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Children are a Gift
“May God, the Lord of your fathers, add a thousandfold more like you and bless you, as He spoke to you.” (Devarim 1:11)
The Jewish people, Rashi informs us, were not very happy with the blessing Moshe gave them. “May God, the Lord of your fathers,” he had said, “add a thousandfold more like you and bless you as He spoke to you.”
“Only that and no more?” the people responded. “Is that the full extent of your blessing? Hashem blessed us (Bereishis 32:13) to be ‘like the dust of the earth that is too numerous to count.'”
“You will surely get the blessing Hashem gave you,” Moshe replied. “This is just my own personal blessing to you.”
What exactly was Moshe’s reply? What additional benefit would the Jewish people derive from his blessing of a thousandfold increase if they were already receiving Hashem’s blessing of virtually limitless increase?
The Chasam Sofer explains that Moshe was testing them. Why did they want children? Was it because children were useful, because they help carry the household burden, provide companionship and are a source of security in old age? Or is it because each child is a spark of the Divine, a priceless gift from Heaven, a piece of the World to Come?
So Moshe gave the Jewish people a test. He blessed them with a “thousandfold” increase in their population. If they had wanted children for their usefulness alone, they would have said, “Thank you, but that’s enough already! A thousandfold will suit our purposes just fine. We have no use for any more right now.” But that was not what they said. They wanted more children. They wanted children “too numerous to count.” Obviously, they were not thinking about their own material and emotional needs, but about the transcendent blessing that each child represents, and so, they proved themselves worthy of Hashem’s blessing.
Hundreds of years earlier, these two conflicting attitudes toward children had already become an issue. Yaakov and Eisav had made a division. Eisav was to take this world, and Yaakov was to take the World to Come. When Yaakov came back from Aram, Eisav welcomed him at the head of an army four hundred men strong. In the tense early minutes of the confrontation, Eisav noticed Yaakov’s many children.
“Who are these children?” Eisav asked.
“These are the children,” Yaakov replied, “that Hashem graciously gave to your servant.”
The Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer expands the dialogue between Yaakov and Eisav and reveals the underlying argument.
“What are you doing with all these children?” Eisav asked. “I thought we made a division, that I would take this world and you would take the World to Come. So why do you have so many children? What do children have to do with the World to Come? Children are a boon in this world!”
“Not so,” Yaakov responded. “Children are sparks of the Divine. The opportunity to raise a child, to develop a Divine soul to the point where it can enter the World to Come, is a privilege of the highest spiritual worth. That is why I have children.”
Yaakov wants children for their own sake, but Eisav views them as an asset in this world. Children are an extra pair of hands on the farm. They can milk the cows and help with many other chores that need to be done in agrarian societies.
Modern man has progressed beyond agrarian life. He has moved off the farm and does not have such a need for children anymore. In fact, he has made a startling discovery. Children are a tremendous burden. They are expensive, time consuming and exasperating. Who needs children?
But what about companionship? Loneliness? No problem. Modern man can get a dog. Dogs are wonderful. Instead of coming home to a house full of clamoring, demanding, frustrating children, he can come home to an adoring, tail-wagging dog who will run to bring him his slippers and newspaper. So why does he need children? This is the attitude of Eisav adapted to modern times.
Yaakov, on the other hand, understands that the purpose of children is not for enjoying this world or for making our lives easier. Each child represents a spiritual mission, a spark of the Divine entrusted to our care and our guidance, an opportunity to fulfill Hashem’s desire to have this soul brought to the World to Come.
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Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand and Torah.org.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Seattle, Washington.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.