When You’re Here, You’re Family


Since Judaism teaches that all Jews are responsible for each other, the hemorrhaging of the number of diaspora Jews actively involved in Jewish life, or even identifying as Jews, is a source of grave concern. How might we inspire our Jewish siblings to remain within, or return to, Jewish tradition?

We must remember that the Israelites came into Egypt as a family, the 70 descendants of our grandfather Jacob- Israel. Hence, the recounting of the story of our enslavement and eventual redemption is transmitted by parents to their children as a familial recounting of family history because the Jewish nation is essentially an extended family. And, as in any family, there are familial memories of origins, of beginnings; in a family, there will always be a commonality, a togetherness that results from the good that flows through the veins of the family members.

Passover is our familial, communal festival, at the very beginning of our calendar, at the very outset of our unique history, at the early steps toward our sefira march, celebrated even before we received our Torah from God and before we entered the Promised Land.

In order to feel truly free, every person must feel that he/she counts (sefira); but that is how it is in families, where each member is called by his/her personal name and is known by his/her unique traits (both positive and negative). It is for this reason that our Passover sacrificial meal must be subdivided into smaller — and more manageable — familial and extra-familial units, “a lamb for each household” or several households together. Special foods, special stories and special songs define and punctuate the familial nature of the event.

One of the rousing songs of the Seder is Dayenu. One line reads: “Had God merely brought us to Sinai and not given us the Torah, it would have been enough.” Our Sages teach that when the Israelites stood at Sinai they were one people with one heart, a united and communal family.

How might we engage Jews estranged from Jewish life? We must embrace them as part of our family, love them because we are part of them and they are part of us, share with them our vision and dreams and accept them wholeheartedly, no matter what.

For some of them it may be the first step on their march to Torah and the Land of Israel on Shavuot; for others, it might be all they are interested in. And that, too, must be considered good enough, Dayenu! After all, the very first covenant God made with Abraham was the covenant of family and nation.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat.

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