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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Why bother having children?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 64


For many decades, demographers predicted the global demise of religion.  Twenty-first century statistics, however, have demonstrated that around the world, faith is alive and well.  While they correctly foresaw the decline in proselytizing and the attraction of new devotees, they failed to take into account internal growth due to high birthrates of religious adherents across conservative faith groups.

Why do religious families tend to have a substantially greater number of offspring than non-believers?

Shmuel taught: We write a letter of contempt for a betrothed woman (to sue her husband) when she is demanding that he complete the marriage and the husband is not proceeding.
The Gemara asks: Why do we not say to her, “Go away, you are not commanded to procreate!”?  (The mitzvah of procreation is incumbent upon the man.   She has no obligation and should therefore have no claim when he fails to marry her.)
The Gemara answers: She may claim, “I desire a staff in my hand and a shovel for my funeral.”  Rashi explains that she is claiming the right to have a child who will sustain her in her old age and upon whom she may lean, and who will eventually bury her. 

Historically, one of the primary reasons people had children was in order to be supported in their old age.   Nowadays, with the advent of industrialization and societal support systems, that rationale has become somewhat obsolete.  We live in a day and age when begetting children is truly optional.

So, if you are not religious, why bother?  Why would you bring innocent children into a cruel, unjust world?  Why on earth would you unnecessarily foist the vicissitudes of life on another, for no good reason?  And if you are having children for your own satisfaction, then certainly anything more than one or two kids is more bother than pleasure.

If you are a believer, however, life has purpose.  You are bringing children into a world with meaning.  Now you have a reason to beget children, a message to impart: despite the challenges of this world, they are here on a mission from Heaven.  And unlike other religions, Judaism believes that every human being has a purpose on earth; and, first and foremost, all peoples must have faith in the One Above.  The Jewish people, however, are G-d’s chosen nation, and we have a unique mission.

Children should never get the impression from their parents that they were brought into this world simply as accessories and indulgences for their parents’ lives.  Why would they feel the need to respect the people who imposed life upon them in order to satisfy their own desires?  Rather, children must be brought up to believe their parents granted them the greatest gift – the gift of life – the ability to serve the Almighty!  When they receive that message, their lives will be filled with awe and respect for the two holy individuals that enabled them to fulfill their mission in the universe!


You are so fortunate to be living a life of meaning and purpose!  Above all else, that is the greatest blessing.  May you merit sharing the blessing with others, whether they be your biological or spiritual children!