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Grandparent Day Message

Friday, October 20, 2017

When you think about Parashat Noah, what would be the first thing that comes to mind?

I would assume that the first thing that would come to mind would be the story of the flood and Noah’s ark, or maybe the tower of Bavel. However, today I would like to focus on a completely different part of the Parasha.

Both last week’s Parasha, Bereishit, and this week’s Parasha, Noah, contain listings of genealogical lineages.  In Bereishit, it is the list of generations from Adam to Noah, and in Noah, it is the list of generations from Noah to Abram. Each time, a name is listed, followed by the person’s age when his eldest child was born, followed by how long he lived, and finally, the age at which he died. After this, the Torah proceeds to the aforementioned eldest child and continues with this same pattern. These 2 instances are in fact only 2 of the 10 times in Genesis where the Torah says ״אלה תולדות״ or “these are the lines of…”

One obvious question seems to arise. Why, in all of these cases does the Torah deviate from the narrative in order to list genealogies?

Throughout all of Tanach, there seems to be quite a strong emphasis on lineage. As mentioned before, various lineages are listed many times throughout Genesis, as well as in the end of the book of Ruth. In addition, the first 9 chapters of the first book of Chronicles read very much like a phone book, as they are mostly devoted to simply listing names.

While a review of Rabbinic sources does not shed great light onto the reasoning for this, we know that historically, lineages have been given a tremendous amount of significance by many different cultures, not just in Biblical times.  For example, the Akha tribe, who are indigenous to China and other parts of Southeast Asia, believe that the spirits of their dead ancestors are able to influence the day to day lives and fortunes of the living. Therefore, every person in the Akha tribe is required to memorize the names of all of their male ancestors for 60 generations. This is of tremendous importance to the Akha people, as these lineages are recited during various ceremonies including betrothal ceremonies.  Clearly, this culture places tremendous value on connection to the past and one’s ancestors and feel this connection has impact on their present day lives.

The value of ancestry is also evident in Judaic traditions today. When someone is called up to the Torah for an Aliyah, they are called up with both their own hebrew name, as well as their father’s name. In addition, when reciting a prayer for a sick person, the person’s name is given with both the afflicted person’s name and their mother’s name.

All of these examples I have cited, demonstrate the value of being a part of a culture that is larger than one’s present self. By continuing to identify with our past, we feel more grounded in the present and it gives us direction for the future.

By coming here today, you help all of the students here solidify our connection to our own families and the TanenbaumCHAT community.

Shabbat Shalom