Friday, January 16, 2009

6 In One Birth?

So goes the midrash, and many pashtanim along with them. The pasuk in parshat Shemot (perek 1) reads:
ז וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ--בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם. {פ}7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. {P}
and on that, Rashi writes:
and swarmed They bore six children at each birth.
This appears to be based on just the word vayishretzu, that their increase was like that of sheratzim. This based on what Rashi chose as his dibbur hamatchil. Another possibility is that there are 6 leshonot of increase:
  1. פָּרוּ
  2. וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ
  3. וַיִּרְבּוּ
  4. וַיַּעַצְמוּ--
  5. בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד;
  6. וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם
I would favor the latter. This Rashi (11th to 12th century) finds its parallel in Shemot Rabbah, which is 11th and 12th century, and so perhaps he used it as a source, or perhaps not. Maybe there are other sources which have this. Shemot Rabbah (1:8) reads:
ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו
אף על פי שמת יוסף ואחיו, אלהיהם לא מת, אלא ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו.

דבר אחר:
כל אחת ואחת ילדה ששה בכרס אחד, שנאמר: ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו וגו'.

ויש אומרים:
שנים עשרה, דכתיב:
פרו שנים,
וישרצו שנים,
וירבו שנים,
ויעצמו שנים,
במאוד מאוד שנים,
ותמלא הארץ אותם שנים,
הרי שנים עשר.

יש אומרים:
ששה בכרס אחד.
ואל תתמה, שהרי עקרב שהיא מן השרצים יולדת שבעים.

Such that at first, it seems that it is the 6 leshonot, which is why subsequently the plural verbs are taken to be double each, for a total of 12. But then, though the dibbur hamatchil is vayaatzmu, it is clear that the comparison is to an akrav which births many at once (70), and the akrav is a type of sheretz. So this functions as a support from derech hateva, but simultaneously points to the source word, of vayishretzu. (Though see the commentaries on this midrash rabba, which note different girsaot.) Which means that Rashi probably was basing himself on vayishretzu, from the idea of a sheretz. Though how would that give us specifically the number 6? Maybe they first derived it by the first method (counting leshonot), maybe there is some other source, or maybe it was an existing idiom.

Ibn Ezra also picks up on vayishretzu. He is a pashtan, but there is the peshat concern of how to get from 70 souls to 600,000 at the time of the exodus. And so he writes:
אולי מלת וישרצו, רמז שילדו נשיהם תאומים ויותר ואני ראיתי ד' בנים שילדה אשה אחת, והרופאים נותנים טעם עד שבעה יגיע בבטן אחת.
Not that it necessarily as shocking as six at one shot, but twins and more are possible. He notes, based on his contemporary science, that doctors allow for the possibility of up to septuplets. Which means that he allows for the possibility of 6 mentioned in other sources.

What in the world does this mean, that the ropheim gave a taam for up to seven in a single womb? Well, to cite Conjunctures : medieval studies in honor of Douglas Kelly, see what is written to the right.

Thus, we see that the medieval doctors accounted for twins, all the way up to seven, for there were believed to be seven compartments in the womb, each holding a single child. On page 268 in the same book, the author writes that
"the two schools of thought with regard to the division of the uterus (into two or seven compartments) would go a long way to explain the preponderance of twins and septuplets in the stories."
So this is likely what Ibn Ezra meant, by referring first to twins, and then to septuplets.

Shadal refers us to his commentary on Bereishit 1, where he writes:
שרץ נפש חיה : שריצת נפש חיה, כלו' ריבוי נפש חיה, ואין שרץ זה ככל שאר שרץ שבמקרא שהוא שם למין השרצים, כי לא נאמר בשום מקום בהמה נפש חיה או עוף נפש היה ; אבל ענינו שריצה וריבוי והטעם כי השרצים אפי' אחד או שנים כשהם שורצים ומתנועעים על הארץ הם נראים כמרובים, וזה לקלות תנועתם וקוצר רגליהם או העדרם, ומזה הושאל שורש שרץ להורות על הריבוי, כמו פרו וישרצו (שמות א' ז').ש

Thus it is a language of ribuy, because sheratzim look like they are many when swarming. Ibn Ezra would likely agree that this is possible. He just endorses the idea of yishretzu with a different other connection to sheratzim, of multiple birth.

