Ladies and Gentleman

We’re going to do something a little bit different this week. I hope to write a children’s book soon, and I’m going to give you not just a sneak preview, but rather a very rough draft of the whole book! (Sans illustrations… Please grace the text with vibrant colorful illustrations, as that is what it will have, and must have!) It is similar to a Magic School bus book, but with a religious twist. (While the concept is similar, I haven’t read a magic school bus story in probably two decades, and I did all the research myself- thank G-d for the internet!) I’d love to hear your thoughts; so feel free to email me back with comments, suggestions for the title, and your overall impression of the material! It is a bit long, at 3,061 words but it is aimed to be a book for 5th-8th graders, so it has to have some meat and potatoes. Without further ado, here we go:

In the background, Dov could hear his sixth grade teacher, Rabbi Offenbachen, talking excitedly about the Splitting of the Sea. It was that time of the year again, and Dov calculated that he had learned about it at least nine times since nursery. Sure, it sounded quite amazing, but Dov was really ready for some new miracles. Never one to hold much in, Dov’s arm shot up, his hand waving impatiently at the end of it.

“Dov?” his Rebbi called out, “What’s bothering you?”

“Rebbi, why don’t we have miracles anymore? If I was there when the sea split, I’m pretty sure I would be the best Jew, but I didn’t see it! It’s not fair!” The rest of the class perked up, smiles lit up on the faces of most of the boys, and Rabbi Offenbachen paused for what must have been twenty seconds or more. He was really wrestling with something, which was strange for Rabbi Offenbachen, the one man who seemed to know the answer for everything and anything.

After what seemed like an eternity, Rabbi Offenbachen addressed the class in a quiet voice, “Boys, Dov is asking a very good question, and today we will see miracles. Anyone who wants to see them, stick around after class.” A stunned silence descended on the classroom, this was an offer they didn’t get often. At 11:05 the recess bell rang, but no one ran out the door. Instead, all 14 boys gathered around Rabbi Offenbachen’s desk.

Rabbi Offenbachen didn’t seem to notice; he was striding purposely toward the cage that held the class pet, a gerbil affectionately known as Gerby. He lifted Gerby’s cage off the shelf and softly put him down  in a small box on his desk.

“Gentleman,” he addressed the curious and excited class, “today we are going to visit a cell in Gerby’s body. It will be a pretty standard cell, you all have about 28 trillion of them in your body right now[1], but I can assure you that what you will see today is quite miraculous. Dov, my only request is that you remember to be the best Jew after what you see today, because it will make the Splitting of the Sea seem pretty simple in comparison!”

Rabbi Offenbachen then reached into the voluminous wheeled carry-on he always brought to class, and produced a machine none of the boys had ever seen before. Colorful wires snaked around it in a chaotic mess, gauges and dials popped out of the body haphazardly, the front end looked like a syringe from the doctor’s office and the back end was a shiny metallic funnel. Rabbi Offenbachen pulled an electric cord from the base of the contraption, and plugged it into the wall, and the whole room dimmed for a second, as sparks shot from the electric outlet and the contraption came alive. LED readouts spun numbers and letters wildly, the gauges started spinning at various speeds and the funnel began vibrating loudly.

“Boys, you may not know this, but I have a passion for quantum physics. For years, I have been working in my basement lab on this machine, the Offenbachen Nanomizer. It will make us all about 100 nanometers tall, so tiny that 1,000 of us could fit in the width of on human hair! We will enter the funnel on one end, and come out in an aqueous solution on the other side which will be inserted into Gerby’s bloodstream. Are you guys ready? Would anyone rather go outside and play softball?”

No one moved toward the door, and after a quick pause, Rabbi Offenbachen instructed the group to line up behind the funnel, and simply walk into it. “I know it seems frightening, so I will go first, and whoever wants to follow me, just walk confidently into the funnel.”

Rabbi Offenbachen calmly walked toward the funnel. The funnel cackled with static electricity, the gauges went nuts, and Rabbi Offenbachen got smaller the closer he got, eventually disappearing into the machine! The boys looked at each other nervously, no one ready to make the first move. Finally Nachshon Davidowitz mustered the courage to walk into the machine, and he was slowly followed by the rest of the class.

The machine whirred and groaned, and then rapidly dipped toward Gerby, the syringe piercing Gerby’s skin for a second, and then rising again.

