Thursday, November 22, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Vayishlach (Reality bites)

To my international readers, I apologize in advance to the esotericity of the comparison I'm about to make.

Estranged and uncomfortable family reunions, busy and annoying travel days, praying nothing is going to go horribly wrong, wrestling through the night, trying to impress/intimidate/appease relatives, a rush for gifts, your father pissed off at you for making him look bad/sleeping with his concubine/slaughtering the newly-circumcised citizens of Shechem for abducting and raping your sister/getting your tongue pierced, telling your sister she looks like a prostitute, and doubtful historical veracity; this can only mean two things: Vayishlach and Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow happens to be the all-American holiday of Thanksgiving, a holiday where we, today, celebrate reunion with family and, more likely, mere toleration of one another. Could we have hoped for anything more from Jacob and Esau?

Sure Esau tried to bite Jacob instead of kissing him as I mentioned in last year's Dvar Torah on this Parasha. When I delivered my senior sermon in high school on this very portion seven years ago (damn...), my research into Midrash also indicated that Esau was the one whom Jacob wrestled for the blessing.

Family fighting is synonymous with the holiday of Thanksgiving. One of my favorite comedians Lewis Black once ranted long ago on the Daily Show (way back in the Craig Kilborn era) about this holiday, its effect on diets and the fact that instead of killing your family you eat their weight in food. Thank God Esau was able to hold back, even though he did try and nibble on his twin brother a little bit...

In other news, An anagram I just discovered: Neilah = Inhale. I'm sure a great Dvar Torah can be made on the topic, but now is not the time...

May your Thanksgiving be peaceful and may you more than tolerate your family.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Vayetze (The Power of Love)

What have you done for love? What would be your upper limit for what you would do or attempt to do for love?

Perhaps the most ignored part of this Torah portion is an event at the well. A heavy rock was blocking the well that required a team of men to unseal. Jacob, once he lays first sight on his beshert, Rachel, summons superhuman strength and hurls off the boulder himself. Normal people don't do this; only people who are completely smitten would attempt such a backbreaking (literally) dare-devil like act. This is just the first of many things he does for love. Do I have to mention the fourteen years he works to have the opportunity to marry Rachel. The first seven years he toiled for his cousin Laban went by like a week (this according to the Torah Pshat!) The time flew for him when he knew the reward would be the unending love of Rachel. He took Laban's subsequent trick with stride and his second seven years lasted about half a verse. Even when Rachel was unable to bear children whereas Leah was a baby factory, Jacob still loved Rachel more.

We have all made sacrifices and done stupid things for love, but let Jacob be our patron saint, per se, for ultimate love.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Toldot (Trick For Treat)

First of all, this is awesome (from
Top Ten Mashgiach Pickup Lines
(in honor of KosherFest this Sunday/Monday at the Javits Center in NYC)

10. You've got all the kosher ingredients I need.

9. Put you near any pilot-light and you'll turn it on.

8. I'd be on your premises at all times.

7. This restaurant just lost its hashgacha, care to lose yours?

6. You are so hot - yad soledes bo!

5. You are 1 in a 60th.

4. Just like Basar v'Chalav (meat/milk), opposites attract.

You must have special powers? cause you give me extra super vision

2. You're a major Kashrut violation, everytime look at you, all i can think about is treifus

1. What's your hashgacha (sign)?

Last night I showed a movie from my Israeli DVD collection, Chagiga B'Snooker. It is considered by many to be the funniest movie ever produced in Israel (an interesting review can be found here). A major part of the plot involves pool-shark and con-artist Gavriel posing as his religious twin brother Azrael in order to trick a Rabbi so his brother will marry his daughter. In fact this motif (and many of the specific gags) is almost identical to another legendary Israeli comedy: Kuni Lemel b'Tel Aviv. I'm sure there are many other Israeli movies like this and there are a bunch of American movies too: The Parent Trap and her remakes and any movie with the Olsen Twins is certain to have mistaken identity with twins.

