For many generations it was assumed that only one embryo could be formed from a single act of conception. This assumption led to the conclusion that twins were the result of two separate conceptions, triplets of three, and so forth.
This erroneous conception made it difficult for people to understand the Torah’s uncharacteristically harsh intolerance for the wasteful spilling of male seed; for the Torah equates this act not only with murder of a single person – an act of the gravest consequences in and of itself – but with the destruction of a “world” full of people.
The Talmud teaches (Niddah 13a):
“Anyone who spills his seed [intentionally] is deserving of death [from God], as it says: ‘[Onan] did evil before God (by purposefully spilling his seed), and He killed him’ (Genesis 38:9-10). It is as if he had spilt blood, as it says, ‘They inflame themselves amongst the terebinths, under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clefts of the rocks’ (Isaiah 57:5).”
As part of the same discussion, it is also taught:
“Any man who holds his member while urinating is considered to have brought the Flood upon the world. (For this might lead to him to spill his seed. On the other hand, married men are permitted to hold themselves while urinating because the likelihood of spilling seed is much smaller).”
The Talmud teaches that in the eyes of God, the Flood, which swept away the lives of countless human beings, and the needless spilling of seed are judged by the same criteria: both are acts equivalent with mass murder.
But why? Even if a man who spills his seed is considered a murderer because he has destroyed a potential child, why should he be considered a mass murderer? And what possible connection could there be between the Flood, which killed countless numbers of people, and the act of one man?
However, with the invention of the microscope, scientists uncovered an astounding fact that helps answer these questions.
There are approximately 120 million sperm in every milliliter of semen and each one has the potential to bring about conception. If this is true, then even a small amount of seed is enough to bring hundreds of millions of lives into the world!
These facts bring the teachings of the Sages into a completely different light. How could they have known this information over 1500 years ago!
It is important to recall that every scientific fact necessary for halachic rulings was revealed to Moses at Sinai. Rabbinic statements about the prohibition of the spilling of seed demonstrate clear knowledge that all male seed carries within it the potential for a near limitless number of human beings. Thus one who wastes seed is considered by the Creator as though he caused the Flood – on a spiritual level – which destroyed an entire world of people.
Such teachings are truly amazing.
Adapted from The Revolution by Rabbi Zamir Cohen