Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Walk Article




Rabbi David Walk



            Why have kids?  There are so many answers to that question.  Some sound good, and others not so good.  If we go back to the beginning of humankind, it seems that the major motivation was biology.  Have progeny for the survival of the species.  As time went on and we developed societies the biggest reason for children was economic.  Big, strong boys helped gather the food and, later, bring in the harvest.  Please, forgive me, but it was during this epoch of human development that the antipathy towards girl babies began.  They weren't as strong and were considered a financial liability.  Eventually having children became a mitzvah.  Whether Jew or gentile, religious families tend to have more children.  But today, why do couples want children?  Since The Pill, a big incentive to make babies has been removed, because we can have 'safe' relations.  They are no longer a financial boon, either.  Instead they are a financial burden.  According to CNN, as of August 3, 2013, it costs, on average, in the USA $241,080 to raise a child until age eighteen, and that's without college or, for religious Jews, day school.  I think that a Modern Orthodox family, with day schools and college, can easily double that figure and that still does not count the wedding.   Therefore, again, I ask why have children?  I read a beautiful blog on the NY Times website explaining that most of us don't know why we have children until we actually have them.  That probably means that the reasons were initially instinctual or, perhaps, societal.  But once we have a baby 'it's the best feeling in the world. It's love forever. It's your chance to give everything you received as a child to someone else. It's a chance to right wrongs if you didn't receive enough love.'  Of course, that was written by a mother, but we can all identify with the powerful thoughts expressed.  Here's my mission for this article:  To define why Avraham wanted children.


            In the Biblical record, the urgent need for children is well documented through the famous cases of infertility, Avraham and Sarah, Rivka and Yitzchak, Yaakov and Rachel, Chana and Elkana.  It's clear that Avraham wanted children very much.  He complains to God about not having kids.  God promises him children on numerous occasions.  And, of course, with the urging of Sarah, he eventually takes on a second wife for the sole purpose of child bearing.  The best expression of Avraham's need for offspring was recorded in last week's Torah reading:  And Abram said, "O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am going childless, and the steward of my household is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Behold, You have given me no seed, and behold, one of my household will inherit me (Genesis 15:2-3)."  Notice that both verses begin with telling us that Avraham was speaking, that probably means that Avraham initiated this topic on numerous occasions.  He kept saying this stuff to God.  At least according to this material, Avraham's urgency was based on the need for an heir.  That's true, but, because Yishmael was not sufficient, it's clear that there is more going on than just the need for an heir.


            This week's parsha contains the climax to the Avraham saga.  We have the cathartic story of the Akeida, the attempted sacrifice of Yitzchak.  This narrative teaches us a lot about the relationship with God and Divine worship, but it also is so powerful because of Avraham's connection and need for Yitzchak.  So, I believe that the ultimate answer to our question is to be found in those verses.  And here, I think, is the critical text:  "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Yitzchak, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you (Ibid. 22:2).  There's a famous comment by Rashi, based upon the Midrash and Talmud, to explain the repetitive nature of our verse:  Abraham said to God," I have two sons." God said to him," Your only one." He said to God," This one is the only son of his mother, and that one is the only son of his mother." God said to him," Whom you love." He said to God," I love them both." God said to him," Yitzchak." Now why did God not disclose this to him at the beginning? In order not to upset him suddenly, and also to endear the commandment to him and to reward him for each and every expression (from Sanhedrin 89b, Genesis Rabbah 39:9, 55:7).  Fascinating, but I think that there is a different dynamic going on.


            God's repetition wasn't for Avraham; it was for us.  We're being informed of the matchless bond which Avraham felt for Yitzchak.  God initially informs Avraham to take 'your son' that means the son which is to you like every other son in the world.  He's an heir, an asset, and a biological repository for your DNA.  Then God says 'take your unique (not 'your only') son.'  This means that there is between Avraham and Yitzchak something which never existed before.  For the first time in history there is a legacy beyond the norms of property and possessions.  There is a bequest to carry forward God's covenant with humanity; there is a commitment not to the fate or mere existence of a people, but to the destiny of mankind.   This resulted in a love for Yitzchak unlike any love for any child in the annals of parenting.  His love for Sarah was combined with his love for God to form the paradigm for love in Yitzchak who wholeheartedly accepted this contract, covenant and commitment.  Now we can understand why Avraham wanted a child so badly, and we can begin to fathom the depth of his trial to sacrifice this child.   


            However, we can also identify with Avraham the parent.  A sensitive reading of the text allows us a glimpse into this extraordinary bond.  And hopefully we can replicate at least a portion of his urgent ardor into affection and appreciation for our own children.  Read this story to feel Avraham's pain; then reread it to emulate Avraham's love.

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