The Midrash Tanhuma, first published in Constantinople in 1522, tells that when the time comes for conception, the angel Lailah finds a particular soul in the Garden of Eden and compels it to enter the seed. The soul is always reluctant, remembering the pain of being born and preferring to remain pure. In the womb, Lailah shines a light over the growing infant and teaches it the Torah and the history of its soul. Just as the baby is born, she strikes it on the lip, causing it to forget everything — and leaving the dent above the upper lip that everyone bears. Howard Schwartz, a professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and noted folklorist, has lyrically retold the midrash. Focusing on the ineffable beauty of birth, rather than the pain and corruption of living, Before You Were Born is perfect for parents and children to enjoy together. Kristina Swarner’s eye-catching illustrations capture the mystery and marvel of the legend, and render its abstractions lushly concrete. A lovely introduction to Midrash, the book’s universal theme and light-handed religious tone make it suitable for a diverse audience.
Before You Were Born
Phoebe Sorkin, who graduated from Columbia University, works in the editorial department of Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers.
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