To Be a Jewish Grandparent

To Be a Jewish Grandparent

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

When the Israelites came to Mount Sinai, they learned that the condition on which they would receive Torah was that they would teach it to their children and their children’s children. In Deuteronomy 6, it was made clear, “You shall teach them (Torah teachings) to your children.” It was nothing less than a guarantee that they would have grandchildren.

Further, Torah makes clear the roles that parents and grandparents would enjoy. In Genesis 25, we read, “This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham.” The rabbis wondered why, if this is the story of Isaac, is he mentioned in the same breath as his father? Will we know Isaac only through his father? They taught in a Midrash, citing Proverbs 17:6, “Grandchildren are the crown of their elders, and the glory of children is their parents.” Rather than a conflict between father and son, they were honored, and future generations would be honored, in references to each other.

And in Deuteronomy 32:7, as Moses makes his final speech to the Israelites, he describes the role of parents and grandparents. He said, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; ask your father, he will inform you, your elders, they will tell you.” From this we learn that parents tell the children about the past, warning them about the deeds their ancestors committed against God. That is, parents lay down rules and boundaries to safeguard the children against former sins or lessons learned. The grandparents, however, are optimistic that in their grandchildren’s hearts and minds will be the promise of all the generations (cf Rashi and Or HaChaim on Deut 32:7).

This is revealed in contemporary examples. For instance, Lisa and I just returned from three days with our grandchildren during Passover. Ages 3 weeks and 3 ½ years, we cherished time with our new granddaughter, Annabelle, but left for 10 hours each day to play with our grandson, Ronen, while his parents had time with the baby. Though his parents gave us many rules and boundaries to avoid problems or harm, no doubt reminders of their own childhood or their insights into 21st century parenting, we were more optimistic about the playtime we would enjoy, together. Before we left the house, we listened carefully to their instructions: don’t go to the grocery store; be sure he drinks enough water; no soda; only familiar parks; no TV; and no sweets.

After buckling him into his car seat (when did they make them so challenging?), our first stop was the grocery store. We needed food for our picnic in the park he hadn’t seen in a long time. Once in the park, we sat on the dinosaur blanket and opened muddy “dinosaur eggs” for two hours. We ate the foods we bought at the grocery store, and we drank when we were thirsty. At nap time in the hotel room, we all watched TV and fell asleep together. He didn’t drink soda, but at the ice-cream store, he had his favorite “pink” strawberry ice-cream. And when we brought him home after the first day, he was very happy, full of hugs for his grandparents, and ready for bed. “How did he do?” his parents asked us. “Perfect! A pleasure!” we answered, unrehearsed. Over three days, we also painted ceramics, went bowling, and played at the children’s museum. Each day he came home with loving hugs and new memories. So did we.

The joy of being a grandparent, and especially a Jewish grandparent, originates in a genetically inherited impulse to build bonds, to tell stories of the past, and to infuse them with optimism about their future and what they’re going to do in it. We can’t help ourselves. We were commanded at Mount Sinai to do it. Modern psychologists agree that only parents can damage their children when they spoil them; but grandparents have no effect on them when they indulge them similarly. As soon as Lisa and I left the house each morning with Ronen, we looked at each other and grinned. We were going to build bonds of love and joy. After all, we knew the reference, “Grandchildren are the crown of their elders.” Now you know it, too.


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