Dear Friend of Israel,
My travels over the summer were filled with a wide range of activities – but one of my most memorable moments was also one that probably seems one of the most mundane – standing in a restaurant parking lot chatting with my daughters Talia and Yael, and their families.
We had just had a good dinner at one of our favorite Chicago kosher restaurants. As the evening wore on, the children started getting tired and we knew the evening was drawing to a close, so our conversation slowly migrated outside. Standing in that parking lot, on a humid late-July Chicago evening, it seemed we could have talked for hours. None of us said it, but I knew we were all feeling the same thing: We didn’t want the night to end.
Like so many families today, it’s unusual that we’re all in the same place at the same time. (In fact, on this occasion, we missed the presence of my daughter Tamar). Yael lives in Israel, Talia in Chicago, and my other daughter, Tamar, in New York. My home is in Israel, but I spend a lot of time traveling. So getting any part of our family together is a challenge – and therefore, an extra blessing.
That moment last month reminded me, as I am so often reminded, of the importance of family in Judaism. The very first mitzvah (commandment) in the Torah speaks of creating family, by instructing us to “be fruitful and multiply.” Talmudic sages teach that there are three partners in the creation of a person – God, father, and mother. Thus, the command to honour our parents is the only one of the Ten Commandments that offers a promise if we obey: “that you may live long in the land the Lord our God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
Historically, it has been the family, even more than the synagogue, which has served as the primary vehicle for the transmission of Jewish values from generation to generation. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the rabbis decided that the home was the mikdash m’at (“small sanctuary”), a holy place responsible for fostering the spiritual life of the family. It is here, in the home, that we live out so many of our traditions and beliefs – Shabbat (Sabbath), special holiday meals, family prayers and blessings.
Our Jewish faith is intertwined with our understanding, and our experience, of family. And so, when we are gathered, we don’t just get to be with people we love, we experience a bit of the divine. We are connected to something bigger and higher than just ourselves – even when we’re just standing around in a parking lot, sharing conversation with those we care about most.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Chairman, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Australia