Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Animal planet

Careful reading of the Torah is important to avoid making big mistakes. One of these mistakes is the belief that Adam named all the animals in one day.

Many people say he couldn’t name every animal in the world in just one day. They are right!!! Because the Torah doesn’t say Adam named all the animals. It says he named three groups — the ‘livestock’ (Hebrew behemah), the ‘birds of the air’ (Hebrew oph hashamayim) and all the ‘beasts of the field’ (Hebrew chayyat hassadeh).  Adam could have accomplished this task for the following reasons:

Because Adam did not have to go out and round up or track any of these animals. Genesis 2:19 clearly states that G-d brought the animals to Adam.
There is no sign that Adam named the fishes, or any other marine organisms, nor any of the insects, beetles or arachnids. In fact, of the two million known species, 98% are invertebrates, which include a variety of animals, from sponges, worms and jellyfish to mollusks and insects. The remaining 2% are vertebrates and number approximately 40,000 species. This number is further reduced when the 25,000 marine vertebrates and 4,000 amphibians are discounted, since they clearly do not fit into any of the categories of animals listed in Genesis 2:20.
(See this interesting article www.AnswersInGenesis.org/creation/v27/i3/day.asp)
From these reasons we can learn that Adam could have named the animals the Torah mentions in one day.  What is also clear is that Adam did not name all the animals.  I would like to reinforce this idea.

There’s a popular belief about a very particular animal.  When people from the West explored a new land, they were amazed to see a unique animal with incredibly huge feet and a long tail.   The animal moved everywhere by jumping only. The explorers asked the native people what they called this kind of animal.

The native people replied with the words Kan Ghu Ru (“I don’t understand” in the native language) meaning that they did not understand what the Western people said.  Instead, the Westerners thought those words were the name of the animal and starting calling it Kan Ghu Ru. The name was slightly distorted to Kangaroo shortly afterward.   This is another proof that Adam could not have named “all” the animals.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Text message Bamidvar

Parashat Bamidvar (In the desert)

This parasha opens the book of Numbers. In fact, the word "numbers" refers to the censuses that take place in this book and not to the literal translation of the word Bamidvar.
Hashem commands Moses to count the people of Israel and then the Torah  describes the position of each tribe in the camp.  
The 12 tribes were divided into four: N, S, W and E. Every tribe had a flag.
What is the purpose of the flag? Why should the tribes have a flag in the camp?
The most logical explanation is if anybody wanted to return to his or her own tribe, they would look up, see the flag, get oriented, and then return.

This may teach us two things: 1) the importance of having a sense of belonging. We always need to remember the flag we defend, the nation we belong to; 2) We always need to know that when we are lost, the only way to return is looking up. When we look up, not just to the flag but to our G-d in heaven, we will find our way back.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Text Message parashat Bechukotai

Parashar Bechukotai (If you follow my rules)      

The parasha deals with the rewards and punishments that may come upon us if we follow or do not follow the rules.
It is interesting to note that the Torah dedicates only 10 verses to the blessings and more than 30 to the curses.
Not fair, right?
I think the message is hidden in the Torah. If we take a close look, we will see that the blessings start with the letter א (Aleph) and end with the letter ת (Tav).
The curses start with the letter ו (Vav) and end with the letter ה (Hei).
The way we should conduct our lives is hidden in these letters.
The blessings should take over everything in our lives. (From א (Aleph) ת(Tav), the whole Aleph-Bet.)
And if we have curses, they need to be minimized and reversed. [From ו (Vav) to ה (Hei), there is only one difference and in reverse order.]
What matters is not how small or big the curses and blessings are but how we are going to relate to them.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Sneezing is something that happens to every human being and also some animals. A mysterious and fascinating thing happens when we sneeze; we close our eyes.  Nobody can sneeze without closing the eyes. But even more interesting is that if someone hears us sneeze, he or she automatically will say, “Bless you.” Many people have become accustomed to saying “bless you” or “gesundheit” when someone sneezes.  In Hebrew the term we use is “libriut” לבריאות (good health).

The custom of wishing someone well after they sneeze probably originated thousands of years ago. There was a custom among the Romans to say, “Jupiter preserve you” or “Salve” after sneezing, meaning “good health to you.” The common belief is that the phrase “God bless you” is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 CE), and began literally as a blessing. Sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the bubonic plague. Therefore, the blessing (“God bless you!”) became a common effort to halt the disease.

But, of course, the Jewish people can claim we did it first…

In the Torah we read: “Then the LORD G-d formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:6).

