Sep 27, 2011

Anthropomorphising Weather Reports

As heard on the radio:

Tomorrow, it's going to try and brighten up.

It's supposed to be ___ (sunny, rainy).

As the skies try to clear ...

We'll start to nudge the clouds out .

We'll try to get a little above freezing.

Temperatures are struggling to reach the freezing mark.

Some rain tomorrow unfortunately.

We may get rid of the warm weather.

Jack Frost is still in a fierce mood.

We'll have to watch that off the coast.  It shouldn't be there.

Meteorologists anthropomorphise (attribute human characteristics) to the sky and the temperature; They sound like they are in control when they are anything but; they introduce negativity into our lives with their negative commentary (rain unfortunately). 

You would think that a weather report should be harmless and not an attack on our Torah values, but no ...

Sep 26, 2011

I Was Touched

The person took my hand in their two hands and the blessings poured forth.  I was overwhelmed.  What an intense experience.  What heartfelt brachos.  More and more. 

What a beautiful thing it is to bless people, with all our heart.  Let's do it now, before Rosh Hashana.  Anytime. 

Kesiva v'chasima tova, shana tova u'mesuka, to all.

Sep 15, 2011

Musing about Bike Helmets

I read an article in which the young author wrote how her father was saved from far worse injury, when he was on his bike and hit by a car, because he was wearing a helmet.

The next day, I saw a very little kid riding his bike in front of his house as he waited for his school bus.  He was wearing a helmet.

I may be wrong on this; I haven't arrived at my final conclusion, but I think the helmet "thing" has gotten out of hand.  I'm not the first to write about numerous restrictions and safety measures that are forced upon us today when we did just fine without them years ago.  One minute, you might say.  What about head injuries? How can I recklessly say we don't need helmets?

Well, I think that we can differentiate between someone riding a bike in traffic and a kid riding his bike on the sidewalk or on a bike path with no cars around.  I haven't studied the risks, but it makes sense to me that when we were kids growing up and riding our bikes up and down the sidewalk without wearing a helmet, that was a very low risk activity.  As opposed to being a courier riding a bike in Manhattan!

Maybe what's needed to settle this to my satisfaction is a study done to show just how many people are seriously injured because they were not wearing a helmet when they rode a bike in an area that is away from cars.  I don't remember hearing of any bike related head injury accidents in my growing up years.  I'd like the number of bike-head injuries compared to how many people get serious injuries when they are in car accidents.  Maybe we should wear helmets when we enter a car.  Is it really less risky than riding a bike on the sidewalk? My guess would be that being in a car is more of a risk for serious head injury.  But maybe I'm wrong on that.

For that matter, people trip and fall and injure themselves walking down the street.  Should we wear helmets when we go outdoors? I'd like to see a risk factor comparison with various activities.

Taking this from another angle, do we think that we can take the proper safety measures that will ensure that we will be healthy and that G-d can't or won't intervene? I tend to think that if Hashem has His reasons for afflicting someone with a head injury, it will happen regardless as to whether he wears a helmet when he bikes or not. 

So I remain undecided.  I think that yes, we need to take precautions in life and that's a mitzva, but I don't know which are considered normal precautions and which are annoyances that are not justified by the low risk of injury.  And to preempt anyone who thinks - just one person seriously injured is reason enough for all to wear a helmet - with that reasoning we should all wear helmets and elbow and knee pads all the time and nobody (yet) is saying we should.

Now don't get me started on the laws about car seats for kids!

Sep 10, 2011

Is There A Connection?

The other day, someone told me about how a school applies after-school vouchers towards the during-the-day program.  It got me thinking.  There have been so many articles and lectures and gatherings about chinuch over the past two decades, so many angles explored, so many problems addressed.  And yet, I haven't heard anyone raise the possibility that children's chinuch is compromised when the schools they attend misappropriate funds or do other financial shenanigans. 

Is it because nobody considered this as a possibility? Is it because it's silly and one thing (cheating) has nothing to do with the other (chinuch)? Or is it too sensitive a topic and nobody dares to address it?

Sep 8, 2011

Idealism versus Filial Obligation


Within the past few weeks I have read two articles about Israeli soldiers that I have found disturbing.  I know that my view is derided by some people, but I stand by it. 

Here goes.

One article, in part, was about a mother who prayed for a child for ten years and finally gave birth to a son.  The IDF exempts "only children" from service but this young man insisted on fighting anyway.  On four separate military missions he was the lone survivor of his unit.

In another article, I read of a 19 year old, his mother's only son (though not her only child), who enlisted in the IDF.  He told his family that if the soldiers were drafted into war, he would waive his rights as an only son to fight on the front lines.

The choices we make in life are based on a combination of factors.  For example, if I host people for Shabbos my motivations can be a mix of 1) wanting to do a mitzva 2) wanting to ensure that people have a proper Shabbos meal 3) wanting to have a lively, interesting Shabbos table  4) wanting to see myself as a good person who hosts people.  Our motives are hardly, if ever, pure; that's being human, although we should strive to do everything l'sheim shomayim, for the sake of heaven and not in order to be rewarded in any way.

Both articles portray these young men as heroes, as selfless individuals, who fight for their country, for their brethren.  What perturbs me is that their decision to fight when the IDF considers them worthy of exemption is at the expense of their mother's feelings.  The IDF doesn't need them; the IDF is not desperate for soldiers; the IDF exempts them because of their special status, but they choose to fight anyway.  Did they consider their mothers' feelings when making this decision? The articles don't say anything about that.  Was a rabbi consulted to weigh their desire to defend their country versus their singular status and their Kibud Eim responsibilities?

As laudable as defending our Jewish brethren is, as commendable as love for Israel is, as expressed in idealistically volunteering to serve the IDF, there are other ways to serve one's country and one's people, ways that don't make a mother cry.

Sep 7, 2011

What Makes Us Human

In the 1950's and 1960's, linguist Dr. Noam Chomsky said that language is just too complicated for children to learn as fast as they do just by listening to and seeing others talk.  He concluded that infants are born with a sense, a "deep structure," an aptitude for syntax and grammar.

In more recent decades, however, researchers have analyzed every step of language and have discovered what the steps of language acquisition are, thus making it far less mysterious.

I read this and thought, they don't get it! Hashem created the world with four strata: domen, tzomeiach, chai, medaber - the inanimate (water, minerals), plant life, animal life, human beings.  The level of human beings is refered to as "medaber" - one who speaks, as intelligent thought expressed in speech is what sets humans apart from animals.  So Chomsky got it right.  There is a "deep structure" that is built into humans which enables us to master speech.  The fact that researchers can break down the steps of language acquisition doesn't alter the fact that humans are medabrim by definition!

I wondered how I could convey this point clearly and came up with this analogy.  The scientific approach would have us think that because there are chemical changes that occur when a person loves (seretonin, oxytocin, dopamine etc.), which can be measured, that love is merely a biochemical chain of events, not a state of mind and heart.  And yet, this science cannot explain situations such as the love of a couple like the Scharanskys who were apart for years and the love of parents for children who are grown.  As someone wisely put it:
"Love is a feeling, certainly, and chemicals may contribute to that feeling, but like all emotions, that aspect of love comes and goes. Love that becomes a constant is a state-of-mind and heart. It survives because we nurture it, and plant the seeds of the relationship in our soul.

Choosing to love someone is what keeps us in love, even though we know that at various times we may become angry, sad and frustrated towards our loved one. Choosing to love is remembering the good times in the middle of the bad times.

Chemicals cannot make our choices. We choose to open our hearts or not everyday, and this freedom of choice is what makes us human, and fully capable of rising above chemical reactions in order to make spiritual decisions of the heart."

That we are now able to see which part of the brain "fires" when different emotions are felt, doesn't reduce these emotions to nothing but chemical reactions.  The chemical reactions are just that, reactions to and visible manifestations of, human emotions. 

If someone would venture to articulate this more clearly for us, I'd welcome that! 

Sep 4, 2011

One Day to LIve

Long ago, a famous teacher was asked what she would do if she knew she had one day to live.  She said she would cook a big pot of vegetable soup for her family.  Her point being, she would nurture her family which is her primary role.

A famous rav and teacher was asked what he would do if he knew he had one day to live.  He said he would do whatever he was up to in his daily schedule.  In other words, he would do nothing different.  He was a disciplined person with every hour of his day accounted for, and if in his schedule it was time to give a shiur, he would teach; if it was time to eat lunch, he would eat lunch.

A wonderful young bachur became a chassan and on the day of his wedding he was in the beis medrash, learning as he usually did. 

Each of these people sounds special and yet each story bothers me.  I will try to articulate why.  I think it's because it seems to me that under extraordinay circumstances, you do the extraordinary, not the ordinary, as special and important as the ordinary is.

What do you think?

Sep 3, 2011

The Prime Ministers - Recommended Reading!

I thoroughly enjoyed  this book.  All 715 pages of it.  Very readable, fascinating personal anecdotes by the frum Avner who was an aide to four Israeli prime ministers.  Personal stories about the prime ministers, riveting descriptions of meetings with US presidents and highlights of Israeli history.

Here is an interview with Avner in OU's Jewish Action magazine:  Up Close with Yehuda Avner

Sep 2, 2011


I just heard another sad story of a patient who celebrated his supposed cure of cancer with a seudas hodaya, only to have the cancer come back two weeks later.  I don't know whether the people celebrating heard what they wanted to hear from the doctors or whether the doctors misled them, but I get majorly annoyed about celebrations made within days, weeks or months of aggressive treatment.

My peeve is not with those who make a seudas hodaya in advance, when the person is still sick, as an act of faith that the person will recover.  If they can truly muster that bitachon and not just go through the motions, that's marvelous. 

There is what is called cancer cure and cancer remission.  Doctors almost never use the term cure; rather, they usually talk about remission.  Complete remission means that there are no symptoms and no signs that can be identified to indicate the presence of cancer. However, even when there are no signs of cancer, there may be microscopic collections of cancer cells that cannot be identified.  In this story I just heard, the patient joyously said, "I am healthy!" How devastating for him to hear a mere two weeks later, that he was sicker than ever.

As I read in a doctor's article, "So can we ever really talk about a cancer cure? In general, the answer is no. Practically speaking, however, the odds of a recurrence may be so low that the person is essentially cured. To put it another way, depending on your age, the doctor may tell you that the odds of your dying of cancer are lower than are your odds of dying of something else." 

So it sounds like the time to make a seudas hodaya is when enough time has elapsed, that the doctor says the odds of a recurrence is so low that it is accurate to say the person is cured, or that he has as much a chance of having cancer again as someone who never had it. 

May all the cholei Yisrael be cured and this particular ugly illness be eliminated.