Late last spring when we came to the end of Genesis in Friday's Torah class, Rabbi London asked us to select a part that moved us and reflect on it in some way.
Suzanne Coffey chose Tol’dot, Genesis 25: 19-28: Jacob and Esau in Rebekah’s uterus. Suzanne is the mother of four premature quadruplets who were born after her own struggle with infertility.
The way she connected Jacob’s story to her own was so moving that I asked Suzanne if she’d be willing to tell it again so that it could be shared with you here in this blog space.
Thank you, Suzanne, for saying yes.
She was drawn to the story of Jacob’s struggle in Rebekah’s womb because her firstborn, Noah Jacob, struggled in his own way.
“Torah’s Jacob has his most powerful moments in the dark,” she says. “And this is where he interfaces with the Divine and his destiny.”
“Jacob fights for primacy in Rebekah’s womb, and grabs his twin brother Esau’s heel in utero,” Jacob’s name means heel in Hebrew.
We all know about Jacob’s other struggles in the dark:
Jacob dreams about the ladder to heaven and wakes up knowing God.
Jacob wrestles with the angel in the night.
Jacob is grabbed by the thigh during the wrestling and then walks with a limp but earns praise and compassion from the angel and God as a result of the fight.
Like the Jacob in Torah, Suzanne’s firstborn, Noah Jacob, struggled to leave the womb first. He succeeded, but not without incredible challenges. He suffered two severe cerebral hemorrhages, a case of pneumonia and sepsis. The infection attacked his blood, the femur bone near his hip and then traveled to his heart.
“Noah was battling to stay alive,” Suzanne says, “and the doctor told us to make preparations.”
This all happened in 1999. Rabbi Eleanor Smith came to the hospital to rename Noah. She had been there earlier to give Noah and his sisters, Rachel, Alyssa and Hannah, their Hebrew names. But because Noah was struggling, Rabbi Smith returned to rename him Noah Jacob Yerachmiel, meaning “God Have Mercy and Compassion.” A prayer for his life.
Hours after the renaming, Suzanne says that Noah started to show signs of pep. “His face went from looking like an old man to just relaxed.”
Noah has cerebral palsy as a result of the brain bleeds and he has a hemiparesis which affects the right side of his body. As a result, he walks with a limp and has difficulty with fine motor skills. He is, however, in a regular classroom at school and during our conversation, he was away visiting his grandparents. But he is, in the words of his mother, “mercifully well off.”
Suzanne says that she experienced “an interface with the Divine through Noah’s struggle.“ She says “A combination of good medical care, medicine and God turned it all around for him. God answered my prayers. God intervened on Noah’s behalf. Life could have turned out very different for us, but God showed mercy and compassion.”
Though she had noted some of the parallels between the Jacob story and her own Noah Jacob, more of the pieces came together as she prepared for her d’var in Torah class.
This Sunday (August 7) is Noah, Rachel, Alyssa and Hannah’s half birthday. In February 2012, they will celebrate their b’nai mitzvahs.
There is so much to celebrate.
Not only the covenant that Noah, Rachel, Alyssa and Hannah will be making with the Jewish people. And the one they will have with the Beth Emet community. And the party afterwards!
But Suzanne will have the chance to celebrate that through motherhood, she not only brought four new lives into the world, she found her own personal portal for interfacing with the Divine.
Interview and photographs by Ellen Blum Barish