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"Be Fruitful and Multiply"

  • Rav Binyamin Tabory







“Be Fruitful and Multiply”

Adapted by Shaul Barth

Translated by Kaeren Fish



                        One of the questions that arises from our parasha is why God repeats the command to “be fruitful and multiply” to Noach, after the same command had already been given to Adam. 


                        The Meshekh Chokhma writes that the mitzva of procreation does not obligate women, since pregnancy and childbirth are difficult – sometimes (especially in former times) even life-threatening.  In addition, we know that women generally feel an instinctive inner desire to bear children; the Torah need not command her to be a mother.  However, in the creation of mankind we read, “God blessed them (!): Be fruitful and multiply,” suggesting that the command was given to both Adam and Chava.


                        The Meshekh Chokhma goes on to explain that at the time of Creation, “Be fruitful and multiply” was indeed addressed to both Adam and Chava, but after the Flood the command was given only to Noach (and his sons) but not to his wife.  Why, when the world was “created anew” after the Flood, was woman not commanded to bear children, while in the original Creation she had been so commanded?


                        In the Garden of Eden, the Meshekh Chokhma explains, childbirth involved no pain and no travail, and for this reason woman was also party to the obligation to bear children.  After the sin, the woman was punished with the burden, “In sorrow shall you give birth to children,” and therefore only man is commanded and not his wife, because it is impossible to obligate a woman to endanger herself in order to give birth.


                        The Meshekh Chokhma brings a further reason for why woman is not commanded to bear children.  According to Torah law, a man may be married to more than one wife, but a woman may be married to only one man.  If the woman were obligated to bear children, it would lead to anguish and heartbreak.  Why so?


                        In our times, when a couple is not able to bear children, there are all sorts of fertility treatments that are available, or the couple may decide to adopt a child – in any event, the couple does not usually resort to divorce.  Until about a century ago, however, the couple would often divorce: not because they no longer loved each other, but in order to be able to bear children through marriage to someone else.  The Meshekh Chokhma explains that if a woman was obligated to bear children, and her husband was infertile, then since she could not take another husband, she would be forced to divorce him, and the Torah does not seek to destroy families.  For a husband whose wife is barren, the option (according to Torah law, before the enactment of Rabbeinu Gershom) exists for him to take another wife, and thus his obligation to bear children does not lead to a situation whereby the couple is forced to divorce.  The man may remain married to his barren wife, while bearing children from another wife. 


                        This explains why an additional command to “be fruitful and multiply,” addressed to Noach but not to his wife, was needed after the Flood.  (However, in the Garden of Eden, none of the above reasoning applied, because God gave them a blessing and not a command of fruitfulness, and because Adam and Eve couldn’t marry anyone else in any case.)


                        We may perhaps suggest another answer.  Our question is based on the assumption that God commanded Adam and Chava to bear children, and that this command remained valid and needed no reiteration.  However, the two commands may be understood as two completely different obligations. 


The command to Adam was given in Gan Eden, an ideal physical and spiritual environment, and hence an altogether suitable background to a command that the world should continue to exist and that procreation is necessary.  In the generation of the Flood, in view of the complete corruption of man and the world, and the destruction which this had caused, the question could well arise whether children should be brought into a world that had reached such a state.  Perhaps the command originally given in the primeval, ideal Garden of Eden was no longer valid. 


Yet the answer is clear: even in our grey, mixed-up world there must be procreation, because that is how our world is structured.  Our world is not the Garden of Eden, but despite all the difficulties God commands us to survive and to maintain ourselves and the world.


                        According to Rashi, marital relations were prohibited throughout the period of imprisonment in the Ark.  Hence, we may also explain that God commanded Noach to “be fruitful and multiply” after emerging from the Ark because marital relations had been prohibited and were now permitted.  At the same time, in light of the above, we may explain that in the Ark it was not at all clear that childbirth was necessary or desirable.  Immediately upon emerging, however, God’s command once again made it clear that man is obligated to maintain and perpetuate life, despite the darker aspects of the world that we inhabit.


            (This sicha was delivered on Shabbat parashat Noach 5763 [2003].)