The Midrash explains:
From the day the Heavens and Earth were created, no person became ill. Instead, if he (or she) was on the road or in the marketplace, he would sneeze and his soul would exit from his nostrils, until Jacob our forefather came and requested mercy on the matter, and he said before Hashem, “Master of the Universe, do not take my soul from me until I can bless my sons and the members of my household”, and Hashem granted it to Jacob. — (Adapted Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer chapter 52)

We can also learn from the Talmud:
Until Jacob there was no illness, so Jacob prayed and illness came into existence (Sanhedrin 107b).

We learn that until the days of Jacob, there was no sickness in the world. If somebody sneezed, he or she would die immediately. Then Jacob asked G-d for mercy, but the people were still afraid of sneezing. Therefore, when somebody sneezed, the people who heard it wished that person to be in good health.

There’s nothing better than a Jewish grandmother to teach traditions. Among the Jewish grandmothers, it was customary to say the following: After the first sneeze, say “tzu gezunt” (good health); after the second time, “Tzum leben” (to life), and after the third, “tzu lange yoren” (to long years).

So here’s my advice: If there are more than three sneezes in a row… go see the doctor!!!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Text message Parashat Behar

Parashat Behar (at the mountain)           

Today I want to share with you a personal story. It is the story of my grandfather, Israel Isaac Z"L.
He was a Jewish cowboy. He owned land and cattle and rode a horse until he was 80 years old.
I would like to say he was the most generous person I ever knew. He tried to help everybody.
He heard someone had a problem, he was there. Someone needed help, he was there to help.
I am sure that if he wanted, he could have been a millionaire. He was not interested in being one, because I guess ultimately he knew everything he had didn't belong to him.
This parasha tells us that ultimately we are not the owners of our possessions (in this case, the land).
They belong to G-d and we have the opportunity to do good things with them.
When my grandpa got sick in 1994, he gave me a Siddur that I use every day to pray.

Every time I open that prayer book, I try to become more generous and more thankful to Hashem for what I have.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Yasher Koach

The most common way to congratulate somebody after a simcha (a happy moment) in that person’s life is Mazal tov. A Bar/Bat mitzvah, the birth of a child or grand child, a wedding or any other special moment deserves the good wishes of Mazal tov.
Sometimes we even joke and say Mazal tov when something breaks in the kitchen (a plate or a cup, etc.), perhaps because the noise evokes the sound of a groom breaking the glass under the chuppah (the wedding canopy).
There are events in our lives that are more frequent and (maybe) less relevant than a birth or a marriage like leading a service, saying a D’var Torah or receiving an aliyah. We have two different options to congratulate those who have had these kinds of honors: The Ashkenazi custom is to say: Yasher Koach (יישר כוח) that means literally “may your strength be firm.” The answer to this blessing should be Baruch Tiyihe (ברוך תהיה), may you be blessed. The Sephardic custom is to say Chazak u Baruch (חזק וברוך) that means literally “strong and blessed.” The answer to this blessing is Chazak vEmatz (חזק ואמץ), strong and courageous.
The first mention of this form of congratulation is in the Talmud. It is written that when Moses broke the tablets G-d agreed with him and said: Yasher Koach that you broke them" (Shabbat 87a).
It is not very clear the path that this phrase went through until it became the most used form of congratulation after receiving an aliyah. Probably in ancient times, when few people had their own books, the Torah had to be read while it was standing upright and the text had to be visible to the congregation. People approached the center of the synagogue surrounding the reader. The reader, therefore, had to physically sustain the scroll by taking hold of its posts. Yasher koach became an encouragement to the reader, "May you have strength not to cause the Torah to fall.”
It is very interesting to relate the current usage of the phrase to the original Yasher koach. Today’s usage of this phrase is paradoxically a reversal of the actual usage as G-d reassured Moses by saying: You have done the right thing in showing the strength and bravery to hurl the Torah before a people that has proven itself unworthy of it.

Did you know that? Now you know something more about our tradition, Yasher Koach!!!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Parashat Emor Text Message

Parashat Emor (You shall tell)

In this parasha, we find the commandment of counting the Omer. Between Pesach and Shavuot, we count the days that keep us away from Egypt and closer to Mount Sinai.
It is interesting to see that the commandment says, "Usfartem lachem" (You shall count for you).
This expression reminds us of two more commandments that use the word "lachem" (for you).
1) Ulekachtem lachem. You shall take for you (the four spieces of Sukkot)
2) Hachodesh haze lachem (counting the months)
I do not see that this is a simple coincidence. Most of the things we do every day, we do for others.
I think the Torah is telling us it is great to do for others, but you also have to have a time for you.
Sometimes there are very little, very few moments for ourselves; therefore, we need to count them, enjoy them and, of course, we will see the fruits, the results of these special moments.

If we nurture our souls with those moments for us, we will be more successful in doing for others.