SIMCHAT TORAH FEATURE Reading Genesis with a new appreciation for creating life

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 2 (JTA) — The Torah is filled with hundreds of commandments — 613 to be precise. But the very first commandment, to be fruitful and multiply, is arguably the most important. For without this basic and primordial act, which we read in Genesis on Simchat Torah and on the following Shabbat as we begin anew the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah, there would be no future generations to fulfill the mitzvot that guide our lives. Which is why, for nearly a decade, grappling with the Torah has been a struggle for me. What about the tens of thousands of us who, despite both prayer and high-tech intervention, have not been blessed with the ability to fulfill this first commandment? How do I get past the opening lines of Genesis when they represent such a stumbling block? For the past 10 years or so, as each new Jewish year dawned, I stood on the bimah and chanted those words, be fruitful and multiply, from the Torah. I read them with feeling, hiding the tears that welled inside because for some inexplicable reason, my husband and I were unable to conceive a child. Each year, as I chanted the story of creation on Rosh Hashanah — at a Reform congregation in my hometown of Barrington, R.I., where the beginning of Genesis replaces the traditional Rosh Hashanah reading — and as I followed the words a few weeks later on Simchat Torah, a little part of me died. The Bible is filled with heroines who grappled with infertility. But for Sarah, Rachel and Hannah, there were happy endings. God answered their prayers and blessed them with children. Now I, too, have a happy ending. This summer, my husband and I were blessed with the gift of life. Our new son, Ezra Jacob, did not come from the fruit of my womb, but he lives in the deepest recesses of my heart. Another woman gave birth to Ezra four months ago, but with his adoption, his life is in our hands. Like Adam and Eve and every human being born since, Ezra represents the promise of a new beginning. At this age of innocence, he represents pure potential — the potential to grow and to blossom, to learn and to teach, to lead and to follow, to love and to be loved. Along the way, he is certain to reach for the forbidden fruit in his own way and learn that actions have consequences. The tree of knowledge is open to him; what he does with it is what matters. I’ve been a mother just a few months, but having experienced the roller coaster of infertility, I already know an important axiom of parenting: Some things are beyond your control. So if someday in the future, Ezra should come home with a pierced navel or a strong desire to live in Tibet, I will know that it’s not necessarily something that we did wrong. For now, however, at this blissful age of innocence, Ezra’s possibilities are limitless. So it is that for the first time in nearly a decade, I will be celebrating Simchat Torah this year with unmitigated joy and a new appreciation for the promise that the creation of the world and new life represents. This year, we joined a new congregation, Beth Am Israel, outside Philadelphia. It was auspicious timing, for each Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi calls to the bimah all the new parents and babies in the congregation. My husband and I stood beaming and teary-eyed as the congregation blessed us and our children and pledged to provide a strong and nurturing Jewish community for them, a community that teaches Torah to all our children. Ezra Jacob, like his biblical namesakes, is certain to have his own encounters and struggles with the Torah as he grows into a thinking, caring person. But this year, he will dance in my arms on Simchat Torah with blissful ignorance. He is a new life and a new beginning. A promise of what can be.

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