If one of the family sold a parcel of land because of poverty, the go’el redeemed it for him. If a relative sold himself into servitude by reason of his debts, the go’el stepped in to redeem him. If a relative died without issue, the go’el had children on his behalf. The go’el was the avenger of blood if one of the family had been killed.
This task represented the beginnings of Hebrew criminal law, which eventually developed a sophisticated court system as codified in the Mishnah Sanhedrin.
The institution of the go’el shows a family that is united in defence of its own interests. Families may and do squabble amongst themselves, but the strong family has a sense of solidarity and cares for its own. Such families tend to develop their own leadership structure, usually based on chronological seniority. It has of course its inbuilt drawbacks.
A magazine article I read some years ago was entitled “The Demise of Dad the Dictator”. It recognised that being the head of the family could turn you into a bully, but a family without a head can become a family without a mind and heart. In Jewish life it is hardly possible to have a Seder, for example, unless there is an elder in the chair.
Our challenge is to cultivate a sense of family structure without allowing the elders to become dictators.