In our story this week, Judaism begins when a son leaves behind the house of his ancestors and walks forth into the unknown. The Zohar, the pinnacle text of Jewish mysticism, offers a beautiful explication of ‘the call to adventure,’ in Joseph Campbell’s words, or what Evelyn Underhill terms ‘the awakening of the self.’ For our purposes, I hope the text arouses us to the role nuclear families and their narratives play in the context of healing.
And God said to Avram ‘Go forth’
Rabi Shimon said – a secret of wisdom is contained herein
For the sake of your self-repair
‘From your land’
From the side of the community
That you believe with your mind
You were born into
‘From your birth place’
From that narrative of yours
‘And from your father’s house’
That you may look out from their roots
‘To the land that I will show you’
There what you seek will be revealed.
All of us are born into a society, a place, and a family of some kind or another. Looking back upon our youth, we tell ourselves that our childhood home taught us how to love and sustained us, or it traumatized us in this or that way, or more often, growing up brought a great mix of those two extremes. And as we build a home of our own we recreate some of the modes of relation, the customs and eccentricities of our genesis, just as we proclaim that we will absolutely not recreate some of its traumas. (By this creation by rebellion, surely other traumas will be passed on, generation-to-generation we build our lives out of a desire to love, but even love isn’t perfect and is capable of traumatizing even with its positive intent.)
I am grateful for the family of my birth, for my parents who taught me a love for wisdom and music, spirituality, family, creativity, language, basketball, and so many of the arts that are the pearls of my life. And yet, as they will certainly attest, my life has been marked by a series of ‘going forths’ – running away as an angry teenager and hiding in the library for a few hours; leaving for an eleven-month (cellphone-less) extravaganza in India; most recently, eloping to the hills outside san francesco for an intimate ceremony surrounded only by teachers and close friends.
The work of unbinding from the unhealthy narratives of youth is a continual process. Two aspects of this amorphous work are worthy of contemplation. Leaving behind that narrative of yours does not necessarily require leaving behind the other characters that participated in that narrative. We so often confuse the mother of our youth, with the mother of our present – she is no longer the character of our story. And! Our going forth, does not require her to go anywhere! We are responsible for our self-repair and our self-repair alone. That is why the work of untangling the knots of family psychosis is so complex; we confuse past with present, character with person, and their growth with ours. (And not even death can impede this process; healing can traverse that divide).
Deep beneath the roots of that house there is a steppe from which you can gaze onto your own future. The genes, the blood, the love, the traditions, the stories, that stretch back from your ancestors, stretch forward to that which you are still becoming – and when you hear them shouting ‘stay here,’ bubbling from the sap of ancestral roots you must hear, Go Forth!’ We are born into a mighty line of seekers, rebels, pioneers, heretics, New Shulers! Go forth!
Rabbi Zach Fredman
PS – Thank you to my wife Zivar for being my co-conspirator on the wisdom and family making paths. You are my teacher.
Join us tonight, 630pm at Grace Church School, (86 4th Avenue) for Kabbalat Shabbat. We welcome special guest Roshni Samlal on table. Kiddush Club follows services.
Join me, next Monday evening, October 30th, at 630pm, for our monthly learning salon. We will continue our study of healing and discuss a new community initiative for a “Healing-in-Action” committee that can be present to members in need of healing with visits and sustenance in various forms. RSVP for location.
Join me, and the Epichorus for our next concert at Caveat, November 15th, Doors 8pm/Show 830pm.