In the last few months in our community, a number of pregnant women have tragically lost their babies. Despite all the aches, pains and discomfort, pregnancy is a time of great hope, optimism and incredible excitement about the future life that will emerge and the unknown of who he or she can and will become. Therefore, when pregnancy is unexpectantly and shockingly halted and with it the dream of a new child, the pain is acute and the grief very real.
Just this week, I had the unenviable task of burying a stillbirth. Few things are as disconcerting and traumatic as placing a tiny coffin in the ground and saying goodbye to a Neshama (soul) whose parents never even got to say Hello. Many women who endure such an episode begin to wonder what was the point of all the nausea, pain and discomfort when it didn’t even result in the birth of a healthy baby? Though it provides little comfort, please know that there is a great value to having been the conduit to bring a perfect Neshama down to this world and having it return to its source completely unblemished, pure and indeed angelic.
In fact, we actually bestow a name upon a stillborn child and in the case of a boy give him a bris. The commentators explain that the reason is that this child will be restored to life at the time of techiyas ha’meisim (the resurrection of the dead) in the Messianic era and we want them to be identifiable to their parents and family. Though this baby never lived to breathe even one breath, their Neshama is very real and one day they will meet their parents who will be overjoyed to welcome them to the family.
I share this with you not to bring you down, depress you or to create a crisis of faith. Quite the contrary, I share it as a stark reminder of how incredibly blessed, fortunate and privileged we are when a pregnancy goes smoothly resulting in the birth of a healthy child. When we contemplate the miracle of conception, gestation and birth, we cannot help but feel that the default is that something should go wrong and in truth, the anomaly is when things go right.
My friend’s father is the head of the neonatal intensive care unit in a prominent hospital in the New York Area. He was once hosting a group of Physicians and gave them a tour of the NICU. They were amazingly impressed when they saw the significantly premature babies who were being sustained through remarkable technology and medicine. They remarked to my friend’s father that these babies were in fact miracles. Without pausing, my friend’s father told them, “No, these are not the miracles. These are the result of our advancement in science, follow me and I will show you the miracles.” He proceeded to take them to the regular nursery, pointed to the cribs filled with robust, healthy babies and said, “my dear Colleagues, these, the ones that come out perfectly when statistically so many things could go wrong, these are the miracles.”
In this week’s parsha, Ya’akov gives each of his sons a beracha (blessing). We emulate him every single Friday night in one of the most moving and precious customs that we have, that unfortunately goes so widely unappreciated. We place our hands on the heads of our children and while we bless them we are to realize that they are in fact a blessing to us.
I came home from that private, informal burial and I couldn’t help but hug each of my children a little tighter. I implore you to never take for granted, not for one moment, how fortunate you are if for you everything went right and you are the parent of a healthy child.
Learn from Yaakov, pay attention when you bless your kids on Friday night and never forget how blessed you truly are.