Can we learn from history? Is the past a succession of meaningless, unrelated events? Does the rise and fall of nations in the past have
anything to do with today's world? Are people that much different than they were then? Do they strive after different things, have different desires?
These questions came to mind recently as the similarities between Israel's geopolitical situation increasingly resembled that of the Jews during the first Roman War. (Some would argue that it more closely resembles 20th-century Czechoslovakia, but that's another article.)
For many years, I used to have long talks with Anselmo Valencia, the Chief of the Yaqui Indian Nation, about the similarities and distinctions between the beliefs and practices of Native American cultures and Judaism. Similar discussions have taken place over the last 10 years between numerous rabbis and Grandfather Wallace Black Elk, a Lakota Elder. But the link between these cultures was all brought home to me a few years ago when my neighbors saw me blessing my Sukkah with the Four Species, and thought I was doing an "Indian" ritual. Suddenly, I realized the amazing similarities between the prayers of a chanupa, or medicine pipe (filled only with tobacco, let's be clear on that issue early on), and the waving of the lulav and etrog. Both practices are so incredibly important to their respective cultures, and both are so beautiful. But what is amazing in some ways is how similar the understandings, intentions and practices are surrounding these ritual objects.