Let’s face it: It is unusual and somewhat bizarre nowadays to encounter a family in the US with more than two children. It is almost as if a war has been launched against the unborn after the “red limit” of two or three has been reached. Instead of enriching our world with the unparalleled innocence and joy of children, we have permeated it with various forms of contraception.
It is no wonder that global birth rates are rapidly declining. In the US, it stands at 2.11 children per family. Europe’s is only 1.38 children per family, and if not for the massive influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, it might be much worse.
My wife and I were made painfully aware of these shocking statistics after being blessed with our sixth child a few weeks ago. “When are you going to stop?” many asked. “We really hope this is your last one,” others suggested gently, with a mixture of affection and bewilderment.
But why has our society developed such an obsession with birth control and family planning? Are we afraid of overpopulating the world? Have we become too unsure of our ability to raise more than two children?
RAISING CHILDREN involves an enormous sacrifice of emotions, time, attention and financial resources. Every parent knows that when a child is born, a new environment is inevitably created in the home, as the new addition swiftly captures the center stage. The focus of life suddenly shifts from “I” to “you,” from receiving to giving. It is no wonder that one can seldom find a set of parents who eat, drink, sleep and work as they did before a child was introduced to their lives.
Yet in modern society, where the “I” is idolized and the “you” is abandoned, where can you find space for children and the sacrifice they require? Can the selfish man become selfless and allow room for children? Can a being dedicated to instant gratification become altruistic and also vote for the future?
Perhaps there is an additional reason for the reluctance to procreate: It is no secret that children intensify our love for and commitment to our spouse. When a husband and wife have children, they learn to surmount their differences and unite in love and devotion for the sake of their children. As more children are born, the commitment only deepens, as every child becomes another binding factor.
Yet today, many prefer to shy away from this binding commitment due to an unprecedented rate of divorce around the globe. Furthermore, this crisis often casts doubt on many a married couple, who continue to wonder if their spouse is “really the right one for them.”
“Maybe I should have married someone richer, smarter or stronger,” they fantasize. But if the marriage unit is not established as a fait établi
, it will never be able to soar to new heights of love and commitment. For how can you build a skyscraping edifice and an everlasting genealogy of blossoming branches and fruits without solid foundations of certainty?
“For this is what God says... He who fashioned and made the earth... He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited.”
Indeed, the purpose of creation was to inhabit the world and elevate it. For the world is not complete without the habitation of man. And the world will only reach its ultimate purpose through the unique contributions of each and every human being.
This poignant idea was well articulated by the Babylonian Talmud: “The Son of David will only come [and the world will attain a state of completion and redemption] when all the souls destined to [inhabit earthly] bodies will be exhausted.”
So, if a person is blessed with the ability to procreate, how can he halt the contributions of the unborn which will bring redemption to the world? And would the world ever have evolved if the parents of our historic heroes had given up hope? Would you, the reader, be here today if not for the unwavering faith of your parents, who gave birth and raised a personal hero of their own?
WOODY ALLEN once said: “I do not want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.” Alas, in the end, everyone dies. There is only one way to achieve the blessing of an immortal life: have children. Most achievements, like names on buildings, come and vanish into the pages of history. Only children have the power to carry our lives onward forever. Only children can allow us to become truly immortal.
We ought to restore our allegiance to the future. It is not enough to have been created; we too must create. It is not enough to live for the present; we must also live for the future. This will ensure the immortality of our beings, of our heritage and of our culture.
As my dear mentor, world-renowned scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, often
says: “Having children is the loudest statement of hope for the future.”
Nothing in the world engenders more happiness than children of your own.
Nothing melts the heart more than the innocent smile of children. And
nothing will ensure your everlasting continuity than the faith and
courage to have them.
The writer is the Spiritual Leader of
Ahavat Shalom Congregation in Scottsdale, AZ. He is a sought-after
lecturer and author of many essays and writings on the Jewish faith,
mysticism and social analysis.