What is immortality?
There is a moving story told of the moment Deborah Lacks walks into a lab at John Hopkins University to "meet" the cells taken from her mother, Henrietta Lacks (for more info click here). Deborah is accompanied by Rebecah Skloot, author of the book 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks':
As much as the HeLa cells are the immortal remains of Henrietta Lacks, the impact that these cells had and continue to have in the world of science reflect her immortal influence on a far greater level.
As parents we influence our children regularly. What habits do we model for them, what religious values are we imparting on them and what messages are we giving them? Human immortality is not limited to the creation of a child who has similar genetic make up as their parents but the way we, as parents, become immortal is the shaping of the lives of our children.
When God commands us to have children:
פרשת בראשית פרק א
כח) וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ
28. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply..."
a lengthy discussion ensues in the Minchas Chinuch (Command 1)discussing the complex legalities of this command. Specifically presented is a case where one fulfills the command to have children by having a son and daughter but these childrens tragically pass away before they turn 18. The Minchas Chinuch suggests that the surviving father is obligated in the Mitzvah of having children once more. Fulfilling the command of Pru Urevu (having children) is not fulfilled merely at the birth of the child but the sustainability of that child into adulthood. The Minchas Chinuch stresses this point by distinguishing the Mitzvah of having children from other Mitzvot such as shaking a Lulav or eating Matzah. Once someone consumes the Matzah on Pesach the command has been completed. Raising children are a required feature of the mitzvah of having children, so much so that if they pass away before a parent has had the chance to raise them, one is obligated to have more children.
While Henrietta Lacks continues to have an astounding impact, through her cells, on the world of science, one cannot read her story without the testimonies of her children. The Lacks children and grandchildren feature heavily in this story of ethics, faith and immortality.
While we may one day move on to the next world, our actions and love remain immortal in the memories of our children.