Old Parents Laugh More

From a Jewish perspective, I’m 20 years late having children

Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

It is not easy for those who have children late in life. Of course, you have more life experience that you can pass on to the child, but I think as we get older we have less patience for screaming, bickering and sleepless nights. I'm over 40-years-old and I often think that my three little girls would have been a lot easier 10 years ago. Not only do I sometimes have to pick up all three at the same time when I walk in the door and they pounce on me, I also recognize more and more the beauty of the calm that I no longer have.

From a Jewish perspective, I'm 20 years late with having children. In the good old days, one married before turning 20. But with the long school years, college and mandatory army service, most rabbis today recommend getting married between the ages of 20 and 24. At that age, you still have a lot of energy, and as the children get older, the age gap between parent and child is not so great, resulting in a more fulfilling friendship. The older children help out in the house and take care of the smaller ones, and when you are in your mid-40s and have no patience for all the noise, you already have someone to help manage the household.

The birth of Isaac is recounted in this week’s Torah portion “Vayera.” It is of course a miraculous birth, as Sarah had long passed childbearing age at 90. Accordingly, the child is called Yitzhak – “he will laugh,” because later Sarah says about the birth:

“God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me." (Genesis 21:6)

Interestingly, the root of the word tzachak has a somewhat negative connotation, and typically describes a laugh that is evoked by the perception of something ridiculous. Rabbi Hirsch has a very nice comment on this name in which he describes the deeper meaning of the word:

“The whole beginning of the Jewish people is ridiculous, their history, their expectations, their hopes, their whole life, supported by these hopes, appear to the mind, which only calculates the ordinary, natural causal relationships, as a monstrous, ridiculous pretension. It only becomes reasonable, yes, it gains the highest, most legitimate seriousness when it takes this first and highest causality, when it takes this intervening, freely omnipotent will and freely omnipotent accomplishment of a freely omnipotent God as the basis of the judgment.

“That should come to mind from the start, that should remain in the consciousness of all of your descendants. That is why God waited until this ‘ridiculous’ age of our ancestors to germinate this people, so He only began to plant the realization of His promise after all human hope had come to an end.

“Because it was a matter of creating a people who from the beginning to the end of their life are striving for their existence, in contrast to all other world powers that appear, and this should become a reminder of God in the midst of the people, and therefore to this day any narrow-mindedness denying God must appear the most ridiculous ridiculousness. The laughter that resonates with the Jew in his journey through history most fully validates the divinity of this path. It doesn't affect him because he was prepared for this laughter from the start.”

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