Down to the Bone // A musing on something we say weekly

One of the rather minor by-products of the pandemic from which most of the country, baruch Hashem, seems to be emerging was the new familiarity among children and less-than-science-savvy adults with the word “antibodies.”
Or, as a toddler of my acquaintance calls them, “antibubbies.”

What exactly, though, you may ask, are they (antibodies, that is; I don’t know anyone who is against bubbies). Good question. And the answer, surprisingly, might enhance your Shabbos davening.

Antibodies are proteins that comprise part of our immune systems. They help neutralize viral, parasitic, and bacterial infections that invade our bodies. And they are produced by white blood cells in our bones.

Antibodies against COVID-19, produced naturally in people who have contracted the virus or artificially in those who have received one of the vaccines, may last a lifetime or may require periodic booster shots to maintain their production and the protection they afford. The scientific jury is still out on that question. Quite literally and not in the phrase’s cliché sense, time will tell.

Abba Binyamin said that we’re fortunate to not be able to see the tens of thousands of terrifying mazikin that surround us (Berachos 6a). Were they visible, he informs us, they would utterly terrify us. The same, of course, is true about the tens of thousands of spores, bacteria and viruses that constantly seek to invade our bodies.
All of which are held off, if we are healthy, by, prime among other elements of the immune system, the antibodies produced in the marrow of our bones.

We know these facts today because of the progression of science and its observations of the world beneath the threshold of unaided human vision—and of the devastation that occurs when any part of the immune system ceases to work and a body is successfully invaded by biological mazikin.

Appreciating the neis nistar of our immune systems is always called for. But a particularly apt place to ponder it is as we recite the words of Nishmas Kol Chai, at the end of pesukei d’zimra on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Unfortunately, the hoda’ah is often truncated or even omitted entirely by many people, if they can’t keep up with the pace of davening. And yet, halachic sources say that it should receive preference before much of what precedes it. And for good reason.

Some of Nishmas consists of pesukim borrowed from Tehillim and the navi Yeshayahu, along with poetic renderings of midrashic concepts. Toward the end of Nishmas, we find the words:

… From severe and enduring diseases You spared us… therefore, the organs that You set within us shall thank and bless… and declare the sovereignty of Your name… as it is written [Tehillim, 35:10]: “All my bones shall say, ‘Hashem, Who is like You? You save the poor man from the one stronger than he, the poor and destitute from the one who would rob him…’”

Our very bodies, in other words, our organs and their processes, figuratively “thank and bless” Hashem by their very workings.

What, though, is the pertinence here of Dovid Hamelech’s praise of Hashem’s saving a poor man from being oppressed by a stronger one? And of the fact that the praise is put into the “mouth,” so to speak, of our bones?
You may see where I’m going.

From the perspective of what we know today, it isn’t hard to perceive the exquisiteness of that reference in its context. The “poor men” are our bodies, vulnerable to hordes of imperceptibly small but dangerously strong agents of harm. It should be self-evident that we owe our Creator our wide-eyed gratitude for the easily overlooked but incalculably vital miracle that is our immune systems’ nonstop work to vanquish those baleful agents.

And, to anyone who is aware of the existence of antibodies and how they are produced, particularly exquisite is the fact that the parts of our bodies Dovid Hamelech singles out as declaring “Hashem, who is like You?” for saving the poor from the strong… are our bones.

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