<I>Bo</I>: Moses and the Human Genome Project

Man is sui generis, a totally separate species.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
"'And Moses took leave of Pharaoh in anger'; he slapped him on his face and walked out (Talmud Zevachim, 102a, referring to Shmot 11:8)."

In light of President George Bush's trip to Israel and MK Avigdor Lieberman's promise to
It is instructive to see how Moshe Rabbeinu acted in one of his last encounters with the leader of the civilized world.
behave like a good boy for the next few days, it is instructive to see how Moshe Rabbeinu acted in one of his last encounters with the leader of the civilized world. Of course, I'm not advocating a slap. Actually, the Aznayim L'Torah says it was only a figurative slap, in that Moshe merely omitted some of his usual deference to the king. As Rashi points out, "Moses usually gave honor to the king," but this time in leaving, Moses didn't bless Pharaoh, nor ask for permission to exit.

Despite Rabbi Yochanan's opinion in the Gemara Zevachim, that Moshe was to take a firm stand against Pharaoh, and speak defiantly (yet with respect), a slap does seem a bit out of character for the man described as "the most humble on the face of the earth." (Bamidbar 12:3) - especially a man raised in the palace and used to royal manners.

A slap is certainly the opposite of modern, Christian turning the other cheek. And this begs an even greater question: How is it that Moses was not given the "Jesus treatment"? How is it that the Jewish religion did not turn Moses, who performed the feat of being the redeemer, into a god? The answer, I believe, underlies the fundamental difference between Christianity and Judaism, which is an overlooked principle of the Exodus.

The answer lies in Moses' Jewish DNA. And in the Human Genome Project.

In 2006, Dr. Francis Collins wrote a book, The Language of God, in which he describes his experience as the head of the Human Genome Project in light of the fact that he is also a believing Christian. The Project, six years earlier, had chemically worked out the genetic code of all 48 human chromosomes, comprising three billion base pairs. This was quite a feat. But a feat of equal importance is Collins' belief in God, and in the ultimate harmony between science and religion. Despite the attacks of atheistic scientists, Dr. Collins believes not only in God the Creator, but also God who is close to man. All this is well and good, but he also believes in what he calls "theistic evolution," or BioLogos (Biology along with the Word of God). And despite the fact that he asserts that even Maimonides would agree with theistic evolution, I'm afraid that there he is in error.

"Theistic evolution" is a theory that God created the universe and set in motion the evolutionary process that would ultimately result in the appearance of physical man. Even though, to us mortals, evolution seems chaotic and haphazard, Collins believes that the Omnipotent Almighty knew from the beginning that evolution would lead to humans; i.e., intelligent mammals, and not intelligent birds or reptiles. To its credit, "theistic evolution" also declares that the spirit of man was an infusion of a Godly soul into man. But its the first part of the equation, the evolution of man's physical body from lower life forms, that stands in direct opposition to Judaism and to Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus (but not to Christian belief).

Dr. Collins brings a brief summary of evolution. To make his story even shorter: simpler life forms evolved, through responses to the stresses of the environment, to more complex forms. The main proofs to this come from the Human Genome Project. Man not only shares basic anatomic features with lower life forms, but even has DNA in common with them. Every species has both functioning DNA and DNA that seems to do nothing, not coding for anything (so-called "junk DNA"). Man shares not only 100% of his DNA that codes for proteins with the chimp, but also 98% of his non-functioning DNA is identical to the chimp's. The numbers for the dog are even more enlightening, being 99% and 52%;
To us mortals, evolution seems chaotic and haphazard.
for the fruit fly, 60% and 0%.
The evolutionary argument goes like this: if humans evolved from fruit flies and dogs, gradually changing over billions of years, then I could understand why we share DNA with them. "But if humans arose as a consequence of a supernatural act of special creation, why would God have gone to the trouble of inserting such nonfunctional, junk genes in our DNA, and in precisely the same location and order as in these lower species?" (The Language of God, page 139)

To his credit, Dr. Collins notes man's natural pride (and, fitting with Collins' Christianity, "sinfulness"), which stands in the way of belief. I think that he overlooks his own residual pride when he asks, "Why would God...", and then assumes that there is no answer. God may have an answer, even if I don't. Furthermore, the question, "Why do junk genes exist," is one worthy of further scientific examination, but not a reason to throw out what we Jews call b'riah yesh m'ayin ("something from nothing"), or chidush haolam.

