I wish I had a big extended family that stays connected and shares holidays. My longing for family emerged as I spent much of winter break populating my family tree. The work became an emotional exploration of how families evolve and relationships disintegrate when ignored.
The genealogical search prompted me to make a few phone calls to relatives I had not spoken with in decades. In those conversations, I remembered relatives with whom we celebrated holidays and or who attended family simchas. I revisited some of the toxic relationships that caused pain. Speaking with my late father’s brother, and hearing a voice eerily similar to my father’s, brought regrets to mind and tears to my eyes. Each conversation ended with promises for a reunion. Yet, the promises never became actual plans for reunions. And then I got too busy with work to even continue exploring family history. So the potential for meaningful family reunions further diminished.
An example of a family reunited occurs in parshat Yitro during this week’s Torah reading, chapter 18 verse 5:
וַיָּבֹ֞א יִתְר֨וֹ חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֛ה וּבָנָ֥יו וְאִשְׁתּ֖וֹ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה אֶל־הַמִּדְבָּ֗ר אֲשֶׁר־ה֛וּא חֹנֶ֥ה שָׁ֖ם הַ֥ר הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought Moses’ sons and wife to him in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of God.
Absent this report on Moses’ family, we might not have noticed that his wife and sons never joined Moses in Egypt. Of course not! Would Moses have wanted to risk their becoming slaves? One would assume that the next verses of Torah describe the beautiful reunion replete with displays of affection for his family, and prayers of thanks. Instead we get this at verse 7:
וַיֵּצֵ֨א מֹשֶׁ֜ה לִקְרַ֣את חֹֽתְנ֗וֹ וַיִּשְׁתַּ֙חוּ֙ וַיִּשַּׁק־ל֔וֹ וַיִּשְׁאֲל֥וּ אִישׁ־לְרֵעֵ֖הוּ לְשָׁל֑וֹם וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ הָאֹֽהֱלָה׃
Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent.
In the tent, Moses and Yitro discuss how to govern the people.
I’m glad Moses has affection for his father-in-law. Yet, Torah tells us nothing about his immediate family. I wonder what his kids were like? How has Tzipporah fared after years in the desert? The family reunion is merely referenced. The emotional reconnection is utterly ignored.
God chooses Moses as leader because of qualities like humility, dedication and faith. Even Moses had some flaws. One such flaw is exposed in this text. He was certainly not a family guy. Moses leads the masses through the sea, but he can’t see his own wife and children. Sometimes we must learn dafka from the poor choices of the most holy of leaders.
We may know more about family reconnections than Moses. We hunger for a sense of belonging. We yearn to share our lives with relatives. We want to gather together with those who have a common genetic thread. Yet, it is so easy to be distracted by work or our activities that even when opportunities for reunion occur, we fail to act upon them with full and open hearts. Just like Moses.
You can repair this in your lives. First, take time to notice how you reunite with your family – whether it is arriving home at the end of a day of work or at the Passover seder table. Give them your whole-hearted attention. Put down the distraction devices and lift up your eyes to see them fully. Second, go the next step and extend an invitation to relatives you have not seen, who may very well be longing for the same connection. Remember, reunions can and should be emotional. Reconnecting may take some reconciliation with past slights or even some forgiveness for emotional grievances. And if revisiting the past is too painful to overcome, forgo the invitation.
Here’s one time when I urge you not to be like Moses. Consider how you connect with family. Show some emotion. Share some love. Don’t leave family hanging out like yellowed leaves on a tree.
R’ Evan J. Krame