Thursday, July 8, 2010

Unwanted Inheritances

מטות-מסעי תש''ס
Mattot-Masei 5770

The lovely thing about relationships with family is that they are permanent. Our parents, our children, our siblings – they will remain so forever, even beyond our own lives.
But the paradox of permanent relationships is that they can hold far more bitterness than those that can be broken. Because they are forever, their memory is long and pain and contention accrete in a way that does not happen elsewhere in our lives. In my experience, time only heals some wounds. Others remain exactly the way we left them.

This close to Tisha b’Av, the commemoration of the Temple in Jerusalem’s destruction on the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, the mind of Torah stops to think about pain and bitterness, and to teach.

And what the prophet Jeremiah teaches is that pain and disappointment can have a long future: “’And therefore I will continue to fight with you’, says God, ‘and fight with your children’s children.’” (2:9) This verse from this week’s haftorah, the second in a series of three leading up to Tisha b’Av, is a warning that contention unresolved can become a permanent commodity so real that it is an inheritance handed down to children.

But the only thing with a longer future than such contention is the potential for resolution: “’If you return Israel’, declares God, ‘if you return to Me…in sincerity, justice, and righteousness – nations shall bless themselves by you, and praise themselves by you.’” (4:1-2)

Pain is strong, but redemption is always stronger. And what is reached after the resolution of contention is greater even than the place in which the relationship started. “Said Rabbi Abahu, ‘The place where those who have returned stand, even the completely righteous cannot stand there.” (Talmud Sanhedrin 99a)

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