Science in the Torah
The Mysterious Lives of Plants
Scientists are discovering amazing facts about plants- their ability to feel and sense what humans are doing around them. These facts are corroborated by Chazal who received this knowledge with the holy Torah.
1. Do Plants Have Feelings?
In the past century, scientists throughout the world have publicized fascinating findings concerning the plant world. Although it seems to us that plants lack awareness and feelings, it turns out that this is incorrect. Plants have powerful sensations and feelings, and they even know how to express their feelings of pain, fear and happiness. We will preface with a short sampling of the revolutionary research publicized on the subject:
“In a room near Maida Vale there is an unfortunate carrot strapped to the table of an unlicensed vivisector. Wires pass through two glass tubes full of a white substance; they are like two legs, whose feet are buried in the flesh of the carrot. When the vegetable is pinched with a pair of forceps, it winces. It is so strapped that its electric shudder of pain pulls the long arm of a very delicate level which actuates a tiny mirror. This casts a beam of light on the frieze at the other end of the room, and thus enormously exaggerates the tremor of the carrot. A pinch near the right hand tube sends the beam seven or eight feet to the right, and a stab near the other wire sends it far to the left. Thus can science reveal the feelings of even so stolid a vegetable as the carrot.”
This electrifying description was vividly recorded for the public in the British publication Nation. This was the opening shot that revealed the wondrous plant world — a plant world that was discovered as having feelings and sensations.
And not just carrots. Turnips, radishes and cabbage also express feelings, have senses and breathe! This was established by Chandra Bose, a world class scientist who investigated the physical responses of plants. One day, after the bizarre idea occurred to him, Bose connected his highly sensitive measuring devices to the leaves of a plant. The result was astonishing. Finding it difficult to believe himself, Bose tried again and again to repeat the experiment.
To his great astonishment, he discovered that plants react to various “blows” similar to how animals react!
This was just a small fragment of a fascinating world research study which revealed some of the “creation secrets of plants”, as one scientist who researched the study called it.
Conservative science reacted to this revolutionary idea with total disparagement and disbelief. But as the proofs increased, no one could refute the findings. In a research book on the mysterious world of the plant which was printed in Great Britain, the curtain was pulled back to reveal a small part of this world. Famous scientists there state without doubt: plants are active and emotional, and they also absorb and emit signals!
Bose’s studies were fully scientific. Nevertheless, British scientists found it difficult to accept the revolutionary idea.
The turning point was reached when famous plant physiologist Prof. Sidney Howard Vines, who was well known in Oxford and who was also Bose’s former teacher, asked to see Bose’s experiments with his own eyes. He brought with him eminent botanist T. K. Howes who was the successor of T. H. Huxley at the British Museum’s botany department in South Kensington, London. After witnessing the experiments of Bose and seeing how the plant responded to stimulation, T. K. Howes exclaimed, “Huxley would have given years of his life to see that experiment.” As secretary of the Linnean Society, he invited Bose to repeat all his experiments before the society.
The respected professors did not believe their eyes when they saw through a special magnified system how a cabbage leaf twisted in a strong spasm when it was being burnt to death. They saw how a radish became limp just like a muscle, and became as upset as if it had a nervous system. At the moment of “death”, it shuddered in a way that resembled the death throes of an animal. Even Nation admitted to the doubting scientists’ defeat. Bose received the recognition of the British Royal Society and was knighted as a sign of appreciation for his study.
Soviet Russia has also researched the mysterious life of plants. Pravda published an article with a large headline "What Leaves Tell Us" in October, 1970, saying:
"Plants talk ... yes, they scream. It only seems that they accept their misfortunes submissively and silently bear their pain." Pravda's reporter, V. Chertkov, tells the extraordinary goings-on that he witnessed when he visited the Laboratory for Artificial Climate at the renowned Timiryazev Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Moscow:
“Before my eyes a barley sprout literally cried out when its roots were plunged into hot water. True, the plant's ‘voice’ was registered only by a special and extremely sensitive electronic instrument which revealed a ‘bottomless vale of tears’ on a broad paper band. As though it had gone crazy, the recording pen wriggled out on the white track the death agony of the barley sprout.” The Russian experiments testified that plants absorb signals from their surroundings and also emit them.
This amazing discovery, one of the wonders of modern science, was discovered with the assistance of highly sensitive, advanced electronic devices.
And now, a question: could someone have known this amazing secret of nature before the invention of electricity and advanced electronic means, and to say with full confidence that plants have feelings and experience pain, and they even “shout” without making a sound??
Two thousand years ago (!) when Judaism’s Oral Tradition was written down, it was written in Pirkei D’Rav Eliezer (Chapter 34):
“When a fruit tree is being cut down, its voice goes from one end of the world to the other, but its voice is not heard.”
How could those who received and transmitted the Torah have known this secret of nature which was only recently discovered through advanced electronic devices?!?
