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"
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
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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