There are certain moments in life that can best be described as transformative. One such moment is when you cradle your newborn grandchild in your arms for the very first time.
A few days before the start of Passover, I was blessed to be inducted into the grandfather club. I must admit that it will take time to get used to applying that term to myself or hearing others use it in reference to me.
Like Tevye the milkman, I look at my own children and cannot help but ask, “I don’t remember growing older, when did they?”
But, the addition of grandparent to one’s resume, as jolting as it might be, is hardly the most heartfelt or meaningful aspect of the experience.
Indeed, as I savored the initial burst of emotion and enthusiasm, I noticed how certain words that we often bandy about took on a whole new level of meaning, adding a fresh and deeper level of profundity to life.
The first, and most obvious, is love, which in some ways has become diluted in the modern era, as it is used to refer to everything from house pets to breakfast cereals to life partners.
But, there is a dimension of this emotion that is as perplexing as it is real and it confronted me from the first moment I looked into the eyes of my grandchild. Simply put, how is it possible to love someone you just met so much?
Sure, there is a clear biological, genetic and spiritual connection that one feels towards one’s progeny.
But, consider the obvious: babies just days old cannot form sentences, offer thoughts or observations about current events, or even express themselves other than through crying and certain other elementary bodily functions. At this stage of their life, you cannot have a dialogue with them, probe the depths of their personality or identify the traits that constitute their character.
And yet, the love one feels toward a grandchild is so real and authentic that it is almost tangible, reaching deep inside and awakening a part of one’s soul lain dormant.
Suddenly, the world has become a brighter and better place, one in which ideals such as unmitigated purity and goodness truly seem real and even attainable, regardless of all the darkness and evil that may exist.
Of course, the same can be said of holding one’s own newborn child. But, the very fact that a grandchild is one generation removed from you lends it a unique quality that is as undeniable as it is reassuring. To feel the stirring of such love not merely for your child but for your children’s children, necessarily evokes a renewed sense of hope for the future, as time marches on.
As Jews, we are a people imbued with historical consciousness, as well as an understanding of how fragile life can be. In this sense, holding one’s grandchild, as they snuggle in your arms and look at you through lenses of innocence, lends new meaning to the idea of Jewish continuity.
Another generation, God willing, will carry the torch forward, keeping alive the precious heritage that was handed down to us across the millennia.
Judaism clearly recognizes that there is something special about the bond between a grandparent and grandchild. Interestingly, the blessing which a Jewish parent confers upon his children every Friday night at the start of the Sabbath is based on that which our biblical patriarch Jacob gave to his grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe, Joseph’s sons.
It is as if we are blessing our children each week not only with parental love, but with the added facet of a grandparent’s delight.
It is difficult to gaze into the eyes of a newborn grandchild and not be filled with a revitalized desire to make the world kinder, softer and more peaceful.
In the Book of Proverbs (17:6), King Solomon wrote that, “Children’s children are the crown of the elderly.”
Perhaps what the wisest of all men meant to convey to us is that our grandchildren can inspire us to new heights, to invest ourselves with determination to make the most of our remaining years on this earth.
After decades of experience, a grandparent is expected to offer his grandchildren useful lessons and insights into the meaning of life.
Well, much to my surprise, despite being just several days old, my grandchild has already done that for me. Who knew we could learn so much from such a small and gentle bundle of joy? ■
The writer is founder and chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to their roots.