L'Chaim

Jewish World Review April 4, 2001/ 11 Nissan 5761

Passover: We are familiy --- or should be


By Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE most important place to be during the upcomining Passover celebrations is not the synagogue, it's the family home. More than any other festival, and we Jews have lots of them, Passover is about the gathering of families.

The Passover meal, or seder, starts with an open invitation. "Let anyone who is hungry come and eat. Let anyone who is needy come and join in our Passover meal." And so with children, parents and grand parents gathered together, the meal begins. Of course, if the children's grandparents are there, it also means the parents, parents in law, are there. There's the wider family, too. Uncles, Aunts and cousins. So it's a really happy family gathering ... well, maybe a reasonably happy family gathering. How does the old phrase go --- "You can choose your friends, but not your family."

Inevitably, there will be some family members who won't be participating in this particular "gathering of the clans." Jewish families are just like other families, maybe even more so! There's bound to be someone who doesn't come along, someone who has fallen off his branch of the family tree.

A friend of mine is the rabbi of a very large synagogue. He tells me the following scenario replays itself regularly, at least once a month: He will be at a hospital to offer his support to a family during its time of need. The patient is gravely ill, perhaps even on his death bed. Suddenly, one of the siblings confides to him how much he regrets not having spoken with the patient for at least twenty years. Often the reason for the fight or even who said what to whom can't be remembered --- and now it's too late.

A famous rabbi once observed "Not everything that's thought should be said, and not everything that's said should be written."

This year, no doubt, there will be an empty chair or two at many Passover celebrations. And chances are they might not be noticed until filling them will be an impossibility.

In the Passover story, the Jews who traveled to Egypt had largely abandoned their religion and background. They had tried to forget who they were and what they were and where they came from. It was then, when they found themselves in the deepest trouble imaginable, that Pharaoh decided to remind them. And the "head" of the family, G-d, decided to give them another chance. The Jews hadn't asked for it ... and they didn't really deserve it, either. But the "risk" paid off. They accepted the invitation, came together --- and returned "home."

So just in case there's someone out there who's fallen from your family tree -- even if you feel he doesn't deserve another chance -- maybe, in the spirit of the holiday, we should take a gamble.

If only to see if they'd like to fill that empty chair.


JWR contributor Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein, an international lecturer, is a commentator for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). He was cited by the U.K. paper, Independent, as being among the five most regarded people in the Britain to turn to for advice. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2001, Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein