Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Families of Faith, Please Stand Up and Be Counted!

As we continue our Chagim, we think about the Torah cycle of readings, for which we will celebrate both the completion and the beginning on Simchat Torah in a few days. At that point, we will finish up with the final words of Moshe of reminder, caution and consideration of who and what we are as the inheritors of the traditions and teachings of Torah. Immediately after that we will begin with the story of Creation of all things by the Creator of all things in the first chapters of Bereshit, the very beginning of our story as the human family we are. Within the first chapters in that first weekly reading, we begin with narratives of family dysfunction and flawed individuals – that is the telling of how we survive our own shortcomings and personality deficits. On one hand, we might wonder what is the point of these stories? On the other hand, there is a very important underlying story of continuity here – namely that of the influence of our families on us and on our journeys in this world of which we are all part.

While none of our patriarchs or matriarchs are flawless, that is precisely the point! There is something bigger carrying them through the ramifications and consequences of their own actions and misdeeds. That something bigger is the FAITH to which they all hold on in the most difficult and confusing of times. So it is with us as well. While it is easy to believe and proclaim to have faith when things are going well, it is specifically when the going gets tough, that we find ourselves having to be tough in faith instead of fulfilling the second part of the statement, as we know it… the tough get going. Instead we hold on for dear life and reaffirm our faith, in our own self, in G-d, and yes, in our families and those that surround us.

We hear so much talk about individuals of faith and faith communities, so I want us to think for a moment about families of faith and whether or not we are setting the stage for this phenomenon in our lives. All studies show that the most powerful element in a person’s life is not camp, school, peer group or any other group affiliation though all of these are indeed capable of and do make lasting impacts. The number one influential unit to which we all belong is FAMILY!

So what does this mean practically? We know that our family units are so foundational to our identity and that it is within those units that we have the most available option to teach our youngest members and confirm for our older members what it means to be family – to care about another, to share, to put the other first, to love the other as one loves one self and so much more. It is in our families that we get to teach our children to be strong and to stand up for what they believe. We are often taught that the primary gathering place in which Judaism occurs daily is the home, even called Mikdash Katan (the smaller replica of the Hallowed Temple).

Yes, to be sure, as in the case with the generational narrative of Bereshit, there is a multitude of challenges in our families, but the point of family is that we do not walk away. Jacob DOES come back to meet Esau in spite of everything; Abraham DOES send EACH and EVERY ONE OF HIS CHILDREN away with something meaningful, the brothers and YOSEPH do come back together. Why? Would not one think that their fractured relationships were beyond repair? Yes, in many ways they were just so and with understandable reason. That being said, Yishmael and Yitzchak came back together to bury their father and Yoseph is reunited with the very family that left him deserted so many years earlier. There are tears of reconciliation, coming to terms with differences and acceptance of inherent inequities that mark families for generations in Bereshit. Many of our commentators talk at considerable length about foreknowledge, belief in G-d and the trials and tests of faith that mark the narratives of these Patriarchs and Matriarchs that are our ancestors.

As we move past Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Repentance and so much talk about ourselves, as individuals, and our communities, let us remember the very important place in the equation of who we are that is played by our families. It is not easy to be a family of faith and praxis, but to do so enriches our lives immeasurably. As we continue to read about these families and their misdeeds and coming to terms with their shortcomings and less than idea relationships, let us consider that maybe, just maybe, they understood how pivotal their role as units would be to the continuation of the people who actually even carry the very name of Children of Israel, the name that was attributed to Yaakov.

As we share these stories and their personae with our friends, children and family, let us remember to look at them realistically and NOT to whitewash what they did that was not ideal. The only way we will learn from them is to look and see who they were in reality – as individuals and as families. May we all continue to have and pass on to future generations this most precious gift that we can actualize and share in our families, that of faith and belief in so much about ourselves individually and collectively, through both our successes and our derailments.

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