“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 standing in the path. The angel reminds Bilam that he may only speak the words that G-d places in his mouth. Upon arrival near the Jewish camp, Bilam repeatedly attempts to curse the people; each time G-d prevents him from doing so, but instead he ends up uttering several sets of praises, much to Balak’s dismay. The Torah portion concludes with the Jewish men’s debauchery with the promiscuous daughters of Moav and Midian, and the public immoral act of Zimri (a prince of the tribe of Simeon) with a Midianite princess. Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson, zealously responds by piercing them to death with a spear, halting a plague from G-d which had broken out in the camp.

Rabbinic Ruminations

Are all fakes are created equal? Picture two handbags. Both are made of the same materials by the same workers in the same factory, but they have one crucial difference: One is official merchandise while the other was produced off-the-clock during an unsanctioned “ghost shift.” Is the ghost-shift bag counterfeit? How “fake” is defined is question behind the research of professors Nelson Amaral of American University and Steven Chan of Yeshiva University. Dr.Amaral and Dr. Chan’s research started with a friendly debate in a hotel. The pair realized the root of their difference of opinion was in their cultural backgrounds. Dr. Amaral was raised with North American and Western European roots; Dr. Chan is Chinese-American. “I was seeing real versus fake in very black-and-white terms,” Dr. Amaral said. “To me there was a very concrete distinction, and Steven was looking at context, at all the shades of gray in between my concrete definitions.”

Drs. Amaral and Chan set out to see what impact dialectical thinking — the measure of how comfortable an individual is with situational ambiguity and change — had on consumer attitudes towards counterfeits. For the study, the pair surveyed 402 students of various cultural backgrounds at multiple US universities. The researchers presented participants with counterfeit goods, labeled as both counterfeit and ghost shift, and asked how likely they were to purchase each item. The results confirmed what the researchers had already seen play out between themselves: Participants from Western back-grounds were more likely to buy a ghost-shift item than a true counterfeit, but they were uncomfortable with both. Participants from Eastern backgrounds saw little difference between the two, and they were equally comfortable with both purchases.
Author Sydney J. Harris wrote, “Men make counterfeit money; in many more cases, money makes counterfeit men.” Jewish law unambiguously rejects the idea of “let the buyer beware”, and holds both buyer and seller responsible to fairly represent what they have to offer. The Torah says, ““You shall not lie” (Leviticus 19:11), but also says “Keep your distance from falsehood” (Exodus 23:7). Not only does the Torah forbid lying, but adds a precautionary law, to distance oneself from lying,. i.e., not to act in a way that may lead one to lie. Why? Because the seal of G-d is emes — truth.

Quote of the Week

One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized or cruelly mocked, but cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered. — Michael J. Fox

Joke of the Week

David and Isaac found themselves sitting next to each other in a New York bar. After a while, David looks at Isaac and says, “I can’t help but think from listening to you that you’re from Israel.”

Isaac responds proudly, “I am!” David says, “So am I! And where might you be from?”

Isaac answers, “I’m from Jerusalem.” David responds, “So am I! And where did you live?”

Isaac says, “A lovely little area two miles east of King David Hotel. Not too far from the old city”
David says, “Unbelievable! What school did you attend?”

Isaac answers, “Well, I attended Yeshiva University.”

David gets really excited, and says, “And so did I. Tell me, what year did you graduate?”
Isaac answers, “I graduated in 1984.”

David exclaims, “Amazing! This is bashert. Can you believe it? I graduated from Yeshiva University in 1984 also.”

About this time, Moshe enters the bar, sits down, and orders a drink. The bartender walks over to him shaking his head and mutters, “It’s going to be a long night tonight, the Goldberg twins have had a few too many L’chaims again.”

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