What’s in a Name?

The town of Blenheim in New Zealand has been advised to change its name in a bid to lure more tourists. A group of business leaders believe the moniker “Marlborough City” will help it take advantage of the global success of the region’s wine industry – and encourage overseas visitors. It wouldn’t be the first time a town changed its name, however. Here are several others: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico: The Fifties game show Truth or Consequences saw contestants asked impossible questions, and – if they got the answer wrong – they were made to perform a wacky stunt. Its producers offered to host the show in the first town that would change its name to Truth or Consequences. The fortunate winner was Hot Springs, New Mexico. DISH, Texas: Formerly Clark, this Texan town became DISH in 2005 in a deal with a satellite TV company. All the residents were given a free 10-year subscription in return. Sleepy Hollow, New York: In an effort to cash in on its fame as the setting for Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, residents of North Tarrytown, New York, chose to officially adopt the name in 1996. Changing one’s name to create a change of fortune actually has its roots in Judaism. That’s why if someone is dangerously ill, we might provide him or her with an additional name, like Chaim or Chaya, meaning “life,” or Refael or Refaela, “cure.” The first recorded story of a name change that led to an incredible change of destiny was that of Sarah and Abraham. A name connects us to our soul. It provides us with spiritual ammunition, allowing us to access spiritual strengths we may have never known we had. So what’s in a name? A name connects us to our soul. Parshas Naso Numbers 4:21 – 7:89 Among the topics appearing in Naso is the mitzvah of the ‘Sotah’. When compelling circumstantial evidence suggests an act of marital infidelity may have taken place, the Torah provides a means to clarify the hoped-for innocence of the suspect parties. Contained in this mitzvah is dissolving G-d’s name that was written on a parchment. We learn from this the supreme importance of shalom bayis — peace in the home. If G-d allows His Holy Name to be erased for the sake of peace between husband and wife, certainly each of us should seek shalom bayis with our spouses and other family members. What can each of us do to increase shalom bayis with those whom we love? Parshas Naso also describes the nazir — an individual who takes a vow to refrain from drinking wine, cutting his hair, and other restrictions. Remember the story of Samson? Samson — who was a nazir — was the great Jewish judge and hero who ‘brought down the house.’ Rabbinic Ruminations Want to know how long you’ll live? The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.5 years — and by now we all know that certain healthy behaviors might help to extend that figure, whether it’s exercise, nutrition, or little everyday habits, like cooking more meals at home. And scientists have long known that your personality can affect how many birthdays you celebrate. Character traits such as extroversion, optimism, agreeableness and conscientiousness have been shown...

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Parshas Bamidbar / Shevous      

Sarah Spaans Carlson is from Muskegon, MI, and her birthday is in in the fall.  Her present was finally meeting her friend Terry Zwerlein from New York. They saw each other for the first time this past October.  “We gave each other a big hug,” Terry said.  Sarah and Terry have been friends since 1967.  “It started with us being on a pen pal list,” Terry said.  When they were in seventh grade, they found each other through a teen magazine. Sarah said, “There was a bunch of names in there and addresses and I said, ‘OK. I will pick Terry.'”  Over the following decades, the now 62-year-old women wrote about falling in love, children and exchanged photographs. With their recent meeting, the two women have finally met face-to-face after 48 years of being strictly pen pals.  “I was excited,” Terry said.  “I gave her a big hug. It took a long time for it to happen so it was fun. I think we are very close.  Over the years I think we became much closer.  The distance didn’t mean anything.  We talked about everything.”  In lieu of long letters, the two friends now send holiday and birthday cards and chat via Facebook.  Let’s hope they don’t wait another 48 years to meet again!  (See a brief video of the two friends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Z-grcxGIg) All over the world people are fighting. Religious fighting, national fighting, family fighting.  Some are even ready to die because they think they’re right.  How are we ever going to put this world back together?  Judaism speaks of dikduk chaverim, which literally means fine-tuning with friends. See others not as adversaries, but as a welcome counterbalance to your own perspective.  In choosing a friend, choose one who will challenge you to become better in life.  Someone once said, “Friends should be like books, few, but hand-selected.”  Friends are good, but lifelong friends are a treasure. Parshas Bamidbar 1:1 — 4:20 This week we begin reading Sefer Bamidbar — known in English as ‘The Book of Numbers’. Bamidbar (‘in the wilderness’) begins with G-d telling Moses to take a census of all men over the age of 20.  If you like names and numbers, you’ll love this week’s portion. The count reveals just over 600,000, excluding the Levites who weren’t included in the census.  We also find described the manner in which the Jewish People camped around the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and the order in which they traveled during the 40 years in the desert. The Jewish People were arranged in four sections around the Mishkan; east, south, west and north. The Levites are singled out for special responsibilities. A formal transfer is made between the first-born and the Levites, whereby the Levites take over the role the first-born would have served.  The sons of Levi are divided into three main families; Gershon, Kehas and Merari.  Each is given a special task in transporting the Mishkan. Shevous  The major festival of Shavous begins on Saturday evening, June 11 and concludes Monday evening, June 13.   You may remember Cecil B. DeMille’s film ‘The Ten Commandments’, starring Charlton Heston.  Good film; however, the book was better than the movie!  On Sunday morning the Torah reading (Exodus 19:1 – 20:23) contains the narrative of giving of the Torah and the Aseres HaDibros —...

