(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
These opening verses of the Book of Exodus are actually an abridged repetition
of a much more detailed account of the family Jacob brought with him on his
journey to Egypt to meet his beloved son Joseph: “And Jacob arose from Beer
Sheba, and the children of Israel lifted Jacob their father, their children and
their wives onto the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to bring them... And these
are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt: Jacob and his sons;
the firstborn of Jacob is Reuben.... All the souls of the house of Jacob who
came to Egypt were seventy” (Genesis 46:5, 8, 27).
Rashi and Nahmanides,
the two most classical biblical commentators, explain that with these opening
verses, the Book of Exodus establishes its connection to and continuity with the
Book of Genesis, and both add that the repetition of names expresses the great
love God has for Jacob and his family.
I believe the seemingly repetitive
verses contain a message that goes beyond this, and which holds the key to
understanding the major mission and national mystery of the eternity of our
Please allow me to interpret our opening verses by reference to a
totally different issue, a question many young Jews are asking and which raises
a serious Jewish existential problem: Why get married? And even more to the
point, why have children? ABOUT A decade ago, I was invited to lecture to the
faculty, the students and general public at a European university.
this was my first visit to this particular city, I arrived in the early
afternoon, checked into the hotel, and set out for an exploratory
It was a perfect autumnal Sunday afternoon. The weather was
refreshingly cool and invigorating, the sun shone and I had at least three hours
to spare before my lecture. It was an area with many parks, the architecture was
interesting and I was greatly enjoying a few hours of rare solitude. But after a
while, I felt a nagging sense that something was amiss. Then it hit me: There
were hardly any children! Many adults of all ages were strolling about, I even
noticed many people walking with their dogs. But almost no children.
the professor who introduced me at the public forum asked if I had had an
opportunity to do some sightseeing (I had previously written to him that this
would be my first visit), I shared with him and the audience my feelings about
the strange dearth of progeny.
His response almost bowled me
“We Europeans have difficulties with younger children,” he said,
“who make noise and dirt and cannot be controlled; we have even greater problems
with young adult children, who cost a great deal of money to educate, who often
fall short of expectations and who are generally ungrateful and
I was initially stunned by his words, which described an
attitude so very different from the “child worship” which characterizes most of
the Jewish and Israeli families I know. After all, the Hebrew-Yiddish word
nachas – joyous satisfaction – is heavily identified with celebrations involving
one’s children and grandchildren.
But then I recognized the logic of his
words, and when I looked into the negative population growth of the vast
majority of European countries, I realized that perhaps it is observant Jewry
which is out of step with a growing percentage of the world. However, I am truly
convinced that it is precisely our Jewish obsession with progeny which is
responsible for our continued survival and contemporary rebirth, and which will
guarantee our future.
ONE EARLY talmudic commentator, Rabbenu Asher
(1250-1328), maintains that there is no specific command to be married; marriage
is merely the necessary preparation for fulfilling the commandment “to be
fruitful and multiply” (Ketubot 1:12).
For, you see, Judaism is a grand
“unfinished symphony”: the Abrahamic mission is to convey to the world of
nations a God of love, morality and peace. God promises through His prophets
that eventually a more perfect society will be formed and the world will be
Our narrative is to be found in the Bible, our unique
lifestyle, celebrations and memorials detailed in the Talmud, and each Jewish
parent lives in order to convey this mission to his/her child. To be a Jew is to
parent, or to take responsibility for, a Jewish child of the next
Hence the formation of our nation in the Book of Exodus
emanates from the continuity of the family in the Book of Genesis. Each family
of patriarchs and matriarchs bequeathed continuators. Jacob – the man and his
household, the man and his forebears – came along with all of his children and
their children into Egypt.
These verses are not repetition of past
events; they are guideposts for our future. All Jews must carry with them –
wherever Jewish destiny takes them – the Jewish portable household civilization
which formed our peoplehood.
Only on the basis of that glorious past will
we be equipped to shape a significant and blessed future.
The writer is
the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone colleges and graduate programs and
chief rabbi of Efrat.