It has become our tradition 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 offerings to the temple comprised of the choice of the first-fruits ביקורים of their crop. Today our students re-enacted that pilgrimage by imagining the Heschel field as Eretz Israel; travelling from location to location carrying special fruits that we donated to the Na Me Res Aboriginal Shelter.
Today, we thanked parents, grandparents, and other intergenerational guests for making the pilgrimage to The Toronto Heschel School so that the children could share the fruits of their learning with you. Thanks to modern technology, we were blessed to have received many wonderful messages from relatives all over the world who could not be here personally.
Shavuot is not only a festival of first fruits, it is also a commemoration of the moment at which we received the Torah at Har Sinai. I say “we” and not the ancient Israelites, because according to Jewish tradition, each and everyone 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, and grandchildren, cousins, relatives, all there, at the foot of the mountain, standing in awe and wonder as we received the Torah.
By learning together today, we re-enacted what it means for every generation to experience Torah together. This moment when the generations sit together and learn with love and caring for one another is a moment of inter-generational Torah.
Another, complementary 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 expressionמדור לדור – means that Jewish learning and tradition is passed on through the generations; each generation teaching the next.
How is it that we were all at Sinai, 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 that 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 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.
The other kind of teaching is the kind that can only be passed on from generation to generation; from the older to the younger. That is the teaching that comes with experience. Role modelling. As Rav A.J. Heschel says, “To guide a pupil, into the Promised Land, the teacher must have been there herself.” Among my strongest childhood memories are ones 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 were 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.
Chag Shavuot Sameach Veshabbat Shalom,