This week's parsha
I was hanging around a social function recently and overheard a few ladies chatting about their growing broods. There were the usual kvetches about chutzpah, which soon morphed into a general discussion about sibling rivalry and the optimum size and makeup of the perfect family. A friendly argument broke out whether they preferred sons to daughters and whether they were better mothers to their older children than their younger ones.
My heart went out to one woman who was standing on the side unable to join in the conversation. She is yet to have children. Even her best friends don’t know how much time and money she and her husband have spent trying to have a child. Though I have been in regular contact with them on their journey, I only know some of the pain they experience daily.
I felt so uncomfortable, on her behalf, from the blithe assumptions of her friends that they could have as many children as they wanted, when they wanted them. I was tempted to create a diversion just so they would change the topic.
The next time we met I mentioned the incident, but her reaction was far nobler than I had imagined. She told me that she feels nothing but happiness for her friends and their comparative easier paths through life. She does not want people to abruptly switch the conversation as she walks in. Over the years she has done her utmost to avoid self-pity or jealousy. “G‑d gives each of us whatever we need,” were her words. “If and when my time comes, I don’t want to look back with regret at the time I wasted worrying about others.”
In my work at Shifra, which provides halachic supervision and counseling to people undergoing infertility treatment, I am constantly awed by the faith, strength and courage shown by the couples we work with. Perhaps because of difficulties they have had in conceiving, they truly appreciate those blessings that their friends seem to take for granted, and the struggles they surmount help them appreciate the guiding hand of G‑d.We live in a blessed age. Never before have there been so many options for couples struggling with infertility. Until relatively recently, our only recourse against childlessness was hope and prayer. Obviously, even today we rely exclusively on G‑d’s blessing - with doctors and embryologists acting only as His agents - yet the range of treatments that are currently available are nothing short of miraculous.
Unfortunately, even in this age of miracles, not every fertility issue is solvable and even the wonders of reproductive medicine cannot absolutely guarantee success. It is a sad fact that some couples will never have their own children.
We begin the Torah portion this week with the words When a woman conceives and gives birth. (Tazria 12:1) The rabbis interpret the verse as an allegorical reference to the process of leaving one’s mark on the world. Not everyone is blessed with children, but everyone can leave spiritual heirs. The people we influence and the lives we touch are our spiritual progeny and they are the children we leave behind us when we’ve gone.
Our life’s worth is measured on the sum total of our accomplishments, not just the number of children we leave behind. There is nothing more beautiful on this world than Jewish children. Every child is a blessing from G‑d and every extra Jew born is a boon to our entire nation. But, so too, every mitzvah we accomplish is a way of attaining immortality.
Our greatest achievement is the imprint we leave on others and this is the true measure of value from the time we spend on this world.