William Hamilton

What’s most precious

“I love being a lawyer,” a close friend from Jerusalem, who has devoted his life to the justice system, told me this week. “And if it weren’t for my clients, my colleagues, and the judges, I’d love it even more.” If only, he chuckled. But life isn’t practiced in a laboratory. 

Our moods are influenced by those around us. We all know how influence spreads socially. But it also spreads historically. That is, through time.

Careful readers of the Bible have long wondered why a genealogical family-tree interrupts the flow of this week’s portion of Torah. The story of the struggle against Pharaoh is building momentum, when, seemingly out of nowhere, the text pauses to credential the ancestry of Moses and Aaron (Ex. 6:27). Why and why here?

A few years ago I came across something Frederick Douglas said in 1855: “Genealogical trees do not flourish among slaves.” Ever so subtly, by inserting a genealogy, the Torah is preparing for the forthcoming freeing of slaves. 

One reason why the Exodus remains so compelling is that captivity takes many forms. Psychological captivity hardens our habits. This got me thinking more about our communication-diet these days. We all know that our news-feeds are addictive and arresting. But knowing this doesn’t help. Mere awareness of an unhealthy habit does little to weaken its grip. 

As I settle into a couple of weeks in Israel, where I love to come to re-furnish my inner-life, the messiness of politics threatens to extend its reach. When it’s not contained, political incitement can seep into parts of life where it has no business being.  

Now seems like a good time to recall that life’s most precious things have nothing to do with politics. Things like: friendship, family, art, beauty, and wonder. They dwell in regions where love  and consideration are active. 

May this week’s reminder to anchor our lives in roots that run deep, also serve to remind us that some of our best interactions are not transactions. 

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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