כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאד, “[The Torah] is very close to you” (30:14).
Rabbi Efraim Waschman tells of a Russian peasant, Yankel, a woodcutter, who had a dream that he found a king’s treasure in a hollow tree he had cut down. Early the next day, very excited, Yankel loaded up his wagon and traveled into the forest expecting to find the treasure inside of a felled tree. After a few weeks, he lost hope of finding the treasure even though he continued to dream the same dream night after night. Finally, one day, he felled a tree, and out popped the treasure from its hollow insides. Having lost hope, Yankel failed to believe that he found the treasure, but being a practical person he loaded the “dream” on his wagon and rode home. When he entered the shtetel, people crowded around his wagon marveling at the treasure and giving him advice on what to do with it. Shimon the butcher shouted, “Yankel, you’re rich!” Yankel replied, “Ach, Shimon pay no attention, it is just a dream.” The Rav ran over to Yankel saying, “Yankel, this is wonderful! We need a new Bait Midrash. We need a new Ezrat Nashim.” Yankel replied, “Ach, Rebbe, pay no mind. It’s just a dream. Do not waste your time.” When he approached his home, his wife ran out squealing, “Yankel, we will never be hungry or cold again.” Yankel said, “Rivka, I am sorry, it is just a dream. Do not waste your time.” Finally, Igor the water carrier threw his arms around Yankel shouting, “Yaakov, you are rich!” Yankel stopped. “Azoi zugt da Goy (This is what the Goy says)?! It must be true!”
For many years, science has taught that the gender of a fetus is determined at conception. Chazal teach us that the gender is determined at 40 days. A few years ago, one of the most advanced university research teams determined that the gender of a fetus is determined at 39 days. When this was brought to the attention of the Mashgiach of Lakewood, he said, “Imagine that; the scientists are off by just one day?!”
“Torah is very close”; it is accessible. Not only that, it does not require the validation of the other nations or of modern science. Every time Torah is put to the test, be that test in physics, biology, or any of the social sciences, it emerges shining. It works! To my knowledge, it is the only system that has survived intact for nearly 3,500 years. Contrast that with all other political, religious, and philosophical systems that have either disappeared or have exhibited severe shortcomings.
It is accessible to us no less than Yankel’s treasure was to him, no less than the words of Chazal are to the research labs. We live in communities blessed with Rabbeim, Shuls, Yeshivot, and lists of daily and nightly Shiurim. Within anyone’s time and budget there exist a multitude of resources of the highest quality. We forget that these things did not exist even one generation ago. We have it much easier now. Take advantage! Azoi zugt Igor!
Editors’ Note: For other ways to reconcile the words of Chazal with modern science, please see Elli Friedman’s article below.