There is a remarkable halacha discussed in today’s daf (Yevamot 78a) that if a pregnant woman immerses in a mikveh for the sake of conversion, then the child that she is carrying need not also, separately, immerse for the sake of conversion.
Significantly, our Gemara discusses the various possible ways in which this spiritual transformation occurs to this not-yet-born child, with this debate continuing in the writings of the Rishonim and Acharonim. Specifically, is it that the child is considered to be part of the mother so that, in essence, just one ‘being’ is converting? Or is it that they are considered to be a separate entity who is attached to the mother? Or perhaps, as some claim, while no further immersion is need, the Jewish status of this child only begins once they are born?
Yet while these debates are fascinating, there is one simple fact that I want to draw from our Gemara; a fact that is not explicit but is nevertheless so important and is one that – sadly – too many parents forget, which is that the case of the pregnant mother immersing is the only time when a radical shift in the spiritual state and status of a child occurs without any additional effort on the part of a parent.
And why do I mention this? Because, unfortunately, too many parents presume that if they do something that is spiritually meaningful to them, then it will immediately be spiritually transformative to their already born child/children.
Of course, this certainly does not mean that parents shouldn’t involve their children with activities or in moments that are spiritually meaningful to them. Quite the contrary! But what it does mean is that there is no automatic or guaranteed effect that an action or activity performed by a parent has on their child, and while our children are extensions of us, they are also worlds unto themselves.
So if that is the case, aside from being a great parent, a great example, and a great role model, and aside from making sure that your child has a great Jewish education, what should a parent do for the sake of the spiritual future of their child/children? My answer is simply – to pray. Pray for the personal, emotional, academic, professional and spiritual success of your child/children, and mention them by name every time you pray.
Does this mean that even with your most heartfelt of prayers that things will work out the way you’d like them to be? No. But it is precisely because our children are extensions of us, yet are also worlds unto themselves, that with all the physical effort and financial investment required to raise a child, we should most certainly pray, every single day, for their success; not just personal, emotional, academic and professional, but spiritual success as well.