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Jews Without Children: A Tu B'Shvat Teaching

Jews Without Children: A Tu B'Shvat Teaching

Men and women like myself, who are unable to have children, should not feel that they are incomplete Jews.

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It is written concerning the Torah that "she is a tree of life" (Proverbs 3:18), and the first mitzvah - Divine mandate - which is recorded in the Torah is the mitzvah to increase life: "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis l:28). This mitzvah is of special significance to Jews, since the Torah is considered to be the heritage of the entire Jewish people - a legacy which is to be passed on to one's children. According to Jewish tradition, a child is not only a gift of life, but also a messenger of life - one who will transmit the teachings of Torah to future generations.

Jewish men and women, like myself, who are unable to have children, may therefore feel that they are incomplete Jews. Many centuries ago, the Prophet Isaiah addressed this concern when he proclaimed the following Divine message to those without children:

Let not the barren one say, 'Behold I am a shriveled tree.'

"Let not the barren one say, 'Behold I am a shriveled tree.' For thus said the Compassionate One to the barren ones who observe My Sabbaths and choose what I desire, and tightly grasp My covenant. In My house and within My walls, I will give them a place of honor and renown, which is better than sons and daughters; eternal renown will I give them, which will never be terminated." (Isaiah 56:3-6)

People without children are not to consider themselves to be "shriveled trees." If they keep the covenant and do what our Creator desires, then they can be compared to "fruitful trees." The following midrash elaborates on this idea:

Rabbi Judah Ben Shalom, the Levite, said that when a person departs from the world without children, he is troubled and weeps. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, says to him: "Why do you weep? Is it because you did not leave fruits in this world? You have left fruits which are more valuable than children!" The person then asks: "Master of the universe, what fruits have I left?" And the Holy One, Blessed Be He, answers: "The fruits of Torah -- the Tree of Life, as it is written (Proverbs 11:30): 'The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life'." (Midrash Tanchuma, Noah 2)

For the righteous person, everything he does is a tree of life.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a noted biblical commentator, explains: "For the righteous person, everything he does is a tree of life. Out of his every deed grows something beneficial and life-giving to his surroundings." (From the Wisdom of Mishle, page 69)

This teaching may not provide full comfort to those who yearn to be able to contribute to the continuity of our people through having children. Jewish tradition teaches, however, that we can give "birth" in other ways. The Talmud states that if someone teaches his friend's child Torah, "it's as if he gave birth to him," as it is written (Numbers 3:1): "These are the offspring of Aaron and Moses... " The Talmud points out that the verses which follow only list the sons of Aaron, yet the Torah calls them the "offspring" of both Moses and Aaron! This is because Moses taught them Torah, and through his teaching, states the Talmud, he became their spiritual parent. (Sanhedrin 19b)

Another example is the following Talmudic statement:

"Whoever teaches his friend's child Torah, it's as if he made him, as it is written (concerning the disciples of Abraham and Sarah): 'the souls they made in Haran' (Genesis 12:5)." (Sanhedrin 99b)

In Haran, Abraham and Sarah served as teachers and guides to the spiritually-searching men and women of their generation. Rashi, in his commentary on the words, "the souls they made," says that they brought people "under the wings of the Shechinah -- the Divine Presence." Their teachings gave new life to these searching souls, and from the perspective of the Torah, these are "the souls they made in Haran."

We can all strive to emulate Abraham and Sarah and become spiritual parents to others.

Like Abraham and Sarah, we live in an age of spiritually searching men and women, and we can all strive to emulate Abraham and Sarah and become spiritual parents to others. One does not have to be a Talmudic scholar in order to help bring a soul "under the wings of the Shechinah." I know a single man who devotes his life to teaching Jewish adults how to read and write Hebrew (as well as how to pray from the Siddur). Others open their homes on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, providing a meaningful Jewish experience.

Teaching Torah to others is mitzvah -- a Divine mandate that is found in the first paragraph of the Shema that we say twice a day:

"And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children..."(Deuteronomy 6:6,7).

In his commentary on this verse, Rashi cites the tradition that "children" refers to "students" because students become one's children.

On the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, known as "Tu B'Shvat," we celebrate the New Year of the Trees. It is customary on this day to eat from the fruits of trees, and to recite the appropriate blessing of thanksgiving before eating. As we give thanks to our Creator for the life-giving fruits of the trees, let us also give thanks for the ability to produce our own "fruits" -- life-giving words and deeds which can nurture the world around us. In this way, we will be inspired to increase our "harvest," and thereby merit the fulfillment of the following promise:

"The righteous will flourish like a date palm, and will grow tall like a cedar in the Lebanon...They will still be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be." {Psalm 92:13,15)

For more articles on the meaning of Tu B'Shvat, go to: http://www.aish.com/holidays/tu_bshvat/

Published: January 26, 2002


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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Rav Uri Cohen, February 12, 2002 12:00 AM

Childless or Childfree? (another article)

Thank you for your words of comfort and inspiration.

I, too, have a long-term struggle with infertility, and I, too, recently wrote an article along the same lines as yours.

The article appeared first on the website of Nishmat (see link below), and was then printed in the December 2001 issue of Le'ela (the British equivalent of Jewish Action).

The title is "Childless or Childfree?"

The description is:
"In an attempt to provide coping strategies to those who are childless through no choice of their own, the author explores the pre-children life of Avraham and Sarah, discusses advantages and responsibilities of being single or childless, lists ways to gain posterity without children and concludes with possible purposes of being single or childless."

You can read it online at http://www.nishmat.net/Parsha5759/Zf-vayera-Rav%20Cohen-5761.htm

If anybody benefits from it, please let me know through email.

May Hashem answer our prayers.

(4) Sandie Radosevic, January 30, 2002 12:00 AM

Adopted children

I was unable to have children of my own, when I was married to my first husband, we deceided that we were going to adopt. I have divorced my first husband, but both my sons, have been Bar Mitzvahed & Connfirmed & none of their biological parents were Jewish. That's an answer to not having children of your own.

(3) Sibylle Nirk, January 29, 2002 12:00 AM

Sad because without childrens

Hello,

this article touched my heart...it is a good article!

I´m very sad, because we have no children. I want to adopt children...but it is so difficult in Germany to adopt kids.Many greetings from Germany to all who are childlees.God bless you and Israel too. Sibylle

(2) Anonymous, January 28, 2002 12:00 AM

If you're a observant Jew in the new york city there is no reason to be childless!Ohel-Jewish & family services NEEDS foster and/or adoptive parents for Jewish kids who deserve a chance!we've adopted 2 Jewish boys from elsewhere and now have 2 foster kids from Ohel that we'll be adopting and we couldn't be happier!Instead of moping & being unhappy about infertility give a Jewish kid a home, and you'll find that you'll learn to love them as if you gave birth to them yourself!Maybe this is Hashem's plan all along!

(1) Anonymous, January 28, 2002 12:00 AM

Dear Yosef Ben Shlomo HaKohen,

I read your article with interest. Everyone who has ever gone through the painful challenge of not having children feels that Tu B'Shvat is the fruitful time for us in other ways. We, as couples certainly have to take this time to grow and be fruitful and strong.

I invite you to browse the web site, www.atime.org .

A Torah Infertility Medium of Exchange serves the Jewish community touched by infertility. I have posted the link to your article on our web site's forums.

Thanks for the chizuk and the practical advice.

Linda

Web Master ATIME

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