Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Unique Gift of Repentance

[prayer on Yom Kippur, 19th century Poland]

Another example of God’s unlimited love for us is the gift of repentance.

The prophet Ezekiel wrote:

As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

Again, when I say unto the wicked: Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; if the wicked restore the pledge, give back that which he had taken by robbery, walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be remembered against him; he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.

God gives us life. He breathes a soul into us. He gives us His beautiful and holy Torah. We should be crying tears of joy, love and gratitude. How we can sin is incomprehensible. Yet, if we do momentarily lose our minds and rebel against God, He does not reject us entirely. We are not doomed. God is still prepared to spare us if we sincerely repent.

No human government would ever have a policy like this. For example, if a robber were to go to the nearest police station, hand over the money he had taken, confess his crimes and sincerely promise to change, he would still go to prison. He is a criminal. He must be punished. Justice demands this. God, however, is more merciful than any human judge. This is mercy beyond human understanding.

The process of repentance, however, is not quick and easy. Repentance means completely changing ones attitude. It means going from a state of deliberately committing a sin to a state of completely abhorring the sin. It is surely far easier to control oneself in the first place and not sin rather than to sin and then repent. Repentance may be similar to addiction recovery. It is a great deal of work, depending on the depth of the sin. It may mean a lifetime of caution and avoiding dangerous situations. Substance abuse withdrawal can be fatal in some cases. Likewise, in an extreme case, the strain of repentance may actually be fatal, as explained in the Talmud Avodah Zarah 17a.

Just to give one example of what may be involved, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein answered the following question (Igres Moshe Orach Chaim chelek 4 siman 117): A woman had once worked as a secretary. While doing so, she had once spent a half hour hugging and kissing her boss. Now, several years later, after having married, she truly regretted her behavior and was certain that she should never repeat it. She asked what other steps she should take. Rabbi Feinstein advised her to daily remind herself of God’s omniscience, to daily recite Psalms and to daily recite a confession of sins.

Nevertheless, the opportunity to repent is available to all of us. We can escape the terrible consequences of sin. This is another amazing gift from our Creator.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Conscious Breathing - Appreciating the Miracle

[a photo of the inside of the aveoli]

The last verse in Psalms states “Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD.” The Midrash Breishis Rabbah 14:9 interprets this to mean “A person must praise his Creator for every breath he takes.”

When we contemplate the miraculous engineering of the human lungs, we should be speechless with gratitude and filled with love for our Creator.

At rest, we breathe about once every three seconds. The air first passes through the windpipe and into the larger air passageways of the lung. At this stage, the air is warmed to body temperature and humidified. It is also cleaned of dust by tiny hairs called cilia located on the walls of all the passageways. After that, the air enters several hundred million tiny pockets called aveoli which are each about 1/10 of an inch wide. There oxygen is absorbed into the blood stream and carbon dioxide is expelled. The total surface area of all the aveoli in one set of lungs is about 750 square feet, or a room about 27 feet on each side. If all of the capillaries that surround the alveoli were unwound and laid end to end, they would extend for about 620 miles. This is about the distance by road between New York City and Detroit, Michigan.

We cannot live more than about five minutes without breathing.

At this time, human engineers are not able to replace lung function artificially. Certain types of heart-lung machines may be able to keep a patient alive in intensive care for several weeks. Due to the high technical demands, cost, and risk of complications this is usually only considered as a last resort while the patient is awaiting surgery or transplant.

Let’s pause once in a while, when we are otherwise bored and idle, and think about breathing. Breathe consciously. Enjoy the beautiful life giving air and the amazing machinery God has placed in our chests. Praise God for the miracle of each breath.

[As an aside: Don’t smoke. You’re ruining a beautiful part of creation – your lungs.]

Friday, September 18, 2009

Darwin and Death Panels

[Jews at Birkenau selected upon arrival for the gas chamber - a taste of Darwinian health care?]

During the recent debate concerning health care reform, one criticism of the President's plan is that it would allegedly create death panels - governmental bodies that would cut off care for the critically ill as a cost-cutting measure.

It's interesting to consider what Charles Darwin, the founder of atheism, would have had to say about this:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin

Talk about health care reform! Wow! According to atheists, we should discontinue health care or we will eventually lose the evolutionary battle and become extinct. This is supposedly science.

If the atheists become more influential, we should probably start investing in companies producing hydrogen cyanide and crematoria.

[An atheist might argue that Darwin is not making here any practical recommendation, and on the contrary immediately afterwards he argues that “if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil”. Clearly, however, someone a little more heartless or bolder perhaps, than Darwin could reach a different conclusion. In fact, that is exactly what happened later in Germany. It could even be argued that were Darwin alive today and were he to witness the present economic crisis and spirally health care costs, he himself might have decided differently regarding the “weak and helpless”.]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Atheism is Great – a Guest Post

The following is an extract from the private notebook of Professor Christopher Twitchens, British atheist, scholar and journalist.

[the professor briefly resting from his philosophical studies]

Atheists: The world’s most peaceful and generous people. Their minds purified of all superstition, they occupy themselves with issues of world peace, social justice and scientific advancement. Just once in a while atheists enjoy a drop of whisky for well earned refreshment. (See photo above.)

