Monday, June 29, 2009

Health, Part II

This past week, good friends of mine had healthy twins. It wasn’t an easy ride to parenthood, but to hear them so overjoyed and excited at their new arrivals warmed my heart. This story, and those like it, is part of the millions of warming stories of pregnancies. But sadly as we know, this isn’t always the case.

Yesterday, while surfing Facebook, I was left shaken by a status update of one of my friends:

Okay - deep breath. I am not exactly sure how to share this; so here goes. On Jan 21/22nd my wife and I delivered our fourth baby in five years of marriage. The baby had died before we reached the hospital. The cause of death and all the other facts are not the point of this - I want people who know me to know - and I have no real way of writing - over and over again. So - we decided after almost 5 months to sponsor a shiur (Hebrew for "class") on the Jewish approach to death before birth. Every religion has it's process for dealing with death of the living - but what about before "life" … For more sharing just write from your hearts - words from the heart enter the heart.

My heart sunk. I wrote a few words ‘from my heart’ but what could I really say to remotely assuage the pain and loss this family has been suffering for the past half year. Pregnancy is a quite amazing process, a beautiful journey in the creation of life. But one glitch, which we are sadly almost never able to prevent, can bring about pain and sorrow that haunts us for a lifetime. After reading my friend’s harrowing story last night, I spent time looking at my first child, just appreciating the presence and light he’s added to my life (as well as my wife’s too obviously). It’s something many of us don’t reflect on enough due to our busy daily routines …

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Moshe and Aaron's Sin - A Question

One of the questions posed to me with regards to my blog about Moshe & Aaron's sin was about Abarbanel's commentary. Abarbanel explained that the severity of the punishment was due to Aaron's involvement with the Golden Calf and Moshe's sending out of the spies. So the question posed to me was, "How is Moshe to blame for the spies' false report which brought about forty years in the desert for the nation of Israel?"

I found a suitable answer tonight, so let's go to the 'source of the sin':

"Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the Land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel; one man each from his father's tribe shall you send, every one a leader among them," (Numbers, 13/2)

The implication of those three italicized words seems to be, "You can send spies but the decision to do so is yours." This wasn't a command, but a choice and hence Moshe has to bear some responsibility for the disastrous consequences of the mission. For more on this, I'll quote The Stone Edition Chumash:

As explained by the Sages and Rashi ... the people came to Moses and asked him to dispatch spies to reconnoiter Canaan and report to them. Moses consulted God, Who said, "I have told them the Land is good. [But since they question Me], I will let them test My veracity, at the risk of being misled and losing their chance to enter the Land." Although Moses apparently approved the demand, he actually hoped that his agreement would dissuade the people form pressing the request. The Sages offer a parable: Someone wants to buy a donkey, but says that he must first test it. The seller enthusiastically agrees. "May I take it to both mountains and valleys?" "Of course!" Seeing that the seller is so confident of his animal's prowess, the buyer decides he has nothing to fear and forgoes the test. He buys the donkey and is very satisfied. So, too, Moses thought that his willingness to let the people have their way would convince them that they had nothing to fear.

Interestingly enough, the same attitude (putting faith in the people to make the 'right choice') also cost Aaron his chance to enter the Promised Land. During the Golden Calf debacle, the commentators explain that Aaron took part in the incident only to play for time in hope that the people's enthusiasm would wane or that Moshe return from Mt. Sinai's summit. Despite this, the Torah still says Aaron "fashioned it [the Golden Calf]," (Numbers, 32/4).

Based on the examples expressed above, Abarbanel's commentary seems to hint that both these great individuals seriously erred as leaders. Instead of making decisions that may have been unpopular with the masses (or even result in their death, as per Aaron's worries after seeing Hor murdered - see Rashi's commentary to Numbers, 32/6), both showed bad judgment that caused catastrophic results for the Nation of Israel.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Meeting the (Rich &) Famous

When I was in high school, my family took a trip down to Texas. One of our stop was in San Antonio. We obviously saw the famous Alamo, and when we left, I saw Charles Barkley & Kevin Johnson approaching us. As an avid fan of the NBA, I quickly told my dad but instead of trying to get an autograph, or even saying hello, I walked by them shyly. The first time I meet someone famous (unless we count Knightrider's Kitt) and I freeze. Oh well, I had a good excuse - I was a shy teenager.

Fast forward to today ...

As I sat in the office, the company's receptionist walked in and started inquiring if any of us had a spare parking pass. Behind her, a bearded man stood quietly. As I focused in on him, I said, "Effie Eitam, you're not going to say hello?" The former MK (Member of Parliament) looked a bit startled, but eventually made his way to most of the office, introducing himself and shaking hands. As we chatted about his new role at IDT (Yes, he's our latest employee - some role in the shale oil project), it just seemed funny that here I was chatting to Eitam as if he was an old friend, joking about his old job and Miluim. Chafif, as they say in Israel.

As Eitam left the office, I asked Zak (the owner of the excellent Parasha Thoughts blog) why he didn't look at all interested. "That was really Effie Eitam?," he asked, "I thought he was just someone you knew from upstairs who looked like Eitam!" Ha ... Oh well, I'm sure we'll run into him again and Zak will be able to say hello and make up for his uncharacteristic shyness!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Moshe and Aaron's Sin - Take Your Pick

This week's Torah portion, Chukat, is where Moshe & Aaron commit a sin so grave that they are banned from entering the Land of Israel. Let's look at the two lines where this happens (Numbers, 20/10-11):

(10) Moshe and Aaron gathered the congregation before the rock and he said to them, "Listen now, O rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?" (11) Then Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock with his staff twice; abundant water came forth and the assembly and their animals drank.

So what exactly was his sin? Considering it's been something commentators have delved into - let's look at four possibilities (pointers courtesy of The Stone Edition Chumash) that resulted in the aforementioned punishment:

1) Rashi's explanation of Moshe's sin is straight forward: Moshe was commanded to speak to the rock ("Take the staff and gather together the assembly ... speak to the rock before their eyes and it shall give its waters," Numbers 20/8) and instead of speaking, he struck the rock.

2) Rambam explains that Moshe's sin was getting angry with the people as he tried to quiet them, "Listen now, O rebels." Why was Moshe's angry reaction to the people such a sin? Rambam states in Shemoneh Perakim that Am Yisrael saw Moshe's words as a reflection of Hashem's will and hence, Moshe's angry reaction in fact showed that Hashem was angry with his people. As we don't find anything in the chapter, be it stated or hinted, that Hashem was angry with the request, we can assume that Moshe mislead his people into unnecessary worry and angst. This can be a vital lesson to us - We should try and contemplate how others will react to our actions before acting them out.

3) Rabbeinu Chananel and Ramban key in on "Shall we bring forth water..." as being Moshe's sin. Moshe's statement implies that he and Aaron are responsible for bringing water out of the rock, not Hashem. This could be the reason Hashem reprimanded the brothers by saying, "Because you did not ... sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children," (Numbers, 20/12). Moshe should have said, "Shall Hashem bring forth water" ...

4) Abarbanel, despite agreeing with Rashi about the sin, claims that the reason for the severe punishment was to finally punish Aaron (golden calf) & Moshe (sending the spies) for their past sins gone unpunished. Like the rest of Am Yisrael, Moshe and Aaron were not given the privilege of conquering the Land. When great men like Moshe and Aaron never walked on this land, it makes me appreciate the fact I get to walk around Eretz Yisrael daily even more.

So there you have it ... There are other takes on this sin, so if you want to add another explanation, feel free to do so in the comment section.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

My mom called the house today so I could wish my dad a happy father's day. Before she passed me onto the 'dad of the hour', I asked, "Aren't you going to wish me a Happy Father's Day? I am one too ya know?" Sheesh, I'm a dad of a happy, active 7 month old. Sometimes, I just sit back in amazement at how fast life has moved on, at how beautiful life truly is.


A few interesting pieces to read:

1. More Yemenite Jews are being flown over to Israel due to worsening ties with the Arab community. The once proud community of some 50,000 Jews is down to 400.

2. A Palestinian man from the West Bank city of Nablus set a Guinness world record recently after baking the world's largest knafeh pastry, the Palestinian Maan News Agency reported Sunday.

3. Another conference ignoring the conditions faced by Jews in the Arab world since their first interactions some 1300 years ago.


Happy Birthday to my lil sis Tova.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Begin on Jerusalem

From Rabbi Weiss:

In 1978, the Camp David summit with Egypt resulted in the return of the entire Sinai Peninsula. US president Jimmy Carter, delirious with joy that Israel had decided to give two-thirds of its land mass to an enemy nation, decided he would try to push the envelope. He told prime minister Menachem Begin that, before ending the summit, he would like to discuss the issue of Jerusalem, that he wanted Israel to consider either ceding part of it, or internationalizing all of it.

Begin flatly refused Carter's request.

"At least think about it for a few days," said Carter.

"No!" said Begin defiantly.

"What?!" answered an incredulous Carter, "You won't even think about it? Why not? How can you be so obstinate?"

Begin replied: "I think it's time to tell you about Rabbi Amnon."

He then proceeded to relate to Carter the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz. Pressured incessantly by the bishop of that city to convert to Christianity, he finally asked for three days to think about it. He was then so overcome with guilt that he begged God for forgiveness. "How could I ever even contemplate such an act of heresy?" he lamented.

When he did not return to the bishop, Rabbi Amnon was cruelly tortured, his limbs amputated one by one. Yet through it all he did not relent. Maimed and mutilated, he was finally brought home. Three days later, on Rosh Hashana, he asked that he be brought to the synagogue and placed before the Holy Ark. There he uttered his famous prayer that has become the centerpiece of the High Holy Day liturgy - Un'taneh Tokef, Who shall live, and who shall die - and there he expired.

