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Self-Transformation

The discovery of genetic material and the unraveling of the genetic code were two of the greatest scientific advances of the twentieth century. These remarkable discoveries showed that proteins, the biochemical engines behind every life process in the cell, are produced according to a precise program recorded in the DNA, the “hard disk” of the cell.

Based on this conception of the cell, we have gotten used to thinking that the DNA determines everything, and thus, the body's destiny is set from the outset. However, research has shown that this is not the case. The most complex organ in the human body, the brain, is also formed according to the instructions in the genetic code. However, from birth the brain is constantly undergoing a process of self-modification, both influencing and influenced by the myriad events that make up personal experience. The role of genetics in molding and shaping the brain is far less than that of learning and experience.

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These current revelations have a root in a statement made thousands of years ago by Rabbi Akiva: “All is foreseen, but control is granted” (Ethics 3:16). In other words, although G-d foresees all human choices and events, that does not mean that He takes away from us the right and ability to control our own destiny. Our sages recount many stories of individuals who were destined for one fate, but due to their own choices and intervention, ended up with an entirely different outcome. A prime example is Rabbi Akiva's own daughter:

When she was a young girl, an astrologer informed her father that she would die on her wedding day. And, seemingly, his prediction was accurate – on the morning after her wedding, she pulled her hairpin out of the wall where she had stuck it overnight, and found a poisonous snake impaled on it. That snake had been destined to kill her but she was fortuitously able to circumvent that fate.

How had she earned that merit? She explained to her father that during the wedding, she noticed a poor man enter the wedding hall. Nobody greeted him or offered him anything to eat. The bride herself, sensing his hunger and discomfort, invited him in and gave him her own portion of food. In this merit her life was saved.

Rabbi Akiva teaches us that our deeds, our words, even our thoughts, have the power to change our destiny.

And this is not true only on an individual level. Maimonides teaches us that we have the power to change the fate of the entire world: “Do one good deed, and tip the balance of the entire world and bring about salvation and rescue” – in other words, the true and complete Redemption.

 

 


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