Happy birthday, George! As Presidents week sets in, many take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with family, or to get away. (We'll be right here in Scarsdale if anyone wants to go out for coffee:) South America and the Caribbean are usually popular destinations during such seasons, yet many now hesitate to travel to that part of the world due to a deadly virus running rampant there.

Viruses, epidemics and diseases are some of the most frightening occurrences known to mankind, wherever and whenever they strike. Thank God ,we live in a time where many elusive cures have been found, and tremendous advances have been made in modern medicine. Traditionally, these advances are viewed as the product of society's moving away from religion and into freethinking, modern times. Religion seems to always have been a hindrance to the progress made. 

What is the Jewish take on this? Is it necessary to put one's beliefs on hold, or brush them aside completely, in order to advance scientifically, or academically, socially and economically?

The Talmud states that one should not use a doctor who takes no fee for his services, because, in the Talmud's words, "a doctor who charges nothing is worth nothing". The point of that statement is not to encourage medical professionals to dig as deep as they can into their patients' pockets. Rather, it is meant to underscore the tremendous importance and value of the medical field. It is a field that is taken very seriously, with medical opinions superseding Rabbinic authority in many areas. 

Yet Jewish tradition also teaches that doctors are only tools through which God's blessings are channeled. Which view is correct? Pure belief or scientific advancement? 

Both are, of course. In this week's Torah portion we read how God asks the Jewish people shortly after they were freed from Egypt, to construct a house for God, a house of prayer and worship. Reading the Torah portion it comes across as a sincere plea from the creator of heaven and earth that the Jewish people build a home for Him. It is curious isn't it, that an awesome almighty creator should seem to be so in need of a home built for Him by the people He Himself created?

But what a beautiful message this can teach us. God wants, He craves, a relationship with us, His people. Not a relationship with our prayers, or our charity or even our souls. He wants to bond with us. He wanted us to make a house for Him, not because He couldn't build one Himself, but because the value of that house was that His people made it for Him. 

Jewish thought stresses over and over again the importance of being successful and improving our world. Not only spiritually, but materially as well. From science to physics, medicine to mathematics, engineering to economics, these are fields viewed with tremendous positivity respect. They enhance our relationship with God. They don't contradict each other, they complement each other.

Believing that God created the world does not negate excelling in medical, scientific or financial fields. What it does do is instill us with a sense of purpose and meaning. Our relationship with God is two way. A true relationship is when both parties are free to be themselves, and therein is the beauty of their bond. We are meant to reach our greatest potential, to chase our dreams and develop our talents, all the while using our achievements to make our world a better, holier and more Godly place.

Rabbi Avrohom