June 3, 2024
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June 3, 2024
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Many of us have wonderfully fond memories of our grandparents—visiting their homes and rummaging through their old closets, receiving gifts and playing games with them, and sometimes simply sitting and spending time with them. In fact, the relationship between grandchildren and their grandparents is incredibly special and unique. This is because grandparents can exude the unequivocal love and acceptance that is typically unique to parents, without experiencing the accompanying conflict and stress that parents often encounter when raising and disciplining their children. Grandparents are able to give wholly and completely to their grandkids, creating this beautiful dynamic. As parents, we get tremendous pleasure out of watching this dynamic play out, enabling our children to experience such a loving and supporting relationship, while also allowing our parents to simply enjoy being with our kids.

Yet this relationship is not only significant from an emotional perspective, but from a religious perspective as well. Rav Soloveitchik, in a beautiful essay entitled “The First Jewish Grandfather,” asks why it is that the Jewish nation adopts the names of Yaakov Avinu, as opposed to those of the first two avot. Why are often referred to as “Bnei Yisrael” or “Bnei Yaakov”? Additionally, in the Torah text itself, Yaakov is repeatedly identified as the “zaken, the elderly one, even though Yitzchak and Avraham actually lived longer. Why do Yaakov’s names become part of the generic titles of the entire people, and why is this patriarch, in particular, referred to as the zaken?

Rav Soloveitchik poignantly suggests that these phenomena arise out of the fact that Yaakov is the first of the avot to establish connection with his grandchildren. This relationship initially emerges in this week’s parsha, as Yaakov travels down to Egypt with all of his children and grandchildren (aside from Yosef and his sons, who are already in Egypt). This is the first time the Torah records a grandparent’s journey with his grandchildren. These connections grow even stronger in next week’s parsha, when Yaakov doesn’t simply interact with Yosef’s sons, but explicitly equates them with his own sons, eventually making two of them a part of the 12 tribes.

To quote Rav Soloveitchik:

“Abraham and Isaac transmitted their spiritual heritage to their sons, not to their grandsons. The latter received it from their fathers, but there was no direct communication between Avraham and Jacob, or between Isaac and Reuven and Simeon. The influence of the grandfathers on their grandchildren was indirect. Jacob, however, related directly to his grandchildren; he did not need an intermediary or an interpreter; his was a direct dialogue. He leapt over the gulf of generations and transmitted the great Mesorah of Abraham directly to Ephraim and Menashe. Despite the discrepancy of years, the Zaken, the carrier of the old tradition, succeeded.

How appropriate, therefore, that our people is called Israel or Jacob, for it was he who created the Jewish community which ensured Jewish continuity. What preceded him were patriarchal families. He laid the foundation for a people. Though the covenant was made initially with Abraham, it was not until Jacob that the secret of perpetuation the Mesorah was discovered.

The Midrash tells us that the sons of Joseph studied with their grandfather daily after his arrival in Egypt. It was the Zaken who listened to their problems, conversed and worked closely with them, played and planned with them. The most effective teacher is not he who lectures his students with detachment, but rather he who be-friends his disciples, and together they become co-searchers and co-dreamers in the pursuit of truth. Jacob knew the secret language of mispar hadorot, of uniting generations.”

Rav Soloveitchik, in his inimitable style, adds a whole new level of meaning and import to the grandparent-grandchild relationship. The exceptional relationship that is created between the two also takes on religious significance—as the grandparent becomes uniquely suited to pass down the mesorah and tradition of Yahadut to their grandchild as well. The love, affection and playfulness that characterizes their connection allows for the grandchild and grandparent to, in the words of Rav Soloveitchik, “become co-searchers and co-dreamers of truth.” The child is singularly receptive to, and able to learn and grow from, this relationship. Perhaps this is what the Gemara means, when it states inKiddushin 30a, “He who teaches his grandson, the Scripture regards the grandson as though he received it directly from Mount Sinai.” There is something unique about the lessons that we receive from our grandparents that stays with us, and affects us, for years to come.

Additionally, the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is a fulfillment of the famous pasuk in Kohelet (4:12), “ v’hachut hameshulash lo bimheira yenateik, a string that is tripled does not easily break.” The bridging of three generations and the direct interaction between them, ensures the continuity of the Jewish mesorah and tradition in a powerful way. This continuity best guarantees the future of the Jewish people for generations to come.

In this week’s parsha, we see the first encounter between Yaakov and his grandchildren, a relationship that continues to grow and develop in next week’s parsha, as well. The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is an incredibly special one, both from an emotional and religious perspective. It is no wonder, then, that it is one of the most cherished relationships that we have.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!


Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, Rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and Placement Advisor/Internship Coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected]

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