Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: "Lineage is not just a matter of empty self-congratulation"

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:

The search for roots, even in the simplest genealogical sense, is likely to be a meaningful experience on both the personal and religious levels.

But it is important to pursue it even if the meaning is elusive.

Lineage is not just a matter of empty self-congratulation.

All lineage, and not just that of nobility, carries with it a certain responsibility.

A great person discovered among one’s ancestors is not just a cause for bragging but something that must be related to and learned from.

The sense of kinship with such a figure can be a source of strength and encouragement to one suffering spiritual distress or self-doubt.

It need not be a famous or distinguished figure; even a person—remembered or reconstructed—who was at one with himself and with the world can serve as an anchor point and source of commitment.

Such connections represent, in a sense, a broadening of the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother,” a commandment described through the ages in terms of the obligation of the “branch” toward the “root” from which it sprang and that nourished it.

Honor of parents and of earlier generations of forebears is connected, in turn, with kibbud hamakom, honoring the source of all human life.

Strengthening one’s ties with one’s own past is part of renewing one’s connectedness with the sources of Jewish life in general. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Family and Heritage” in Teshuva