Parashat Tazria: Childrearing and Prayer
Parashat Tazria begins with laws relevant to a woman after childbirth, specifically, laws relating to her status of Tum’a (ritual impurity) after delivering a child. While these laws do not apply today on a practical level, as we do not have a Bet Ha’mikdash, this Parasha gives us the opportunity to briefly reflect on the event of childbirth and the proper response when welcoming a new child into the family.
It has become very common for pregnant women and her friends and relatives to pray throughout the period of pregnancy for a smooth delivery and healthy child. Certainly, the process of gestation and delivery lends itself to numerous complications, and therefore prayer is most definitely warranted. Often, however, the prayers end once the infant is delivered. After birth, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, feels grateful that the prayers were answered, and then moves on. We must remember that although childbirth marks the end of the pregnancy, it marks just the very beginning of the equally important process of development and education. If anything, our prayers should become more intense and heartfelt after a child is born. At that point, the real challenge begins – to raise the child and train him or her to follow the proper path and adopt the proper lifestyle.
Each day, towards the end of the Shaharit prayer service, we pray, "Lema’an Lo Niga La’rik Ve’lo Neled La’behala" – "so that we do not wear ourselves out for naught, and we do not give birth for confusion." We plead that God should see to it that our children are not raised "for confusion," straying from the proper path in search of something else, which would make us feel that all our hard work was "for naught." We invest so much in our children – so much time, hard work, money and emotion – and we rightfully want to feel that all this investment pays its dividends, in the form of children who grow to follow the proper path. Childrearing requires a great deal of Divine assistance, and so we should praying each and every day that our efforts should be successful and that we will see the blessed results of all our hard work.
This is especially so in our times, when so many of our youngsters unfortunately leave the fold and stray from the proper path. Today, more than ever, it is so easy for youths to lose their way and to succumb to the overwhelming pressures of general society. And so today, more than ever, children need their parents’ prayers.
A verse in Tehillim (128:3) describes children as "olive saplings around your table." Children are compared specifically to olives, as opposed to other kinds of fruits. The reason is because most other fruits are plucked from the tree ready to be eaten, whereas olives need time to soften and develop. Olives are usually placed in barrels for an extended period of time during which they become soft, as they are generally inedible before then. Children are like olives because they require a long process of development, a process which is often complicated and fraught with uncertainty. They are not like apples and bananas which come from the tree ready for consumption; they are like olives, which need a good deal of time and attention in order to develop properly.
We owe it to ourselves and our children to pray regularly and fervently on their behalf. Prayer must not end at childbirth; that is when we need to start praying in earnest.