Sometimes, during these first few weeks of my newborn son Elijah’s life, I find myself overwhelmed by gratitude for him. I tend to write about the harder parts of motherhood, but in this moment I’m just bowled over by the beauty, mystery, and ridiculous cuteness of this little guy in a froggie onesie.
What do I do with all this raw emotion, this overwhelming love?
One Jewish tradition is to protect your blessings carefully by not drawing attention to them. According to ancient superstition, if you name the good things in your life, evil spirits can get jealous and come take your blessings away. The way to avoid this is to scare the spirits away by making a spitting noise. This leads to distinctly Jewish phrases like, “Yes, we’re all healthy, tfu tfu tfu,” or, “She’s beautiful, pu pu pu.”
I know it sounds strange, but I find this spitting custom sort of reassuring. We love so deeply, and we control so little. It’s only natural to try to protect our babies, and the other blessings in our lives, from everything beyond our reach.
But this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, suggests that when we receive a blessing, we do the opposite: give it away.
Specifically, Ki Tavo tells us that as the Israelites enter into the Promised Land, they are supposed to harvest produce, put it in a basket, and bring it to the Temple. There they offer the first fruits, tell the story of how they all made it to that moment after generations of struggle, and give thanks. “You shall leave it before the Lord your God, and bow low before the Lord your God,” says the Torah.
We want to hold on to what we have: our precious babies, our moments of sweet equilibrium. But everything changes. There is no better illustration of that fact than the quickly changing face of a newborn–especially since this time around I understand that he’ll be a toddler before I know it.
Both of these traditions, spitting and offering first fruits, suggest a different way of dealing with impermanence. The first is to protect our blessings from everything we can’t control. The second is to practice letting go of our blessings just a little bit.
I think I’m going with the second option. To loosen my grip. To let these beautiful moments happen without clinging to them. To bow low and be thankful for my blessings while I have them.
And, in case you were wondering, Elijah is sleeping really well so far…toi toi toi.
To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.