Being Good Ancestors
אמר להם אידין מתקרי חכים אמרו ליה איזהו חכם הרואה את הנולד אמר להם אידין מתקרי גבור אמרו לו איזהו גבור הכובש את יצרו אמר להן אידין מתקרי עשיר אמרו ליה איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו
Alexander said to the Elders: Who is truly worthy of being called wise? They said to him, citing a tradition (see Avot 2:9): Who is the wise person? The one who sees and anticipates the consequences of his behavior. He said to them: Who is truly worthy of being called mighty? They said to him, again citing a tradition (see Avot 4:1): Who is the mighty person? The one who masters his desire. He said to them: Who is worthy of being called wealthy? They said to him: Who is the wealthy person? The one who is pleased with his own portion (see Avot 4:1).

(א) רְאֵה אֶת מַעֲשֵׂה הָאֱלֹהִים כִּי מִי יוּכַל לְתַקֵּן אֵת אֲשֶׁר עִוְּתוֹ, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, נְטָלוֹ וְהֶחֱזִירוֹ עַל כָּל אִילָנֵי גַּן עֵדֶן, וְאָמַר לוֹ, רְאֵה מַעֲשַׂי כַּמָּה נָאִים וּמְשֻׁבָּחִין הֵן, וְכָל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָאתִי בִּשְׁבִילְךָ בָּרָאתִי, תֵּן דַּעְתְּךָ שֶׁלֹא תְקַלְקֵל וְתַחֲרִיב אֶת עוֹלָמִי, שֶׁאִם קִלְקַלְתָּ אֵין מִי שֶׁיְתַקֵּן אַחֲרֶיךָ

(1) Look at God's work - for who can straighten what He has twisted? (Ecclesiastes 7:13). When the Blessed Holy One created the first human, He took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “Look at My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And all that I have created, it was for you that I created it. Pay attention that you do not corrupt and destroy My world: if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you.

(ו) וַיַּעֲבֹ֨ר יְהוָ֥ה ׀ עַל־פָּנָיו֮ וַיִּקְרָא֒ יְהוָ֣ה ׀ יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֥ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת ׀ (ז) נֹצֵ֥ר חֶ֙סֶד֙ לָאֲלָפִ֔ים נֹשֵׂ֥א עָוֺ֛ן וָפֶ֖שַׁע וְחַטָּאָ֑ה וְנַקֵּה֙ לֹ֣א יְנַקֶּ֔ה פֹּקֵ֣ד ׀ עֲוֺ֣ן אָב֗וֹת עַל־בָּנִים֙ וְעַל־בְּנֵ֣י בָנִ֔ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֖ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִֽים׃
(6) The LORD passed before him and proclaimed: “The LORD! the LORD! a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, (7) extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.”

תָּנֵי רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בַּר יוֹחָאי, מָשָׁל לִבְנֵי אָדָם שֶׁהָיוּ יוֹשְׁבִין בִּסְפִינָה נָטַל אֶחָד מֵהֶן מַקְדֵּחַ וְהִתְחִיל קוֹדֵחַ תַּחְתָּיו, אָמְרוּ לוֹ חֲבֵרָיו מַה אַתָּה יוֹשֵׁב וְעוֹשֶׂה, אָמַר לָהֶם מָה אִכְפַּת לָכֶם לֹא תַחְתִּי אֲנִי קוֹדֵחַ, אָמְרוּ לוֹ שֶׁהַמַּיִם עוֹלִין וּמְצִיפִין עָלֵינוּ אֶת הַסְּפִינָה.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught a parable: Men were on a ship. One of them took a drill and started drilling underneath him. The others said to him: What are sitting and doing?! He replied: What do you care. Is this not underneath my area that I am drilling?! They said to him: But the water will rise and flood us all on this ship.

בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁעָמְדוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל לִפְנֵי הַר סִינַי לְקַבֵּל הַתּוֹרָה, אָמַר לָהֶם הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אַלְעִיקֵי אֲנִי נוֹתֵן לָכֶם אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, אֶלָּא הָבִיאוּ לִי עֲרֵבִים טוֹבִים שֶׁתִּשְׁמְרוּהָ, וַאֲנִי נוֹתְנָהּ לָכֶם. אָמְרוּ לְפָנָיו רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, אֲבוֹתֵינוּ עֲרֵבִים לָנוּ. אָמַר לָהֶם אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם צְרִיכִין עֲרֵבִים אֶלָּא הָבִיאוּ לִי עֲרֵבִים טוֹבִים, וַאֲנִי נוֹתְנָהּ לָכֶם. אָמְרוּ לְפָנָיו רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם נְבִיאֵינוּ עֲרֵבִין לָנוּ. אָמַר לָהֶם יֵשׁ לִי עֲלֵיהֶם. אָמְרוּ הֲרֵי בָּנֵינוּ עוֹרְבִים אוֹתָנוּ. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָא וַדַּאי עֲרֵבִים טוֹבִים, עַל יְדֵיהֶם אֶתְּנֶנָּהּ לָכֶם

When Israel stood to receive the Torah, the Holy One, Blessed Be God, said to them, "I am giving you My Torah. Bring Me good guarantors that you will guard it." First the people said, "Our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are our guarantors." This was not acceptable. Next they said, "Our prophets are our guarantors." These, too, were unacceptable. But when the people pledged, "Our children are our guarantors," the Holy One, Blessed Be God, accepted them immediately: "For their sake, I give the Torah to you."

יומא חד הוה אזל באורחא חזייה לההוא גברא דהוה נטע חרובא אמר ליה האי עד כמה שנין טעין אמר ליה עד שבעין שנין אמר ליה פשיטא לך דחיית שבעין שנין אמר ליה האי [גברא] עלמא בחרובא אשכחתיה כי היכי דשתלי לי אבהתי שתלי נמי לבראי
One day, he was walking along the road when he saw a certain man planting a carob tree. Ḥoni said to him: This tree, after how many years will it bear fruit? The man said to him: It will not produce fruit until seventy years have passed. Ḥoni said to him: Is it obvious to you that you will live seventy years, that you expect to benefit from this tree? He said to him: That man himself found a world full of carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants.

What if we Stopped Pretending?

Jonathan Franzen, New Yorker, 9/8/19

Today, the scientific evidence verges on irrefutable. If you’re younger than sixty, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilization of life on earth—massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought. If you’re under thirty, you’re all but guaranteed to witness it.

Why Can't We Stop Climate Change? We're Not Wired to Empathize with Future Generations

Jamil Zaki, Washington Post, 8/22/19

Empathy evolved as the north star to our moral compass. When someone else’s pain feels like our own, we have reason not to harm them. Empathy is also ancient, tuned to a time when we lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers. Much as we did back then, we still find it easier to care for people who look or think like us, who are familiar, and who are right in front of us.

It’s difficult to scale our emotions to the global task that climate change represents. For instance, people feel strong empathy after hearing about one victim of a disaster — whose face we can see and whose cries we can hear — but hearing about hundreds or thousands of victims leaves us unmoved. Such “compassion collapse” stymies climate action. Environmental damage has already produced enormous suffering, particularly in the global south. But in the global north, where most carbon emissions are produced, these victims are distant statistics who garner little empathy.

Like distance, time diminishes empathy. People find the future psychologically fuzzy; we even tend to view our future selves as strangers. This leads individuals to make shortsighted choices such as accruing debt instead of saving for retirement. Across generations, this tunnel vision worsens. Not only are the consequences of our actions far off, but they will be experienced by strangers who have yet to be born. Add to that an uncertainty about their lives — a century from now, humanity might have solved climate change using tools we cannot imagine, or been ravaged by a war that makes today’s sacrifices irrelevant — and you have a perfect recipe for indifference. Indeed, researchers find that people are less willing to sacrifice when the benefits of their actions feel far away or unsure.

Why you should think about being a good ancestor — and 3 ways to start doing it

Bina Venkataraman


2. Seek out and listen to the voices of the future.

When we bring young people into our conversations and deliberations — whether in our families or in public discourse — they can remind us of our role as ancestors. They have the moral authority to speak on behalf of future generations, as well as the credibility to lead their elders. We witnessed this phenomenon with the teenagers who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, who asked their parents and lawmakers to pledge to support gun control. We’ve also seen it with the young people — like Greta Thunberg — who are protesting and implicating their governments for their role in accelerating climate change.