It was one of those parenting moments of horror when we lost our son’s beloved stuffed elephant, which he sleeps with every night and takes with him to preschool each morning. We searched our home, his classroom, and the bike path that connects the two, but alas, Elephant was gone.
We were able to avert disaster because my husband managed to track down and purchase another elephant just in time. The new elephant was cleaner and less worn, but Matan seemed to accept the fact that Elephant had simply taken a bath.
All was well…until the school located the lost elephant a few days later and handed it to Matan, who was then holding the new elephant, which he had already christened Elephant after its predecessor. “Two Elephants–One Two?” Matan asked us imploringly.
He regarded his Elephant as unique and inimitable, and was bewildered by the sudden multiplicity. Which elephant was Elephant? Could both be equally beloved? And if not, what should we do with the other one?
Which brings me to Passover.
You see, there are actually instructions in the Talmud about what happens when a sacrificial Paschal lamb is lost. It is forbidden to replace one sacrificial animal with another; the rabbis teach, but if someone commits this unlawful act, both animals are subject to the laws of sacrifice. In this case, the law depends on when the original animal is found.
If it is found before a replacement lamb was slaughtered, the original must be left to graze. But the original turns up after the replacement was sacrificed, then the original is out of luck: It can still be brought as a Shelamim, a similar and related sacrifice.
So what does all this mean for Elephant and elephant? In our case, the original elephant was found after the second elephant had already been consecrated–that is, Matan had already conferred all his love and affection on the replacement elephant, thereby designating it as Elephant.
Thus both elephants were valid sacrifices—or in our case, valid “loveys.” We decided, therefore, to leave one Elephant at preschool and one at home, in the hope of avoiding similar problems in the future. “There are two elephants,” we tried to explain. “One for school and one for home.”
The idea of transferring love, or holiness, from one object or person to another is a big part of parenting. When the elephant mixup occurred, our infant twin daughters, who’d just started their first week in daycare, were not yet attached to stuffed animals. They were, however, very attached to me, which made it hard for us to be apart. Could I leave them in the hands of a caretaker who seemed very devoted and responsible, but who was ultimately not their mother? Could someone else replace me for a few hours each day?
I breastfed my daughters since the day they were born. I could have chosen to teach them to drink from bottles, but I never wholeheartedly wanted to do so. Perhaps on some level I realized that it was only breastfeeding that made me irreplaceable. It is the one task that only the mother can perform.
And so I found myself running to their daycare twice a day to nurse them, which was not convenient, but which felt important. I’d open the door and the girls would grin at me from ear to ear as if they’d been expecting me. I’d lift up each twin and draw her close–each is my one and only beloved: inimitable, irreplaceable, and unique.
This article is adapted from Ilana Kurshan’s new book, “If All the Seas Were Ink“, published by St. Martin’s Press.