How to Print Advice (3-D Printing Series, Part 1)

3d printer

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By Yonatan Gordon


This article is about addition and subtraction, and how sometimes the most complex things can be understood by an elementary school student. While we first thought to write about 3D printing several weeks ago, the push since the President’s State of the Union speech has become even more fervent. It is with this in mind that we would like to introduce our math problem.

Before 3-D printing (aka Additive Manufacturing), we lived in a world of subtraction. In order to build, carve or mold something into the shape we wanted, we first had to take off from the base material. Whether by chisel, screw, hammer or the like, manufacturing was about making something less, so that it could appear more in its new form.

But 3-D printing changed the equation. Instead of carving something down to size, we are now building things from the ground up. Layer by layer, the world of manufacturing is rapidly changing to an elementary school lesson in addition.


What is the source of 3-D printing in Jewish thought? Our first thought was that perhaps it relates to the golden Menorah in the Temple that was constructed out of one solid piece of gold. But this seems more reflective of a desire to construct something out of one piece (like the Apple Macbook “brick” rumors in October 2008), rather than a layering process that yields one object.

Now we’re back to the starting point again. Was there a 3-D printer in the time of Moshe (Moses) that we somehow missed? Then it dawned on us. We had to go back to first grade.

As we began, the foremost shift with 3-D manufacturing seemed to be that we were adding layers, instead of taking them away. From a foundation or setting, we slowly build our way to top. For many reasons, as we hope to discuss in this series, the act of “standing” seemed to most typify the 3-D printing experience.

What is the connection between “standing” and “foundation” (yesod)? It is the opening verse that Maimonides (the Rambam) chose to open his code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah: “The foundation of foundations and the pillar of all wisdom, is to know that there is a first Being.” This is parallel to the first commandment, “I am Havayah your God who took you out of Egypt.” [Exodus 20:2] This the Rambam calls the foundation of all foundations, and the pillar of all pillars.

As we will explain, the main difference between additive and subtractive manufacturing is that the former starts from the ground up, whereas the latter is typically top down. The attraction then to 3-D printing comes from the hope that these products will somehow guide us toward a better and more fulfilling life. The source for this is the advice Yitro (Jethro) gave to his son-in-law Moshe (Moses) before the giving of the Torah. Advice comes from an awakening from below. Yitro was inspired to advise Moshe to appoint judges over the Jewish people on his own accord. The fact that Moshe listened, and the entire Jewish people merited as a result, is indicative of the expansive nature of advice. As a result of assisting Moshe in his task of governing the people, an incredible wealth of higher advice then descended from above–the giving of the Torah.


In this Torah portion (named Yitro in the merit of this advice), we have two types of standing. There is the standing of the people before Moshe (from morning to night) in order to hear answers to their questions. The length of this standing is what Yitro’s advice hoped to alleviate. Then there is the standing following the Ten Commandments, “The people stood from afar, and Moshe went into the fog.” [Exodus 20:18] This is the standing over witnessing the awe-inspiring events a Mt. Sinai where “the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain.” [Exodus 20:15]

The attraction then to 3-D printing reflects both of these. At first, our hope is that 3-D printing the very same object should somehow give us some greater insight into how to live our lives. Then once we’ve witness this technology in action, we prepare ourselves for the vast potentials to come. Once we have “waited in line” from “morning to night” for the technology to become available, the next thing we hope to “stand” for is something awe-inspiring.

What was Yitro’s Advice? His advice was how to build the system. How to build a pyramid of leadership, with not just one person at the top. This is such basic advice that the entire Torah is based upon it. From his advice, we come to the giving of the Torah. It is all like the “foundation of foundations” that the Rambam starts with. Everything comes from a good piece of advice.

Today we are already in the second “standing” stage of the process. The public’s interest in “building things from the ground up” or in seeking products that somehow “advise” us toward a better life is readily apparent. What is now needed is what marketers call the “wow factor.”

Perhaps the most impressive use of 3D printers is to “reprint” a missing ear or other organs? Or a 3-D microchip? These are the things we are now standing for. But as we will explain, these products are all reflections of that original standing at Mt. Sinai.

To be continued God willing in Part 2.

Excerpted and adapted from the weekly shiur given 21 Shevat 5773 from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh (page 2)


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