This experience made me consider the foundations upon which our own lives are built. We can look back on who we were as children, teens, young adults. We can also follow our pre-birth narratives of the ancestors that preceded us. These incidents and information all contribute to who we are in the present moment. We like the Peruvians are made up of layers of history and it is only through careful excavation that can we truly know who we really are as individuals.
In our Torah portion this week, the first chapter of the book of Numbers, Bamidbar, we witness the census taking of the Israelite clan. We are told that Moses and Aaron assembled the community on the first day of the 2nd month and all the people were registered by ancestry. They were literally counted based on who had come before them. In order to count in the present, their past required consideration. What this tells us is that at critical points in time we must pause and take stock. We enumerate our blessings and our curses and we take the opportunity to mine our deepest nature. We may reflect, we may journal, we may enter therapy, the method we choose is not important. It is the practice of unearthing our truest self, our self made up of a complicated and intertwined past that is most important.
On Ancestry.com, the Mormon’s incredible geneology website, it is possible to watch the story of our ancestors unfold through the U.S. Census. Take my great-great grandfather, for instance. In the 1920 census, he and his wife are retired and living with their daughter and her family in Cleveland. In the 1910 census we find that my great-great grandfather has gone blind. In the 1880 census, he is a young married man, a tailor, with six children. And, in the 1870 census he is a new immigrant from Germany living in New York City…with what appears to be his mother and sister…though their stories are lost to history. Without the census, a seemingly mundane list of facts, I would never have been able to piece together a narrative of my great- great grandfather’s life, which contributed to a deeper understanding of myself and my bloodline.
Peruvian museums contain exquisite pottery that miraculously remained intact in tombs centuries ago…undiscovered by the Spanish…yet uncovered by modern day explorers. We, too, like archaeologists, are uniquely called to unearth the self that has been buried under years worth of rubble we call the trials and tribulations of life.
Soren Kierkegaard said that we live our lives forward, but we can only understand them backwards. We review, we reflect and we reconsider in order to reconstruct and move on to the next chapter.
May we use our time this Shabbat to uncover one aspect of ourselves that was disgarded, and may we consider how this long abandoned trait can be reclaimed and fit like a missing puzzle piece back into our present lives.