We are all born into a family. Some of us continue and create a family of our own, while others might not merit that privilege. However, no matter how we look at it, we are all part of a family.
From the beginning of time, everything revolves around the family. What’s your heritage? Who was your father and his father? What tribe are you from? Are you Ashkenazi from Europe or Sephardi from Morocco or Yemen or somewhere else?
What is family? What is so cherished about those who are family that we will defend them with all our might – or, chas v’shalom, be mad enough to not speak to them for years. Why is the matter of family so sensitive?
There is the famous expression “blood is thicker than water,” meaning that when push comes to shove and you are in need, your family will be there for you. It’s sad that sometimes only a hard or harsh incident brings family who are far from each other together, and yet still it’s comforting to know that your family will always be there for you. Sometimes only after we lose a family member or go through some difficult times do we truly appreciate our family.
It is very important to know who and where your family came from since history has a way of repeating itself. Our Sages taught that “Ma’aseh avot siman l’banim,” which means that the actions of the fathers are a sign for their children after them. If we learn and understand who our ancestors were, we will see a pattern and a way of life that guides us.
When we are going through tough times in life, by looking back at what our family did in times of distress we can gain a lot of strength and support. Sometimes we lose our focus in life, or the next generation might have moved far away from any religious practice. And then we feel lost and are searching for direction. But we suddenly remember an old great-grandfather or other relative from way back and we feel strengthened and uplifted that we come from such good and strong people. We might hear a story from the past about how they survived some terrible experience, and we feel connected.
We live in a time where we can do almost anything with the touch of a finger. All the technology is right there to be discovered. However, sometimes when we can do everything ourselves or get help from Google in a second, we forget the warm touch of a hug or a hand, a kiss from a parent or a sweet phone call from a sibling.
We live far apart, not like once when families lived together in a big house or with a courtyard between them or on the same block. Why don’t we live with the closeness that our families did just a generation ago? Why are our best friends not our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins? No, we choose to be close to our friends, and remember our family only when we “have to” invite them to some event.
If we look back at our ancestors who lost so much and cherished their families like gold, we will realize that the gold hasn’t disappeared. We have just lost our sensitivity because we have so much. Today we are not persecuted by the masses and we live like kings almost everywhere we wish. Sometimes when things are so good, we tend to forget what’s important in life. We feel like we are in charge, strong and mighty, so we need nobody.
Just a few days ago, on yud Sh’vat, was my grandfather’s yahrzeit. He passed away 19 years ago. My Zaidy Sholom was a beautiful example of a person who loved his family more than anything or anyone. He was a successful businessman, and yet he never forgot his family. To him they were always first. Not only his children which everyone feels close to and loves no matter what – he was close to and loved all his siblings and their families.
Sometimes I cry and feel sad to see where this advanced generation has come to:
Elderly parents sits alone at home or in a nursing home since the children are too busy to care for them; aunts and uncles are just some distant relatives you know exist; cousins are just a term; and the most important people are your friends or colleagues at work. I miss my grandfather and his way of life. He took his entire family with him no matter where he went. If it was a vacation, then everyone was invited. If it was a summer getaway, everyone was included. He never left anyone out. A regular Shabbat always was filled with siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles.
I try to live the way my Zaidy did, but it’s not the same. Today we meet at weddings maybe, or once every few years if someone has a simcha and remembers to invite all the family. I’m glad that I have whom to look up to and emulate.
I went thought hardships in my life and I appreciate family more than anything. I hope to carry on in my grandfather’s footsteps and bring back that special family connection that he created with all his loved ones.