We often remind ourselves not to forget our past, but how often do we focus in as intentional a way on our future?
I had the honor of leading a team from our school at Prizmah’s galvanizing conference for Jewish educational professionals and lay leaders this week. During one keynote, the 1200 attendees were challenged by Lisa Kay Solomon, who leads a team of “futurists” at the Institute of Design at Stanford (known as the d.school), to fill in an imaginary headline from the year 2033: “President __________ has just announced that everyone will immediately have access to ______________.” Laughter filled the room when one volunteer filled the first blank with the name “Shapiro,” and the second blank with “free private school education.” If we imagine the future, Solomon and her team taught us, we can prepare for it – and we may have some fun, too.
As Moshe came of age in our parasha of Shemot, he at one point famously intervened in an argument between an Egyptian and Israelite. He murdered the Egyptian, leading to his flight to Egypt and his desert encounter with God. The Torah details Moshe’s actions before killing this unnamed foe: va-yifen ko va-cho va-yar ki eyn ish, “he looked both ways and saw no one was there.” The Midrash, which Rashi cites, embellishes the story. Moshe did not simply look “both ways;” he looked into this Egyptian’s future and saw that no one of consequence would be descended from him; it would be okay to kill him. (This clearly ignores the time travel conundrum that science fiction fans understand: if Moshe killed this man, obviously no one of consequence could come from him, but that’s not the Midrash’s point here.)
As parents and teachers, we don’t have the power of ruach ha-kodesh, of divine inspiration, and we thus can’t see what the future holds for us or our families. I’ve said many times to many people (and can’t remember my source) that it’s almost impossible to imagine our own children as any older than they are right now – whenever “now” is. But Moshe’s lesson, and that of the futurist design team from the d.school, is that we must do so.
Who do we want our kids to be in 2033? Our eight-year-olds will be eighteen; our eighteen-year-olds will be twenty–eight. And what are the questions we need to be asking, the conversations we need to be having, or the connections we need to be making now in order to help them become those 2033 versions of themselves? On a personal level, who do we want to be in 2033, and what do we need to get there?
It’s daunting to ask these questions because it can be scary to think about the future – but that’s precisely why asking them is so important. “The future,” said Lisa Kay Solomon, “doesn’t need to be something that happens to us.” I’m challenging our school leadership team to think about the 2033 version of our institution; I challenge all of us to do the same with ourselves and our families.