Science in the Torah

Genetics in the Torah? Where?

Is it possible that the two most revolutionary laws in genetics discovered in recent generations – Mendel's Laws of Inheritance  and the Law of Heterosis – appear in the Torah, given more than 3300 years ago?

Amazingly, the answer is an unequivocal yes. These laws supposedly discovered in the modern era were actually revealed in the prophetic dream of Jacob more than 4000 years ago!

Before we take a closer look at the dream of Jacob and his struggles with Laban the Aramean, we need to clarify a few central points about our topic – the creation of the world and the deeds of the patriarchs of the Jewish people as described in the Torah.

The World Was Created According to the Torah

The Zohar(1) states in a number of places that the Torah existed before the world was created. It teaches that when God wanted to create the world, He “looked” upon what was written in this supernal Torah, and formed the entire universe accordingly. In the Zohar’s precise words: “The Holy One looked into the Torah and created the universe.”

This means that the Torah serves as a kind of blueprint for the universe and history down to its tiniest details – all that was, is and will be, from the dawn of creation unto the end of the generations.

The Midrash(2) compares this to a king who designs a palace according to his future needs. His plan defines the layout of every room, office, hall, window, opening, etc., and how they will appear once constructed. In the same way, God created the world in accordance with the needs of human beings to fulfill His commandments.

For those of us accustomed to thinking of history as a progression of events, from earlier to later, this idea might sound radical and even strange. How can it be that all of the historical events of which the Torah speaks in greatest detail were already written in the Torah a long time before they actually occurred? For example, how could God’s Torah contain the exodus from Egypt thousands of years before the event actually took place? How could it describe a man named Jacob, son of Rebecca, who went to live with Laban the Aramean before Jacob and Laban were even born?

These ideas only make sense if we keep in mind that the Torah is the creation of God, who transcends time, and knows all of the mysteries of the universe, and what will occur on any particular day at any particular time. Everything is revealed to Him, and He understands all. Something that happened long ago is the same in God’s eyes as something that will happen in the distant future. This is why the Creator of the world can write in fullest detail in the Torah about all of the events of the world well before they actually take place.

Furthermore, the Zohar and the Midrash imply that not only did God write in the Torah all that would happen in the future, but that the entire universe was originally created only in accordance with the words of the Torah, on all its levels, including its most esoteric aspects. The Torah provided a grand plan for the world – foundational and all-inclusive – for according to its contents, God generated the infinite details of creation, the laws of nature, and the events of history.

On this point, the Gaon of Vilna taught: “Everything that ever was, is and will be is all included in the Torah, from [the first line of] of Genesis until the last line of the Bible. And not merely the general principles of the world, but also details about every species and every individual person and all that will take place in each person’s life from the day of birth until the day of death. [This includes] every incarnation and the details of the details of the details. This also includes all of the species of animals and beasts and all of the living creatures of the world. [So too] every kind of grass and plant and all of the details of the details of the details [about them as well]. Every species and member of the species, for all time including what will happen to them and where they came from….”(3)

In other words, if the natural world follows certain rules, it is because this was what was determined in advance by the Creator in accordance with the “operating instructions” contained in the Torah. It is no wonder that the Sages of Israel knew scientific principles that have been discovered only recently – for even science is embedded in the Torah, and is available to every Jewish person studying Torah under the necessary conditions: thoroughly, thoughtfully, honestly, and respectfully.

Scientific knowledge – as demonstrated by the many examples in this book – was placed in the Torah so that it might be revealed later. On some occasions, the knowledge is encoded in the Torah, and can only be deciphered after a careful reading of an event or series of events.

This is true of the specific case of Jacob and Laban to which we now turn. This narrative is a prime example of the many places in the Torah where the laws of nature are encoded in the text. In this case, we will uncover the Torah’s understanding of two of the laws of genetics discovered only recently by modern science.

Jacob Confronts Laban the Aramean

The Torah teaches that Jacob shepherded the flocks of Laban the Aramean for seven years, in exchange for the hand of Rachel, Laban’s daughter, in marriage. At the end of this seven year period Jacob was given Leah instead. In order to marry Rachel, Jacob was forced to work an additional seven years. With the birth of Joseph, Jacob’s eleventh son, Jabob said to Laban: “Send me out so that I might go to my own land” (Genesis 30:25).

But Laban was adamant that Jacob should stay and continue to serve him. He knew that as long as Jacob remained in his camp, God would continue to bless him. Laban offered a new salary to Jacob, to convince him to stay. As a result they agreed that Jacob would take ownership of all of the “speckled and spotted” animals in the flock.

After reaching an agreement, Laban suddenly changed the terms and interpreted the new arrangement to mean that only the newly born flock, speckled and spotted, would be given to Jacob. In order to prevent disagreements about which flock was born at which time, he immediately separated out all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats, and assigned them to his sons, telling them to travel three days journey in the opposite direction of Jacob. This ensured a clear and complete division between the two groups. It further garunteed the likelihood that all animals subsequently born to Jacob’s flocks would be of a single color, and not speckled and spotted. (A careful reader of the text will note that Laban constantly changes the conditions of his agreement, in order to cheat Jacob of his rightful due. Laban’s trickery is confirmed by the words of the angel to Jacob (Genesis 21:12) as well as in Jacob's pained statements to his wives (ibid. 21:41) during this period. See the classical commentaries on the Torah for more explication of these issues).

