And G-d blessed them and said to them: Be fruitful and multiply, fill up the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea, the bird of the sky and every living thing that moves on the earth.
And G-d said to the serpent: …I will place enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring… To the woman He said: I will greatly increase your suffering and your child bearing, in pain shall you bear children. Yet your craving shall be for your husband, and he will rule over you… To Adam He said: Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate of the tree about which I commanded you saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; with suffering shall you eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread, until you return to the ground from which you were taken.
Are children one of life’s greatest blessings? Ask any new parents and they will surely agree. But raising children also has a flip side, which is difficult to ignore. There are the physical stresses of pregnancy and childbirth. There are the taxing chores associated with child-care, and the emotionally wrenching job of patiently training contrary youngsters into caring, responsible and mature adults. Add to that the financial burden of supporting a growing family, and it is perhaps not surprising that many people choose to eschew child-raising altogether, or at least drastically limit the size of their family.
There are other arguments commonly offered to support this movement towards family planning. There is concern that the children in a large family will suffer if they are forced to share their parents’ time, attention and possessions with too many siblings. Would it not be fairer to have fewer children, and offer each of them more comforts and luxuries? Finally, there is the projected societal cost of each new soul brought into the world. Can the earth’s resources be infinitely taxed? As a safeguard to the earth’s limited resources, maybe we should exercise restraint, and avoid a potential global crisis brought about through over-population.
How did it come about that another human being, even one’s own child, may be perceived as a burden, a potential threat to our personal well-being? We need to look back to the first parents in history, Adam and Chava1. Originally, their bodies were created to experience parenting as nothing but joy and a blessing. Childbirth was to be effortless and pain-free. The earth was designed to bring forth its bounty spontaneously, without any need for intense labor on the part of man.
What changed all that was their decision to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. From that moment, their bodies underwent a marked change. Childbirth would contain an element of difficulty and pain. Raising children would no longer be an exclusively joyous, harmonious experience. Instead, it would also include moments of strife, tension, and emotional distress. Physical sustenance would cease to flow forth gratis; man would need to invest tremendous effort to provide himself and his family with the necessities of survival.
What was it about eating from the tree that provoked such a drastic transformation? The “knowledge” that Adam and Chava acquired through tasting its fruit was self-awareness. Prior to eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Chava were not aware of themselves as independent entities, distinct from G-d. The universe existed in a pristine state because it was an unequivocal reflection of its Divine Master. Each element of creation recognized its unique place in the Divine plan, and thus performed its distinct function flawlessly, in complete harmony with every other component.
Through eating of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Chava introduced a note of discord into the previously integral universe. As “they opened their eyes, and realized their nakedness2“, they simultaneously opened the eyes of every other creature3. For the first time, a created being had asserted its own will, in defiance of the Divine will. Suddenly, the formerly docile animals developed angry and predatory tendencies; the previously generous earth became contrary and unpredictable. Previously synergetic organisms would now be forced to deal with hostility and conflict. From that time on, there would be an element of tension between man and the animal kingdom, between the sexes, between man and nature, between parents and children, and perhaps most striking and most devastating of all, within the body itself4. Adam and Chava chose to set themselves apart from creation, to be “like G-d5“, independent and liberated. However, their independence came at a cost, not only to themselves but also to all of creation.
Since then we have struggled to regain that state of perfect unity that had previously reigned. Adam and Chava were the first to introduce self-consideration as a factor in determining behavior, with all the accompanying disunity that it brought in consequence. However, there is one element which remained unaffected by the sin, and it is this one element which is our inherent hope of returning the world to its original glory.
By inviting conflict into the world through ignoring the divine commandment, Adam and Chava thereby disconnected themselves from their divine source. But within them still remained a part that never lost its connection to G-d, and in fact, felt deeply ashamed and humiliated by the breach that they had caused. Every soul is a spark of G-d, and all the friction and coarseness of the universe can never completely extinguish it, or separate it from its divine source. Every additional soul born adds to the sum total of G-dly energy at work in this world; building, repairing, and creating. The damage done by Adam and Chava can yet be undone. It can be undone by devoting ourselves to the G-dly task of bringing more children into this world, and dedicating our full energies to their needs, their upbringing, and their nurturing.
Yes, raising children is often difficult, time-consuming and exasperating. Our wills clash with theirs; our bodies cry out for respite. Yet limiting the number of children born means restricting the total G-dly energy available for rebuilding the world in the light of divine precepts. We can bring up children to overcome selfishness and cruelty. We can instill in them a desire for morality, for values, for respect of themselves and others. But we cannot do that when we place physical possessions, or personal ambitions, above the value of another life, another child born.
Can the family bear the stress of additional members, more mouths to feed, more bodies and souls and psyches in need of attention and nurturing? A truer question is, can the family bear the stress of restricting birth; of repressing the divine urge to procreate, and denying siblings the opportunity to learn sharing, caring and giving. The unity of the marriage and the family grows only stronger when all members make room in their hearts and lives for more children.
“Overpopulation” need not be a dominant concern. Human beings are tremendously resourceful, and are continually providing new solutions to maximize the earth’s productive capability. The course of human history has proven that it is not the number of people in the world that determines whether there is hunger, decay or violence. In Cain’s view, the world was not large enough for him to share with his only brother, Abel. The population of the generation of the flood was considerably smaller than today’s, yet they suffered from rampant chaos and utter anarchy. There was no family structure, no justice system, no moral laws whatsoever. The society was so irredeemably evil that there was no recourse but complete destruction. Had there been fewer individuals, would that have forestalled that society’s descent into rampant self-indulgence and narcissism? Projections regarding our future ability to sustain a growing population are based only upon the knowledge and technology available today. Imagine scientists 500 years ago attempting to engineer a massive birth control effort based on the medical, agricultural and societal conditions that existed in the 16th century. They could never have foreseen the earth being able to sustain even a fraction of today’s population.
Preventing births from occurring will do little to curtail the burgeoning population of broken, dispirited individuals who feel little sense of hope or purpose to their existence. But joyously welcoming a new child, or many children, into the family will be sure to increase the population of self-assured, contented adults who are secure in their divine purpose, and are actively working to attain their goal.
Each child born is a light unto himself, with the potential to illuminate the lives of many others. Each child that we bear and nurture is a new channel of divine blessing and goodness. Far from being a drain on the world’s resources, the child is the greatest resource that the earth could possibly produce. As parents, we have the duty to instill within the child the sense of self-worth, of purposefulness and mission necessary for building and recreating a harmonious world. But it is the children, with their irrepressible enthusiasm and unspoiled optimism, who will be the ones to make it happen. They will be the first to triumphantly herald a new era of peace, perfection and unity; the era of Moshiach.
By Chaya Shuchat.