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Friday, August 22, 2014

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Strengthening the chain across generations

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There’s a famous question regarding the mitzvah of lighting the menorah. Is it a mitzvah that every individual is responsible to perform, or is it a mitzvah that every family must do?

This question has been debated at different times, and many opinions have been given.

The opinion of the Rosh (1259-1327) is that the mitzvah is upon the family.

Family has a central value in Jewish tradition. There are cultures, including our own modern one, that put the individual at the centre of the world, so that the purpose of man is to concentrate on himself and forget about everything else.

In Judaism, the family was always responsible for transmitting the message from generation to generation. Everyone considered himself part of a chain that sees members of the senior generation as emissaries who transmit the message to the next generation, ensuring the future of Am Yisrael.

In the Sephardi tradition, there are many customs that emphasize the importance of family values.

My wife recalls as a child growing in Montreal a large family who prayed at the same synagogue as her family. Upon the Birkat Kohanim (priestly blessing) being recited, all the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren went under the great-grandfather’s tallit to get his blessing. It was an unforgettable sight that marked my wife for the rest of her life. It’s something my wife encourages our children to do, asking them to cover themselves with my tallit every time the Birkat Kohanim is recited.

Another custom that I dearly cherish is to kiss one’s parents hands every Friday night and the chacham’s hand every time we greet him.

This custom is based on tractate Avodah Zarah (17a), where the Talmud recalls that when Ulah, who was a talmudic scholar, would return from the beit midrash (study house), he would kiss his father’s hands. Rashi explains that it was customary that when one left the synagogue, he would kiss the top of the hands of his parents and those greater than him.

The holy Zohar (Parshat Lech Lecha) states that Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, would kiss his father’s hands, as would other students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

The Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria, in Sha’ar HaKavanot) adds that even if one does not lives with one’s parents, nevertheless, if it’s possible to go visit them, kiss their hands and request their blessing, it is proper to do so.

Another prevalent Sephardi custom, based on the Talmud Shabbat, is to name a newborn baby after a living relative. It’s a sign of honour that emphasizes the continuity and future of the family.

I believe that only out of this tight relationship between generations can we ensure that the chain won’t break.

Let us all be inspired by these divine customs and bring up a generation of proud and dedicated Jews.

May HaShem grant us wisdom, love and inner peace to guide our children in the proper path through the lesson of the menorah.

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