December 23, 2009
I spoke with my friend Lisa last week, who is due to have her third child in January. Before having children, Lisa was a first grade teacher. After she had her first child five years ago, she left teaching to be a full-time mom. I asked her, “Do you think you’ll go back to teaching when your kids are older?”
“I don’t know,” she responded. “Before having kids, I felt a strong drive to teach children, but now that I have my own kids, I don’t feel the same need. Maybe I would do something else.” Since she’s about to have a baby, she’s years away from confronting that question in a serious way.
This exchange made me think: How does having children affect our life’s goals? How do our lives as parents differ from our previous visions of how our life would be?
This week’s parsha tells the story of Joseph, and how his dreams changed over time. As a teenager, Joseph dreamed that his brothers and his parents would all bow down to him – and he told them so! Joseph’s youthful arrogance led his brothers to throw him into a pit and sell him into slavery. Years later, Joseph rose to power in Egypt by developing a plan to help the Egyptians through years of famine.
The parsha, called Vayigash (and he approached), recounts how Joseph reveals himself to his brothers who have come down to Egypt. In a moving speech, Joseph tells the brothers not to feel bad for what they did to him because “God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph explained how his efforts saved the Egyptians from starvation, and will enable him to save their lives as well. He repeats: “So now it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
What a different vision Joseph has now than as a teenager! Although he previously dreamed of dominating his family, Joseph now recognized that God had a different dream for him – that he would save others and his family. What changed Joseph’s perspective?
Joseph surely endured many trials and tribulations since his teenage boasts. He became successful in Potiphar’s house only to wind up spending two years in prison before meeting Pharaoh and rising to power in Egypt. However, it’s striking to note that the last event mentioned before the brother’s travel to Egypt is that Joseph became a parent. He and his wife Asenath had two sons.
Perhaps becoming a parent helped Joseph to see his life’s purpose differently. Indeed the names that he gives his children indicate a change happening within Joseph. Each name is a play on words. The Torah recounts that Joseph named his first son Menashe “because God, said he, has made me forget (nashani) all my toil, and all my father’s house.” He named his second son Ephraim “because God has made me fruitful (hifrani) in the land of my affliction.”
The names show that becoming a parent helped Joseph come to terms with his past and find new gratitude for his blessings. In caring for his children, perhaps Joseph became more acutely aware of the need to provide for all God’s children.
For each of us, becoming a parent has the same power. After having kids some of our previous dreams seem to go by the wayside – and new goals take their place. We may discover that God’s dreams for us are different than the ones we had. Sometimes God knows us better than we know ourselves.
What new dreams have you gained?