In the year 741 B.C.E., a prince, Hezekiah, was born to the royal family of Judah. The Prophet Isaiah was excited and inspired. Those were bleak times. King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, was paying tribute to the Assyrian emperor in order to avoid invasion and destruction. He was fighting with the northern kingdom of Israel and with Syria. Listen to Isaiah:
The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light….For a child has been born to us…He has been named ‘The Mighty God is planning grace; the Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.’ (Isaiah 9: 1, 5)
Isaiah was hoping that this infant would grow up to be a king who would free Judah from compromising foreign entanglements and usher in an era of peace. I can identify with the intense and fantastic hopes that he placed on that infant. I imagine I am not alone.
We are expecting our first grandchild, a boy, in mid-March. It is very exciting. As the chain of generations advances, the pull of all prior generations intensifies, as if the ancestors are beginning to gather for the celebration. “This little one,” we will say, God willing, at his circumcision ceremony, “May he become great!”
We will say it, and we will mean it, even though we will be acutely aware of the uncertainty of the future. Thirty four years after the birth of my first child, Leah, I am still able to re-inhabit my heart prior to her birth. We were doing everything we could to prepare to be the best possible parents, as if flawless parenting were a possibility, and as if we might, by being the best parents ever, raise the best child ever.
Simultaneously, in the months before her birth, I came to the bracing realization that we had lost control. We did not know if she would have ten fingers or when she would sleep through the night. I had not made the life choices that my parents would have consciously preferred. Even more disturbing was my sense that my parents had unconsciously influenced the way I had turned out without having intended to. Which hidden secrets of mine would be revealed to the world—and to me—by my child?
Somehow, my fervent hope that our child would be perfect, and my insight that becoming a parent was a radical act of losing control, developed together. They arose out of the same source. A new baby is a window to the unknown, unpredictable, uncontrollable future. I was hoping for the best and dreading the worst.
The truth is that I didn’t lose control when I became a parent. I never had control. What I had was the illusion of control, the false conviction that my blessings were earned. I had done nothing to deserve my birth to two loving parents in the wealthiest society in human history, or the availability of antibiotics and novocaine. Now, after raising three children and having 34 additional years of life experience, that point has been driven home many times over. Things do not turn out according to plan. The foundation of a faith-filled life is trusting that you will somehow find the strength and patience and resources to embrace whatever comes your way.
Keneged ayin hara, Jews say: Against the Evil Eye. Keneged ayin hara, our grandson will be born healthy, and his parents will be blessed with the means and the wisdom to nurture him lovingly as he grows. That’s what I pray for, but to be honest, what I hope for is something much more redemptive. He will represent the unforeseeable future. I hope that our grandson will be a vehicle for the further opening of my heart, as the prophet Malachi (3:24) anticipated with regard to the return of the prophet Elijah: “He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents.” I hope that we will all be better able to appreciate the blessings of each moment. I hope that the blessings of the chain of my ancestors’ generations will flow through me when I hold him and that I will somehow impart to him some of their wisdom and love. I hope that everything will be better on account of his birth.
I imagine that was what the prophet Isaiah was feeling as well.
Jacob J. Staub is a rabbi and spiritual director who serves as Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Spirituality at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (www.rrc.edu) in Wyncote, PA, where he directs the program in Jewish Spiritual Direction. He is co-author of Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach (Reconstructionist Press 2000) and author of the “Guide to Shabbat Practice” in A Guide to Jewish Practice: Shabbat and Holidays, edited by David A. Teutsch (RRC Press 2013). He is also a published poet who lives in Philadelphia with his husband Michael and their morky, Metta. He can be reached at www.jacobstaub.net.
Read more of Jacob’s posts at http://firstdaypress.org/tag/jacob-j-staub/.
Image: “Baby Faith” by Cary and Kacey Jordan via Flickr.