Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

0 Teves 5764 - January 14, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Bnei Yisroel Were Fruitful . . .

The first mitzvah given to Odom Horishon was: "Peru urevu umil'u es ho'oretz" -- be fruitful and multiply and fill up the land. In parshas Shemos the first fact about Israel in Mitzrayim that we are told, right at the beginning, is that they fulfilled this Divine commandment: "And Bnei Yisroel were fruitful and gave birth and increased and became a very mighty throng, so that the land was full of them" (Shemos 1:7).

The obligation to have children is a Divine commandment given to man, but the force that drives every living thing to procreate is built into Creation. All of Hashem's creatures, starting from lowly single-celled creatures and on through plants, animals and people, feel a powerful natural force that drives them to have children and raise them.

This is something that is crucial from the point of view of the needs of the natural world: every living thing dies sooner or later, and there is a constant need for replacements. But without restraint, virtually every creature will multiply explosively, in effect seeking to take over as much of the world as possible. If African bees are introduced to an area in which they have no natural enemies such as South America, they will simply increase without limit. When water hyacinths were introduced to Florida, they soon threatened to choke all waterways.

Every natural creature tries to increase without limit -- except for man. Only man limits his natural increase.

Today, of all the major Western nations, only the United States reproduces at a rate that is close to maintaining current population levels. According to scientists, the average woman must have 2.1 children in order to maintain the population at a given level. In Spain, women have an average of only 1.1 children. In Italy it is only 1.2 and the rate for Europe as a whole is only 1.4 children to the average woman.

This will lead to aging and falling populations. According to United Nations projections, Europe overall will shrink from 728 million people to 632 million people by 2050 -- 13 percent. Italy alone is expected to have 20 percent fewer people. By 2050, those aged 60 or older are projected to be about a third of the population of Europe. Even in the less developed regions, the proportion of those aged 60 or older is expected to rise from 8 to 20 percent.

This is a new phenomenon. Between 1950 and 2000 the median age of the whole world rose only about three years, from about 23.5 to about 26.5 years. Yet over the next half century it is expected to rise over three times as much.

This is the end of a major trend that began about 250 years ago. Although no one fully understands in natural terms why there was an Industrial Revolution that began then, it is clear that it was accompanied by a population increase. In every place that there was an increase in wealth and practical knowledge there was also a population explosion. As the modern world has developed, it was always accompanied by an increasing population -- until now.

All creation tries to be fruitful and multiply. Children are a blessing. They are the first message of Hashem to man in Bereishis, and the first step mentioned in Shemos the sefer Hageuloh.

Humanity is forgetting this, but we must not.

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