A study was conducted by a team of researchers from New York University who used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in an effort to determine whether the trait of optimism can be identified with a particular area of the brain. The subjects were told to think about the outcomes of important future events as they were being scanned. The scans showed that the more optimistic the person’s outlook was, the more activity emanated from a part of the brain known as the Rostral Anterior Cingulate Cortex which the size of an olive (kezayis). The implications of this discovery resonate in other areas of our lives and are worth some additional exploration.
The propensity for optimism has long been a defining element of human culture. Winston Churchill, a previous Prime minister of England, once said: “A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, whereas an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” Optimism produces a positive outlook that we perceive as joy. Our holy (Torah) Jewish teachings instructs us to strive to achieve a state of happiness (simcha) – (mitzvah gedola li’yot b’simcha). This heightened state of positive consciousness provides us with the incentive to improve ourselves and the world around us.
In order to fulfill these optimistic goals, the Creator has provided us with food that contains within it sparks of holiness that are made available to be absorbed through the blessings (brachas) we say before and after eating. The minimum amount of food required in order to say an after-bracha is a ) an olive sized portion (kezayis) of the food.
Can we find a connection between the (kezayis) olive sized portion of food necessary for an after bracha with the olive sized “seat” of optimism in the brain since spiritual reality is reflected in this physical world? Perhaps one of the reasons that an olive has been chosen to represent the minimum size (shiur) for a concluding bracha is that its oil symbolizes wisdom and has the power to illuminate the darkness. Similarly the blessings we say after eating contain profound spiritual wisdom which has the power to illuminate even the greatest darkness with the “light” of positive optimism.
The more stringent view of some Rabbis (poskim) is that because of certain halachic factors, regarding the size referred to for the measurement of a shiur, it is preferred if possible to eat double the quantity – two kezaysim – before making an after-bracha. Perhaps we can also gain from these thoughts that, as we come closer to the final redemption (geula), since spiritual stature of the generations has lessened, and we should endeavor to “re-double” our efforts to reawaken our optimism. Perhaps you may you ask, where do we see two kezaysim in our fMRI models? Interestingly enough, there are actually two areas in the brain opposite each other, each about two inches from each of our ears where these optimistic impulses have been observed.
Our brachos act as spiritual “refineries” to transform the physical food into a refined source of spiritual energy. In the fourth bracha of the blessings after a bread meal (Bircat Hamazon) we say: “…He did good, He does good and He will do good to us. He was bountiful with us, He is bountiful with us, and He will be bountiful with us forever with grace and with kindness and with compassion, with relief and rescue, success, blessing , salvation, consolation, substance, support , compassion, life, peace and all good and of all good things may He forever not deprive us.”
After saying such a wonderful bracha blessing we should always be filled with optimism.
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