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October 26, 2014 / 2 Heshvan, 5775
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Parshat Toldot: The Power Of A Text

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

The theme of my column is leadership. As a general rule I avoid extrapolating leadership lessons from current events. The following is my reasoning. First, the information available from current events is often incomplete and inaccurate. Even when the information is relatively complete and accurate it is unanalyzed. Therefore the basis for lessons learned may prove to be faulty. Second, current events are often too current. To attempt to draw practical lessons in a dispassionate way would be insensitive. At least a minimal amount of time is needed to create the space necessary to allow for such an article. I have relied on the publication of books and scholarly articles on a particular recent event as an indicator that an appropriate amount of time has passed, thus allowing me to write a leadership article about it.

Like any good rule, however, there need to be exceptions. The all too recent hurricane that shattered an untold number of lives is such an exception. I thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu that my family was spared during this storm, but many of my colleagues, students, and friends suffered from its power and continue to suffer in its aftermath. From them I heard stories of hope and chesed that are unbelievable. I also learned from them a more nuanced definition of leadership.

We read in this week’s Parsha how important a bracha is. Even Esav, the rough and tough warrior and hunter, cries uncontrollably because he missed getting blessed by his father Yitzchak. It makes us stop and wonder what it was that made Esav so upset. It certainly was not his losing out on the spiritual aspect of the blessing. One also wonders if he was upset at losing out at the material aspect – after all, he received a material blessing from Yitzchak and it is clear that his descendants have done materialistically well for themselves.

So what was Esav upset about? That he lost out on the encouraging good words from his father. He missed out on the emotional laden blessing that could have served as Esav’s lodestar throughout his life. It could have served as a source of strength and hope when things were not so good, and a moral compass for when things were going well. Fortunately for us, the children of Yisrael, our forefather Yaakov received this blessing and we benefit from what the descendants of Esav missed out on.

Members of Lev Leytzan’s ElderHearts visited with residents of the Atria Riverdale Senior Community during Hurricane Sandy.

We see from here how important a simple string of words can be.

Leaders often focus on the big vision and the mega-decisions, but the primary role of leadership is to give hope and guidance to one’s followers and organizations. In this regard everyone who helps another person get through a day is a leader.

One of my friends who has suffered tremendously from the storm told me the following story.

On the Sunday following the storm, she was surveying the extensive damage to her house. She had just thrown out all her ruined sefarim, books, and furniture. Looking at her damaged home, wondering how long she and her family would remain nomads, how she was going to rebuild, and where she would find the moral energy to move forward, she became totally overwhelmed. Although she had been strong during and after the storm, she had finally reached her breaking point. Then suddenly out of the blue, at 1:20 p.m., she received a random text from a friend saying how inspired she was by her, because despite everything she was experiencing, her thoughts and prayers were about other people! This text, my friend told me, gave her and her husband the boost they needed. Her message to me was simple: while victims of the hurricane need lots of help in so many ways, people should not underestimate the power of a thoughtful word and a sympathetic ear, in addition to an outstretched helping hand.

Fight over Circumcision Dividing German Parliament

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Left-wing German MPs are threatening to oppose their government’s attempt to keep male circumcision legal in Germany. More than 50 MPs from three parties are now proposing that parents should have to wait until their son is 14 so he can give his informed consent to the operation.

Last summer, a regional court ruled that circumcision could amount to criminal bodily harm.

It should be noted that circumcision is by far less painful and traumatic to an 8-day old infant than it is to a teenage boy.

God Works in Mysterious and Especially Tiny Ways (Video)

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Whether you believe in global warming or climate change, you’ve probably run into descriptions of the green house effect. It is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation returns to the surface, it results in the elevation of the average surface temperature.

As the Earth grows warmer, things start changing around the globe, including, for instance, hurricanes that are a thousand miles wide. And, whether you believe the rising temperatures are caused by man or are just part of the natural cycle of things – they’re rising. The ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising – watch out Dutch folks, the ocean is returning.

Now, Methane, which takes up from 4 to 9 percent of Earth’s atmosphere, is a major culprit in the creation of the green house phenomenon. Methane is created by many different natural processes, including, how embarrassing, by cows. Cows emit a massive amount of methane through belching, with a lesser amount through flatulence. Each cow emits between 26 and 53 gallons of methane each day.

According to the USDA, there are between 1.3 and 1.5 billion cows, beef and dairy combined, in the world.

And since the United States consumes beef at the rate of 52 billion pounds a year (in 2012 – it used to be as high as 57 billion in 2007), that means we have a whole lot of cows. More cows—more Methane—more warming planet—bigger hurricanes.

So God sent us His tiny little messenger of hope in the shape of a tiny tick, the lone star tick, named for the white spot on its back. Researchers say that when this tic bites you, its saliva can trigger a reaction to meat that is so agonizing, you’ll turn vegetarian.

“People will eat beef and then anywhere from three to six hours later start having a reaction; anything from hives to full-blown anaphylactic shock,” Dr. Scott Commins, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville told ABC News.

Yes, once the lone star tic bites you, you could die, God forbid, from eating meat.

Scientists are still having a hard time proving a causal relationship between the tick bites and the meat allergies, but they all agree that “blood levels of antibodies for alpha-gal, a sugar found in beef, lamb and pork, rise after a single bite from the lone star tick.”

Cases of the bizarre allergy are cropping up in areas ripe with lone star ticks, according to research presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

“Most food allergies occur very quickly,” said Dr. Stanley Fineman, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “It’s also a bit unusual to see adults develop a food allergy.”

