The memory of the Holocaust must be leveraged for rehabilitation and progress, especially as long as the public commemorates Holocaust Day in the month of Nisan, which is not a time for grief, but of building * The Jewish people have not yet reached its numerical dimensions before the Holocaust – instead of 18 million Jews, today only a little over 14 million are known as being Jews * Therefore, as many Holocaust survivors say, in response to our murderers we must encourage birth * The education system should inform students about the physical and emotional benefits of raising a family, and teach how to establish large families despite all the challenges
The Appropriate Dates for Holocaust Remembrance
The date chosen for Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), the 27th of Nisan, was in opposition to the opinion of the rabbis. Nisan, the month the Jewish nation left Egypt, is a month of happiness. Therefore, the halakha was determined that for the entire month of Nisan, prayers of supplication are not recited and public fasts are not declared (S.A., O.C. 429:2). At funerals which occur during the month of Nisan eulogies are not said. Many people are custom not to visit gravesites during this month, and one who has a yahrtzeit in Nisan visits the gravesite before Rosh Chodesh. True, after Pesach some mourning customs of the Counting of the Omer are practiced, in memory of Rabbi Akiva’s students, but these days are not particularly days of sorrow or grief.
Therefore, it was apparently inappropriate to fix the painful Holocaust Remembrance Day in the month of Nisan, and as long an alternative day is not chosen, the proper time to remember the Holocaust are the days declared as fast days over the destruction of the Temple, primarily Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av), because all of the tragedies which befell the Jewish nation since then are rooted in the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel from its Land. The Chief Rabbinate chose the fast day of the 10th of Tevet as the time to say Kaddish (mourner’s prayer) for those whose dates of death are unknown.
Not to withdraw from the Public who perform a Mitzvah
At the same time, it is correct not to withdraw from the general public, which on this day fulfills a great mitzvah to remember the six million Jews, elderly men and women, fathers and sons, boys and girls. This mitzvah is based on many mitzvot, including the mitzvah ‘ve’ahavta l’reacha kamocha‘ (‘you must love your neighbor as you love yourself’), which obligates every Jew to feel a sense of brotherhood towards every other Jew, and to honor those who died with a eulogy. All the more so, it is a holy mitzvah for each of us to honor and eternally commemorate our six million fellow Jews who were murdered al Kiddush Hashem (for the sanctification of God) just because they were Jews. In commemorating the six million, we also strengthen ourselves in the observance of mitzvot dealing with war, to protect Israel from its foes, for by remembering the Holocaust we will be vigilant against our enemies, just as the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is meant to encourage Israel to stand guard against its enemies.
A Day to Encourage the Expansion of the Jewish People
In any event, inspired by the days of Nisan, during which we were redeemed from Egypt, it would be appropriate to leverage Yom Ha’Shoah in the month of Nisan in the direction of rehabilitation and momentum, with emphasis on life that the kedoshim (holy Jews) commanded us, in the sense of “And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you, ‘In your blood shall you live! Yes, I said to you, in your blood shall you live!” (Ezekiel 16:6). A day in which the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation) is raised on high.
This, most likely, was the last request of the six million who were brutally tortured and murdered – that any Jew who remained alive, would do everything possible to marry, have children, and carry on the heritage, to fulfill the verse: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they proliferated and spread.” This is what the survivors living amongst us tell us, that with every grandson and granddaughter born to them, they defeat the cursed Nazis.
Yom Ha’Shoah for Generations
The issue of how to commemorate Yom Ha’Shoah has yet to be decided by the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent Rabbis) – whether to explicitly broaden the meaning of the existing fasts, so as to give more expression to the period of the Holocaust, or to set an additional and specific day of fasting to commemorate it. However, it seems that if the national emphasis on Holocaust Remembrance Day were to be on the growth of the Jewish nation and family values and the commending of families blessed with several children, even according to the spirit of halakha, it would be possible to hold this day in the month of Nisan.
The Sorrowful Numbers
We have not yet recovered. Before the Holocaust, the Jewish nation numbered eighteen million – six million of whom were murdered during the Holocaust. Today, close to 80 years after the Holocaust, we number only a little more than 14 million. During these years the world developed and flourished – many nations doubled and even tripled their numbers. But we, the Jewish people, remain wounded – both physically and spiritually.
Due to the low birth rate and severe assimilation, the number of Jews in all the Jewish communities abroad is shrinking. Only here, in the Land of Israel, are we increasing. Compared to Western countries, our growth is phenomenal. In all economically and scientifically developed countries, the number of children is low, and the number of people is decreasing; only we merit demographic growth, thanks to the deep connection to Jewish heritage and family values rooted in Jewish tradition. Nevertheless, this is not enough to compensate for the terrible loss we suffered in the Holocaust. In order to strengthen the blessed process already existing in Israel, we must delve deeper into the importance of family values and the mitzvot of puru u’revuru.
