Discussing the Commandment to Be Fruitful and Multiply
Whenever I write about the importance of the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, I receive heartrending letters from families waiting and hoping, to no avail, for children. The responses have increased in the last few months during which I elaborated in my study of the commandment in many articles.
Since there is enormous moral benefit in understanding the pain of childlessness, I will quote some of the letters.
The Reply of a Mother with an Only Daughter
"To the honorable Rabbi Melamed, peace and blessing.
Each year, especially on the Torah portion Shemot, you write about the issue of procreation, fertility, and of course, the age of marriage, the delay of which you take pains to clarify, causes damage to the fulfillment of the mitzvah.
As a fertility-challenged woman, (and not on my part, but rather, due to my husband, he should live and be well), I grieve and weep over the matter every time. These issues are difficult for me and penetrate my heart like an arrow, always causing me pain and distress.
And I ask: Where is God in all of this? Why are we so sure that we are the ones who decide on our lives and future? Who determined that if we get married at the age of 20, we will merit having a lot of children? Doesn’t the Main Partner have a word and decision in the matter?
I truly wanted to marry at an early age, but I married late against my will. It was the will of God the Almighty to bring me to the covenant of marriage at the age of 27. I wanted children, and lots of them, so badly that I didn’t even take pills before the wedding; the most important thing was to get pregnant as quick as possible and without hindrances.
Am I to blame that God, Blessed be He, gave me a pure and shinning soul only after five years? Am I responsible for my husband’s severe fertility problems? After all, God created him that way.
Apparently, we won’t have more children, and therefore, reluctantly, I must be satisfied with our only daughter, and be grateful from the bottom of my heart for the special girl we were given by God Almighty, Whose honor fills the entire world.
Rabbi, I ask you to speak about the fertility-challenged, of whom unfortunately, there are many in Israel, even if only to convey to all of us that we are not to blame."
Your words were very moving. I am sure that you also understand it is important to encourage the public to fulfill the commandment, and this is the purpose of what I wrote. Nevertheless, I would like to write constructive and optimistic words to the fertility-challenged, and with God’s help, I will merit doing so.
In order to write about such a deep, sad, and challenging matter, I need see’yata d’shmiya (help from Heaven). If you have articles on this issue, I would be happy to receive them.
First of all, I would like to thank you, Rabbi, for your kind words. Of course I realize that your intentions are good. The issue is difficult for me because it seems as though I was late in two main issues – marriage and having children, and not because I did not want to. I work on these issues internally all the time.
Just recently I realized how HaKadosh Baruch Hu is the One, and the only One, responsible for everything – and everything comes from Him, Blessed be He. He decides and determines when, why, and how. It’s a pity infertility is not spoken about in yeshiva’s and seminaries.
The idea that immediately within nine months after the wedding a child is born is a terrible mistake which also contains ga’avah(pride) of "kochi v’otzem yadi" ("It was my own strength and personal power"). Perhaps knowing that giving birth is not guaranteed will awaken those who delay marriage complacently, thinking that after getting married they will definitely have children.
I hope what I said was not rude towards you, Rabbi – this was not my intention whatsoever.
The most important thing is that the Jewish nation continues to grow and advance with greater strength and greater sacred courage, to be a holy and singular nation in the Land."
A Reply from a Childless Man
"Rabbi, my wife and I read your article on the importance of the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, and what can we say? We agree with every word. Unfortunately, however, there are many couples who go through physical and spiritual agony in fertility treatments for many years, with no success.
We are a religious, married couple, over 40 years of age, from the center of the country. We met each other at the age of 30, but then parted our ways, because, of course, a man can always find a prettier partner, and a woman can always find someone from a superior combat unit. Today we understand that the silent clock had already started to tick back then.
We met again at the age of 36, and by the grace of God, literally in the eleventh hour, we escaped overlong bachelorhood, but pregnancy was late in coming. For years we went through the terrible course of fertility treatments – from the easier treatments to the harder – including in-vitro fertilization – but they all failed. During the years of treatments, we also went through an abortion. Today, the doctor’s claim the chances for pregnancy are nil, and advise us about finding a solution in fertility clinics abroad. We are saddened by the thought of solutions that might be problematic halakhically, genetically, and financially.
Every day we are faced with difficult questions. What should I answer my wife when she asks ‘What did I do to deserve this suffering’? What can I say to myself, when I so badly want a son who will carry on the family? How can I say to people who see us as being abnormal? Couples like us read your articles, Rabbi, and our hearts long desperately for something that is unachievable. Rabbi, are you not personally familiar with a childless couple?
