The future is never known. What we do know, is that the future is created. Whether it is by you, by someone else, or by events that go beyond anyone’s own power to shape it, the future is created. When it comes to our own lives, if we are asked, “What will tomorrow be like,” the answer is always the same. Tomorrow — the future — is the experience born out of the choices made today. Your present self is part of the future because you create it.
This summer I read a fascinating book, “The Redemptive Self,” by Northwestern Professor Dan McAdams. At the core of his work is the idea that we carry within us the psychological framework that is both forward-looking and resilient. What McAdams argues through his research is that there is a binding in the human soul between the unceasing groping for a positive future and the creative urge to make that future possible. He shows that people with these kinds of outlooks shape their lives with a strong moral conscience, a sense of purpose, and above all a creative edge. It is the future that gives energy to their creativity and their creativity that forms the future. In other words, the will to create is founded on the faith that the future is indeed possible, even when we cannot see it. This back-and-forth between craft and vision pushes each of us forward in time to become better, stronger and more blessed. He names this driving force “redemption” — not just in the sense of being taken out of a dark place, or being freed from oppression, but being impelled into a brighter, albeit uncertain, future.
Creation and redemption are covenanted together.
What McAdams has demonstrated through research, we already know through faith. The Torah opens with a book about the past and ends with a book about the future. The Torah starts with creation, and ends with redemption. Genesis is all about beginnings: the beginning of the world, the beginning of time, the beginning of place, and the beginning of people. God is the Author of Life, the Artist, the Creator. You are part of the created world, but what makes you special is that you are partner to God, being created in the Divine Image.(Gen. 1:26 ) That means as God’s partner, you are both object and subject, created and creator, a work of art and an artist at work.
That is how the Torah begins, investing into the world the value of creation, not by focusing on the past, but on the future. The Book of Deuteronomy dreams of a future for the next generation. That is especially true in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo. Moses has a dream for his people of a land settled, a people prosperous and a nation thriving. He is speaking to a generation that has never known such things. They are the children of the desert, born into a wilderness of suffering, plague, and banditry. For these refugees, Moses dreams of a future for them and pushes them towards this future which is uncertain, yet is commanded of them all the same. They must create this future, even if they’ve never experienced it, in the most moral of ways. It is this prophetic vision where past and future meet where we find the process of redemption.
Creation and redemption are covenanted together
At the center of Moses’ vision is the ritual of redemption. He envisions a prosperous farmer, baskets of fruit in hand, coming to the Holy Temple to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. As he ascends the mountain and approaches the priest, he lifts the basket and recites these now famous lines, “My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt few in number, but became a great nation . . . The LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm . . . and brought us to this land flowing with Milk and Honey.” (Deut. 26:5-9) On Passover, Jews around the world read this story as centerpiece of the Seder ritual. Redemption is the theme, not just in the sense of “coming home” but in the striving itself to create a life of prosperity where none existed before. By telling a story of the past and placing it in the mouth of future generations, God creates the path of redemption, a path that must now be forged and created by each of us. If faith means anything it is this: to believe that the future, no matter how uncertain, informs the creativity of the present, and that if we step boldly, we too can participate in the act of redemption.
There is no question that future is created. The only question is will you create the future, or will you wait for someone else to create yours? All creativity is born out of the past but relies on a vision of the future. The Torah’s gift to the world is a vision of the future where redemption is possible. It gives you both the power to create and the power to redeem. The future is never known, but it is created. As we approach the High Holy Days it is up to us to use the past and reshape it into a redemptive future for all God’s creatures.