Elul Reflection: 25 Elul 5778

5 September 2018
25 Elul 5778

Last year as I began to prepare sermons for the Holidays in early September, I never imagined that Shelley and I would be rushing back to Edmonton.   Shelley's mother faced a serious setback, and we felt that it was important to try to be there for her and for the rest of our family.   Gloria passed away about an hour after we arrived at the hospital. 

Luckily, we don't face the regret of splintered relationships, but instead, thankfulness that we were able to spend quality time this summer (and also many years) with both Gloria and Bernie.   Gloria was an amazing, strong and creative women.   Qualities, which seemed lost amid her pain and impaired memory.   In many ways, Gloria seemed more herself this summer, with a greater memory of her loved ones, than she has for some time.   It was a special time which will be cherished.  

The Jewish tradition cherishes the family and has always realized its centrality to the ongoing survival of our people.   Even before the destruction of the ancient Temples, there were many family rituals, most notably the Pesach Seder (but also the Sukkah).   After the destruction, these multiplied, and the home became equal to the synagogue as a migdash ma'at, a small sanctuary.   It was the family seated and celebrating Shabbat (especially with the family blessings) that was and is the key to Jewish continuity.   In the words of the poet Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginsberg, 1856-1927), "More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews."  Family was so important that respect for parents was included as the fifth commandment, and reconciliation between parents and children was seen as a signpost to the messianic era.

As humans, we are very good at destroying the most important relationships in our lives.   It is not coincidental that nearly every biblical family is torn by strife - not a model to emulate in this case but to challenge.   Too often we view family, friends and indeed the broader human community in a utilitarian way, to be dropped or marginalized when they no longer serve our selfish needs.   Yet an island is a very lonely place and we are truly (and most successfully) pack animals.   When we perceive the Divine spark in each soul, such a utilitarian view is worse than destructive; it is blasphemy as well.

Rebuilding connections is the most important aspect of the High Holidays.   It is too easy to miss our chance to reconnect.   Loss, even where love and respect are intact, bring this message home.   Let's build to the messianic ideal of respect and love, where the Divine turns the hearts of parents to their children, and children to their parents.

--Rabbi David Kunin

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