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Shaping the Brain
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

Scientists at the Cold Spring Harbor laboratory have developed a new type of microscope that allows them to peer directly into a working brain. Using a custom-built optical imaging laser microscope, they achieved a resolution over a thousand times greater than an MRI.

Their research uncovered some surprising phenomena.  They found that the neurons in the brain actually grow as a creature learns and experiences the world through vision, hearing, smell or touch.  They conducted research with mice, which use their whiskers to gain information about their surroundings.  The scientists, peering into the mouse's brain with an optical imaging microscope, could observe the neurons forming protrusions, making connections with other neurons.  When the scientists trimmed the mouse's whiskers, thus limiting its ability to experience the world through feel, the motility of the protrusions decreased and the function of the brain region that processed sensory information was dramatically disturbed.

It had long been assumed that the brain's development ceased once it was fully-grown.  However, the research proved that as long as the mind is continually stimulated, the neurons continuously form new synapses, well into adulthood.

This finding concurs with the traditional Jewish principle that we should constantly engage our minds in Torah.  Intense study has a salutary effect on the brain and aids in its development, and is effective at any age. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the importance of diligence in Torah study using the analogy of a businessman, who is not content with yesterday's profits and always seeks out ways and means to earn more.  In the same way, we should constantly try to study Torah with greater effort and energy, and never be satisfied with yesterday's accomplishments. 

This behavior helps to maintain a high level of mental functioning, which ensures constant intellectual development.  Even more so, Torah study adds to a person's life and energy, since it attaches a Jew to G-d, the Giver of the Torah.

In our generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe has taught a new, inner dimension of Torah that had heretofore never been revealed. The Rebbe reached deeply into his well of insight in Torah to provide us with a fresh approach to study, one that was both intensely analytical and eminently practical. One of the Rebbe's most recent directives to us was to increase in Torah study, particularly on topics of Moshiach and redemption. Studying the Torah of Moshiach refreshes the mind and is the most direct and easiest way to bring us towards redemption.

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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