Firmanent / Tearing
Prayer/poem for autumn nightfall

Forgiving our ancestors: a practice for Vayera

  Forgive1In this week's parsha we encounter some of our tradition's most compelling -- and most complicated -- family stories. Here are the angelic beings announcing the upcoming conception of Isaac; Sarah's jealousy, and the casting-out of Hagar and Ishmael; Avraham arguing to try to save the people of Sodom; and the akedah, the Binding of Isaac.

This year as we return to this story I'm moved by the sense that this week's parsha offers us an opportunity to do the work of forgiveness.

What would it feel like to forgive Avraham for his role in our family story -- for his willingness to argue with God to save strangers but not to save his own sons; for his admirable hospitality to strangers matched with his willingness to allow Hagar and Ishmael to be cast into the desert? What would it feel like to forgive Sarah for her role in our family story -- for her desperation to have a child, for her jealousy of her handmaiden and of that handmaiden's son? What would it feel like to forgive Isaac for being, at least on the surface of the text, a silent victim who doesn't try to save himself?

Does it seem strange to imagine extending forgiveness to these ancient Biblical forebears? I believe that there are ways in which their choices -- the things they said, and the things they didn't say; their actions, and their inactions -- continue to reverberate in the family story we share.

Part of the reason why reading Genesis is so compelling is that its themes -- including spousal jealousy, sibling competition, and parental favoritism -- are still unfolding in our world. What would it feel like to forgive our more immediate ancestors (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents) for the places where they missed the mark? To recognize the dynamics of our own family systems and to meet those dynamics not with anger but with kindness and compassion?

Today's practice, for those who are so inclined, is a practice of forgiveness. Inhaling, we address our own hearts: Heart! And exhaling, we make a request: Forgive. Heart, forgive. Heart, forgive.

What arises in us as we try to cultivate forgiveness for the flawed people in our family story?


This post is a written adaptation of a practice I offered aloud at this morning's meditation minyan at my shul. The accompanying image is from here, artist unknown.  For a more nuanced look at questions of forgiveness, try my post #BlogElul 13: Forgive.

Previous years' commentary on this week's Torah portion: