Birthrate challenges and demographics

Parasha in daily life - Parashat Shemot - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5780

Our Parasha opens a new era in the history of the Jewish people. The beginning of the exile of Egypt which was part of the Divine plan that was told to our father Abraham in the "Covenant between the Pieces" - בִּבְרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים. In our Parasha we also read about the reality of how this actually happened. On what caused Pharaoh to change the policy toward the people of Israel, Yosef's people, who saved Egypt from failure.

The main cause was the Egyptians' fear of the natural birthrate of the Jewish people:

וּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל פָּר֧וּ וַֽיִּשְׁרְצ֛וּ וַיִּרְבּ֥וּ וַיַּֽעַצְמ֖וּ בִּמְאֹ֣ד מְאֹ֑ד וַתִּמָּלֵ֥א הָאָ֖רֶץ אֹתָֽם׃

"But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them". (Shmot 1:7).

A new king came to Egypt who did not know Yosef and did not show to his people any appreciation. This king considered the natural multiplicity of the people of Israel a threat to the demographic balance and Egyptian hegemony:

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֶל־עַמּ֑וֹ הִנֵּ֗ה עַ֚ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל רַ֥ב וְעָצ֖וּם מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃ הָ֥בָה נִֽתְחַכְּמָ֖ה ל֑וֹ פֶּן־יִרְבֶּ֗ה וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תִקְרֶ֤אנָה מִלְחָמָה֙ וְנוֹסַ֤ף גַּם־הוּא֙ עַל־שֹׂ֣נְאֵ֔ינוּ וְנִלְחַם־בָּ֖נוּ וְעָלָ֥ה מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

"And he said to his people: Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.” (ibid 9-10)

Pharaoh formulates a plan for the enslavement of the Jewish people in hard work, to restrain his steps

וַיָּשִׂ֤ימוּ עָלָיו֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מִסִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן עַנֹּת֖וֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָ֑ם...

"So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor…" (ibid 11).

However, it did not affect natality:

וְכַאֲשֶׁר֙ יְעַנּ֣וּ אֹת֔וֹ כֵּ֥ן יִרְבֶּ֖ה וְכֵ֣ן יִפְרֹ֑ץ …

"But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out…" (ibid 12).

Therefore, he decreed to limit birth:

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם לַֽמְיַלְּדֹ֖ת הָֽעִבְרִיֹּ֑ת... בְּיַלֶּדְכֶן֙ אֶת־הָֽעִבְרִיּ֔וֹת וּרְאִיתֶ֖ן עַל־הָאָבְנָ֑יִם אִם־בֵּ֥ן הוּא֙ וַהֲמִתֶּ֣ן אֹת֔וֹ וְאִם־בַּ֥ת הִ֖יא וָחָֽיָה׃

"The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives… “When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” (ibid 15-16).

Thanks to the resourcefulness of the Hebrew midwives, the move was unsuccessful, and Pharaoh exacerbated the decrees on the births:

אמר ר"י בר' חנינא שלש גזירות גזר בתחילה אם בן הוא והמתן אותו ולבסוף כל הבן הילוד היאורה תשליכוהו ולבסוף אף על עמו גזר

"The Gemara returns to the discussion of the bondage in Egypt. “And Pharaoh charged all his people, "Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, says further: He decreed three decrees. Initially, he commanded the midwives only with regard to Jewish infants: “You shall look upon the stones. If it be a son, then you shall kill him; but if it be a daughter, then she shall live” (Shmot 1:16). And afterward, he decreed with regard to the Jewish infants: “Every son that is born you shall cast into the river” (Shmot 1:22). And ultimately, he decreed even on his own nation that Egyptian infant boys should be cast into the river as well" (Sotah 12a)

The decrees had an impact, the mere existence of the families endangered, fearing the birth of children whose fate will be death:

עמרם גדול הדור היה כיון (שראה שאמר) פרעה הרשע כל הבן הילוד היאורה תשליכוהו אמר לשוא אנו עמלין עמד וגירש את אשתו עמדו כולן וגירשו את נשותיהן

"Amram, the father of Moses, was the great man of his generation. Once he saw that the wicked Pharaoh said: “Every son that is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive” (Shmot 1:22), he said: We are laboring for nothing by bringing children into the world to be killed. Therefore, he arose and divorced his wife. All others who saw this followed his example and arose and divorced their wives" (Sotah ibid).

