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Wednesday, February 28, 2024 - 19 Adar I 5784
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Liberal Gene

Believe it or not, a group of researchers have located a gene that is associated with political liberalism. According to a study published in the Journal of Politics, subjects with a particular variant of the dopamine receptor gene DRD4, who also had a wide circle of friends during adolescence, were more likely to hold liberal political views. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for emotional response and the sensations of pleasure and pain. Previous research has also identified a variant of this neurotransmitter as being involved with novelty-seeking behavior, a characteristic that may predispose one towards political liberalism. It is hypothesized that people with this gene are more open to exposure to a wide range of viewpoints, which leads to generally more liberal stances on political issues.

Head researcher James Fowler of the University of California-San Diego concludes that one’s social environment, upbringing and education cannot completely explain one’s political choices, and one must also take into account the role of genetics. Apparently our free choice isn’t as free as we’d like to believe. Our tendencies may have deep roots in our genetic makeup, entirely out of our control.

The sages of the Mishnah made a similar statement over 2,000 years ago: “All is foreseen,” they assert, “but permission is given” (Ethics 3:16). Permission for what? To be born with these genes or those? To be ill or healthy? Hot-tempered or calm? Brilliant or average intelligence? All these are almost completely out of our hands. What, then, is our freedom of choice?

Our sages explain, “All is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven” (Talmud Niddah 16a). We all have the capacity to fear Heaven and use this “gene” to influence our daily decisions. We all have the ultimate responsibility to think about how our choices will affect others, how they will impact the world we live in, and whether they will further the purpose for which we were created: to make this world into a dwelling where G-d can feel at home.

To reach true fear of Heaven is a work of a lifetime. The book of Tanya, the seminal work of Chassidic philosophy, lays out an approach for how we can achieve this goal. The Tanya emphasizes that fear of Heaven is within the purview of each one of us, not only the greatest tzadikim of the generation. It is something that is accessible to all of us, part of our genetic potential. Fear of Heaven is also related to faith, which gives us the strength to face the future with confidence and overcome the greatest challenges. With the power of our faith and fear of Heaven, we will merit to see the end of this long exile and the dawn of the era of Moshiach.


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