Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Tammuz 5762 - July 3, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
"To the Conductor: A Psalm"

by Yochonon Dovid

"I have something interesting to show you," said the doctor, and withdrew a large photograph from his briefcase. "Do you know what this is? It is a photo of an original cell from which a living creature develops. It was taken by a very delicate instrument capable of a forty-thousand-to-one enlargement. Can you note here, on the side of the cell, a certain swelling that is divided by a split of sorts?

"This is the beginning of the reproductive process of the cell. It grows very quickly and subdivides into two separate identical cells. The camera caught it at the very inception of this splitting process. Each of the two cells will then repeat the division, forming four cells, then eight and so on, geometrically, until a living entity is created within the mother's womb."

I was all wonder as I studied the cell embarking on the process of creating a living creature. This is the building block of an independent living thing which will execute all of the many and complex tasks of its life, of its very existence upon earth.

While I was still busy pondering this marvel, the doctor took out a second photo. This was a cluster of cells formed by the reproduction of the original cell, he said. It had between 64 to 128 cells identical to the one from which they were reproduced. It was difficult to count the cells in this cluster, since only the outer cells were visible. Each such cluster was no more than a tiny speck that only the most advanced technology could capture on film and enlarge for the benefit of the naked eye.

"Perhaps you can tell me how many cells there will be in the living creature eventually produced by this cluster?" I asked.

"The size of cells is measured in thousandths of millimeters," he explained. "If the size of a single cell is between three and thirteen thousandths of a millimeter, dependent upon its function, then a square millimeter of a body can contain some million cells, if not much more. Now go calculate how many billions of cells there are in a mouse or cat."

"But I don't understand," I asked, stunned. "A living creature is composed of hundreds of different parts and organs, each one respectively containing many different kinds of cells. There is the eye, for example, or the vast network of blood vessels, or the brain. How can identical cells produce such a complex living thing?"

"An astute question. This photo of the cell cluster is the turning point. From this moment on, the cluster becomes elongated and while the cells continue to multiply by subdivision, they also begin specialization.

"I see you're confused. Let me explain. The cells found in the part of the cluster that is beginning to elongate, will eventually become the head. These are developing according to their future function and are no long identical to those in the center, which will be the body.

"There is an astronomical number of kinds of cells. The head alone contains skin, eyes, teeth, blood and the brain. Each of these organs are composed of a huge number of cells that differ from one another, each type adapted to its particular function within the organ to which they belong. The cells developing into legs are also subdivided into a vast number of different types, from muscles, to nerves to bones. There are skins cells and nail cells, all of which comprise the finished product of a functioning leg of a living creature. Each cell in the cluster you see here contains an entire DNA catalogue, so to speak, including a program of all possible developments. The cell is capable of developing into any particular, specific cell which the body needs."

"Very marvelous indeed," I remarked. "And who gives the instructions to the various cells to execute such drastic changes as those necessary for the execution of the many functions? One need not be a doctor to realize the difference between cells that make up teeth and cells that serve as the lens of an eye."

"An excellent question. Science has no answer to it. What directs a given cell and orders it to become a bone marrow cell, a nerve cell or a muscle cell? It is a mystery. But one thing is clear: it is not the single cell that makes this decision. Only the One who has the complete blueprint of the future body in its entirety, only He can know what function each and every one of the billions of cells must fulfill, and according to which design encoded in it, it must go on to develop. The instructions must come only from a central headquarters that controls all the cells and is familiar with the final map of the finished body.

"We can compare this to a single soldier in a military campaign comprised of millions of soldiers. He must receive his orders -- whether to advance or retreat, or entrench himself -- from a supreme commander who knows what is going on at the global level and is also the one responsible for the movements of each and every soldier.

"The hidden commander of the development of the embryo into a complete, living creature assigns the instructions of the necessary development of every cell and also determines their exact location. Imagine teeth or eyes that are formed in a place unsuited for them . . . The director-general who transmits the instructions never makes a mistake amongst the billions of cells. The instructions are conveyed to the exact addresses. Only in this fashion can there be any normal continuity in the world."

"Incredible! We actually know Who this hidden Director- General is, the Master of all creations Who controls the infinite detail of everything that takes place in every cell of every living thing even before birth. Thanks to you, I have become privy to another level of depth in the blessing of asher yotzar, the One Who created man in wisdom. Thank you for this insight."

The marvel of the formation of every creature is one of the most outstanding manifestations of Hashem's presence in our world. It is not by chance that many baalei teshuva designate the birth of their first child as the turning point in their awareness of a Creator. Dovid Hamelech gave expression to this marvelous feeling of being a product of Hashem's handiwork in the following chapter of Tehillim, 139, which is intertwined with the Metzudos commentary:

"For You have formed my kidneys (even though they are in a most hidden place in the body); You have knit me together in my mother's womb (in the darkest place, within my mother's womb, You clothed my form with flesh and skin).

"I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (the wonders of my formation that include marvelous works). Marvelous are Your works, and my soul knows that right well (even though my soul is intelligent and knows a great deal, still, it cannot fathom the wonders of Your works).

"Your eyes saw my unshaped flesh (when I was still like a pupa, that is, an entity without limbs, unformed as yet, You saw it with Your eyes).

"How precious are Your thoughts to me (they are dear and important to me). How great is the sum of them (how vastly great and numerous are the topic headings and the general laws that govern them). If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand (they defy counting)."

Dovid Hamelech concludes this chapter with a statement: Abominable and deserving of death are those sinners who praise Hashem and elevate Him to a status where, they claim, it is not deeming for Him to bother with this puny world. Their real intent is to banish His surveillance so that they can carry out their nefarious schemes unobstructed.

Let us promote within us the feeling of closeness to the One Who created us, each organ, every cell, and Who gave us a divine soul.

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