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לימוד תורה

Natality is a blessing - Demographics and Enlightenment

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – The Parasha in our everyday life - Ekev - 5781

A little over a week ago, the Puah Institute launched a mass recruitment campaign. The general public participated, opened their hearts and pockets, and sought to be a partner in the institute's sacred work. For several decades the institute has been helping couples fulfill their natural dream of having children and becoming parents. A few weeks earlier, US President Biden knelt down before Rivka Ravitz, President Rivlin's chief of staff, after finding out she is the mother of 12 children. On June 9th this year, Agudat EFRAT’s founder Dr. Eli Schussheim passed away. He was also the founder of the ‘Neveh Simcha Exclusive Retirement Home Hospital’ in Jerusalem. He worked for decades to encourage childbirth and prevent abortions because of economic reasons. In the eulogies it was said that more than 79,000 children were saved thanks to him!

These events stand out against the ongoing opposite trend, especially among those with radical progressive views in the Western world. They also gave it a 'name', soft, and washed: "Voluntary childlessness", which means: the voluntary choice not to have children, a desire of couples to focus on themselves, and their pleasures, not to be parents and not to have children. Some of them justify this by saying there is economic savings, or by a reluctance to bear the responsibility, worries and burden of raising children. However, some of them argue this is for 'ideological' reasons; like an 'advanced' type of feminism (the 'third wave', or 'freedom from children' - 'childfree'), which sees giving-birth as a woman’s 'bonding' and career ‘damager’. They deny that this way, she cripples the natural tendency of motherhood (in their opinion this is not a natural tendency but a cultural 'paving' for 'maternity', because of the 'needs of human society for survival).

For others, it stems from impartial 'ecological ideologies', they see themselves as responsible for 'the future of the world' and its protection against ‘human overpopulation' and the depletion of natural resources.

In the world’s literature written on the subject, one can identify the progressive approach that advocates the ‘dismantling of the frameworks’; in their opinion, the ‘frameworks’ are the root of evil and compulsion in humanity, and therefore their validity should be challenged. Including the 'family framework'.

Although it is still a concept that represents a minority, it has a considerable impact on the public, cultural and political discourse and it manages to shake and undermine what’s conventional in the Western world.

What appears to be the loss of humanity's ‘perceptual and value compass’, and goes against the natural human tendency to parenthood and survival, becomes one of the symbols of the 'Enlightenment'. One does not have to be a great 'conservative' to see in this conception a kind of 'vertigo' and cultural swirl, an autoimmune phenomenon - humanity's existence mechanisms attack itself. Contrary to its simple and surviving interest.

These perceptions cause, among other things, the negative demographic balance that reduces the population of the Western world. The Western world is being occupied by an immigrant Muslim population, and the West is aging. The percentage of the elderly is rising and the percentage of children and young people is declining, a phenomenon that also has devastating economic consequences. However, this does not interest them.

We have it as well! A Minister in the Israeli Government, which represents Ben-Gurion's movement, stated that ideologically she was not interested in getting married and having children. A few years ago, she even declared: "The nuclear family is the most dangerous place for children." And ‘not necessarily do the 'biological parents’ have to raise them’!!

Another government minister, announced in an election panel several months ago that "Israel should consider a birth restriction policy due to the population density expected in the State of Israel!"

A new MK with the title of professor, even wrote a book about it. He claims that by 2050 the Israeli population will double itself to 18 million people! And for him this would be a catastrophe! (No less!) In his opinion, "instead of encouraging people to have large families, we should encourage families with only 2 children." For him, this is "green politics", the embodiment of "patriotism"! No less! Craziness! The consolation is that this is still an exceptional minority.

In our Parsha the Torah indicates the Divine blessings that will follow the observance of the Torah and the Mitzvot. Heading the list of blessings is fertility and natality:

וְהָיָ֣ה עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְשָׁמַר֩ ה' אֱלֹק֜יךָ לְךָ֗ אֶֽת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃ וַאֲהֵ֣בְךָ֔ וּבֵרַכְךָ֖ וְהִרְבֶּ֑ךָ וּבֵרַ֣ךְ פְּרִֽי־בִטְנְךָ֣ וּפְרִֽי־אַ֠דְמָתֶ֠ךָ דְּגָ֨נְךָ֜ וְתִירֹֽשְׁךָ֣ וְיִצְהָרֶ֗ךָ שְׁגַר־אֲלָפֶ֙יךָ֙ וְעַשְׁתְּרֹ֣ת צֹאנֶ֔ךָ עַ֚ל הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֥ע לַאֲבֹתֶ֖יךָ לָ֥תֶת לָֽךְ׃ בָּר֥וּךְ תִּֽהְיֶ֖ה מִכׇּל־הָעַמִּ֑ים לֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה בְךָ֛ עָקָ֥ר וַֽעֲקָרָ֖ה וּבִבְהֶמְתֶּֽךָ׃

"And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, Hashem your G-d will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers: He will favor you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the issue of your womb and the produce of your soil, your new grain and wine and oil, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock, in the land that He swore to your fathers to assign to you. You shall be blessed above all other peoples: there shall be no sterile male or female among you or among your livestock.” (Devarim 7:12-14)

And then it adds:

"כׇּל־הַמִּצְוָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם תִּשְׁמְר֣וּן לַעֲשׂ֑וֹת לְמַ֨עַן תִּֽחְי֜וּן וּרְבִיתֶ֗ם וּבָאתֶם֙ וִֽירִשְׁתֶּ֣ם אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ ...

"You shall faithfully observe all the Instructions that I enjoin upon you today, that you may thrive and increase and be able to possess the land … (Devarim 8:1)

It is not for nothing that the Torah chose to place fertility and natality at the top of the list of blessings. And it is not for nothing that the first Mitzvah in the Torah is:

פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ

Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it" (Bereshit 1: 28).

דבר ה' איננו מכיר אוצר יקר יותר מנפש האדם, ולדידו מספר הנפשות הוא קנה המידה של עושר לאומי אמיתי

"G-d’s word knows no treasure that is more precious than the human soul, and for Him the number of souls is the standard of true national wealth." (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Devarim 7:14).

The motivation for parenthood is deeply ingrained in the healthy psyche. Natality is the human summarization, and one of the greatest abilities given to man. Is the opportunity to transcend ego and hedonism and give to the close to you. For the people of Israel, natality is the guarantee for the continuity of the Jewish people and its Torah forever. With our return to our land, natality rate affects the demographic balance, the resilience and national security, and economic growth. And even healing the wound of the terrible Holocaust.

With the establishment of the State, then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion established the "Birth Encouragement Award" for mothers of ten or more children, and Moshe Sharett (the second Prime Minister of Israel) continued to do so.

We did indeed receive the blessing. The average birth rate in the State of Israel today is almost twice as in other OECD countries:

וְהִרְבֶּ֑ךָ multiply you -Go and multiply and prosper in the growing generations, etc., and the multiplicity of your population will expand the boundaries of the kingdom of G-d on earth. The number of souls who are pure in spirit and morality will increase, and this wealth of the number of souls of Israel is the peak of the flourishing of Hashem’s state, which is based on the observance of the Torah commandments, etc. וּבֵרַ֣ךְ פְּרִֽי־בִטְנְךָ… "bless the issue of your womb etc" - is nothing but a continuation of "multiply you": the land will flourish and it will satisfy the needs of the population that has multiplied". (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, ibid).

!ילדים זה שמחה, ילדים זה ברכה           "... Children are joy, children are a blessing!                                       

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