For the first time today I felt the baby inside me kicking. It happened of course while I was learning Daf Yomi, which deals with the period of time in which a woman is considered impure after giving birth to a girl (Zevachim 38). Is it two weeks (Sh’vuaim), as per the pronounced form of the word in the Torah? Or is it seventy days (Shivim), as the spelling of the Biblical word seems to indicate? The baby continued kicking until the makhloket was resolved, and I was finally able to rest assured that the creature inside me enjoys learning Gemara as much as I do. If all goes well, this pregnancy will last me through Zevachim and Menachot, and the child will be born with full knowledge of both animal and vegetable sacrifices. Of course, I know that the baby will inevitably forget all its Torah when the angel strikes it on the mouth as soon as it takes its first breath (Niddah 30b). But still, I like to think that the clouds of glory it trails from the womb will be the pages of Gemara I’ve learned these past few weeks while lying in bed, because I’ve been too exhausted to wake up in time for my daf yomi shiur.
This week the pregnancy books tell me that the baby is the size of a banana, but I find these weekly produce updates difficult to follow. How can it already be a banana when last week it was an heirloom tomato? And what is an heirloom tomato anyway? Instead, I prefer to use the Gemara’s measurements, which are more familiar to me. When I first found out I was pregnant, the baby was a k’zayit. A month later it was k’beitzah, which is odd, since ostensibly it started out as an egg in the first place. By the third month, it was a kotevet ha-gasa, a date so large that were I to eat it, I’d be breaking my fast on Yom Kippur. (Thankfully I have no intention of eating my own child, like the threats of the Tochecha or the woeful women in besieged Jerusalem described so vividly in Eicha.) I have tried to make all the measurements match up, but I am told that the time of labor is significantly longer than k’dei achilat pras, the time it takes to eat three egg-sized pieces of bread with relish. I can only hope that like the Israelite women of this week’s parsha, I deliver quickly.
It is hard to imagine the delivery, which is still far off in the distant future, about a month after Pesach. Godwilling at the seder I will be singing “Asarah yarchei leydah,” since as anyone who has been pregnant can tell you, a pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, which is not nine months but ten. I hope that as I sing, the baby will join in a chorus of Shirat HaYam, imagining itself as if it, too, has gone forth from Egypt. As we start reading Sefer Shmot this week and setting off on the journey that will take us through Pesach, I begin thinking about the exodus from Mitzrayim, that narrow place that is likened to the birth canal from which the children of Israel were born. By that point perhaps I will already feel the birth pangs of redemption.
Still, if there is anything I have learned thus far about pregnancy, it is an appreciation for how many miracles are involved in the creation of new life. Every stage of this process fills me with awe and gratitude, and I have much to pray for in the coming months. The Talmud (Taanit 2a) teaches that there are three keys that are in the hands of God, which God does not entrust to any messenger. These are the key to rain, the key to childbirth, and the key to the revival of the dead. We pray for the first two keys during the second blessing of the Amidah, where we ask God to cause the rain to fall and to revive the dead. And so I have begun praying for the health and welfare of the unborn child inside me each time I come to this blessing.
When I don’t have time for formal prayer, I simply place my hand on my stomach and recite a version of the prayer that Rabbi Yehoshua’s mother used to recite for him. We read in Pirkei Avot that Rabbi Yehoshua’s teacher praised him by saying, “Blessed it the one who gave birth to him.” Rashi explains that Rabbi Yehoshua’s mother used to pass by the batei midrash of her town and ask the sages, “Please pray for this unborn child in me that he should become a Torah scholar.” I vary her prayer only slightly: “Please pray for this unborn child in me that he or she should become a Torah scholar, and be healthy, and be kind.” Perhaps that is a lot to ask for, especially given how many blessings I have received already. Each morning I wake up, look down at my growing stomach, and bless God who, in His goodness, renews creation every day. I imagine that the flutter I feel inside me is tiny egg-sized head nodding in assent.