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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


I’m baaaaack! Baruch Hashem my son Barak’s wedding was awesome. His bride, Tehilla, is a wonderful young woman and comes from a great family. In addition to the blessing of the wedding, we were blessed to have all of my 6 children and 13 out of my 14 grandchildren spend 12 days together. It was the first time we were all together in several years.

In Judaism the importance of family is not limited to our blood relatives. In fact, the Jewish people themselves are often likened to a family. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks points out that this is best captured in a 1980s joke about an advertising campaign in New York.

Throughout the city there were giant posters with the slogan, ‘You have a friend in the Chase Manhattan Bank.’ Underneath one, an Israeli had scribbled the words, ‘But in Bank Leumi you have mishpochah.’

However, this family feeling is not just a joke. Rabbi Sacks brings several examples to show that this “feeling” is actually based in the Torah itself. For instance, we find in next week’s parashat Behar that many laws governing relationships between fellow Jews are written in the context of a family: If your brother is impoverished and indebted to you, you must support him...” (25:35). The entire book of Beresheit, the beginning of the Torah itself, tells the story of a family - Abraham, Sarah, and their descendents. This family dimension carries through to defining moments, such as when G-d tells Moses to say to Pharaoh in his name: “My child, my firstborn, Israel,” (Shemot 4:22), or when Moses says to B’nei Yisrael, “You are children of the Lord your G-d,” (Devarim 14:1). Moreover, in one of the most famous and powerful moments of prayer, we say Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King. This illustrates to us that before being our powerful King, G-d is above all our parent and we are His children.

What does it mean that the Jewish people are all one big happy family? Rabbi Sacks explains:

This is a distinctive way of thinking about society and our obligations to others. Jews are not just citizens of the same nation or adherents of the same faith. We are members of the same extended family. We are – biologically or electively – children of Abraham and Sarah. For the most part, we share the same history. On the festivals we relive the same memories. We were forged in the same crucible of suffering. We are more than friends. We are mishpochah, family...We are related by bonds that go to the very heart of who we are.

Why is it important for us to see our fellow Jews as not just another member of the tribe, but as our own family? The family feeling helps drive home the concept of Kol Yisrael arevin zeh bazeh, that all Jews are responsible for one another. It is this sense of mutual obligation that has kept the Jewish people united despite thousands of years of living scattered around the world and developing different cultures.

Sometimes, due to differing viewpoints or means of expression, it may seem that the fragmentations between different Jewish groups are so strong that this family relation no longer exists. However, Rabbi Sacks argues:

Argue with your friend and tomorrow he may no longer be your friend, but argue with your brother and tomorrow he is still your brother. The book of Genesis is full of sibling rivalries but they do not all end the same way. The story of Cain and Abel ends with Abel dead. The story of Isaac and Ishmael ends with their standing together at Abraham’s grave. The story of Esau and Jacob reaches a climax when, after a long separation, they meet, embrace and go their separate ways. The story of Joseph and his brothers begins with animosity but ends with forgiveness and reconciliation. Even the most dysfunctional families can eventually come together.

The Jewish people remains a family, often divided, always argumentative, but bound in a common bond of fate nonetheless. As our parsha reminds us, that person who has fallen is our brother or sister, and ours must be the hand that helps them rise again.

All families require effort in order to function properly. We have a part in shaping the family of the Jewish people. It is upon us to appreciate and help our fellow Jews for exactly who they are - our family.