I would be happy to read an article by you, Rabbi, about the correct spiritual way to deal with this issue. Incidentally, quite often we hear answers like ‘look on the bright side of life’, and ‘it’s the sorrow of the Shechina’. Such answers are only a small consolation. Our hope is that we will merit in the coming month of Adar to a "ve’nafachu"(turnaround), and that the "chances are nil" we have been told will, God willing, turn into a great salvation for all couples in this situation, including ourselves.
All the best and compliments for the interesting and important articles each week.
Sincerely, a married couple from the center of the country."
With God’s help, one day I hope to be able to write about the important issue you raised. Until now, I felt I had nothing to add. Even the regular answers you mentioned, about ‘looking on the bright side of life’ and ‘the sorrow of the Shechina’ – which of course are correct – I cannot write about properly, because I find it difficult to write about something I do not understand completely, in mind and heart. I need to assimilate things in an all-inclusive manner.
In regards to your question whether I am personally familiar with a childless couple, indeed, I am not, and apparently because of this, I am less aware of the problems they face.
I hope that in the coming years, perhaps when I review the laws of marriage and reproduction once again, I will feel with all my heart the sorrow of the childless – to truly cry with them, and thus, be able to fulfill your request.
A Recent Comment
"We read with interest and great pleasure the column ‘Revivim’ in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and I’d like to take this opportunity to say ‘yasher koach’ Rabbi, and thank you very much!
Maybe you can explain a certain point that bothered us: Rabbi, in recent months you have written a lot about the importance of the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply and high birthrate. As a couple going through fertility treatments and waiting so long, making a great deal of effort, and experiencing physical, mental, economic, and social difficulties, we wanted to relate our feelings upon reading the columns.
When you read sentences (including the statements themselves and the general mood) like "the world was created only for procreation", and how the commandment of yishuv ha’aretz depends on reproduction and numerous other phrases, we understand and agree intellectually, but the feeling that we presumably have no part in all these important things is unbearable.
We also have a difficultly with the notion and presumption that having children is obvious and a person’s individual choice, without reference to all the numerous couples who cannot, and do not, know when or if it will happen.
Of course the issue of having several children is important and requires strengthening, but we feel it is important to remember the side of the couples who want so badly, and are waiting for a child. It might be appropriate at the very least to be mindful of this, and raise awareness of their sorrow.
We hope we are understood, and once again, a big yasher koach on everything!"
Response: I understand. Thank you very much for the important clarification. With God’s help, I will strive to find a way to write about the immense and sacred challenge facing the childless in the coming weeks.
Embarking on a Response to the Requests
Of late, while dealing with the commandments of onah (conjugal relations) and puru u’revuru (procreation), I dedicated several weeks to the issue of childlessness in Jewish law and Thought.
To some extent, I delved into the realms of sorrow, despair, and pain of the childless. Countless tears flowed from my eyes as I was with them in thought, and in this manner, I wrote a chapter composed of eight sections (in the style of ‘Peninei Halakha’), titled "Consolation of the Childless". In this chapter I dealt with the agony of infertility and its roots, which sometimes are due to a person’s fate and destiny, which makes it almost impossible to change; teshuva (repentance) and prayers are indeed beneficial for tikkun olam, but do not entitle the parents to have children.
Sometimes the trials and tribulations are intended to inspire the parents to rise to a higher spiritual level, in which case repentance and good deeds can be helpful, as was the case of our forefathers and mothers, most of who suffered from infertility. I also wrote about the importance of the entreaties of the barren, as we learned from the prayers of Hannah. In addition, I wrote about those who adopt children, or help in the rearing of children, and by doing so, are deemed as if they gave birth to them. I also wrote about educating children and giving charity towards their education, in which case the educator and the donor are also considered as if they had given birth to the children.
However, the most important idea I wished to explain, and as long as I had not understood it properly, I could not write about all the other related topics, is the section dealing with the importance of the love and joy between the childless couple. The idea is both simple and profound at once; essentially, if in spite of the suffering and sorrow, the childless couple is able to strengthen their faith, deepen their love for one another, and greatly please each other in conjugal relations – they merit adding life and blessing to the world.
God willing, if there are no burning issues in Israel or outside of it, I will continue this important topic next week.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.