Beyond Twelve Gates – Parshas Nitzavim

Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Nitzavim October 1, 2016 As the year 5777 is about to begin, we wish you a year filled with blessing and goodness. Beyond Twelve Gates will resume after the conclusion of the holidays. Parshas Nitzavim – Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20 Nitzavim begins with Moses gathering every member of the Jewish people for the final time. He initiates them into a Covenant with G-d as the Almighty’s ‘Chosen People’. This Covenant applied not only to those present on that day, but to all future Jewish generations. Moses tells the people that although eventually they will sin, in time they will repent and return to the Torah, and G-d will usher in the messianic era when we all return to the land of Israel. Furthermore, he assures them that the commandments are neither distant nor inaccessible (‘it is not in heaven’). This means that a committed Jewish life is well within everyone’s reach. Torah Reading for Rosh Hashana The two days of Rosh Hashana fall out on Monday, October 3 and Tuesday, October 4 (The first day of Rosh Hashana begins Sunday evening). On Monday the Torah reading is from Genesis 21:1 — 21:34. On Tuesday the Torah reading is from Genesis 22:1 — 22:24. The theme of the Monday Torah reading is that G-d remembered Sarah at the age of 90. She bore a son named Isaac to her 100 year-old husband Abraham. Our tradition teaches that Sarah conceived on Rosh Hashana. Not only do we recall Sarah and Abraham’s great merit, but we should be inspired to repent and pray just as they did. The theme of the Tuesday Torah reading is the account of the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac. Both Abraham and Isaac demonstrated their willingness to make any sacrifice to comply with G-d’s will. Our tradition teaches that the Akeida took place on Rosh Hashana. The shofar of Rosh Hashana is customarily made of a ram’s horn to recall the merit of the Akeida because a ram was substituted for Isaac on the altar. Rabbinic Ruminations Some of us may wish we possessed the ability to decode the lives of the people around us like the great Sherlock Holmes. Is a person’s smile the secret to understanding someone’s personality? The music they listen to? Their Facebook posts? One type of question recently shown to reveal much of a person’s personality is to ask them what they think about other people. Why? We tend to see more of our own qualities in others. The generous person sees others as generous and the selfish person sees others as selfish. Dr. Dustin Wood, a recent study’s first author, said: “A huge suite of negative personality traits are associated with viewing others negatively. The simple tendency to see people negatively indicates a greater likelihood of depression and various personality disorders.” The study documents various properties of perceiver effects—or how an individual generally tends to describe other people in a population. In the study people were asked to judge the positive and negative characteristics of three other people. The more positively they judged those people, the more happy, enthusiastic, capable and emotionally stable they turned out to be themselves. People who judged others more positively also turned out to be more satisfied with their own lives. Set...

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“Where Have You Gone, James Dean?” Beyond Twelve Gates

Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Ki Savo September 24, 2016 “Where Have You Gone, James Dean?” The Woodlands High School JV football team had been working hard on the practice field for nearly two months and had yet to win a game. But two weeks ago, that all was about to change. The Woodlands (Houston, TX) team was down 29-28 to Katy Tompkins JV, but Woodlands had the football and was on the move. On the next to last play of the game, with time running out on the clock, the Woodlands JV quarterback completed a pass to his receiver, Austin Brauweiler. Austin rumbled toward the goal line for the winning TD but he crashed into a Tompkins player at the 1-yard line. So with just a few seconds on the clock, Woodlands was lining up to try and score the winning touchdown when the players noticed that the Tompkins player wasn’t moving. Life Flight was called and the Tompkins player was airlifted to the hospital. Following a 40-minute delay in action, the game was prepared to resume. With his team just 1 yard away from a potential victory, David Colschen, The Woodlands JV coach, knew in his heart what the right call was. Colschen — at that point, the coach of a winless team on the doorstep of their first victory – told his quarterback to take the snap and to kneel down to end the game out of respect to the injured player. Coach Colschen said “If we do go and try to win the game, do you really celebrate that?” and he added “not a single one of our kids complained about the decision … we’re here to teach kids, and there’s a lot of lessons learned through football and sports.” Tompkins athletic director and football coach, Anthony Tademy was touched by The Woodlands’ decision. “It showed a lot of class,” CoachTademy said. “It wasn’t about a win or a loss.” And the Tompkins player is out of the hospital and doing much better. We’ve all heard the term “a class act.” But class is not an “act.” Class is a deep-seated way of life for those who possess it. Having class involves good manners, politeness, pride without showboating, empathy, humility, and an abundance of self-control. The actions of class-act people speak louder than their words. Ethics of the Fathers teaches that if one doesn’t behave like a mensch (a fine human being) one doesn’t have Torah (im ain derech eretz ain Torah). When you act with decency towards others, you are a ‘good-will ambassador’ for whatever and whomever you represent. Parshas Ki Savo Deuteronomy 26:1 — 29:8 The parsha begins by describing the annual mitzvah for farmers in Israel to bring their bikurim, or first fruits, to the Kohen in the Temple. The donor was then to recite a prayer of thanksgiving, recalling how G-d had delivered his ancestors from Egypt and brought the new generation into a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses then teaches two special mitzvos, which the Jewish people are to perform upon entering the land of Israel. First, they are to inscribe the entire Torah on twelve large stones. Second, the twelve tribes are to ratify their acceptance of the Torah in the following manner; six tribes were to stand...

