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True Power

The international birth rate is dropping. More than half the world’s population now lives in a country with population growth below the replacement rate. Among the reasons for this trend, as proposed by demographers, is the rise in higher education for women, the transfer of the population from the countryside to the crowded city, the increased cost of raising a child to adulthood, or dictatorial policies. However, everyone agrees that the most significant factor is a shift in the attitude of women.

Israel is unique among modern, industrialized nations in that its growth rate remains high, with an average of three children per family. Israeli women are highly educated, the cost of living is high, and the majority of the population lives in big cities – none of which seems to have had a significant effect on diminishing the birth rate.

This would not be the first time in history that the Jewish people conducted themselves in a manner that seems to fly in the face of logic. During the Egyptian exile, at the height of the persecution and slavery, under inhuman conditions, the Jewish women insisted on bringing forth more children. Even Pharaoh’s vile decree, to put all the newborn baby boys to death, did not dampen the enthusiasm of these women, to bear the generation that would leave Egypt.

At their head were two leaders par excellence, the two midwives, Shifra and Puah (the mother and sister of Moshe), who fearlessly stood up to Pharaoh and courageously defied his explicit decree. In addition to helping mothers in childbirth, they also took care of the needs of the babies after birth and coordinated a mass mutual aid society among all the women, so that even the most impoverished should be able to provide for their babies. Their sacrifice is remembered forever, as the Midrash states: “In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.”

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria quotes this Midrash to explain that the women of the present generation are the reincarnation of the women who left Egypt. The women of our generation, like our predecessors, are not intimidated nor swayed by prevailing mores. They don’t fret about “what will be” or “how will we manage.” With tremendous fortitude and optimism they forge on and exercise their true reproductive freedom: to bring more children into this world and raise them to be caring, productive citizens.

Women’s leadership does not need to express itself through politics or a high-powered career. It is no less of an accomplishment for a woman to raise a family, and in many ways it is the highest calling: to give birth to and nurture a future generation, which will merit to greet Moshiach.

 

 


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