Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Neurobiology and The Talmud

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Some things people just knew and now the New York Times corroborates what the Talmud understood millenia ago.  Daniel Goleman reports of his friend who has defied prediction of his demise for over a decade. He attributes his longevity to the fact that he was loving and as a result was also loved:

Though no one could ever prove it, I suspect that one of many ingredients in his longevity has been this flow of people who love him.

Neurologists can measure how affection and connection have a measurable impact on the well-being of the recipient. The converse is also true.  In the Talmud, it says that one who visits the sick removes one sixtieth of the illness. (Nedarim 39b) One time I was visiting an elderly rabbi with a couple of my teachers.  One of them quipped, “We’ve come to remove a 60th of your illness!”

“In that case,” he said, “You shouldn’t have come together!”

The Talmud anticipates this conclusion and teaches that one can remove a sixtieth of what remains, so that there is still something for physicians to do.

He was right about one thing though. The more time spent, the merrier. The more time alone, the worse it is.  Good thoughts, pure intentions, actually enter another person’s head.

The most significant finding was the discovery of “mirror neurons,” a widely dispersed class of brain cells that operate like neural WiFi. Mirror neurons track the emotional flow, movement and even intentions of the person we are with, and replicate this sensed state in our own brain by stirring in our brain the same areas active in the other person.

Maimonides teaches that the more visits to the sick, the better it is, as long as one does not make a bother of ones self. (Hilchot Avelim 14:4)

A sixtieth is understood to be the smallest measure that can alter a substance. One sixtieth of a forbidden food, can make a casserole unkosher. This small measure is the tipping point between something that is forbidden and something that is permitted.  Similarly, a visit to someone who is seriously ill can be the tipping point between demise and recovery.

Your visit could be the one that saves.


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