From A Chassidisher Derher, Kislev 5780
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In the early days of the Rebbe’s campaign against family planning, Rabbi Nachman Bernhard, a rav in Johannesburg, South Africa, was asked to address a group of women who were on the taharas hamishpacha committee, a group especially devoted to the Rebbe’s mivtzoim for women, on the subject of “How to Present Taharat Hamishpacha to the Uncommitted.”
Before his scheduled talk, he wrote to the Rebbe for guidance: “…One of the young women active in this field told me that she, as well as all of her colleagues (both contemporaries and older), are having great difficulty in presenting convincingly one particular aspect of… family planning. Many people are willing to accept all the points about the ongoing obligation of pru u’rvu, as well as the observance of taharas hamishpacha, but nevertheless they (and this includes very many frum couples) tend to indulge in a limited degree and kind of ‘family planning’ by ‘spacing’ or spreading out their children over several years, instead of having one right after the other without a break.
“It is very hard to persuade them that this is wrong. They are able to cite numerous seemingly reasonable and impressive arguments in favor of this practice. These are based on personal, psychological, physiological, and (to a much lesser extent) financial considerations. They revolve around the physical and mental health of the mother, claiming that the average woman simply needs a rest of a year or 2 or 3 between pregnancies, especially after she has already been through a few.
“…If, in fact, the position of the Rebbe is being correctly interpreted as being opposed to even this above-mentioned kind of limited “family planning,” then we are in need of, and respectfully request, his guidance and help in how to convey this successfully to frum and non-frum alike… Since it is considered likely that this subject will be raised at this session on Sunday morning, it would be very helpful if it were possible to have the views of the Rebbe by then.”
The Rebbe responded:
“Regarding spacing etc.— [Such logic] can only be applied to something that is a person’s choice. But a person can only choose not to get pregnant—it is up to only Hashem as to whether a person will actually get pregnant and whether the infant will be completely healthy. It’s possible that “if not now, then when?” According to everyone (in the natural order), the younger a woman is, the healthier the baby will be.
“Needs rest etc.”— It is difficult to believe that a woman who has already tasted and actually received the enjoyment and nachas from giving birth to a child and seeing him grow up before her eyes, and [seeing] his progress through her educating him and her mesiras nefesh [for him] and so on —[it is difficult to believe] that she would agree to deny herself this enjoyment for reasons mentioned above [in Rabbi Berhard’s letter]. Especially after contemplating the first point mentioned above.
“The inner (subconscious) reason for this [—their interest in spacing—] is their “fear” of: the pains of pregnancy and childbirth, the burdens of child-rearing, the fact that they won’t be able to participate in events during this time period, and other such reasons. The main [subconscious] reason—based on the founding principle and beginning of the entire Shulchan Aruch—is that people will scoff at them! When you explain to them that this is the true obstacle—then they will joyfully hand over the decision of the best time to have more children to Hashem. Much more can be elaborated on this, and additional points can be made—for you this will surely suffice, following the dictum: give to the wise and he will increase wisdom. May Hashem be with your tongue etc.”
At the meeting, Rabbi Berhnard presented the Rebbe’s response, and the Rebbe also spoke about the subject in the following farbrengen, on 24 Teves 5741*. But still there were questions. In a report to the Rebbe following the meeting, he writes: …The vast majority, however, felt that a big problem remained unresolved… namely, the sheer unrelieved physical and emotional strain of attending to the endless and urgent needs and demands of a number of small children simultaneously. This, they claim, can be so exhausting and nerve wracking that it takes much of the joy, out of motherhood.
These women are committed to Torah and mitzvos and the Rebbe …but they do feel that the genuine labor of numerous small children at the same time, as well as the wearying and weakening effects of continuous pregnancies, is being underestimated. It is, of course, well known to them that in extreme cases, where the mother’s physical or psychological health are being seriously jeopardized, the Rebbe agrees that some permissible form of contraception may be legitimately resorted to. But these women are not talking in cases of literal or very likely sakana nefashos .
Nevertheless, in their desperation they can often become absolutely frantic, highly irritable, with a general constant tiredness, loss of vitality, and even severe depression. Naturally, all this usually has very undesirable effects upon the husband and children, and may even undermine the entire marriage. Another factor is that these women are caught up in the הפצה work. This is for them a vital expression of their loyal support of the Rebbe.
…Although they are quite prepared to miss out on many things for the sake of family building, much of their sense of joy and verve and self-image, as well as their whole status as Lubavitchers, are impaired by their having to drop out of הפצה work for lack of time and/or energy, perhaps for quite a few years. They further contend that it can make a significant difference for the development and raising of each child if some “time off” between babies were to allow the mother to concentrate better—both in terms of actual time available, as well as in terms of her calmer nerves and mental composure—on the new baby. This would also enable her, for the same reasons, to relate better to her own children.
At the farbrengen of Rosh Chodesh Shevat 5741 (1981), the Rebbe addressed the issue at length, going through each question point by point. The Rebbe began by saying that some general societal norms have unfortunately rubbed off on many Jewish homes. Just a few generations ago, parents would never have considered interfering with Hashem’s business, especially when it comes to something as important as having children.
Now, because parents do have a small say in the matter, this was misinterpreted (in recent times) as an invitation to mix into Hashem’s affairs. It was forgotten that Hashem gives the parents the choice only to prevent themselves from becoming pregnant—but to become pregnant, and to have healthy children, depends only on Hashem, and He will surely choose the best time for the mother and father. Then the Rebbe added something else:
The Best Time
The Chumash tells us that when Moshe Rabeinu was on the mountain, he asked Hashem to “show me Your face.” Hashem responded that “you will see My back, but My face must not be seen.” The Gemara explains that Hashem was telling him the following: When I wanted [to show you My glory at the burning bush], you did not want [to see it, as it is stated: “And Moshe concealed his face, fearing to gaze upon Hashem”]. But now that you want, I do not want [to show it to you].”
This teaches us a lesson. Obviously, Hashem wasn’t getting “even” with Moshe Rabeinu. But when Hashem gives us a bracha, He doesn’t want it to be free and undeserved; He wants us to be partners with Him.
How can we be good partners with Hashem? By letting Him call the shots—by depending on Him fully as a partner and letting Him make the decision as to when the best time to have a child is. When the decision is left up to Hashem, it happens at the best time for all parties involved.
But as soon as the person gets involved, and he doesn’t allow Hashem to make the decision—he doesn’t allow it when Hashem wanted it—then even when the person decides that, according to his calculations, he is ready—you want—he lacks the vessel that brings Hashem’s brachos.
(The Rebbe said that certainly Hashem is maarich af [slow to anger], especially since these people have good intentions, and added that, “I don’t want to scare people, but simply to give over what it says in the Torah.”)
Furthermore: the timing when a child is conceived, born, and grows up is pivotal, and it will impact his entire lifetime. Not only does it affect the child himself, but all the future generations that will come from him. When a parent considers the best time for the child to be born, the calculation is bound to be limited to the foresight they have. Whereas the parents are thinking a few months ahead, Hashem is planning decades and generations ahead. Only He knows the future generations and the unlimited factors that must go into such a decision—so such a decision must be left up to Him, and He will decide when it is best.
What about Mivtzoim?
Regarding the argument that having children would affect the mivtzoim work, the Rebbe said that if Hashem chooses to bless you with a child, then he obviously believes that this is more important—much more important—than mivtzoim. As discussed above, having children is the single most important thing that a person can do—“the concept of the Yidden preceded the Torah!”
In the long run, the mivtzoim work itself will likely benefit. When you have a child, that child can go on to accomplish tremendous things in mivtzoim, possibly even more than you. So, in effect, having another child is better for the mivtzoim work, too. Furthermore: Hashem gives the mother success in the free time that she does have, so that in the time she does do mivtzoim, her work is successful.
[The Rebbe also addressed concerns that constant child bearing would take its toll on the mothers physical appearance (see the farbrengen at length).]
What is the reality?
But what about the argument that having many consecutive children hurts one’s ability to raise them? Can you focus on each child when there are so many one after the other?
First of all, the Rebbe said, Hashem is the one who has the responsibility to take care of the children—in all areas. Even if one believes that their ability to raise children may be hampered by the difficulties of continuous pregnancy and childbirth, and the difficulties of raising children— the reality is that Hashem is well aware of all this, and if He chooses to give the parents another child, He will certainly provide the children with healthy parents and a healthy home.
Beyond that, all these arguments might sound nice, but reality tells a different story.
Theories can always be argued, the Rebbe said. You can argue and argue and argue, but if someone perceives the issue differently, they will act based on their perception. But when something has already been tried in the past, there is no room for argument: we need only to look at the results and follow them.
We have 3,000 years of Jewish history since matan Torah; we’ve seen people who kept the Torah to the fullest extent, and those who went other ways. The same is true in this area— people have been engaging in family planning for decades, and we can see the results of their behavior.
When comparing the families who didn’t engage in any form of planning—relying completely on Hashem’s judgment—with those who chose to interfere with Hashem’s plans— you’ll see that, percentage-wise:
The shalom bayis in these families is better and the children grow up in healthy, calm settings, instead of homes with marital fights and tensions and unharmonious relationships, which inevitably affect the children;
The parents are more healthy; The parnasa is better, and, more importantly, the money is spent on positive things, not psychiatrists.
On the other hand, as the Rebbe put it in another farbrengen, those who engage in family planning, “are busy with psychotherapy, they are busy running to doctors to heal their nerves; running to doctors who will advise them on how the husband should get along with his wife and how the wife should get along with the husband; running to doctors who give them all kinds of hormones and pills that will change the normal order of things in the Jewish Family life.”
Olam Haba in your lifetime
“Ultimately, after a number of years have passed, and the children grow up, Hashem sends success and we get to see the fruits. ‘Your olam haba you will see during your lifetime,’ you literally see the world-to-come in this world—through true everlasting nachas from children and grandchildren. The nachas is so clear and indisputable, that even the neighbor and ‘peer’ must admit that she followed in the path of true bracha begashmius uveruchnius, physically and spiritually.