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iChoice: Steve Jobs and Us

I love my iPod.

It eases my commute, helps me run and even promotes the Torah class I teach. When Steve Jobs died in October, the world mourned the loss of a unique visionary who, through the sheer force of his personality, fashioned products that have enhanced the lives of people across the globe.

But was it worth it? I wonder.

In his forthcoming biography of Jobs, author Walter Isaacson recalled asking the dying icon why, given that he so valued his privacy, did he welcome a stranger into his home for hours of intimate, personal interviews for a biography that would only be published after his death? Jobs’ answer saddened me.

“I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

How will his children feel about the fact that a writer — and the entire world for that matter — knows their father at least as well as they do? Given the choice, would they rather be the children of a world-famous tech icon who didn’t spend time with his kids or an unknown tech executive who did?

Last month, Red Thread published a fascinating article called, “The Price of Progeny,” (October 2011) about the emotional cost of multiple children and the dangers those kids can bring to a marriage.

“Having too many children can cripple an already weak relationship and drive a couple to divorce,” marriage therapist Dr. Alan Singer said “Or it could lead to constant stress in the home, which also is bad for the parents and the children.”

All important points. But the article neglected a more basic question: Why have children at all? Are they simply accessories to a “good” marriage? Do we have kids so one day they’ll take care of us when we’re old? Do we even ask those questions before we begin making babies?

The answer to this critical question must stem from our faith and has deep implications not only for how many children we have, but also for how we raise them.

According to Jewish tradition, we don’t just choose to have children; we are commanded to do so. It’s a mitzvah — actually the very first in the Torah. Peru U’revu – “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28) It’s both a commandment and a blessing.

In the very first chapter of the Torah, the same Creator who built the world and blew life into man commanded us, his creation, to procreate and bring new life into the world as well.

And, like every other meaningful, creative act (i.e.: building a business, a marriage or even a closet at home), creating a family — and shaping a human being — often isn’t fun or exciting. It’s grueling, hard, even excruciating work.

But, as the most creative act possible, parenting is also the most meaningful, powerful and important thing we can do in our lives — even more important, I think, than creating a Mac, iPhone or iPad.

Most of us are not Steve Jobs. We won’t create game-changing products used by untold millions, but we all share his struggle between work and family life — especially in these challenging economic times.

Had Steve Jobs made a different choice, my workouts might be slightly less enjoyable. Someone else would have eventually figured out how to build a less classy smart phone. And owners of Apple stock would be far less wealthy.

But his children would not have needed to read a book to know who their father really was.

Rabbi Reuven Spolter is the director of student recruitment and teaches Jewish studies at the Orot College of Education in Elkana, Israel. He was formerly the pulpit rabbi at Young Israel of Oak Park.



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