It's a sobering piece, and certainly one cannot ignore the statistics and the good doctor's research. But while the question of how many children to have should certainly include questions of marital and financial health, the article failed to include an important additional factor that Jews should consider in this perplexing question: faith. Put simply, it's a mitzvah to have children, and a greater mitzvah to have more children.
Then I remembered that I wrote about this once in my parshah column in the Detroit Jewish News. So I'm sharing with you the article I wrote back then (and hope to share more in the future). This piece first appeared back in 5763 (2003).
I don’t need to tell you that we, as a Jewish population, are not growing as we should be. While the Jewish population in 1970 was somewhere close to six million, we’re still hovering around that six million mark more than thirty years later. Why? It’s a rather complex question, but I can think of two pressing reasons: first and foremost, intermarriage carves a devastating chunk out of the Jewish population pie. But, there’s an equally obvious reason that we don’t have Federation studies and synagogue initiatives to counteract: American Jews simply aren’t having enough children.
Quick: What’s the first mitzvah in the Torah? To believe in God? Close, but not really. No, it must be the Ten Commandments, right? Actually, wrong again. The very first mitzvah in the Torah commands us to have children – a lot of them. The Torah tells us, “God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and God said to them, be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” Be fruitful and multiply. To me, that sounds like much more than the 1.6 children Americans (and most American Jews) have nowadays.
In fact, not only is it a blessing, it’s an imperative, a mitzvah, a commandment. The Chinuch, in listing the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, explains that having children must be the first commandment in the Torah because it’s the commandment upon which all others are based. How can we fulfill the mission of the Torah – to bring spirituality and godliness into the world without doing so ourselves, in our families, with our own children?
Today we consider how many children (and whether we have children at all) to be an issue of personal choice. With the wonders of modern medicine we (if we’re blessed with the ability) can decide when to have children, how many children we want to have, and now, even whether we’re going to have children at all. Yet, the Torah reminds us that having children isn’t so much a biological question as much as a religious one: what’s my mission here on this earth? What do I want to accomplish, and can I do more? If I’m here to make sure that I enjoy myself and have a comfortable life, then I’ll put off having children, or not have them at all. But if I understand that my mission in life is be a tzelem elokim, to live in God’s image and to emulate Him to the best of my ability, I can only do that by giving to others, and we give our best to our children.
Yes, having children is hard. Raising them is even harder. But the satisfaction and love and beauty of raising children, despite the hardships, the costs, the difficulties and frustrations are more than worth it. They justify our existence in the world.
While I’m writing to all Jews, I’m really writing to you – someone who’d read the “Rabbi’s message” in the Jewish News each week. You, just because you’re reading this, must be a caring, thinking member of the Jewish community. You must be someone who wants to grow spiritually each week. That’s why you’re reading this column right now. Don’t you think that you can give some of that wonderful energy to another child?
So, have more kids! There’s no better mitzvah to begin the Torah, and the New Year!