I had my little great granddaughter as a guest in our home this past Shabat. As I was with her I thought about the importance and connection of generations within Jewish society. This bond has unfortunately been weakened in our time by all sorts of issues and problems that have arisen with the breakdown of the traditional Jewish family home. Even though I am realistic about my age I still nurture the hope of seeing her bat mitzvah and even her wedding. But I am grateful that I have been of help and influence to her parents, my beloved grandchildren. Everyone needs grandparents who are removed from the nitty gritty of having to daily raise them from infancy to adulthood and instead are just there for them for advice, help and can serve as a role model. The Torah tells us that Menashe and Ephrayim were raised to greatness because they benefited from having been in close contact with their grandfather Yaakov. It records that Yosef was privileged to see great grandchildren. Everything that is mentioned in the Torah has great importance. The fact that this detail of the life of Yosef and his generations finds its way into the Torah narrative indicates how important this detail really is. Yosef’s fame, wealth, power and influence will all shortly disappear. There will soon arise a new Pharaoh who knows not Yosef. His name will be erased from the pantheon of Egyptian rulers. But he will live on eternally through his descendants, the little great grandchildren who frolicked at his knees. It is our generations that remember us and through them we attain a degree of immortality even on this earth.
Ashkenazic Jewry and Sephardic Jewry as well, though by employing different customs to do so, memorialized themselves and their previous generations by continuing to name their offspring with the names that were common in their family background. In current Jewish society, except for perhaps the Charedi world and parts of the religious society, this method of naming children has waned. Modern names are employed. When the child grows up and reaches understanding and maturity there is no connection with one’s ancestors. He or she does not bear a generational name. In the course of my rabbinic career I have had many people come to me to ask how they can trace their generational roots. Many times their name was the clue that allowed a successful search to be made. We all wish to know from whence we came. The sense of generations is comforting because than does not feel alone. One has a past and if one is blessed with grandchildren, let alone great grandchildren, then one has a future as well. We are able thereby to live beyond the grave. The Torah counts the Jewish people a number of times, sometimes by name. Names in classical biblical Hebrew described one’s genealogy, who one’s parents were and sometimes even who one’s grandparents were. Bezalel who was the architect and the builder of the Tabernacle in the desert is identified by his generations. Someone who has a sense of generations is apparently entitled and able to build a holy place for himself and others even in an arid desert.
My little great granddaughter is too young to understand any of this yet. Only at the end of the Shabat did she recognize me sufficiently to smile at me. I hope that she will live in health and security to see her own great grandchildren smile at her. But I also pray that she and all of our family will have within their souls and psyches that treasure of appreciating the generations of our family. She is the sixth generation from my beloved grandfather who taught me Torah when I was a young child and whose Pesach seder remains embedded in my heart and memory till today many decades after the fact. So I see myself, as I think all of us should see ourselves, as the bridge between the known past and the unknown future. Armed with generational knowledge and family loyalties the Jewish people have weathered unbelievably difficult storms and times. This has been our solid anchor and the source of our tenacity and survival. Communicating this idea to our offspring is the real challenge of Jewish parenthood. We must not allow our future generations to be buffeted by the questions of "Who am I?" and "Where did I come from?" Thinking in generational terms provides strength, serenity and continuity to our lives.
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