When Begin finished the story, he turned to Carter: "There are some things in life, Mr. President, that a Jew cannot even think about - and relinquishing Jerusalem in any way, shape or manner is one of them." With that emphatic statement, Begin returned home.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Hear O Israel

On the way to work a few days ago, I was listening to Yaakov Shwekey's Shema Yisrael (Hear O Israel) and the words hit me ...

He raised his hand to wave goodbye
Saw the pain in mother's eyes
Who left her little precious boy of four
In a citadel of ashen stone
That preached a faith unlike his own
Perhaps he may just yet survive this war

In the shadows stood a man in black
My child he said, you must not look back
Yet one image lingered, the tears on her face
And mother's words from their last embrace

A mother, who realizes she may not survive the war, leaves her kid at a nearby church - saving her child's life but in the process, most likely extinguishing her child's Jewish identity.

It's tough to imagine that world, let alone write about it ...

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Obama's Speech

A few points ...

1) Obama is a brilliant speaker - Whether or not you agree with the man, he's probably one of the best orators in recent times.

2) I think Obama is trying his best to repair bridges that were harmed, if not burned down completely, during the Bush/Cheney years (I know we can go into this in more detail, but it's another post for another day). If he succeeds in presenting the US as a more moderate force (Again, whether I agree with how he pursues it or not - it's 'his' country to run, how he does that is his choice obviously) - he'll destroy one of the main platforms most Arab extremists push ... Anti-Americanism. I think that's why I found the speech so 'pandering' overall, or perhaps it was Obama's way of trying to influence the upcoming Lebanese & Iranian elections ...

3) One issue I did have with his speech is when he said, "Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance." While there has been times of tolerance obviously (Even the 'Golden Age' had its issues, click here), Jews and other minorities were almost always second class citizens and struggled in the Muslim world (There's countless of examples of this - from 'yellow stars' under Dhimmi rule, to hundreds of Pogroms, to forced conversions of orphans, to the expulsion of 800,000+ Jews in the 1950s etc). I just hope Obama isn't oblivious to this - and was using it for the reasons I mentioned in point 2.

4) Lastly, a friend made an interesting observation, "Note how he flew directly to a concentration camp after the speech. Message to Arab world: we respect your narrative, now respect the Jewish narrative."

Thursday, June 04, 2009


I met a friend yesterday for the first time in a few weeks. As I went to say hi to him, I noticed half of both his eyebrows looked shaved. I asked jokingly, “Tell me, are your students shaving you while you sleep?” He smiled and said, “Look at my beard and my arms mate.” I suddenly noticed that there too there were patches of hair ‘missing’. Obviously concerned, I asked, “Is everything ok mate?” He smiled quite reassuringly and said, “I’m not sure but the doctors are running all kinds of tests.”

Before the conversation ended, I apologized for my joke. He took no offense but inside, my heart sunk. Something is happening to this healthy 28 year old adult, a husband & a father of a beautiful girl. Hopefully it’s nothing major but it just scared me. Too often, we take our health for granted … We forget it’s not really in our hands. I guess that’s why Tante Amelie , and many others, always say רק בריאות (Hebrew for ‘only health’)…


Monday, June 01, 2009

This and That

Just a few thoughts ...


On the way to a wedding last week, I just stopped and thought how life changes rather drastically from stage to stage. From being single, to being a part of a young married couple and then to being parents - goals and responsibilities are reprocessed and changed. Before I had a chance to really think about how everything has changed for me since I met Tals almost 3 years ago, the lovely lady and our dear son joined me in the car ... Lucky for you reading this blog might I add! ;)


Waiting in the car for another wedding - yes I know, another one - I saw a cat munching away on some delicacy in a black trash bag. What made me smile as I watched this was the cat taking periodic breaks from his meal to glance upwards at a crow situated some 10 feet up on some phone wires. Sheesh, there you are eating some good leftovers and you're still looking for a filet mignon. When the crow decided to fly off, the cat's glare bid it adieu ... and it returned to its meal. I guess one can dream big sometimes, but no matter the dream's outcome, one should just try to be happy with their lot.


My right ankle has been bothering me the better part of three months - and I finally decided to let an orthopedist look at it. Due to the fracture I sustained some 10 years ago in Uni, I've developed a calcification on the top of my foot - ensuring that every 'kick with the laces' leaves me in quite some pain. So the doc said what I didn't really want to hear, "If you can play with the pain, go on. If not, quit." Quit? Me? "What about surgery?" I asked and he quickly replied, "Not worth it." That left me rather bummed ... I've decided to play on for the time being but if it gets too much, I guess I'll have to stop playing the game I love.


So, the Torah mentions that 600,000 'army age' males left Egypt during the exodus. Quick trivia - In modern history, when were there last 600,000 Jews in Israel? And when were there last 600,000 male Jews?


Last but not least, a song that has been stuck in my head recently. An Israeli classic by Avner Gadassi - apologies in advance for the poor video some lass has created for it