>(This Article was originally published in The Jewish News on the 14th October)
Last week, for a couple of days, Professor Robert Edwards became one of the lead stories across the British press. Most newspapers dedicated significant column inches towards celebrating the achievements of the man known as the ‘father of IVF’. I have to be honest, before last week I had not heard of Professor Edwards, but by the end of it I had a basic understanding of his research, and can tell you that more than four million children have been born worldwide as a result of his groundbreaking work. In reading about this man, his perseverance and dedication to his quest is something highly admirable. And his is definitely a name I will now remember.
Professor Edwards was the first recipient of a Nobel Prize for 2010. Since him, five other awards have been granted.
The Nobel Prize is a world-renowned award given to people for work in a variety of fields including literature and peace. Many recipients of the Prize, such as Professor Edwards, have fascinating stories to tell about their work and research, and they are worthy recipients of recognition and admiration. In many cases, they are people who may have remained anonymous outside of their field, were it not for the Nobel Prize, which has undoubtedly made their names more widely known. There is one name, however – the most recognised name associated with the prize – which was already very famous before it became associated with the prize itself.
That name is Alfred Nobel.
On the 13 April 1888, Alfred Nobel awoke to discover that he had died. Or at least that is what one French newspaper reported, as it carried an obituary for the inventor. More shocking than seeing his name in the obituary was the description Nobel found within it. The tribute stated: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” It also carried the line: “The merchant of death is dead”. Alfred Nobel’s shock on reading about his demise was not limited to the obvious fact that he was very much alive. He was also shocked, and deeply distraught by the way in which his life and his name were destined to be remembered.
As it turns out, the French newspaper got the wrong Nobel. It was actually Alfred’s brother, Ludwig, who had died the previous day. This unfortunate accident turned out to be quite fortuitous as Alfred Nobel gained something few of us ever receive: an insight into the way we would be remembered after his death. Needless to say he was less than excited about the prospect of being known as ‘The merchant of death’.
He was given an extra eight years, until his actual passing on 10 December 1896, to change the way that the world viewed and remembered him. In his last will and testament the bulk of his estate was left for the establishment of prizes in the sciences, literary works, peace, and now economics. Alfred Nobel is still the inventor of dynamite, but today his name is first and foremost associated with prizes awarded to the great and good in society. His name is therefore forever linked with celebrated Nobel Prize winners including Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yitzhak Rabin, Elie Wiesel and now Professor Edwards.
This week, as we read the story of Lech Lecha, when God made the initial call to Abraham, we read about the promise that Abraham received, which included within it the line: ‘I will make your name great’.
Included within the pledge that Abraham will be the founder of a great nation is the idea that Abraham will also possess a great name.
This was a promise about the type of person Abraham would become and the way in which he would be remembered. It was not about a literal name, but rather the reputation which would accompany his name – something he would earn for himself through his life and his actions.
Professor Robert Edwards has a great name in the Abrahamic sense, because of his important work and research in the field of medicine, helping millions of people to create life. The Nobel Prize did not make his name great, it simply gave his name the fame it deserved.
Through his will, Alfred Nobel changed his name from one associated with dynamite and death to one which is now linked to the words scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, author and pacifist. We can’t all endow millions to establish trusts and ensure our legacies. But through our words, our behaviour and our actions, we can gain for ourselves names which we can be proud of.
We may never achieve the fame which accompanies the receipt of a Nobel Prize, but it is within our control to fulfil our Jewish birthright of establishing for ourselves a great name.