New Year Labor Pains

Childbirth is a routine occurrence —until it isn’t. Like marriage and birth; like illness and death, we intellectually know that thousands of people share these events o­n any particular day. Yet, when we are a principal participant, the world shrinks to encompass little more than ourselves. This week begins the year 5774 on the Jewish calendar. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that during this period, God decides the fate of mankind for the coming year. Which individuals will be born, which will die; which will have ample resources, which will endure poverty; which nations will face war, which will enjoy peace. While prayer, charity and repentance can always change a bad decree, it is easier to affect the coming year during this time of judgment, rather than to change an edict once it has been issued.

For Jews who are in tune with this reality, preparations for the start of the year begin a month earlier, with added reflection and self-analysis. I daresay that even for those of us who believe implicitly in the importance of this time of year, sustaining this serious attitude while dealing with everyday life is difficult. Summer vacations, earning a living, laundry and the myriad other items that make up our days push deeper contemplation to the edge of our internal radar screens. Even on the first two days of the New Year, the holyday of Rosh HaShana, with its special prayers, foods, and customs, concentration isn’t easy. I have the feeling I am not the only one whose mind strays to scanning the outfits of the women praying next to me and thinking of what is on the luncheon menu despite the penetrating sounds of the shofar issuing their clarion call. I worry that intensity of my praying is a faint echo of those of my grandmother and mother’s.

One year stands out in my mind as a time where I was more in tune than usual. Twenty-five years ago, I was nine months pregnant as the new year began. For me personally, little focuses my mind more than conception, pregnancy and birth. No matter how many statistics show the likelihood of a healthy delivery and a healthy baby, the transition from not being pregnant to being pregnant, and from being pregnant to holding a newborn is momentous. Up until the second of conception, a new baby is an idea. After that second, he or she is a real being with his or her own set of DNA, indelibly mapping out certain details of the new life. For the next nine months, particularly if you hold back from discovering the baby’s gender, the baby slowly becomes more real, yet it is still, “a baby,” rather than “this specific baby.” The blue-eyed, baby girl of your imagination can actually be a brown-eyed boy. The healthy baby one yearns for can be born needing urgent intervention or lifetime medical assistance. While all our lives can be upended at any time, awareness of that volatility hovers over pregnancy.

My labor began during the period known as the “ten days of repentance” that start with Rosh HaShana and culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  It is a time to “walk the talk.” Having started a new year, we have a few days to incorporate our resolutions and prove our intentions before the Book of Life is sealed. As my contractions crested, I was exquisitely aware of needing God’s grace for life to continue, and His blessing for it to include health, peace and prosperity. Unlike my other deliveries, I found myself welcoming the associated pain, praying during each contraction that He would accept this healthy, fruitful pain in place of any other slated for myself or those I love.

My husband and I look forward, with gratitude, to spending this Rosh HaShana with the end product of that particular delivery as well as with her husband and child. I wish all my readers a year filled with abundant blessing and should there be pain, may it be brief and may we see its hidden blessing and link to joy with as much clarity as with the pains of childbirth.


If you would
like to hear the sounds of the shofar here is a link.

If you are interested in finding out more about
this time of the year,
I suggest listening to our audio CD, Day for

Day for Atonement front cover

4 thoughts on “New Year Labor Pains”

  1. Thank you, Rabbi, for your sage reminder how our eyes can deceive us.
    Ms. Susan, your phrase carries worlds of meaning: “…when we are a principal participant, the world shrinks to encompass little more than ourselves.” This means to me an encouragement toward involvement in the world rather than sitting as a perpetual spectator on the sidelines. Our choices matter and much depends upon US! It also reminds me of the critical importance of the individual, of that reputedly Jewish proverb “He who saves one life saves the entire world.”
    May the Lord grant you special joys during the Year 5774. And may He protect us all during this perilous turning point in the ancient Middle East.

  2. While I think the idea of sitting on a throne is putting a Godly act that we can’t understand in human terms so that we can relate to it, I do believe that life and death are in God’s hands. He also gives us free choice. This dual idea of an all-powerful God who allows us free choice and by doing so grants power to us is challenging and something of which I only get glimpses of understanding. However, I do believe that He does judge us and using a calculation that we can’t comprehend, and that our lives are directed by that judgment.

  3. Do you really think the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob really sits on His throne and determines who lives and who dies? That we pay homage to Him like some arab dictator? No – even Rabbi Lapin acknowleges “how the world really works” and that our loving God interferes rarely with the cronos of the world BUT IS WITH US ALWAYS. Maybe you have taught me the true difference between Jewish beliefs and Christian understanding.

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