Friday, June 28, 2013

Jews In Space

Jews on the moon? Why not? This is a fun article.
SpaceIL actually exists because of Google — specifically, the Google Lunar X Contest, which promises to award $30 million to a team that can land an unmanned, robotic craft on the moon and carry out several missions such as taking high-definition video and beaming it back to earth, and exploring the surface of the moon by moving or sending out a vehicle that will move 500 meters along the moon’s surface.... 
Over 250 volunteers are working on SpaceIL, developing systems to propel a rocket into orbit, build a system which will be able to move the spacecraft 500 meters, and design video cameras that can stand up to the moon’s harsh climate, in order to be able to transmit high-definition video back to earth. The entire drama will be transmitted back to earth via Bezeq optical fiber technology, Damari said, with Bezeq’s fiber optic cable, along with an Israeli flag, remaining on the moon for the benefit of future space travelers.
Inspiration, via the ‘blue and white’ moonshot 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Three Weeks - From the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av

Today is the 17th of Tammuz, the beginning of the three week period of mourning remembering the Holy Temples (first and second) in Jerusalem. It's also a fast day that starts in the morning (early) and ends late (since sundown is so late). Even if you do not fast, please take a moment to read these websites - understand why this three week period ending with Tisha b'Av is so central to the Jewish People.

ABCs of Tisha B'Av & the Three Weeks - Rabbi Shraga Simmons (

Tammuz: Forces of Nature - Rebbitzen Tziporah Heller

Tisha B'Av and the 3 Weeks - Destruction & Renewal -

Friday, June 21, 2013

Parshas Balak 2013

I'm taking this dvar Torah from Reachings by Rabbi Yaacov Haber.

A Heart of Understanding

Balak, the King of Moab, wanted to battle the Children of Israel. But instead of using the conventional method of battle, he decided to seek the assistance of the well-known Midianite sorcerer, Bilaam, who had a reputation of success for being able to curse or bless anyone. So Balak sought Bilaam in order to have him curse the Jewish People.

The elders of Moab and Midian, versed in occult arts, went to Bilaam, conveying him Balak's message. "Spend the night here," he replied to them, "and when God speaks to me, I will be able to give you an answer." ...God said to Bilaam, "Do not go with them. Do not curse them [the Jewish People], because it is a blessed nation." When Bilaam got up in the morning, he said to Balak's dignitaries, "Go home. God refuses to let me go with you." (Numbers 22:7-8, 12-13)

Interestingly, Bilaam was approached by "the elders of Moab and Midian", but in the morning he spoke only to Balak's Moabite dignitaries. What happened to the elders of Midian?

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105a) tells us that as soon as the elders of Midian heard that Bilaam was going to ask God first, they immediately left. They said, "There is no father that hates his son." They were already aware of the relationship God had with the Children of Israel, and realized that Balak's cause was lost.

The question we must ask is, if the elders of Midian were somehow aware of the love God has for the Jews, why then was Bilaam, a prophet, not aware?

The answer is that Bilaam, and the rest of us for that matter, are only aware of what we want to be aware of. Bilaam, in addition to being a sorcerer, was a prophet, and in fact clearly communicated with God, yet he was blind to the facts because he had to desire to know them.

Even after God replied to him and told his that he could not curse the people, he returned to ask Him again, and even after his ass had spoken to him, and after his own mouth had, in spite of himself, uttered a blessing instead of a curse (twice!) - he still did not seem to grasp that it was not God's will for him to curse the people of Israel.

In our prayers we ask God to give us a "heart of understanding." Although the heart is the source of emotion and desire, and the mind is the seat of intellect and understanding, we nevertheless pray for a heart of understand, for otherwise we will only believe and know what we want to believe.

pages 271-272

Good Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why Ten Men For A Minyan?

It's always interesting to see what we take for granted, what we don't give two seconds of thought to. When I saw the title of this article it struck me that I didn't know something so basic - it dawned on me... how much is out there that I don't know. This is what they call in the university world "lifelong learning". Something we should all do.

Why Are Ten Men Needed For a Minyan? - Prayer

My two cents on this -
The 'ten' is related to the ten (of twelve) spies that Moses sent into the Land of Israel that returned with a bad report about the Land. As a result, the Jewish People were sent to wander in the desert for the next 40 years till the older generation died off and were replaced by the next generation.

The 'men' part is important since this is so misunderstood. When the bad report about the Land was brought back by the spies, there was a general mourning by the Jewish People. However, it was not all of the Jewish People who went into despair, just the men. The women did not. These are the same women who are credited for bringing the Exodus from Egypt. It was in their merit that the Jewish People were redeemed by G-d. They would not have fallen into despair, certainly not by a bad report, when they had such a high level of faith in G-d. These women of the Exodus entered the Land of Israel - while the men of the Exodus did not.

Men (rather than women) are needed for the minyan in order to rectify the sin of the spies (men) and of the men who despaired after the bad report. The spies used their power of speech to denigrate the Land. This is no small misspeak. The Land of Israel is G-d's gift to the Jewish People. By misusing their speech in such a way requires tikun - rectification. The tikun here is the minyan - ten men - using this same power of speech to sanctify G-d's Name. The minyan is a public forum - the same way that the spies pronounced their report publicly to the whole Jewish People. The spies denigrated the Land in public, men today must sanctify G-d in public.

Of course we know that women need to pray, but only men are required to participate in a 'minyan'. It is not more holy for a woman to be part of a minyan - it doesn't even make sense for her to do so. It is a come-down. The women of the Exodus were spiritual giants - they didn't fall for the spies' story so why would women today be part of a tikun that we weren't part of making?

Just a thought.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Great Jewish History Link

I find that there's always something new to learn every day. Since somehow there isn't enough time in the day to fit everything in, I like that when I am learning something new - that it should come in small bites, easy and quick to read or watch. has a great collection of articles and videos covering Jewish history, ancient as well as modern day fitting my description. Definitely worth your time. Learning history is such an important thing to do - but too few people actually take any time to do it. We've got 3000 years of history behind us, take a moment to learn about some of it.

Jewish History

Monday, June 17, 2013

In Honor of Father's Day

A belated Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there - especially to my Abba and also to my wonderful husband and father of my two adorable kids. Thank you for being the best I could ever ask for.

Celebrating the men of spiel: Super Jewish dads

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Found Nazi

A 94 year old Ukrainian Nazi has been found hiding in plain sight in Minneapolis; living in the United States since 1949. What amazes me the most is that he actually wrote an easy to find memoir about his time as a Nazi commander during World War II. I'm glad he lived long enough for him to be found to bring him to justice.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Parshas Chukas

This week's dvar Torah was written by Rabbi Shraga Simmons of Aish HaTorah.

Chukat(Numbers 19:1-22:1)

Moses Hits the Rock
This week's Parsha features one of the most perplexing incidents in the entire Torah. The Jews have been wandering for 40 years in the desert and they're thirsty. So God tells Moses to speak to the rock and water will come forth (Numbers 20:8). The instruction to "speak" to the rock is in contrast to 40 years earlier, when Moses followed God's instruction to hit the rock – and water gushed out (Exodus 17:6).

This time, Moses is to speak. Yet he again hits the rock. Nothing happens, so Moses hits the rock a second time, and water comes out.

God's response: "Since you HIT the rock rather than speaking to it, you will not lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel" (Numbers 20:11-12).

New Generation
We read this story and think: Here's the mighty Moses, who confronted Pharaoh, arranged the Ten Plagues, split the Red Sea, brought the Torah down from Mount Sinai, and defended the people through trials and tribulations in the desert. Now he makes one little mistake and God takes away his dream of entering Israel. The consequence seems inappropriately harsh!

The first step in understanding this incident is to appreciate how the Jewish people were at the critical juncture of transitioning from desert life to Israel. At the rock, God's instructions to Moses are carefully chosen to reflect this transition. Forty years earlier, when Moses was told to HIT the rock, the people had just come out of brutal slavery in Egypt – and "hitting" was a language they understood. But this time, Moses was called upon to lead a generation who'd grown up in freedom; a generation which required the softer approach of "speaking."

Notice how in our Parsha, Moses hits the rock twice. First, he hit the rock and no water came out. At that moment he had the opportunity to reevaluate his approach and reflect more carefully on God's specific instruction to "speak." But Moses hits the rock again.

The commentators suggest that perhaps symbolically, we can learn about our own need to be flexible in our approach. Moses' punishment is not harsh; it is simply a consequence of his relationship to the new generation and their needs in entering Israel.

Jewish Education
We learn from this a crucial lesson about education. King Solomon says: "Educate each child according to his own way." The process of learning is different for everybody, and the approach that's effective for one is often not effective for another.

