MEANING IN MITZVOT by Rabbi Asher Meir
Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on the commentary “Meaning in Mitzvot” on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, which is serialized on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Virtual Beit Midrash, www.vbm-torah.org.
As Rivka departs to join her betrothed, Yitzchak, her family sends her off with the blessing, “Our sister, may you be mother to thousands of myriads”. (Bereshit 24:60.) This blessing echoes the blessing to Avraham that his offspring should be as numerous as the dust of the earth (13:16), or as the stars of the sky (15:5). What is the exact importance of having many offspring? And how is having children spiritually connected to the ideal of having a harmonious marital life, as we read “And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rivka as his wife and loved her, and he was comforted after his mother”? (24:67.)
Getting married and having children are supreme values in Judaism. Each one is immensely important in itself, and each is intimately connected to the other. Both foundations were laid in the dawn of creation, when HaShem decided that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Bereshit 2:18), and commanded Adam and Chava, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”. (1:28.)
THE MITZVA TO HAVE CHILDREN
The Torah tells us that man is created in the image of G-d. We may ask, if each human being expresses G-d’s image, why is there a need for an entire race of men? The answer is that each person can only reflect and express a tiny portion of HaShem’s glory - even of that part of HaShem’s glory which we are capable of apprehending. Each living person augments our apprehension of HaShem’s greatness; each one is like a tiny window through which we can obtain a glimpse of G-dliness.
Viewed this way, the mandate to have children parallels the prohibition on killing. The generation of Noach was commanded, “He who spills the blood of man, by man will his blood be spilled; for in G-d’s image He created man.” (Bereshit 9:6.) The identical concern for multiplying G-d’s image urges us to have many children, and indeed the very next verse tells us, “And you, be fruitful and multiply, swarm on the earth and multiply there”. (Yevamot 63b.)
The final redemption, which is the ultimate revelation of HaShem’s greatness, is thus advanced by each additional holy soul which appears in this world, and so our Sages tell us, “The son of David will not come until all the souls are completed in a body” (Yevamot 63b.)
QUANTITY AND QUALITY
Of course, the number of souls in the world is not the only determinant of G-d’s revelation. Just as important is the responsibility each of us has to cultivate the soul, to develop it so that it radiates holiness to the greatest possible extent. Chasidic tradition explains that tzaddikim attain “general souls”, spirits of immense scope which comprehend the holiness of the “private” souls of scores or even myriads of men. (Maamrei Admor HaEmtzai 66.)
Our tradition is adamant that man acheives perfection and completion only through marriage. The Torah tells us, “Male and female He created them, and He called their name ‘man’”. (Bereshit 5:2.) From this we learn that the appelation “man” applies fully only when the male and the female are together. (Yevamot 63a.)
The incompleteness of the single state is not due to its solitude but rather to the inherent differences between man and woman. Male and female are not merely two complementary sectors of the human population, like short and tall people, but rather two complementary aspects of humanity, even of creation.
A man or woman is incomplete without a spouse because the masculine or feminine nature alone expresses only a particular aspect of G-d’s plan, and only in their unification is the Divine image complete. “And G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female created He them”. (Bereshit 1:27.)
This insight ties together the two aspects of marriage: it explains the importance of marriage even for those who can not have children, and at the same time it clarifies the essential connection between marriage and children.
We mentioned above that every individual has an obligation to realize and cultivate his or her own Divine image to the greatest extent possible. We now see that marriage is essential to fulfilling this obligation, since a single person expresses only an incomplete aspect of this image.
At the same time, we learned that the greatest possible revelation of G-d’s image is achieved by having a great number of people who reflect it. It is only natural that G-d’s image can be reproduced only where it is fully expressed - when a man and a woman are joined together in one truly complete human being. So a fulfilling marriage is the proper framework for having children, for bringing new holy souls into the world.
Rabbi Meir is in the process of writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha. He is also directing the Jewish Business Response Forum at the Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev. The forum aims to help business people run their firms according to Torah, by obtaining prompt, relevant responses to their questions.