The Eagle-Eyed Drone Catcher

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason Rogue drone operators are rapidly becoming a national nuisance. In recent days, drones — aircraft without human pilots aboard — have smuggled drugs into an Ohio prison, smashed against a Cincinnati skyscraper, impeded efforts to fight wildfires in California and nearly collided with three airliners over New York City.  The Department of Homeland Security said it had recorded more than 500 incidents since 2012 in which rogue drones hovered over “sensitive sites and critical installations,” such as military bases and nuclear plants.  In one well-publicized case, a drone crashed onto the White House grounds. The US military is ramping up its anti-drone efforts, having announced plans to build a laser weapon to shoot down drones. While American authorities have struggled to stay ahead of the technology, police in Holland are touting a unique anti-drone weapon – a specially trained eagle. For hundreds of years in the skies over Asia, people have used eagles to hunt down prey.  That tradition has been in decline for decades, but now the bird’s keen eyesight, powerful talons and lethal hunting instincts are being used to take out intrusive drones.  A Dutch National Police spokesman said about the trained eagle, “It’s a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem.”  Watch this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNE57orePJE ) which shows an eagle swooping to grasp a small commercial drone in its talons before landing with its “prey.” The anti-drone eagle is just one example in a long history of animals and wildlife in the service of man.  While Jewish law protects the ethical treatment of animals, Judaism also maintains that animals are meant to serve mankind, as it says: “Let man dominate the fish, birds and animals” (Genesis 1:26).  There is a clear hierarchy of creation, with man at the pinnacle.  May G-d, the Source of all blessings, give man the wisdom to use His world — including the animal kingdom — in a proper fashion. Parshas Shemini Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47 This week’s Torah portion begins by discussing the events which occurred on the eighth and final day of the inauguration service of the Mishkan. After months of preparation, Aaron and his sons are finally installed as Kohanim in an elaborate service.  Aaron blesses the people, and the entire nation rejoices as G-d’s presence rests upon them.  However, the excitement comes to an abrupt halt as Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, are consumed by a heavenly fire in the Mishkan while innovating an offering of incense on the altar.  This incident stresses the need to perform the commandments only as G-d directed.  Later, Moses consoles Aaron, who grieves in silence. Have you ever wondered where the laws of kosher food come from? Parshas Shemini concludes with a listing of the kosher and non-kosher animals. The identifying signs of a kosher animal are that it has split hooves and chews, regurgitates and re-chews its food.  A kosher fish is one that has both fins and scales.  All birds not included in the list of forbidden fowl are permitted.  However, today the identity of these non-kosher birds is doubtful. Therefore, we’re forbidden to eat any species of bird unless there is a well-established tradition that it is kosher. The Torah forbids all types of insects except for four species of locusts.  Chocolate-covered grasshoppers, anyone?...

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Of Course I’m Stubborn — I’m Right!

