The first video leaked on April 23rd, 2027 and within the 24 hours over thirty million people watched it. The video quality was grainy, but you could clearly see people, dressed in unmarked military fatigues leaping over walls at least two times their height. They had no robotic attachments and were not even wearing boots, they were simply jumping over the walls like most people would jump over a bench.
The next video came exactly one week later. The picture was of the same grainy quality, but this time the people in fatigues were rapidly climbing up sheer walls of flat concrete fifty or sixty feet high. They had no ropes or hooks, and were again barefoot, but they didn’t seem to notice.
Then came the third video and the fourth videos, each one exactly week after the previous one. This time the video quality was markedly clearer. Men running alongside galloping horses. Men hurling boulders like they were baseballs. The videos were being uploaded to YouTube from an untraceable account. They broke all records for most watched videos ever. By the time the fourth video surfaced, it garnered over two billion views in twenty four hours. People couldn’t stop watching them, and every single news outlet in the world was talking about them.
Was the footage doctored? Where were these videos taken? Who was uploading them? Scientists lined up to proclaim that the footage couldn’t have been real because it was humanly impossible to perform any of those feats. Video and imaging authorities from universities spent hours poring over every millisecond of the videos looking for irregularities or other signatures of CGI (computer generated graphics) but they couldn’t find any. They proclaimed with certainty that the videos were real.
Conspiracy theorists were having a field day, appearing on talk shows with convictions of an alien race living among us. Roboticists were certain that the people in the videos were actually advanced humanlike android robots. Religious leaders from dozens of religions were either proclaiming the characters as demons or angels, here to destroy the world or here to save it from itself. Three days after the fourth video emerged, conversations about the videos were taking up half of all media time worldwide.
Panicked people began stocking up on food and other emergency rations, and soon supermarkets and home supply stores were bare, with lines stretching for blocks. Violence broke out as desperate people began using guns, knives, and axes to hold up homeowners for cases of water, canned goods or other essentials. Financial markets began to plummet as tens of millions began to pull out their money to buy gold, diamonds, bitcoin, and anything else they could hold onto in this time of uncertainty.
By May 23rd, one month after the first video, an announcement came from the White House that President Michael Winston would have a press conference in the South Lawn explaining the videos. Thousands of journalists filled the lawn, Secret Service agents were swarming the grounds, and National Guard troops stood shoulder to shoulder around the perimeter of the White House, as the most watched presidential address in history began.
The president stepped out of the White House flanked by a highly decorated man in uniform, and a man in a lab coat. Within seconds, news outlets identified the soldier as General Thomas Graydon, commander of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the five billion dollar a year laboratory tasked with using experimental advanced science to better protect the United States. But no one could identify the man in the lab coat.
The guessing game did not last long, as the President stood at the podium and made one of the shortest addresses of his career. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Anil Parkani. Dr. Parkani is responsible for the people you have all seen in the videos, part of a secret program the US has been developing for the past two decades. It was not our intention to release details of the program, precisely to avoid the panic occurring right now. The videos were released by hackers, so we will now address what you saw. I’d like to call upon Dr. Parkani to explain further.” He then stepped back and allowed Dr. Anil to approach the podium.
In a halting voice, Dr. Parkani began, “Ladies and gentlemen, the videos you have seen depict soldiers who are part of a DARPA project known as Project AHAB, the project developing Advanced Human-Animal Bodies. We all know that animals have incredible strengths humans never developed. Geckoes can walk across the ceiling of your dining room as if gravity doesn’t affect them. The rhinoceros beetle can lift items 850 times their body weight. Cheetahs can run over 70 mph. The lowly flea can jump twenty six times its height in a single leap. Animals have physical capabilities humans only dreamed of.
Project AHAB has made those dreams a reality. Thanks to advances in genome sequencing and CRISPR gene splicing, we have been able to alter the DNA of the brave soldiers in an experimental study being conducted at a secret army base. Human DNA is a double helix, a spiral ladder with over 3 billion base pairs. But humans are already 95% genetically identical to the zebra and 98% identical to the chimpanzee. We don’t need to change a large percentage of the DNA to add animal functionality to the human being because we begin life so similar.
We have been able to splice the genes responsible for animal superiority into human beings. Each group of soldiers you saw in the leaked videos was given a fraction of one animal’s genetic codes, but specifically the genes that code for some physical advantage; vertical leap, speed, muscular density and strength, and the nano hairs geckos use as Velcro to attach themselves to ceilings.
The experiments are still in early stages, and many more years of research are going to be needed. However we are confident that Project AHAB will not only advance the physical condition of soldiers in the battlefield, but also the physical condition of billions of human beings who will one day have better immune systems, better vision and hearing, stronger bodies, and more disease resistance.
We beg for your patience, attempting to replicate this decades-long project in a lab that is not properly equipped will have catastrophic results. As soon as we have more concrete results, we will share them with every nation around the globe. Project AHAB is not just here to benefit the US, but indeed every one of the eight billion people on this planet. Project AHAB is the greatest experiment of species manipulation mankind has ever undertaken, and one day soon it will change homo sapiens to homo superioris. Thank you.”
Next week will be Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a strange day. We go into shul for Kol Nidre just before sundown, and by nightfall of the next day, just 25 hours later, we come out of Yom Kippur with a clean slate? How does that work? How does Yom Kippur wipe away a year full of grime from my soul?
If I beat my chest on Yom Kippur and say “I’m sorry for eating lots of bacon this year,” does that make the bacon I ate disappear from history? If for decades I ignored the voice inside that told me to make my Shabbos a more holy time, how does a simple “I’m sorry,” even everything out? How can there ever be forgiveness for someone who influenced a large group of people to be involved in negative behaviors, to cause a community to descend into infighting and divisiveness? There is often no way to put the genie back in the bottle, too many people have been affected and the person who started it all doesn’t even know half of them! How can one ever be forgiven for murder, there is nothing that can bring the victim back to life?
The Sages teach us that generally for sins committed between man and fellow man, G-d cannot forgive us, we need to go to the other person and beg forgiveness, but what if the other person is no longer alive? What if it was a stranger who passed through town and I have no way of locating him? How can one ever be forgiven for murder, there is nothing that can bring the victim back to life? Our Sages tell us that one can achieve atonement even for those sins! It sounds like Yom Kippur is a magical day that wipes everything clean, but Judaism is logical religion and there has to be some way to understand the role of Yom Kippur.
In many of the commentaries that talk about the process of Teshuva, the process of returning to G-d and returning to our G-dly selves, we see a common theme. The idea is that through sincere repentance we become a new person, a different person. Maimonides says this explicitly in the Laws of Repentance (2:4), “From the ways of Teshuva is that the pentinent cried out continually before G-d with cries and supplication, and does charity according to his abilities, and stays far from the thing with which he sinned and changes his name, as if to say I am someone else, I am not the man who did those acts.”
Rabbi Yonah of Gernodi, a great thirteenth century Jewish philosopher and ethicist echoes those sentiments, (Gates of Repentance 1:1), “On that day, he will throw off all the inequities that he has done, and he should make himself as if on that day he was born, and he doesn’t have in his hand neither merits nor demerits, and this day is the beginning of his actions.” It seems that the secret of repentance is not that we can change the actions of the past, but rather that we can change ourselves into a different person than the one who did them. If we are truly a new person, we cannot be prosecuted for the actions that “other person” did.
The process of repentance is a process of changing ourselves into a new person, a more G-dly person that our previous persona. This can sound daunting. How do I change my entire self into a different person? It doesn’t sound reasonable or even healthy that in one day I should change everything about myself, and become a totally new person?
Thankfully, we can use science to understand that dilemma. Genetics have taught us that when you look at two specimens of DNA that are 98% genetically identical, you are actually looking at not just two different people but two totally different species. When you look at two different human beings, they are actually 99.5% similar. Only one half of one percent makes the difference between two different human beings. It is not that hard to change who we are. We just need to splice in a few small changes and we become a totally different person person. If we can just splice into our DNA makeup, a bit of the way Jake keeps Shabbos, or a bit of the way Emily never speaks gossip, we can become an entirely different person, with entirely new strengths.
That does not mean it’s easy either. Our DNA is identical throughout our body, so when we try to make subtle changes to who we are, they need to be consistent throughout every fiber of our being. The changes we try to take on can’t be a change we make for the first week after Yom Kippur, and then give up and revert back to our old DNA makeup.
If on Yom Kippur someone makes a small but thorough commitment to change in the coming year, they can morph into a new human being. It can be a commitment to give up just shrimp, to read two pages a day from a Torah book, to never shave again on Shabbos, to never speak gossip from 9:00-9:30pm, to make one blessing a day with full Kavanna –full intent, or any one of hundreds of other commitments to change who we are to a version closer to who we want to be. It doesn’t mean that we need to go from Sam 1.0 to Sam 6.13, it can be as simple as going from Sam 1.0 to Sam 1.1. We still come out of Yom Kippur an entirely changed person. And our slate is clean because Sam 1.1 has no history. No merits, no demerits, it’s as if on Yom Kippur he is born and on that day he starts afresh.
This Yom Kippur, let’s spend some time contemplating what strengths and traits we can splice into our persona, changing ourselves from homo sapiens to homo superioris.
Parsha Dvar Torah
The Dvar Torah this week comes from Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky’s wonderful piece on Torah.org
Parshas Vayelech has Moshe handing the reign of power to his beloved disciple Yehoshua, who now will grasp hold of the destiny of the Children of Israel. Moshe does not leave him without first guiding him through the difficult mission of leadership. At the end of Parshas Vayelech, (Deuteronomy 31:7), “Moshe summoned Yehoshua and said to him before the eyes of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous and do not be broken before them, for Hashem your G-d — it is he who goes before you.'”
