Parashat Bereishit: Peru U'rvu
The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion
By Rav Binyamin Tabory
Sefer Ha-chinukh says that Peru U'rvu (Procreation) is the first mitzva in the Torah. In Bereishit 1:28 it says "E-lohim blessed them and said to them 'Peru U'rvu." Sefer Ha-yeraim (Mitzva 413) says that the Torah commanded us to fulfill this mitzva in four places. He only cites two of these, our verse and the commandment given to Noach when he left the ark (Bereishit 9:7). The commentary To'afot Re'em cites the verse said to Yaakov (Bereishit 35:11) "Prei u'rvei" (which is written in singular as opposed to "peru u'rvu' which is plural.
There is a dispute among tanaim (Yevamot 65b) if women are commanded in this mitzva. Tanna Kama maintains that women are exempt from this mitzva (either because it is related to "kibush," i.e. conquering, dominion, or because it was said to Yaakov in singular form, man not woman.) Tosefot (ad. loc) points out that the statement "Peru U'rvu" made to Adam is to be construed as a blessing given to both man and woman rather than a mitzva. R. Yochanan Ben Broka, however, maintains that the original statement made to Adam and Chava is the source of the mitzva; therefore women are obligated in this mitzva.
Rambam (Hilkhot Ishut 15:2) and the Shulchan Arukh (Even Ha-ezer 13) codify the halakha according to Tanna Kama. R. Meir Simcha Ha-Kohen pointed out in his sefer Meshekh Chokhma that it is possible to explain that the mitzva given to Adam and Chava was indeed a mitzva incumbent upon both of them. However, the mitzva given to Noach was only to him and his sons and Yaakov's mitzva was definitely addressed only to him. The reason for this change as to whom the mitzva was given, may be explained by positing that God did not command mitzvot that were painful, dangerous and even life threatening. Before the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, Eitz Ha-da'at, childbirth was a relatively simply normal event in life and therefore man and woman were both commanded. After the sin, when God mandated that there would be the pain of childbirth, woman could no longer be commanded to bear children. Women would desire to have children because of an inherent maternal instinct rather than through a Divine commandment.
R. Meir Simcha also adds an additional reason. Since man is biblically entitled to be polygamous, if his wife is incapable of having children, he would not have to divorce her in order to fulfill the mitzva; he could merely marry another woman. However, since a woman must be monogamous, if her husband is incapable of siring children, she would have to be divorced from her husband in order to fulfill the mitzva. This would contradict the concept of "derakheha darkhei noam" (the ways of the Torah are pleasant) and therefore would create an acrimonious situation. One may also add that this reasoning would not apply to Adam and Chava as they received the berakha of God to procreate and furthermore could not marry anyone else even if the berakha were not realized.
It is obvious that even if women are not obligated to have children, they certainly fulfill this mitzva if they do have children. Similarly, they fulfill the mitzva of Kiddushin even if one would assume that they are not commanded in Kiddushin. The gemara (Kiddushin 41a) says that although a woman could become halakhically engaged by proxy, it is a greater mitzva to do so in person. Rishonim raise the obvious question: If women are not commanded to marry and to have children, why does the gemara say it is a greater mitzva for them to be personally involved in the mitzva? The Ran (ad. loc.) says that women fulfill the mitzva as they enable men to fulfill their obligation. The Chida (Birkhei Yosef - Even Ha-ezer I:16) cites an anonymous Rishon who says that although women are not obligated to have children, they fulfill the mitzva just as women fulfill the mitzvot of sukka, shofar, lulav although they are not obligated. This Rishon also suggested that although women are exempt from the biblical mitzva, they may be obligated by rabbinic law. This seems to be a novel idea, that the Rabbis have required women to fulfill a mitzva from which they are exempt by the Torah.
The mitzva seems to be independent of any other mitzva and therefore the Rosh (Ketuvot chapter 1 section 12) says that if one would have children by his mistress ("pilegesh") he would not have to get married. However, Rav Achai Gaon in his She'ilot (165) maintains that "Bnei Yisrael are required to marry, have children and be involved in "Peria U'revia." He cites a proof-text in Yirmiyahu 29:6, "marry and have sons and daughters." Since this source is not from the Torah but from the prophets, it does not seem to be a biblical requirement. It is rather either a rabbinic law or sage advice. The admonition of Yirmiyahu begins with advice to people going into exile to invest in real estate and work the land, as life will go on. He further adds that you should also see to it that your children marry and have children. This is definitely not a biblical requirement (see Kiddushin 29a, Rambam Hilkhot Ishut 20:1). It therefore seems that it may be a rabbinic requirement or merely sage advice to marry prior to having children.
Sefer Ha-chinukh concludes by saying that one who negates this mitzva will be sorely punished as he demonstrates that he does not wish to realize the desire of God to populate the world.