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason Walt Bettinger is paid good money to do his job. Formally known as Walter W. Bettinger, II, the CEO of Charles Schwab earns about $12 million annually. Looking for a job at Charles Schwab? Walt wants to know the type of person you are before he offers you a job. But his way of figuring that out is slightly unconventional. In a recent interview, Mr. Bettinger said that when hiring, he’s most concerned with character and the kind of person the job candidate is. “I’ll ask questions like, ‘Tell me about the greatest successes in your life,’” he says. “What I’m looking for is whether their view of the world really revolves around others or whether it revolves around them. And I’ll ask them about their greatest failures in their life and see whether they own them or whether they were somebody else’s fault.” But another thing the Schwab CEO sometimes does is a bit more distinctive. Mr. Bettinger says he invites the job candidate to breakfast — but arrives at the restaurant early, pulls the manager aside, and says, “I want you to mess up the order of the person who’s going to be joining me. It’ll be OK, and I’ll give a good tip, but mess up their order. I do that because I want to see how the person responds,” he says. “That will help me understand how they deal with adversity. Are they upset, are they frustrated, or are they understanding? Life is like that, and business is like that. It’s just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head.” Mr. Bettinger said, “We’re all going to make mistakes. The question is how are we going to recover when we make them, and are we going to be respectful to others when they make them?” The Talmud states that the depth of a person’s character can be seen through his “kos, kis and kas”: This is a phrase referring to key qualities. Kis: How does he use his money? Kos: What is he like when he drinks (alcohol)? Kas: How does he respond to stress and pressure, and what does he get angry at? How we act — particularly how we deal with adversity — offers a look into our heart. Parshas Tzav — Leviticus 6:1 — 8:36 The portion begins with G-d continuing to teach Moses many of the laws relating to the Mishkan service. However, while last week’s portion described the korbanos (offerings) from the perspective of the giver, this week the Torah focuses more directly on the Kohanim, providing details about their service. After first describing the maintenance of the fire which burned on the altar, the Torah discusses the various kinds of korbanos which Aaron, his sons, and the succeeding generations of Kohanim would be offering. The offerings must be brought with the proper intention and eaten in a state of spiritual purity. Finally, Moses performs the lengthy consecration service of the Mishkan, and anoints Aaron and his sons for their service in the Mishkan, in front of the entire congregation of Israel. Rabbinic Ruminations Stubbornness has a bad rap. Think of a stubborn person, and you may think of someone who has too much ego, is unwilling to be wrong, hot-tempered,...

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Jumping to Conclusions With the Locust-Robot

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason Ernie Els may still be doing cartwheels down the fairways of a local golf course. His euphoria has nothing to do with his golf game, however. Last Monday at Old Palm Golf Club in Florida, a pro-am event took place to raise money for Els for Autism, which delivers programs and education for children with autism. Ernie Els, himself an accomplished professional golfer, watched 23 pros play a 19th hole, a 113-yard shot which, if anyone aced, would trigger a $1 million donation from an insurance policy purchased by tournament sponsors. Following some valiant attempts by his fellow players, Ricky Fowler took his shot. The ball disappeared into the hole. The crowd erupted. Els’ wife, Liezl, cried, while the four-time major winner lifted Fowler in the air to celebrate. See a video of the shot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngxMWVsFBH4 The Els’ created the foundation and its autism-specific cause when they learned their son, Ben, now 13, is on the autism spectrum. The family moved from London to West Palm Beach, Fla., in search of better educational resources and medical care. Ernie Els agreed with his wife that Fowler’s hole-in-one was something beyond their control. “That’s the first thing Liezl said. ‘I think the hand [of G-d] came down today.” It’s kind of one of those things. You’ve got to agree with her,” Els said. “These things happen maybe once in 10 years. It doesn’t really happen. It was really amazing. It’s like a miracle.” Even better, South African billionaire and Els friend, Johann Rupert, matched the $1 million donation. Combined with the more than $800,000 raised before Fowler’s shot, the day raised nearly $3 million for Els for Autism. The term “twist of fate” refers to a random occurrence with far-reaching consequences. But are there such things as random occurrences? While few of us witnessed a hole-in-one to win $1 million for charity, our lives are filled with frequent ‘small miracles’. In our daily prayers we thank G-d for “Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and kindnesses.” Everything that happens in the world is made to work out according to a Divine purpose. G-d is certainly with us and speaks with us. We need only to open our eyes and see. Parshas Vayikra 1:1 — 5:26 This Shabbos marks the beginning of our reading the third book of the Torah, Sefer Vayikra which deals primarily with the services and responsibilities of the Kohanim. This week’s portion focuses on many of the korbanos (offerings) to be brought in the newly-constructed Mishkan. Parshas Vayikra begins with G-d calling Moses into the Mishkan where he will receive many relevant mitzvos to be ultimately passed on to the Jewish people. The first half of the Torah portion describes the various optional korbanos brought by individuals. They can be classified into three general categories, each one comprised of several gradations in size and expense; the korban olah (elevation offering) which is completely consumed on the altar; the korban mincha (meal offering) which, because of its inexpensive contents is usually brought by someone of modest means; and the korban shelamim (peace offering) partially burned on the altar, with the remainder divided between the owners and the Kohanim. The second half of the portion (beginning with chapter four)...

