For the week ending 15 January 2022 / 13 Shvat 5782

Parashat Beshalach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Pharaoh finally sends the Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. With pillars of cloud and fire, Hashem leads them toward Eretz Yisrael on a circuitous route, avoiding the Pelishtim (Philistines). Pharaoh regrets the loss of so many slaves, and chases after the Jews with his army. The Jews are very afraid as the Egyptians draw close, but Hashem protects them. Moshe raises his staff, and Hashem splits the sea, enabling the Jews to cross safely. Pharaoh, his heart hardened by Hashem, commands his army to pursue, whereupon the waters crash down upon the Egyptian army. Moshe and Miriam lead the men and women, respectively, in a song of thanks.

After three days of travel, only to find bitter waters at Marah, the people complain. Moshe miraculously produces potable water. In Marah they receive certain mitzvahs. The people complain that they ate better food in Egypt. Hashem sends quail for meat and provides manna, miraculous bread that falls from the sky every day except Shabbat. On Friday, a double portion descends to supply the Shabbat needs. No one is able to obtain more than his daily portion, but manna collected on Friday suffices for two days so the Jews can rest on Shabbat. Some manna is set aside as a memorial for future generations.

When the Jews again complain about a lack of water, Moshe miraculously produces water from a rock. Then Amalek attacks. Joshua leads the Jews in battle, and Moshe prays for their welfare.


Playing G-d?

“…for I, Hashem, am your Healer.” (15:26)

Today, many religious groups routinely reject some or all mainstream health care on theological grounds, including Christian Scientists, Jehovah Witnesses, Amish, and Scientologists. Somewhere along the line, in some people’s minds Judaism got lumped together with these groups.

The current debate about gene-editing technologies that have the potential to cure a vast array of genetic diseases including Tay-Sachs, Fragile X, cystic fibrosis, different forms of cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and auto-immune diseases show that, in point of fact, Judaism is more ‘lenient’ than many secular views.

The ethical issue of applying this technology to a fertilized egg highlights a fundamental difference between the secular and halachic perspectives. Secular bioethicists have expressed concern about, and opposition to, the tampering by scientific research with evolutionary processes. In the view of halacha, there is no ‘magic’ evolutionary process that must not be tampered with. Human beings serve as partners with Hashem in the creation process (but do not have absolute autonomy in utilizing medical interventions). Moreover, these bioethicists do not favor medical procedures that “violate” the autonomous rights of the child. Halacha, by contrast, emphasizes the need to improve health care as a vital factor in allowing gene editing technologies to be performed on the fertilized egg or fetus, and views the development of gene editing as a positive activity by humans as partners in the creation process.

In the Jewish community, many potential shidduchim fail to materialize when genetic testing reveals that both parties are carriers for Tay-Sachs, cystic fibrosis or other recessive-linked genetic diseases. If gene-editing procedures are proven to be safe, these couples could now choose to get married and have healthy children by applying these biotechnologies to their in vitro–generated embryos. “Dor Yesharim” and other gene testing services may happily become a footnote in Jewish history.

  • Sources: Tampering with the Genetic Code of Life: Comparing Secular and Halakhic Ethical Concerns, By John D. Loike and Moshe D. Tendler (HĚŁakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought)

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