Although it is more than a little different now than it was almost thirty years ago when I was ordained, the basic requirement is the same. All graduating seniors in the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary are required to deliver what is called a “senior sermon,” when they either preach or teach in the presence of their faculty,
When I was a graduating senior, the recurring leitmotif of more than a few of these sermons was what I would call “the miracle of the birth of the first child.” Many of us were having children that year, and no matter what the Torah portion, somehow or other the delivery room sense of awe and wonder would make it in to a remarkable number of sermons. For the record, not into mine; our first-born, a boy, was born two years after my ordination, in 1983.
Just this past week, that boy’s wife made my wife and me grandparents, giving birth to a beautiful baby girl. Mother, father and daughter are all well. The grandfather is trying hard to figure out exactly how it happened that I, who remembers well holding that son of mine right after his birth, watched him hold his newborn daughter this week with the same sense of awe and wonder that I held him.
I can’t quite figure out of this complicates the task or makes it easier, but I am surrounded by people who share my memories of my son as a baby. I have spent my entire professional life as a rabbi here in Forest Hills, in the same pulpit. All four of my children were born into this community and grew up in it. Its members have been their extended family for their entire lives. What a fascinating experience it has been this week, watching these people- many of whom were at his brit!- react to his fatherhood. They have regaled me with stories of his childhood, and their memories of his first appearances in synagogue. I have listened to them with some combination of laughter and tears. I remember those days so well, but the boy that I knew then is not the man that I saw this week. This version of my son reminds me of me when I first came to Forest Hills. Watching him was like watching myself. Scary, but beautiful…
As I was writing this, my wife walked into the room, and I showed her what I had written (not unusual). “Very nice,” she said. “How do I end it? ” I asked. She thought for a minute, and as she walked out of the room, she turned and said, “He’s not you.” And she’s right.
The real miracle of the birth of this first grandchild is that while my son reminds me of me- eerily so- he is his own person, different in so many significant ways. He’ll be a different husband, and a different father.
I can’t wait to see who his daughter will be.