A decade ago, I, a Brooklyn boy, married my beloved Chavie, a Jewish Texan, in Alamo country of San Antonio. With my eyes closed and heart heavenbound, I placed a ring on her finger, praying for me and my soulmate, that all our dreams come true. We hoped we would merit to fulfill G-d’s words to Adam “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Yet, despite typical Orthodox practice, we soon learned that being “fruitful” isn’t as easy as it seems. The need to procreate is embedded in our being, yet, making it happen can be wishful thinking. With the guidance of Bonei Olam, an amazing Jewish fertility organization, we visited and were treated by world famous reproductive health specialists, yet, left the hospital with the chilling parting words of the chief doctor “you are not having biological children, there is nothing else to do.”
Back when it all started, G-d bequeathed humanity with the gift of all gifts, the ability to create life. Every time parents conceive, every time a fetus forms in their mother’s womb and every time a woman earns the title “Mommy,” it’s an unquestionable miracle.
Yet, along with the amazing experience of pregnancy, birth and raising a child, comes the challenges that too many encounter in attaining this blessing.
Thankfully, Medical advancements have really minimized much of the risk involved in childbirth, yet, infertility is still a reality for far too many couples. A traditional marriage ceremony is imbued with the hope that the newlywed couple merit to build a family together, and when that hope is shattered, it’s beyond heartbreaking. The Talmud intimates that when G-d withholds a child from a couple yearning for a family, it can be “worse than death.” A couple can choose not to have a baby, but one can never choose to have one, it’s up to G-d, and the pain of that heavenly decision saying “no” or “not now,” is unbearable.
Chavie and I prayed.
We beseeched heaven, we hoped the heavenly decree would be annulled and we’d be granted a miracle. We were told by hopeful friends and relatives “maybe they made a mistake,” “maybe we should look to doctors overseas” or perhaps “we should try certain vitamins”; I refer to these ideas as well-meaning, but impractical, expressions of love. Chavie and I strengthened each other, saying that G-d must have a different plan for us, but we really wondered if He was actually listening. Occasionally we felt like spiritual schizophrenics, who bounced back and forth from firm faith to doubts galore.
As rabbi and spiritual leader to many in Bozeman and all across the great State of Montana, my internal dilemma was even more taxing. I teach about Jewish faith and observance, but am I practicing what I preach? How do I actually feel about my Father in Heaven? Can I honestly tell people “everything that happens is essentially good?” Can I try to inspire congregants about “Divine Providence” in our life, when I feel forgotten?
Yet, as time passed, I found that within my blues lied exceptional conviction.
When studying Torah, the Jewish Testament, we read of eminent couples who struggled with infertility. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Manoah and his wife, Elkanah and Hannah and the Shunamite woman and her husband. I pondered, why so much righteous infertility? Is G-d sadistic to those closest to Him? What I learned was that G-d has a peculiar appreciation for the prayers of the upright. While many wonderful souls pray for health, wealth and good kids, there is something about the prayers of those seeking children that is so raw, so deep and so real, that it connects those parents with G-d in ways that are unfathomable. In addition, on many occasions, dealing with the hardship of childlessness, can bring a couple closer to each other.
The cry of truly broken hearts can attain unadulterated wholesomeness.
While those biblical figures eventually merited to have children like Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Samuel, Samson and Habakkuk, it doesn’t turn out that way for everyone. Whatever the end result for Chavie and I, it has become clear to me that G-d is fascinated by the sincerity of those moments, and, as the third partner in the marriage, chooses to be infertile too, so He can enjoy this unique closeness.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am not pretending that infertility is good or beneficial. Sometimes it can ruin a marriage or worse. What I am saying is, that in my experience, infertility can have an unintended value of connecting the couple with their Maker.
Chavie and I prayed, begged and even demanded of G-d to grant us a biological child, but as of yet, He hasn’t approved this specific blessing. Yet, I know in no uncertain terms that the prayers and moments of struggle have made us both stronger, spiritually and emotionally, and have brought us even closer together. Isaiah teaches that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” Some days I don’t understand what He’s up to, I really don’t; but somewhere deep down I know that He’s got it right.
In 2008, just before entering the hospital in New York for our infertility treatment, a Satmar rabbi from Williamsburg handed me a refrigerator magnet written in Hebrew/Yiddish that, paraphrasing from Psalms, said “Don’t give up! Those who trust in G-d will be surrounded by kindness”.
I try to live with that trust every day.
Did G-d ever answer our prayers? Stay tuned for the next blog “The Unconventional Family.”