(Jeff Jacoby writes an annual column in the form of a letter to his older son, Caleb.)
My beloved Caleb,
There were seven candles on your birthday cake last month. What big changes have taken place since the day there were six!
Last fall you entered first grade, and with it a whole new world of schoolbooks, homework, and report cards. Like many children, you never seem to have much to say when Mama or I ask, "What did you do in school today?" But ever since you told us that Monday is your favorite day because it means you still have a whole week of school to look forward to, we've been pretty sure that first grade is going well.
This was also the year in which you became an honest-to-goodness reader. I was delighted the first time I found you sitting on the couch, oblivious to your surroundings, your nose in a pictureless "chapter" book. And I get a huge kick out of hearing you use words that you clearly only know from books. Like the day you told me about a little package of cookies you had shared with some friends during recess. "I gave one to Austin and one to Zvi," you said, "but I longed to eat the rest of them myself."
But the biggest change of all is the one that took place just a few days ago, when you became -- at long last -- a big brother.
Caleb Jacoby and his new brother in Guatemala City last fall
For seven years you have been the sole recipient of all parental love and attention in our home. Anything done for a child was done for you. Every bedtime story was yours, every trip to the park, every "Eskimo kiss." Now you will have to share your parents with a newcomer, and there are bound to be times when that won't be easy. Almost any child who isn't an only child goes through a "you-love-him-more-than-me" phase, and I suppose you will too. But it won't be true, Caleb. Not now, not ever.
You and I talked about this a little bit the other night. I told you that family love isn't like a pie, where the pieces shrink if more people come to the table. "Remember lighting the Hanukkah menorah?" I asked. "When you used one candle to light another, the flame on the first one didn't get any smaller, did it? That's what love in a family is like. Mama and I have a second son now, but that doesn't mean we will love you any less."
But neither will we love Micah any less. You are our flesh and blood, and he is the product of other people's chromosomes, but you are both our sons in every way that matters. One of my sisters asked me whether I had begun yet to form any kind of emotional bond with the baby. Her question astonished me. Any bond? I'm crazy about him! Micah has been home less than two weeks and already I can't imagine not having him in my life. As for Mama, she "bonded" with him even earlier than I did: He was indisputably her son the moment she laid eyes on his picture!
One of great benefits of having an adopted brother, Caleb, is that you will grow up knowing intuitively something that far too many people never learn: Ties of blood are much less important than ties of love.
Many societies live by a code of blood, in which loyalty and human worth are determined by biology. An Arabic saying sums it up perfectly: "My brother and I against my cousin; My cousin and I against the stranger."
But our people have always been taught that love matters more than DNA. Our faith enjoins us not to shun those whose bloodlines -- or tribe or ethnicity or race -- may be different from ours, but to embrace them. "You shall love the stranger," Deuteronomy 10:19 commands, "for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." And what better way to "love the stranger" than by giving a home, a family, and a future to a child who needs all three?
With the approach of Passover, you have been learning about the Israelites' ordeal in the land of Egypt. So perhaps you know that the first adopted child mentioned in the Bible is Moses. As the Book of Exodus relates, he was adopted by none other than the daughter of Pharaoh. Think of it -- the future savior of the Jews was adopted by the daughter of the tyrant who enslaved them! Ignoring the claims of blood and biology, disregarding her rank as a an Egyptian princess, she chose instead to love the tiny stranger she found floating in the river.
From that moment forward, the adopted child is known exclusively as Moses -- the name given to him not by his birth mother, but by his real mother. If the message in that isn't plain enough, the Bible spells it out in Exodus 2:10: "And he became her son."
You became our son through birth; now Micah has become our son through adoption. But each of you is a gift of incalculable worth -- a gift not only to your parents, but to each other as well. Congratulations, big brother.
All my love,