Miriam's resourcefulness and dedication brought about change:

אמרה לו בתו אבא קשה גזירתך יותר משל פרעה שפרעה לא גזר אלא על הזכרים ואתה גזרת על הזכרים ועל הנקיבות ...

"His daughter, Miriam, said to him: Father, your decree is more harsh for the Jewish people than that of Pharaoh, as Pharaoh decreed only with regard to the males, but you decreed both on the males and on the females. And now no children will be born. (ibid)

And then the birth continued, and Moshe, the Savior of Israel, was born.

During the despairing bondage, the women took on the heavy burden of continuing natality:

בשכר נשים צדקניות שהיו באותו הדור נגאלו ישראל ממצרים ...ובאות ושופתות שתי קדירות אחת של חמין ואחת של דגים... ומוליכות אצל בעליהן לשדה ומרחיצות אותן וסכות אותן ומאכילות אותן ומשקות אותן ונזקקות להן בין שפתים ... וכיון שמתעברות באות לבתיהם..."

"In the merit of the righteous women that were in that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt. He tells of their righteous actions: At the time when these women would go to the river to draw water, the Holy One, Blessed be He, would materialize for them small fish that would enter into their pitchers, and they would therefore draw pitchers that were half filled with water and half filled with fish. And they would then come and place two pots on the fire, one pot of hot water for washing their husbands and one pot of fish with which to feed them. And they would then take what they prepared to their husbands, to the field, and would bathe their husbands and anoint them with oil and feed them the fish and give them to drink and bond with them in sexual intercourse between the sheepfolds, i.e., between the borders and fences of the fields, and when these women would become pregnant, they would come back to their homes". (Sotah 11b)

Then and now, birth and demographics have a crucial weight on determining the future of cultures, societies, countries, and the entire world. Their influence is even greater than the influence of worldviews and opinions, especially in the democratic Western world where the size of a particular population directly affects its electoral power and influence in the legislature and government.

The frame of the family unit is one of the most challenging frameworks in the post-modern era. The postmodern argument to any sacred value has not even missed the basic framework of human existence. The feminist revolution and female desire for career and self-realization are sometimes seen as contradictory to the demands of family life and child rearing. The classic frame of the family that has a father and mother, is up against a postmodern controversy that legitimizes a family format that does not have the potential of natural childbearing.

There are also those who appeal against the natural maternal instinct that seeks realization in the form of motherhood and birth. As a result, there are societies in the Western world with negative demographics, causing them to become demographically and economically smaller, and their geo-strategic influence is dwindling.

Faced with these trends, every couple has the challenge of making the right choices, on how, when and where they want to raise a family and bring children into the world, hence reflecting their priorities in choosing the goals of their lives.

 

The Brick Report for Religious Zionism

Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Shmot - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5769

In our Parasha, the Torah describes the process of the sinking into the exile and servitude, and the spiritual assimilation to the Egyptian culture. Chazal emphasized that the beginning of the process was cultural assimilation rather than spiritual: "… so that the land was filled with them" 'ותמלא הארץ אותם'- said R. Yohanan - filled Egypt. Another thing: that they filled the houses of Theater and Circuses. They immediately ordered them to leave." (ילק"ש שמות א רמז קסב). 

The Egyptian culture was very powerful and attractive, which attracted the people of Israel to it. The decrees started and grew worse with the time. And the spiritual decline that brought the Jewish people to a low spiritual state: " And it increased that the sons of Jacob and those that accompany them, they became a nation that knew G-d. Until the days went by, and the Israelites stayed in Egypt much longer and returned to worship idolatry. Except for the tribe of Levi who kept the Mitzvot of the Avot and never did perform idolatry. And it was almost as if Avraham's descendants had been uprooted. And Bnei Yaacov go back to their mistakes. And because of Hashem's ultimate love for us, and his oath to Abraham Avinu, was that Moshe, the greatest of all the Neviim, and sent them" (Rambam -Laws of idolatry 1,3).

In recent days, there has been an uproar over the report of Major-General (res.) Yitzhak Brick, on the readiness of the IDF for war. Some people believe that his words are fully justified in all aspects of the report, and some disagree with him and believe that our situation has never been better, the truth is apparently somewhere between the two.

I think everyone can agree on two things:

On one side, Brick's public civic courage to speak his mind up and give out criticism even though it may not be well accepted and might buy him some enemies. It's easier to flow, and to say that everything is good, to be kind and loved by everyone, than to be perceived as an opposition, and as someone who spoils the euphoria.

