Back to the Future
By Dr. Jacqueline Gerber Lebwhol (GS ’17)
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (trans. Gregory Rabassa)
My college modern literature professor often began class with a communal recitation of this sentence, and many readers consider it among the best first lines of any modern work. What makes this rather strange sentence so powerful? One of its most significant features is how García Márquez plays with time. He brings the reader forward from the present to the execution of Colonel Buendia and then sends him or her into a third time—the colonel’s youth. In one sentence the audience feels as though it is experiencing both the end and beginning of the character’s life while actually experiencing neither.
The beginning of Ki Tavo similarly demands that the reader travel through time. The audience, the People of Israel, is situated in their fortieth year of wanderings, waiting outside the land of Canaan. Moses instructs them to bring their first fruits to the Temple after they enter the Land. At the Temple, each individual shall recite the following:
My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us . . . and the LORD heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The LORD freed us from Egypt . . . He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Deut. 26: 5–10)
Moses instructs the People of Israel to recall their distant past at a future time. While Israel sits on the cusp of their goal, the inheritance of Canaan, Moses projects them forward to the full actualization of the covenant, the reaping of the Land’s bounty. Yet Moses instructs them, when they arrive at that future time of greatness, to recall their lowly roots and God’s role in raising them up. In one moment, the People of Israel experience past, present, and future, a coalescence of the collective memory of Israel.