Amidst Laban’s abuses, Jacob has a spiritual vision (ibid. 31:10):

“And it came to pass at the time that the flock was fertile and I [Jacob] raised my eyes and saw in a dream that the rams which leaped upon the flock were streaked, speckled, and spotted.”

This is the opposite of reality, since Jacob’s animals were not spotted: Laban had already removed such animals out of Jacob’s portion of the flock.

“And an angel of God said to me in the dream: 'Jacob!' And I said: 'Here I am!' And it said, 'Lift up your eyes and see the rams upon your flocks streaked, speckled, and spotted. For I [the angel] have seen all that Laban has done to you.’”

From the point of this dream onwards Jacob begins to understand the depths of his father-in-law’s deception, and decides to send the least fertile animals to mate with Laban’s flock.

“He sent the feeble animals to Laban [those animals least likely to be fertile] and the strongest [and most likely to be fertile] stayed with Jacob’s flock.”

And the result?:(4)

“And the man’s [Jacob’s] wealth grew and grew and he had scores of livestock and male and female servants and camels and donkeys.”

We must understand two puzzling things in this narrative:

Why did Jacob see in his prophetic vision the more fertile animals as being spotted, when all he had in his flock were solid colored animals?

Why was Jacob careful to remove the less fertile livestock from his flocks and give them to Laban? What difference did it make between the less and more fertile animals in terms of his goal – that the newborns would be spotted?

Truthfully, we cannot understand the deep reasons behind the actions of our forefathers. Their spiritual level far exceeded anything of which we can conceive. But it is possible to understand that the Torah hints here to fascinating laws of nature recently discovered by science, as we will explain.

It is important to note that before his prophetic dream, Jacob devised a simple and natural plan for getting what he deserved:

“And Jacob took rods of green poplar from the almond and plane tree and peeled white streaks in them and made the white within the rods appear. Then he set the rods he had peeled in front of the flocks in the gutters of the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink – that they should conceive when they drank. And the flocks conceived before the rods and brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted cattle” (Genesis 30:37-39).

This passage suggests that something seen at the time of conception can influence the physical nature of the developing offspring. For this reason the sheep that saw the streaked rods at the time of conception eventually gave birth to streaked offspring.

This phenomenon is mentioned in Midrash Tanchumah (Naso, chap. 9) as well:

“The King of the Arabia said to Rabbi Akiba: 'I am a Cushite [dark skinned] and my wife is a Cushite, yet she gave birth to a white skinned baby. I will kill her if she had relations with another man.' He [Rabbi Akiva] said to him: 'Are the figures [statues in the form of people] in your house black or white?' He answered: 'White.' He said to him: 'When you were with her she must have looked up at the white figures and then gave birth to a child that looked like them. And if don’t believe it go look at our father Jacob who made streaked rods [for cattle to look upon during conception in order to create streaked offspring].' The King of Arabia thanked Rabbi Akiba.”

There are other interesting cases published in medical literature.

For example, in the German Medical journal Der Ertz (Volume 7, p. 30) Dr. Untzer notes a case in which a skin disease left a red mark on the forehead of a child. The child’s mother, who was then pregnant, was concerned that if she looked upon the mark, her new baby would be born with one as well. Several months later, she gave birth to twins – each bearing a red mark on its head.

In another incident, Dr. Van Sveeten in Commenter Zu Barhev(Volume 3, p. 406) describes a pregnant woman who was startled when a large worm fell on the back of her neck. When her daughter was born a few months later, the child had a birth mark in the very same shape and color as the worm that had fallen on the mother’s skin.

A Norwegian author, Beirnson, writes in his book Miracles of Will that when his wife was pregnant, she was terrified of seeing a man with a fatty growth on his ear. “I am afraid that our baby will have a growth on its ear!” she said. And so it was that their oldest son was born with such a growth on his ear. After a few years passed, his wife was pregnant again and a guest who was seriously cross-eyed visited them. Mrs. Beirnson stared, transfixed, at the visitor. Later, she told her husband that she was afraid that her next child would be born cross-eyed too. And so it was that their child was born with a severe case of cross-eye.

Another case: Dr. Z. Maston writes in the journal Maternal Impressions and their Influence upon the Fetus of the experience of arriving at the house of the William family in order to treat a gunshot wound to the head of Mr. William, caused by a stray bullet from a hunting rifle. He did not expect to have to treat a hysterical Mrs. William, screaming that her husband’s injury was a disaster for other reasons: Mrs. William was pregnant and she was sure that her baby would be born with red marks on its head. Just moments before, while treating her husband, Mrs. William had noticed that she had smeared blood on her hands and face – and instinct told her that this blood would reappear as marks the body of her unborn child.

Two months later, Dr. Maston returned to the William home to deliver the baby. The baby appeared healthy and normal, its skin smooth and clear – except for large red spots in the exact place where its father had been injured. According to Mrs. William, the injury had occurred on the fifty-second day of her pregnancy. “From that moment on,” she said, “I was gripped with fear every time I had to treat my husband’s wounds.”

There are many more descriptions of similar incidents in the Israeli parapsychology journal World of Mystery.(5)


Notes and Sources

(1) Zohar 2: 151b and 3:168a.

(2) Bereshit Rabbah 1.

(3) In his commentary on Safra DiTzniuta (a part of the Zohar), chapter 5.

(4) Genesis 30:41-43.

(5) Vol. 10, pp. 31-34.


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