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Healing the Brain

January 8, 2012, marked one year since the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, who was critically injured. Six others were killed in the attack, and nineteen injured. In the year since the attack, Giffords amazed the country with her upbeat spirit and miraculous recovery. Although she is not fully back to herself, there is talk that she will run for her seat in congress when she is up for reelection in 2012.

The Giffords case is particularly inspiring, a testimony to what can be accomplished with joy, optimism and an unvanquishable spirit. Dr. Michael Lemole, her neurosurgeon, said, “Sometimes we are wise to acknowledge miracles." Her husband, Michael Kelly, who never left her side since the attack, says that his wife recovered thanks to her bravery and toughness.

Giffords’ battle to regain her faculties after a devastating brain injury highlights the plight of others who have suffered similar wounds. Although we celebrate their success, the journey towards health is often slow, excruciating and frustrating. There may be personality changes, memory loss or lapses in judgment following a traumatic brain injury. Spouses, in particular, struggle to resume a relationship they had with someone who may have changed drastically.


From the perspective of Jewish history, in our relationship with G-d we are like the brain-injured partner. This week’s Torah portion, Yitro, describes a marriage ceremony we had with G-d, when He held the Sinai mountain above our heads as a wedding canopy and we pledged to be devoted to Him forever. We settled in Israel, G-d and the Jewish people, prepared to start a fruitful relationship that would last forever. We even built a “home” for G-d, a Holy Temple where His presence was to dwell. But then came the injury.

The cause of the injury is hard to pinpoint – when did we lose our awareness of G-d, our ability to sense His presence, to relate to Him as before? During the time of exile, there is a defect in our intellectual powers, an inability to relate to G-d with these faculties. We can experience G-d emotionally, or through faith. But our words, our conceptions, fail at the task of understanding or explaining Him. And so our relationship flounders, like a spouse with a brain-injured partner who cannot remember the one she once loved and married.

Will our relationship with G-d ever be restored? That is what will happen in the times of Moshiach, when the intellectual attributes, Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge (known by their Hebrew acronym, Chabad) will be refined and perfected. Then we will relate to G-d not only on the level of emotions and faith, but through a direct intellectual understanding. And the way to prepare ourselves for that time is through studying the Torah’s teachings of Redemption, which will ready our minds for the revelation that awaits us.



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