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Toldot: My Child

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My only daughter, Rashi, became engaged today to an extraordinary gentle man (as in gentle).

My daughter’s engagement has allowed me to appreciate, perhaps for the first time, the opening word and name of this week’s Torah portion: Toldos.

The Hebrew word “Toldos” is usually translated as generations, chronicles, descendants, children, offspring or progeny. That’s the Thesaurus or Google version. But, as is usually the case with Hebrew words, Toldos means much, much more. Toldos also includes results, outcomes and consequences

But above all Toldos means fruit, or perhaps more accurately: birthings. The root of Toldos (or tuldah in the singular) is “leidah,” birthing. Tuldah is the result, the outcome of a birthing. If leidah is the act of birthing, tuldah is its fruit.

The sages have a beautiful expression: “Toldoseihen shel tzaddikim – massim tovim.” The fruit (children) of righteous people are their good deeds.

Children as fruit adds a profound new dimension to the power of our offspring: They are not just our future and our heirs, implying an extension of ourselves. And if you really are self aware, you may wonder whether the greatest achievement in this world is more of you… Rather: children are your pass to eternity. Instead of them being your annex, they give you more than you give them: Fruit that will bear fruit forever and ever.

Children are your pass to eternity.

This may explain the reverse order for Judaism’s classic blessing: “Bon’ai, Chay’ai u’Mezon’ai,” children, life and sustenance. The Arizal (in this week’s portion) questions the order of these three blessings: The natural, chronological order is that first comes sustenance, then life and finally children. Why is the order reversed? The Arizal offers a mystical explanation (which is not in the scope of today’s discussion).

A pragmatic reason for beginning with children is because children are the highest and ultimate purpose of all our blessings. One may be blessed with sustenance, life and health, but those only last one lifetime. Toldos – whether in the shape of actual children, students or good deeds – live on forever. One fruit bearing another bearing yet another, ad infinitum.

And how does one achieve this? Say the sages: “Bon’ai, Chay’ai u’Mezon’ai lo b’zechuso talyeh eloh b’mazlo talyeh,” children, life and sustenance are dependent not on merit but on destiny (fortune?) (mazal). No doubt, that merit plays a role – zechus ovos (the merit of our parents: their efforts and sacrifices). But above all, humility in appreciating G-d’s blessings; that Toldos (and the other two gifts) are not up to you and your “merits.” They are gifts that are bestowed upon us.

It’s one thing understanding and talking about this intellectually. It’s quite another experiencing it.

No words can fully (or even partially) capture the sheer joy and inner ecstasy to see your child find her soulmate. It’s far greater than your own love and marriage. Why should that be? Of course, there is the pleasure of witnessing your child growing up, from cradle to blooming flower. Not just witnessing. All the years of effort, the challenges, the ups and the downs – all come flashing back at you, as you walk your daughter to her marriage.

But there is something more. Toldos is a taste of perpetuity, a piece of eternity – of a fruit that will perpetually bear fruit. That is simply awesome.

There is much pain in the world. When you have a reason to be joyous – cherish it.

And when it’s your child – ahh, what can you say?

Then, you begin to think about your own parents, and come to the realization that you too are a fruit of your father and mother. Suddenly you appreciate the smile and the joy of your own parents when they saw you find your happiness. And you so wish that your father (in my case) could be here with you.

Finally, it dawns upon you that Toldos didn’t begin today or yesterday. Your parents, those mortal beings that you rarely appreciate, are but fruit of the trees that preceded them.

As you step back – while moving forward – you become smaller as you become bigger, and are overcome by the overwhelming revelation that your parents, their parents and grandparents, going back generation before generation, all the way to Isaac and Rebecca, Abraham and Sarah and Adam and Eve, are all part of one unbroken chain of Toldos fruits. Like one tree that regenerates annually, bearing new fruit, all from the same tree, held fast by ancient roots, standing firm on a fatherly trunk, protected by motherly leaves.

May you all bear fruit and merit to see your fruit bear another generation, and another.

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