Friday, May 06, 2011

From Brain to Semen

A Kabbalistic statement, which I have no access to despite my rather large library, says something about “a drop exudes from the brain and develops into semen”.

Some blogs are abuzz whether or not the sages had access to scientific or empirical knowledge, as if our sages needed such evidence and couldn't derive it purely from Torah sources, as if our sages were on par with our modern-day investigators, when we know full well from Judaic tradition that "the generations are declining", such that a modern-day savant is more akin to a donkey than to any of our sages.

As if we have to apologize for Torah because of "modern scientific wisdom", when, in fact, the more science progresses, the more it inches closer to Torah truth. The great wisdom of science is, after all, a huge myth. See here, for a 100-year synopsis of scientific "knowledge", to see what I mean.

Those who never learned Tanya, chapter 2, will have missed another such reference. There it states, "... the child is derived from its father's brain."

Any student of anatomy, physiology or biochemistry would be bewildered by this assertion! Since when does semen derive from the brain?

But if Torah-derived sources tell us so, we do not doubt its veracity.

One could explain the child resulted from a brain-triggered event, after all, because the would-be father man will have a psychological encounter with the would-be mother. It took that mental exercise to effectuate, after all, what eventuated into a child.

But a strictly cellular itinerary for what the sages meant might be explained as follows:

In my first year of medical school, in '74 I think, I was assigned to deliver a lecture on developmental embryology; Particularly, the development of the organism's testicular tissue, from its earliest stages onward.

Here's what I remember from my presentation (taken from my textbook I've long since lost, and failed to find in used book stores or on the internet). The embryological cells that become the substrate for testicular tissue begin their journey in the mostly undifferentiated embryonic mass from a location that later differentiates into brain tissue. These brain-region cells migrate through the embryonic mass, much like salmon make their way through a river, until they finally localize in what will develop into testicular tissue.

This journey, from the brain area to the seat of sperm production, this embryological ontogenesis of the testicles, is what, I believe, our sages are speaking about. It refers to the migration of cells that originated in the brain region and ended up in the testicle region, a move that happened during an early developmental stage of the fetus. (Most likely it holds true for the female too, ie., from brain to ovary.)

- - - - - -

Speaking of phenomenal medical knowledge derived from Torah, I remember visiting a Chabad shul in Israel and seeing high up, atop a high bookcase, two books hermetically placed. I climbed up, took them down and looked into each. My eye caught two items that blew my mind.

One sefer, written by Rabbi Chaim Vital, who transcribed much of the Arizal's teachings, spoke about the 3 layers of membrane over the brain. How he could know this fact stunned me. Surely he did not get his knowledge from having sawed open skulls (a tough job, to be sure, especially if you don't want to destroy these most delicate wrappings of the brain, itself of watery consistency), and surely he hadn't fixed the tissues, stained them and examined them under a microscope.

The other sefer, by the Tzemach Tzedek, made mention of the number of vessels the liver contained. This was flabbergasting. The liver is the largest internal organ of the body, entirely perfused with blood vessels going every which way and how anyone could arrive at a number from this amazingly complex vessel network is outright preposterous! Yet here comes the prince in his generation and states something any modern professor of hematology would simply laugh at. The Tzemach Tzedek, however, will enjoy the last laugh.

I'm sure too the Tzemach Tzedek never owned a microscope, dissected a liver, nor counted vessels to get to his number. Did Moses inspect every mammal in the world before he asserted the pig, and only the pig (from all the animals in the whole universe) has split hooves and chews its cud? Of course not. He got it from Hashem. Similarly, the Tzemach Tzedek,  the Arizal or any other sage got their "scientific" knowledge from special insight into Torah and Talmud.


  1. Meir--Here is the Rebbe's explanation, from Volume 2 of Likutei Sichos, p. 364-5.

    One year, in 1894 or 1895, medical science discovered an artery in the brain, which facilitated memory and concentration. So the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe's brother came into the room and told the Rebbe about the discovery. This Rebbe went into the next room and came back with a small manuscript of Chassidus that was written by his great grandfather the second Lubavitcher Rebbe some hundred years earliier.

    He showed him where in that discourse, there are six or seven lines, where the second Rebbe mentions that in the brain there is this artery that has a variable vapor pressure causing it to shift position thereby stimulating either memory or concentration. When this artery is facing the part of the brain that supports chochma and binah (wisdom and understanding), it helps to remember. When it is directed toward the part of the brain that contains the daas, knowledge, it helps concentration. That's why when a person wants to remember, he looks up, tilting his head upwards, and when a person wants to concentrate, he tilts his head downwards.

    The brother replied to the Rebbe saying that the Mitteler Rebbe must have been a great medical scientist. The Rebbe Rashab said to him, "No. The Mitteler Rebbe knew how the spiritual template of man works in the upper worlds, and therefore he could predict how the physical human being works as well."

    (Translation courtesy of R' Arnie Gotfryd:

  2. Yes, this anecdote reveals how the Rebbeim get their knowledge; From the spiritual realm above, which then may devolve to a physical counterpart below.

  3. Incredible. But I am not shocked at all. I have long believed the truth raishis chachmah yiras Hashem