Thursday, January 20, 2011

Telling Our Story

I have often asked those whose life journey included discovering and embracing Judaism what was the key influence that brought them to the Faith.I write here in particular of those we call "Baalai Teshuva". More often than not what they answer is that it was no inspired sermon or text that influenced them, nothing they read in a book or found in promotional material. What triggered their new interest in Jewish observance was connection to a person and that person's story of faith.

I was struck by how much that parallels something we find in the parsha of this week. Early in the reading of Yitro we are told "And Yitro, the priest of Midian and the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that Hashem did for Moshe and for Israel His people that He liberated them from Egypt" Clearly then Yitro knew of the exploits of Israel and that prompted his decision to come greet Moshe in the wilderness.

Yet shortly after the Torah tells us that when Yitro came Moshe went out to greet him and brought him into his tent. He then shared with Yitro all that happened to the Israelites and how G-d saved them. The Torah tells us that on hearing Moshe's account "And Yitro greatly rejoiced on all the good G-d did for Israel that he saved them from the Egyptians". He then went on to bless G-d the redeemer concluding "And now I now that Hashem is greater than any other god..."

Clearly Yitro was inspired by the story Moshe told him of G-d's intervention on their behalf. He became overwhelmed with joy. He was moved to bless G-d. Yet he knew the story before he came to visit Moshe. We were already informed of that at the beginning of the reading. So what new information did Yitro get that produced such a visceral response? Why such a strong reaction to information he already had?

You may have your own ideas here. And I welcome you to share them in a comment. But for me the message is clear. Before Yitro heard the story, but as a news report. It was factual yes, and compelling. It motivated Yitro to come and check it out. But the inspiration did not come until Yitro experienced the story first hand from those who lived it. Only when Moshe told him the story did it become alive and touch his soul.

We often see that in our own lives. We may know the story of the holocaust, read many books about it, even see the films. Yet nothing will move us like the first hand account of someone who is a survivor. Their story, even if its but a piece of the total picture, touches our soul and makes an impression that lives with us.People inspire people. That's the sum truth. Information, knowledge, truth, we may get from many sources. But inspiration comes ones soul to another.

That is why the Baal teshuva is more typically affected by a special person in their life than by inspired writing or powerful argument. And even those of us not technically Baalai teshuva will often look back on our lives and find who we are is the product of the relationships we had with 'beautiful' people, people we admired and wanted to be like, be it parents, teachers, mentors and friends.

What does that mean for us proscriptively? I suggest that one lesson we might take from the story of Yitro and from the realities of our own lives is that we need to let ourselves be known to our children and grandchildren. Its not enough that we teach them right from wrong and provide them with a Jewish education. We need to let them experience us as persons, with our story and with our challenges. We need to have real relationships with our children and real conversations. They need to feel they know us!

People often quote the cliche for parents "Its not what you say but what you do that matters." I would add, "Its not only what you do but who you are in relationship to your children that matters".
Yitro was inspired not by the story of the Exodus, but by the impact he saw it had on Moshe and Israel. Our children and grandchildren need to see the impact of what matters to us has on our life. To make that happen we need to share with them our story and self.

This blog marks the one hundredth written for The Torah and the Self. I hope some of you have found meaning in the weekly reflections. It has been a joy to write. I thank Hashem for the opportunity to reflect on the truth of his Torah and its impact of our personhood.

Shabbat Shalom

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