Conception and Birth

A man once telegraphed his parents, “My wife gave birth to a child with joy.” Considering that each letter sent by telegram costs money, his mother chastised him for wasting words. “My wife,” she quoted. Of course it was your wife. Would you have telegraphed us about someone else’s wife? Gave birth, she quoted. And how else does a child come into the world? A child, of course it was a child. What else would she have delivered? With joy, nu and how else is a child delivered?
The idea of oral frugality is well established in the Torah. The Torah is usually economical with its words, but when it sets out to speak of the laws surrounding birth it opens with the words, “when a woman conceives and gives birth.” If I were that man’s mother, I would ask, Conceives? Of course she conceived. How else could the child have entered her womb?
This isn’t semantic, it’s actually contextual. If the Torah wants to speak of birth, why mention conception? That happened nine months earlier. By now it’s irrelevant. Ancient history!
Sprouting Seeds
The Hebrew word for embryo, sperm and even egg are all rooted in the Hebrew word for seed, Zera. To conceive in Biblical Hebrew is Lehazria. The message is that human beings are sprouting seeds and if you want the seed to sprout, you must first plant it. Seeds don’t sprout unless they are planted. Nothing in life comes without effort, especially life itself. Don’t begin to count from the time it appears. Begin your count from when you plant it.
The message is that just because it hasn’t arrived, doesn’t mean it isn’t burgeoning. It takes time, tending and hard work. If you tend it, if you work it, it will sprout and eventually appear.
Though the Torah set out to speak of birth, it wants us to remember that there is no birth without conception and nine full months of preparation. Nothing in life just appears. Everything requires patience. Everything requires work.
Humans aren’t the only kind of sprouting seeds. Good deeds are also sprouting seeds. When you perform good deeds, you plant seeds that will sprout. That you haven’t seen results from your good deeds, doesn’t mean they aren’t coming. They will come, but it will take time so be patient.
On the other hand, don’t ask for G-d’s favor if you haven’t planted any seeds. Like the joke about the man who prayed that he win the lottery and G-d replied, “Meet me halfway and buy a ticket.” If you want financial success, start a career, plant a seed. If you want to lose weight, go on a diet. If you want to become righteous, begin a regiment of good deeds. If you don’t plant, you can’t expect to have sprouting seeds.
The nice thing about good deeds is that the sprouting is not commensurate with the seeds. A single good deed can sprout untold goodness, blessing and holiness. It can affect your life and the lives of all around you. Just like a single seed produces an untold number of kernels and a single apple core can produce an entire tree, so can a single good deed sprout incalculable blessing.
Taking Root
The single condition is that the seed must first take root. Not every implanted seed does. Many criteria must be met for the seed to take root. The soil must be fertile, the climate must be right and the seed must be healthy. When all the criteria are met, the seed opens up and a shoot sprouts. Eventually the seed will rot away completely and the shoot will continue to grow.
If we want our good deeds to become sprouting seeds, we too must meet all these criteria. The soil in which we plant our seeds must be fertile. By this we mean that our approach must be G-d entered. If we perform the good deed for self-aggrandizement, the seed won’t sprout. Second, the climate must be right. We must have a climate of love and devotion coupled with reverence and discipline for our seed to sprout. Third, the seed must be healthy. The good deed must be performed completely and without reservation. If it is performed incompletely and with reluctance, we won’t accrue any goodness from it.
It will still be a seed, but it won’t sprout. A good deed, even a partial one, is still a good deed, but it won’t sprout blessing and goodness for you and the people around you. Good deeds become sprouting seeds only when they meet these criteria.
To sprout, the seed must pass through one more stage. It must rot and open up before the shoot can appear. In terms of good deeds this means that our good deeds must humble us rather than the reverse. There are those who boast of their good deeds and grow haughty from them. If we want the Almighty to accept our good deeds and make them sprout, we must be humble.
We must learn to appreciate that performing a good deed is a privilege that the Almighty extends us. He could have given the poor all that they need and denied us the privilege of charity. He withheld from them to extend us a privilege. When we realize that a good deed is a privilege that brings us closer to G-d, it humbles us. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve G-d and draw closer to him. Our conceit melts away, our arrogance withers and our ego rots. Then and only then, can the shoot appear.
Just as the seed rots and lets the soil tend the shoot so do we set ourselves aside and let the Divine tend our good deed. With G-d, the deed will sprout far beyond its measure, bringing blessing and goodness to all. Our sages taught that when we perform a good deed, G-d performs a parallel good deed in heaven. The kabbalists suggested that this refers to the sprouting of the seed. When our good deed is wholesome and altruistic, G-d adopts it and makes it His own. Thus the deed becomes a sprouting seed that showers us with torrents of blessing and holiness.
The First and Last Seed
At the very beginning of creation, G-d planted the seed of Moshiach. Every time we perform a good deed, the shoot of that seeds sprouts a little more. We pray every day that the shoot of King David sprout quickly. This seed has been sprouting for thousands of years because this seed will release more goodness than any other seed in history, yet we pray that G-d stop taking his time and make this seed sprout quickly.
We realize that no seed sprouts on its own and that if we want a plant we must plant a seed, but we want to accelerate the fruition of this particular seed. Our sages compared the arrival of Moshiach to a birth. Perhaps then this is the truest message of the verse, “A woman will conceive (seed) and give birth.” By planting the seeds of good deeds, we give birth to the seed of Moshiach.

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