Sunday, November 1, 2009

Magic and Knowledge - excerpt from a friend's speech

The following is an excerpt from a friend of mine's speech at his son's recent Bar Mitzva.

Mazal tov to the family - I enjoyed this so much I thought I'd post part of it here.

Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction writer from the golden age of the 1950 and 60's formulated the following three laws:

1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Being a science fiction fan, that last one about technology and magic has followed me all through my life. The past few years have been full of magic. Can you imaging living at the time of Avraham. If you suffered from kidney disease, you would probably never know it, until one day, you fell ill and within a few days, died from blood poisoning. One thing about kidney disease is that it is degenerative. Past a certain point, kidneys do not heal. You don't get better.

Rav Elyashiv recently ruled that it is forbidden to pray for a deathly ill person to be healed. The problem is that are not supposed to pray for miracles. We can hope for miracles, but we have no right to beseach God to change the natural laws. We can pray that there is a mistaken diagnosis; that a cure will be found, or for the sick person to have a better quality of life. But, you cannot ask for a degenerative disease to suddenly go away.

How blessed are we to live in a time where doctors can identify kidney disease, and can retard the progress of the disease. This would have been magical only 100 years ago, not to mention how foreign the concept of a diagnosis would have been at the time of Noach or Avraham.

Can you imaging explaining to an Egyptian that this team of people all dressed up in masks and gloves were going to remove a piece of a living person (without killing them), and then they would put that piece into someone else; the end result being two healthy people. Is there anything more magical or mystical?

The fact that we understand something about medicine and science does not preclude God's existence. The Rambam might say that God has blessed our whole generation with knowledge that extends our lives and treats our illnesses. The timing is the miracle. It came at just the right time to save .... Modern medication is miraculous. Like prayer, I don't need to know how it works, only that somehow, it does. Perhaps it is a placebo effect, perhaps is does something chemical, but whatever the scientific explanation, it looks like magic to me.

I want to thank God and the people in this room for all the miraculous events that have impacted us these past few years. In this room, we have social workers who can help alleviate pain and suffering; engineers, scientists, and educated professionals who know and understand things that would be clearly miraculous if you could take that knowledge back to the time of the bible. Being able to gather this knowledge, even for a family event would have taken months of travel and severe hardship during the time of the gemara.

To you, my friends and family, I say, Y'asher Koach. May you continue to be strong, to spread your knowledge and to use it for God's purposes.

To Hillel, I say, learn from these people. Knowledge is power to change the world for you and for others. Collect this knowledge. Never forget how lucky you are to live in times such as these. Don't waste that opportunity by treating it all like someone else’s magic.


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