My Grandson and the Coming of the Messiah
On the 14th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, my grandson was born. Already I owe him a debt of gratitude. Besides making me a grandmother, his birth has given me a way to remember this year with joy as well as sorrow. He entered the world alertness, calm and curious. He remains serene, but at eight months he is so joyful that he breaks into laughter for no apparent reason. When I am with him, he restores my sense of joy and wonder.
Jews are life-intoxicated, lovers of earthly existence. In this way, my grandson is already a practicing Jew. Surrounded by love, I glimpse in him the true nature of a human being, one who is trusting, loving, and delighting in the blessing of life. This is how every human being is. We say “Elohai Neshama shenetata bi tahora he”(God, the soul you have given me is pure), each morning. My grandson shows me what a pure soul looks like.
Just as some people keep a photograph of their spiritual teacher near them, I have a photograph of my grandson on my desk. His blue eyes look steadily into the lens of the camera and his face is radiant with a full, open-mouthed smile. Chest high, with arms outstretched as if he were reaching for the universe, he reminds me to sit up straighter and to reveal my heart.
My son says that being around the baby brings him a sense of peace. This is not my memory of parenthood, but as a grandmother it is absolutely true. The child and I sat in Central Park one summer’s afternoon, I on a bench and he in a stroller. Putting my head next to his, I saw through his eyes. Wow! A squirrel scrambling up a tree, a tree! A toddler in a sandbox inspired furrows in his forehead. Mostly he sat, completely content, observing and being part of the miracle of the moment. From this I learned the deep meaning of the morning blessing when I thank God for opening my eyes and sleep removed from my eyelids each morning. My grandson is my messenger, and the word for messengers and angels in Hebrew is the same, malachim.
Carl Sandburg said, “And a baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.” This child brings me hope. He is my answer and promise. He is my reward for not giving up, for keeping faith, and for continuing to love. Becoming a grandmother gave new meaning to Psalm 92:” Even in old age they will bear fruit.” I feel the fullness of years in seeing my child’s child and I am complete. Could song fill my mouth as water fills the sea, never could I thank You enough, God.
My grandparents, who also took me to Central Park, always seemed delighted to be with me. I have no memory of impatience or irritation from them. They made me feel beautiful, brilliant, and interesting I knew that they would love me, no matter what I did. From them I learned unconditional love. I imagined God as my grandparents.
On Jacob’s deathbed, he blesses his grandchildren, Joseph’s children, because even though they are Egyptian, they are also the children of Israel. Israel is Jacob’s transformational name. For thirty-five hundred years, Jewish grandparents have carried the hope that their grandchildren will continue to be part of the narrative of the Jewish people.
This is one reason why my grandson’s bris remains powerful memory; that was the moment that he became linked to the generations. My hope for him, however, is even greater than his being Jewish. At every brit milah there is a chair for Elijah, because the prophet will introduce us to the messiah, and you never know which baby may be the one. On his big day I suggested that our long wait for the one who would lead us to a world of peace had ended. I wasn’t entirely kidding. I do dream of him growing up to be an important saving force in the world. I wish no less for any child born into this world that needs much repair.
According to our tradition, the messiah has not yet arrived. That day will come when the world is ready for it, for the time when all, old and young, rich and poor, male and female, will see each other as interconnected.
Justice and mercy are in short supply today, but this is also a time of great opportunity. My grandson’s generation may be the leaders in changing the world from its usual resolution of conflict, by letting the strongest win. They may bring the world closer to the messianic era, understood to be a time without war or hunger. But they won’t get there without help, and this is where grandparents can be helpful.
Baby boomers make wonderful grandparents because besides life experience, we’ve had more therapy than any other generation. We should know something by now. We also came through the sixties, the time that chose love and peace as its twin ideals; some of us still are working and hoping for that day.
We can mentor our grandchildren to be menschen, the Yiddish word meaning to be caring and responsible people, by setting an example in our own lives. So many of you have told me that you are part of our community today because of a grandparent who loved and shared Judaism with you. I treasure the stories my grandparents told me, and I will tell them to him.
Those of us who are now grandmothers remember the women’s movement and the political struggle to achieve equality for women and men. We attempted to raise our sons with a different vision of traditional gender models. We encouraged our daughters to become independent and our sons to be caretakers. We can teach our grandchildren about reading Torah with a new and tender eye, looking for the words of peace over the words of war.
To this end, I’ve written my grandson a letter. In it I share what I love and value, the blessings I send to him, and a few tips about living in the world with creativity, hope, and peace.
My Dearest Grandson,
On the day you were born I wrote in my journal, “Halleluya! One has entered the world who has never existed before. At his bris, we will choose a special chair for Elijah, just in case he stops by to tell us that this eight-day old child is the messiah. This one, my grandson, could be the one.”
If you are the messiah, don’t worry about it, and if you aren’t, don’t worry about that either. Whoever you are is perfect. Each of us is born for a reason, and each of us is necessary to heal a shattered world. The world needs every gift you have.
You are Jewish because your parents loved their Judaism enough to want you to have it, too. Each night your mother sings you the Shema, the prayer that Jewish mothers have sung to their children for thousands of years. Our tradition teaches that every generation reveals a part of Torah. We say in the Amidah, “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, and God of our ancestors.” If we don’t consider those who come before us, we are inventing our own religion. On the other hand, if we only care about the handed-down tradition, then there is no reason to be here. I hope that one day you will take your parents’ rituals and put your breath upon them.
