The radiance of love redeeming the world’s darkness

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave a inspirational address on Monday at the Humanum conference at the Vatican on the complementarity of man and woman.

It ranges over the whole history of marriage and concludes with a brilliant image: marriage turns “the prose of biology into the poetry of the human spirit”.

I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilisation: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world.

There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one.

But to me it is a story of seven key moments, each of them surprising and unexpected.

The first, according to a report in the press on 20th October of this year, took place in a lake in Scotland 385 million years ago.

It was then, according to this new discovery, that two fish came together to perform the first instance of sexual reproduction known to science.

Until then all life had propagated itself asexually, by cell division, budding, fragmentation or parthenogenesis, all of which are far simpler and more economical than the division of life into male and female, each with a different role in creating and sustaining life.

When we consider, even in the animal kingdom, how much effort and energy the coming together of male and female takes, in terms of displays, courtship rituals, rivalries and violence, it is astonishing that sexual reproduction ever happened at all.

Biologists are still not quite sure why it did.

Some say to offer protection against parasites, or immunities against disease.

Others say it’s simply that the meeting of opposites generates diversity.

But one way or another, the fish in Scotland discovered something new and beautiful that’s been copied ever since by virtually all advanced forms of life.

Life begins when male and female meet and embrace. Continue reading

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is currently the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University and the Kressel and Ephrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University.

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