By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 100 – Generations
When Rebi was going to nullify a Beis Din authorized sale of orphans’ property because the price was off by a sixth, Parta the son of Rabi Elazar the grandson of Rabi Parta Ha’Gadol said, “If so, where is the power of authority of Beis Din?!” Rebi accepted his words and allowed the sale to go through.
Tosafos makes the following comment on the words “the grandson of Rabi Parta Ha’Gadol”: “Meaning, he is the grandson of Rabi Parta Ha’Gadol; Parta the father of Rabi Elazar (who was known as Rabi Parta Ha’Gadol) is the grandfather of this one (i.e. Parta).” In other words, don’t mistakenly think that what the Gemara means is that Rabi Parta Ha’Gadol is the grandfather of Rabi Elazar; he is the grandfather of Parta.
The Maharsha, after explaining the basis for Tosafos’ words, elaborates that the Gemara means to trace Parta’s lineage to both his father and his grandfather. Now, oftentimes we find that the Gemara will just say so-and-so the son of so-and-so the son of so-and-so. The expression son of so-and-so, grandson of so-and-so is not all that common. It would seem, then, that what Chazal intended by employing this expression is to convey a connection of yichus that Parta had with his grandfather Rabi Parta Ha’Gadol, not only through his father who was the son of the latter, but also directly, on his own merit, so to speak.
The mefarshim point to our Gemara as a proof to the fact that even in the time of Chazal they would sometimes name children after the child’s grandparent. The Medrash (Rabbah, parshas Noach, 37:7) says, “Rabi Yosi says, the early ones who were aware of their lineage would call the names of their children after the occurrences of the times, but we who do not know our lineage call our children after our ancestors. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, the early generations who utilized ruach ha’kodesh would name their children according to occurrences of the times, but we who do not have ruach ha’kodesh name after our ancestors.”
The Torah Temimah (Vayishlach 32:11, footnote 4) explains that the idea behind Rabi Yosi’s statement is that since we are more or less in a constant state of nomadic movement because of the galus, it is appropriate for us to maintain a cognizance of lineage through this custom of naming children after their grandparents.
What does this accomplish? It obviously cannot take the place of proper records of lineage. So what is it doing?
What it does is that it helps us to retain an appreciation for the basic foundation of mesorah; of the fact that we exist as a people as a result of the fact that each generation is connected with and received the mesorah from the one that preceded it. To whatever extent one cultivates a powerful feeling of connection with and continuity of the previous generation, to that extent will the strength of the mesorah in one’s family be bolstered and reinforced. That, of course, not only generates a positive power for the current generation, but also a momentum that will ensure that the mesorah will continue to be propelled further to the next generation.
Essentially, it would suffice for each generation to feel connected to the one immediately before it. After all, it was from that generation that the current one received the mesorah. When a parent, in the moment of experiencing his own sense of perpetuation, honors the memory of his parent by naming his child after his parent, he is thus demonstrating how important his relationship to his parent was and is.
Nevertheless, cultivating a sense of direct association with the generation that came before that one is not something that should be viewed as superfluous. Indeed, the minhag nowadays, particularly amongst Ashkenazim who do not name after living parents, is to often name after the parent’s grandparents. Chazal express the value of this connection between grandparent and grandchild in a very emphatic manner: One who learns Torah with his grandson is as if he received it on Har Sinai. The mefarshim grapple with the question, is it the grandparent who is as if received the Torah on Har Sinai, or the grandson?
Perhaps it is not too bold to suggest that it is both. The grandchild because being connected one generation higher strengthens his sense of mesorah that much more, and the grandfather through the inestimable experience of seeing the fulfillment of the Torah’s continuity for generations already in his lifetime.
This may well be the reason why the Gemara refers to Parta as the son of Rabi Elazar, the grandson of Rabi Parta Ha’Gadol. Parta’s father, Rabi Elazar, who named his son after his father, cultivated and engendered within his family a strong sense of the overarching value of mesorah from one generation to the next. Growing up in such a setting, Parta made a point of connecting himself not only to his father, but also to his grandfather. Was Rabi Parta Ha’Gadol alive for his grandson Parta to learn Torah with him, and that is how he so powerfully connected? Or perhaps it was personal research that Parta delved into about his grandfather’s life. Maybe he would make a point to query his father, Rabi Elazar, on a regular basis about Rabi Parta Ha’Gadol’s behaviors, derech of learning, middos, life experiences, how he dealt with them, and so on.
Whatever it was, there is a great lesson to be culled from this one line of Gemara that but identifies the name of Parta and that of his father and grandfather. Mesorah. One generation inextricably linked and interconnected with the next. It is the bedrock of our national continuity as the Jewish People, the People of the Torah.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.