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Life Tastes Better When Shared

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason Brock Boeser piled up 60 points as a freshman on the University of North Dakota hockey team, won a national championship, and was a first-round draft choice of an NHL team.  But the Vancouver Canucks, who drafted Brock, landed themselves a prospect with a lot more than just on-ice depth.  This past Saturday night Brock took Baylee Bjorge, a big fan who was born with Down syndrome, to her prom.  Baylee created a Twitter account and asked Brock if he would go to the prom with her. But Baylee’s mother, Katie, shut down her social media accounts, unaware that she had asked Brock to the prom.  Brock tracked down a mutual friend to get a phone number for Katie, and texted her asking if he could still take Baylee to prom.  Katie didn’t know much about Brock, though. She asked her oldest son, “Who is this kid?”  “He said, ‘Are you serious? He’s one of the best hockey players in the country.”  Katie said: “I just couldn’t believe how he went way out of his way to track us down.” During Baylee’s prom, the 19-year-old hockey player was “bombarded” with teens asking for his autograph and photos, but he made sure it was all about Baylee. Katie said, “I told him, you should leave, it’s going to get crazy and he said, ‘It’s okay, I’ll do whatever Baylee wants.’  He’s just incredible. I can’t say enough about him.”   As flattered as he was, Brock wasn’t looking for the attention. After word got out about the date, he was surprised by all the media fuss. “I didn’t tell anyone about it really, except a few of my friends,” he said. “It was just something I wanted to do from the bottom of my heart.”  As for Baylee, she continues to relive the memories from her prom night, smiling as she thought of her two favorite moments from the evening. The first was when their names were announced during their entrance parade, and the crowd went wild.  “He also spun me around at the grand march,” giggled Baylee. It was a “signature move” that she and Brock came up with together. The Torah provides guidance how we should treat those with disabilities: Ethics of the Fathers says, “Do not look at the container, but what is in it.” (4:27)  Genesis states that each of us is created B’tzelem Elo-him, in the Image of G-d. (1:27)  And if someone with a disability is being mistreated or bullied — “Speak up for those who cannot speak…speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.” (Proverbs 31:8)   Even if we have nothing material to share with someone who is disabled, we have in our possession something far more powerful to share; love and respect. Kudos to Brock Boeser, a top-notch hockey player and a champion human being. Parshas Kedoshim    Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27 The portion begins with G-d’s command to the entire nation of Israel to be holy, emulating the supreme sanctity of G-d Himself. The Torah goes on to delineate a multitude of mitzvos through which we can achieve sanctity. We are commanded to revere our parents, to guard Shabbat from being desecrated, and to refrain from the worship of idols. G-d instructs us to leave various gifts from our harvest for the poor and downtrodden, including the edge of the field and the sheaves...

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Smile, and the World Smiles With You

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason                 Which way does your name lean?  Recent studies of voting records and campaign contributions show that those with certain names tend to vote for certain parties or candidates.  Here are a few interesting findings: * If you’re a Duane, Billy, Brent or Chad, chances are you vote Republican * If you’re a Kate, Alison, Jessica or Rachel, chances are you vote Democratic * Donors named Liz, Juan and Mohammed favor Hillary Clinton * Donors named Bobby, Curtis and Kent favor Donald Trump Per campaign contributions, most Dylans are Democrats and most Duanes are Republicans. * Donors with the highest median campaign contributions are named Akram, Chaim and Chana * Donors with the lowest median campaign contributions are named Agatha, Alberta and Alfreda The Talmud asks:  How do we know that a person’s name is a profound influence upon them?  Answer: A person’s name causes certain actions and tendencies.  A name sets perspective, and gives the child something to grow into.  A child named Ya’akov will be affected differently than that same child who might otherwise have been named Attila, Genghis or Nimrod.  What’s in a name?  In the end, it’s what you make of your name that counts. For at the beginning we are given a name, and at the end of our life a “good name” is all we take with us.   Parshas Acharei   Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30 Acharei Mos begins with a lengthy description of the special Yom Kippur service to be performed in the Mishkan by the Kohen Gadol. The service included the lottery selection from among two identical goats, one of which would become a national sin offering and the other which would be pushed off a cliff in the desert as the bearer of the people’s sins (the ‘scapegoat’). We also find described the command that Yom Kippur and its laws of fasting and refraining from work be observed eternally by the Jewish people as a day of atonement. Acharei Mos concludes with a listing of immoral and forbidden sexual relationships, and the command that the Jewish people maintain and ensure the holiness of the land of Israel.   Rabbinic Ruminations The late great Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra said, “you can observe a lot by just watching.”  It is well known that other peoples’ emotions provide information.   In a recent study published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychology, the researchers sought to examine the interpersonal ramifications of emotions in the context of baseball.  Do the gaze and body language of the batter influence the pitcher?  The players stand opposite each other, looking each other in the eye; one makes a move, and the other responds to it.  Does the expression of emotions offer clues about the moves both pitcher and batter will make? In video clips from several Major League baseball games, instances were selected in which it was possible to see the pitcher before the throw.  The clips were edited so that it was only possible to see the pitcher’s preparations before the pitch, and the picture was frozen once the ball left the pitcher’s hand. In the next stage of the study, participants were asked to evaluate the pitcher’s face and body language for signs of anger, happiness, and worry.  The...

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Some Like it Hot

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason Passover April 23, 2016 Since early childhood, Ann Makosinski has taken an interest in science and inventing, her first toy being a box of transistors. She’s been tinkering ever since, creating products with a hot-glue gun and household items.  A few years ago, the now-nineteen year-old used her hobby to solve a real-world problem.  A friend in the Philippines mentioned she was failing school; without electricity, she couldn’t do her homework at night.  So Ann devised a flashlight powered by the heat of your hand.  It uses Peltier tiles, which generate electricity when one side is hotter than the other, to draw energy from the heat difference between hand and air.  Ann submitted her invention to the 2013 Google Science Fair and won first place in her age group. The young inventor has since nabbed prizes from competitions such as the 2014 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and has twice appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.  Ann is now enrolled at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, but hitting the books hasn’t stopped her from inventing.  Her latest invention is the eDrink, a coffee cup covered in the Peltier tiles. The eDrink uses the heat of a hot beverage to charge your gadgets via a USB port on the bottom of the mug.  On Twitter, Ann succinctly explained her approach to seemingly intractable challenges:  “Anything is possible.” An act of self-creation is also an act of creation. Judaism teaches that G-d arranges a person’s life to give him the precisely particular circumstances needed in order to attain one’s full potential or completeness, one’s shlemut (from the word shalom, which denotes peaceful completion, or complete peace). If a person responds to his circumstances ethically — that is, according to the laws and values of the Torah — he can have shlemut.  As George Bernard Shaw once said: “Life is not about finding yourself but about creating yourself.”   You, too, can be an inventor:  G-d offers to be your partner in your own creation when you make good choices. Passover Passover begins on Shabbos — Friday evening, April 22.  On the first day of Passover, Shabbos, the Torah reading is from Exodus 12: 21- 51.  This reading describes the Exodus from Egypt and the Passover offering.  On the second day of Passover, Sunday, the Torah reading is from Leviticus 22:26 — 23:44.  This reading describes journeying to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem on the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavous, Sukkos) and the counting of the Omer. When we were children most of us had the experience of sinking our hands into the earth to plant seeds.  Over the following weeks we watched with wonder as those seeds grew into green plants, edible vegetables and beautiful flowers.  As adults, we can plant ‘seeds’ in our children that will lead to responsible and enlightened adulthood. Passover is a time of ‘planting Jewish seeds’ within our children. What type of seeds will we plant? Rabbinic Ruminations Some like it hot.  But as if the climate-change debate weren’t heated enough, it turns out that as global temperatures rise, so do tempers.  A UC Berkeley researcher has gathered data from social media that links warmer weather and general crankiness.  Environmental economist Patrick Baylis wanted to quantify what the incremental effects of climate change...

