On the 4th of Sivan in the year 2448 (3,331 years ago), two days before Moshe ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, he wrote a Torah scroll containing the information from Genesis up to that point and read it to the Jewish people. Although not a history book, the Torah provided the world’s history from its beginning and that of the Jewish people as it traced its ancestry back to Avraham their forefather. Because what they heard from Moshe concurred with all that they knew from their family history, after hearing it they said the famous words, “Everything that Hashem has said, we will do and we will obey!”
Moshe subsequently went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, and forty days later came down with the Tablets with the Torah’s 613 commandments written on them. (The ten commandments actually comprise ten categories of commandments, with the other 603 falling into one of these categories. Indeed, on the first set of tablets, they were actually written under their respective categories.) During the forty days that Moshe remained in heaven, Hashem taught him the explanations of all the commandments, called the Oral Torah.
During the Jewish nation’s trek through the wilderness, Moshe incorporated the 613 commandments into the Torah scroll that was dictated to him by Hashem. The events and trials that the Jewish people experienced during their travels were also contemporaneously written into this scroll as they occurred, as per Hashem’s instructions to Moshe. At the end of his life, Moshe wrote 13 complete Torah scrolls, which contain the 613 commandments and all the stories that Hashem wanted us to know, gave one scroll to each tribe, and put one on a small shelf in the Holy Ark along with the second set of the tablets that he received after the Golden Calf incident and the fragments of the original tablets of the Ten Commandments. As Moshe taught the commandments to the Jewish people, he also taught them the explanations, from the Oral Torah that he had learned from Hashem on Mount Sinai. Since then, that body of knowledge has been passed down from father to son and from teacher to student from generation to generation until today.
In thinking about the Ten Commandments we find something perplexing. When you look at the two tablets, the various commandments seem to divide up neatly into two distinct categories. The right tablet deals with man’s relationship with Hashem: “I am Hashem,” “do not have any other gods,” “do not take Hashem’s name in vain,” and “keep the Shabbat,” whereas on the left tablet we find “do not murder,” “do not commit adultery”, “do not steal,” “do not bear false testimony,” and “do not covet,” laws pertaining to a person’s relationship with another. The one that doesn’t fit in with this array is number five, “honor your father and your mother.” It is surprisingly on the right tablet with the laws pertaining to man’s relationship with Hashem. Why is it there?
Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch in his commentary on the Torah (page 347 Feldheim edition) explains.
The exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah are the two basic facts in the history of the Jewish people that form the foundation of our allegiance to Hashem as the Master of our fate and the Guide of our lives. These two facts are historical truths. However, the sole guaranty of their authenticity is tradition, and tradition depends solely on its faithful transmission from parents to children, and on its willing acceptance by children from the hands of their parents.
Thus, the survival of the great Divine institution that is Judaism rests entirely on the theoretical and practical obedience of children to parents. Accordingly, Honor your father and mother is the basic condition for the eternity of the Jewish nation.
Through the father and the mother, Hashem gives the child more than just his physical existence. Parents are also the link that connects the child to the Jewish past and enables him or her to be a Jewish man or woman… Without this connection between parents and children, the chain of generations is broken, the hopes of the Jewish past are lost for the future, and the Jewish nation ceases to exist.
Because this mitzvah preserves and guarantees our relationship with Hashem, it finds itself on the right tablet with those commandments. To be in the correct position to receive what their parents have to give them, children must look up to, and respect their parents. Then, when they learn from their parents the laws and customs of Judaism, sons from their fathers and daughters from their mothers, they are properly prepared to be the patriarchs and matriarchs of the next generation.
The Talmud in (Tractate Kiddushin 30a) teaches us.
והודעתם לבניך ולבני בניך לומר לך שכל המלמד את בנו תורה מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו למדו לו ולבנו ולבן בנו עד סוף כל הדורות.
The verse says (Deuteronomy 4:10) And you should teach them to your children and your grandchildren to teach us that whoever teaches his son Torah, Hashem considers it as if he has taught (not only) him, but his son, and his son’s son, until the end of time.