Shadal also appears to agree that the increase was more than what would be expected al derech hateva, with a comment on a pasuk a bit lower down in parshat Shemot:
וכן יפרץ " : שורש פרץ הוא פועל יוצא, וענינו שבירה, כמו יפרצני פרץ על פני פרץ ( איוב ט"ז י"ד ), ובפרט הריסת גדר וקיר כמו למה פרצת גדריה ( תהלים פ' י"ג ), ואח"כ שימשו בו כאילו הוא פועל עומד, ואמרו ופרצת ימה וקדמה ( ברא' כ"ח י"ד ) שענינו תהרוס כל גבול ותגבר על כל מונע ותתפשט ימה וקדמה, והושאל על כל דבר המתרבה יותר ממנהגו של עולם, כאילו הוא פורץ הגבול אשר שם לו הטבע, כגון כי מעט אשר היה לך לפני ויפרץ לרוב ( ברא' ל' ל' ), ומקנהו פרץ בארץ ( איוב א' י' ), וגם אמרו על האדם שהוא פורץ, והכוונה שנכסיו מתרבים, כמו ויפרץ האיש מאד מאד ויהי לו צאן רבות ( ברא' ל' מ"ג ), ואולי אמרו ג"כ לשון פריצה על תוספת כח וחוזק וזו דעת המתרגם הארמי שתירגם "כן סגן וכן תקפין", ולדעתי אינו זז מענין הריבוי במספר כאילו אמר וכאשר יענו אותו כן היו מתרבים, וכן היה ריבויים יוצא מן המנהג הטבעי.

Fine, this is what various mefarshim explain, and how they allow for these multiple births.

But what about the repeated language in the verse, which possibly sparked this 6 at a time midrash? This is still a textual feature, and so a pashtan should address it. Well, Ibn Ezra writes:
א, ז]
ובני ישראל פרו -
הולידו כעץ יתן פריו.

וישרצו -
כמו: ישרצו המים.
רק הראשון מהפעלים העומדים בעצמם כמו: הלך ישב עמד שכב.
והשני מהיוצאים תלוויה בדבר אחר, כמו: אכל שמר שכר.
אכל את הלחם. שמר את הדבר. שכר את החמור. אלו נקראים פועל יוצא.
והנה ישרצו המים מהפעלים היוצאים.
וזה השני וישרצו, מהפעלים העומדים. והנה זו הגזרה כגזרת שב. פעם עומד כמו: ושב וקבצך. ופעם יוצא כמו:ושב ה' אלוהיך את שבותך.
אולי מלת וישרצו, רמז שילדו נשיהם תאומים ויותר ואני ראיתי ד' בנים שילדה אשה אחת, והרופאים נותנים טעם עד שבעה יגיע בבטן אחת.

וירבו -
שלא יהיו מתים כדרך עם רב.

ויעצמו -
שהיו בעלי עצם תקיפין.

ומלת במאד מאד –
שלא היו יכולין להיות יותר. ובי"ת במאד כמו בי"ת ויסעו בראשונה, כי כתוב: ראשונה יסעו.
Thus, every word has a different implication. Similarly, Rashbam:
פרו -

וישרצו -
לידה. שלא שִׁכָּלָה הרחם. שבכל מקום קטנים, קרוין שרץ על הארץ.

גדלו ונעשו הקטנים גדולים ולא מתו בקטנותם.

