Time to Pass It On

The parsha baha'alotecha is "my family parsha". My uncle read it when he became a bar mitzvah eighty-nine years ago, my son read it nineteen years ago and my cousin read it for her bat mitzvah just six years ago. Additionally, the prophetic portion, the haftarah, from Zechariah is also read at Hanukkah and two more of us in the family read that haftarah thirty eight and forty three years ago at Hanukkah for our b'nai mitzvah. The linkage with the haftarah and Hannukah is the instruction in the Torah portion regarding the lighting of the menorah in the Temple.  My family views our "sharing" of this portion over three generations as our way of keeping the menorah lit.

Handing traditions down from one generation to another is a way we can feel connected to ancestors we may have never gotten to know. The different ways family observe Pesach - do you eat "kitniyot" like the Sefardim or stay away from them like the Ashkenazim - connects us to relatives who lived across the world from us. But what happens when those inherited traditions no longer resonate? Should we continue something when its only value is the "tradition" or should it be dropped for something more compelling? How can we feel connected and not constrained by tradition?

There is a wonderful short film which shows the grandmother making gefilte fish from scratch, grinding the fish, mixing it, seasoning it and cooking it. The daughter buys a pre-made gefilte fish loaf, seasons it and cooks it. The granddaughter buys pre-cooked gefilte fish in a jar.

We can apply our creativity to work with the tradition to reshape it and restore meaning as well as begin new traditions. Shavuot, the holiday seven weeks after Passover, recalls the receiving of the Ten Commandments. For many of us it is about cheesecake and studying, maybe even confirmation. I propose a reframing and that it become the time when we think about what we want to hand down in the next year and what we want to receive. We can be more intentional about sharing what is important to us if we have a particular time each year that calls us to pay attention to what we have received that we can pass on as well as what we have yet to receive.

What will you pass on to others this year?
JoHanna Potts