Like A Bundle Of Reeds—Plurally Speaking, Part 8

Like a Bundle of ReedsLike A Bundle of Reeds, Why Unity and Mutual Guarantee Are Today’s Call of the Hour, Michael Laitman, Ph.D.

Chapter 9: Plurally Speaking
Affecting Social Cohesion Through the Social Environment

Four Factors of Influence

In his essay, “The Freedom,”[i] Baal HaSulam discusses extensively the structure of the human psyche, and what we need to focus on in order to achieve a lasting change in our societies. Through a long analysis of the interplay between heredity and the environment, Ashlag explains that four factors combine to make us who we are:

  1. Genes;
  2. The way our genes manifest through life;
  3. The direct environment, such as family and friends;
  4. The indirect environment, such as the media, the economy, or friends of friends.

Since we do not choose our parents, we cannot control our gene pool. But our genes are merely the “potential we,” not the “actual we” that eventually manifest when we are grownups. The actual “we” consists of all four factors. Moreover, the latter two—which relate to the environment—affect and change our genes to suit the environment.

Let’s examine the following wonderful example of how the environment changes the genes, as reported by Swanne Gordon of the University of California in an essay titled, “Evolution Can Occur in Less Than Ten Years,” published in Science Daily. “Gordon and her colleagues studied guppies—small fresh-water fish… They introduced the guppies into the nearby Damier River, in a section above a barrier waterfall that excluded all predators. The guppies and their descendents also colonized the lower portion of the stream, below the barrier waterfall, that contained natural predators. Eight years later…, the researchers found that the guppies in the low-predation environment… had adapted to their new environment by producing larger and fewer offspring with each reproductive cycle. No such adaptation was seen in the guppies that colonized the high-predation environment… ‘High-predation females invest more resources into current reproduction because a high rate of mortality, driven by predators, means these females may not get another chance to reproduce,’ explained Gordon. ‘Low-predation females, on the other hand, produce larger embryos because the larger babies are more competitive in the resource-limited environments typical of low-predation sites. Moreover, low-predation females produce fewer embryos not only because they have larger embryos but also because they invest fewer resources in current reproduction.’”[ii]

Dr. Lars Olov Bygren, a preventive health specialist, documented an even more surprising example of how genes change through environmental effects. John Cloud of Time Magazine described Dr. Bygren’s research on the long-term effects that extreme feast and famine years had on the residents of the isolated Swedish village of Norrbotten. However, Dr. Bygren observed not only the effects the dietary oscillations had on the people who endured them. He also examined “whether that effect could start even before [emphasis added] pregnancy: Could parents’ experiences early in their lives somehow change the traits they passed to their offspring?”[iii] “It was a heretical idea,” writes Mr. Cloud. “After all, we have had a long-standing deal with biology: whatever choices we make during our lives might ruin our short-term memory or make us fat or hasten death, but they won’t change our genes—our actual DNA. Which meant that when we had kids of our own, the genetic slate would be wiped clean.

“What’s more, any such effects of nurture (environment) on a species’ nature (genes) were not supposed to happen so quickly. Charles Darwin, whose On the Origin of Species… taught us that evolutionary changes take place over many generations and through millions of years of natural selection. But Bygren and other scientists have now amassed historical evidence suggesting that powerful environmental conditions … can somehow leave an imprint on the genetic material in eggs and sperm. These genetic imprints can short-circuit evolution and pass along new traits in a single generation.”[iv]

Baal HaSulam, returning to his essay, “The Freedom,” suggested a very similar concept that aligns with Dr. Bygren’s findings. In the section, “The Environment as a Factor,” he writes (emphases added), “It is true that the desire has no freedom. Rather, it is operated by the above four factors [Genes; how they manifest, direct environment, indirect environment]. And one is compelled to think and examine as they suggest, denied of any strength to criticize or change…”[v]

In the subsequent section, “The Necessity to Choose a Good Environment,” Baal HaSulam adds, “As we have seen, it is a simple thing, and should be observed by each and every one of us. For although everyone has one’s own source, the forces are revealed openly only through the environment one is in.”[vi]

This may sound deterministic because if we are completely governed by our environments, it would seem we have no freedom of choice. And yet, writes Baal HaSulam, we can and must choose our environment very carefully. In his words, “There is freedom for the will to initially choose such an environment … that imparts to one good concepts. If one does not do that, but is willing to enter any environment that one comes by…, one is bound to fall into a bad environment… In consequence, one will be forced into foul concepts…” Such a person, he concludes, “will certainly be punished, not because of one’s evil thoughts or deeds, in which one has no choice, but because of not choosing to be in a good environment, for in that there is definitely a choice. Therefore, one who strives to continually choose a better environment is worthy of praise and reward. But here, too, it is not because of one’s good thoughts and deeds, …but because of one’s efforts to acquire a good environment, which brings … good thoughts.”[vii]

We therefore see that we are all potentially demonic, just as we are potentially angelic. The choice of whether we act out one extreme or the other, or any mixture of the two, depends not on whether we choose to be one way or the other, but on the social environment in which we put ourselves, or that we fashion for ourselves.

As parents, we instinctively warn our children to stay away from the bad kids in the neighborhood, and from the bad students at school. Thus, the awareness of the influence of the environment is inherent in our parental genes, so to speak. Now we must expand that awareness and realize that it is not enough to see that our kids go with “the right” kids. We must start designing a new paradigm of thinking for ourselves, as well as for our children. It is a paradigm in which mutual responsibility plays a leading role, mutual care, and camaraderie take the limelight, and public discourse changes accordingly.

In other words, Rabbi Akiva’s known maxim, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” must take shape and be molded into a way of life for society. That social paradigm is the DNA of our people, our legacy to the world, and what the world, even subconsciously, expects us to pass on.

In an era of consecutive and overlapping global crises, the world is in desperate need of a lifeline, a sliver of hope. We Jews are the only ones who can offer that hope, which is called “mutual guarantee.” The next chapter will outline the basics of implementing mutual guarantee as the predominant social paradigm.

[i] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “The Freedom” (Israel: Ashlag Research Institute, 2009), 414.

[ii] “Evolution Can Occur in Less Than Ten Years,” Science Daily (June 15, 2009),

[iii] John Cloud, “Why Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny,” Time Magazine (January 06, 2010), url:,9171,1952313,00.html.

[iv] ibid.

[v] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “The Freedom,” 419.

[vi] ibid.

[vii] ibid.

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