But the tick bite theory could help explain the sudden onset of some meat allergies, Fineman said, adding: “Avoidance is the best way to handle any food allergy.”

Now you get it? In order to save the planet from another flood, God sends a tic to infect us so we become horribly allergic to meat, the cow population drops, green house effect diminishes, plus we now have millions of acres of land to grow vegetables and be healthy.

And, of course, we continue to eat tons of chicken. Because chicken is not meat according to the Torah, you could even have a chicken cheeseburger back around 1000 BCE, until the sages nixed it.

Have a healthy day!

Three Ways That Your Pension May be Spent Before It Enters Your Bank Account

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

When saving for retirement, you may feel secure because you’re putting aside earnings into a pension plan. However, what you may not realize is that some of that money is going to be spent even before it reaches your bank account.

There are 3 ways in which your pension can disappear:

1. Taxes. Having a work-related pension is important because no matter how many years you worked, government social security programs won’t meet all of your post-retirement needs. As helpful as your pension is, be aware that some type of pension plans are taxed as ordinary income when you start taking withdrawals.

2. Debt.  If you still have debts (mortgage, credit cards, or other loans) when you retire, they will need to be paid before your discretionary expenses.  If you are having a hard time making ends meet before you retire, imagine how much more difficult it will be post-retirement on a smaller paycheck.

3.  Charity.  Retirement shouldn’t spell an end to your charitable donations.  If you are careful to give 10, 15, or 20 percent of your income to charity during the years before your retirement, why should you stop post-retirement? To paraphrase the beggar from Fiddler on the Roof, “Just because you’ve retired, I have to suffer?” Depending on your pension and other income-producing investments, you may not be able to make as generous donations as you once did, but certainly charity shouldn’t stop when you retire.

Remember that numbers can be deceiving – after taxes, paying off debt, and giving charity, the amount of your pension may not match the amount deposited in your bank account.  While this sounds drastic, adequate planning can help make up the shortfall.

So before your retirement income is spent before you actually retire review the figures so that you can be prepared. To make this easier, use these easy-to-use calculators to work out how much you are spending on existing loans, mortgages, and more.

Israeli Team Discovers Stem Cell “Bodyguards”

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

A research team headed by Professor Tsvee Lapidot of Israel’s Weizmann Institute’s immunology Department has discovered that the body’s precious stem cells – special bodies which can morph into many different types in order to provide vital services to the body in cases of need – have a little help in the immune system.

According to the paper, reported on by Israel21c, stem cells have backup from a sub-group of activated immune cells whose sole purpose is to defend them.

While the presence of mesenchymal cells – cells which provide support to stem cells in order to keep them healthy and strong – was already known, Dr. Lapidot’s team discovered that a subgroup of cells exists which prevent the differentiation of stem cells, secreting prostaglandins which preserve the youthfulness of the stem cells and prevent them from turning into anything else – also helping them survive chemotherapy or respond to infections.

Lapidot’s study further showed that introducing prostaglandin treatments can improve the quality and increase the number of the stem cells, an important discovery which may impact the strength and amount of cures to patients with leukemia.

Post ‘Biberman’ Weekly Poll Average: 36.6 Likud-Beiteinu, 24.3 Labor

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Knesset Jeremy Weekly Average #3 (week of Oct 21-28) of 3 polls (Panels, Channel 2, Channel 10) conducted after “Biberman” merger:

Current Knesset seats in [brackets], Week 2 average in (brackets)

36.6 (41.2) [42] Likud Beiteinu

24.3 (19.7) [08] Labor

13.3 (12.7) [---] Yesh Atid

12 (10.5) [11] Shas

09 (08) [07] National Union-Jewish Home

05.3 (06) [05] Yahadut Hatorah/UTJ

05 (04) [03] Meretz

04 (04) [04] Hadash

03.3 (04) [04] Ra’am-Ta’al

03 (03) [03] Balad

02.6 (06) [28] Kadima

01 (0.7) [05] Independence

63 (66) [65] Right
57 (54) [55] Center-Left

Romney Can’t and Obama Won’t Do What America Needs (Podcast Pt. II)

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Here is part II of Douglas Goldstein’s radio program – see below.

Synopsis of Parts I and II:

Romney may say the right things, but will he really be able to affect change? And Obama says… and does… the wrong things, and he has no reason to change. Democrats complain that Romney has no sympathy for the unemployment problem.

Of course this is ironic since he has been hunting for a new job for the past year. In the recent debate, he stressed how he would work to improve the economy to help the middle class. He wants to cut out deductions, lower taxes, and simplify the tax code. Great idea, but that’s not how Washington politics work. With so many special interests, will he really be able to make the required changes? It doesn’t look good.

On the other hand, Obama wants to spend his way out of the problem. He gets the money from borrowing the same way overspending American citizens fund their personal largess. Instead of paying back debt that he racked up, Obama pays the minimum monthly balance. It’s like if you pay $50 on your $5,000 credit card debt. Based on the logic of Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, the President feels he can double the amount of debt since he’d only have to make $100 monthly payments (or, in the case of the United States debt, make that an increase from $30 billion per month in interest payments to $60 billion!). This system of borrowing money will probably continue to work until at least the  election date, and maybe for a few more years. But at some point, that debt must be paid off.

On this week’s Goldstein on Gelt radio show, I asked former Chief Economist for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Harvard professor Ken Rogoff about the American Debt Crisis. He gave a great explanation.

Here’s part two of the show (below). Click here for part one.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/goldstein-on-gelt/romney-cant-and-obama-wont-do-what-america-needs-podcast-pt-ii/2012/10/28/

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