Thursday, May 30, 2013

It May Not Be a Land Flowing with Oil--But it Always Rises to the Top!©

Warren Buffett once stated, “If you are going to the Middle East for oil, then don’t stop in Israel. But if you are going for brains, energy, and integrity, then it is the ONLY place to stop.” And indeed in the Middle East, a region known primarily for its oil and violence, it is Israel alone that regularly rises to the top.

Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, one with a free and open press, one that protects the rights of women, minorities, homosexuals and all faiths unlike their surrounding neighbors who beat women into submission, stone adulterers, kill gays and burn down churches and oppress Christians. Did you know that Israel is the only country in the world that will try a soldier mid-operation to ensure that no excessive use of force was used? Did you know that the Israeli army is among the first responders post natural disasters around the globe, including after the earthquake in Haiti where their assistance was indispensable? Did you know that on a daily basis Israeli innovations are helping millions of people around the globe, from medicine to technology to agriculture and beyond? ICQ was invented in Israel; the stent was invented in Israel; the firewall was invented in Israel; the endoscopy pill, PillCam, was invented in Israel. Both Checkpoint, the leading firewall Internet security system, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest generic drug manufacturer in the world, are Israeli companies. The list is immensely long and impressive.

Israel has more university graduates per capita—and particularly more engineers—than any other country on earth. It also has the highest rate of research and development investment per GDP in the world. As a consequence, it has the largest concentration of high-tech companies outside the United States’ famed Silicon Valley. It has more companies listed on NASDAQ than any country outside North America. Every day new, world changing discoveries are coming out of Israel.

In this week’s Bible reading we learn how spies were sent into Israel to scout out the Promised Land and its inhabitants and bring back reports to Moses. There were those who came back and said the land was unconquerable and that it consumes its inhabitants. And then there were others who said, “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we surely can do it.” All the spies observed the same reality on the ground--they all saw that the “the land was good, very, very much so” but also that it had challenges. The singular difference between the naysayers and optimists was faith. Caleb and Joshua had faith in God and believed in the land’s “exceptionalism” and that is was worth fighting for.

A few years ago I started a group called Ga-Ga for Israel to fight all bias against the Jewish Homeland and to show all the great things coming out of Israel. I was nervous that I would run out of things to post on our Facebook page, but this land flowing with milk and honey has truly kept us so busy. Every single day Israel is literally changing the world and every day we have much to boast and post about. So I hope when people spy out the Promised Land in order to bring charges against it and vilify it, that we will act as Joshua and Caleb and vocally and powerfully remind the world that “the land is good, very, very much so,” and though it may not be perfect it is nowhere near deserving of being singled out for CONDEMNATION, but rather should be singled out for COMMENDATION. For the sake of Zion I will not remain silent and I'll be repetitive—How about you?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tweet Your Heart Out—It’s easy to be jealous!©

The Internet and social networking sites make it very easy to be jealous. We are living with play-by-play, minute-by-minute updates of peoples’ lives. A friend posts he bought a new car; a colleague tweets she got a promotion; a relative instagrams a picture of his new house. We are bombarded night and day with the success of others and we feel like the incredibly shrinking man as our own worth seems to plunge like the Dow Jones on Black Tuesday.

And yet we really are living in a time of plenty where there are 20,000 apps on our cell phones—from simulated sex to global domination. We live in times where we can buy designer items at knock-off prices. We live in times where everyone can be a celebrity on a moronic reality TV show with the open opportunity to become a moron, too. We live in times where the old can be Botoxed, the flat chested can be enhanced, the toothless can have teeth and if all that fails there is still Photoshop to add the perfect touches to our lives. Manna is basically falling from heaven. So, what’s to complain about? What’s to be jealous about?

I remember as a young girl when I questioned my mother why other kids had things I couldn’t have, she answered me in Yiddish, “s√ľndigen nicht”—meaning “don’t sin.” Was it really a sin to want what another had? Yes! “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors’ house”—even if it’s just a doll house. But my mother’s intention was not to get all Biblical on me at that young age, she was basically telling me to APPRECIATE what I have and not to cast envious eyes on others. When we truly appreciate what we do have, we come to find that we really aren’t missing anything at all. The Talmud asks: “Who is rich?” The Talmud answers: “The one who is content with his lot.” You see, when you have the gift of appreciation you have everything. And conversely, if you have everything but lack genuine appreciation, then you really have nothing at all.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read how the Israelites cried out to Moses because they were fed up with eating manna and wanted meat. They complained so much that they literally drove Moses to such exasperation that he said to God: “Please kill me.”  What’s interesting is that the rabbis say that manna was a perfect food--it was completely absorbed by the body producing no human waste. And it also tasted like whatever food one wanted it to taste like. 

The desert Jews surely did not have the art of appreciation. And today, we too, always feel the grass is greener. The Israelites forgot about the cruelty of their slave drivers and how they cried out to G-d (Exodus 2:23-24). Instead they complained about the manna that sustained them and told Moses, “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic. But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes..." (Numbers 11:5). They were nostalgic for something that never was—the Egyptians wouldn’t even give them straw never mind melons and fish. And they were ungrateful for what they had: manna falling from heaven. So what was the fate of those ingrates who wanted meat? God gave them so much meat until they became sick of that too and then He smote them and called their burial ground the “Graves of Craving.”

