Toldot 2006 - Rabbi Morley Feinstein

The Jewish Family

Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein
University Synagogue
Vice President, Board of Rabbis of Southern California

Parashat Toldot
Genesis 25:19–28:9

During World War II, parents in London transferred as many children as possible from the city into the country. They hoped that the children would be physically safe from air attacks. Studies made after the war showed that children who remained in war-torn London with their parents suffered less, physically and emotionally, than did the children sent to the country for safety. The true security was not physical safety but family togetherness.

As Jews we once thought we enjoyed special immunity from family troubles. Studies of the Jewish family have repeatedly pointed to the high regard that Jews have for stable family living. Lewis Mumford once remarked that the Jews "have the capacity to survive the cancerous attacks of dehumanized power derived from their sense of the family: their loyalty to the generations behind them and those yet to come." Yet today, the ills of society at large are troubling the Jewish family as well.

The biblical story reflected in Toldot tells us that internal problems have always affected the family. Take a look at this particular family for a moment. The mother is one of the pushiest, ambitious, arrogant, manipulative women ever created in literature. Rebecca, like Lola of the famous musical Damn Yankees, seeks to get whatever she wants.

Isaac, the elderly father, is not only handicapped by his blindness but is basically a feeble parent removed from the actions of his family. He is silent, non-involved and seemingly unconcerned with family affairs. The two children not only have a gap between themselves but also a chasm between them and their parents. Jacob and Esau get along in the story about as well as fire and ice: Esau lacks respect for his heritage, and Jacob illegally schemes to grasp the family birthright.

As we see, the biblical family was not as perfect as we would like to believe. Jealousy, rivalry, anger, pride, and power all affected the family of ancient days as well as the family of today. It is remarkable that despite the many influences of culture, politics, economics, or geography, the Jewish family has continued to transmit from generation to generation the Jewish way of life throughout its history.

Emanuel Rackman said "The family is the place where human beings are humanized. The most important values of love and benevolence are cultivated there. The human being is the only animal that cannot survive at birth without someone's attention. His very survival depends on others. From the love showered upon him, he too learns to love and give. And where one learns to become human is precisely the place where one must learn to be Jewish. Loyalty to the Jewish people is cradled in the Jewish family."

If we want our children to have an active identification with Judaism as adults, if we want our families to be filled with the values we cherish, we must model the values through word and deed. If issues such as guidance, discipline, religious identification, self-esteem, independence, personal effort, love and respect for others are crucial to us, we must find ways to express these ways of living for our children to see.

Evelyn Millis Duval, Author and Family � Life Counselor, writes: "Our families are built much as a good orchestra is built, not with every member playing the same instrument or the same notes, but with every member knowing his own instrument and blending it with others, achieving a harmony that is based upon difference. This is the kind of harmony that is based upon difference. This is the kind of harmony that is our crying need today in the modern world."

Judaism recognizes and affirms the value of family "mishpacha" for it unites all Jews. "Without family life no nation can be built." (A.D. Gordon) As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, let us strive to make our families harmonious, contented, and filled with shalom, peace.