The sixth grade found themselves in a huge doughnut shaped room, zooming through a tube, rounding bends at a dizzying pace. “Boys, we are now in a pocket of oxygen attached to hemoglobin, a molecule that carries oxygen in red blood cells! We will soon be dropped off in a tiny blood vessel called a capillary, where I hope some cell will let us in!”

After a few seconds of zooming through the capillary at 3 feet per second, the class tumbled out into the capillary and stood facing a sealed wall. “This is the cell wall,” intoned Rabbi Offenbachen, “while only a few nanometers thick, the cell wall is like the Great Wall of China, keeping harmful invading molecules out of the cell, and only allowing in things that are beneficial to the cell. It also pumps liquids in and out of the cell, to keep the salt concentrations and pH levels of acidity in the cell perfectly balanced[2]. We are in a pocket of oxygen, which the cell needs so it will allow us in.”

The wall parted way, and the boys found themselves in a rapidly moving gel, circulating a giant round room filled with dozens of structures of various shapes and sizes. “We are now in the cell, and we are riding around it in the cytoplasm, a gel made up of 70% water. This gel moves around the cell, making sure everything gets where it needs to go. Consider it the highway of the cell. In it are many organelles, which are the structures you see everywhere, each with its own function. Ha-shem in His infinite wisdom is able to create a whole city in each cell, even though cells are so small that 28 trillion of them are in your body!”

Suddenly a huge sac bore down on the group, “Everybody duck!” shouted Rabbi Offenbachen! He really didn’t need to say anything, because everyone had already thrown themselves down on the floor of their oxygen molecule, and the sac quietly slipped away. “My friends, you just saw the 18-wheeler of the human cell. There are many structures in the cell whose primary functions are to transport things around the cell. They are called vesicles. If the cytoplasm is the highway of the cell, the vesicles are the vehicles. That one was a vacuole, and it is the largest of them, but there are plenty of smaller ones such as lysosomes, and transport or secretory vesicles. Imagine those as the sedans on the cytoplasmic highway.”

“The vesicles form themselves by simply pinching themselves off of other organelles. If you could imagine a car factory that just pinched out cars from the factory walls whenever one was ordered, that is what a vesicle is. Mankind can create some amazing machines, but the ones that Ha-shem created are far more complex than anything a human ever created!”

“But Rebbi,” said Shloimy Braun, “What do the vesicle trucks do?”

Rabbi Offenbachen looked at Shloimy with a smile, “I was hoping someone would ask that. The job of these vesicles is to transport food like refrigerator trucks, move proteins around the cell like cargo trucks, and transport waste materials or excess water out of the cell wall like tanker trucks. Imagine what a sophisticated transportation system Ha-shem gave us in each of our cells! But we’re not done yet, let’s go to one of my favorite buildings, the mitochondria…”

The boys made their way over to a long tubular structure. Upon entry, (it had its own wall they had to get through) they saw squiggly rooms stretching out in both directions across the entire interior of the structure. “Boys, I can’t tell you how energizing it is to be in this room! The mitochondria does so much, but because we have limited time here, we are going to only visit one part of this building. It is often called the “Powerhouse of the Cell,” because here the batteries of the cell are recharged.”

“You entire body needs energy to do everything from raise your hand in class, think, breathe, and play softball. The majority of that energy is stored in special batteries known as ATP. When the batteries are depleted, they come back here to the mitochondrion in a form known as ADP or AMP. Not only does the mitochondrion calculate how much energy is available in the cell, it also refills those depleted batteries and ships them out as fully energized ATP!”

Chaim, usually the slowest moving person in the class, brightened at the thought of fully energized anything! “Rebbi, what does the mitofactory use to fill the ATP with energy?”

“The mitochondria use 1 simple sugar molecule and oxygen as the ingredients in an amazing process that produces 36 ATP batteries,” replied Rabbi Offenbachen. “This simple sugar is not like a lollipop, it  can be made from anything we eat, from cholent, apples, and orange juice, to ice cream, pizza, or sardines! But that happens in a different part of the body, and we will have to go on another field trip to learn about that!”

“The mitochondria takes the simple sugar and oxygen, and produces energy, but there are also waste products, carbon dioxide and water. They get removed from the cell in those trucks and cars we just saw outside.” The boys stood in awed silence as the factory buzzed around them, watching thousands of fully energized ATP coming off the assembly line every second. Rabbi Offenbachen had to drag them out of the mitochondrion, “C’mon guys, there is so much more to see!”

