Reflections from Rabbi Waxman

 Machshavot HaRav:
Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
 
Origins: The Roots of Civilization
 
In 1816, I was consulted by a young woman laboring under general symptoms of
a diseased heart, and in whose case percussion and the application of the hand were of little avail on account of the great degree of fatness. The other method just mentioned [direct auscultation] being rendered inadmissible by the age and sex of the patient, I happened to recollect a simple and well-known fact in acoustics, ... the great distinctness with which we hear the scratch of a pin at one end of a piece of wood on applying our ear to the other. Immediately, on this suggestion, I rolled a quire of paper into a kind of cylinder and applied one end of it to the region of the heart and the other to my ear, and was not a little surprised and pleased to find that I could thereby perceive the action of the heart in a manner much more clear and distinct than I had ever been able to do by the immediate application of my ear.
 
So a description of the origins of the stethoscope, as recorded by the French physician Rene Laennec. Subsequently, he created a 10-inch long hollow wooden tube, which came in three parts. And indeed, when his book describing his usage of his new instrument was published in 1819, one option was to buy the book complete with his new device. One would have imagined that the new device would have been universally accepted but as late as 1885 a professor of medicine would state, "He that hath ears to hear, let him use his ears and not a stethoscope.” Even the best of innovations don’t achieve instant acceptance.
 
I find myself intrigued by the origins of things that we take for granted. The Greeks offered us the classic myth of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humanity, for which he was severely punished---he was chained to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains where daily an eagle eats his liver. Similarly, the Torah in its opening chapters also offers some passing glimpses of origins. Though the division of humanity into shepherds and farmers is seemingly almost primordial---immediately after the exile from Eden, Cain and Abel split these functions--, other developments have to come into being. Cain is deemed the father of the city—is that a negative judgment about cities coming from the text? While fire is not mentioned, metallurgy is: Tubal-cain (Genesis 4:22) “forged all implements of copper and iron.” (A bit problematic, as the copper and iron ages were 2 very distinct periods. But how did early man discover that if you crushed certain rocks, heated them so that some of it melted and then hardened, it would be beneficial?) Also mentioned is Jabal, “the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds”—so the original tent-maker? And mention should be made as well of his brother Jubal: ‘He was the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe”-- music is not divine, but of human origin. And if we sneak a peek at the end of next week’s reading, it is possible to read the postscript to the flood and perceive Noah as the accidental inventor of wine.
 
Missing from the Biblical texts are such cardinal developments as transforming grain into bread. When did people begin to figure out that if you took these grains—probably barley--, ground it and then mixed it with water and then baked it you would get bread? How long did it take to discover and master all of these steps? And who were the ones who figured out weaving? I can easily understand how early men thought that they could use the raw wool of a sheared sheep or goat for some kind of added warmth, but, but who figured out the next steps: of spinning the wool into thread and then creating a loom to create cloth? What giant leaps of intuition!
 
Sometimes, in retrospect, inventions and developments, such as the stethoscope seem so obvious, while others may have a long pre-history, despite Biblical assertions. Whatever the origins, we tip our hats to those whose insight and, sometimes, mazal helped shape for the better the world in which we live.
 
Gut Yom tov (as we conclude the festival season) and Shabbat shalom.
 
 

 
 
 
Chadashot MeYisrael:  News From Israel
 
Turn Off the Genes: A New Approach to Life Extension
 
Studies in yeast, worms, flies, monkeys, and even humans seem to prove that restricting calories is one of the few sure ways to combat the effects of aging. But is there an approach that requires less deprivation?
 
Keren Yizhak is out to prove that there may be a more agreeable way to achieve long life than dooming ourselves to perpetual hunger. Working in the computational biology laboratory of Prof. Eytan Ruppin at Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science, Yizhak and colleagues at Bar-Ilan University have developed a computer algorithm that predicts which genes can be “turned off” to create the same anti-aging effect as calorie restriction.
 
Their findings were reported in the journal Nature Communications, and could someday lead to the development of new pharmaceuticals to slow or stop the aging process.
 
“Most algorithms try to find drug targets that kill cells to treat cancer or bacterial infections,” Yizhak explained. “Our algorithm is the first in our field to look for drug targets not to kill cells, but to transform them from a diseased state into a healthy one.”
 