The Jewish people in all its generations always knew the answer. The One Who created the world, knows the mysteries and secrets of His creations. Every detail that He desired to reveal in the Written or Oral Torah, was guarded and passed down by the sages of our people from generation to generation.
With great sensitivity, we will cautiously allow ourselves to note that the scientific studies on this topic are still in their infancy. The electronic devices we possess today should be viewed as primitive in relationship to our holy Torah’s knowledge. The present devices cannot discover how far away the voice of the tree being cut down reaches, while the Creator of the universe revealed in the Torah that the voice of the tree being cut down reaches from one end of the world to the other end. (It encompasses the entire earth.)
Likewise, we cannot help but ask the honored reader what his response would have been had he first read the statement of the Talmud before knowing the above research? We’ll leave the conclusion for him to reflect over.
2. Do Plants “See”?
Let us bring another scientific quote from the above-mentioned research, which casts further light on another fascinating aspect of the amazing world of plants.
This fascinating and unknown research began by “accident”. An American polygraph (truth machine) expert, decided on impulse to attempt an incomprehensible experiment. He decided to attach the electrodes of one of his lie detectors not to a living person but to the leaf of his dragon tree which was growing in his office. To his amazement, the leaf gave a reaction very similar to that of a human being experiencing a short emotional stimulus.
The surprised expert wanted a stronger reaction. He decided to burn the actual leaf. The instant he imagined a picture of a flame in his mind, and before he could move to get a match, there was a dramatic change in the tracing pattern on the graph in the form of a prolonged upward sweep of the recording pen, as if the machine was recording a person who had a strong emotional outburst! Could the plant have been reading his mind? The leaf’s “eyes” apparently see better than human eyes. They plainly sensed the coming danger.
That was the beginning. The American expert dropped his profession and devoted himself to studying the amazing qualities of plants. “Very quickly,” he wrote, "I discovered that plants see better [than humans] without eyes and sense better than them — without a nervous system!”
He filled his laboratory with many kinds of plants. He quickly discovered another thing: Plants react not only when they are physically threatened with overwhelming danger but even when those threats are imperceptible. When a person entered the room who didn’t like plants, they reacted by "passing out," or going into a deep faint. When a spider trying to escape his enemy was injured while trying to escape, for instance, the plants responded with shock.
The experiment that brought world fame to the American expert was a fully scientific experiment which had no human element in it: in the laboratory, a special device was installed where every few minutes, shrimp on a plate would be tipped into boiling hot water. The device was set randomly to occasionally dump the shrimp and other times to dump just plain water. Three plants of the Philodendron cordatum species were brought to the laboratory and connected to the galvanometer (device to measure weak electric current). Each time the shrimps were thrown into the boiling water — all the plants reacted strongly!
The scientific world was all abuzz. More than seven thousand scientists asked for reprints of the report. Students and scientists at some two dozen American universities indicated they intended to find practical applications
Now let us quote a fact mentioned by our sages concerning a sage’s knowledge of plants' ability to see, and his deep understanding of plants’ practical-emotional response.
“It happened once that a palm tree was standing in Chamsan, and it didn’t bear fruit. They tried to graft it, but it wouldn’t bear fruit. Rabbi Tanchuma told them: ‘This palm tree is looking at Jericho and desiring it in its heart.’ They brought a shoot from there and grafted it on, and it immediately bore fruit.” (Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar 3)
A known phenomenon in the plant world is that a climber plant needs support. It crawls precisely in the direction of the nearest pole. If someone pushes the pole away, the plant will change direction within a short time (!). How is this possible?
By knowing the above-mentioned interesting scientific finding — that the plant “sees” — this amazing phenomenon can now be understood.
Whoever still doubts Rabbi Tanchuma’s words that plants have feelings and act according to them, should read the following study.
3. Are Plants Affected by Attention and Affection?
Marcel Vogel, a young chemist from California, was working on establishing reciprocal communication with his plants. It is difficult to believe that the attention and affection which one lavishes on a plant can make it blossom and develop, and vice versa, but he arrived at this conclusion after his many experiments proved it!
Vogel carried out this experiment: he asked a friend, a clinical psychologist, to project a strong emotion to a philodendron fifteen feet away. The plant expressed an instantaneous and intense reaction and then suddenly, "went dead." When Vogel asked the psychologist what had gone through his mind, the man answered that he had mentally compared Vogel's plant with his own philodendron at home, and thought how inferior Vogel's was to his. The "feelings" of Vogel's plant were evidently so badly hurt that it refused to respond for the rest of the day; in fact, it sulked for almost two weeks...
The plants, botanists believe, have mysterious “senses” which enable them to feel what occurs around them and respond to it with a sophistication that exceeds human senses’ more than tenfold!
In the next stage, after dozens of trials proving that reciprocal communication between a plant and its surroundings was possible, Vogel succeeded in reaching the next level — any time he experienced an emotional experience of any kind, the plants had the same reaction — including a plant that was at a distance!