Evolution: History’s greatest scientific discovery. Charles Darwin took a big vat of chemicals and exposed it to radiation. After a couple of days, bacteria appeared. After a few more days, worms appeared. Then fish, lizards, mice, monkeys and finally people swam out of the vat. This resulted in the formula: C + R + T = P, meaning “chemicals, plus radiation, plus time equals people”. No God needed, making atheism a scientific fact.

Communists: Communists are not true atheists. No one who does anything bad is a true atheist. The mind of a true atheist is filled with science. Science is good. Therefore a true atheist cannot do anything bad.

Religion: Religious people come in two types: Christians, who live in cabins in the Appalachian Mountains and spend their time shooting each other and Muslims who live in caves in Afghanistan and enjoy blowing up airliners. These days pretty much everyone else is an atheist, thank God.

The Jewish Question: The question is where did this tribe of loudmouthed cheapskates come from? No one really knows the truth, because Jews are such pathological liars, however apparently it started with a sadist named Ezra. He gathered together a community of masochists called “Jews” and gave them a Torah - a scroll of laws so difficult that it was guaranteed to make their lives miserable. Being masochists the Jews loved it. In fact they even added on to it another huge pile of even more excruciatingly painful laws called the Talmud. Jews loved that even more and to this day millions of them still study this Talmud. These are some seriously crazy weirdoes. After the Romans drove them out of the Middle East, the Jews migrated to Europe where they spent the next couple of thousand years cheating Christians until the Christians finally killed most of them in the 1940’s. The survivors are today mostly either shooting Arab kids in Palestine or marrying gentiles in America. One way or another, hopefully they will soon be extinct.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Soul: Our Greatest Gift

[God creating Adam; by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling , the Vatican]

Far more important and remarkable than the body, is another, invisible gift, which God has given to us: the eternal soul. The soul is a non-physical, non-material part of us which will live after the death of the body.

The creation of man’s soul is described in Genesis:

Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

We know that we have a soul even though we cannot see it, similar to the way that we know that radio waves exist even though we cannot see them. The brain perceives the soul just as a radio perceives radio waves. And just like the functioning of the radio’s parts will affect the radio reception, but not the radio signals themselves, likewise injury to the brain affects our thinking and ability to function, however it does not affect the soul.

The soul is apparent in two ways:

The feeling that you are not your body. We see ourselves as inhabiting our bodies but we don't identify ourselves by it. This feeling begins with the smallest children and is universal culturally.

The feeling of free will. We all feel the freedom to make choices that are not determined by prior causes. Therefore, we hold people responsible for their behavior and either reward or punish them accordingly.

No machine, no matter how complex, has any sense of these feelings. (HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey" is still fictional.)

To claim that our belief in the soul is merely a delusion seems absurd. One may as well claim that our belief in anything is a delusion. In addition, without a soul, there would be no rational reason to punish criminals. No sane person says "I'm going to punish my car because the brakes failed and caused a fatal crash." One either fixes the car or throws it away.

Each morning every devout Jew fervently thanks God for his soul with this prayer:

My God, the soul which Thou hast placed in me is pure. Thou hast fashioned it in me, Thou didst breathe it into me, and Thou preservest it within me and Thou wilt one day take it from me and restore it to me in the time to come. So long as the soul is within me I give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, my God, and the God of my fathers, Sovereign of all worlds, Lord of all souls. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who restorest souls to dead corpses. (Talmud Brochos 60b)


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Liver: A Miracle of Engineering

Each of us has embedded in our bodies a God given chemical factory, so complex that it cannot be reproduced by human engineers. This factory is working unnoticed every moment, eliminating poisons and creating vital nutrients.

An adult human liver normally weighs between 1.4-1.6 kg (3.1-3.5 lb), and is a soft, pinkish-brown, triangular organ. Averaging about the size of an American football in adults, it is the largest internal organ in the human body. The liver lies on the right side of the abdominal cavity beneath the diaphragm. The lower part of the rib cage covers the liver, protecting it from injury.

The liver is necessary for survival; there is currently no way to compensate for the absence of liver function. There is no artificial organ or device capable of emulating all the functions of the liver. If a person's liver does fail, a device the size of a small cabinet can keep him alive for a few days. That is the most human engineers can currently do to replicate the liver.

One and a half liters of blood pass through the liver every minute and the liver holds 13% of the body's blood at any given time. (This explains why Jews must broil chicken or beef liver. Jews may not eat blood. Due to liver's high blood content, salting is not sufficient to draw out the blood. Liver can be koshered only by a special broiling process.)

The liver contributes to more than 500 vital functions in the body.

The liver's four most important tasks are:

1. Purification: changing harmful chemicals and toxins to harmless substances and eliminates them.

2. Synthesis: takes the simple building blocks of food to syntheize complex substances.

3. Storage: sugars, fats and vitamins are stored until needed by the body.

4. Transformation: the essential building blocks are changed to be use in other ways by the body.

This miracle of divine engineering is silently working away every moment of our lives. We could not survive more than a few hours without it. Let's spend a little time contemplating this immense gift from God and grow in our love for Him.