The Conflict: Freedom versus Family
There are two conflicting movements in Israeli society: family values found in Jewish heritage, versus the secular outlook of the West. The widespread attitude today in academia and secular culture is that freedom, intended to allow an individual to express his unique personality, is the most important value. Family, on the other hand, is a binding, restrictive and suffocating framework. Indeed, a natural desire to establish a family still exists, but in practice, it stands in conflict with the secular cultural point of view. The values of personal freedom also clash with national values, since identification with the nation, with its heritage and its challenges, is restrictive and oppressive for someone whose personal freedom to express his uniqueness is at the center of his world.
Consequently, the Israeli educational system, which is greatly influenced by secular values of freedom promoted by academia, deals extensively with individual rights, tolerance, and democracy. These are important values, but as they are presented from the secular point of view, they clash with the values of family and the nation. Thus, family values are rarely dealt with thoroughly and systematically.
Therefore, it is important to learn and empower family values, which express the importance of love and giving as the center of one’s life. In contrast to the secular outlook which has less faith in true love involving boundless commitment, we must educate and explain that the whole person is one who breaks through his individual boundaries, loves and gives, is committed to his family, his nation, and tikkun olam (repairing the entire world). Freedom and comfort are not the purpose of life. They are important because they give a person an opportunity to choose his unique and appropriate path, but the choice must be in good values expressed in establishing a family with love and loyalty, adding life and blessing to the world.
Discuss Family Issues in Educational Institutions
In the vast majority of schools, including religious institutions, unfortunately, the value of family, love, loyalty, and the mitzvah of puru u’vuru are not dealt with adequately. The challenge of raising a large family and ways of overcoming difficulties involved, are not advanced.
The secular cultural environment creates an atmosphere in which it is unpleasant to talk about such things. In this way, however, educators do an injustice to the students, depriving them of values and information that are so vital to their lives.
In addition to the sacred value of establishing a family, reality also proves that the physical and mental state of married people is generally better, and they suffer less from depression and illnesses. This information should be included in material studied in high schools. Young people should be told that almost all adults who did not merit establishing a large family, in moments of sincerity, regret that they did not try harder to have another child or two. Because when a person views life in a broad, intelligent, and comprehensive way, he realizes that by and large, family is the most important objective in life.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, it would be appropriate to invite grandparents who have been privileged to establish large families to speak in schools about the difficulties and the tremendous satisfaction of having done so, and thus, commemorate the souls of the martyrs who were murdered in the Holocaust.
The Mitzvah of Puru u’Revuru
It is a Biblical obligation to procreate, and every child that parents give birth to, they fulfill a great mitzvah and merit participating with God in the birth of human being, and maintaining the entire world (Nida 31a; Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5). This is the initial purpose of Creation, for God desired the world be populated, as our Sages said: “And was not the world created for the sake of reproduction” (Mishna Gittin 4:2), as it is written “He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos” (Isaiah 45:18).
Although, without a binding definition, this great mitzvah is liable to be extremely general, to the point where in many cases it would not be implemented properly. This is because marriage is a sensitive and complex matter which depends on the understanding, feelings, hopes and consent of man and woman, and also to a certain extent, parents’ support and economic conditions.
Even after marriage, the general mitzvah leaves many doubts. On the one hand, since the birth of every child is a great mitzvah, some could argue that one child is enough – seeing as he alone is like an entire world – and postpone his birth until the parents are established and experienced. On the other hand, since the mitzvah is so immense and important, perhaps an effort should be made to have as many children as possible.
Consequently, in addition to the general idea of the mitzvah, the Torah set a basic and binding definition, and our Sages added and set more fences to give the general idea a clear and binding character.
The Extent of the Mitzvah
Our Sages determined that the mitzvah to marry is up to the age of 20, and at the latest until the age of 24, and today, l’chatchila (ideally) this is the general instruction (Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit u’Birchato 5: 7-12).
There are three levels in the fulfillment of the mitzvah: 1) The Torah obligation to have a son and a daughter. Even when conditions are difficult, it is necessary to make a great effort to fulfill the obligation, including using accepted medical means, such as in vitro fertilization.
2) It is an obligatory mitzvah from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance) to strive to have four or five children. In other words, ordinary parents who are not particularly ill, physically or mentally, are obligated to fulfill the rabbinical mitzvah to have four or five children.
3) It is a hidur mitzvah (an enhancement of the mitzvah) to have more children, according to the parents ability. In other words, for parents who know they can raise more children and instruct them in the ways of Torah, mitzvoth, and Derech Eretz, it is a mitzvah for them to continue having children according to their ability. However, if they know that with more children their burden will be too heavy, and their lives will be filled with anger and nervousness, it is preferable for them not to fulfill the hidur mitzvah, because even though with each additional child they fulfill a mitzvah, conversely, in their bad mental state they will transgress other prohibitions, and this is liable to have an adverse effect on the education of the children.
Not only that, but those who wish to turn their energies to other valuable channels, in a way that will not leave them strength to raise more children, are also entitled to do so (Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit u’Birchato 5: 4-6).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.