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Is the Internet Affecting Your Memory?

Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Re’eh September 3, 2016 Is the Internet Affecting Your Memory? A Florida woman is fighting to keep her beloved pet alligator. Mary Thorn said her 15-year-old pet named Rambo ” … watches TV on top of my dogs. People get along with him, kids love him. Brand new babies have sat with him to do pictures.” The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is trying to seize her pet because he has grown past 6 feet long, the maximum size allowed for someone living on less than 2.5 acres. Ms. Thorn said Rambo, adopted after he was found being kept in cramped and dark conditions 11 years ago, is house trained, understands sign language commands and loves to dress in costumes, which she said also serve a practical purpose because the pet is sensitive to light. Ms. Thorn said she is asking the commission to make an exception for Rambo due to his unusual nature and because she obtained her license before the 2.5-acre provision was added onto the law. Extolling Rambo’s praises, Ms. Thorn said, “He’s like my son. He’s my family. He’s not a normal gator. He has never been a normal gator.” Rambo spends most of his days indoors. He waits by the refrigerator for food; after meals Ms. Thorn keeps his teeth clean with a toothbrush and toothpaste. She even holds him like a baby and kisses his snout. Ms. Thorn insists she is not crazy for keeping a gator like a family member. “I get that all the time,” she said. “And then once they meet him his personality takes over.” Mary Thorn added that Rambo does not pose any danger to humans or animals since he is trained to keep his mouth shut around people. The inability to keep one’s mouth shut around people is the source of many social ills. It has caused the dissolution of numerous friendships, the termination of countless marriages, and has generated immeasurable suffering. The antidote to loshon hara (evil speech)? In the words of King David, “Who is the man who desires life and loves days that he may see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit” (Psalm 34: 13-14) Study the laws pertaining to forbidden speech. These are collected into a single volume, written by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, generally known as the Chofetz Chaim. An excellent version in English is titled Guard Your Tongue, by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin. Parshas Re’eh — Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17 Moses informs the Jewish people that we each face a choice; choose to observe G-d’s directions for living (i.e. the Torah) and receive blessings, or choose to ignore G-d and experience estrangement and its consequences. Moses then turns to describing a number of religious, civil and social laws relevant once the Jewish people enter the Promised Land. Included in this listing are: • Don’t imitate the ways of the nations surrounding you • A false prophet who attempts to entice you to idolatry should be put to death • Since the Torah is complete and perfect, nothing may be added to or subtracted from it • Self infliction of wounds on the body as a sign of mourning is prohibited • As a holy people, refrain from eating non-kosher food • Be...

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“Bob the Builder Knows Best” Beyond Twelve Gates

Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Matos — Masei August 6, 2016 “Bob the Builder Knows Best” How can you move more quickly through a crowded airport? Israeli startup NUA Robotics plans to make your travel experience easier, with its newly developed hands-free carry-on suitcase that follows you around, just like a loyal pet. “By combining central networks and computer vision, the robot inside the luggage recognizes the user,” said Alex Libman, co-founder and CEO of NUA. Simply put, the carry-on has a built-in camera that detects the location of its owner. The case connects to a smartphone app via Bluetooth, so you know where your luggage is at all times. Founded in early 2015, NUA – which means “move” in Hebrew – has raised $125,000 in funding from a venture capital firm, and is currently raising its seed round. The luggage is able to do more than just follow you around and carry your clothes. It can charge its own battery on the go, as well as charge your phone, computer, or tablet. It can also communicate its weight through the app, and it has a built-in anti-theft alarm. The alarm will react if the distance between you and your luggage becomes larger than about 30 feet. And if you forget your luggage somewhere, it will send a notification to your smartphone. NUA expects to price the suitcase at $599; about six times the price of same-size suitcases, most of which cost about $100. “Any object can be smart and robotic,” Alex Libman, said. “We want to bring robots into everyday life.” “Smart” luggage follows its owner. How does Judaism judge smart people? Ethics of the Fathers (4:1) teaches, Who is wise? He who learns from all people. Smart people ask questions, learn from others, and take mental notes when observing the actions of both wise and unwise people. Equally important, they take notes of their own actions and continually add to their database of experiences. As they age, they become smarter and smarter. Parshas Matos — Masei Numbers 30:2 – 36:13 In the first of this week’s two action-packed portions, Moses teaches the rules and restrictions governing oaths and vows. Promises are serious business. When we say that we plan to do something — even something as simple as, ‘I’ll call you later’ — we’re bound by our words. Anticipating entrance into the land of Israel, the tribes of Gad and Reuben petition Moses to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan River because that land is particularly suitable for grazing their cattle. Moses, not wanting to ‘steer’ Gad and Reuben wrong, grants their request on the condition to first help the rest of the nation in conquering the entire land of Israel before returning to settle their inheritance. Masei (a word meaning ‘journeys’) begins with a listing of the 42 encampments of the Jewish people’s 40 year journey from the Exodus until the crossing of the Jordan River into the Land of Israel. The boundaries of the Land of Israel are defined. Since the Levites would not be receiving a regular portion of the land, 48 cities are set aside for them. Cities of refuge are established; one who unintentionally murders can flee there. So ends the book of Numbers, the fourth of the Books of the...

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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...

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“Are All Fakes Created Equal?” Beyond Twleve Gates

Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Balak July 23, 2016 “Are All Fakes Created Equal?” Sure, many of us have lapsed into silly talk on occasion. But it’s rare that a person speaking ‘Texan’ goes in for routine jaw surgery and comes out sounding British. That’s just what happened to Lisa Alamia of Rosenberg, southwest of Houston. The Texas woman went into jaw surgery to correct an overbite, and while she got her new smile, she got something she did not plan for: a British accent. Lisa was diagnosed with foreign accent syndrome, an extremely rare speech disorder that alters a person’s speech so that he or she seems to speak with a foreign accent. When the mother of three underwent lower-jaw surgery in December 2015 and returned home with a British accent, her children thought she was kidding. “I was very shocked,” Lisa said. “I didn’t know how to take it. I was very confused. I said ‘Ya’ll’ all the time before the accent. Once I got the accent, I started noticing I’d say, ‘You all.'” Doctors estimate that foreign accent syndrome has affected fewer than 100 people in 100 years worldwide. “It’s such a rare condition that neurologists don’t believe that this is a real condition,” said Dr. Toby Yaltho, a Houston neurologist. “The big thing is to know that she’s not faking it.” There is no known cure for the condition. Although the accent can diminish over time, it can be permanent. Lisa, who feared people wouldn’t believe her, said, “I’ve never been outside of the country, except for a mission trip to Mexico. That’s not where my accent came from.” The now British-accented Texan is planning to start speech therapy and says she has come to realize that the accent doesn’t define her. “In the beginning, that was my fear — ‘Oh, is she lying?’ I said, ‘You know what, Lisa? You’re still you. You are who you are,'” she said. We all speak with accents. When we speak with people who speak like us, we don’t notice it. When we encounter people from other cultures, regions of the country, or socio-economical classes, we do notice differences in speech. But more important than accents are the words we choose. We know the power of speech; we witness it every day. Words have the power to build lasting relationships, and even to save people’s lives. The power of speech is one of the most valuable gifts G-d has given us. As King Solomon said, Death and life are in the hand of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its produce. (Proverbs 18) Parshas Balak Numbers 22:2 – 25:9 This week’s portion shifts from the Jewish people’s travels in the desert to the story of Bilam, the anti-Semitic prophet who attempted to curse the Children of Israel. Hired by Balak, the king of Moav, Bilam embarks upon a journey to the Israelite encampment. An angel brandishing a sword blocks Bilam’s path, causing his donkey to repeatedly swerve off the road. Unable to see the angel, Bilam responds by striking the donkey three times. Miraculously, G-d causes the donkey to speak to Bilam — shades of Mr. Ed, the talking horse in the 1960’s TV show! Bilam’s eyes are uncovered, and the humiliated prophet sees the angel...

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