Judaism: Birth Announcements
Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu SafranRabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as vice president of communications and marketing of the Orthodox Union’s Kashruth Division. His most recent book is “Mediations at Sixty: One Person, Under God, Indivisible,” published by KTAV Publishing House. He is the author of “Kos Eliyahu – Insights into the Haggadah and Pesach” which has been translated into Hebrew and published by Mosad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem.
Not so long ago, I received in my mailbox a most fantastic mailing. So oversized that I couldn’t help but wonder how the mailman managed to stuff it in the mailbox without ruining it and adorned with multiple numbers of flowery stamps.
Inside the envelope I found a beautiful card decorated in soft pinks, more flowers and blessings and all the appropriate symbols associated with the birth of a delightful, healthy baby girl. The names of the little girl’s parents were prominently displayed, “happily and proudly” proclaiming the birth of their little bundle of joy. Her name, height and birth weight were included. As I read the card, a photograph slipped free from the ribbons and bows and falling to the floor. When I picked it up, I found myself gazing at a photograph showing the smiling parents cradling their newborn baby.
I could not help but smile with them as I held the card. “Now this,” I thought to myself, “is the way a child’s birth should be announced to the world!” With proclamations of joy. With beaming parents, happy and proud of what their love has brought forth.
So then, imagine how strange it felt when I compared this beautiful birth announcement with the birth announcement of the greatest man of all time – the father of all prophets, the last to gaze upon God face to face, and the one whose name is associated with the eternal Torah! Consider Moshe Rabbenu, Moses, and how his birth was “proclaimed” to the world.
A man of the house of Levi went and married Levi’s daughter. The woman became pregnant and had a son.
Not even a mention of his parents’ names!
Even the poorest of Jewish parents are sure to announce the birth of a child in the local press or synagogue bulletin, including the names of the parents and grandparents on both sides. Certainly the man who would lead us from generations of slavery deserved as much! Certainly Moses’ birth deserved at least the announcement afforded the least among any Jewish community!
There can be no doubt that he most certainly did deserve such recognition, even from the moment of his birth. And yet, in the narrative of the Torah, his birth announcement is barely noted. Of course, this cannot be by accident or oversight. There must be a reason that the birth of Moses is accorded such cursory mention.
What could be the intent of this treatment?
We expect that Moses, more than any other man, would be accorded honor and respect from the moment of his birth. By recording his birth in the simplest way possible, the Torah is teaching us that our expectation is not well founded. The Torah is teaching us that, in fact, Moses’ birth was no more worthy than any other child born. It is teaching us that even Moses, the greatest of men and prophets, was born as we all are, from man and woman, from flesh and blood.
The birth of the child who would grow to be the man able to speak directly with God; the child who would grow to be the man able to enter into the prophetic state at will and to transcend the corporeal state completely; Moses was just like you and me! Moshe was born from mortal ish and mortal bat.
His birth was not the result of a supernatural, miraculous feat. There was no divine intervention or interference with his birth. He was born like you and me. No better. No worse. It was by his strengths and his determination that he grew, developed and matured into one with home God could speak “mouth to mouth.”
Social scientists and biologists spend their professional lives arguing about the balance between “nature and nurture” when it comes to the developing person. The Torah teaches us, by this example, that we become the person we are capable of being by our lives, not by the event of our births. T
he Sefer Ha-Yuchsin makes clear that Moshe’s parents and their names are irrelevant to what he ultimately became. Each of us is born with innate gifts, attributes, qualities, and characteristics. But these gifts and attributes are only potentials. If one has the attributes to become the redeemer, one must still, of his own will, energy and desire fully develop and realize their potential. That means a great deal of time and energy to turn God given gifts into actuality.
Many people are born with leadership attributes. Those who are determined to realize the potential of those attributes can ultimately become a Moshe Rabeinu.
Rav Moshe Feinstein probed deeper into Moshe’s sparse birth announcement. He reasons that there may have been a good reason for omitting the names of Moshe’s parents in parashat Shemot, but, he asked, why does the Torah feel compelled to record that “Amram married his aunt Yocheved, and she bore him Aaron and Moshe” in parashat VaEra?
It seems that the Torah is providing a much “after the fact” birth announcement. The question is, Why?
The answer has more to do with lessons about parenting than about the child. That a child is born with great potential is no reason to praise or extol parents. It takes no particular skill or praise-worthy ability to simply give birth. However, rearing a child, particularly in the midst of a galut, in a secular society and in challenging times, not only deserves but demands high praise and recognition.
Praise is due to the young person who matures and assumes his or her responsible place as a committed and caring member of an adult Jewish community. How many thousands of children with fine qualities and great potential are born into Jewish households every year? However, so very many of them never develop and blossom Jewishly. Their gifts and potential is lost, consumed by alien cultures. It is only by having parents who nurture and guide them that children and young people realize their gifts and potential. As it is written in parashat Vayera, “vayigdal Moshe…” – Moshe grew in both stature and greatness. Rashi explains that it is at this point, finally, that recognition is due to his parents. Not at birth, but now when, as a man, he has realized his potential.
Many parents see their child’s potential. It is the wonderful parent who not only sees that potential but invests the time and energy and resources to ensure that that potential is realized. It is then that praise is to be heaped upon the parents. It is only after “Moshe was grown,” when he had become an eved HaShem and he had followed God’s ways for years that the Torah praises his parents and names them.
In Hilchot Teshuva, Rambam teaches that it is not predetermined for anyone to be born either righteous or wicked. Rather, free will is bestowed on every human being. If one desires to turn towards the good way and be righteous, he has the power to do so. If one wishes to turn toward the evil way, and be wicked, he is at liberty to do so. Everyone, every newborn has the potential to become a mentsch; special, kind, generous and sensitive.
But it takes adults – parents, grandparents, extended family, teachers – to nurture that child and potential. Rambam concludes that, Every human being may become righteous like Moshe our teacher.
And when they do; when they become the “Moshes” they are meant to be, then their parents’ names will be proclaimed – with pride, satisfaction and much-deserved recognition.