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Childless Couples

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg Ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

Childless Couples

The Mishna[1] says לא יבטל אדם מפריה ורביה…, one may not abstain from procreation unless he has children—according to Beis Shamai he must father two boys and according to Beis Hillel a boy and a girl. How are we commanded on פרו ורבו if it’s not up to us to have children? There is no other Mitzva like this where it is entirely up to Hashem.

 

The Halichos Eliyahu[2] explains that the Mitzva is to be engaged in פרו ורבו and whenever one is involved with it to fulfill this Mitzva, he fulfills it—even if his wife doesn’t become pregnant. The opinions of Beis Shamai (one must have two boys) and Beis Hillel (boy and a girl) just mean that once one has those children, he is not obligated in this Mitzva anymore since he already fulfilled it. R’ Moshe Feinstein[3] points out how this is inferred from the Mishna, as it doesn’t say how many children one is obligated to father rather it says one may not abstain from procreation unless he has children, meaning the Mitzva of פרו ורבו is to be engaged in having children since this is what is in his power to do and he shouldn’t abstain unless he has children.

 

The Gemara[4] tells us that one of the questions a person will be asked is עסקת בפריה ורביה, did you engage in procreation. While for many this doesn’t take much work, for others it does. Some people spend years visiting doctors, trying different treatments and the like so that they can have children. This is why the term עסקת is used. That is, to be actively involved and engaged in it. When one makes an effort in this area, he can answer this question in the affirmative.[5]

 

עסקת בפריה ורביה can also apply if a person helps others in this area. So the organizations and the like that help people have children,[6] also can answer this question with a resounding yes. The Maharsha[7] writes that the question of עסקת בפריה ורביה is whether one facilitated procreation meaning did he help those less fortunate, such as orphans, find mates and get married.

 

The Pele Yoatz[8] writes that a childless person mustn’t despair and declare I am a withered tree, because there may still be hope for children. Even if, after major efforts, it is clear they can’t bear children, they shouldn’t feel bad. The reason for wanting children shouldn’t be a personal desire—for posterity or heirs—but rather for the fulfillment of what Hashem wants. Since they wanted to do the Mitzva but couldn’t because of an אונס, out of their control, the Torah considers it as if they fulfilled it[9] and they will be appropriately rewarded. So they should be happy with their lot…The mainפריה ורביה is in Torah, that one should “procreate” with Torah, by originating new Torah thoughts, having many students...[10]

 

R’ Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro[11] says that the main fulfillment of the Mitzva of פרו ורבו is not by physically giving birth to children, which can be done only a limited number of times, but rather by mentally “giving birth” to new thoughts in Torah, which can be done all the time. He writes that even if one lacks the physicality to do a Mitzva, it can still be done, because the Torah is eternal and always applies. The Mitzva of פרו ורבו can always be done—when one produces a novel Torah thought he fulfills פרו ורבו.

 

During a walk around Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, R’ Meir Shapiro told his student R’ Shmuel Wosner, that although he doesn’t have any biological children, he still fulfilled the Mitzva of פרו ורבו because he has two children—Daf Yomi and Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin.

 

Concerning couples that don’t have children in this world, let us cite the words of the Maharam Galanti: Relations done for the sake of Hashem are not wasted (זוגים לשם שמים אינם לבטלה) rather they give birth to children in Gan Eden. In עולם הבא, the parents will meet these children.[12]



[1] Yevamos 61b.

[2] אבן העזר, Siman 4. See also the Har Tzvi Orach Chaim 2:76. Halichos Eliyahu was authored by R’ Eliyahu Feinstein (1843-1929), the uncle of R’ Moshe Feinstein. He learned at the Volozhin Yeshiva, then led by the Netziv. He held many rabbinical posts during his life, but always on the condition that he be free from non-urgent community concerns until noon every day, so he could study Torah uninterrupted. He was twice offered the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, but each time turned it down.

[3] Igros Moshe, Even Haezer, 2:18.

[4] Shabbos 31a.

[5] See MIshnyaos Gittin, chapter 4, Haghos V’hachidushim on Tiferes Yisrael Yachin 37.

[6] Having no children for R’ Shlomo Bochner and his wife Chanie was very painful. Amidst the pain, Chanie thought that although they may be unable to have children of their own, they will use their experiences to help others. She told her husband, “For 20 years now, we have been working and gathering information. We know all the treatments. We have cell phone numbers that no one else has. We have connections and experience. It’s time to share it with others.” From this, their organization Bonei Olam was created. Bonei Olam started in Brooklyn and has grown to 13 offices internationally, including Canada, Israel, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Australia. In 1999, the first baby funded by Bonei Olam was born. As of 2015, the number of children born with the helping hand of Bonei Olam (which offers medical and financial assistance) was over 11,000. So, although the Bochners have no biological children, they truly have more children than those with big families! What a lesson we can learn from these great people, as they turned their trouble into triumph!

[7] Shabbos 31a, s.v. ואמר עסקת.

[8] פריה ורביה, s.v. אבל and ועקר. The son of the R’ Eliezer Papo who authored the Pele Yoatz wrote about his mother, the wife of R’ Papo (Hakdama to the Sefer Chessed La’alafim): “My mother was a woman filled with Daas and Yiras Hashem, was known for her piety and was complete in good Middos and proper conduct. She constantly read works of Mussar. She would speak with my father about Yiras Hashem all day. She helped him in all the holy things that he undertook.”

[9] Brachos 6a.

[10] When R’ Simcha Wasserman was in Los Angeles and his wife was in Detroit teaching, she would send her meager salary to Los Angeles so her husband can spread Torah. R’ Simcha wanted to abandon his project in Los Angeles since it was very difficult for them to be separated as they themselves never had children. His wife disagreed and said if Hashem didn’t bless us with children, it’s so that we can dedicate ourselves to teach Torah to the Jewish people. She told him you stay in Los Angeles and teach Torah and those children you teach will be our children.

[11] Derech Pikudecha, mitzva 1:26. He is known for his sefer Bnei Yissaschar.

[12] See the Chida in Pesach Einayim, Sota, chapter 1.

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