One of the primary commandments in Judaism is to marry and have children. In
the Garden of Eden we find Adam and Chava blessed by God and told to
procreate and fill the world with people. For the Jewish people, having
children has become a demographic necessity. Even though it is nearly
seventy-five years since World II and the resultant Holocaust, the Jewish
people has not as of yet made good on those immense losses in terms of
This is due to a lower than average birthrate amongst nonobservant Jews, a
high rate of divorce, later-in-life marriages and an increasing population
of singles. The ravages of assimilation and intermarriage also play a great
part in the fact that Jews can currently hardly replace themselves, let
alone make up for the deficit of population caused by the Holocaust.
The Torah places a high priority on children. It sees in children not only
the physical continuity of the Jewish people but also a spiritual and
heavenly connection that transcends one's life span. The rabbis commented
regarding our father Jacob that as long as his descendants were alive and
functioning then Jacob himself, so to speak, was also still alive.
Seeing one’s self ‘past the grave,’ is one of the hallmarks of Judaism and
of the Jewish people. The concept of the immortal soul is reinforced by
being able to project one’s self forward in time, living vicariously in the
lives of one’s descendants.
But, my friends, we all know that having and raising children is no easy
task. And we also know that a parent remains a parent for one's entire life.
I feel that this is one of the subtle messages conveyed at the beginning of
this week's Torah reading. The Torah speaks of impurity, sacrifice and
isolation of the mother after the birth of a child. This is the Torah’s
indication that these are factors that are unavoidable in the raising and
nurturing of a child.
In all human society it is natural, indeed expected, for parents to do
everything possible to give their children a good and healthy life. Those
parents who do not somehow have that instinct within them are shunned in
society and even liable to criminal punishment for neglect or abuse of their
children. They are, even in our most open and liberal society, treated as
being aberrant and cruel. The Torah, which is the book of practical human
life, minces no words in describing the difficulties – impurity, sacrifice
and separation from others – that having and raising children automatically
brings to parents.
It is perhaps for this very reason that the Torah gave women such a strong
maternal instinct and the desire to have children. For without that
instinct, based only on the practicalities of life and the difficulties of
raising children, Jewish demographics would, in a practical sense, offer us
no hope whatsoever for the future. The rabbis in Avot correctly stated that
“the reward is directly commensurate with the effort and sacrifice.” That is
certainly true as far as children and generations and the Jewish future is
Rabbi Berel Wein