Birth – A Blessing for Family and Nation
The census in this week’s Torah portion indicates the importance of the multiplicity of the Jewish people and their families * The haftarah also indicates that the redemption of the nation depends on the number of its people * The Torah’s way of taking a census conveys an appreciation for man, owing to his Godly image * The multiplicity of children includes all the blessings and mitzvot * One should be mindful of the impact the age of marriage has on the size of a family, as well as the difference in age between children * This does not diminish the value of those who did not merit to have children, whose influence can also be enormous * What did Ben-Gurion write to the mothers of large families?
Many people wish to have a large and glorious family, to fulfill the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation) exceptionally, and to see sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, great-grandsons and great-granddaughters engaged in Torah and mitzvot for the glory of the Torah, the Nation, and the Land. In this general mitzvah one merits revealing all the Torah values and mitzvot, emunah (faith) and bracha (blessing), the brit (covenant) and ahava (love), commitment and joy, mitzvot between man and God, between man and his fellow man, between man and his nation, and bringing closer the Redemption.
In order to realize this great and wonderful vision, it is important to present important information to those interested. Everyone knows that the number of children is a key component, but many are unaware of the crucial impact of the age one gets married and gives birth. To this end, I will add tables showing the effect the number of children and the age of marriage has on family growth.
Indeed, halakha guides us both in the mitzvah related to the number of children and in the mitzvah related to the age of marriage, and the postponement of pregnancy. Regarding children, the Torah commands one to give birth to a son and daughter, while d’Rabanan (rabbinical mandate), the instruction is to have four to five children, and beyond that is mehadrin (glorifying the mitzvah) (Peninei Halakha: Simchat Ha’Bayit u’Berchato 5:4-6). Regarding the age of marriage, the original guidance was until the age of twenty, and today, until the age of twenty-four (ibid 5: 7-11). Postponement of the first pregnancy – only under special circumstances (ibid. 5: 15), and afterward for health purposes, until the fulfillment of the mitzvah as per its varying levels (5: 13-16).
Accordingly, it should be noted that the elapse of time between births also has a significant impact on the growth of a family. Two tables are presented for this purpose, one for a two-year interval between births, and the second for a three-year interval.
Note to the Table
Today, with the Western world’s empowerment of man as an individual, serious problems of loneliness, alienation, and despair have emerged. It should be emphasized that the main blessing of the family is goodwill, love, and happiness, from an early age until advanced years. These tables are only tools to assist the judgment of those wishing to raise a family.
The table summarizes the number of offspring parents will have when they reach the age of one hundred. This, taking into account the average age of marriage, and the average intervals between births and the number of children when a child is born about a year after marriage. Obviously, there is no family where all the children marry at the same age and no family with all its children having the same number of offspring. The table deals with averages.
Consequently, there are no averages for more than seven children, because it is difficult to estimate the possibility of a family whose offspring will have an average of eight children for nearly one hundred years.
Chumash Ha’Pekudim – The Book of Numbers
The size of a Jewish family should not be taken lightly, for in the Chumash Bamidbar – Chumash Ha-Pekudim (The Book of Numbers) – we learn about the great and sacred importance of the multitude of Israel’s families. In the Torah portion Bamidbar, in the second year of Israel’s departure from Egypt, Moshe was commanded to count the Children of Israel, their families and tribes, with the sum repeatedly counted in different contexts. And once again, at the end of forty years, Moshe was commanded to count the Children of Israel (Numbers 26: 2). In all, the Torah dedicates nearly eighty-one verses to the counting of Israel in the Torah portion Bamidbar, and in the Torah portion of Pinchas, about fifty-one verses. As Rashi wrote: “Because they were dear to Him, He counted them often. When they left Egypt, He counted them, when many fell because of the sin of the Golden Calf, He counted them to know the number of survivors, when He came to cause His Divine Presence to rest among them, He counted them” (Numbers 1:1).
