When outsiders peek into the world of Torah observance, they
often see a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” To those who try to immerse
themselves in the system, details that can seem persnickety instead reveal how
to live successfully. The rules we try our best to follow align our actions
with God’s deep understanding of human nature.
An opportunity that the Torah urges us to grab is that of
comforting mourners during the seven days following a close relative’s burial.
One of the seemingly nit-picking suggestions given for visiting the mourner is
not to bring along babies or small children. (I am making a broad statement
here and am not intending anything I say as explicit Torah guidance to an
individual in a specific situation.) What can we learn from this advice?
People sometimes mistakenly believe that the purpose of the
visit is to distract the mourner from his or her loss. This is incorrect. The
days of mourning are uniquely meant as a time to focus on the loss and as a
transition period towards living in one’s new reality, a reality that no longer
includes the deceased. We don’t want young children in that milieu precisely
because they are often an endearing distraction from reality. When a babbling cherub waves her hands and
generously distribute smiles, few people can look away or think of other
I pity those who associate newborns and infants only with
crying and diaper changes. Few things induce as much optimism or energy as a
new life. Fixating on the exhausting and demanding aspects of children (as real as they are) is
similar to someone who finally achieves a life-long dream of becoming a pilot
but quickly forgets the thrill and instead complains about the paperwork that
needs filing after every trip.
Yet that fixation on the negatives of raising children is
exactly what motivates many of those who are concerned about America’s
Baby Bust, or the demographic crisis facing many other countries.
Academics recognize the very real economic, cultural and military problems
facing countries whose birth rates plummet. They look at decreasing fertility
and put forward proposals to combat the trend. But their proposals miss the
point. They routinely suggest increased day care slots and government subsidies
for childcare, or they want government to force companies to add paternity
leave and guarantee women extended time off. However, this is similar to
providing stickers for our disgruntled pilot or promising him extra time off
for every form he files. He needs a rekindling of his excitement about flying,
not enhancements of his paperwork duties.
There are practical and rational reasons to avoid marriage,
to delay childbearing and to restrict family size. Those reasons cannot be countered by
practical and rational policies. They can only be countered by a belief that
marriage is desirable and that having children is one of life’s greatest
blessings. As societies become less faith-based, individuals see only the
sacrifices necessary to rear children and materialistic strategies cannot defeat
that point of view.
Children bring joy, optimism and animation not only to a
mourner’s home but also to nations. That is precisely why they are discouraged
from the first location and necessary in the second. God, in His wisdom, understood that without
marriage and children nations will slide into poverty and decay. Take Him out
of the equation for long enough and eventually even intellectuals understand
that we are heading towards trouble.