Of those who read my daily daf insights, they differ significantly in terms of age, background, and location. Yet beyond this, they also differ in family situation. Some are single, some are married, some are divorced and some are widows. And in terms of children, some don’t have children. Some do. Some have sadly lost children to illness. While some are yearning to have children but are still struggling to do so (for whom I pray daily).
The reason I mention this is because the Mishna (Yevamot 6:6) in today’s daf (Yevamot 61b) informs us that the duty to procreate is fulfilled, according to Beit Shammai, upon the birth of two sons, while according to Beit Hillel it is fulfilled upon the birth of a son and a daughter because, through doing so, we emulate God who initially created a man and woman (see Bereishit 5:2).
This now brings me to my family because I am blessed to have 5 (wonderful) daughters. Yet something strange often happens when I am asked about my family situation whereby random strangers seemingly feel it appropriate to say, ‘you ONLY have daughters?’ – to which I respond that I am so incredibly blessed, and so incredibly happy with my lot. In fact, when I happened to have a meeting with someone with a connection to a fertility clinic – but for reasons totally unrelated to it – I was told that ‘we can help you’, as if the blessing of children was not enough.
Of course, some of these comments are meant well. Some reflect the position of Beit Hillel in our Mishna that the duty to have children is not fulfilled until both a son and daughter is born. And some are simply rude. But especially knowing that children are a gift, and especially knowing various people who are yet to have – and who ache to have – children, I count my many blessings and never ever think or feel the word ‘ONLY’. Instead, the birth of each of my daughters was truly the best thing that ever happened to me.
Last week Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, a well-known Jewish educator, sadly died. Admittedly, we lived in slightly different worlds, and not everything that he said fully reflected my worldview. Still, I met him a number of times and was very moved by his passion, and when I heard this sad news I immediately remembered the exact words he used in a talk he gave that I attended a little more than 10 years ago. In fact, having looked online, I found the recording of a similar talk that he gave around the same time where he related the same story (which can be viewed at https://youtu.be/6wWeRHQ2FG4 from around 13 mins onwards).
During this talk he spoke about his relationship with his father who was a travelling salesman and who was away from the home driving across the US from Sunday till Friday, and that how, notwithstanding his exhaustion, his father would make himself available to play with his kids upon returning home every Friday. He then related that his father would tell him and his two other siblings: ‘I waited a long time to have you, and the three of you are the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life’. Yet, as Rabbi Wallerstein explained, he knew this not because his father said it but rather because his father showed it – and this is because he gave his kids time.
Children are a gift, and it is precisely because they are so precious that we must give them the greatest gift we have – not just love, but also time (nb. perhaps as a lesson to me, while I was writing this post my daughter came into my office to ask for some help with an upcoming Math exam, and the fact that I am writing this post later than usual is evidence that giving her time when she needed it was more important to me than writing this post when I wanted to). For those still waiting and aching to have children, know that your cries are heard, and your pain is felt. For those who feel it their business to comment about other people’s children, please don’t. And for those who do have children, know and treat each of your child as the best thing that ever happened to you, and do so not just with words but with action; not just with love but with time.