Every Friday, we light Betty’s candlesticks.
My grandma Daisy passed away when I was twelve and a year or so later, we adopted an honorary grandma into our family – her name was Betty, and just as we needed a grandmother around, she needed some grandchildren. Her own granddaughter was living far away in Japan and they rarely saw each other. She was a member of my mother’s synagogue, feeling in need of someone to show love to – she applied for the job of grandmother (even sending in her CV, after my sister and I wrote up a job description) and we gratefully accepted her into our family.
After Shoshi and I were married, Betty gave us her family candlesticks. She knew that her granddaughter wasn’t being raised as a Jew and would be unlikely to ever use them, and these were Betty’s family inheritance – she felt that she had to pass them on to someone who would appreciate them. Though we were never family in any genetic or legal way, we have become the inheritors of Betty’s family, and we continue her legacy.
The Talmud (Sukkah 42a) tells us that the first verse we should teach our children is Deuteronomy 33:4: “Moses commanded us Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob”. And while the first part of the verse is endlessly fascinating, especially in a Masorti community in which we may doubt the historical veracity of the claim, it’s the second half of the verse that I want to think about – the Torah is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. It’s such an important idea that we have to convey it to our children as soon as they can understand, but what does it mean?
An inheritance isn’t something you earn, or something you buy, it’s something you are given by virtue of who you are and the connection you have to the other person. It can come to you because of genetics, adoption, marriage or friendship. An inheritance that is given to you becomes yours whether you like it or not.
Indeed there are all kinds of things we inherit – eye colour, health conditions, legal situations. Some are blessings, some are not. Some inheritances can be willed to others, some are given without anyone’s consent.
We don’t have Grandma Daisy’s candlesticks, since my mother is still using them, but we gave our eldest daughter the name Danya in honour of her memory (Daisy’s Hebrew name was Dinah, a simple letter swap from Danya). We hope that our children can inherit Daisy’s kindness, her generosity, her love of life.
The Torah is our inheritance. Some of us received it because of who our parents are, some have chosen to be part of the Jewish community – it doesn’t matter, it belongs to all of us. It is an inheritance that comes with blessings and responsibilities, opportunities and challenges.
This week we had the blessing to celebrate our new Torah scroll, that came to us from the Eastbourne Jewish community that has sadly shrunk in recent years. Our first Torah scroll is from Grimsby, another congregation that no longer has the numbers to sustain a full ritual life. We are the inheritors of their Torah scrolls and the bearers of their legacy. Seeing the children of our community standing by our new Torah scroll was a powerful moment of witnessing the next generation who, we hope, will take that legacy forwards.
We bear the legacy too of thousands of years of Jewish tradition, of ancestors who fought and died for Torah, who loved it and wrestled with it, who handed it down to us. This weekend is Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah. It was given at Sinai, but it must be received anew in every generation.
The Torah is your legacy, it is your inheritance. What will you do to claim it?
Thanks to the generosity of members and supporters of New Stoke Newington Shul, I am pleased to announce the creation of my rabbinic discretionary fund, which I can use to further the charitable aims of our community. If you’re in financial need, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me in private. If you’d like to donate to the discretionary fund, you can do so here: https://nsns.shulcloud.com/payment.php