Back on the cytoplasm highway, Rabbi Offenbachen turned to his students, “Boys, our next stop will take us to the part of the cell that makes you who you are. It is known as the nucleus, and it is so critical that Ha-shem gave it a double wall called the nuclear envelope that doesn’t allow large particles in unless they are brought in with a security detail known as carrier proteins. Let’s see if we can hitch a ride into the nuclear envelope.”

Rabbi Offenbachen stood for a few moments with his brow furrowed, until he spotted a large brown mass moving slowly toward the green wall of the nucleus. “Everybody, grab onto that protein carrier!” The boys grabbed the squishy mass and floated right up to the nuclear envelope, which opened up just enough for everyone to get it. Inside there was a massive garbled clump of writhing tubing, pulsating back and forth.

“Uchh…” said Yitzy Weiner, “that looks like leftover cholent bubbling in the crock pot!”

“There my boys,” said Rabbi Offenbachen, “is the genome of Gerby! A genome is like a map of every physical detail of your body. It is what determined what color hair he would have, how fast and big he would grow, how likely he is to get various illnesses, what color his eyes would be, and just about every other detail of his life.”

“It is also known as DNA. In a human cell, the proteins of the DNA are arranged in 23 strands known as chromosomes. They are shaped like a twisted ladder, and each strand contains between 500,000 and 2,500,000 rungs. If you were to take all the DNA out of your body, and lay it out in a single file strand it would stretch from earth to the sun and back at least four times!”

“Yes, my boys, you are so physically complex it is almost impossible to comprehend! Even scientists have only discovered what 1.5% of the genome does, but every year more secrets of the DNA are unlocked and scientists learn how to heal illness and disease based on their rapidly expanding understanding of the human genome. Huge parts of the DNA that scientists previously thought were not important to human functioning are constantly being discovered as playing vital roles in our health and well-being. There are so many secrets to our body that only Ha-shem knows, but us humans who He created in His image, are able to discover more of His secrets, the more we use the intellect He imbued us with!”

Rabbi Offenbachen now pointed to a large globe in the middle of the nucleus. “That my boys is the nucleolus.  The main function of the nucleolus is to produce ribosomes. Ribosomes are factories that produce proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of all life. We’ll talk more about that in a moment, but just stop and watch a factory that builds factories for a moment…” Sure enough, as the boys watched little round dots were streaming out of the nucleolus. As soon as they came out, they were picked up by carrier proteins and brought out of the nucleus.

“The ribosomes don’t produce anything in the nucleus, they are first transported to a massive industrial zone known as the endoplasmic reticulum. Let’s follow one of them out and see what happens.” Rabbi Offenbachen grabbed onto a carrier protein that had a ribosome tucked into its underbelly, the boys followed and soon found themselves in a huge area filled with thousands of “streets” each containing hundreds of ribosomes.

“Here we are in the endoplasmic reticulum, the industrial zone of the body. There are as many as 10,000,000 ribosome factories in the each cell[3], which means that each of you has about 280,000,000,000,000,000,0000 ribosomes in your body! If every ribosome in your body was the size of a baseball, those baseballs would be able to fill 56 earths[4]!”

“But Rebbi, Rebbi,” called out Chaim Veinberg, “What do the ribosome factory make?”

“Ribosomes” explained Rabbi Offenbachen, “make proteins out of chains of amino acid molecules. Proteins control and regulate almost every function of our body, from our temperature and growth, to digestion, memory, and thinking. Each protein has exactly one job. It can only do that job, because proteins work on a lock and key model. Only if the protein is shaped exactly as it is supposed to can it carry it out its function, and its shape is determined by the order that amino acids are placed in it. In a car factory, a car is assembled by having piece after piece layered onto the car in a very precise fashion along a long assembly line. So too, the ribosomes have a parts bin which is mostly made up of 20 different amino acids, and the ribosome links them one after the other until you have a perfect protein. If even one amino acid was placed out of order the protein would not work at all.”

“Wow,” said Yanky Baron, “I can barely get my socks paired up, how does the ribosome know what order to make the proteins?”

“Excellent question!” exclaimed Rabbi Offenbachen, “There are actually 20,000,000 different types of proteins[5] that each ribosome can make, so how does the ribosome know which protein to create? It gets a message from the nucleus called mRNA, which tells it which protein to make. Some proteins are small chains of 200 amino acids which can be made in about a minute, but some of the proteins can be as many as 30,000 amino acids, and a ribosome factory can toil for hours to produce that protein, with a zero-tolerance for any errors. As you can imagine these ribosomes have a lot of difficult work cut out for them. It is no wonder that Ha-shem made them a special industrial zone, the endoplasmic reticulum, so that they can toil away in relative comfort making the proteins needed to keep you functioning properly!”

