I love the first buds and blossoms of spring and the hope, fragrance and freshness they bring. So on Tuesday morning, when I noticed the jasmine bushes in bloom, my heart lifted. This year though, the blossoms were more of a bouquet then a promise, for my heart was already singing: On Monday night, a first grandchild, a boy, was born to my son Eyal and Carly.
Caron and I had already been primed for grandparenthood by the enthusiastic experience of our friends. They had assured us that we were joining a joyous club, all naches and little responsibility. One friend, Frank, warmly texted: “It is truly magical and you will fall deeply in love all over again”. Another, Susie, wrote lyrically “What a day, what a night. The world buzz just goes sweetly quiet for a moment”. A third, Leah, summed it up exquisitely: “A blessing on both your houses. May you always be embraced and enriched by the glorious forces of love and optimism a new life brings”. There’s nothing quite like holding this bundle of hope and happiness tenderly in one’s arms; the world did indeed hush and embrace us ever so gently. Looking into the wrinkly little face (which soon smoothed into a lovely softness) and the alert darting eyes, it seemed they contained a wisdom from faraway.
It’s been said that if newborns could talk they would emerge from the womb with stories as wondrous as the Torah itself, (after all, there’s nothing quite like a womb with a view…). I wondered what wonderful truth and tales he could tell us. Perhaps he would relate to us how he studied Torah with an energetic angel; that he could see from one end of the world to the other. As Wordsworth, echoing the Talmudic rabbis wrote so powerfully: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life’s star… cometh from afar… trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home”. I wondered if this little one got to meet with his ancestors especially his two great grandfathers Zelik Bedell and Richard Nossbaum who died during the past year. They surely would have quietly guided his tiny star down into our shtetl on the Yarra… New life inevitably gets us to think about old life, where we come from and where we’re heading towards. So last night I dreamt of my dad and how he once held me and would have kvelled to hold a great grandson, another Genende, to defy the Nazis who got so much of his family. And when I woke I started thinking about Eyal, our son and his birth, (just a heart-beat away) and how he was now “the father of the man”.
And I reflected on what Rav Soloveitchik calls a sense of “generation awareness”. In this week’s parasha (Nitzavim) just prior to his death, Moses told the Israelites: “I make this covenant… not with you alone, but with those who are standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with those who are not yet with us this day” (Deut 29: 13-14). Soloveitchik writes that when a child is born, he is absorbed into the community and we pray that he will speak our language, study our texts, dream our dreams, and adopt our ideals. That he will become part of our historical family and be nurtured by the wisdom of our countless generations.
But it’s last week’s parasha that speaks to me so evocatively with its “bikkurim”, its first fruits, its elation, and its appreciation “And now, behold! I have brought the first fruits… You shall be happy with all the good that Hashem, your God, has given you and your house”. Fortunate are we when we have the opportunity to celebrate, a new babe, a fresh day, the blossoming of the jasmine and the coming of a new year. I look forward to celebrating the new year 5778 with my enlarged family.
Shana Tova — A year of good health, good dreams and blessings of peace and sweetness,
Rabbi Ralph Genende