“We Could Probably Discuss It For A Lifetime”
Chabakuk Elisha commenting on The Epitome Of Selflessness? :
This is a loaded topic and there are many sides to it… we could probably discuss it for a lifetime.
A couple things:
Regarding Moshe Rabbeinu – it was assumed by none other than Moshe’s sister Miriam that Moshe was wrong for separating from his wife. As it turned out, she was incorrect and Moshe was an exception – but that doesn’t mean that others should follow the exception, rather, that perhaps the lesson is just the opposite: We should follow the rule. Most probably, it is only in very extreme and unusual cases that anyone should follow Moshe’s example here.
The Gemora tells a story (I can’t remember where off hand) of a great sage that would learn in Beis Medrash all year without coming home or seeing his wife. He would come home one day a year (I don’t remember what day it was – maybe someone else does?) and he would go back to learn the following day. It so happened that one year, he was so involved in his studies that he forgot to go home.
His wife waited all year for that day. She dressed in her best clothing. She prepared food and organized the house. All day she waited by the door. When night came, he realized that he had missed his day to go home, and unfortunately it was too late – he would go next year.
His wife sighed as the sun set. She saw that it wasn’t going to happen this year – and we can imagine how sad she must have felt. Without question, she supported the lifestyle that they lived, but she was certainly sad that she wouldn’t see her husband that year. Sadly though, his neglect of this responsibility wasn’t taken lightly in Heaven, and he passed away as a result.
So we see that there is a balance here: on the one hand, he spent all his time away anyhow – which we could view as pretty neglectful in the first place – yet, since his wife supported this, and indeed wanted him to spend his time there, it actually wasn’t. Nevertheless, that one day a year was significant – she didn’t want to be neglected on that day, and as a result he was considered too careless.
It is quite important that people put their families first – and how that is done differs in each situation – their needs are no less important, indeed they are more important, than any other worthy cause.
But we do clearly see a common phenomenon: many of the greatest people who had a real impact had no children. In modern times we can look at Sarah Schenirer, the Beis Yisroel of Ger, R’ Aharon of Belz , the Satmar Rov or the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to name a few, and notice that all of them were childless, and they were leading figures shaping the face of Yiddishkeit. I know that there were leaders that did have children as well, and I haven’t got the statistics, but I recall a great man once remarked that truly great people cannot be great if they have children – and I suspect that the numbers will bear that out. I would bet that people who had a significant impact were predominantly childless or bad parents (just ask Einstein’s kids).