Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedCourtesy

Similar to our prayers after the Holocaust, now after the Simchgat Torah massacre, we must pray that we understand our role in a better world, and that families will bring many children into the world 

The Torah tells us that even after the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites and embittered their lives with hard labor, mortar and bricks and with crushing work, instead of the suffering leading to despair and reduced births, the Israelites continued to be fruitful and multiply – “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out.” When the Egyptians saw that despite the servitude the Hebrews continued multiplying, they intensified the labor from dawn until dusk, so that they would be forced to sleep in the fields and not be able to have marital relations, and family life. The Egyptians’ goal was twofold: to exploit their labor, and in the process, make them despair, and annihilate them.

But the Torah teaches that when the foundation of life is firm, suffering – despite all the pain and distress – does not break life, but ultimately, strengthens it. When the power of life is weak, the reaction is to withdraw from life, and diminish. But when the power of life is strong, and breeds faith that good will defeat evil, the reaction is to be fruitful and multiply.

The Promise to Jacob Our Forefather

Jacob our forefather was also very worried before going down to Egypt that perhaps his offspring would be lost among the nations, whether through destruction, or through assimilation. Therefore, God appeared to him, as the Torah says:

“And God said to Israel in a vision by night…Do not fear going down to Egypt, for I Myself will make you a great nation there! I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself, will also bring you back” (Genesis 46:2-4).

And thus, we also learned the purpose of the Egyptian exile, from which we left with great wealth, as the family of seventy souls became a great nation with material possessions, the fruits of their labor.

The Maharal of Prague explained (Gevurot Hashem, Chapter 3) that the number of 600,000 men of military age, is the basic number for the existence of a nation. Therefore, only after reaching this number, did God take Israel out of Egypt, and give them the Torah.

Today As Well

Today too, we pray that out of the suffering and mourning for all the murdered settlers and holy soldiers who sacrificed themselves to protect the Nation and Land – we will be strengthened in faith, and understand our role better. The life forces within us will prevail – singles will marry and more children will be born, thus continuing the heritage of the holy ones who sacrificed themselves for the strengthening of life.

Even today, despite the Holocaust, the State of Israel is the only scientifically and economically advanced country with a high birth rate – approximately three children per Jewish woman. In other developed countries, the birth rate is less than two children on average. The high number of children is not only because of the Haredi and religious population, but in all populations the birth rate is significantly higher compared to their counterparts in developed countries. In other words, even those called “secular” in Israel, are much more traditional than secular people in Western countries, and correspondingly, marry more, and give birth more.

Therefore, the hope that we will find comfort after the war through many children is a realistic hope, since family values and the commandment to be fruitful and multiply are honored among Jews, and on this basis, we can hope for added blessing. Just as it is said about wisdom, that one who is already wise can receive a blessing for more wisdom (Daniel 2:21), and one who is already mighty, can receive a blessing for more might. So too, a community that already looks favorably upon a family with children, can merit having more children.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

In her book “Yisrael – Eretz Ketana, Sippur Gadol” (‘Israel – Small Country, Big Story’), Sophie Shulman writes that Israel leads the world in fertility treatments. Of around six million people born from fertility treatments worldwide, 100,000 are Israelis. All this, is thanks to the special attitude towards the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, which leads to enormous financial investment in helping women who have difficulty conceiving.

Israel is the only country in the world that funds fertility treatments for women up to age 45 as part of national health insurance, and even a woman who already has one child is entitled to treatment to give birth to a second child. Most supplemental insurances provided by health clinics also fund treatments for a third child. The next country after us in number of treatments per capita is Denmark, and there, public health insurance covers only three rounds of fertility treatment, for one child only, and for women up to age 40. In Israel, even after age 45, it is possible to get assistance for fertility treatments with an egg donation.

Incidentally, overseas it is rare for homosexual men to father children, whereas in Israel, due to the influence of faith and tradition, even homosexual men make great efforts and invest huge sums in order to have children.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew