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October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘connection’

Permutations & Combinations

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Originally published at Chabad.org.

By Elisha Greenbaum

Some people just don’t appreciate gematria.

In our synagogue I try to find something to say during the pauses in the Torah reading every Shabbat. We’re fairly eclectic in our tastes, and you might find us flitting between an ethical teaching, a play on words, a chassidic interpretation, or a piece of numerology during the break between one reading to the next.

Many of our regulars question my occasional use of gematria or other types of numerology.

Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value. Aleph = 1, bet = 2, etc., and adding up the letters gives you the unique numerical value, or gematria, of each word and phrase. Comparing and contrasting the relative value of different words and phrases often affords surprising insight into the text and allows us to correlate seemingly unconnected Torah topics.

I admit it does sometimes seem somewhat random. One congregant of mine frequently observes, often after I’ve just introduced a particularly obscure piece of numerology, that you can read whatever you wish into numbers, and if you try hard enough you could probably find a tenuous connection between most topics.

He’s right, in a way. These methods are described as parparaot la-chochmah, the condiments of wisdom. They’re not the main meal of Judaism, just the seasoning that gives Judaism its taste. Torah is Godly and infinite, and all wisdom is contained within her words. You’d never decide a law on the basis of gematria; but, used properly, they can help give a new and deeper appreciation and understanding of the text.

Take one of the most famous examples of word and number play in the Torah. As Jacob leaves his father-in-law’s house on his journey back to Israel, he sends a message to his brother, Esau. Im Lavan garti, I have lived with Laban.

Rashi pointed out that the gematria of garti is 613, which is also the number of commandments in the Torah, and thus interprets Jacob’s message to be saying, “Throughout the years that I lived with the evil Laban, I kept the 613 commandments.”

But would my friend be convinced? So the word garti equals 613; it’s surely not the only word in the Torah with that value. Where do you get mitzvahs from “I have dwelled”? Why would Rashi assume that Jacob is doing more than just describing his living arrangements for the last 20 years, and is rather making a metaphysical point about his commitment to the commandments?

Gematria is more than random wordplay. Legitimate tools of Torah interpretation treat the text as a living document: an interplay of content and context, with each letter, word and phrase redolent with meaning. In our example, the correlation between garti and mitzvah observance is deeper than just adding up the letters; rather, the context leads to the conclusion.

The word garti, from the root ger, “stranger” or “convert,” is unusual. Had Jacob just wished to say “I lived with Laban,” there are other, seemingly more appropriate verbs that he could have used. Garti has connotations of “I was a stranger”; I was different, I never fit in with the wicked people because I lived and acted differently than they. Jacob was saying, “The whole time I was away from home, I stayed true to the lessons that I learned in my parents’ home.”

It was in this context that the rabbis observed that there is also numeric support for this supposition. “I was able to keep the 613 mitzvot, even in Lavan’s house, because I remained a stranger to their way of life.”

Wherever a Jew is, no matter how far from home he may have traveled, he can always maintain his connection to the words and letters of Torah by appreciating the value of each letter and word of Godliness and seeking out the underlying purpose of each phrase and phase of life.

On Politics and Circumcision

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Late Tuesday night, December 4, 2012, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, also iron fisted boss of Yisrael Beiteinu, announced his slate for the January 22 elections, a slate he’ll be cohabitating with PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. It’s going to be a “ritchratch” (zipper) list, with Likud 1 coming first, followed by Yisrael Beiteinu 1 in second, Likud 2 in third place and YB 2 in fourth.

I’d like to see Nate Silver crack this one…

And, as iron fisted leaders often do, Liberman (who doesn’t like his name spelled Lieberman, like Joe’s) decided to shed a few celebs from his current list of candidates, including MK Danny Ayalon, his deputy foreign minister; Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov who resigned from political life (Driver, take me to your finest Gulag); and MK Anastassia Michaeli, the lady who never met an Arab she liked and became world famous for emptying a glass of water on Labor MK Raleb Majadele.

In light of all of the above, here’s the reason for making this the photo of the day. It has to do with the curious connection between the Hebrew word for “word” – Milah, and for “circumcision” – also Milah (brit milah means covenant via circumcision).

Liberman’s election slogan, Milah Zu Milah (A Word Is a Word, meaning you can count on my word) can also be interpreted to mean Circumcision is Circumcision – and so it came in handy on the night a fifth of the old party list was cut off.

Siman Tov U’Mazal Tov…

Have You Made A Difference In Someone’s Life?

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Originally published October 24, 1971

A rose that I picked from our garden to enhance the beauty of our sukkah is so exquisite that visitors remarked that they didn’t realize it was “real” until they noticed the water in the vase.

Only the Almighty could have created something so perfect, I thought, as my mind wandered back to a time long ago, when our daughters (now married) helped to “build” the sukkah. How excited they were hurrying home from school to put up the decorations.

I recall a special day when the girls and their friends were having a get-together in the sukkah and, with spirits high, they sang the lively Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people live! A neighbor passing by stopped in, drawn by the spirited singing. “And who did the decorating?” she wanted to know. When told that the girls had done most of it, Mrs. Hochman said, “They’ll never get into trouble that way!”

They never did, thanks to G-d whose “Guide” for living (Torah) we follow. Interestingly, a psychologist in the police department – lecturing on preventing juvenile delinquency – said, “Keep them busy!”

Now, it’s our grandchildren who are being kept busy – building, not only our sukkah, but theirs, a block and a half away. Meals were divided between their sukkah and ours, so that the Sukkos holiday should be joyous, for this holiday specifically referred to as a time of joy!

How much more joyous is it when, by the Grace of G-d, not only are there children but grandchildren as well joining in the festivities, and one sees they too are following the righteous path. For not only will they never get in trouble, but also they are already contributing members of the community – being of service to others, helping when needed. For then they will know not only the joy of the Sukkos holiday, but also the joy that comes from serving, which was so well put by a young woman quoted in last Sunday’s News. She said: “I felt like all of a sudden I was awake, like I was really present in life. I no longer felt like a spectator!”

That remark was made in connection with her participation in “Make A Difference Day” – an event started seven year ago in which volunteers from all over the U.S. get involved in helping others, at least one day a year.

It’s a great idea, which ought to be made a “must” for students in the public schools. Perhaps it would have a good effect in those schools that are plagued by dangerous gangs [nowadays bullying].

As for the Torah community, “we have it made.” Serving others – everyday – is one of the most important tenets of our religion. May the remainder of this special holiday bring much joy to all, and to all – a “Good Year” – a year in which we will all “Make A Difference” and help to bring the Messiah!

ObamaCare: The Propaganda Machine Revs Up

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

A television commercial airing in the greater-LA viewing area for the last week depicts a middle-aged woman – not a senior; a tad zaftig; with dark salt-and-pepper hair – lauds Obamacare as the reason she is alive today.  Her story involves having a preexisting condition, which prevented her from getting private insurance.

From the standpoint of actual truth, of course, the condition would not have prevented her from having access to Medicaid or to California’s medical assistance programs.  And, what Medicaid does or doesn’t cover is the government’s fault, and could be changed (or exchanges for clients with preexisting conditions created) without implementing Obamacare.

At any rate, I don’t know if this transparent propaganda is airing elsewhere.   I have been unable to locate any information about it on the web.  I believe I recall seeing it on The Weather Channel, but have probably also seen it elsewhere, e.g., HGTV, the afternoon news on the local ABC affiliate (ABC-7), and possibly during a sappy Hallmark Channel movie.  I don’t recall seeing it all during the Thanksgiving weekend football marathon.  Its target audience is presumably women.

So, Californians, if you have seen this commercial, please let me know anything you have identified about it.  My goal is to figure out who produced it.  I’m sure we know who paid for it – the American taxpayer – but there’s so much crony-ish revolving-door-ism going on with advertising agencies and the Obama administration that it would really be nice to know who’s responsible for this ad.

Placing propaganda in entertainment

Many readers are no doubt aware of the millions in taxpayer dollars that the Obama administration has contracted out to PR firms for the purpose of hawking Obamacare to a reluctant public.  Quite a few readers probably also know that California has contracted with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide to sell its state insurance exchange – and all the benefits of wholly-government-managed “health care” – to skeptical, resistant, or simply exhausted Californians.  A key product of this enterprise is the notorious bright idea of getting Hollywood to include Obamacare themes in the story lines of popular TV series:

And Hollywood, an industry whose major players have been supportive of President Obama and his agenda, will be tapped. Plans are being discussed to pitch a reality television show about “the trials and tribulations of families living without medical coverage,” according to the Ogilvy plan. The exchange will also seek to have prime-time television shows, like “Modern Family,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and Univision telenovelas, weave the health care law into their plots.

“I’d like to see 10 of the major TV shows, or telenovelas, have people talking about ‘that health insurance thing,’ ” said Peter V. Lee, the [California insurance] exchange’s executive director. “There are good story lines here.”

A cozy industry hits the government jackpot

What fewer readers may be aware of is the multitude of connections between the PR firms, advocacy groups with a financial interest in Obamacare, and the Obama administration.  For example, the advertising firm Porter Novelli, which was awarded the $20 million contract from HHS to urge Obamacare on American taxpayers, was founded by William D. Novelli, who was later the CEO of AARP – a major advocate of Obamacare – from 2001 to 2009.  (Novelli’s successor at AARP, Barry Rand, was a big Obama donor in 2008.)

As numerous news outlets noted at the time the $20 million contract was awarded, Catherine “Kiki” McLean was a senior partner and managing director of Porter Novelli.  McLean is a Democratic Party operative who worked for the campaigns of Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton, as well as the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama.  McLean was hired by Porter Novelli in June 2009.  Since 2010, Porter Novelli has been awarded $49 million in HHS contracts.

In October 2012, meanwhile, Susan Hayes, Porter Novelli’s “global head of healthcare” – their senior executive responsible for health care PR, brands, advertising, etc – left the firm to work for Obama for America, the president’s reelection campaign.  This departure was reported 20 days before the 6 November election, although it is not clear exactly when Ms. Hayes left Porter Novelli.  Apparently, she was able to log at least three weeks on the job.

The Ache in the Heart

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

I wrote once, long ago, of how having a son in the army changed your relationship and part of being a parent is accepting that relationship and going with the flow of it. One of the things I noticed early on was that I was more aware of the ache inside me when my sons were not home. When you first have a child, you are still connected to them in many ways. You feel, sometimes before they even let you know, that they are hungry or they need you.

Over time, the incredible connection that began when they were within you stretches. At first, you are with them almost 24 hours a day; slowly it becomes less intense. They learn to crawl, to walk, to run. They go to school and friends and you become two human beings – there’s a connection, of course, but you don’t feel them as deeply as you did before.

Hours can go where you concentrate on other people and other things. It was a shock to me, initially, to find that after Elie went into the army, a part of my heart and brain remained engaged with his well being. What I mean is, it was like a dull nerve always being pressed. I was constantly aware that he was out of reach, out of contact.

Though there were times he was in more danger than others, that feeling of connection, of worry, never went away unless he was at home. Only then did I feel that I could turn my phone off over the weekend, sleep deeply etc.

When Shmulik left the army, I thought that I had finally earned a full night’s sleep; peace in the heart and mind and soul. When Elie went into the Reserves, here and there, the connection didn’t come back and I thought maybe I’d moved past it, come to terms with this army thing.

When Shmulik married last year and Elie married this year, I accepted that my relationship with my sons has changed. Each has a wife that needs to take priority in their attention. Sure, I’m still their mother, but it’s a background position.

Moments after Elie left last night, I knew that he hadn’t really left. I feel that ache deep inside, that feeling that he’s missing and I can’t be complete without him home – even knowing that that home isn’t really mine anymore. His home is his apartment with Lauren and she’s missing him and worried and going through so much and more of what I feel.

At one point, half joking, and half not, I said to Amira, “I don’t want to do this again. It wasn’t fun the first time.” I think we both laughed but the truth is that I don’t want to do this. I don’t want him to go to war. I don’t want him there. I just don’t want it.

And the second truth is that this is going to happen. I finally spoke to Elie hours after Shabbat had ended. I was so grateful for the call. I had expected to hear about him from Lauren (and he called her hours ago and she was wonderful and called me right away). It was so nice of him to call me too – I’d needed it more than he’ll ever know.

He’s still on a base, waiting to be moved south; still preparing. The Israeli Air Force has done a tremendous job of laying the foundations of the ground invasion that is likely to come. No nation can withstand hundreds of rockets being fired at its cities. Hamas chose this battle and Elie and so many others from this neighborhood and throughout Israel are preparing, at this very moment, to respond to that call to battle.

It will not be easy. It will not be short but maybe this time the leaders of Israel will realize that we have no choice but to finish what was started 4 years ago.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Bennet’s Staff: ‘Netanyahu’s People Negotiated the Pact between Orlev and Hershkowitz’

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Over the past four years there has been some bitter infighting between the two Bayit Yehudi party members, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz and MK Zevulun Orlev, IDF Radio reported. Their relationship has been one of contempt and mistrust, to put it gently. Now, suddenly, there’s been a reconciliation at the helm of the National Religious Party. As Orlev put it: “Even though we’ve had our downhill slopes during our past term in office, I have willingly agreed to a joint leadership for the party, and everything will be carried out in unity.”

