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Growing a Spine
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

Any injury to the spinal cord can cause damage to the body from the point of injury and below it. If the injury is not severe, some sensation or movement might still be possible. If the spinal cord is severed completely, G-d forbid, the result is complete paralysis.

Research is underway to treat spinal cord injuries with stem cells. Unlike adult nerve cells, which are unable to regrow, stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can be stimulated to grow into any type of cell in the body. Preliminary research has shown that stem cells implanted into a damaged spinal cord can grow into axons and restore the damaged parts of the nervous system. However, research at this point is very rudimentary and a complete cure is still far off.

It is explained in the teachings of Chassidism that all of us suffer from a spiritual separation between the head, the seat of the Divine soul, and the body. Even when we understand in our minds and have a desire to fulfill the word of G-d, our physical side does not necessarily agree. It does not feel any enthusiasm for doing the mitzvah, and without this feeling of excitement, it is difficult to perform G-d’s will.

In Chassidic terms, this state is called “Mitzrayim,” or barriers. Just like the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, we are still enslaved by these spiritual barriers that prevent us from fully experiencing G-dliness. We are “paralyzed,” in a sense, cut off from awareness of the Divine.

Will we remain in the grip of this spiritual paralysis forever, G-d forbid? Will we forever remain enslaved to “Pharaoh,” performing hard labor for every spiritual breath we take?

When our forefathers in Egypt found themselves in this situation, there was only one thing for them to do: They called out to G-d to send the redeemer. Moses appeared first, he raised their downtrodden spirits but then withdrew. Later, he reappeared and led the Jewish people out of Egypt.

The same is true of our situation. In every generation, the Jewish people are led by a tzadik, who serves as the spiritual head of the Jewish people. Our connection to the tzadik is like the spinal cord which delivers the impulses from the brain to the body. We must call out to G-d to send us Moshiach, as is written in the prophet Hoshea: “And they sought out their G-d and David their king.” We must cry out to G-d that we cannot bear to remain in exile. Surely our outcry will lead to the revelation of Moshiach, at which point the “spine” of the Jewish people will regenerate. We will be freed of our spiritual paralysis and will be able to experience a full awareness of G-d, with the true and complete redemption.

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



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