Honoring Grandparents

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Elisheva Batya bas Meyer Zalman, Yoel Dovid Ben Aryeh Lev and Rifka bas Zev.

Parsha Halacha – Parshat Toldot

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The Torah portion of Toldot begins with the words, “And these are the generations of Yitzchak, the son of Avraham; Avraham begot Yitzchak.”[1] The commentaries discuss why the Torah needs to reiterate that “Avraham begot Yitzchak” since it just said that “Yitzchak (was) the son of Avraham.” Here are seven interpretations offered by the commentaries:
  • Change of Name
It was only after Avraham’s name was changed from Avram to Avraham that he was able to have Yitzchak (see Gen. chapter 17, verse 5 and on).[2]
  • Exact Likeness
After Yitzchak was conceived, the scoffers of the generation claimed that Sarah had become pregnant from Avimelech who had detained her (see Gen. chapter 20). In order to rebuff this claim, G-d formed Yitzchak’s face to be the exact image of Avraham’s.  Thus the verse can be interpreted to mean that “Yitzchak (was known to be) the son of Avraham (because G-d made them look alike so that everyone would know that) Avraham begot Yitzchok.”[3]
  • Not Just a Biological Father
In addition to being the father of Yitzchak, Avraham also reared Yitzchak as opposed to his other sons whom he sent away (see Gen. 21:14 and 25:6).[4] The word “holid” can mean “reared” as we see from Targum Onkelus who renders the verse, “Also the sons of Machir, the son of Menasseh, ‘yuldu’ on Joseph’s knees”[5] to mean “Also the sons of Machir, the son of Menasseh, were brought up on Joseph’s knees.”


In a similar way, the Seforno and Rashbam explain that “Avraham begot Yitzchak” to mean that only Yitzchak was considered Avraham’s progeny as he was the only one who maintained Avraham’s legacy.

  • Feminine and Masculine Soul
The Ohr HaChaim explains[6] that when Yitzchak was born, he had a soul from the feminine side and was therefore unable to father children. This was a punishment for Avraham’s praying that Yishma’el be his main progeny (see Gen. 17:18). When Avraham bound Yitzchak on the altar, G-d granted Yitzchak an additional soul from the masculine side which enabled him to get married and have children. This is why the angel, when predicting the birth of Yitzchak, said “Shov ashuv – I will return, I will return.”[7] He was referring to the birth of Yitzchak’s two souls, one when he was born and one when he was at the akeidah.
  • Yitzchak Fathered Children in the Merit of His Father
The Kli Yakar explains “Avraham holid et Yitzchak” to mean that Avraham caused Yitzchak to be able to have children. As the Torah continues, originally Yitzchak and Rivkah were unable to bear children. It was only after they prayed that Rivkah was able to conceive. The reason that the prayers were answered was in the merit of Avraham as the verse says,” G-d accepted his prayer.”[8] Why did G-d accept the prayer of Yitzchak as opposed to that of Rivkah? It was because Yitzchak was the son of a tzadik (righteous man) while Rivkah was the daughter of a rasha (wicked man).[9] Thus we see that it was in the merit of Avraham that the couple was able to have children.
  • The Joy of Having a Worthy Son
The double expression (Yitzchak, the son of Avraham, Avraham begot Yitzchak) alludes to the double joy that Avraham had from his son Yitzchak.  The first joy was his birth, and the second was that he was a righteous person,[10] as the verse says, “My son, if your heart has grown wise, my heart too will rejoice.”[11] And as it says, “The father of a righteous son will rejoice greatly, and he who begets a wise son will rejoice in him.”[12]
  • Pride of the Father, Pride of the Son
The Midrash says[13] that the double expression teaches us that Yitzchak took pride in being the son of Avraham while Avraham prided himself for being the father of Yitzchak. As the verse says,[14] “Grandchildren are the crown of their elders, and the glory of children is their parents.” This teaches us that grandparents pride themselves in their grandchildren. From this we can infer that certainly parents pride themselves in their children and the verse in our parsha can be interpreted as follows. “Yitzchak, the son of Avraham” teaches us that Yitzchak prided himself with his father Avraham and “Avraham begot Yitzchak” teaches us that Avraham prided himself with his son Yitzchak.
An example of how a grandfather prides himself in his grandson is brought from our patriarchs Avraham and his grandson Ya’akov. When Avraham was thrown into the fiery furnace by the wicked Nimrod, he was miraculously saved by G-d in the merit of his future grandson Ya’akov. As the verse says, “Ya’akov redeemed Avraham.”[15] Although Avraham was a great tzadik, G-d might have allowed him to burn in the furnace as this would have glorified G-d’s name and would also bring great merit to Avraham.[16] In light of the fact, however, that Ya’akov, Avraham’s grandson, would father the 12 righteous tribes, the progenitors of the Jewish nation, G-d made a miracle and saved Avraham.[17]
The rest of this article will address the laws related to honoring grandparents. For more information on the topic of grandparents and grandchildren, see here.
Honoring Grandparents – Three Opinions
  • No Obligation
The Maharik (Rabbi Yosef Colon of 15th-century Italy) says[18] there is no obligation to respect one’s grandparents. Certainly, one may not disrespect them and must show them the respect due to all older people, but according to his opinion there is no special respect due them beyond this. He bases this ruling on the fact that it does not say anywhere that one must give grandparents special respect. Although the Talmud says that grandchildren are like children,[19] this is only referring to the mitzvah of procreation which is only fulfilled properly when his grandchildren are born. (See below that a grandfather is also obligated to teach his grandsons Torah.)
Support for this view is brought[20] from Tractate Makkot 12a. It says there that if a father accidentally killed one of his sons (may Hashem protect us!), none of his other sons may act as an avenger of their brother’s blood to kill their father. Whereas the son of the person who was killed may act as the avenger of his father’s blood and kill his grandfather. Rashi explains that the reason for this difference is that a grandson is not obligated to honor his grandfather.
  • The Obligation to Honor a Grandparent is Secondary to Honoring a Parent
The Rama writes[21] that one is obligated to honor one’s grandparents but that this obligation is secondary to the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. This is based on the Midrash[22] which comments on the verse, “And he (Yaakov) sacrificed to the G-d of his father Yitzchak.”[23]The Midrash says that the reason why Yitzchak (Yaakov’s father) rather than Avraham (his grandfather) is mentioned is that “one is obligated to honor one’s father more than one’s grandfather.”
In addition, the Talmud says[24] that honoring a parent is like honoring G-d since both G-d and the parents are partners in the creation of the child. Because the grandparent also has a partnership in the creation of his grandchild (as the parent of the parent), it is only logical that he must be honored as well. In addition, since a grandfather is like a father in that he is supposed to teach his grandson Torah,[25] it is only logical that he should be considered like a father in terms of receiving respect.
Based on this, the Bach rules[26] that if one is in need of support and his son cannot afford to support him but his grandson can, the court should force the grandson to do so. Rabbi Akiva Eiger adds that one is obligated to treat one’s grandparent in the same way one is obligated to honor one’s parents. It is only if, for some reason, one can honor only one of them that he must give precedence to his parent.[27]
  • The Paternal But Not the Maternal Grandparents
The Talmud says that Rabbi Acha bar Yaakov brought up his daughter’s son Rabbi Yaakov. Once when Rabbi Yaakov was already grown up, Rabbi Acha asked him for some water. Rabbi Yaakov said, “Although you brought me up, I am not your son,” and he did not bring his grandfather water. This seems to support the view that one need not show extra respect to one’s grandfather.
The Vilna Ga’on explains that it is possible that one must show respect for one’s paternal but not maternal grandparents. And since Rabbi Acha was “only” Rabbi Yaakov’s maternal grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov was not obligated to respect him.
Support for this can be brought from the Midrash[28] that says that the daughters of sons are considered one’s progeny, but the sons of daughters are not considered progeny.
Some explain, however, that although one must honor one’s grandparent, one need not do so at the expense of his Torah study. And the reason Rabbi Yaakov didn’t serve his grandfather is that he was studying Torah at that time.[29]
Rav Yaakov Breish (1895 – 1976 of Zurich, Switzerland) writes[30] that we follow the opinion of the Rama that one must honor one’s grandparents in the same way one must honor his parents. Except that if one must choose between honoring one or the other, precedence is given to honoring the parent.
May we merit to have nachat from all of our descendants!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Chodesh Tov!
Copyright 2017 by Rabbi Aryeh Citron