This is because when a father teaches his son Torah, he fulfills his obligation to transmit what he has received from his father, guaranteeing the Torah’s future. If he has done his job correctly, his son will follow in his footsteps and do the same for his son.
When a grandfather teaches Torah to his grandson, there is an even greater benefit to the grandson, regarding which the Talmud informs us
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי כל המלמד את בן בנו תורה מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קבלה מהר סיני
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, Whoever teaches his grandson Torah, Hashem considers it as if he has accepted the Torah from Sinai.
When one teaches his son, he guarantees the Torah’s future, whereas when one teaches his grandson, he authenticates to him the source of the Torah, Mount Sinai. How is that?
The first Mishna in Pirkei Avot tells us:
א) משֶׁה קִבֵּל תּוֹרָה מִסִּינַי, וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ
1) Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua.
The Sages wonder why Rabi Yehudah the Prince, Mishna’s author, didn’t write the Mishna with a uniform style. Why not say Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, and Joshua received the Torah from Moshe? Or Hashem passed the Torah to Moshe and Moshe passed it on to Joshua?
The Torah Temimah (Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein, d. 1944) offers the following explanation (Deuteronomy 4:10, note 31).
The word קבלה – to receive implies an absolute and eternal acceptance, something that will not cease. This applied uniquely to Moshe because the Talmud says (Nedarim 38b) that the Torah was given as a gift to Moshe and his children, but Moshe graciously shared it with the rest of the Jewish nation. Since Hashem gave it to Moshe as a present, it would stay with him and his seed forever, whereas Yehoshua would not have that luxury. Moshe passed on to him what he had received, and Joshua’s job was to pass it on to the rest of the nation.
The Talmud in Baba Metziah 85a says:
אמר רבי פרנך אמר רבי יוחנן כל שהוא תלמיד חכם ובנו תלמיד חכם ובן בנו תלמיד חכם שוב אין תורה פוסקת מזרעו לעולם שנאמר ואני זאת בריתי וגו’ לא ימושו מפיך ומפי זרעך ומפי זרע זרעך אמר ה’ מעתה ועד עולם מאי אמר ה’ אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא אני ערב לך בדבר זה מאי מעתה ועד עולם אמר רבי ירמיה מכאן ואילך תורה מחזרת על אכסניא שלה
Rabbi Parnach said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: If one is a talmid chacham – (Torah scholar), and his son is a talmid chacham, and his grandson is a talmid chacham, the Torah will never cease from his seed. This is based on the verse in Isaiah 59:21:
וַאֲנִי זֹאת בְּרִיתִי אוֹתָם אָמַר יְדֹוָד רוּחִי אֲשֶׁר עָלֶיךָ וּדְבָרַי אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי בְּפִיךָ לֹא יָמוּשׁוּ מִפִּיךָ וּמִפִּי זַרְעֲךָ וּמִפִּי זֶרַע זַרְעֲךָ אָמַר יְדֹוָד מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם:
And as for Me, this is My covenant with them, said Hashem, My spirit that is upon you and My words that I have placed in your mouth will not be withdrawn from your mouth or from the mouth of your offspring or from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring, said Hashem, from this moment and forever.
To what do the words “said Hashem” the second time refer? Hashem is saying, “I am your guarantor this matter… From this point on, the Torah will always return to its former host.”
This is why when a grandfather learns Torah with his grandson, it is as if the grandson has received it from Sinai. It is assumed that grandpa learned Torah with his son, the grandson’s father, and, by continuing it to the next generation and creating three generations of talmidei chachamim (Torah sages), he is guaranteeing that the Torah will remain forever in his family. Even if there will a break at some point, Hashem has promised that the Torah will return to its former host.
Partners Detroit reaches out to many, many people to join the Tuesday night learning program. Only a select few, however, respond positively and come to learn Torah on Tuesday nights. I often wonder why are these people so special to have the privilege to learn the Holy Torah and others do not? Yet, this may be the secret: So many times non-religious people will share with me, “My grandfather was a big rabbi” or “My great grandfather was religious and was learned in Torah.” And that’s the point! Hashem is keeping His promise that the Torah will always return to its earlier host. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, being Torah scholars, set up our family as a host for the holy Torah, and the Torah wants to return to is previous host. All we need to do is make the choice to welcome the Torah in by learning it, and Hashem will make sure that it stays with its beloved hosts, the grandchildren – us!
