By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
This week we open a new book, Exodus, second of the Five Books of Moses. The story of our parashah, Sh’mos, begins with the enslavement and bitter bondage of the Israelites in Egypt. In spite of the backbreaking oppression, hardship, and humiliation, the Jewish people would be forged in this fiery furnace of exile.
Jewish women, in particular, are given much of the credit for our eventual deliverance. “In the merit of the righteous women of that generation was Israel redeemed from Egypt” (Sotah 11b). The most important contribution of the women then was that they were prepared to bring children into the world despite those impossible living conditions. Furthermore, it was they who encouraged the menfolk to raise families during their slavery. The Talmud recounts how the women would soothe their husbands in the fields, charming and gently coaxing them into intimacy. Through their dedication was a generation born.
And today? There is no bondage and little suffering in our lives. Our biggest hardships are the mortgage, tuition fees, and costs for fixing the transmission in the second car. Even those among us who struggle financially live far more comfortably than any of our forebears. But we have been so conditioned—make that brainwashed—by a societal value system and media manipulation to believe that anybody with more than three children is positively primitive and oh-so-unsophisticated.
Everyone knows that the very first commandment in the Bible is to “be fruitful and multiply,” and all of us are called upon to build and populate the world. But the argument goes that this only applied in the beginning of time, when there were Adam and Eve and a handful of others, but today we suffer from overpopulation, hunger, and poverty. Well, everyone also knows that overpopulation is not a problem in affluent countries and communities. And we also know that hunger could be alleviated if there were an equitable global food-distribution program. Having another kid in California isn’t really going to cause starvation in Bangladesh.
Certainly from a uniquely Jewish perspective, we Jews are grossly underpopulated. We have still not replaced the one-third of our nation wiped out in the Holocaust. By now, we should have been far more numerous. Sure, our numbers are depleting because of assimilation, but also because we are having smaller families. Jews seem to take the two-per-family rule more seriously than most. But, if anything, we should be claiming a dispensation from the holy injunction to comply with Zero Population Growth on the grounds that we are still making up our losses. Besides, chances are we won’t be turning to the United Nations or the World Bank for their assistance. If necessary, we will help ourselves.
Then there is Israel. Let’s face it. A factor which exacerbates our difficulties in the Middle East is that Palestinians have more children than Israelis. If every Israeli family had one more child, we wouldn’t be so dependent on massive aliyah numbers from around the world.
Isn’t it expensive to have a big family? Without doubt, more mouths to feed, clothe, and educate means a bigger family budget. But it is also a question of priorities, allocations, and making choices. A family vehicle instead of a luxury car is only one example of how larger families manage.
At the end of the day, we trust in G‑d and really do believe that with every new child comes a new blessing of sustenance from Hashem to help us raise that child. Over the years, on many occasions, I have heard women say they wish they had had more children. How many famous actresses have been busy with their careers and when they were finally ready to start a family, it wasn’t easy. Their own biological clocks ticked away while they were playing other people’s lives on screen.
My wife and I have, thank G‑d, been blessed with a large family. Over the years, we have been on the receiving end of many jokes and snide remarks. With incredulous, wide eyes, people asked my wife, “How many children do you have?” Her stock answer? “One of each.” I can well appreciate the rabbi who got tired of all the dirty looks at his kids. Wise guys would challenge him with questions like “When are you going to stop?” His reply? “When I hit six million!” End of discussion.
So, if you’re feeling broody, go for it. If you want to bring yourself many beautiful blessings (not to mention grandchildren) for many years to come, have another child. Don’t be intimidated by convention, cynics, or even your mother-in-law! Plan a larger family. It’ll make you larger than life and give you much satisfaction and nachas—for life. Our grandmothers in Egypt were heroines. Their faith built a nation. May we do our share and, please G‑d, we will be redeemed too.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.