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Becoming a Dad during the COVID-19 Crisis

March 30, 2020 | by Rabbi Noach Gruen

In truth, we are all creations of crisis.

In the midst of the coronavirus, I became a father.

The nine months of my wife’s pregnancy finally culminated in a miracle – a healthy baby boy. Holding him in my arms is simply indescribable. It’s hard to believe that I'm actually a father.

The sign in the hospital says, “Delivering miracles for 25 years,” and they’re right. Anyone who sees a baby enter the world knows that it could only come from God.

However, the usual nervousness that I felt as a first-time parent was compounded manifold by my son’s arrival amid the COVID-19 virus. Could we have a shalom zachar? Who could come? Could I have a minyan at the bris, allowing for social distancing? Could my parents fly out from California? Is it right to celebrate a simcha while civilization is crumbling?

People around the planet are struggling with feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and confusion. We aren’t in control of the situation and we have no idea if our efforts are making a difference.

We wonder, “What does God want from all of this?” It’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed.

As I struggled to stay calm about having a child born during a worldwide pandemic, I remembered a powerful teaching of the Torah that is helping me change my emotional paradigm and keep me focused on a positive future.

We learn the lesson from a striking observation: so many acts of creation are preceded by turmoil.

The creation narrative in Genesis begins with “confusion and emptiness, and darkness over the face of the depths.” Not exactly an auspicious beginning to the history of the universe.

Abraham, the first Jew, was born to a family of idolaters who brought him up to serve idols.

The “birth” of the Jewish people took place under similarly bleak conditions. In Egypt the Jewish people were enslaved body and soul, dragged down to the lowest level of impurity when God redeemed us.

The Talmud itself was written at a time of great upheaval – after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans and the consequent upheaval of Jewish social and legal norms.

In our time, the astonishing rebirth of the Torah world and the Jewish community in Israel was preceded by the horrors of the Holocaust.

Why would this be?

The Maharal, a 16th Century Torah sage, wrote that nothing can be brought into existence unless it is preceded by an absence, a lack, or decomposition. The contractor needs to tear down the existing building before he builds a new one. An artist needs a blank canvas to draw her painting. The act of destruction is itself part of the act of creation.

We see this concept reflected in life itself. Labor and delivery are harsh and tremendously painful. The mother-to-be cries, sweats, trembles, and often feels anxious and unable to continue. And that’s with an epidural!

But at the end of that turmoil, and perhaps because of that turmoil, life begins.

I remember talking to one of my revered teachers at a particularly difficult period of my life and he taught me a profound insight.

“You’re not just thrashing about,” he said softly. “It’s the pain of being born.”

And he was right. After years of various “labor pains,” I’m now happily married, living my dream of being a teacher, and now I am a parent, all with God's help.

When I look at my son sleeping serenely and see his perfect little hands, I can remind myself that the only way this miracle came forth was through nine months of pregnancy and agonizing labor. But of course, he’s worth it! What a precious gift!

In truth, we are all creations of crisis. We all came into existence through the turmoil of labor.

As we deal with the COVID-19 virus, we’re all struggling to stay healthy or to cope with the illness, God forbid. Unable to work normally, if at all, we struggle to make a schedule and keep a routine so we and our kids stay occupied and relatively calm. But we aren’t just thrashing about.

Something is happening now. What, we don’t know. But our efforts to pray to God, learn Torah, and remember that God is using this crisis to bring forth something greater, turns otherwise meaningless suffering into birth pangs, the kind of pain that produces miracles.

The Torah compares our extraction from Egypt to a difficult labor. Leaving Egypt was not a smooth ride. But the result of that ride, however bumpy, was the great nation, the Jewish people.

The responses my wife and I have gotten from our son’s birth have been amazing. People are so happy to celebrate in any way they can – from the family of 12 who sang to us outside our home for the shalom zachar, to family and friends who participated in the bris via Zoom from out of state. It’s been beautiful.

May we celebrate the birth of the ultimate redemption soon.

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