Redemption, Inheritance of the Land, and the Counting of Israel
In the opening of this week’s haftarah, it is written: “Yet the time will come when Israel shall prosper and become a great nation; in that day her people will be too numerous to count—like sand along a seashore! Then, instead of saying to them, ‘You are not my people,’ I will tell them, ‘You are my sons, children of the Living God… At that time I will make a treaty between you and the wild animals, birds, and snakes, not to fear each other anymore; and I will destroy all weapons, and all wars will end. Then you will lie down in peace and safety, unafraid; and I will bind you to me forever with chains of righteousness and justice and love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness and love, and you will really know me then as you never have before.” (Hosea 2:1-22).
The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the commandment to settle the Land) is also connected to the number of the Children of Israel, as God said to our forefather Yaacov: “I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants” (Genesis 28: 13-14). Because they were negligent in the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation) during the forty years that they wandered in the desert, the Israelites did not merit inheriting the Land properly, and enemies remained in the Land harassing them (Exodus 23:29-31; Numbers 33:55; Nahmanides ibid, 21:21; Malbim, Exodus 23:29).
Additional Measures of Blessing
It must be emphasized that the number of children is not the only measure of blessing, success, and happiness. Some of the greatest Torah scholars did not merit having children – and their contribution to the Jewish people in Torah, good deeds, or public leadership was enormous. Regarding such people, Hashem said: “I will give them—in my house, within my walls—a name far greater than the honor they would receive from having sons and daughters. For the name that I will give them is an everlasting one; it will never disappear” (Isaiah 56: 5). All the more so regarding those meriting to have children, but not as many.
How to Count People
There is also a difficult problem in counting people since by referring to a person as a number it diminishes him; it ignores his uniqueness, his absolute value, and the image of God within him. We also learned in the Torah that the counting of people is liable to cause a plague, as it is stated: “When you take a census of the Israelites to determine their numbers, each one shall be counted by giving an atonement offering for his life. In this manner, they will not be stricken by the plague when they are counted” (Exodus 30:12). We have also found that in the days of King David as a result of an improper counting, a judgment was decreed against Israel and approximately seventy thousand people died in a plague (II Samuel, Chap. 24).
Rather, the Torah commanded that when the Israelites were to be counted, each one would give half a shekel as an offering to Hashem, the coins would be counted, and thus, they would know how many people there were. In this way people themselves are not counted, because they have no number; rather, their subsequent actions are counted, which is permissible. Even the counting itself must be performed in holiness and for Heaven’s sake, as an offering to the Mikdash (Holy Temple), and to fulfill the commandment of Israel’s wars in the number of soldiers fit to go out to the army in the Chumash Bamidbar.
When Israelites are counted in this way, namely, their sacred appearance and not themselves, the count elevates them, and “raises their heads”, as stated in our Torah portion: “Take the sum (literally, ‘raise the heads’) of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by families following their fathers’ houses” (Numbers 1: 2), and also in the following Torah portion regarding the sons of Levi it is said: “Make a count (lit., ‘raise the heads’) of… the children of Levi by their families, according to their fathers’ houses. From the age of thirty until the age of fifty, all who enter the service, to do work in the Tent of Meeting” (Numbers 4: 2-3).
A Letter from the Government to Women with Several Children
In conclusion, it is interesting to mention the 100 Lira grant awarded by the Israeli government during the early years of the State of Israel to every mother who merited giving birth to ten children. One hundred Lira in those days was worth a few months’ salary.
The letter attached to the grant read: “In honor of Mrs. __ the Government of Israel hereby sends you a check for 100 Lira – in recognition and encouragement of a Jewish mother who gave birth and raised ten children. May you merit raising them to Torah, work, and good deeds, for the homeland and the nation, and may your hands be strengthened. D. Ben-Gurion.” I received a copy of the letter from a man whose late grandmother was honored to receive the grant.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.