In the study, Yizhak applied a metabolic transformation algorithm (MTA) to the genetics of aging. Yeast is the most widely used genetic model because its DNA is, surprisingly, similar to human DNA. After using her custom-designed MTA to confirm previous laboratory findings, she used it to predict genes that can be “turned off” to make the gene expression of old yeast look like that of young yeast.
 
Some of the genes that the MTA identified were already known to extend the lifespan of yeast when turned off. Of the other genes she found, Yizhak sent seven to be tested at a Bar-Ilan University laboratory. There, researchers Orshay Gabay and Haim Cohen found that turning off two of the genes, GRE3 and ADH2, significantly extends the yeast’s lifespan. “You would expect about three percent of yeast’s genes to be lifespan-extending,” said Yizhak. “So achieving a 10-fold increase over this expected frequency, as we did, is very encouraging.”
 
Next, Yizhak will study whether turning off the genes predicted by MTA prolongs the lifespan of genetically engineered mice.
 
 

 
 
 
 
Payrush LaParshahah:
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
 
The Torah Reading for Shemini Atzeret (October 15th)) is Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17
 
16:15 You shall hold festival for the Lord your God seven days, in the place that the Lord will choose; for the Lord your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.
 
and you shall have nothing but joy. Great is the virtue of joy, that through it one can reach to the level of receiving the face of the Shechinah, for immediately after the passage: “and you shall have nothing but joy” it is said (v. 16): “three times a year….all your males shall appear before the Lord your God.” When a Jew is joyful he is inclined to reach the level of Divine revelation, and this is one of the secrets of a statement of our Sages (Hagigah 4): “Just as one comes to see, so he comes to be seen.” (Ba’al Shem Tov in Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, Ituray Torah: Megilot uMoadim. Israel ben Eliezer, who became the founder of modern Hassidism, was born in 1698 to poor parents in Podolia, an area of western Ukraine, which for a time had been part of the Ottoman Empire. Little is known about his early years, other than his father died when he was young. At the age of 14 he became a shammas in a local synagogue and also served as a teacher’s assistant. His first wife died soon after they were married when he was 18 and he wandered through Galicia and eventually came into contact with a circle of mystics. In time he would settle in Medzhybizh, where he was a respected member of the community—his house was given tax-free status, and there he held court until his death in 1760. He left behind no writings; but his sayings and teachings were recorded by his disciples, notably by Jacob Joseph of Polnoy in his Toldot Yaakov Yoseph in which he cites the Ba’al Shem Tov 249 times, as well as in the later publication—early 19th century--, Shivchay HaBesht, a compilation of stories.)
 
The Torah reading for Simchat Torah is Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12 and Genesis 1:1-2:3
 
34:5  So Moses the servant of the Lord died there, in the land of Moab, at the command of the Lord.
 
God said: “You must die because you did not sanctify Me.”
 
Moses responded: “You deal with Your creatures in mercy and forgive them once, twice, even three times—but not me!
 
Said God: “You committed six sins, still I did not accuse you. You refused Me when I asked you to deliver your people. (Exod. 4;13). You accused Me of making things worse for Israel and of not having delivered the people. (Exod. 5:23). You tested Me twice (in the uprising of Korah, Num. 16:29, 30). You slandered your people when you said: ‘Listen, you rebels!’ (Num. 20:10), and again when you called them a breed of sinful men. (Number. 32:14)” (Petirat Mosheh Rabbenu in Bet HaMidrash, ed. A.Jellinek in “Deut. 34:1-12, Gleanings” in W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary. Petirat Moshe Rabbenu is a medieval composition. Unlike Divray HaYamim L’Moshe Rabbenu, which attempts to weave a narrative about Moses’ life, this work is less focused on narrative than on offering ethical and moral content. Central to this short opus are confrontations between Moses and God over his impending death, as well as clashes between God and Samael aka Satan.)
 

 
 
 
Payrush LaParshahah:
 A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
 
The Torah reading for this Shabbat (October 18th) is Bereshit (Genesis 2:4-4:26)
 
3:6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
 
Eve! The disobedience! The serpent! The apple! The sin! The corruption of Adam! The expulsion from the Garden of Eden!
 
Was every any scandal more sermonized and written about? Was ever more hatred heaped on a woman’s head than on poor Eve’s? “Your fault, yours! You lost us that beautiful paradise! The garden where God walked and talked with us! The lovely wholeness and at-oneness that now forever eludes us! And you gave us instead our neurotic fantasies, bad marriages, ungrateful children, and in the end sickness and death!”
 
