Gratitude and grief, coming full circle on Simhat Torah

Once, in my early 30s, I ended a relationship with a woman I was dating because I realized that she was the wrong person for me to raise children with. I’ve never regretted getting out of that relationship, but I also didn’t imagine then that 20 years would go by before I would have a child.

Years ago now, I had really given up hope for that on a pretty deep level, so the child who entered my and my wife’s lives a bit more than a year and half ago feels like a miracle on so many levels. And I feel deep gratitude for this opportunity that came to me at the ripe (but-not-yet-old) age of 54.

But I still look at others. So many of my friends and colleagues have three children. That’s a good number isn’t it? Or, at least two children, like my parents had. It’s not really good for someone to be an only child anyway, is it?

So, we’re trying. And, thanks to the Holy One and the State of Israel, we’re doing it with the best medical help at close to zero cost. But we’ve had setbacks. And sadness. And the doctor tells us the chances of success are not what he would want them to be.

It has always been a comfort to me that our Torah ends on the edge of the Promised Land. Sure, on one level it’s a painful mystery that one as great as Moshe was not allowed to cross into the Promised Land. But on another it’s a comfort, at least for me. If the most upstanding man in all of our history — the one prophet who was allowed to know The Holy One face-to-face (Bereishit 34:10) — could have such a terrible sadness in his life, than surely I should not expect to live without loss and sadness. We live lives that are by their nature full of incompleteness just as Moshe’s was. Judaism teaches us how to do that — how to live full lives, lives that are characterized by faith and by the pursuit of The Most Perfect, even amid loss and grief. We learn to live on the edge of whatever promised land we are hoping for.

On Simhat Torah we conclude the cycle of the reading of the Torah with those final words of the Five Books on the edge of the Promised Land of Canaan. And we start up again with the opening of the book of Bereishit, the book of Creation (which is what Genesis means). Once again, we will contemplate the formlessness and void — the תוהו ובוהו — above which the spirit of The Holy One hovers before speaking the world into being. And before that first chapter is over, we will have the gift of the first command — פרו ורבו, be fruitful and multiply, The Holy One commanded.

I really feel this command as a gift. Truly. Without it, I don’t think I would have ever found the courage to have a child, especially in my 50s, and I am so deeply grateful to have our daughter in our lives. But the command also feeds my sadness at not having more children. It puts me into a place of brokenness and grief besides my gratitude and joy. My life contains all these things, side-by-side. This is the way of our life in this world.

May you know the joy of having Torah in your life and of feeling the love of The Holy One. May all your times of grief be overwhelmed by the times of joy and of gratitude. And may you always treasure what you already have, even if you also wish for more.

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who made Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their two "sabra" children. Alan is the founder of HavLi and the HaKen Institute, spiritual care education and research centers based in Jerusalem. A rabbi, Alan received a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.