If God blesses you with a grandchild, you will know how much I love you. From you I’ve learned of my grandparents’ love for me. From your great-grandparents to you, we are connected by blood and memory. The generations feel like the span of eagles’ wings. I, who never had interest in geneology, have begun to wonder about your ancestors. The long lineages of families in Torah now have meaning for me.
I wish that we were leaving you an easier world. You will learn about the attack on the United States on September 11, 2002. in school. That was the day that everyone learned that not even the tallest building, nor the most powerful nation on earth, can protect itself against hatred. The physical health of the world is at risk with global warming and wasteful depletion of natural resources. The emotional health of the world is also at risk because we live without limits and without principles.
Our pets eat well while children die of hunger. We value youth over age, because wisdom might show us how off the path we are. Power is so important that people will lie and steal in the highest places to have it. Entertainment stretches boundaries of human dignity.
We buy things for recreation, not necessity. The more technology we possess, the less time and peace of mind we have. Gender, gender orientation, and skin color determine how much freedom we have even in a free society. People in the business of providing us with physical protection from one another are waxing rich. Force prevails because it is swift and we like short cuts. Kindness and fairness take more effort.
There is nothing new about our confused world. Reb Nachman of Bratslav tells us that when we are born, we notice that the world is filled with labeled bottles: this is good, this is bad, this is beautiful, this is ugly. When we are old enough to discern, we discover that every bottle is mislabeled, and we spend our lives putting the right labels on the right bottles.
What can we do? This is where having the habit of God in your life can help you. Believing that there is One who is with you as an actual, living presence in your life will comfort you. We must walk humbly in our despair: no one knows what will happen. Jews believe that one day the world will be perfected by the partnership of humanity and the divine, and until that day we are commanded to continue to work for that day. I’m doing the best I can. I hope that you do better in speaking the truth, no matter how unpopular, and walking the talk, no matter how difficult.
Judaism can help you to discern the truth of things. Read Jewish history and you’ll see what I mean. On paper no one would have thought that we had a future. No one would have thought that we would outlive great empires. But we have, and we know a subversive truth: external powerlessness and smallness is not the worst thing. Our history describes miraculous deliverance and survival. I don’t know the future, but I do know this: when times are difficult, belonging to an ancient people by keeping its rituals and learning its wisdom make it possible to keep hope and enjoy your life. To believe in God means to have, in AJ Heschel’s words, radical amazement, a sense of wonder and gratitude for the abundant miracles in our daily lives. Wonder will save you from boredom and despair.
Heschel told young people, “Remember that there is meaning beyond absurdity. Know that every deed counts, that every word is power…Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art.” I hope that you never forget your purpose here: to bring forth the greatest and most glorious expression of all that is good within you. If you do this, you may inspire others to do the same, and with many of us trying, the world can change.
Your parents want you to be an instrument of peace for the state of Israel and as a Jew. You are in God’s image. This is the first and most basic principle in Judaism, and it underlies everything we learn. Everyone is, but looking at you makes this idea easy to understand. In your miniature body I hear your heart beating and witness miracle. But what does this mean? What does God look like? Who is this God that we take after, the One who is everyone’s third parent?
The first thing we know is that God is amazingly creative. Just imagine making mountains, elephants, stars, and people. Only God can do that, but we can create lots of other things, including babies. We are at our best, our most God-like, when we are creating and creative. All of us are potential creators, not just artists and writers. There is nothing that we do that doesn’t offer a chance to be creative. Take the time to be with a friend who needs you, and you’ve created a happier person. Teach something useful, and you’ve created a better human being. God needs all of us to continue to create the world.
My grandson, you already talk, speaking your own language. Everything God created in the world God announced, in words, before its creation. Like God, we create relationships, name things, and communicate through words. We can create and destroy worlds with words. May your words create peace.
There has never been nor ever will be one like you. You are special, not because of what you will do, but from your essence. You are a never before, never again version of God’s image. God is immeasurable and so are you. We can weigh your body and measure your length, but you have value beyond any measure. Nothing equals you. It has nothing to do with anything you may ever know or do. It has to do with simply being yourself.
As you grow up, I hope that you will always remember who your third parent is. Try to take after that Parent as much as you can. If you bring forth the Godly part of you and seek the Godliness in others, you will help change the world. Never forget that you have much to learn and much to teach. You have shown me that it is possible to be cheerful and in love with life most of the time. Hang on to that truth, and you will be the angel that was sent from heaven to remind us that a human being is a holy and wonderful thing. You are named for the wise king Solomon, who conquered nations through marriage, not war. Maybe you’ll take after him but without so many wives.
Each of us is born not just to parents, but to a family, a people, and a world. The expression goes, “You cannot be a Jew by yourself.” I think it’s difficult to be anything alone. Life is with people. Your parents have always abundantly demonstrated their love of people by making their house open to all. Be like them and be part of a community that helps to continue our wise and loving tradition. I’m worried about what Jewish life will be like when you’re an adult, because our numbers are dwindling. Most Jews don’t belong to any Jewish community. Still, I have faith that since we have survived so much, we will survive this challenge, too.
May God bless you with the courage to become all you were born to be. There are thousands of ways to serve. Give the world your gifts generously; that’s why you have them.
May God bless you with abundant love; it will help you to bear the inevitable pain of life.
May God be kind to you and bring you many moments of grace, including your own grandchildren.
May you always remember that greatness means being fair and loving.
May you represent a new kind of man, one who loves the tender in himself and claims it as part of being a Jew.
May you keep your joyful heart all your life and may you always be thankful for the blessings God has already given you, including your immediate and eternal family.
All my love,