Parshas Shmini includes a scientific proof that the Torah is divine. But for whom does that matter? It's only when the Torah becomes relevant in one's personal life, that one takes to heart from whence it comes.
The Ramsay Wright Zoological Institute takes up a city block of downtown Toronto, a tall, broad slab of offices, laboratories and classrooms at the heart of the University campus. On my first day of graduate school, after settling into my very own cubicle on the fourth floor, I went on to meet with Roger Hansell, the distinguished professor who was charged with supervising the development my doctoral thesis in applied ecology.
We were deep into discussion when his office door opened and in sauntered a neighboring professor from down the hall. Jacques Berger, a microbiologist, was as big a man as his subject matter was small. He had come in, it seems, to size up his buddy's new graduate student. He looked me up and down, noting my long pony tail, plaid flannel shirt and threadbare, faded blue jeans, the informal uniform of the non-conformists of the 1970's.
He must have also noticed my ethnically distinct nose for he opened the conversation with words you normally first hear from a Lubavitcher. "Are you Jewish?" he asked me.
No one had ever asked me that before. It was the last thing I expected to hear. "Yes," I replied tentatively, and just to be friendly returned the question, "Are you?"
"No, actually my background is Catholic. But I could prove to you that your Torah is of divine origin."
Why in the world, I wondered to myself, is this non-Jew trying to convince me to believe in the Torah? Back then, I didn't have a beard, kippa or tzitzis. In fact I was as secular as they get. I remember being distinctly irritated by this odd crusader. Obviously if I'm not religious I don't consider it my Torah. And if it is my Torah what business did he have meddling in it or in my beliefs? But he was twice my age and three times my size so I just said, "Oh really. How's that?"
"The fact is the Torah makes a bona fide falsifiable zoological hypothesis." Noticing that he had caught my attention Dr. Jacques continued, "You probably know that there are two traits that distinguish kosher mammals. They need to have split hooves and chew the cud. The Torah specifies that there are just four types of mammals that have only one of those two signs - the camel, the hyrax, the hare and the pig."
Now Moses lived over 3,000 years ago. All he knew was a part of the Middle East and a little corner of Africa. How many mammal species could he have possibly known? 50? 100? Vast regions of the world were completely uninhabited. He would have no knowledge whatsoever of the Americas or Australia. Even Northern Europe and the far East were quite inaccessible in his day. Yet the Torah went out of its way to claim that there are just these four types. And you know what? By now we have catalogued over 5,000 mammalian species and still no fifth kind.
How could Moses have been privy that arcane zoological fact? Obviously that text could only have been composed by One with knowledge of all the world's fauna. Now Who or What might that be?"
Having concluded his little dissertation, he paused waiting for my response. Prof. Hansell looked bemused, wondering what I would say. But all I could muster was, "That's interesting." But truth be told it wasn't interesting. The whole subject left me high and dry, basically bored. Since I wasn't really looking for G-d, it didn't really matter to me if I found Him, especially not in the Torah.
But what a gentile microbiology professor could not accomplish, a shliach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe could. A few years later, I found myself listening to Rabbi Manis Friedman address a gathering of college students about love, dating and relationships. He showed how the Torah way of life and love preserves dignity and sustains passion compared to how secular relationships basically boom and bust.
Suddenly the Torah was relevant. That's when I needed to have all the scientific questions addressed. I wanted to make sure I wasn't getting sucked in to some dumb religion or mindless cult.
Satisfied with the Truth of Torah, I went on to a lifestyle of studying and practicing it. Looking back I see that mastering the science of living beings is indeed impressive, but it's mastering the art of being alive that is truly compelling.
Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To read more or to book him for a talk, visit his website at www.arniegotfryd.com.