The lesson is clear: We, too, must learn to curb our cravings and stop stoking our appetites by looking in everyone else's plate instead of our own. Symbolically, our lives too have the neutral taste of manna. And it is how we season what we’ve been served that makes our lives palatable and sweet or bitterly hard to swallow.

Someone once said: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked G-d for today?” Certainly we would awake to realize all that we have taken for granted. So here is my tweet for the day: "I’m no mathematician, but I know you can’t count two things at the same time. So start counting your blessings and not your complaints, and you will come to realize the great gift your own life adds up too."


Monday, May 13, 2013

Can You Count to TEN?©

Most of us admit that it is nearly impossible to keep all the 613 commandments in the Bible. But most of us pride ourselves on the fact that we at least keep the Ten Commandments. Nonetheless, as the Decalogue is read on the upcoming holiday of Shavuot in synagogues around the world, perhaps it is a good time for us to have a closer look at these laws and see if in their bright light we pass inspection.

The first commandment in the Old Testament is the belief that G-d is the origin of all things: “I am the L-rd your G-d.” It is from this starting point that any of the commandments have infinite relevance. So with that in mind, let’s proceed.

II “You shall have no other G-ds….” Though we may not have golden calves in our living rooms it does not mean we are guilt free of idol worship. ANYTHING that comes between us and our service to G-d is an idol, including our money, our  jobs, our egos, and even our habits, addictions and fears.  And if perchance, we find ourselves on the golf course instead of temple on the Sabbath, then those iron clubs are rendered idols because we worship them and our desires more than G-d’s will.
III “Thou shalt not take the name of the L-rd in vain.” Although most decent people won’t swear to G-d if something is not true, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say most of us have made a promise or two to G-d and not kept it. Once our plane lands safely, or the medical result comes back A-OK, all the deals we make with G-d vanish in quick time. That, too, is calling upon G-d’s name in vain.
IV “Remember the seventh day and keep it holy.” Whether people keep the Sabbath or not is pretty clear cut. But, the justifications and excuses as to why they don’t are always creative. People will say that they serve G-d in their own way, when they have the time, and not necessarily on the allotted day. Just try that routine on your girlfriend and tell her you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day on June 3rd or tell your wife you’ll remember your anniversary when you get a chance. The Sabbath is not just a concept that can be applied when it suits us. It’s a divinely determined appointment with energies unique to its time and place in the universe.
 V “Honor they mother and father.” Most people think this decree means not to be rude to your parents while they are alive. It doesn’t stop there. This commandment doesn’t have a statute of limitations and does not expire when our parents pass on. Even after they die our behavior in this world reflects on them. If we behave immorally, are corrupt, or, conversely, are decent to others, our behavior honors or dishonors them.  Remember it doesn't say to love our parents, just honor the fact that they gave us life. Don't make efforts to diminish them, embarrass them or criticize them, even if they are already lowly characters or not everything you wanted them to be. The Kabbalists say that the souls of unborn babies actually pick the parents they will be born to. So if you have any complaints, well, you picked ‘em!
 VI “Thou shalt not murder.” Just as you were about to breathe a sigh of relief and count this as a commandment you surely didn’t break, know that embarrassing a person in public, according to the Talmud, is tantamount to murder as it causes the blood to rush away from someone’s face. Breaking someone’s pride and dignity and crushing their spirit is also regarded as a form of murder. As we’ve all certainly heard before, death and life are in the tongue.
 VII “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Jewish law is very clear here: Your wife may be a witch, your husband a muttonhead; your marriage may be dead, you may be sleeping in different rooms, nonetheless if you drop your pants in the wrong place, it is still adultery.
 VIII “Thou shalt not steal.” As a young girl I remember hearing a story about two people who walked out of a Canadian department store with a canoe. They stole it in plain sight. Sometimes what is very obvious goes unnoticed. But theft does not need to come in such big sizes for it to be theft. The Talmud teaches that G-d destroyed the world by a flood because people stole inconsequential amounts from each other. Rabbi Elie Munk points out that what makes stealing small amounts uniquely deleterious is that it leaves the victim with no legal recourse. For instance, someone goes to a market and tears off a grape and eats it — not much damage done. However, then the next person comes along and does the same thing, and so on. It is not long before that bunch of grapes is diminished both in appearance and quantity — and the owner really has no one to blame for the theft. Nonetheless, the damage is done.
 IX “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Perhaps you would not lie under oath, but any form of lying against another person’s good name, even to aggrandize yourself or your business, is wrong. You never know where those words will land and they may ultimately even lead someone to commit suicide.
 X “Thou shalt not covet.” Maybe we are NOT coveting daily after our neighbor’s donkeys, but we have all bought things we cannot afford and over-extended ourselves. More often than not, we do such things because we covet what others have. We have big eyes on the world and we want the same things as everyone else. In the end, however, coveting may often hurt us more than those we covet. The Torah cautions us not to run after our hearts and eyes so that we literally should not whore ourselves because of them. We end up selling ourselves literally and figuratively to buy or get what we covet. And the rabbis teach that coveting ultimately leads to the transgression of all the other commandments.

Just something to think about as we count to TEN in synagogue this week.
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