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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Shemos

The Importance Of Bearing As Many Children As Possible

I am receiving a number a shaalos from people asking advice about family planning. In light of the need to understand the Torah attitude on childbearing I wish to offer this article written by my dear departed friend Rav Yisroel Pesach Feinhandler, z"l. This is an excerpt from his sefer, Beloved Companions, Parashas Shemos.

"And a man from the house of Levi went and married the daughter of Levi." (Shemos 2:1)

"And a man from the house of Levi went." Where did he go? He went in the way that his daughter advised him. We have learned that Amram was the greatest Sage in his generation. When he heard that Pharaoh had said, "Every son that will be born to the Jews shall be killed, (Shemos 1:22) Amram said, "In vain are we striving." Then he went and divorced his wife. Following his example, all other Jewish men also divorced their wives.

His daughter said to him, "Your decree is worse than Pharaoh's decree. Pharaoh made a decree only against the boys, but your decree is against the boys and the girls. Pharaoh decreed only in this world, but your decree is in this world and the World to Come. Pharaoh is wicked, and it is doubtful whether his decree will be fulfilled. But you are a tzaddik, and your decree will certainly be fulfilled, as it is written, 'And you make a decree, and it lasts.'" (Iyov 22:28)

He went and brought back his wife. The rest of the Jews also brought back their wives.

"And married the daughter of Levi." (Shemos 2:1)

It should have been written that "he brought her back." But this is teaching us that he made a real wedding. He led her under a chupah, and Aharon and Miriam were dancing in front of her, and the holy angels were saying, "The mother of the sons is happy." (Tehillim 113:9) (Yalkut Shimoni 165)

What was Amram's mistake that caused his daughter Miriam to correct him? How could she know better than her father, who was the greatest Sage in his generation? Why did Miriam use three different arguments to convince her father, when it seems that one would have been sufficent? Why did Amram make a grand wedding when he took his wife back, instead of having just a simple ceremony, which would had sufficed, since she had already been married to him once?

Amram's logic was quite simple. He believed that since there was a decree that all male children would be killed, he could not justify putting a woman through all the pain of pregnancy and childbirth, only to end up seeing her child murdered. A person should have children when he is able to take care of them and give them life, but what was the purpose of having children just so that they could die? Therefore, he reasoned that it was preferable not to bring children into the world, and he decided to divorce his wife.

Perhaps the reason he divorced his wife, rather than merely preventing her from becoming pregnant, was that no permissible methods of contraception were known at that time. Or perhaps it would be more reasonable to say that since the birth of a male child would mean certain death, he was not willing to take even the slightest risk of causing the death of his children. But his daughter Miriam disputed her father with three arguments. One was that there was no reason for the girls to suffer and not have the chance to live, because of the boys. Even if, G-d forbid, all the males of the Jewish nation were killed, there might still be a continuation of the Jewish people, since all children born to Jewish women are considered Jewish, no matter who the father is. (Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer 4:19, see Eitz Yoseph on Sotah 12a)

Therefore, Miriam claimed that her father's plan would lead to the complete destruction of the Jewish people, while her plan would leave a chance for its continuation. "Pharaoh decreed only in this world, but your decree is in this world and the World to Come. In the second argument, she said that when a baby is born, he has a chance to gain entry into the World to Come. But if he is never born at all, there is no possibility for him to enter the World to Come, since this world is the only corridor that leads to that world (Midrash Mishlei Ch. 6 par. 8) Miriam's claim was that no matter what happens to a person in this world and no matter how much he suffers, it is always worthwhile to have been here, since only through this world can a person gain entry to the World that is eternal. "Pharaoh is wicked, and it is doubtful whether his decree will be fulfilled. But you are a tzaddik, and your decree will certainly be fulfilled." Here in the third argument, Miriam was giving her father a lesson in trusting G-d. Our Sages say that even if a sharp sword is at a person's throat and impossible odds are against him, he should not give up hope of being rescued by G-d's mercy. (Berachos 10a) Miriam claimed that by divorcing his wife, her father was not giving G-d a chance to reveal His mercy.

Even though it seemed that there was no logical chance for the decree to be abolished, in reality, Amram's positive response to Miriam's arguments caused the decree to be cancelled. We learn this, our Sages say, from the fact that after Moshe was born and hidden on the Nile, the wise men of Pharaoh decided to abolish the decree, because they saw in the stars that the savior of Israel was in water. They interpreted this to mean that he had been drowned, and hence no longer posed a threat to the Egyptians. (Midrash Shemos Rabbah, Margalios, ch. 1 par. 61}

It was possible for Moshe to be born and later put into the Nile only because his father Amram took back his wife. So we see that Amram's act of trust in G-d caused the decree to be abolished, and Miriam's prophetic words, that Hashem would show His mercy, came true.

Miriam needed all three arguments in order to convince her father, since he might have been able to dispute one of them, but it would have been impossible for him to dispute all three.

"He led her under a chupah, and Aharon and Miriam were dancing in front of her, and the holy angels were saying, 'The mother of the sons is happy.'" (Tehillim 113:9)

The return of Amram's wife, Yocheved, was cause for joyous celebration. Amram loved his wife dearly, and only after he had come to the conclusion that he could not remain married to her did he commit the painful act of divorcing her. Therefore, when Miriam convinced him that he was wrong and that he should continue living with his wife, he was full of joy and celebrated at the second wedding accordingly.

His great rejoicing upon being reunited with his wife reveals how brave he had been to divorce her in the first place. He forced aside his deep feelings of love for her and did what he thought the Torah obligated him to do. This is really a lesson in courage, where one accepts the Torah as one's guide, while one's personal feelings are set aside, no matter how painful this might be.

Marriage Teaches Us Lessons In Self-Restraint

This lesson of self-restraint also applies to married life. At certain times physical contact with our wives is permitted to us, while at other times it is forbidden, in accordance with their monthly cycles. We must look at these days of separation as opportunities for us to demonstrate the self-restraint required of us by Torah law. This cycle of separation and reunion helps us to constantly renew and revitalize our relationship with our spouses. It is as if we have been divorced and are once again remarried. Just as Amram experienced renewed joy when he was reunited with his wife, so too, we gain a similar sort of pleasure when we observe this law of the Torah.

This midrash hints at the importance of bearing as many children as possible. Miriam's and Amram's whole discussion revolves around the need to ensure the perpetuation of the Jewish people by continuing procreation. People tend to worry only about their personal comfort, instead of thinking about how much the Jewish nation will benefit if another child comes into the world. Miriam's and Amram's actions in the midrash indicate that in fact the latter consideration should take precedence over the former.

But bringing children into the world also brings greater responsibility for the husband. He should realize that he must help a great deal with every child in the family, and not expect his wife to bear the entire burden. Children are a joint venture which both father and mother must share. Together they must care for them, and train and educate them in the ways of Torah. Every child needs to be surrounded by the love and attention of both parents, and all this is part of the responsibility of bringing children into the world. It is an essential part of marriage to share all aspects of raising children, and never should one spouse be so busy that he does not have time for his children. A mature marriage is one in which both responsibilities and pleasures are shared, while the primary goal of building a Jewish home and family to sanctify G-d's name is always kept in mind.

Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-325-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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