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Does Nature Make You Happy?

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason You’ve heard the expression “look before you leap.” But have you ever heard of a leapling? A person born on February 29 may be called a “leapling” or a “leaper.” February 29, which occurred last week, comes around once every four years as an add-on to make calendar math add up. You would think there would be about a quarter the number of leaplings as there are people born on any other day. But in fact, there are 7 percent fewer than expected births on February 29. Why? Modern parents can often choose their children’s birthdates just as they can choose their names. There appear to be far fewer cesarean deliveries on February 29 than on surrounding days, with many mothers scheduling induced labor or cesareans on a different date. As a result, a leap day birthday is even rarer than we’d expect. Why do some parents opt out of a February 29 birthdate for their child? Most of the time leaplings are forced to celebrate their birthdays the day before, on February 28 or the day after on March 1. Having to wait four years between birthdays is just one potential frustration for leap day babies. In interviews with some leaplings, they describe being teased by classmates, trying to avoid being asked when their birthday is, and encountering suspicions from bouncers, doctors and government agencies about the birthdates on their ID cards. Birthdays that carry social weight, like Bar and Bat Mitzvot may not be considered as significant if they don’t fall on the actual birthdate. Milestones like 18 or 21 can be just as frustrating. Veronica, a leapling from Texas, told the story of a bar’s bouncer who tore up her ID when she presented it on her 21st birthday, and said it was because there is no 29th of February. (She was subsequently reimbursed for her torn up ID and given a free drink.) But most leaplings, despite the occasional hassles, say they’re glad to be part of the exclusive club. Everyone in the world is unique, with an individualized life purpose to fulfill. The Torah teaches that just as the facial features of every individual are different than all others, so too are their character traits unique. Like all children, leap day babies truly are special, even more so than the day they were born. Parshas Pekudei – Exodus 38:21 — 40:38 This week we read the final portion of Exodus, a book which began with the Jewish people enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt and now ends with the completion of the construction of the Mishkan in the desert. Exodus is known as ‘The Book of Redemption’; redemption was achieved not only through our escape from slavery, but also through receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai which gave purpose to that freedom. The climax of that salvation was when G-d rested His presence among the Jewish nation when the Mishkan was completed. Parshas Pekudei begins with a complete accounting of the gold, silver and copper contributed by the people for use in the Mishkan. Following an inspection and approval of the many utensils and unassembled parts, Moses sets up the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh Nissan as each part is anointed and arranged in its proper location. When the Mishkan is finally...

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Muscle-up, Jarryd!

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason You may have heard about the 50 Israeli chefs who broke the world record for the biggest plate of hummus, which they served up in a satellite dish. Not long ago, an Australian who served in an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces joined the ranks of Guinness world record-holders. Jarryd Rubinstein from Sydney registered 25 muscle-ups. For those unfamiliar with the term, a muscle-up is a combination of a chin-up and a dip, whereby the upper body is raised above a bar to the point at which the arms can be straightened. The previous record was 15. Jarryd spent three years in the elite Sayeret Golani counter-terror unit “preventing hundreds of casualties” in operations against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Nablus. The 140-pound muscle man says he learned about how to stay fit in the IDF — he regularly manages more than 20 muscle-ups. When asked about the importance of exercise in his life, Jarryd said, “I will never miss a workout. I am an ardent believer in dedication, determination and consistency. Nothing in life worth anything of substance comes easy. It is a mantra I apply to all areas of my life; from my workouts to my career to my relationships.” Currently living in South Africa, Jarryd added, “I travel a lot for work and always carry a mobile pull up bar and some cables so I can workout anywhere. I like to get my workouts done first thing in the morning, however if I’m unable, I’d rather miss an hour of sleep and get a workout done at the end of the day.” Significant accomplishments require practice and perseverance. Proverbs (12:24) says, “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and never succeed.” Perseverance overcomes almost everything, even nature itself. The ability to stay on course without distraction enables individuals of moderate capabilities to attain achievements that elude those with greater potential. Trying and practicing may not make you better than the next person, but it will make you the best you can be. What each of us does with G-d’s gifts is what counts. Parshas Ki Sisa Exodus 30:11 — 34:35 The portion begins with G-d’s command to Moses to take a census by collecting an equal contribution of a half-shekel coin from every adult male between the ages of 20 and 60, with the profits going to the Mishkan (Tabernacle). G-d designates Betzalel, of the tribe of Judah, and Oholiav, of the tribe of Dan, to supervise the upcoming construction of the Mishkan. The mitzvah of Shabbat is then repeated to caution the nation that even the construction of the Mishkan does not supersede the observance of the weekly day of rest. The Torah returns to the narrative of the Revelation at Mt. Sinai and describes the horrible sin of the golden calf. G-d relents to Moses’ prayer that the Children of Israel should be spared from annihilation for this great transgression, and Moses descends from the mountain with the two tablets of the Ten Commandments in hand. Upon witnessing a small segment of the population dancing around the golden calf, Moses smashes the tablets and burns the idol, initiating the process of repentance. Moses again ascends the mountain to pray to G-d that the Jewish people should be forgiven...

