July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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Having Kids: A Life-Changing Event

The first few parshiyot of Sefer Bereishit are so action-packed, that there are sections in each parsha that we tend to read through quickly, almost skip over. These parts appear uneventful—fillers meant to provide information, but nothing more.

And yet, if we look closely, we can often glean important messages even from these sections of the Torah.

At the end of this week’s parsha, the Torah lists the generations from Noach to Avraham Avinu. This mirrors a similar section at the end of last week’s parsha, where the Torah lists the generations from Adam’s son Sheit to Noach. A very subtle, yet very interesting, textual nuance emerges in both locations.

As the Torah lists the personalities from each successive generation, it notes how many years each individual lived before he had his first child—and then notes the number of years he lived after the child was born.

Why does the Torah list the generations in such a strange way? What is the significance of dividing each person’s life into the years before he had children and the years after he had children?

Perhaps we can suggest that the Torah is teaching us a fundamental lesson regarding childbearing. In essence, the Torah maintains, there are two distinct stages to the life of a parent—the life he lives before he has a child, and his life after the birth of a child. Those two stages are so fundamentally different, that the Torah lists each stage separately.

The message is clear: An individual’s life changes completely once his first child is born.

This lesson may seem obvious, almost intuitive, but it is a crucial one for us to carefully consider and remember. While having children is the ultimate bracha, as we have often noted before, it also is a tremendous responsibility, and forces us to change the way that we think about ourselves and live our lives. This is true in a few ways.

Firstly, it causes a shift in our overall mindset and focus. Until we are blessed with a child, our lives ultimately revolve around ourselves and our needs. This reality changes fundamentally when a child is born. For the first time in our lives, we are tasked with giving wholeheartedly and expecting nothing in return. We can no longer simply think about our needs, but we must be constantly thoughtful and aware of the child’s needs as well. We are responsible for every aspect of the child’s life—for life. Ultimately there is no “turning back.” This accountability and responsibility forces us to dramatically shift our mindset and mentality.

The birth of a child also impacts the dynamic between husband and wife. Rather than focusing on their relationship with each other, the couple now shifts their overarching focus to their child. They are also tasked with working together towards raising this child. These new realities may give rise to pressures and conflicts that did not appear before.

I have often heard from Dr. David Pelcovitz that studies show that if you wake up a mother in the middle of the night and ask her, “What are you?” she will answer that she is “a mother.” At the same time, if you ask a father the same question, then he will say that he is “a husband.” This distinction highlights the fact that husbands and wives view their roles in life very differently after a child is born. While the mother’s understanding of her role shifts dramatically, the father’s remains more static. This difference could impact the dynamic between the couple as well.

Finally, and most importantly, another profound paradigm shift occurs with the birth of one’s child. For the first time, a parent begins to understand the concept of legacy and continuity. As he looks upon this tiny creature, in whose creation he played a crucial role, he begins to see the continuation of himself, his values and his legacy. This realization is hard to fully describe but is incredibly powerful. It enables us to realize the profundity of parenthood, and also causes us to reflect upon our role as children, as a link to the legacy of our parents, grandparents and predecessors. This in turn causes us to look at, and live, our lives in a drastically different way than we did before.

At the end of this week’s parsha, the Torah subtly hints to a crucial message in parenting—the fact that the birth of a child changes the lives of its parents in dramatic fashion. New realities and responsibilities are thrust upon the new parents, and shifts in perspective and roles begin to occur. Such realities and shifts may naturally cause newfound tensions to emerge—and the more aware we are of these possible tensions in advance, the better equipped we will be to deal with them.

At the same, becoming a parent also causes a tremendous paradigm shift—as it causes us to consider the implications of raising children in our image and the continuity of our legacy, even as we re-envision our own role in preserving the legacy of those who came before us.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom! 

Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, Rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and Placement Advisor/Internship Coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected]

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