And on the other, that this steadfastness caused an earthquake and an unbiased self-examination of the system. A process that bodes well. Because it allows to produce the atmosphere required for change and repair of what needs to be repaired.

The "Brick" of the religious Zionism has not yet emerged, the one who with great courage will write the report on the achievements of religious Zionism and its challenges in the State of Israel in the past seventy years. He will require great courage because it will attract fire. This has been said for a long time but not officially. Not to the general public. But the goal will not be achieved if it does not lead to a public debate, with all its parts.

This report will probably point to tremendous achievements for religious Zionism in the areas of Torah, community, settlement, education, integration into state institutions, security, key positions in the army, in the rest of the security forces, in law, in science, economics, etc.

To the unprecedented blossoming in the amount of Batei Midrash for men and women, spread out across the country in the periphery and in the influential cities of the center. To that it has become a much more varied and less dogmatic movement and enables expression of different opinions and emphases. This is the part of the "full cup" in the report, and we will all look at it with satisfaction and thank G-d for having had the privilege.

However, he will also have to relate to the portion of the "empty cup", which is divided over the extent of the opinions, because unlike the Haredi public, religious Zionism did not grow in accordance with its birthrate. And a not-small percent became non-religious 'חוזר בשאלה' (some say 30% and up and some say 20%), and on the fact that pulling away from the commitment to Halacha, is gradually becoming the norm, and that the number of those who attend Torah institutions, is not increasing according to the birth rate.

There are more boys from the religious Zionism in the army, however, on the general scale, the army allows less religiousness today than it did a decade ago. (And well might be that most of the "חזרה בשאלה" seems to occur during the military service).

Although there are more members of the religious Zionism in key positions in the country but in recent years there has been a significant erosion of public religious status quo of the country. Probably some will try to refute this part of the report arguing that it is pessimism. Or those who will accept it but argue that there is nothing to be done, these are large-scale and powerful processes that cannot be dealt with.

And some of them, including myself, will say that it is forbidden to remain indifferent to this part of the report, and we must not accept the situation because it is not a matter of fate, but we have a public responsibility to deal with the problem.

Even among the latter group, there is likely to be an argument as to whether the situation is the result of a lack of study and examination of faith, or of cultural erosion. The culture which is not founded on religious Zionist values, is equipped with very attractive powerful advanced tools, that erode the religious Zionist culture, especially among the 20-year-olds.

And there isn’t enough thinking, and actions taken to find alternatives, and to develop powerful alternative tools, to preserve the rich culture of religious Zionism. The traditional tools are not enough, with frontal lessons or workshops, we need stronger tools, that reach individuals, educational institutions, military units and  the community.

 

The Parsha elaborates on the biography of Moshe Rabbeinu, in and as a result of the increasing enslavement in Egypt. Moshe was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter and raised in the palace of Pharaoh, separated from the people of Israel, and from the life of servitude, and describes the stages of Moshe's personal development and the reestablishment of connection and attachment to the people of Israel.

"And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moshe: and she said, because I drew him out of the water. And it came to pass in those days, when Moshe was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. (Shmot 10-12).

One must pay attention to two emphases in the verses: twice "grow up" and twice "his brothers". The emphasis on growth raises the question of the Midrash about the need to mention this: "And Moshe grew up" - and for that not all grow: man, beasts, animals and chickens, but to tell you that he grew up unlike the whole world "(Shemot Rabbah 1:27). However, his double growth is also about the authority: "And Moshe grew up - and it is already written," And the child grew up, "Rabbi Judah said:" The first one as everyone grows up and the second to the greatness that Pharaoh appointed him over his house. In other words, when he grew up, his greatness began, and he was appointed to a high position in Egypt, to be in charge of the royal household.

It is precisely because of this that there is an added significance to the discovery of brotherhood, which is emphasized in the double meaning of the word "brother":  How did he come out of the king's house to connect with the Hebrews who were engaged in hard labor, each of them, if he could distance himself from their company so as not to fear their wickedness? Asks the Abarbanel in Shemot 2:11 and the Ramban replied: "And he went to his brethren, because they told him that he was a Jew, and he wanted to see them. When he chose to kill the Egyptian, he chose to give up the greatness that awaited him at Pharaoh's house.

The connection between his 'growth' and his 'greatness' must be emphasized. It is not at all clear that a person in such a situation seeks the ancient connection to his origins and to an enslaved people considered inferior and without rights: "Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers". The sense of responsibility and genuine caring for their fate is an expression of his greatness and greatness in his choice, in which he prefers to act in the best interest of his people, to be the first leader and redeemer of the people of Israel.

