The other evening as Aaron and I were sitting at the supper table we started talking about my family. I had just heard that my Uncle Doug, the last brother of my father’s generation, is going into Hospice.
We all had said the same thing on hearing the news, “Last man standing.” Reminiscing, one story leading to another, I spoke about my Uncle Ben on Salt Spring and Uncle Charlie who loved teaching, Uncle Bill who took over raising the younger kids when his mother, my grandmother died, and Uncle George and how George married the girl next door, much to her mother’s chagrin, and I thought about all the stories we all carry. Who married whom, under what circumstances. Who died when. Who took care of the children. Who held resentments and didn’t speak to the others. And I thought of all the stories we are reading in Bamidbar, in Torah.
This week in Chukat we read about some of those journeys and camps – and again, complaints. We read that Miriam died, and was buried in Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin. And with her death – there was no water. Moses used his staff (under instructions from God) to hit a particular rock and water would flow. Aaron died. The people mourned his death for thirty days. Life and death.
Water is very much present in Chukat: water was used to immerse the ritual clothing of the Kohanim, to purify anyone in contact with death, water had to be found to drink, there was water in wells and water springing from rocks. And each instance of finding or using water tells a piece of the larger story.
Torah is our story. This epic-saga of how we became a people. Torah is the version of our saga that came down to us through generations of people remembering and then finally writing down. Did some details get left out in the telling? Did some occasions become embellished? No doubt. But the thrilling aspect of reading these words – for me, every week – is the realization that I am hearing family stories that have been told for millennia. I am reminded of the Haredi clerk in the Jewish bookstore in New York from years ago, who had no idea of where British Columbia was, but could very likely re-tell the place names of 40 years of the people Israel journeying. These are our family stories.
My grandson never knew my uncles or my one aunt – most had died or were not well prior to his birth. Their stories – such as I know – will mostly die with my generation. What a gift it is that we hold our other family stories in Torah. Yes, we complained, but we persevered, and we continued telling these stories and continue telling them today. Those waters – “the outpouring of the rivers, the well, the place where God said to Moses, “Assemble the people and I shall give them water” are our living inheritance our words. Torah, our story of life, of living waters, mayim chayim, trickling down through the generations.
Kein ye’hi ratzon,