It has become our tradition at Heschel to host Generations Day just prior to the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is one of three ancient pilgrimage festivals, during which people travel from all parts of Eretz Israel to bring ביקורים offerings to the temple, comprising the best first-fruits of their crop.
Today, we welcomed parents, grandparents, and relatives from across generations to make the pilgrimage to The Toronto Heschel School so that Heschel students could share their ביקורים—the best fruits of their learning.
Shavuot is not only a festival of first fruits, it is also a commemoration of the moment when we received the Torah at Har Sinai. I say “we,” and not the ancient Israelites, because according to Jewish tradition, each and every one one of us was somehow mystically present at Har Sinai when the Torah was received. Imagine all of us, together with Avraham, Sarah, Moshe, and Miriam, our own parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, cousins, relatives—every generation—all there at the foot of the mountain, standing in awe and wonder while receiving the Torah.
By learning together today, we re-enacted what it means for every generation to experience Torah together. This moment when we sit together with children and grandchildren, and learn with love and care for one another, is a moment of intergenerational Torah.
Another tradition teaches that the Torah was given by God to Moshe, handed down by Moshe to Yehoshua, then from Yehoshua to the scholars and leaders of the community, and down through the generations for thousands of years. The expression מדור לדור means that Jewish learning and tradition is passed on through the generations; each generation teaching the next: תורה מדור לדור.
How is it that we were all at Sinai, getting the Torah at the same time, and yet we still need to pass on wisdom from generation to generation? Didn’t we get it all the first time?
The way I see it, there are two kinds of teaching and learning. One very special kind happens when children and grandchildren are the teachers; when children notice the little details that we, in our busy lives, don’t see anymore; when they remember something that was said or done; when they draw a picture of a tree or an animal or a person in their own unique way that has never been drawn before; when they teach us how to be better parents and better grandparents, better people. Children have a sense of awe and wonder—inherited from Sinai—that they share with us each and every day.
The other kind of teaching is the kind that can only be passed down from generation to generation; from the older to the younger. This is the teaching that comes with experience; it is role modeling. As Rav A.J. Heschel says: “To guide a pupil, into the Promised Land, the teacher must have been there himself or herself.” Among my strongest childhood memories are of my grandparents leading Shabbat prayers and hosting the Pesach Seder. Those memories and teachings have remained with me forever.
Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig writes that the relationship between grandchild and grandparent assures Jewish continuity. Two generations is the beginning. The relationship of three generations completes the strongest bond.
Today, we are blessed to be able to learn together in a multi-generational community—with family, friends, and community members of different generations. Today, once again, we were all at Sinai.
Shabbat Shalom Vechag Shavuot Sameach,