Judaism asserts that, aside for the Earth from which he was fashioned, Man is sui generis, a totally separate species created by a separate act of creation, no different than the separate acts of God that created every species. This leads to the Torah's prohibitions of grafting and mixing various species with each other, and to much more.

The Kli Yakar (on Shmot 6:3; third approach) makes it clear that the difference in the approach of the Avot (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and that of Moses and Israel is that the Avot approached God the Creator, but with the Exodus, the Jews were interacting with the God of chidush, of yesh m'ayin. The Ten Plagues were necessary to show that, since God created the world from nothing, and can continue to do so at His will (creating blood, frogs, darkness, etc., all behaving contrary to nature as we know it), He can therefore take the Jews from Egypt and is justified in giving them the Land of Israel (contrary to any complaints of theft by the world's Bushes, Rices, PLO's etc.). But it goes even deeper than this.

The Slonimer Rebbe writes (Netivot Shalom, Shmot, page 30) that Moshe Rabbeinu was the only one fit to have been God's messenger to bring the Jews out of Egypt. The Jews were sunk to the lowest spiritual level, to the "49th level of tumah (impurity)"; they were an ain, a "nothing". And just as the original creation was yesh m'ayin, so too the Jews at the Exodus, to be recreated from ain as a new being, the Nation of Israel, required an ain and an act of creation (b'riah, chidush, as in this week's hachodesh lachem, Shmot 12:2) from ain akin to the creation of the world. This could only occur by an act of God, through a servant who himself was an ain, who was "the most humble man on the face of the Earth," Moshe Rabbeinu.

And this is where Judaism and Christianity part. Dr. Collins is quite clear that sinful man cannot hope to approach a perfect God. His answer: the necessity of the intermediary of
Moshe Rabbeinu was the only one fit to have been God's messenger to bring the Jews out of Egypt.
a Man-God. But the Exodus says: No! It is specifically the sinful Man who can approach God, by himself, through no intermediaries, and be redeemed (from Egypt and from any Galut that separates Man from God) in an act of chidush. Because God did it once at the creation, and again at the Exodus, He has proven that sinful Man can recreate himself any time the sinner, alone and by himself, approaches God.

This is why the Eigel, the Golden Calf, assumed such importance shortly after leaving Egypt. The Eigel was an intermediary. In other words, the Eigel (meant to substitute for Moses) was a Yeshu, or Jesus was an Eigel. And that is why the Torah, before (Shmot 6:14-26) the first plague, makes it clear that Moses was merely a man, born by Yocheved to her human husband, Amram.

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch makes the point that Man's whole status as a moral being hinges not only on the general creation being yesh m'ayin (ex nihilo), but on the idea that Man was created in a separate act of creation, from nothing more preexisting than earth (and that earth being from the site of the altar on the Temple Mount, no less; Maharsha, Ketubot 111a). Because Man's creation was in a manner that was "above routine physicality," he can rise above materialness to the heights of worthy moral existence.

We stand today at a moral crossroads. The Pharaoh of the 21st century has landed in the land of Israel, come to impede Reishit Tzmichat Geulateinu, the first flowering of the final redemption. Only by our recognition of our status as Israel, that we were created to live here in the Holy Land and perfect her, can we reach the lofty spiritual heights for which we were born. If we recognize that all the physical obstacles (mitzrayim = meitzarim, obstacles) to our assuming our rightful place in this world are as nothing to our Lord, our Creator, and should be viewed as such by us, then we too will leave Egypt and come to the Promised Land.