This defines the crucial difference between education and indoctrination. "Indoctrination" is when the teacher is concerned primarily with advancing his position. "Education" is drawing out from the student's own intuitive sense.

This idea is elucidated in the Talmud, which says: "Even more than the baby calf wants to drink, the mother wants to nurse." The simple understanding is that of course the calf is hungry and needs to eat. But even more so "the mother wants to nurse" – meaning that the mother is full of milk and needs to get it out.

However, I heard in the name of Rabbi Simcha Wasserman (20th century Los Angeles and Jerusalem) that the Talmud must be understood differently. Because if the mother's only concern is to get rid of her milk, then it would come out in one big gush. And we see instead that it comes out precisely in the right proportion to satisfy the specific needs of the calf. So when the Talmud says, "More than the baby calf wants to drink, the mother wants to nurse," it is saying that even more than the calf desires to eat, the mother wants that it should eat – not for the mother's sake, but because that's what's best for the calf. And that, said Rabbi Wasserman, is what good education is all about.

Jewish ideals have existed against all odds for 3,000 years – not because we've pounded people over the head, but because we've communicated those ideas in a rational, practical way. Anyone who says that yeshiva is a cult is woefully misinformed. Yeshiva is precisely the place to discuss the issues, ask questions, work it through, and make it your own.

American Ways
It is interesting that the experience of Moses in the desert can be understood in light of the experience of Judaism in the 20th century. In the shtetl of Europe, a rabbi might be able to communicate displeasure to his students by hitting the knuckles with a ruler. It was a language that was accepted and understood. But when tens of thousands of Jews moved to America, those who sent their children to Jewish day school found these same rabbis applying their European-style methods to children with American mentalities. These children, who were used to a more open and permissive approach, could not relate to Judaism as it was being presented. The result is that many of them shifted away from observance.

It has only been in the last 20 years – with American-born rabbis now taking the helm and explaining Judaism in modern, relevant terms – that American Jewry has seen a resurgence back toward traditional observance.

Berel Wein writes:
"In our always-uncertain world, it is natural to crave security and stability. Financial planners, estate planners, insurance experts and politicians in office all attempt to convince us that the way it is now is how it will be in the future as well. However, all of us in our secret hearts know that the only thing certain about the future is that it will not be the same as the present. Therefore, we should be prepared to be open to new circumstances, to a constantly changing world. We should not be afraid to try out new technology, new ideas and theories, to change careers and pursue our true interests and goals. There is an innate longing for greatness within all of us. That longing can never be fulfilled without a willingness to change, improve and try something new."
Like Moses and the rock, our ability to adjust and customize our approach – while remaining true to Torah standards – will in large part determine how successfully we move our children, our students, our nation and ourselves forward into the "Land of Israel" – into the next exciting stage of personal and national destiny.

The First Black Miss Israel

This is such a nice story - a success story.

Yityish Aynaw: Meet the first black Miss Israel

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

You Learn Something New Every Day

Jews in Connecticut
This is interesting even if you are not a history buff. This article is divided into two parts - the first about a discovery of a mikvah (ritual bath) that dates back to the 1890s in eastern Connecticut. The second (for me at least is more interesting) gives a more general look at the Jewish community at that time in Chesterfield, how they lived and interacted with their neighbors etc.

UConn Researchers' Excavation Highlights Overlooked Chapter of Jewish History

The Human Genome Project
I'm certainly no scientist, but this is amazing stuff. This man, Eric Lander, is doing incredible things understanding how the human body works, how diseases work - and how to beat those diseases.

This man's work will change your life

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

19 Years Since the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Passing

Today marks 19 years since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe - a great man who loved the Jewish People, no matter their Jewish background. It is because of his dedication that you will find a Chabad House in just about every corner on Earth, there to service every Jew in need. It is truly one of my regrets that I was not able to meet him.

The Rebbe

Recognizing and Appreciating the Good

Posted on Facebook by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Four years ago today [June 10], Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns died heroically in the line of duty protecting Museum staff and visitors from a brutal attacker, avowed racist, and antisemite. The memory of Officer Johns's outgoing personality, affection for people, and irrepressible optimism continues to inspire us to counter hate. His memory occupies a permanent place in our hearts, as do our thoughts for his family. We will never forget you, Officer Johns.
HaKarat HaTov - recognizing the good - is a central concept in Judaism. I was so glad to see this post up for all to see. This brave man gave his life to protect others. He must have known that by serving in a public Jewish museum that he was putting himself in danger. We honor him by remembering what a sacrifice he made.

