Esther and I were blessed with the birth of our ninth child just a few weeks ago. Here’s how some people greeted the news:
“How many more children are you going to have?”
“Boy, you sure have your hands full…”
“You should get cable television…”
Don’t get me wrong: I understand the shock on people’s faces when they hear how many children we have. I can even empathize with their perspective and some of their responses (although the snide “cable television” comment is borderline repulsive and its sarcasm is beyond the scope of my comprehension.)
After all, raising children involves an enormous sacrifice of time, comfort, effort, and financial resources.
So why did my wife and I decide to have such a large family? Have we no limit?
The simple answer is “no.”
No, there is no limit to our desire to populate our broken world with Jews who will work to heal it, with acts of kindness, goodness, and joy.
No, there is no limit to our desire to replace the six million who were wiped out in the Holocaust.
Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, was hesitant to marry and have children after the evils he had witnessed. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, told him, “If you will not marry and bring more Jewish children into the world, that will be a victory for Hitler.”
We are resolved to respond to death with life; to replace hatred with love; to expel darkness with light. When my wife and I are asked, “When are you going to stop?” we retort: “When we hit six million!” That usually ends the discussion.
But from a more personal perspective: No, there is no limit to our desire to fulfill the first commandment in the Bible: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Not because we are religious fanatics but because we know that, after all is said and done, our lives are defined not by what we take from society but what we give to it.
The Talmud suggests that God will ask us six questions after we die. One of them is: “Were you fruitful? Did you multiply?”
In other words, “Did you produce any new fruits that will benefit others? Were you a giver or a taker? Did you make a difference in my world? Did you live a life that was dedicated to others, and not just to the self and the ‘selfie’ mentality?”
Over the years I have heard many women past childbearing age regret their decision not to have more children. They wish they could have had more, but as one woman told me this week, “Life got in the way.”
These women are not alone. We all carry such regrets. At times we look back on our lives and realize that some of our past endeavors – which may have cost us blood, sweat, and tears – turned out to be, at best, unsatisfactory.
Yet, as all parents can attest, there stands one endeavor that is guaranteed to succeed: The endeavor of being fruitful and multiplying. It may challenge us no end. It may transform our lives. It may even shatter our peace of mind and force us out of our comfort zone. But, ultimately, it will turn out to be the most rewarding aspect of our lives, and its impact and delicious fruits will last to eternity.
There’s a line in the film “The Shawshank Redemption” that sums up life in a blunt and truthful way:
“Life comes down to a simple choice: You get busy living or you get busy dying.”
Moses, the greatest leader of all time, left this idea ringing in our ears: “Choose life so that you and your children may live.”
Esther and I have decided to choose life and to get busy living. Our house is bursting with children – and we are very grateful. All of us, though, can get busy bringing life to the world through our actions and deeds. Our biological heirs are necessarily finite. But the number of our spiritual heirs – those whose lives we’ve touched for the good – can be limitless.
Will you join us?