What You Can’t See in Our Family Picture
Pictures don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole truth either. They just capture a moment, no, a split-second, in time. Our family recently captured a split-second when Zev and I, plus every child, in-law child, and grandchild, lived together in our house during Pesach. But the picture doesn’t show my mind uttering, “thank you, G-d” and “thank you, Rebbe,” in a continuous loop as the photographer snapped away. You can’t see all that went into this journey that began almost 30 years ago, when our lives changed course from self-directed to G-d-directed. But at least you can see the most profound reflection of this changed course: the children we were blessed to bring into the world as a result. That our six married children also choose to live a G-d directed life, and have been blessed to bring children into the world to live the same way, is a G-d “moment” not to be missed. Even if you can’t see it.
Of course, none of us can see G-d, but He’s definitely in our picture. Because nowhere did I ask for more of Him than with these children, begging Him for every one, especially the later ones, ones I wanted so much for reasons I didn’t even try to understand. Only G-d could give me the temerity (okay, chutzpah) to step into my womanly role as the akeres habayit, the foundation of the Jewish home. Only for Him would I try to become a Mother Jew, somehow sure the Rebbe’s teachings could show me how. And, if by chance along the way, I had any doubts about whether or not this G-d-Torah-Rebbe package was the Truth, I wouldn’t let them derail me. (You can’t see these doubts either, but now I can tell you, I had them, especially at times when my mother would challenge me: if it’s so wonderful, why don’t more people do it?) Instead, I stayed focused on the Chabad families around us that had become dynasties; they also started with two people who stayed firm in their commitment. I could do that, doubt or no doubt. Call me a spoiled little Jewish girl, but I wasn’t afraid to ask Him endlessly for what I wanted: a big family.
Part of my reason for wanting this was simple economics. We had the strollers, we had the high chairs. The carpets were already stained. The variable costs of having another child were minimal compared to the overt miracle G-d would be providing. How could I not want more? Our kids wanted a big family, too. Mordy, our oldest son, once questioned why people who have one million dollars want two million dollars, but they don’t want more “priceless” children. I remember walking through Yad Vashem when our youngest son Sholom was around 3, and all I could do was ask G-d for another child. What better way to exact revenge on those who tried to exterminate us?
Trust me, there were plenty of times when I wished I didn’t want them so badly, especially because there’s only so much you can do to have a baby. Maybe that’s what I relished about the whole process, that I so clearly depended on G-d’s kindness. I never wanted to be “done.” During the years when our family size kept growing, people often asked how many kids we wanted. Zev used to answer jokingly, “we always thought fourteen would be nice.” I always wanted to say, “as many as G-d gives us. Plus one.”
The reasons for everyone’s family size are very personal, I know that. And I’m not trying to suggest to anyone else what to do (unless you happen to be one of my children). I’m just grateful to G-d that He gave me the big family that I prayed for, that I still pray for. Continuously. Even if you can’t see it in the picture.