At this point, the boys in the class had the dumbstruck look on their faces most commonly associated with TMI syndrome (Too Much Information Syndrome). Rabbi Offenbach knew there wasn’t much more they could process on this incredible journey. He looked at his watch, and said, “Gentleman, recess is almost over, and we need to get back to our classroom. There are many more fascinating parts of the cell that we haven’t even looked at, but maybe we’ll come back here during recess tomorrow. In the meantime, everyone please gather around me, and I will summon the Offenbachen Nanomizer to come get us!” The boys rushed to their rabbi’s side; no one wanted to be left back in Gerby’s body overnight…

Rabbi Offenbacher pulled a remote controlled device out of his pocket, pressed a large red button that said EXIT on it, and the boys felt themselves being plucked up in a whoosh. They found themselves in the tiny end of the funnel, and as they ran out, they got bigger and bigger until they tumbled to the ground, safely back in their classroom. Just then the bell rang, and everyone stumbled back to their seats, their faces painted with dreamy smiles.

Rabbi Offenbachen, got up, dusted off his pants, and looked at his class. “My dear students, you have all just seen a miracle of vast proportions. To think that the world you just explored is being replicated 28 trillion times in your body at all times, even while you sleep, is far more astounding than a body of water splitting. Iyov (Job), the one man who had the most reason to doubt the existence of a G-d said, “From my flesh, I see G-d! (Iyov 19:26)” He already knew that the human body has more miracles occurring on a daily basis than all the miracles you read about in the Torah! And he didn’t even have a Offenbachen Nanomizer, or an electron microscope!”

“Today you have witnessed what a miracle your body is, it’s your job to give that miracle purpose, to make the miracle of your life be a shining light to the world around it!”

Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s Parsha starts with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law to the Jew’s encampment in the desert. When Moshe came to Egypt he sent back his wife and children to Midian so as not to bring more people into a land committing atrocities against the Jews. Now, after the Jews were freed, Moshe’s father-in-law came to joint them, bringing with him Moshe’s wife and children. When he got there, he converted, and joined the Jewish people.

The events leading up to Yisro’s arrival are described in the first verse of the parsha. “Now Moses’ father in law, Yisro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, His people that the Lord had taken Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 18:1) Rashi asks what exactly it was that Yisro heard which prompted him to come to the desert and join the Jews, instead of just sending his daughter and grandchildren. He answers that he heard about the splitting of the sea and the war that the Jews had fought with Amalek.

One part of this answer seems to makes perfect sense, while the other seems troubling. G-d splitting a sea and allowing the Jews to walk through on dry land is something spectacular, and a good reason for someone to come and join the nation. But the fact that they had fought a war with Amalek and won doesn’t seem to be such a compelling reason for a person to uproot himself from a land where he is well respected and come out to the desert and join a new nation! If Rashi had told us that Yisro heard about the splitting sea and the 10 plagues, or the splitting sea and the exodus from Egypt, I would understand, but what is so significant about the war with Amalek that Rashi tells us that this caused Yisro to radically change his life?

An answer offered is that Yisro realized that if a nation is so desperate to go after Israel as to attack them in a Kamikaze fashion so soon after they got out of Egypt, that nation must have something of value, and he wanted to have it too. A simple analogy would be watching how much protection an item of value needs and to what great lengths thieves will go to try to circumvent the security procure the item. Thieves don’t round up sophisticated gangs to rob the local fruit store, but they will devote an enormous amount of resources, and even risk their lives, in order to get at a vault containing numerous precious gems and diamonds.

Yisro noted that Amalek came to attack the Jews right after they were saved from Egypt, and he realized that the Jews must have something special. In truth, this is the biggest lesson in Jewish history. Why is it that the Jews have always been persecuted, attacked, and threatened? Is it just because this nation of extraordinary people has really bad luck again, and again, and again, and again, and again? No, it is not our bad luck that brings all this down upon us, rather it is the incredible gift that we have, the Torah, and our unique relationship with G-d that causes the hatred of the other nations. Subconsciously, other nations know that we have the gold, that we have the sparkling diamonds of the world, and persecute us in a hope that they can snuff it out so that no one will have it.

