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Showing posts from October, 2013

Toldot and Helicopter Parents

The new Microsoft stores, although certainly not as crowded as their rival Apple stores, feature the emerging technology of 3D printing. Like the first PC’s of a generation ago, these devices have the potential to revolutionize our lives. Imagine that one day you will be able to make anything you need while sitting at your desk at home. Rather than running from hardware store to Home Depot and back again for the correctly sized replacement part you can sit down at your computer and printer and make it. Some might dismiss such ideas as the stuff of science fiction, but remember that it was not so long ago that many of us dismissed the notion that we would one day hold in our hands the computing power of what then occupied entire rooms at university labs. Even more impressive is the recent development of 4D printing. Researchers at MIT are working on this technology. What is 4D printing? It is the manufacture of objects that self assemble. Not only are they three dimensional ra

Chayei Sarah and Broken Hearts

According to rabbinic legend Sarah died of a broken heart. Moments before she dies, at the beginning of this week’s portion, the rabbis imagine she discovered that her husband Abraham had nearly sacrificed their only son on Mount Moriah .  Her heart was shattered.   The rabbis reason that she died then and there.  The Torah relates: “Sarah’s lifetime came to one hundred and twenty seven years.” (Genesis 23:1)   Abraham then mourns, buys a burial plot in the city of Hebron and buries his wife in the Cave of Machpelah .  It was then and there that our attachment to the land of Israel was solidified. And yet while we understand Sarah’s torment and are sympathetic to the rabbis’ interpretation, our tradition argues that the heart is to be mistrusted.   If we were to rely on the heart alone we might never do what is required of us.  The Torah admonishes us: “Take heed, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn away, and serve other gods.”  (Deuteronomy 11:16)   We are therefo

Vayera and Unreasonable Demands

Ask children what their least favorite statement to hear from their parents and they will probably say, “Because I said so.” And yet this is exactly what our patriarch Abraham hears.  This is all that he is offered. In this week’s portion we read of the well-known command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. God says, “Take your son, your favored one, whom you love, Isaac and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.” What does Abraham do? “So early next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him.” (Genesis 22:2-3) There is no discussion and no debate. We see only a willing and obedient response. Can you imagine a more unreasonable, and perhaps even irrational, command? Sacrifice your son. Sacrifice the son you and your wife have prayed and longed for th

Lech Lecha and the God Particle

This week’s Torah portion is Lech Lecha and tells the story of Abraham’s call. “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1) And Abraham went as God commanded. Often when examining this story we look at the later success of the journey. We judge the trip by its destination. Abraham journeys to the land of Israel and there secures our attachment to this sacred land. But at the outset this is not assured. Still Abraham sets out on the journey, trusting in the promise even though he is unaware of the destination. God instructs him that the journey will conclude at a land that “I will show you.” How often have we set out on a journey with the destination so unclear? I would guess, “Almost never.” In our goal oriented society we rarely if ever journey with no destination in mind. Yet the majority of the Torah is a record of our wandering through the wilderness. We are a people defined, espe

The Government Shutdown and an Oven

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, in response to the question of why he and other like-minded conservatives have forced a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act said, “Because we’re right. Simply because we’re right.” (The New York Times, October 1, 2013) A story from the Talmud. Millennia ago, in the land of Israel, the rabbis faced a similar political stand off. At that time they were arguing not about health care but about the oven of Aknai. The question was asked: Is the oven clean or unclean? Rabbi Eliezer of Hyrcanus, considered the greatest mind of his day, declared it clean. All the other Sages ruled it unclean. Rabbi Eliezer would not accept the majority’s decree. He brought forward every imaginable argument. Still they would not accept his logic. “Even though the oven is constructed of individual tiles, the cement which binds it together makes it a single utensil and therefore liable to uncleanness,” the Sages ruled. Rabbi Eliezer became