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Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. The views reflected in his columns represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated. For more Double Mitzvahs by Sender Rozesz, check out A Woman’s Vow, Sexual Motive, Choose Your Own Spouse, The Post-Honeymoon Journey, A Wise and Understanding People, The Blessing of Fertility, Abominations, Coitus Interruptus, Sexual Struggles,The Unspeakable Language of Passion, Cut vs. Uncut, The Silence of Bitterness, Sex and the Holiest Day of the Year, Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah,Sex…In the Beginning, A Sexual Reboot, She’s My Beautiful Sister,Kosher Incest?, How They Met, Male-Female Intercourse, The First Kiss, The Power to Transform, Onanism, Daughters-in-Law and Moshiach, Issues with the In-Laws?, The Undoing of Captivity, Shift Beds – Part II, Pharaoh’s Assimilation Policy, and Passion vs. Pleasure.
What are anniversaries? What are birthdays?
Are they celebrations of the past? The day we got married. The day we met. The day you were born.
Why is it that, on an anniversary, we take out the wedding photo album, and get gushy about our first moments, about our young love, letting the waves of nostalgia wash over us? Why is it that on a child’s birthday, we recall when she was born, what he was like as an infant, how cute she was as a toddler?
In most cases, true love and affection among couples starts to cultivate only once they have already been married for some time, or once they have shared life together. Often, the “young love” turns out to have been a combination of novelty, infatuation, charm, and lust, which later gets replaced by a more mature love based upon intimacy, commitment, and knowledge of one another.
The same is true of children. As they grow, they begin to discover and express their talents and their gifts. They begin to develop their unique personalities, and to acquire traits, habits and characteristics from those around them. They become so much more interesting!
So why, when we have an opportunity to celebrate how much we have grown, do we appear to regress, to focus on the infancy of our relationship?
As always, perhaps the Torah can provide some insight.
This week marks the grand finale to to the Jewish people’s centuries-long slavery in Egypt. On their last evening in the country – at midnight, to be precise – G-d delivers his final plague upon the Egyptians: the death of the firstborn sons.
Why were the firstborn singled out for this particular plague?
This, too, is a question that the producers of The Ten Commandments pondered: they resolved it by making the final plague a response to Pharaoh’s last-minute attempt to retaliate against Hebrews by killing their firstborn. But is there another explanation?
Interestingly, though it was the tenth and final plague, this plague was actually the very first one that Moses was instructed to warn Pharaoh about. Back in Sh’mot, on this way to Egypt from Midian:
The Lord said to Moses, “When you go to return to Egypt, see all the signs that I have placed in your hand and perform them before Pharaoh, but I will strengthen his heart, and he will not send out the people. And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘So said the Lord, “My firstborn son is Israel.” ‘ So I say to you, ‘Send out My son so that he will worship Me, but if you refuse to send him out, behold, I am going to slay your firstborn son.’ ”
In other words, right from the start, G-d made clear that he would be slaying the Egyptian firstborn sons, and why: because Israel is G-d’s firstborn son. Tit for tat.
But that itself begs the question. Why did G-d refer to us just then as His “firstborn son”? A “firstborn” suggests an older child, one who was succeeded by younger siblings. On the other hand, many times throughout Tanach, G-d refers to His people as His “small child”; His “little one.”
And we understand that expression; there is a particular softness and affection for a young child, for a toddler. Why? Because at that age, at an age where a child has not yet developed intellectually or emotionally, a parent’s love is simple and unconditional. It’s not because my child is cute, or gifted, or sensitive; it’s simply because this is my child.
Later, as children grow, we love them for other reasons too. On top of our essential and unconditional love, we add a love for who they are becoming, for their personal qualities. And sometimes, we get so focused on our children’s personality and behavior that the simple and unconditional love that we have for them gets covered over, and what we end up expressing is a relationship based upon their performance.
It’s similar with our romantic relationships. We start out the relationship fresh, swimming in a tantalizing mixture of lust and infatuation. Everything about you completes me. You are good for me. I love you because I love me. Then, over time, our relationship evolves in a way that forces us to make space for each other; to consider the other as a separate and distinct individual – not just playing a supporting role in my life, but playing the lead role in your own. That’s not always so easy; our tendency toward self-love makes us reluctant (and sometimes resentful) to relinquish some of our own space for the other.
And so we long for the early days. For the days in which love was simpler and unconditional. For the times when loving you was a selfish pleasure. When love and support did not have to be earned.
But that is not yet the end of the story. Given the beauty of young love, and the uncomplicated affection towards a young child, why did G-d refer to us as His “firstborn,” denoting an older child?
Because the reason that I care about who you are becoming,
Is because you are mine.
The reason that I take pride in your achievements,
Is because you are mine.
All of the extra love that I have for you,
Should not conceal my unconditional love;
Because it is imbued by my unconditional love.
Because it is like the irrigation system
That carries my essential love for you,
Through every stage of your growth;
Like calling you a firstborn at the moment of your birth.
Because the reason that I love you as I do;
The reason that I’m willing to make myself small, so that you may be big;
The reason that I’m able to cede the center stage to you;
Is because many years ago,
When we were young and dumb,
We became one
And you became me, and I became you
And your win is my win
Because the roots of our commitment creep through our relationship,
And twine us into one forever.