears in our verse indicates a ‘tomorrow’ that doesn’t occur immediately, but only after a significant amount of time has elapsed. But, if that is the case, why does Rashi find it necessary to mention that there is a ‘tomorrow’ that occurs in the present? He could have simply explained that ‘tomorrow’ in this context means ‘after a long time,’ without further ado?

By way of explanation, Rashi’s primary goal is to explain the Torah to the five year old child. When the five year child sees the word ‘tomorrow,’ he immediately thinks that it means ‘the next day’ – after another night has passed by. And then, he might ask, why would anyone wait until the next day to ask about an event that happened today? The five-year old child is far more likely to ask about an event immediately upon its occurrence, than to wait until the next day. Therefore, Rashi explains that ‘tomorrow’ does not have to mean ‘the next day.’ It may mean ‘after the event.’  There is such a thing as ‘tomorrow’ that occurs on that very same day, but immediately after the event under discussion (in our case, the the exodus from Egypt). With this explanation, Rashi explains to the five-year old that just as he thought, his question does not have to wait until the next day, because ‘tomorrow’ can also mean the very same day, immediately after the event. Rashi then continues and explains that however, in our verse, ‘tomorrow’ means much more than that – it means many days, or months, or even years later. ‘Tomorrow’ in our verse means long afterward the event.

What compels Rashi to explain that ‘tomorrow’ in our verse means a long time after the events of the exodus? Because there is no reason for a child who witnessed the events as they happened to ask about them immediately afterwards. Since he witnessed and participated in the exodus from Egypt, there is nothing that would be so unclear as to lead to questions. Therefore, ‘tomorrow’ in our case must mean much later, in fact years and generations after the events, so such so that only someone who didn’t actually experience the events would have to ask about them.

However, there is a more general question that arises regarding Rashi’s comment, and that is, why is it necessary at all to state that questions about the exodus might arise ‘tomorrow?’ It’s clear from the context that the verse is referring to the next generation, when the Jews will enter the land of Israel. Why, then, should it be necessary for the Torah to state ‘tomorrow,’ when it is already clear that it’s referring to many years after the Exodus?

The answer lies in the nature of the person who is asking. There is a son who asks because he is “one of us” – a member of the Jewish people, but who is lacking in knowledge. He identifies as a Jew and in that sense he is a ‘son,’ but a son who is lacking information. Our job is to fill in the gaps, and supply him with the information that he is missing. That can take place on many different levels, because there can be a son who already has much knowledge, and there can be another son who lacks any but the most basic awareness. Nevertheless, all have the same basis for their questions– they are sons who lack knowledge. However, there is another category for whom the emphasis is not upon ‘son,’ but rather upon ‘tomorrow.’ He feels that he is living in a period that is detached from Judaism and Jewish history, and therefore he asks as if he is not one of the Jewish people, but “other.’  His questions emerge not because he is a ‘son,’ but because he thinks he is living in the future, ‘tomorrow.’ In his consciousness, he exists later, in a different era, and that’s what brings him to ask questions.

And that is what Rashi explains at length in his explanation. He begins by suggesting that ‘tomorrow’ is a concept in time (as with the first son above). It can occur on the day of the event, or sometime far in the future. This, Rashi clarifies with his first statement, “There is tomorrow that is now,” meaning within time. But ‘tomorrow’ can also be qualitative, meaning ‘later, after the conclusion of the present period.’ That is, the era or time following the present events can also be called ‘tomorrow.’ In that sense, it corresponds to the second son above, who is already living ‘tomorrow,’ in a different era. And that’s why Rashi continues, “There is tomorrow that is later.” This ‘tomorrow’ does not exist merely in time. It refers to a whole new “modern” period that exists much later in time.

That is why Rashi quotes the specific verse from Joshua and mentions its context. When the tribes of Gad and Reuven returned to the east bank of the Jordan, after fighting for all the Jews to conquer the land of Israel, they were afraid that subsequent generations would think of them as a separate nation. Therefore, they set up an altar, explaining to the rest of the Jews, lest “tomorrow your children will come to ours, the offspring of Gad and Reuven.”  The altar would serve as a reminder that there was no border, and that all the tribes were one nation. But, such a concern could not possibly occur during the generation that conquered the land of Israel. That generation knew that Gad and Reuven fought for all of Israel with tremendous self-sacrifice. Only a later generation could forget the self-sacrifice of Gad and Reuven. Therefore, this verse clearly demonstrates that ‘tomorrow’ means something that occurs much later, under totally different circumstances. In fact, it could only occur during a new generation, from which both sides seemed to be unaware of the self-sacrifice of Gad and Reuven in conquering Israel. Although there are other verses that contain the word “tomorrow,” Rashi quoted this verse because it most clearly demonstrates that ‘tomorrow’ means not only ‘later in time,’ but more importantly, ‘later’ relative to present events.

Plumbing the depths of Rashi’s commentary, and applying it to our lives, we find two kinds of sons who ask questions. Both are from ‘tomorrow’ – from the next generation – but some ask as sons from ‘tomorrow that is now,’ and some as sons that are from ‘tomorrow that is later.’ Those of ‘tomorrow that is now’ may be associated with the next generation, but in essence they are already living ‘now,’ in this generation, since they are connected with their father – the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob There is nothing qualitatively new in their questions, and all they are lacking is knowledge and information. Of course, we are required to answer all of their questions and fill in all the gaps in their knowledge and understanding.

But, those of the perspective of ‘tomorrow that is later’ are asking a different kind of question. They do not feel a connection with ‘now,’ with the way of life of their forefathers. They live in an era that they think of as ‘later,’ and “modern,” disconnected from the Torah. Understandably, their questions are quite different, since they are not the result of lack of knowledge. Their questions are motivated by the impression of strangeness and novelty that Torah life makes upon them, since they are far removed from anything Jewish. Since they are living ‘in a new era,’ the Torah lifestyle may make them feel distant and uncomfortable. But, the lesson that Rashi, with his commentary on the Torah wants to teach us is that also this son – the one who feels estranged and disenfranchised – is “your son,” and we must strive to reach out and explain Judaism to him. He is “our son” and our responsibility, and every Jew must do all that he can to reach the son who is ‘tomorrow that is much later’ and help him become a son of ‘tomorrow that is now.’

For a longer, more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 31, pp. 61-68

 

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