Observing the history of great men; Great scholars, great inventors, and great leaders who have changed the face of society and history, a doctrine that shares a common denominator; were not born like that. Each of them had a point in their lives when the 'great choice' of their lives took place, the choice of greatness. From this choice, the path of their Aliyah began, and from there they also drew the tremendous will and perseverance that motivated them on their way to the high achievements they reached. "And Moshe grew up."

For Parshat Shemot
Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

"Strategy in the light of Emunah (faith)" is fundamentally different from regular strategy, which is built exclusively on man and his capabilities.
A regular strategic outlook is based on the principle of exclusivity – as if only man determines and shapes reality and the future. It recognizes two extremes: areas which apparently are under man's exclusive control and depend on his ability to make plans and to carry them out. And the opposite – areas which are entirely beyond man's control and his ability to influence them. The limits of the influence of this strategy are the limits of man's ability.
The Emunah – based strategic outlook is based on the principle of partnership between man - the individual and the community - and the divine leadership which directs the development of the world and history. This partnership should be taken into account appropriately while planning strategy and while executing it. This partnership is a two-sided coin. On one hand, the divine providence influences man's actions, and gives them power and influence beyond regular human ability. On the other hand, man can "work with G-d" and be a partner to "the work of the Creation" in divinely-led wide-ranging and historical processes. He is granted the possibility to influence some of the factors and the way events develop, for good or for bad. From this arises the responsibility for the partnership in world events. Man's influence is beyond the limitations of human ability.
This principle is explained in depth in several places of the Natziv's commentary on the Torah.
Sefer Shemot opens with the divinely-led chain of events leading to the enslavement of Am Israel and the exodus from Egypt. G-d has already revealed this to Avraham in the Covenent Between the Pieces (Bereshith 15:13): "Know for certain that your offspring will be strangers in a foreign land, and (the nation of that land) will enslave and torment them for four hundred years. And I will also judge the nation that will enslave them, and they will leave with great wealth." The process of enslavement will be as strangers, in a foreign land, and will entail slavery and torment. Avraham was not told, however, the extent of the enslavement and the suffering. This will be determined by the conduct of Am Israel. "Even though these kingdoms will arise in the future, it depends on these conditions. And therefore it is not clear now…but this is certain…that altogether: being strangers, enslavement and suffering will continue four hundred years from the day that He spoke to him…and it is not clear how long will continue only (the situation of) being strangers, and how long will be the enslavement and how long affliction, only generally, and later on everything will be clear. (The Natziv, Hamek Davar)
When Moshe Rabbenu is sent to take Israel out of Egypt, he was informed that the name of G-d which will be revealed by the way He will act in Egypt is "I will be that which I will be." This name sheds light on Am Israel's influence on the process, in which "the way it will happen isn't clear yet since it depends on the preparations of the receivers (Israel). And therefore 'I will be'-will act in accordance to 'that which I will be'-the power that Israel will give me." (The Natziv, Shemot 3:14)
It was already apparent by the end of Parshat Viyigash that Am Israel, which just went down to Egypt to be strangers there, temporary, and for a predetermined time; chose to settle there for an unlimited period of time. "And Israel settled in the land of Egypt in the land of Goshen, and they took hold of it, and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly." (Bereshith 47:27) Rashi says: "And they took hold of it – the term implying (holding it as) an estate." This behavior had strategic implications on the nature of the subsequent slavery. "This entire verse speaks of the guilt of the sons of Israel, since G-d decreed that 'your offspring will be strangers' and they desired to be 'residents,' and instead of being foreigners as decreed, they wanted an estate in a land that was not theirs." (Cli Yakar)
The settlement strategy in Egypt also influenced the intensity of the enslavement. Instead of separating themselves from the Egyptians and concentrating in the land of Goshen, they mingled into their society all across Egypt. The friction and the exposure to the Egyptian population created a threat that intensified the decrees. (The Natziv, Shemot 1:7)
Even the divine and formative event of the splitting of the Red Sea was decisively influenced by the behavior of Am Israel. "That G-d gave the tribe of Yehuda the insight that the (divine) providence at the splitting of the Red Sea will be in a natural manner, and He gave Binyamin the insight that it will be a marvelous miracle. And he who prevailed at that hour determined the manner of the Splitting of the Red Sea according to his will and insight." (Natziv, Shemot 3:14)

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