Rabbi's Message, Rabbi Alvin Kass, November 2014
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD
To Be or Not to Be Parents
You might be surprised to discover that many people today are afraid to have children. In truth, there is good reason for apprehension on this score. First of all, the world is getting very crowded and is limited in its capacity to produce the means of subsistence. In the second place, raising children is exceedingly costly. Just ask anyone who has one or more youngsters in college. In addition, we live in a nasty, brutish, unsafe and violent universe into which there is an understandable reluctance to bring new life. Finally there is an increasing recognition that children are as apt to cause you as much grief as nachas.
Recently I saw a movie on television called "Parenthood" which sets forth the potential woes of parenthood with great effectiveness. Notwithstanding all the trials and tribulations affecting family life, however, its unabashed conclusion is that being a parent is worth all the agony. The wise grandmother in the film sums up the pro-baby position by comparing parenthood to a roller-coaster. Although riding a roller-coaster has its anxiety-provoking moments, it is infinitely more exciting, more thrilling and more satisfying than a merry-go-round whose smooth ride is also dull, repetitive, uneventful and uninteresting.
But how do you get through the rough episodes of parenthood? The answer of our tradition is to maintain faith in God. Indeed, this is the key to confronting all the contingencies and exigencies of human existence. To become a parent is to venture into the unknown with no clear knowledge or control over what the future will bring. But that is true of all the major decisions in life. A young man and woman standing under the chupah, are also gambling their lives on each other. The choice of a career is likewise made on the basis of limited information and without any guarantees. The capacity to go forth into the unknown and to confront all manner of possible perils presupposes a deeply rooted faith.
To have faith in God is no guarantee that terrible things wonít happen to us in this world. , Life can be unspeakably cruel; and there are incidents which have the potential of shattering our heart and soul. As parents, there is nothing that can befall us which is more agonizing and anguishing than injury, illness or death to oneís child. You never really get over such a hurt completely. There is always a psychic scar that will last as long as we do. If faith cannot avoid tragedy, however, it can at least give us the assurance that even amidst our trials, God will provide us with the capacity to endure, to hang in and see it through; and even to transform our vicissitudes into spiritual triumphs. Furthermore, if we are not to fall apart, we need help in order to muster the requisite courage to rise above our trauma and to get past our despair. Faith offers us that help; because it can instill us with the confidence that no matter what may befall us and our family in this universe, we can never move permanently beyond the pale of Godís love and concern.
Faith is also essential to transcend the counsel of prudence. If we were to follow exclusively the canons of common sense, we might very well come to the conclusion that we should not have children. After all, there are good and sound reasons for not becoming parents. The problems and difficulties of parenthood to which we have already made reference are not imaginary or rare. It is hard to imagine any family which despite its best efforts and finest intentions, succeeds in eluding all crises that dog parents.
However, although we will have our share of suffering, we will, nevertheless, as parents also have our joys; and they will be incalculably precious! Besides, there are considerations in this world that ought to transcend comfort, convenience, and common sense such as the religious duty to "be fruitful and multiply."
If we stay on the merry-go-round our lives will be much more calm, tranquil, and serene than that of the roller-coaster riders. The roller-coaster is dangerous, problematical, and occasionally frightening, but it is also exhilarating, pulsating, adventurous and soulstirring.
Vive le parenthood!
Happy Thanksgiving Day from three generations of Kasses.