Orlev and Hershkowitz agreed on Monday night to what they call “a joint leadership based on the Shas party model.” Hershkowitz, who is behind in the polls, announced that he wouldn’t run for chairman of the party or even for a Knesset seat, but would participate in leading and managing the party. This decision will benefit Orlev who is running against Naftali Bennet, a one time member of Netanyahu’s team who has been on bad terms with the premier for the past several years. Sources close to Bennet say that Netanyahu’s supporters negotiated the “peace treaty” between Orlev and Hershkowitz in order to thwart Bennet’s political career.

Heshkowitz denies the charges. “People claim that Natan Eshel was involved in making the deal – I want to make it completely clear that this matter has no connection to the prime minister, neither directly nor indirectly.”

Bennet’s headquarters reacted by saying, “The old political system was completely exposed tonight. The public is looking for leadership, not an employment arrangement for politicians.”

Back to Dubai: Australian Travelers Should Read This

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

If you have not yet read the blog post we wrote a month ago about Prof. Cyril Karabus ["26-Sep-12: Dubai, Dubai, Dubai"], please consider taking a moment to do that now. Even if you don’t have that moment, below is a summary of some of the issues we raised there, plus some fresh background. It’s followed by some thoughts by us on what the scandalous conduct of the authorities in the United Arab Emirates in this sordid affair might all mean.

The UAE is one of those nation states that was invented in the lifetime of many of us, in 1971. At the time, it had a total population of less than a million people, and control of one-tenth of the world’s oil. Those conditions meant it has been making very serious money ever since, while marching to the beat of its own distinctive drum.

The UAE is made up of several separate emirates. The two largest are Dubai and Abu Dhabi who have not always gotten along so nicely together; their armed forces faced off against each other for a while in the late seventies [source]. They were impoverished fly-specks before gigantic oil and gas reserves were discovered in the sixties. They are no longer poor.

It would be nice to say their phenomenal wealth has been used consistently for good. It would be even nicer if the mythology they like to spin about their leaders were true, but it is not. For instance, the UAE’s first president and acknowledged driving force, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is described in glowing terms on one of its newspaper’s websites:

His firmly-held belief in Islam… was fundamental to his views and actions… He was a firm believer in the need for dialogue between different faiths and cultures, rejecting the intolerant views of those who would seek to promote divisions… His faith was fundamental to his views and actions [including] the duty entrusted to us by God Almighty, who commands us to treat all living creatures with dignity and respect.

Nice sentiments. Keep those last words in mind as we push ahead.

Zayed’s founding (in 1999) and funding of the notorious Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-Up, a so-called think-tank that is now defunct, demonstrated motivations of a different sort. The Center [says Wikipedia]

became embroiled in controversy when it became known that it also disseminated and provided a platform for anti-American, anti-Semitic, and extreme anti-Israel views.

Its speakers were said [according to Wikipedia] to have described Jews as “enemies of all nations” and “cheaters whose greed knows no bounds.” The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamous anti-Semitic forgery created in the 19th century to vilify Jews, was held up as a factual account of a Jewish plan to “control the world.”

Israel was accused by Zayed Center officials of developing an ethnic bomb that will kill only Arabs, an accusation echoed just last week in a wave of claims to identical effect that were published throughout the Iranian government-controlled media. See our blog post “9-Oct-12: The serious message behind the vile idiocy.”

The Zayed people asserted for good measure that the Mossad was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy and for the Watergate scandal as well. There’s more [here, for instance], but you get the picture.

And (here we get to our point) some Zayed speakers accused Israel of trying to sterilize Palestinian children by lacing the water “used by some Palestinian schools” with chemicals.

Matters came to something of a head in 2004 when Harvard Divinity School decided to return a $2.5 million gift from Sheik Zayed [source] “after 18 months of controversy over the donor’s alleged connection to anti-Semitic and anti-US propaganda… Sheikh Zayed gave the money to Harvard in 2000 to endow a professorship of Islamic studies.” But note that the London School of Economics was not quite so unctuous, and kept and spent a similar cash gift from the same source: we wrote about it in our blog two years ago: see “26-Nov-10: Gifts and good relations.”

Now fast forward to today’s UAE and Dubai, where the statelet’s huge airline, Emirates, has just done a deal with Qantas to essentially take over the Australian airline’s steering wheel. With the Australian government blessing the deal a few days ago [report], it looks like full steam ahead. And according to a UAE business news website story from six days ago headlined “No alternative to Emirates deal: Qantas,” the Flying Kangaroo is already thoroughly and irretrievably locked in.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/this-ongoing-war/back-to-dubai-australian-travelers-should-read-this/2012/10/16/

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