ויעצמו -
שלא מתו אנשים, אלא היו הרבה ועצמו במאד מאד עד שנתמלאה הארץ אותם.
וכן: והחצר מלאה את נוגה כבוד ה'. כמו מילאה.
וכן: ושוליו מלאים את ההיכל כמו ממלאים את ההיכל.
Thus taking each verb as meaning something different. This might be somewhat surprising, since Ibn Ezra in general will take about kefel lashon, synonyms being used. But usually that is in the context of Biblical poetry, and this is not poetry but prose.

Fine, I will have to be the one to say it. The many languages of increase all just mean increase, but just as it shocked and scared the Egyptians, and seemed to be without bound, so too there are multiple languages here, just to convey the impression that this made. It is an intensification on top of an intensification on top of an intensification. And at that level, the midrashic approach of darshening each word as conveying more births at a single time goes well with that theme.

Finally, since this is on the topic, I will address it. In a comment on a previous post, an Anonymous commenter asks an interesting question:
I thought of something this morning and I'm quite puzzled by it. Midrash Rabbo comments on a six-fold expression for population increase by saying that Jewish women gave birth to six babies at once. But Moshe was born by himself - unless you suppose that he had an extra five siblings that are mentioned nowhere else. This is such an obvious question that there must be an obvious answer, but I can't think of one.
I cannot point to a source that answers this, because I forgot where I saw it and do not have the time to track it down. But there is indeed a standard answer to this. And this was the other midrash that shevet Levi was exempt from working, because when Pharaoh asked them to come work the first day, they excused themselves, since they already had the work of learning and teaching Torah. And the increase (at least the later increase, though this pasuk appears before any of Pharaoh's strategies, so it is troublesome) was tied to their work. Thus, the pasuk later says:
יב וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ, כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ; וַיָּקֻצוּ, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And they were adread because of the children of Israel.
Perhaps the later increase was based on the amount of affliction.

Update: In the same book, I saw something else interesting. One of the authors writes what is pictured to the right.

Thus, if they actually did have six at a shot, then the term of pregnancy would be shorter, which could then lead an even greater increase.

Six at a time means a typical pregnancy of 25 weeks, which is about 6 months. Now, as noted above, Moshe was born alone. But there is a midrash explaining what is meant by that Yocheved could no longer hide him, that the Egyptians calculated pregnancies and figured 9 months, but he was born prematurely, at 6 months, and so she was able to hide him for 3 months. Just some free association and expanding upon the midrash here.

Also from this quote, is multiple births likely? As the author writes, while "in general multiple births occur at a certain ratio of the total birthrate," in fact it differs by geographical area. Geographical area might be a reflection of genetic disparities, or environmental factors. As such, an increase in a certain related populace in a specific area of Egypt (Goshen), higher than that of other places in Egypt, might not be so farfetched. Add to this a cultural difference. Compare Western birthrates with those of non-Western countries. Indeed, compare the population explosion of Arabs in Israel.

Also, we see from the narrative that Egypt had a concept of midwives. In the general case, the hormones produced by nursing (especially as they nursed back then, continuously rather than at set times) prevents further pregnancy. But with nursemaids, they could theoretically become pregnant quite soon after giving birth. Indeed, there is evidence of just this happening in a baby boom in England about a century (?) ago, because of the use of nursemaids.

Also, I don't think the following is the correct interpretation of the pasuk, but while I am free-associating:

יט וַתֹּאמַרְןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, כִּי לֹא כַנָּשִׁים הַמִּצְרִיֹּת הָעִבְרִיֹּת: כִּי-חָיוֹת הֵנָּה, בְּטֶרֶם תָּבוֹא אֲלֵהֶן הַמְיַלֶּדֶת וְיָלָדוּ.19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh: 'Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwife come unto them.'
We might relate this, as well, to the idea of a shorter term of pregnancy.

Note: Read the next post for more posts on parshat Shemot, or else click on the Shemot label.


Shimon said...

R' Medan has an interesting take on be'keres echad meaning in one womb - not necessarily at the same time

joshwaxman said...

thanks. it is indeed interesting, though I am not sure I agree. this will be great fodder for another post.


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