When three generations study Torah together, there is even a greater element of permanence added. The Talmud (Ketubot 61b) relates the following story.
רבי חמא בר ביסא אזיל יתיב תרי סרי שני בבי מדרשא כי אתא אמר לא איעביד כדעביד בן חכינאי עייל יתיב במדרשא שלח לביתיה אתא ר’ אושעיא בריה יתיב קמיה הוה קא משאיל ליה שמעתא חזא דקא מתחדדי שמעתיה חלש דעתיה אמר אי הואי הכא הוה לי זרע כי האי על לביתיה על בריה קם קמיה הוא סבר למשאליה שמעתתא קא בעי אמרה ליה דביתהו מי איכא אבא דקאים מקמי ברא קרי עליה רמי בר חמא החוט המשולש לא במהרה ינתק זה ר’ אושעיא בנו של רבי חמא בר ביסא
Rabbi Chama the son of Rabbi Bissa went off to Yeshiva to study Torah for twelve consecutive years. When he returned home, he didn’t want to startle his wife, so he went to the local Beit Midrash and sent word that he was home. His son R’ Oshia (whom he didn’t recognize because he left him as a child) approached him, and asked him some excellent questions on the Talmud. He saw that the young man was very sharp, and he began to feel bad. He said to himself, “Maybe if I had not left home, I would have a son like this!” He then went home, and when his son came in, R’ Chama stood up out of respect for him, as Rabbi Chama thought he had come to continue the discussion. His wife said to him. “Why are you standing up for your own son?” Upon seeing this, Rami Bar Chama quoted the verse in Ecclesiastes 4:12,
וְהַחוּט הַמְשֻׁלָּשׁ לֹא בִמְהֵרָה יִנָּתֵק
12) And a three-ply cord is not readily severed.
The Maharsha explains that R’ Bissa, the grandfather, taught R’ Oshia during his father’s twelve-year absence.
The Tosafot questions why Rami Bar Chama quoted this verse specifically on this family? There are many instances in the Talmud where grandfather, father, and son were all Torah scholars! He answers that this result obtained because all three generations simultaneously learned together. The Talmud reports that when R’ Oshia and his father R’ Chama had a disagreement, they would consult Rabbi Bissa, R’ Chama’s father and R’ Oshia’s grandfather. Indeed, R’ Oshia became a greater Torah scholar than his father, perhaps even because he studied under his grandfather. This is the beauty of what Rami Bar Chama observed. When all three generations are present studying together, then it is like a three-ply cord where each strand reinforces the other two, making the cord many times stronger than the three individual strands. Similarly, when three generations study together, each learner adds his unique reinforcement to the group, and, together, they comprise a unit far stronger than any of the individual components. If one should become weak, the other two are there to support and bolster him, thus guaranteeing that he does not falter. This is far greater than three consecutive generations in a row who do not study together, since they do not have each other’s support.
This is what is happening here this evening at Partners Detroit! We have the ultimate combination to secure the future: three generations studying together. This, with the promise of Hashem, will keep the Torah in our families forever.
On Shabbat night, in Jewish homes the world over, parents bless their children. Following our forefather Yaakov’s instructions, they bless their sons that they should be like Ephraim and Menashe. They also bless their daughters that they should be like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah. What special quality did Yaakov see in Ephraim and Menashe that caused him to choose them as the models for Jewish children to emulate?
Ephraim and Menashe grew up in a degenerate country, Egypt, full of idol worship and immorality. Yaakov’s sons grew up in his home with Rachel and Leah, and were not exposed to the environment that challenged Ephraim and Menashe. In spite of this, Ephraim and Menashe grew up to be as great as their uncles, and were counted among the twelve tribes of the Jewish nation. This was quite a feat! This is what Yaakov wanted for all his grandchildren, that they be as great as their fathers.
It is our blessing and prayer that all the children here tonight grow to be as great as their parents, or perhaps even greater, like R’ Oshia, so there will be strong learned leaders to guide the next and all future generations of the Jewish nation.