Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah –Vayeitzei

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the unsung heroes in history. The people behind the scenes who quietly do the work of making the great people look even better. There is still one role in life harder to play than the “behind the scenes” hero – it is the forgotten one. People in the background get to peer out every once in a while. They periodically get thanked by their front people or by some other acknowledgment. What about the people no one remembers?

We may not remember the names of our elementary school teachers, but it is hard to reflect on our youth and not reflect on the ways in which we learned from, loved, or hated them. Often we can remember a face. If we kept our class photos, when we look at them years later, it all comes back.
But what of the school custodians? How many times did we take notice of the people who kept our schools clean. Beyond unsung, they are completely forgotten.

In our worship service, we remind ourselves of our ancestors. We ask God to give us the benefit of the doubt on behalf of the greatness of those who have gone before us. We then list the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the liberal Jewish world, we also remember the matriarchs who held the family together and from whom the blessings of Israel pass through generations. We list Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel. We honor the great mothers.

Actually, we don’t. Leah and Rachel only gave birth to 2/3 of the tribal namesakes. Leah gave birth to Reuben, Simeon, Levy, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. Rachel bore Joseph and Benjamin. Let’s see – that makes eight. But, wait, there were twelve sons?!?

When Rachel was not having children and her sister was, she gave her maid to Jacob for marriage and children. Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Not to be outdone, Leah also gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob, for the same purposes. Zilpah bore Gad and Asher.

These two matriarchs appear nowhere in our worship and, unless one studies text, the only time you hear about them is this week in the annual Torah cycle and when Reuben receives punishment for sleeping with his step-mother Bilhah. They are forgotten souls.

How many people have had an impact on our lives who we cannot remember and maybe never even know? Is it possible to appreciate blessings when we stand clueless as to from where they came? They all have names, but most of us either never took the time to learn them or simply let their very being slip through the memory banks into the permanently discard file.

The saddest funerals I have ever performed are the ones where the only people present were the deceased, the funeral director, cemetery personnel and me. No one should be forgotten. It is for this reason, by the way, that you see rocks on headstones in Jewish cemeteries. As one goes through the cemetery, one places a stone at every visited grave. I make it is appoint to always go visit graves of people I never knew, say their names and place a stone. Other people passing by should know that someone thought enough to stop by. But, what of the graves with no markers? What of the people who passed and no one knew or cared? How many Bilhahs and Zilpahs have had a monumental impact on this world and no one knows? How many of us remember doing something important for someone only to be taken for granted and forgotten?

Starting now, we need to take time to get to know people well enough to appreciate them. The stories of their lives can teach the most valuable lessons – even if they never made the headlines – they should never be forgotten.

It does not take much. Spend a little more time greeting people you pass. Keep a journal of the stories you learned that day from people you never knew you would meet. If faith revolves around building and honoring relationships, then let’s be more faithful with more people. Perhaps in the course of the unexpected conversation, you might just have the chance to change someone’s world and they yours.

Shabbat Shalom