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He Skipped Work for 6 Years — And No One Noticed!”

by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason The main advertising formula for this year’s Super Bowl pretty much boiled down to three words: Make ‘em laugh. And the most popular Super Bowl commercials certainly were no exception. “From the beginning of the creative process, we tried to find something simple, visual and fun.” said Anselmo Ramos, founder of an ad agency that made the “Weiner Stampede” hot dog commercial for Heinz condiments. A Hyundai commercial, in which comedian Kevin Hart plays an overly protective dad who sneaks out on his daughter’s date, drove away as winner of USA Today’s annual poll of the best Super Bowl commercial. The hilarious spot, titled “First Date,” shows off a car feature that allows an owner to track its location. Hart uses it to pop up at all the different spots the young couple goes to over the course of the night. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGIyEkMuhVY The list of Jewish comedians is long. The Talmud even says that Rabbah, a sage who lived 1700 years ago, would say something humorous before starting to lecture to the scholars, and they would laugh; after that, he would begin his lecture. Rabbi Meir, another Talmudic sage, was an expert in fox fables and would devote one-third of his lecture to parables. These sages recognized the value of humor in education, even in ethical and religious instruction. Humor has the power to grab our attention and focus our mind. Laughter can snap us out of melancholy, put things back into perspective, and provide the momentum to make the best of life. Laughter is an integral part of emotional health. Parshas Tetzaveh Exodus 27:20 — 30:10 This week’s portion is a haberdasher’s dream. Following on the heels of the elaborate details of the construction of the Mishkan, G-d describes to Moses the special garments which are to be worn by the Kohanim during their service. The ordinary Kohanim would wear four special garments, while four additional vestments were to be worn exclusively by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). All of these garments were woven and crafted from materials donated by the people. The Torah portion then shifts its attention to G-d’s commandments regarding the inauguration ritual for the newly constructed Mishkan, to be performed exclusively by Moses for seven days. The inauguration included Moses’ adorning and anointing the Kohanim, and his bringing offerings. On the eighth day, Aaron and his sons would assume their offices as the Kohanim. After then describing the daily offering to be brought in the Mishkan, in the morning and afternoon, the portion concludes with the command to build the last of the Mishkan’s structures, the golden altar upon which the incense would be offered twice daily. Rabbinic Ruminations Would your boss notice if you hadn’t been to work for six years? The answer is probably yes, but that wasn’t the case for Joaquín García, a civil servant in Spain. Mr. García, a 69-year-old engineer, began working for the local authority in the south-western city of Cádiz in 1990, and in 1996 was posted to the municipal water board where his job was to supervise a waste water treatment plant. In 2010, when Mr. García — who has now retired — was due to collect his long-service medal, the man who had hired him, deputy mayor...

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