One of my favorite pastimes is hearing stories about families and their ancestry. When I was very young, I learned that we have the family tree on my maternal grandmother’s side dating back to 1492 and the Spanish Inquisition, when the name was changed to Auslander. With that kind of history, there’s plenty to tell about my great-great-grandparents and how my family came to America. I also take pride in knowing that my husband’s family owned the first kosher bakery in Dallas. For me, knowing where I’ve come from helps me find my place in our world today.
I am not alone in my love of genealogy. These days it seems that one of the most popular trends is tracing your genealogy back as far as you can go. You have probably seen the genealogy.com ads that encourage you to find out where your grandparents or great-grandparents came from, what their occupation was, and where and when they entered the United States. One of the most well attended sessions at LearningFest for the past two years has been the session that Meyer Denn leads on researching your genealogy. It’s human nature to want to know where we’ve come from.
The Torah reminds us that family history is an important piece in completing the puzzle of our lives. So many times the Torah teaches us that we do something because “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” While I wasn’t actually there, I’m sure my family knew what it was like to be strangers when they were ousted from Spain, a part of history which certainly helped determine that I would be here today to talk about it. And I am most definitely fortunate to have had the opportunity to ask my grandparents about this history personally.
This week we read parshat Ha’azinu, Moshe’s final poem to the Israelite people. In it, he reminds the people of God’s grace, compassion and loving leadership, while at the same time criticizing the Israelites for their lack of faith and understanding. In this poem we read “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of ages past; Ask your father, he will inform you, Your elders, they will tell you.” As Moshe is moving towards his final farewell to the people, he implores them to ask their elders to clarify laws and to share their stories.
We often think of this mitzvah at Pesach when the story of the Israelites in Egypt is fresh in our mind, but Moshe and God in our parshah tell us that once a year is simply not enough. In order for our people – and our families – to continue to move forward, we must teach the past. We have an obligation to educate our children in Jewish history, traditions and observance so that they will share our love and passion. In a world where we have access to so many stories and so much information, we depend on the past to enlighten their future.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: Graham Nash, who wrote the song “Teach Your Children,” was partly inspired by Jewish photographer Diane Arbus, who captured the iconic image “Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park.”