This week marks a very special anniversary of sorts for me – and it's one that I get to celebrate / commemorate at 3 different times.
It was 9 years ago this week – by the Hebrew calendar it fell on Tuesday, by the Gregorian calendar it will be next Wednesday that I moved into a new reality for life – that of being a father.
Not just a father – but a Daddy, an Abba.
That isn’t to say that it's been all fun and games. There is no shortage of times that she can really drive me crazy, and there's no shortage of times when my parenting "skills" (and occasionally the lack thereof) leave more than a little to be desired. But in the bigger picture, I think there have been far more happy times than sad, loving moments than angry ones, smiles and laughter than tears.
You've seen that t-shirt / bumper sticker / coffee mug, right? The one that says "Any man can be a father, but it takes a special someone to be a Daddy". I never appreciated how true that is until my daughter was born.
Actually – not even then, but rather several months later when she started developing and showing her own personality and I was able to relate to her as a little person rather than a pooping machine.
She was born on Shabbat in the afternoon, the weekly Torah portion read that morning in synagogues around the world was VaYeshev, which was the portion we just read this past Shabbat. It was funny how the Torah reading brought back memories, because it was of memories that weren't there – the day Revital was born I didn't make it to services to hear the Torah.
Sharon had gone into labor on Friday night after Shabbat dinner. I think it started around 10:00 or so, but she didn't wake me up until the pain started getting bad at around midnight. Since we had been very attentive students in our Birthing Class, we knew that it wasn't yet time to go to the hospital – it was time for hot bath, timing the contractions, timing in between the contractions, practicing breathing properly (Sharon, too…) and massaging her lower back ant various times throughout the night.
Somehow in the morning, Sharon had a long enough "quiet" period so I was able to say my Morning Prayer service – obviously not going to the synagogue that morning and finally at 9:30 Shabbat morning, the signs that we learned in our Birthing Class were there and we called an ambulance (we didn't have a car at the time) and we checked in to the hospital at about 10:00.
Then came the waiting.
And then…more waiting.
Then I went down for some lunch in the cafeteria, and hit the hospital synagogue (one of the things I love about living in Israel is that there ARE hospital synagogues) for the afternoon services, then back to Sharon, for some more waiting.
Finally, she was dilated enough, and I won't go into all the gory details, but at 3:20 Shabbat afternoon, I was given my daughter to hold.
All of the stories you hear about the power, the beauty, the magic, the amazing overwhelming emotions of holding your newborn for the first time – for those who have yet to experience it, I can tell you that they're true.
Then they took her away from me.
It is standard procedure here to put all newborns in an incubator for a couple of hours, especially when the birthing is a little out of the ordinary (again – no details, but they performed a vacuum birth) so off she went, leaving me and Sharon alone with a little time to catch our breath.
Now we had time to discuss what we were going to call this little peanut.
We didn't know before the birth whether the baby was a boy or a girl (fortunately as soon as she was born we were able to figure it out pretty quickly), so we had a couple of names at the ready (although Sharon's condition for the names was that she kept the right to change her mind if she didn't feel that the name "fit".
The girl's name we had pre-picked was Revital, which means "saturated with / an abundance of dew", and after looking at her we decided that the name fit – she "looked" like a Revital. But we hadn't even thought about a middle name (very American of us, I know – no matter how long I'm in Israel, there are still some very American things about me).
So now was the time to talk about it. Sharon asked what the Torah portion was that Shabbat, and I had to think about it for a minute since I hadn't been to synagogue.
Then she asked me what happened in it, which was also a challenge to remember. But then I got it – one of the "highlights" of the portion (there really is a lot of meat in this particular one) is the story of Tamar and Yehuda (Judah).
It's too long a story for me to go into here and now, although it's a great story and I encourage you to glance at it yourselves – Genesis Chapter 38. The bottom line is that Tamar is one of my favorite personalities in the entire Torah. In my opinion, she's a woman who sees the clear difference between right and wrong, and will first give others the chance to do what's right with her, but if they don't do it, then she takes the initiative and pushes them into doing the right thing.
The added significance is in her name, which means date palm. The date palm grows in the desert – where there is almost no water, yet it grows very tall, very strong and bears a very sweet fruit.
So too Tamar from this story. She grew up in a place without much "water" which is a common analogy for Torah – meaning that grew up in a place where there was not much righteousness, or fear of God, yet she was strong and upright, like the date palm, and she also bore the sweetest of fruit. According to Jewish tradition the line of the Messiah is descended from the union of Tamar and Judah.
When Sharon and I talked about this, we realized that we had the perfect middle name for our daughter.
There is an idea among some Jews which one of my rabbis once taught me that the naming of a child is the only form of prophecy left in the world.
We name our children either for people whom we want to remember, or with names that have some kind of meaning that speaks to us. When we give these names, we are essentially wishing for our children the traits represented by the meaning of the name or the person whom we wish to remember.
For Revital Tamar, our hope for her is that she should never know lack of water – that is to say always have an "abundance of dew" and that like her biblical namesake, she may grow up upright and strong, with the sense of right vs. wrong and the courage to do what's right – no matter what the risks.
She may have looked like a Conehead for the first few months (courtesy of the vacuum birth), but we wished – that her head is in the right place to see and do what's right – no matter what others say and think.
One last note – regarding both Revital and our younger daughter Limor. They were both Chanukah-season babies. Revital was born 2 days before Chanukah, and Limor 6 days after it. So the holiday that began tonight is the time that both of my girls came into my life. And like the candles of Chanukah, they continue to give our lives a shining light.
The darker a place is, the brighter the light in it are. No matter how dark things sometimes seem around me, these two little lights make everything as bright as a sunny day.