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 spiritually
absorbed through the blessings (brachas) we say before and after eating.  The minimum amount of food required in order
to say an after blessing is an 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 supernal “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 never
deprive us.

              See how beautifully this
blessing itself it filled with an such an optimistic view of  life. May we all merit a life filled with

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