Weill Award Essay 2020

Mazal tov to our Weill Award winner of 2020: Maia Zaborowski!


On Science and Faith

By Maia Zaborowski

Nine-forty five in the morning on a rainy Wednesday.

I’m sitting in my Anatomy and Physiology classroom, typing methodically as my teacher lists vocabulary on the board, the dry erase marker tapping rhythmically with every new line. I pay close attention to the lesson on neuron activity, taking note to copy the intricate diagrams from my textbook. As my teacher takes a moment to walk around the room and answer questions, I stare at the complex illustrations on the page in front of me and marvel at the feats our bodies can perform. A single cell, less than a tenth of a millimeter in diameter, can carry out countless functions simultaneously, receiving signals and creating proteins and replicating DNA. These processes occur constantly in our cells, of which the human body has more than there are galaxies in the observable universe. Thinking about the wonders our bodies can execute, it’s difficult not to ask myself whether there isn’t some higher power, an entity that allows us to do the things we do every day.

I’ve always known I was Jewish. How could I not? Judaism surrounded me from day one: Israeli parents, a Hebrew name, reciting prayers every Friday around the dinner table before I could even fully understand the English language. I knew the importance of a Jewish community from a very young age, and I was taught by my parents to develop my own relationship with the idea of God, regardless of what people told me. No matter what happened in my life, I never forgot that lesson.

As I grew into a child with a smidgen more wisdom, I began to question the world around me. How did the sun rise and fall each day? Why do humans wear clothes when other species don’t have to? How do we know which way is up and which is down? Now, my father is a chemical physicist and my mother is an industrial engineer by trade, and as a consequence, I have always had answers to my questions about the world readily available to me. But the older I grew, the more the world confused me. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are some people born into wealth and ease and others are doomed to a lifetime of struggle?

These questions are not designed to be answered, not by science nor by religion, but both offer something else – a way to deal with the unanswerable. Hundreds of years of evolution have made us curious creatures, staring in wonder at the stars until we figured out a way to get up there ourselves. In this way, science gives us the opportunities to attempt to answer our own questions. Religion approaches life’s unexplainable queries by attempting to find not an answer, but a reason for asking. The Torah tells me to turn to God and pray when I am faced with difficult questions, but not to pray for answers for myself. Instead, I am told to look inward and ask what I may do for the good of others. By finding joy in life and through tikkun olam, repairing the world through my actions, I may find that many of those burning questions are meant to be asked and not answered.

Tikkun olam is, in fact, one of the fundamental Jewish values upon which I lay my moral foundation. My knowledge of the natural world tells me that this planet needs saving, and nobody is left to do it but those of us who wish to see the planet saved. Truly, environmentalism and Judaism can never be untangled from one another. My love for the Earth I live in, which provides me with every resource I require for life, cannot be separated from my love for the wondrous world that God has given us, with all of its love and confusion and messiness. Why should I not want to protect both with my powers of scientific knowledge and spiritualism? My religious conscience tells me that tikkun olam is the best way to strengthen my relationship with God, while my scientific conscience tells me that repairing the world today will make for a better tomorrow for me and this planet.

In this way, science and religion are not contrasting, or even remotely conflicting concepts. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin, two manifestations of the same truth. It is said that science is “God’s language,” and this statement is infallible. Science and the knowledge of the natural world is not a rejection of the Torah’s teachings; in fact, the Bible states that this knowledge is simply another means of knowing God. The Jewish tradition explains how to act in the world which we understand and can describe using science. I know, as my ancestors did before me, that the understanding of our Earth will only bring me closer to God and to my Jewish faith.

-Maia Zaborowski