Beyond Twelve Gates by Rabbi Smason

Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Pinchas July 30, 2016

‘The Hip Hippo Collection’

For one Connecticut woman, hippos are the way to her heart. Becky Fusco, 29, has been collecting all-things hippopotamuses since she was 10 years old. The new mom possesses 604 items and will be presenting evidence of her colossal collection to the Guinness Book of World Records, in hopes to win a world record holder title. “It brings back lots of memories,” Becky said, elaborating that she’s loved hippos since owning her first, a lucky hippo figurine that she kept on her desk in grade school. Over the years, friends and family gifted Becky with hippo objects. Her collection includes the game Hungry Hungry Hippos, among the more unique trinkets like salt and pepper shakers, Russian hippo nesting dolls and some of her favorites — children’s books and holiday hippos.

Judy Fuerst, curator of the Barker Character, Comic, and Cartoon Museum in Cheshire, CT, is something of an expert in collections. The Barker Museum houses more than 80,000 toys that span more than 150 years. “Anything in quantities takes on an importance that it doesn’t have as an individual item,” Ms. Fuerst said. “Artistically speaking, you can appreciate how many different, beautiful forms it can take on. Who knew there were so many different ways to display hippos?” Ms. Fuerst speculated that there was a deeper motivation for collections. “I think to a certain extent there’s a human instinct to accumulate things you like … I’m much more interested in hippos after this, for example,” she said. And as for Becky Fusco, why is she submitting her hippo collection to the Guiness Book of World Records? “I’m excited because it gives my collection a purpose and a reason to come out of the boxes,” (emphasis added) Becky said.

Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, one of the most widely read books of our time. Dr. Frankl used to say: Don’t ask what you want from life. Ask what life wants from you. The great lives are ones where people heard a call, had a sense of vocation and purpose. Dr. Frankl lived his teachings; in a long and good life, he taught people to build a future, or more precisely, to hear the future calling to them.

Parshas Pinchas Numbers 25:10 – 30:1

In last week’s Torah portion we found the Jewish hero Pinchas saving the day for the Jewish people by publicly executing the Jewish tribal head, Zimri, and his Midianite girlfriend, Kazbi. Those two had desecrated the Name of G-d and His Torah by having relations in plain view of Moses and the entire Jewish leadership. This week, Pinchas is rewarded for sanctifying the Name of G-d and is granted the blessing of peace and priesthood (Kehuna). Pinchas’ zealous response saves the Jewish people from a plague which had broken out in the camp. Five righteous daughters of Tzelofchad file a claim with Moses: In the absence of a brother, they request their deceased father’s share in the Land of Israel. Moses asks G-d for a ruling. The Almighty responds that the claim of these five women who so dearly love the Land of Israel is, indeed, just. Moses is told that he will ascend a mountain to view the Land that the Jewish people will soon inherit, though he will not be allowed to enter. Moses asks G-d to appoint a successor. Do you know who is chosen? Joshua, Moses’ dedicated assistant and student. The Torah portion concludes with a lengthy description of the special offerings brought on various festivals. These sections are also read from the Torah throughout the year on the appropriate holidays.

Rabbinic Ruminations

A park ranger treads carefully through the trees, stopping to listen for signs of the poacher he’s tailing. Killed for skins, medicine and trophy hunting, the worldwide population of tigers has been reduced to near-extinction at about 3,200. Supply of wild animal products could be dealt with by park rangers catching the poachers before they attack, but finding a single poacher in thousands of square miles can be almost impossible, and in the poorest areas, resources are so constrained that poachers are not being intercepted at all. Artificial intelligence and game theory are surprising elements in the arsenal of weapons being used to combat this problem. Artificial Intelligence deals with the development of systems and software capable of acting intelligently, and doing things that would normally be done by people – equally as well, or sometimes better.

Using GPS devices, researchers are delivering intelligent software that helps even the most under-resourced parks protect their animals and tackle the global trade. The software feeds patrol routes to GPS devices carried by the park rangers, giving each person recommendations to take certain actions, like going to a different area. Data also feeds back to the software and is factored in to future recommendations. The inspiration for the poaching idea came from a very different setting halfway around the world. Ten years earlier, researchers developed an unusual approach for running airport security at LAX international airport in Los Angeles. With multiple access points to the airport and not enough officers to cover all the roads and terminals at once, game theory — the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers — was used to allocate limited security resources by strategically randomizing the schedule to keep the adversary guessing.

Scientists have trained computers to read emotions. When emotional intelligence joins forces with artificial intelligence, where will we draw the line between computers and people? What makes us, and not machines, human? What makes human life sacred is the fact that no one is a substitute for any other. The Talmud points out that when a human makes many coins in the same mint, they all come out the same. G-d makes us all in the same image, His image, but we all come out different. That uniqueness is at the heart of our humanity. And it exists not in intelligence, which can be artificial, but in our neshamos (souls) that have the capacity to exercise free will.

Quote of the Week

Make-up can only make you look pretty on the outside but it doesn’t help if you’re ugly on the inside. Unless you eat the make-up. — Audrey Hepburn

Joke of the Week

Late for an important meeting and unable to find parking, Yankel pulled into a spot behind Beth Israel Congregation – a large shul downtown.

“They won’t mind,” he reasoned. “And it’s just for a couple of hours.”

He was about to leave when he saw the sign in the parking lot that read:
“No parking. We are practicing forgiveness, especially during the High Holiday season, but don’t make it harder than it already is.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *