Bereishit – the Book of Genesis – appropriately rounds off with a family gathering. Blessings are bestowed and home-truths shared by a Patriarch representing a generation soon to depart. It is easy for us who love our sacred texts through the lens of Biblical Criticism, to also be critical of the nature of our ancient ancestors as they are reported. More often than using them as examples of best practice, we highlight their weaknesses and hope that we might be stronger, more egalitarian, insightful and compassionate than they were.
In always striving to succeed the generation before us, to be a progression from them, we can tend to exaggerate their failings to magnify that which we choose to believe and do differently. When families and friends gather during the winter break that Christmas and New Year in Britain allow us (Chanukah was good but just so early this year!), we are gifted precious time. It allows us to cherish all our generations. We can learn from Jacob’s mistakes as a son, brother, father and grandfather but perhaps we might also appreciate the good, as this reading from Lily Montagu suggests:
“It may help you to look around in your own home and among your friends and notice things that are good. Examine yourself and recognise your own desires that are good and worth while. I think that if you do that just for a little while, you will be able to say with Jacob who awoke after his wonderful dream in the wilderness, ‘Surely God is in this place and I knew it not.’ But God was there all the time In Memory of Lily H. Montagu: Some Extracts from her Letters and Addresses collected by Eric Conrad, p. 75.”
In the words of my father, Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein, printed in Siddur Lev Chadash:
“Let us thank God for our family: for bonds of love and loyalty which unite us, and which keep us close together in spirit even when we are far apart. May we be modest in what we demand, generous in what we give, gentle in what we say, and considerate in what we do. So may our home be a place of security and happiness for us, of welcome and friendship for visitors, and a sanctuary worthy of the Divine Presence.”
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.