This fanciful Bible tale, with roots in mythologies of countless other ancient peoples, would be to us no more than a charming folk tale, naïve expression of weary humanity’s longing and certitude of nirvana, paradise, if it were not for the fact that we know it to be the matrix of centuries of persecution of women. Eve as Everywoman, source of the world’s corruption.
 
…Eve fell and tore the world down with her. Such is the traditional Judeo-Christian view. Elaine Pagels, in her Adam and Eve and the Serpent, says that Augustine is responsible for putting the definitive brand of seductress and sinner on the female, through Eve. Eve is the birth canal through which evil is born. Sexual sin is very high on Augustine’s list of accusations against Eve (it is very high on his list of accusation against himself in his Confessions, too). As we know from Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews, the midrashic rabbis were there before him, claiming that the serpent had intercourse with Eve before Adam did, and working out an etymology of her name, Hava, meaning serpent. Eve was Adam’s serpent… (Norma Rosen, Biblical Women Unbound: Counter Tales, pp.32-33. Rosen was born in Borough Park in 1925 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Mount Holyoke in 1946. She received an MA from Columbia in 1953 and began working at Harper & Row the following year. In 1959 she quit her job to devote full-time to her writing, after two of her stories were published. In 1962, she published her first novel. Beginning in 1965, she began teaching creative writing at a number of schools, including the New School, NYU and Harvard. Though lacking formal Jewish education as a child, after a move to Brookline, Mass., she began to develop a familiarity with Jewish sources. In 1992, her first collection, Accidents of Influence: Writing as a Woman and a Jew in America appeared, charting her growing self-awareness as a Jew, a feminist, and as an intellectual. She was a participant in the Genesis Seminar at JTS and published this volume in 1996. She helped finish for publication Milton Steinberg’s The Prophet’s Wife.)
 

Payrush LaParshahah:
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion

The Torah reading for this Shabbat (October 18th) is Bereshit (Genesis 2:4-4:26)

3:6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Eve! The disobedience! The serpent! The apple! The sin! The corruption of Adam! The expulsion from the Garden of Eden!

Was every any scandal more sermonized and written about? Was ever more hatred heaped on a woman’s head than on poor Eve’s? “Your fault, yours! You lost us that beautiful paradise! The garden where God walked and talked with us! The lovely wholeness and at-oneness that now forever eludes us! And you gave us instead our neurotic fantasies, bad marriages, ungrateful children, and in the end sickness and death!”

This fanciful Bible tale, with roots in mythologies of countless other ancient peoples, would be to us no more than a charming folk tale, naïve expression of weary humanity’s longing and certitude of nirvana, paradise, if it were not for the fact that we know it to be the matrix of centuries of persecution of women. Eve as Everywoman, source of the world’s corruption.

…Eve fell and tore the world down with her. Such is the traditional Judeo-Christian view. Elaine Pagels, in her Adam and Eve and the Serpent, says that Augustine is responsible for putting the definitive brand of seductress and sinner on the female, through Eve. Eve is the birth canal through which evil is born. Sexual sin is very high on Augustine’s list of accusations against Eve (it is very high on his list of accusation against himself in his Confessions, too). As we know from Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews, the midrashic rabbis were there before him, claiming that the serpent had intercourse with Eve before Adam did, and working out an etymology of her name, Hava, meaning serpent. Eve was Adam’s serpent… (Norma Rosen, Biblical Women Unbound: Counter Tales, pp.32-33. Rosen was born in Borough Park in 1925 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Mount Holyoke in 1946. She received an MA from Columbia in 1953 and began working at Harper & Row the following year. In 1959 she quit her job to devote full-time to her writing, after two of her stories were published. In 1962, she published her first novel. Beginning in 1965, she began teaching creative writing at a number of schools, including the New School, NYU and Harvard. Though lacking formal Jewish education as a child, after a move to Brookline, Mass., she began to develop a familiarity with Jewish sources. In 1992, her first collection, Accidents of Influence: Writing as a Woman and a Jew in America appeared, charting her growing self-awareness as a Jew, a feminist, and as an intellectual. She was a participant in the Genesis Seminar at JTS and published this volume in 1996. She helped finish for publication Milton Steinberg’s The Prophet’s Wife.)