If I can use this chance to make another point --
Recognizing the good can change your life for the better. It is easier to notice all the bad around us (especially if you watch the news regularly) than it is to see the good in general - or the good that happens to us in our own lives.

I would also say that recognizing the good is only the first step. The second step would be to appreciate the good that is done for us. To fully appreciate something takes time. It would require us to do something that we don't truly do anymore - take a quiet moment for ourselves.

I would suggest that we each take a moment at the end of the day with an empty notebook - take only 5 minutes if that's all you have (or more if you can) - and list the good that happened to you that day. At first it may be hard, but try to come up with one to begin with. Build from there. Do not include your sports team winning or that you're glad the day finally came to an end. Try to be positive. Before you know it, you will be needing a new notebook. This exercise will change your whole attitude toward life.

It's so easy to see the bad, the negative and let that drag us down. But that's not why we are here. G-d gave us each a special talent to make the world a spiritual place, a positive place - a place where G-d would like to dwell with us. To uplift our corner of the universe, to turn the negative into positive is the point of living.  Let us begin by recognizing the good done for us - and hopefully appreciating it as well.

For another idea: Thanksgiving and Shabbat Dinner

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Birthright for Moms!

This is fantastic. A Birthright trip for mothers - a brilliant idea. To inspire mothers in their Judaism is to bring Judaism to the whole family. I love it!

Women bond on Birthright for Moms trip

Friday, June 7, 2013

Parshas Korach - The Power Is In Your Hands

While reading through the parsha this week, I came across this interesting thought by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I'm including it in it's entirety here. Enjoy.

The Name of the Parsha 
It is written in Proverbs, "The name of the wicked will rot" (10:7), on which the Talmud comments, "Let mold grow upon their names, for we do not use their names" (Yoma 38a). 
This begs the question: How could the Torah eternalize the name of Korach, a wicked man who did not repent in his lifetime, by calling an entire parsha by his name? 
While Korach was indeed wicked in his deeds, he nevertheless harbored a desire which is appropriate for every Jewish person to emulate: He wanted to be the High Priest.  As Rambam writes, "Any type of person...whose spirit inspires him, and he resolves in his mind to set himself apart [from worldly pursuits], to stand before God and serve as His minister, to work for Him, and to know God; who [then acts upon his resolution and he] goes in amorally upright manner - following his inherent, God-given disposition, and he discards all the numerous concerns that people are normally preoccupied with - then he will attain the holiness of the Holy of Holies" i.e. the spiritual level of the High Priest. 
Thus Korach was not corrupt in his ideology, but only in his method of implementation. His desire to be High Priest was well founded, as Moshe confirmed, "I too want this" (Rashi to 16:6); his only mistake was attempting to achieve this goal by usurping Moshe, rather than following him. 
So it is appropriate that our Parsha is named after Korach, for his desire for spirituality is something we should all learn from. 
Nevertheless, we see that most of the Parsha speaks of Korach's actual mistakes, rather than his good intentions, to the extent that we are warned, "not to be like Korach and his company" (17:5). Where then, is the positive message in Korach's sin and punishment
In truth, however, even Korach's downfall tell an uplifting message to those who ponder its significance deeply. For be placing us in this world with free choice to act wisely or foolishly, God has ultimately granted us the greatest possible gift to strive for holiness (to be a "High Priest") by utilizing our talents and skills for the good on our own, with our own free choice. 
Thus, from Korach's well meaning failure, we can learn: a.) To emulate his good intentions; and b.) The possibility of real failure (which Korah suffered) means that freedom of choice is totally in our hands, and consequently real success is an option for us all.
-- (Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Korach 5750)
The Gutnick Edition, Chumash, The Book of Numbers, pg. 129
Here is also a link to Chief Rabbi Sacks on Parshas Korach 

Good Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A New Online Jewish Magazine

I came upon this online magazine by accident, but it looks interesting. It's called Mosaic: Advancing Jewish Thought. So far, reading and skimming through the articles, it looks like it is worth more than just a few minutes looking at it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Honoring Our Jewish Veterans

I really enjoyed this article, a fascinating article about the Jews who fought for the Soviet Union during World War II.

A Rabbi Honors the Red Army's Jewish Veterans