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Beware of the Grammar Police!

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason   Not many kids turn their lemonade stands into successful ventures, but 11-year-old Mikaila Ulmer has raised the bar to a sky-high level.   After securing $60,000 on the hit TV show “Shark Tank” last year, Mikaila’s lemonade will now be sold in 55 Whole Food stores in states including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida.  The Austin, Texas sixth-grader built her lemonade business, BeeSweet Lemonade  with a 1940s lemonade recipe from her grandmother.   FUBU CEO Daymond John, an investor on “Shark Tank,” said he was pleased to join Mikaila’s team.  “Partnering with Mikaila made perfect sense,” John said in a statement. “She’s a great kid with a head for business and branding.”  Mikaila also attended the White House Kids’ State Dinner last year where she met President Barack Obama. While the lemonade brand highlights the role of bees, Mikaila said she wasn’t always a fan. “When I was four years old, I got stung by two bees in one week.  It was painful. I was terrified of bees.  I didn’t enjoy the bee stings at all. They scared me,” Mikaila said.  “But then something strange happened. I became fascinated with bees. I learned all about what they do for me and our ecosystem. So then I thought, what if I make something that helps honeybees and uses my Great-Granny Helen’s recipe?”  Mikaila began to study the bees after her mother D’Andra turned her bee sting experience into a research assignment.  If it sells well, BeeSweet will be distributed to the rest of the US.  The profits are not solely for Mikaila’s gain. She has decided to donate a percentage to organizations working to protect the endangered honey bee population.  Mikaila is extremely proud of the product she and her family have created. “I really love my new label,” she says. “It actually has my face on it, so it makes me feel really special!” Can something that seems bad be something good in disguise?  Absolutely. It is important to train oneself to look positively upon life’s situations. Often what appears as ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ ends up being a blessing.   What can we do to look at challenging situations in a positive light?  A Hebrew expression, gam zu l’tova, means ‘this too is for the best.’  When things don’t seem to be going your way, say gam zu l’tova.   Mikaila Ulmer has turned lemons into lemonade, becoming the CEO of BeeSweet Lemonade at only 11 years of age.  At times, even a hidden blessing such as a bee sting can turn out to be the sweetest blessing of all. Parshas Tazria Leviticus 12:1 — 13:59 Parshas Tazria describes in great detail the varying and numerous manifestations of the disease called tzara’as. Although it has commonly been mistranslated as leprosy, this skin disease bears little resemblance to any bodily ailment transmitted through normal exposure.  Rather, tzara’as is the physical manifestation of a spiritual malaise, a punishment from G-d primarily for the sin of speaking loshon hara.  Loshon hara, meaning literally ‘the evil tongue’, is often translated as ‘gossip’.  However, loshon hara is the Hebrew term for derogatory speech that is true.  Motzei shem rah refers to derogatory speech about others that is false and slanderous. The metzora (one diagnosed with tzara’as) was to be sent into isolation, tear...

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