By Yochanan Gordon
There is a famous English adage that says that a picture is worth a thousand words. The emphasis in this saying, whose author is anonymous, is that a picture can convey a message more effectively than a thousand words. In other words, the value of a picture is worth at least a thousand words but depending on the picture it can be worth much more.
I’m of course referring to the picture accompanying this article, which was taken this past Sunday at Yeshiva Darchei Torah. My second-grader Eliyahu’s grade had a Dor L’dor learning program where grandfathers joined their children and grandchildren, learning and celebrating the multigenerational link connected through the Torah. The program consisted of a 45-minute seder, a story delivered by YDT’s own Rabbi Zieger, and was then moved to the emptied-out Diamond Beis Midrash for a three-generation dance and a raffle.
The Yiddish word for grandchild is einekel. Have you ever wondered what the origin of the word is? The first time Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe Rabbeinu it was at the sneh, the burning bush, where Moshe marveled at the scene of a bush that, despite being engulfed in flames, refused to become consumed. The verbiage employed in the pasuk is: “V’hasneh bo’er ba’eish, v’hasneh einenah ukal.” The word “einekel” is a conjunction of the words “einenah ukal” and conveys that if three generations stay true to the life and legacy of Torah and mitzvos, it will remain intact, unaffected by the challenges that this world presents us with. This is an idea which itself has support from a verse in Koheles, which states: “V’ha’chut ha’meshulash lo b’meheirah yenateik,” conveying that a trifecta of successive generations dedicated to the Torah in a specific family gives staying power to the Torah in the future generations of that family.
It is particularly this opportunity for grandparents to bond with their grandchildren through the Torah that makes these programs so special and unique. With multiple boys in Darchei and having attended a number of these events for several years, one could tell, hearing the pause in Rabbi Bender’s voice as he talks about the phenomenon of grandparents meriting to see and have a significant role in the upbringing of their grandchildren, that this is something which only a few decades ago was seen as a rare occurrence.
In living memory of the Holocaust, which claimed a third of our people, the possibility of such an event taking place in this and many other schools nationwide is a testament to the resilience of the Jewish people and the spirit of “Netzach Yisrael lo yeshaker v’lo yinachem.”
I can’t help but think back to my most formative years when my grandparents, usually my maternal grandfather, who would spend time either over the phone or during one of their frequent visits to us or ours to them, learning whatever it was that we were learning at the time.
As I recall these memories, the seriousness on my Zaide’s face and his exuberance in conveying the material can only be characterized by the seeming contradictory sentiments recorded by King David in Psalms when he wrote, “Serve Hashem with awe and rejoice with dread.” Awe in the responsibility of keeping the unbroken chain from Sinai in perpetuity for yet another generation but at the same time unable to contain the joy bubbling forth from his heart that after all he’d been through he was given the opportunity of passing on to me, his grandchild, that which he had received from his illustrious teachers.
I’ll never forget our Friday night walks from my parents’ home to shul as he’d reminisce about the time that as a 16 year old he received an affectionate pinch on his cheek from the saintly Reb Chaim Oizer from Vilna, or the time that Rav Dessler visited his yeshiva. The names of these luminaries and their immense contributions to the furtherance of Torah weighed so heavily on him, and that was exceedingly clear to me as a young man hearing and seeing just how reverently he spoke about them, as if they were the embodiment of Torah.
We’re often apologetic about the fact that we don’t “reach the ankles of previous generations,” but I feel that we misunderstand G-d’s plan for this world. While this is mainly a topic for a different time, the important point in this is that having merited to hear about these people from my grandfather, who saw them and learned from them, and me subsequently from him, they live vicariously through us. When the Gemara wants to rationalize the statement that Yaakov Avinu never died after the Torah attests to his having been buried and embalmed, the Gemara concludes, “Just as his children are alive, so, too, he is alive.” This is not poetry or some sort of exaggeration; it’s Toras chaim, which is conveying an important message to us all: namely, that our dedication to the mores and ideals we received from previous generations keeps them alive and allows them to intercede on our behalf.
With the first snow of this season upon us as I type these words, I recall a story that occurred a number of years ago with Reb Shlomo Heiman, one of the founding roshei yeshiva in Torah Vodaath, from whom my paternal grandfather received semichah. At a time when he was a rebbe, a severe snowstorm kept many from making it to yeshiva that day, with the exception of a few students whose parents would not have it any other way. Peculiarly, Rabbi Heiman was delivering the shiur that day with the same gusto and excitement that he would have had there been a full classroom. One of the children there that day asked his rebbe why it was that he spoke with the same level of excitement when most of the class was out that day. He replied, “You think I am just talking to you? That is incorrect. I am talking to you, your children, and even your grandchildren.”
If this is how Rabbi Heiman taught, you can rest assured it was a style that he received from his rebbe, Reb Baruch Ber. Such is the mystique of Torah that regardless of who is giving it over and the milieu in which it is being taught, its engine has been powered from time immemorial, and if we perk up our ears we may even be able to hear their voices and messages.
So as I sit there with my Eliyahu, pointing together into the Chumash and reading about the covenant that Hashem made with Avraham at the bris bein ha’besarim it’s no longer merely a picture of a father and son learning a timeless text, but everything about the picture takes on the properties of that timelessness and is bound up with Har Sinai and everything that that event represents within the lens of history. If it weren’t for the editorial limitation of words, this, my friends, is a picture worth much more than one thousand words.