The Torah does not specify what “strong and courageous” actually means. I conjured my own visions of how to be strong and courageous when dealing with a “stiff-necked” nation. It entailed exacting demands and rigid regulations. The Medrash, however, offers a totally diametric explanation.
The Yalkut Shimoni, a compendium of Midrashim compiled in the Middle Ages, discusses a verse in Hoshea. “Israel is but a beloved lad and in Egypt I had called them my child.” It quotes the verse in Deuteronomy 31:7, and explains the words “strong and courageous.” Moshe explained to Joshua, “this nation that I am giving you is still young kids. They are still young lads. Do not be harsh with them. Even their Creator has called them children, as it is written, (Hoshea 11:1) “Israel is but a beloved lad.”
Can the Midrash find no better words to translate the phrase telling Joshua to “be strong and courageous” other than be patience and understanding? In which way does forbearance show strength? How does courage translate as tolerance?
In the years of World War I, a young student who was fleeing the war-ravaged city of Slabodka sought refuge in Tiktin, a village near Lomza, Poland. A prodigious Torah scholar, he compensated for room and board by becoming a simple cheder teacher. He gave his lecture in a small schoolhouse, but the townsfolk were quite suspicious. There were no shouts from inside the one-room schoolhouse as it was with other teachers; the boys seemed to be listening. Rumor had it that the young man even let the children play outside for ten minutes each day in the middle of the learning session.
They decided to investigate. They interrupted his class one morning and were shocked. The kanchik (whip) used by every cheder-Rebbe was lying on the floor near the trash bin. Upon interrogating the children the parents learned that this radical educator never used it.
Outraged, the townsfolk decided to call a meeting with their Rabbi to discuss the gravity of the situation. Who knows what ideas a teacher who would not use the kanchik was imbuing in our children? They worried.
The local Rabbi pointed to a picture of Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Spector, the leader of Lithuanian Jewry. “Do you see that picture of the Kovno Tzadik?” He asked the townsfolk. “One day thousands of homes across the world will have this young man’s picture hanging on their walls.”
The elderly Rabbi was right. The young man became the leader of a generation, teacher of thousands and dean of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. It was the beginning of, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky’s career in education.
Moshe, the guide and architect of Jewish leadership, was empowering his disciple with a message of guidance. The words “be strong and courageous” embodied leadership of love and understanding. One can not talk of forbearance and patience without talking of strength and courage. But more important: one can not show true strength and courage if he is not patient and understanding.
The Parsha Summary this week was taken from Chabad.org
General Overview: This week’s reading, Vayelech, recounts the events of the final day of Moses’ terrestrial life. Moses transferred leadership to Joshua and wrote a Torah scroll which he handed over to the Levites. Moses commanded the Israelites to gather following every Sabbatical year, and informed them of the suffering which will be their lot when they will abandon the laws of the Torah.
Moses addressed the people, saying that he is 120 years of age on that day, and he is not permitted to cross the Jordan River together with them. Instead, Joshua will lead them, and G‑d will go before them and destroy their enemies.
Moses continued his talk: G‑d will vanquish the inhabitants of Canaan as He did the Emorites and Bashanites. Moses enjoined the Israelites to be strong and not fear their enemies.
Moses summoned Joshua and told him to be strong and courageous, for G‑d will be going before him and will not forsake him. Moses then wrote the entire Torah and gave it to the Kohnaim (priests) and the Israelite elders.
Moses gives the commandment of Hakhel (assembly), whereby every seven years, during the holiday of Sukkot which follows the Sabbatical year, all men, women, and children assemble and the king publicly reads sections of the Torah.
G‑d commanded Moses to enter the Tabernacle together with Joshua. G‑d appeared to them both and informed them that a time will come when the Israelites will abandon G‑d and stray after alien gods. At that time, G‑d will hide His countenance from the nation, and they will be subjected to much evils and troubles. Therefore, G‑d says, “Write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness…” This ‘song’ is narrated in next week’s Torah reading.
When G‑d’s wrath will find the Israelites as a consequence of their evil actions, they will claim that the misfortunes are befalling them because G‑d has abandoned them. At that time, the song which Moses and Joshua wrote will bear testimony that these events are in fact punishment for their sinful behavior.
Moses took the freshly concluded Torah scroll and gave it to the Levites. He instructed them to place it beside the Ark which contained the Tablets. Moses then gathered the entire nation to hear the song, wherein he would call upon the heavens and earth to be witnesses that the Israelites were forewarned regarding their fate.
Quote of the week: He who begins too much accomplishes little. – Samuel Fremont
Random Fact of the Week: There are 293 different ways to make change for a dollar.
Funny Line of the Week: I imagine if you knew Morse Code, tap dancing would drive you crazy!
Have a Pure Shabbos and Yom Kippur,
R’ Leiby Burnham