Ki Tetze: From Generation to Generation: The Impact of Grandparents

Wow, what a jammed packed Torah portion we have this week. Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10ff) is filled with issues that speak to personal behavior, the creation of a just society, more laws dealing with warfare and the treatment of captives as well as economics. There is the major proof text  that introduces the basis for the acceptance of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1f). There is the famous passage about the treatment of animals in 22:6,7) as well as house architecture (22:8). Theer is also one of the important proof texts for the issue of medical ethics. In Deuteronomy 22;2 there is a passage which says that if a person looses his ox, it is incumbent on us to help “restore it to him”. Maimonides (12th century , and a physician) interpreted this passage to see a divine call to restore lost  health, and this interpretation is one that helps form the foundation for Jewish views on medicine, health and wellness.

All of these, and more! However, there is also a famous passage from 24:16 which reads “Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents. A person shall be put to death only for their own crime.” Rabbi Jonathan Saks, in his “Essay on Ethics” discusses this passage as it relates to a previous text on Exodus 34:7, that speaks of punishment to the third and fourth generation. The essay traces some of the historical shift to individual responsibility that take place as Jewish history unfolded. Much of the emphasis of the texts speaks to what happens as a  result of someone committing a sin (chet). Indeed, we will see this theological shift during the High Holidays. Torah and textual tradition places  great focus on the implications of what  happens to future generations if you do something wrong. But what about something right?

This led me to think about one of the great gifts of getting a little older. I refer to the issue of being a grandparent. There is little in tradition that discusses this in detail. After all, longevity is still a pretty recent fact. But this idea of what we leave to our grandchildren IS of increasing importance ans value. Boomers have helped re-define what being a grandparent means. There is a much greater sense of involvement (for a variety of reasons) and longevity has made it possible for so many to be part of the growth and maturation of grandchildren. Indeed, if the statistics from agencies and organizations are to believed, it will be many of our grandchildren who will assume a key role in the care of our generation as we age, This so-called “special relationship” is very real. As we travel for Jewish Sacred AGing and speak to congregations and organizations, the majority of attendees who are Boomers and many who are grandparents, several trends emerge. One key trend is this idea of legacy. What can I leave behind of “me” to these grandchildren. It is usually not a discussion of material things, rather, much more spiritual. There is a sense that what we do, how we act, and what we stand for, does impact them and future generations.

If the negative aspects of behavior become personal (I will be judged not on what my family has done, but for me actions), than let me suggest, how much the more so will these positive aspects be judged. In fact, these positive aspects far outweigh the negative and they deserved to be celebrated and highlighted, for these actions teach and model behavior. There will be some who read this who will note that they have no family or grandchildren, due to many circumstances often out of their control. Yet, the opportunities exist in every town for you to be involved with young people, to serve as a mentor, role model or friend to the next generation. There are  children who are alone and, again, the Torah reminds us of the need to remember that acts of kindness are mandated so that no one is alone, for we were strangers in Egypt; strangers to the Egyptians and , in many ways, to ourselves.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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