It has been quite a summer over here. Elijah Wilder, aka Eliyahu Nachman, arrived a month ago, joining his big sister Sylvie.
I’m doing a few things differently this time around, partly in an attempt to avoid postpartum depression like I had with Sylvie. I’ve asked for more help. I’ve protected my maternity leave more carefully. And when I do go back to work, I’ll make sure I have adequate childcare for Elijah rather than trying to do some impossible juggling act. All this makes me appreciate every minute with him right now, and I am happy to say that so far, it’s working. I am loving these early days.
And yet I’m aware that the new baby bliss (and exhaustion) that envelops our household right now is happening in the context of a difficult summer worldwide. I suspected my oversensitive new-mama-hormones were exaggerating until I read NPR describe the past few months as “an overwhelming summer of discontent.”
How to reconcile these realities? This intimate, beautiful summer at home–gathering wildflowers with Sylvie, giving birth to Elijah–and the news full of war, racism, injustice, and violence.
This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetze, is full of practical advice on navigating life in a complicated, unjust world.
Admittedly, some of this advice is about distinctly ancient world problems, unlikely to pop up in the course of our daily lives (i.e. what to do if you have two wives–at the same time–but like one of them better). And some of the laws seem questionable or even wrong to me–like the prohibition against cross dressing.
But many of these laws are surprisingly relevant, despite being thousands of years old. These mitzvot are simple, eternal prescriptions for living a good life, and building a compassionate society.
1. If you see someone’s donkey fall down on the road, help him raise it.
2. When you gather the harvest, don’t go back and pick up what you’ve missed. Instead, leave it for those who need food.
3. If you hire a worker, pay them on the day the work is done. Don’t make them wait.
4. Respect the rights of the widow and the orphan. Even if you have power now, never forget that you were a stranger in Egypt.
Sometimes I feel cut off from the greater world when I’m at home with my kids. But the truth is, even alone with Sylvie and Elijah, I’m exerting an invisible power over the future. Teaching our children kindness and fairness, like these simple yet profound laws from this week’s portion, we help build the world they will live in after we’re gone.
Yes, there are parts of the Torah I disagree with. Yes, Jewish history has its share of incredible darkness. And yes, this summer has been confusing and heartbreaking, in Israel/Palestine and so many other places.
But I am proud to raise my son as a Jew. Proud that he is expected to engage with this messy world, to study the commandments, and to follow the ones he believes in. I pray that he will grow up to love the Torah, and to challenge it. That his Judaism will be part of how he learns kindness, justice, and compassion.
I believe that new mamas, having touched the boundary between life and death, have a special power for prayer. Here is mine.
For all of us–for Elijah and Sylvie, and for everyone, everywhere–I wish the simplest blessings. To help each other when our donkeys fall. To take what we need, and leave the rest for others. To treat each other fairly and with kindness. To be humble when we have power, and strong when we are powerless. And to find meaning in our lives–in our tradition, in our families, and in our love for one another.
To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.