I still don’t understand the meaning of those refrigerator magnets that pronounce, “Happiness is being a grandmother.”
I am eternally grateful for the blessing of bubbehood, but how could it be that something not in our control holds the key to fulfillment?
If I made a magnet, it would say, “Happiness is being an evolving Jew.” Really. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than being able to clear away or climb over the obstacles that keep me from connecting to G-d in everything I do.
So please don’t believe the magnets and assume that all I want to do is talk about my grandchildren.
I don’t. And I really don’t want to talk about how many there are.
Because I learned from Rabbi Efraim Rosenblum, a seasoned great-grandfather, or more aptly, an elter zaydie, that one should not count grandchildren. I heard it once and I never did it again– I take Jewish superstitions very seriously.
Of course, this wasn’t always the case.
In elementary school, I learned the Theory of Evolution as a fact. My teachers taught it. My textbooks said it in writing. Why would I question them? These people were smarter than I was. They cared about me and wanted me to know the truth. (Although I’ll never forget the lesson I learned the hard way when my fourth grade teacher went out on strike; was it possible she didn’t care as much as I thought she did?)
But still, as I was growing up, I never met, much less spoke to, an observant Jew who could have impressed my young mind with a different story about the origin of the species. I was left to assume that all religious people were unenlightened. They simply didn’t have the facts right.
Even after I became observant, I must confess that it was many, many years before I closed what I called the synapse of disbelief. While I had enough empirical evidence to pursue Torah as an immutable Truth from an eternal G-d, it wasn’t easy to fully believe it. At age thirty-one, I was a woman with a Master’s degree learning aleph-bais like a first grader. And my soul was in turmoil; I didn’t know what I believed. My secular education had taught me unequivocally that “all men are created equal,” and now I’m supposed to believe that Jews are the “chosen people?” Although I acted as if I wholeheartedly believed in G-d and the Torah, I didn’t.
Sometimes I despaired that I never would. I persevered because of a simple analogy I heard. If two people are on a ladder and one is on the second rung and one is on the tenth, it may appear that the one on the tenth is on a higher level, but that’s not necessarily so. It all depends on which way they’re going. How much more does this apply to the pursuit of G-dliness, for which there is no top rung?
I may not want to talk about my grandchildren, but I love talking about evolving as Jews. Whether a person really believes in G-d and Torah (he can’t believe something he was never taught) or if he thinks he is descended from an ape (seriously, how does that look on the family tree?), we are evolving together as a people.
I must confess that, when I was growing up, I thought on some level that I understood the world better than my parents. Isn’t that what belief in evolution implies?
By the way, one clear advantage of belief in Torah over belief in evolution is Torah’s respect for parents and grandparents, who are viewed as being that much closer to our holy ancestors.
But it took a long time for me to believe that. I learned to do it one rung at a time.