Taking It with You

When bushfires threaten rural communities, and residents are urged to abandon their houses in the face of danger, many people find themselves in the unenviable position of having to decide which of their possessions to abandon.

You can’t take everything with you on an escape down the mountain; if it won’t fit in the back seat of the car, you’re probably going to have to leave it to the vagaries of fate and the mercies of the firefighters. Some people load up their family photo albums and copies of their insurance certificates; others chose to leave their paperwork behind, and concentrate on cramming their pets and livestock into the back of the van.

It’s an invidious situation to be in. What would you reach for first in the panic?

It’s an invidious situation to be in. What would you reach for first in the panic? The choices you make as the firestorm heads your way say a lot about you as an individual. They demonstrate the relative importance you allocate to your material possessions compared to mementos of the past. And, while it’s purely a reflection of personal priorities, this may be the truest test of value you may ever face.

Mementos from a Previous Life

The mourners at a funeral I recently conducted wrote a moving eulogy for their mother. I was stirred by their description of how the only heirlooms she brought with her on the long journey from the “old country” to her new home in Australia were her mother’s Shabbat candlesticks. Battered and bent though they may have been, they represented her spiritual connection with her past, and now duly take pride of place as her legacy for her children.

By packing the leichter and leaving more valuable possessions behind, she was making a value judgment for the ages: demonstrating that Judaism was not just an abandonable relic of Europe, but was to be a vital component of her new home.

This demonstration of intent mirrors a similar decision made by our forefather Jacob. As he and his family descended from Canaan to Egypt, Jacob brought cedar saplings, native to Israel, with him, and then subsequently replanted them in Egypt. Generations later, as his descendants readied themselves to finally flee from Egyptian slavery, they cut down those now mature trees and carried the wood with them on their travels through the desert. These giant planks were eventually fashioned into the walls of the Mishkan, the traveling Tabernacle for G‑dly worship.

There is a danger that we may mistakenly leave Judaism behind in exchange for a carload of worthless junk.

It may seem an incredibly complicated way of procuring the necessary lumber. Yet Jacob’s intention was clear: seeing the trees and remembering the promise of redemption that they represented would bolster the spirits of his descendants through even the darkest moments, and encourage them to look forward with hope to a better future.

Furthermore, by bringing specimens from Israel, Jacob was bridging the gap between the generations, and ensuring that no matter how far his children would sink into the bitterness and despair of slavery, they would always have a visceral link with their past to cling to, and a promise of future consolation with which to inspire themselves.

There are inevitable moments in life where we must take stock of our valuables, and decide for ourselves what to hold close and what we can safely abandon. As the fires of assimilation threaten, and the harsh winds of history blow towards us, there is a danger that we may mistakenly leave Judaism behind in exchange for a carload of worthless junk. However, by planning ahead during the periods of relative calm, and assessing the value of our real assets in advance, we ensure our personal safety and ensure our legacy for future generations.