This past week, we continued our tradition of hosting Generations Day just prior to Shavuot. Shavuot is one of three ancient pilgrimage festivals, during which people travelled from all parts of Eretz Israel to bring ביקורים (offerings) to the temple, comprised of the best first-fruits of their crop. During our school Shevuot celebrations, our students re-enacted that pilgrimage by imagining the Heschel field as Eretz Israel; travelling from location to location carrying special fruits that we later donated.

We’re thankful to everyone who made the pilgrimage to The Toronto Heschel School on Generations Day so that the children could share their ביקורים, the best fruits of their learning, with you.

Shavuot is not only a festival of first fruits, it is also a commemoration of זמן מתן תורתנו, the moment when we received the Torah at Har Sinai. I say “we” and not just the ancient Israelites, because according to Jewish tradition, each and every one of us was somehow present at Har Sinai when the Torah was received. We imagined all of us, together with Avraham, Sarah, Moshe, and Miriam, our own parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, cousins, and relatives, every generation all there, at the foot of the mountain, standing in awe and wonder as we received the Torah.

According to the Book of Exodus, B’nai Israel arrived at Har Sinai בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁלִישִׁי — at the start of the third month — after the Exodus from Egypt. It is written, בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה בָּאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינָי – on “this” day, they arrived at Sinai. The biblical commentator Rashi asks: Why does the Torah emphasise on “this” day– בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה. He explains: We learn that the Torah was given on “this” day – that is to say, not just that day back then, but this very day today, so that the words of Torah will always be fresh for us, as if they were given on this very day- today, here and now.

By learning together, we re-enacted זמן מתן תורתנו — what it means for every generation to be at Har Sinai and to experience Torah together. This moment when we sat together with children and grandchildren and learned with love and caring for one another was a moment of intergenerational Torah.

Another tradition teaches that the Torah was given by God to Moshe, handed down by Moshe to Yehoshua, from Yehoshua to the scholars and leaders of the community 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, receiving 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?

There are two kinds of teaching and learning. One happens when children and grandchildren are the teachers; they notice details we miss, remember special moments, and express creativity in unique ways. They teach us to be better parents, grandparents, and people, sharing their inherited sense of awe and wonder from Sinai.

The other kind of teaching is passed from older to younger generations through experience and role modelling. As Rav A.J. Heschel says, “To guide a pupil into the Promised Land, the teacher must have been there himself or herself.” My strongest memories include my grandparents leading Shabbat prayers and hosting the Pesach Seder, teachings that have stayed with me.

Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig writes that the relationship between grandchild and grandparent assures Jewish continuity. Two generations are the beginning, and three generations form the strongest bond.

This past week, we were blessed to be able to learn together in a multi-generational community– with family, friends, and community members of different generations. ביום הזה, once again, we were all at Sinai.

I hope you truly enjoyed this day of learning together.

Chag Shavuot Sameach,

Moreh Greg