SAVE THE WORLD! BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY
October 18, 2012
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #852, Noach, Parsha Thought

A TAUTOLOGY

In the aftermath of the Great Flood that destroyed the entire human and animal population of the world except for Noach, his immediate family and a token representation of all other forms of life on earth, Noach begins the arduous task of rebuilding and repopulating the world. Upon leaving the Ark, Noach is instructed by G-d to be fruitful and multiply – the very words that were originally spoken to Adam soon after he was created.

The question may be asked, why the need to repeat the commandment? Why would Noach feel that the original charge given to Adam would no longer be in effect now that he had to start all over again? Wouldn’t it have been obvious to him that he should encourage repopulating the earth?

HUMANS: THE CAUSE OF ALL PROBLEMS?

One simple answer to this question can be offered in light of the tendency of some who eschew bringing children into a cruel world because of a society that is bent on self-destruction. When we consider all the man-made devastation caused by violence, war, pillaging, destruction of the environment etc., we might shudder at the prospect of bringing children into such a world.

Indeed, this was the thought of none other than Amram, the father of history’s greatest human being – Moses. Our Sages tell us that when Amram—who was then the unofficial leader of the Israelite slaves in Egypt—heard of Pharaoh’s decree to have all the boys thrown into the Nile, he separated from his wife. His argument was, why bring children into the world to have them thrown into the Nile? Upon hearing of their leader’s action, all of the men separated from their wives until Amram’s daughter Miriam declared that his actions were worse than Pharaoh’s. Pharaoh had only decreed against the males, whereas, she reasoned, Amram’s actions threatened the females (that would not be born) as well.

In addition to this very sentiment that we hear expressed in our own day and age, we also hear of those who invoke Malthusian predictions of the world coming to an end because of what they term “overpopulation” and the depletion of the earth’s resources. Humans, in their estimation, are the cause of so many problems, and “too many” humans, they believe, can only magnify the problems exponentially.

To deflect this attitude which regards the growth of humanity as a source of misfortune, G-d therefore expressly commands Noach to propagate and populate the world. Notwithstanding the flood that just destroyed a world that was self-induced, G-d commanded him to disregard the past and start all over again.

HUMANS, THE SOLUTION

Human beings are often the problem, but they are almost always the solution. Imagine what life would be like had the people who invented or discovered the cures for so many illnesses not been born. Imagine where we would be without the people whose G-d-given ingenuity provided us with modern technological means to feed billions with so much less effort than in earlier historical periods when the dire predictions were made.

In effect, the two commandments to be fruitful and multiply—the one addressed to Adam and the one addressed to Noach—reflect two separate situations. Be fruitful when you can see the benefits of human capital, but also be fruitful when it seems that humans are the problem. The rationale for this second commandment is that while we are the only species that can cause real harm to the world, we are also the only species that can correct our mistakes and save the world.

A THIRD COMMANDMENT

We still have a need to understand why—later in Genesis—we find a third commandment directed to Jacob to be fruitful and multiply. Indeed, the Talmud makes it clear that there is a special commandment directed specifically to the Jewish people to propagate. Why the need to turn this universal imperative into a parochial one? There must be an added dimension to the need for propagation.

Thus far we have explained that human life is a mixed bag. We cause many if not most of the problems (we don’t usually cause earthquakes and other “acts of G-d”), but we have the capacity to remedy them as well. Frequently, we can respond to and ameliorate the conditions that are wrought by G-d as well. Thus, human resources are the most indispensable resources that we possess.

However, this approach has one flaw in it. In this paradigm, we have a world and we have people. And there seems to be an inherent tension between the two. We plunder the earth and destroy it but we also help to cultivate the earth and reveal its treasures and remedy the things that go wrong with it. Humanity and Earth seem to be in an adversarial relationship.

In truth, when G-d reintroduced the commandment to be fruitful and multiply to Jacob and the Jewish nation, a radically different understanding of what humanity is all about was introduced to the world. We are not just resources that compete with other resources and we have to reach the conclusion that we are more valuable and therefore deserve to survive and even thrive notwithstanding the problems we cause. We are the very purpose for which the entire universe was created.

Why?

THE PURPOSE OF CREATION

Mount Sinai—the mountain upon which the Torah was given and on which G-d revealed the very purpose for which we and the entire cosmos were created—introduced the reality that the world was created for us. The world was created for us to make the right choices that will thereby bring G-dly awareness and G-dly values into the world. To accomplish this there are two stages:

Stage number one is to have a civilized, inhabited world, where people use their talents and ingenuity to harness the world’s resources to make it a productive, verdant, vibrant, thriving, moral and ethical world. To this end, we need a world populated by humans to elicit its maximum potential. And this indeed was the main charge of the world before the Torah was given on Mount Sinai when the only laws that were in effect were the Seven Noachide commandments that focus on maintaining a civilized society. Being fruitful and multiplying served that end.

At Sinai (and a “sneak preview” prior to that when G-d communicated with Jacob, the progenitor of the Jewish people who would stand at Sinai) G-d informed us that we are not just His instruments to repair the world and enable it to realize its full potential. We do that and more. We are the ones chosen to bring G-d into this civilized and vibrant world because we have been infused with G-dly energy at Sinai and that enables us to make the world into what our Sages call “a dwelling place for G-d.”

How do we accomplish this goal of making the world into a dwelling place for G-d?

This goal is also accomplished in two stages:

SHOWING UP

First, by just showing up.

No sooner than a baby emerges from its mother’s womb, the world irreversibly changes for the good. When a G-dly soul enters the physical world and is no longer concealed and subsumed within, and nurtured by, the mother’s soul, this newly independent soul comes onto the scene with an unprecedented surge of Divine energy.

Then comes stage two. This human being, in possession of a G-dly soul that was energized at Sinai, must also act in ways that are consistent with his or her G-dly soul. When we perform a Mitzvah—which means a G-dly commandment—it unleashes an unprecedented surge of G-dly energy that contributes further to the ultimate goal of making the world a “dwelling” for G-d.

In the aggregate of souls entering into the world and the accumulation of Mitzvos over time, we bring the world closer to the age when G-d’s glory will fill the entire cosmos. That is what the Messianic Age is all about. It is we—not G-d exclusively—who bring about this era through showing up and living a G-dly life.

CHOOSE LIFE

We can now understand Judaism’s emphasis on life. The Torah asserts that human life has intrinsic value. Even if a person has no quality of life (although the definition of quality is so subjective and vague to be irrelevant in determining which and when human life should be saved) his or her life is sacrosanct. Life itself is the greatest asset because it is the presence of a Divine soul within our physical existence.

The above will also shed light on the Talmudic statement that Moshiach will come when all the souls will have left their storage place in heaven and will have entered our world. The Messianic Age is when G-d’s presence will spread to the entire world. And the means to achieve this goal begins with the birth of each and every individual child.

Mazal Tov!

 

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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