Raksha Bandhan, also known as Rakhi, is observed the world over on Aug. 7. It’s a major Hindu, Sikh and Jain festival, celebrating the love and duty between brothers and sisters. This week’s clergy discuss the importance in their own faith of brothers, sisters and families, from traditional to modern.
The Very Rev. Michael Sniffen
Dean, Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City
Christianity is a family affair, but maybe not in precisely the way you imagine. Families often attend church together. Small congregations may understand themselves as extended families. Children are educated in the faith and brought forward for baptism and incorporation into the household of God. The home is often the place where faith takes root and grows. The family can be the place where the great Commandment or “Golden Rule” at the center of Christianity is first lived out: “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).
This is all well and good if your family is a safe, nurturing, faithful place. But what if it isn’t? What if your family is a stumbling block to faith, or worse, a dangerous place? That’s when the Christian notion of family can really save people from despair. Jesus offers every human a place in his own family. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says that anyone who does the will of God is his “brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). Jesus invites his disciples to leave their parents, siblings and spouses and follow him. He acknowledges the importance of biological families, but makes it clear that their importance is not absolute. There is yet another family into which we are incorporated — the family of God in Christ. In God’s family all are welcome, all are loved, all are honored, and all find the grace they need to thrive. Christianity has an expansive understanding of who makes up our family. It includes everyone.
Rabbi Elliot Skiddell
Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth, Rockville Centre
The Jewish people began with the family of Abraham and Sarah. They and their descendants, Isaac and his spouse Rebecca, Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel, are revered as our matriarchs and patriarchs. Jacob’s children became the 12 Tribes of Israel, who established the centrality of family to the life of the Jewish people. Like so many families, there were conflicts, arguments, rivalries and tensions, but the family always remained the bedrock of the Jewish people. During the course of our history, many people of every race and nationality have been welcomed into our family. The rituals and holidays that the Jewish people participate in and celebrate are usually based around the family and nurture the love we share.
Two well-known examples are the ritual meal of Passover, the seder, and the lighting of Hanukkah candles, which is conducted within the family. Also, each week Jewish families gather to welcome the sabbath with rituals that help strengthen their familial bonds. Even our synagogue communities function as extended families, as we care for one another in times of need and celebrate together in times of joy. Today our definitions of family are evolving and changing, but however you may define your family, Judaism and the Jewish community offer a loving embrace.
Sister Anjani Seepersaud
Coordinator of Global Harmony House, the Raja Yoga Mediation center of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization, Great Neck
Raksha Bandhan will be celebrated this year on Aug. 7, the night of the full moon. This festival reminds us of our relationship and bond with God. Raksha Bandhan means the bond of love and protection from negative influences. These influences cause sorrow to the soul and thus create sorrow for others. In the Hindu tradition, the sister ties the rakhi, a sacred bracelet or thread, on the wrist of the brother for his love and protection and prays to God for his protection from evil. The brother in return promises the sister to protect her and gives her a gift as a sign of his love. A brother cannot offer that protection when the sister and brother are living in different countries or cities.
The oldest reference to the festival of rakhi goes back to 300 BC at the time when Alexander the Great invaded India. It is said that the great conqueror, King Alexander of Macedonia, was repulsed by the Indian king Puru in his first attack. Upset by this, Alexander’s wife, who had heard of the rakhi festival, approached King Puru and he accepted her as his sister — so when the war resumed, he did not kill Alexander. The Brahma Kumaris experience of this sacred festival is to have a constant relationship with God. God as the protector can give us the experience of always being protected and always close under all circumstances. We see one another as souls, spiritual beings, brothers and sisters and therefore, we all have a shared parent. God is the parent of all souls, the protector and companion of all humans. This year, the Brahma Kumaris will celebrate the tying of rakhi to reconnect the world as one family in more than 130 countries.