The year 1928 was a fateful one in medicine, as it saw the discovery of a drug that saved more people than any other in history: penicillin. However, although penicillin has saved millions of lives, the antibiotic era is rapidly drawing to a close. Many antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are proliferating. For the first time in decades, there is a real threat that some of the plagues that were the scourge of mankind for centuries may return.
There are genetic mechanisms behind the development of antibiotic resistance. Many bacteria are able to exchange genetic information with each other. One bacteria type with the gene for antibiotic resistance can rapidly spread it to other related organisms, who can in turn share it with others, so that the resistance gene spreads rapidly through the bacterial population. Since the bacteria with this gene are more likely to survive, they quickly replicate and soon predominate.
The key for survival of bacteria, as it is for any other creature, is cooperation. The bacteria readily share their resistance genes with one another, which strengthens the entire bacterial colony and allows them to withstand the threat of our most potent antibiotics. Imagine if one bacteria would decide to be “selfish” and keep its resistance gene to itself. That bacteria would quickly die (after all, a bacterial cell has a very short life cycle) and its unique properties would be forgotten. However, because bacteria exchange genetic information, they continually enrich and fortify one another.
This lesson seems so obvious as it pertains to bacteria, yet as human beings, we find it very difficult to learn. Sharing does not seem to be an innate human trait; rather, we invest a great deal of energy and resources into trying to protect ourselves from others. We don’t want to allow anyone else to gain an advantage at our expense — even if, in actuality, it won’t cost us much in the long run.
Researchers in psychology have often observed that while cooperation among people is the most logical and rational choice, people will often act irrationally to prevent someone else from taking advantage of them. For example, people will fight to the death to win a battle against an opponent rather than accept a compromise — even when victory will leave them far more weakened and impoverished than defeat.
One of the great innovations of the era of Moshiach is that humankind will finally begin to act rationally. We will truly internalize the idea that “the world was built on kindness.” It won’t be a moralistic lesson that we obey without fully understanding or accepting; rather, we will embrace it as the most rational, enlightened, logical and practical approach to life. When we will feel this concept, understand it, internalize it with all our being — that’s when we will be living in the era of the ultimate Redemption.