[1] Gen. 25:19
[2] Some versions of Rashi and Chizkuni. See Bereishit Rabbah 44:10 and 63:2
[3] Rashi. See also Bava Metziah, 87a, Targum Yonatan, Ba’al HaTurim and Da’at Zekeinim. Rabeinu Bachaye cites the Midrash Tanchuma who says that the same thing occurred with King David and his son Kilav. Kilav’s mother, Avigail, was widowed from Naval shortly before marrying David and conceiving Kilav. In order to quiet the claim of the scoffers that Naval was Kilav’s father, G-d made Kilav be the spitting image of King David.
[4] Ibn Ezra. See Chizkuni who says that “holid” refers to physical birth and “ben” refers to following in his ways.
[5] Gen. 50:23
[6] On Gen. 25:19, 18:10 and 17:18
[7] Ibid 18:10
[8] Ibid 25:21
[9] Rashi on the verse
[10] Bereishit Rabbah, 63:1
[11] Proverbs, 23:15
[12] Ibid, verse 24
[13] Bereishit Rabbah, 63:2
[14] Proverbs, 17:6
[15] Isaiah, 29:22
[16] Anaf Yosef and Eshed HaNechalim on the Midrash
[17] The Yefeh To’ar quotes a slightly different version of the Midrash which can be understood to mean that G-d would certainly have saved Avraham in his own merit but he would have done so through and angel. In the merit of Ya’akov, however, G-d Himself descended to the fiery furnace (so to speak) to save Avraham.
[18]Shoresh 30or 44 (depending on the which print), cited in Rama, Y.D. 240:24
[19] Yevamot, 62b
[20] Biur HaGra on Y.D. ibid, 33
[21] Y.D. ibid
[22] Bereishit Rabbah, 94:5
[23] Gen. 46:1. See Rashi on the verse who quotes this Midrash
[24] Kiddushin, 30b
[25] Ibid, 30a. See also Hilchot Talmud Torah, of the Alter Rebbe 1, 8 and 9 that a grandfather should pay for his grandson’s Torah education if the father of the boy is unable to afford it.
[26] End of Y.D. 240
[27] As far as what is says in Makkot, that a grandson may act as an avenger to kill his own grandfather, this is because his primary obligation is to honor his father. So, since by killing his grandfather he is avenging the blood of his father, this is the proper thing to do (Responsa of Chelkat Yakov, Y.D. 135).
[28] Bereishit Rabbah, 94:6
[29] See sources quoted in the Yalkut Biurim on the Metivta Shas, Sotah 49a
[30] Chelkat Yakov, ibid
 Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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