Vayechi 2018 – there’s no such thing as overpopulation

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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Torah Portion

This portion tells the story of Jacob’s final blessing to his children, his demise and his burial. In his final moments of prophetic vision, Jacob is able to discern the time of the Messianic Era. He wishes to reveal the details to his children, but is prevented from doing so by God. 

Jacob dies and is mummified for the journey to Israel. He is taken to Hebron to be buried with full Egyptian honours. In the Medrashic story, his brother Esau comes to meet the procession at the entrance to the cave of Machpelah. His aim is to rewrite the plot. Jacob buried in Hebron means: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If, however, Esau gets the final burial spot, he may still be able to pull off an Abraham, Isaac and Esau coup. He argues with his nephews – not a clever idea if you’ve been reading the past few weeks in the Bible – a fight ensues and he ends up minus a head, which effectively ends the debate. (Don’t try it at home kids.) While his body falls to the ground outside the cave, his head rolls in. All through his life, to the very last moment, his head was in the right place. Unfortunately, he was unable to control the more base desires of his body.

Davar Torah

The blessing that Jacob gives to Joseph’s sons ends with the words, ‘and your descendants should be as numerous as fish in the midst of the land’. We Jews have always believed in large families. And it’s more than just wanting increased manpower to work our fields. Life is a Divine gift. And part of valuing and appreciating a gift is giving it to others. I would suggest that, above all else, having children is an act of gratitude for the gift of life.

And we don’t worry a lot about ‘overpopulation’. Yes, on the one hand, we trust that God will provide resources to supply the needs of as many human beings as humanity cares to produce. But I think it’s more than just relying on miracles. 

In 1798, the great economist Thomas Malthus predicted that very soon geometric population growth would outstrip arithmetic food production and the mass starvation would ensue. At his time, the world population was one billion – today it stands at over seven billion. Not only have we not starved, the world has more food than ever. Ironically, in much of the world, obesity is a greater threat to health than malnutrition. Even in places where there is hunger and sometimes famine, it is more a combination of natural disaster, political upheaval and corrupt government, than the inability of the planet to provide for the human beings living in that area. 

What Malthus overlooked, perhaps because early on in the Industrial Revolution it was only just becoming evident, was human ingenuity. Resources are not limited. Because we human beings have the ability to expand them, develop their functionality and even create them. Perhaps we can even recreate them; for example, scientists are working on cloning Woolly Mammoths, animals that have not walked on our planet for many thousands of years. We human beings are quite simply geniuses. If we are responsible and don’t get too greedy, I believe that Earth can support as many human beings as it needs to. And, eventually, we will colonize other planets also.  

The gift of life to others is the greatest gift we can give. God has provided for humanity for thousands of years, there is no reason to believe he will not continue to do so. But God looks after those who look after themselves. I believe we need to be incredibly responsible with our environment, but equally unafraid. People are created in God’s image. Yes, education is required to ensure that human Godliness wins out over our base animal nature. But, ultimately, the more of human beings we have, the more Godly a world we inhabit.  

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