Dr. Uri Manor is the 2010 Jewish Guy of the Year and a research biologist by day.
Parshah Chayei Sarah
This parsha opens with Abraham coming home to find his wife Sarah is dead. In case you forgot, last week’s parsha ends on the joyous note of G-d making His covenant with Abraham after Abraham was ready to sacrifce Isaac. I believe that the lesson here is that even Abraham was unable to enjoy constant happiness, and he was the greatest tzaddik in our history. Thus, how can we expect (at least relatively) wicked people such as ourselves to enjoy constant happiness?
Next, we learn that Abraham went to buy the cave of Machpaila to bury Sarah in. The Midrash says that this is a cave Abraham discovered when chasing the sacrificial lamb that “replaced” Isaac. This cave is full of the shechina (the divine presence) , and also happens to be the burial place of Adam.
Next Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac. He meets Rebecca, who demonstrates to us the concept of “midda-keneged-midda” (“measure opposite measure”, literally, but it means “what goes around, comes around”). She treats Eliezer kindly and generously by giving him and all of his camels all the water they want, and she is repaid with beautiful jewelry and is also repaid with Abraham’s son as a husband! The lesson here is that it can pay off to be kind to strangers.
One interesting note the Midrash makes is that Rebecca grew up in a wicked town. The reason is that G-d wanted Isaac’s wife to be someone who grew up surrounded by wickedness, but was still able to remain virtuous. That way He knew that the descendants of Isaac (e.g. us Jews!) would have the genetic background necessary to maintain virtue throughout the ages, no matter how wicked the world became. It appears to me that G-d was thinking like an evolutionary biologist, or even a molecular biologist that “selects” for colonies with the properties necessary for their experiment to run as planned. Or maybe it is the other way around? Either way, I think that if we look deeply enough, we can find that there is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and the Torah. After all, is nature not meant to lead us closer to G-d?
In fact, the Midrash says that Abraham discovered G-d through the study of nature. At first, Abraham worshipped the Earth, because its production is that which sustains life, but then he realized the Earth isn’t all powerful since it depends on the heavens for rain (let’s ignore the irrelevant scientifc inaccuracy for a moment), so he worshipped the heavens, in particular the Sun, since that was what he perceived to be the ruling power of the firmament. But then when the Sun set, he figured that the Moon must be divine, but then he abandoned that thought when he saw that the Moon only shone by night. Finally, by observing the regular rhythm of day/night, the seasons, and all the natural laws, Abraham inferred the presence of a wise creator. I don’t see any significant difference between hypothesizing a single “wise creator” who controls all of the universe and a “grand unified theory of everything”, which is of course the Holy Grail of modern physics.
Thus, nature and the study of it, including the “E word”, should bring us closer to G-d.