In one of his documented experiments, Vogel picked two leaves from a certain shrub and laid them on a plate of glass near his bed. Each day, before breakfast, Vogel paid much attention to one leaf on the glass and assiduously ignored the other leaf.
“Every morning when I wake up,” he said, “I look at the leaf next to my bed and will it to continue living. I don’t devote any attention to the second leaf.” After a month, Vogel invited his colleagues in IBM where he worked to take a look. They could barely believe him: the leaf he had ignored was completely brown and shriveled. The other leaf, that was next to his bed, were still green and healthy-looking!
And here is what the Zohar has to say about this: “There is no blade of glass that doesn’t have a force appointed over it from above which watches it… and tells it: ‘Grow!’” (Zohar omissions to Vol. 1 61, and Breishit Rabbah 10:6).
4. Can Plants Hear?
Plants, it turns out, sense what is taking place around them. But do they also hear? The Indian scientist Singh wondered this. He had heard rumors that plants who receive “musical therapy” will blossom and sprout faster, but these seemed to be baseless rumors. How could he prove it?
Singh concocted a scientific test system. He experimented on a vast number of healthy species, all the same age, and exposed them — one kind at a time — at a fixed radius around a source producing sounds of three musical instruments. The outcome exceeded all expectations: the plants blossomed and yielded far more seeds than the average.
After a series of scientific experiments strengthened this finding, some farmers decided to play music to their crops to increase their output. With the use of amplifiers, they played instrumental music one hour a day, to six different species of rice growing in the fields. The crops that were harvested yielded between 25 to 60 percent more.
In the mid-1960s, two researchers at Canada's University of Ottawa, Mary Measures and Pearl Weinberger, in a series of experiments lasting more than four years, exposed the grains and seedlings of spring Marquis and winter Rideau wheat to high-frequency vibrations. They found that the plants responded best to a frequency of 5,000 cycles a second, and produced a double wheat harvest, which the two researchers had no explanation for.
However, if the biologists hoped that this method would always stimulate greater food production, they found that this wasn’t the case. It turned out that the same frequencies which stimulated some plant species to grow, also inhibited the growth of others. Science has still not figured out the mystery of how plants are able to hear.
Science has reached the point where it knows that plants can hear. The Torah sages knew thousands of years before that plants can also talk. Science still doesn’t know it — since it still doesn’t have the tools to discover it. The Jewish sages didn’t need these tools because the One Who created the world revealed many of nature’s secrets in His Torah including this secret. Even more, there were Jewish sages who even knew the language of the plants (!). Our holy men testify:
“They said of R. Johanan b. Zakkai that he did not leave [unstudied] Scripture, Mishnah, Gemara, Halacha, Aggada, details of the Torah, details of the Scribes, inferences a minori ad majus, analogies, calendrical computations, gematriyas, the speech of the ministering angels, the speech of spirits, the speech of palm trees…” (Sukkah 28a)
 The Talmud (Pesachim 110b) mentions that a man who had fallen under a magic spell met an Arab who realized he was bewitched. The Arab told him that he looked like a corpse. When he heard this, he worriedly leaned on a palm tree, and “the palm tree screamed and dried out” from contact with him. See Rashi’s commentary there.
Incidentally, it should be obvious that the feelings of sorrow and pain in the plant world are not the same kind of feelings of misery and pain which exist in the animal world. Plants do not have a nefesh-soul or a neshama-soul, and therefore Judaism has no prohibition for plants akin to the prohibition of causing pain to animals. Instead, plants have a certain electric response which exhibits itself like feelings. Jewish law is also based on realities which normal human senses can sense and not according to mysterious phenomenon which can only be revealed by sensitive electronic tools. (This is why, for example, food products have to be free of bugs but we are not concerned if they contain other microscopic creatures. See many other examples for this in Shaalot Utshuvot Yabia Omer, Vol. 4 #21).
. Note the official accepted explanation among botanists for this amazing phenomenon: Climbing plants send tendrils which move in increasingly large concentric circles (or move from side to side in a pendulum movement) until they find a perch upon which they start to curve around the object. If the tendril didn’t manage to thoroughly curl itself, or if that object was removed or shifted, the vine will repeat the movement procedure until it curls itself around a nearby object. A truly amazing discovery. But science, typically, knows only how to explain what is happening and not why it is happening. Science doesn’t have the tools to prove the purpose of the vine movement — is it a blind search or a convenient advance movement to a object identified in advance? According to our sages (and the new scientific discoveries), we can conclude it is the second.
. “King Solomon of blessed memory was given wisdom and knowledge by G-d; everything he had was learned from the Torah until he knew the essence of every creation, and even the life-force of grasses and their qualities… and the orbits of the stars… the trees… and the power in the roots, everything that was hidden and revealed. He knew this all from the Torah, everything he found in its interpretations and intricacies.” (Nachmanides in his introduction to his commentary on the Torah)