Life - Existence or Purpose?
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
The other day my friends decided to throw me a surprise birthday party. I really enjoyed it but it got me thinking: If a fetus is a living organism complete with a functioning heart and brain (to the extent that Judaism is rather opposed to voluntary abortion), doesn't that imply that life really starts at conception. So why the big deal over the day of birth?
Yes, Judaism believes that the fetus is considered an actual life. From the time of conception the soul prepares for its decent into the body. However, it is only at the moment of birth that the soul completes its decent, creating an autonomous human being, with infinite potential to contribute to the world. The moment of birth marks the beginning of one's purpose on this earth. Everyone has their specific mission for which their soul comes down into this world. Everyone's journey towards that goal is individual and unique.
Until the baby is born it exists only as an extension of its mother. Its true independent mission only begins at the moment of birth. To put it in simple terms - existence is present from the time of conception but purpose is only from the moment of birth.
The spiritual environment of the child from the beginning of its existence definitely has an impact on the outcome of its mission. The months of pregnancy are a very precious and delicate time. Just as nutritional choices of the mother have a profound impact on the child, so too the behavior and surroundings of the mother have lifelong effects on the spiritual development of the child.
Many people continue to live the life of a fetus - eating, drinking and merely existing. Celebrating the day of birth reminds us that we are here with a unique mission and that we have been given a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to fulfill this purpose.
So happy birthday and may you have a life filled with depth and meaning.