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Purpose in Life

In 1963, Professor Velvel Greene of the University of Minnesota was considered a rising star in the scientific world. As his reputation grew in the field of biology, he was invited by NASA to join a select group of scientists that were researching the effects of space travel on human health.

In the same year, Professor Greene and his family developed a relationship with Rabbi Moshe and Mrs. Mindy Feller, the Rebbe's emissaries in Minneapolis. Until that time, Professor Greene and his wife considered themselves typical American Jews, who were proud of their heritage but didn't place much emphasis on religious minutiae. To their modern sensibilities, practical mitzvot—like observing Shabbat and Kosher, or laying tefillin—were old-fashioned and primitive.

However, as the Greene family got to know the Fellers, they were very impressed with the young chassidic couple and the way they lived their lives, filled with meaning, purpose and satisfaction. The Greenes were drawn towards the chassidic path, to fill that inner emptiness so often associated with a modern, upscale American lifestyle.

On the advice of Rabbi Feller, Professor Greene wrote a letter to the Rebbe, and received a prompt reply. This was the beginning of a regular and enriching correspondence between the Rebbe and the young scientist, who was completely captured by the Rebbe's astounding intellect and personality, and his complete dedication to Judaism and the Jewish people. With each letter he received from the Rebbe, Professor Greene found himself drawn further along in his own spiritual journey.

In time, the Greenes koshered their kitchen and made steady progress in becoming completely Shabbat observant.

During one of Professor Greene's discussions with Rabbi Feller, the topic of “creation versus evolution” came up.

“As you know, I have the utmost respect for the Torah,” said Professor Greene to Rabbi Feller. “Its teachings and mitzvot now occupy an important place in my life. However, regarding the subject of evolution, I believe that you are still in the dark ages. In light of modern scientific discoveries regarding the age of the world and its development, I can't understand how any rational person today can take the Biblical creation story literally.”

“I admit that my knowledge of science is limited,” Rabbi Feller responded, “and certainly I am not capable of discussing this subject on your level. However, there is a lengthy letter of the Rebbe on this topic, where the Rebbe points out many of the deficiencies in the theory of evolution, and the ways it contradicts some of the basic principles of science.”

Professor Greene was taken aback. “The theory of evolution is accepted by just about every scientist! I must see what the Rebbe writes about this.”

Professor Greene read the letter, but was unconvinced by the Rebbe's arguments. He wrote a sharply worded letter to the Rebbe addressing all the perceived deficiencies in the Rebbe's arguments. He abandoned the polite tone that scientists usually use with laymen and addressed the Rebbe as a colleague. He concluded his letter by brashly stating that the Rebbe should focus on Torah matters and leave science to scientists!

In time Professor Greene received the Rebbe's response, in which the Rebbe did not even address the entire matter. The letter simply picked up where their previous correspondence left off, with the Greene family's continued progress in Jewish observance.

Professor Greene assumed that the Rebbe had conceded to his arguments and did not want to engage in scientific dialogue. However, this did not prevent the Greenes from making ongoing strides in Torah observance. Over the next year and a half, Professor Greene kept the Rebbe updated on every step, and the Rebbe responded with encouragement and blessing. Once the Rebbe sent Professor Greene a pair of tefillin as a gift, which he began to wear every day.

At a certain stage the Greenes decided to send their children to study in yeshivah. This was a dramatic move for a couple steeped in academia. When they wrote about it to the Rebbe, they received a particularly encouraging reply.

As a footnote to that letter, the Rebbe wrote: “By the way, in response to the questions you raised on the Torah's account on creation...” The Rebbe then proceeded to address every one of the professor's objections, in a way that satisfied all his doubts.

“Surely you are wondering why I waited so long to respond on this matter,” the Rebbe concluded. “However, my purpose in life is not to win debates. My purpose is to bring Jews closer to Torah and mitzvot.”

A purpose that, in the Greenes' case, was amply fulfilled.


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