Of course, our job is to make it shine so brightly that everyone either tries to join us (like Yisro did), or at least aids us in out mission of carrying it aloft. May G-d bless us with those days speedily in our time!

Parsha Summary

This week’s Parsha starts with the arrival of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law. Yisro’s biggest contribution to the Jewish people was the judging system which he instituted. He noticed that Moshe would sit all day judging people, while the line of those waiting to see him grew and grew. Yisro told Moshe that this system would burn out both Moshe and the people. He suggested that Moshe create a hierarchy of judges, with the most minor judges only responsible for 10 people, the next over 50, 100, and finally 1,000 people. The big questions and cases that couldn’t be dealt with by those judges would come to Moshe.

Moshe asked G-d, and with G-d’s permission, he appointed judges who met the following criteria; G-d fearing, accomplished, despises money, and men of integrity. He appointed them according to the positions mentioned above, and the new judicial system ran as smoothly as butter on a hot skillet!

The next part of the Parsha deals with the Jews’ arrival at Mount Sinai, and the revelation they experiences there. I will break the events down by days.

Day 1: The Jews arrive at Mount Sinai with a unity that is unmatched in their entire 40 years in the desert.

Day 2: Moshe goes up the mountain to talk to G-d. G-d tells him to tell the Jews that they have seen G-d’s miracles and His affection for them, and now He is making them an offer. If they want, they can accept the Torah and become a “Treasured Nation,” but they have to remember that it comes with a lot of responsibilities. Moshe comes down and tell the people who respond with a unanimous, “Whatever G-d says we will do!”

Day 3: Moshe goes back up, and delivers the Jews’ answer (G-d already knew it, but this teaches us that when one is sent to deliver a message they should always bring back the reply). G-d tells Moshe that He will speak from within a dark cloud to Moshe, but all the people would hear Him talking, and this would be a way for the people to know that Moshe was a true prophet. Moshe goes down and tells the people.

Day 4: Moshe ascends the mountain again and tells G-d that the people want to hear G-d talking directly to them. They said that hearing from an emissary doesn’t compare to hearing from a king! G-d tells Moshe to go back and tell the people to prepare for two days (by purifying themselves), for on the third G-d would talk to them. He also warns them not to touch the mountain or try to climb it, as it has a special holiness. Moshe gives the message, but, according to one view in the Talmud, he adds a third day of purification (this is the topic of some very deep insights, but it’s not within the scope of our Parsha Summary).

Day 5: Moshe builds an altar at the bottom of the mountain, as well as twelve pillar as monuments. He brings sacrifices on the altar and eats with the people.

Day 6: On this day, according to some, the revelation took place. According to others this was the extra day of preparation that Moshe added.

Day 7: G-d reveals himself in all His glory to the people. They hear Him talking directly to them and speaking out the first two of the Ten Commandments (which would be more appropriately translated as the Ten Statements). The event is too powerful for the mortal humans to handle, and the people ask that Moshe tell them the last 8 instead of having G-d directly speaking to them. This is the only time in all of recorded history where G-d spoke to a mass assembly. Never, ever, has any other religion even claimed this. (This is one of the proofs of Judaism’s validity over all other faiths in which only individuals such as J.C., Mohammed, the Buddha, or Joseph Smith claim to have had personal revelations.)

Here are the Big Ten:

1.  I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of Egypt (belief in one G-d).

2.  You may not serve any other gods.

3.  You may not take the name of G-d in vain.

4.  Keep Shabbos.

5.  Honor your mother and father.

6.  Don’t kill.

7.  Don’t commit adultery.

8.  Don’t steal.

9.  Don’t testify falsely.

10.  Don’t covet that which belongs to others.

After this momentous event, G-d commanded Moshe to tell the people that they had seen and heard G-d speak to them (one of the miracles of the revelation was that people saw sounds), and they had better not make or worship any other deities. He also commanded them to make an alter, but not to use stones hewn with iron. Iron is the material used to fashion weapons, and an altar needs to be a paradigm of peace.

That’s all Folks!

Quote of the Week: A doer is someone who does not make a big deal about what he is doing when he is doing it! – A. Gambiner

Random Fact of the Week: Pound for pound, a hummingbird consumes the caloric equivalent of 228 milkshakes per day!

Funny Line of the Week: A bicycle can’t stand alone; it is two tired.

Have a Miraculous Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

Print this article

Leave a Reply