Heal v. Heel
Say TNT and most people will think of explosives; discovered back in 1863, it has been the main component of artillery since the word wars. Now however, TNT stands for something totally different; tissue nano-transfection. This is a process whereby scientists can transmogrify skin cells; change them and adapt them to grow into other cells. It sounds like science fiction and the stuff of Marvel comics, but the scientists write new instructions which are encoded in DNA and loaded on to a chip applied to a patient’s skin. This chip uses a small electric current to open channels in the cell’s surface, so that the code can tap into the DNA of the patient and reprogram it into a pluripotent state so that it can then heal any area of the body. It is currently only in use in animals, but its possibilities to save people’s lives is beyond imagine – and beyond the scope of this essay!
However it did help me answer a question on the name and opening verse of this week’s Sedra. The first time we encounter the word Eikev is in the Garden of Eden after the Sin; one aspect of the punishment is that mankind would crush the snake’s head and the snake would bite our eikev – heel. The second time is after the Binding of Isaac when Avraham is praised, eikev – because he listened to Hashem.
Eikev can thus be translated either as “because” or as a “heel”. Most famously Yaackov was named so because he was holding the heel of his twin brother at birth. Eisav also uses a derivative of his name, ya’akveini implying deception to accuse Yaackov of stealing the birth-right and blessings. However after his famous night-time battle with the angel, Yaackov’s name is changed to Yisrael meaning Prince of Hashem. He shrugs off the Yaackov – heel image and re-emerges as Yisrael – the Prince.
Why then when the word eikev is used at the start of this week’s Sedra does Rashi translate it as heel? The Torah says; all this (blessing) will happen to you, eikev- because you will listen to My Mitzvot. But Rashi translates it with the lowly heel connotation; the blessing will happen to you, even though you only keep the Mitzvot with your eikev – heel. Why the negative aspect? And especially at this critical point in our history when we are just about to enter into Eretz Yisrael!
Enter our TNT.
I believe that the Torah wasn’t discouraging us, but just the opposite, it was empowering us. At this critical moment in our history we were being injected with TNT, and what an explosive power it was! Hashem was saying to us that even when we keep Mitzvot with ‘just our heel’, we are still transforming the world. We sometimes belittle ourselves, or listen to others knock us down with the accusation that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t committed enough, that we aren’t fulfilling Hashem’s charge to make this world a dwelling place for Him. Well I believe that we are, for that is the unique quality of the Jew; even when we are ‘just’ keeping the Mitzvot with our ‘heel’, we are still changing the world. For our Spiritual DNA, our Neshama is pluripotent; it has the properties of TNT and we can transmogrify this world with our every action.
Sir John Gurdon of Cambridge and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto may have received the Nobel prize for physiology with their research and hopeful breakthrough, but you and I receive a far greater prize every single day. And no electronic chip needs to be inserted into our skin, we have all the tools already at our disposal: Jewish TNT!