This is hardly a new storyline. The original writer of the archetype: God (or according to some J and E). Jacob and Esau (a different J & E, though I didn't think of this before I put in the previous line) are definitely not identical, but similar enough that Jacob can trick his father Isaac into blessing him in a case of mistaken identity and trickery. Apparently people find this funny because so many comedy movies have adapted the theme. Who said the Bible wasn't hip and couldn't speak to the youth of today? Who ever thought Lindsay Lohan would debut in a movie based on the Bible?

Candlelighting is about to begin so I will have to put this on hold until after Shabbos...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Instant Replay in Baseball a possibility...

I've been advocating instant replay in baseball for years. Yeah, it might make gameplay longer and more tedious, but seeing as most bad calls tend to be against the Dodgers, I am all for a system to overturn the calls. I notice however that omitted is the "out-versus-safe" calls. This is the one that is most frequently messed up. Umpires aren't perfect. I should know; I've been one. You miss/screw-up calls. A game shouldn't hinge on a screwed-up call.

Baseball general managers recommend that instant replay be used

They vote to use it on boundary calls and home run calls but not on plays in the field or balls and strikes. Owners, players and umpires will need to approve the initiative.
From the Associated Press
11:30 AM PST, November 6, 2007
ORLANDO, Fla. -- For the first time, baseball general managers recommended today that instant replay be used to help umpires make difficult decisions.

The recommendation, by a 25-5 vote, was limited to boundary calls -- whether potential home runs are fair or foul, whether balls go over fences or hit the top and bounce back, and whether fans interfere with possible homers.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig opposes the use of replays but said last month he was willing to let GMs examine the issue.

"I don't like instant replay because I don't like all the delays. I think it sometimes creates as many problems or more than it solves," Selig said then.

But Jimmie Lee Solomon, an executive vice president in the commissioner's office, thinks Selig's stance has changed a bit recently.

"He seemed to be softer, at least on the consideration of the subject," Solomon said Tuesday.

He added it was unclear how the proposal will proceed and acknowledged there is "glacier-like movement in baseball" when it comes to innovation. Solomon said if Selig is willing, the commissioner probably would run the idea by owners. The plan needs approval from the players' association and umpires.

Solomon said GMs favored having a Major League Baseball official in a central place with access to all camera angles. If there is a disputed call, that official would be contacted and would view the television replay to make a decision.

"We have a very technologically savvy group of GMs," Solomon said. "I was surprised that we had five teams that said no."

Solomon also said that to speed up games, baseball was considering limiting the number of times a hitter could step out of the batter's box during an at-bat and the number of times any player could visit the mound.,1,7348280,print.story

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Internet is really really great... for Facebook!

From Time Magazine:

Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007

Facebook: More Popular Than Porn

When I wrote last week's column comparing the social-networking sites MySpace and Facebook, I included a line after my signature stating that I had only 124 friends on Facebook, and urged readers to add me as their friends. As of today I have 261 new Facebook friends, the majority of which are Generation Y college students.

I turned to Hitwise data to find out more about them. By examining which websites social-network users visit after logging into their profiles, we can gain a bit of insight into how sites like Facebook fit into their members' daily online lives. The data showed that after other social networks, the most clicked-on category of sites was search engines, with 11.6% of all downstream visits. Web-based e-mail services were next with 8.5%. Blogs came in third in popularity at 6.1%, claiming more than four times the number of visits to traditional news sites, which logged 1.5% of downstream visits.

Perhaps a more interesting — and more accurate — way to figure out where college students are going online is to assess which of the 172 web categories tracked by Hitwise get the most hits from 18- to 24-year-olds. Here's a shocker: Porn is not No. 1. I've actually been puzzled by the decrease in visits to the Adult Entertainment category over the last two years. Visits to porn sites have dropped from 16.9% of all site visits in the U.S. in October 2005 to 11.9% as of last week, a 33% decline. Currently, for web users over the age of 25, Adult Entertainment still ranks high in popularity, coming in second, after search engines. Not so for 18- to 24-year-olds, for whom social networks rank first, followed by search engines, then web-based e-mail — with porn sites lagging behind in fourth. If you chart the rate of visits to social-networking sites against those to adult sites over the last two years, there appears to be a strong negative correlation (i.e., visits to social networks go up as visits to adult sites go down). It's a leap to say there's a real correlation there, but if there is one, then I'd bet it has everything to do with Gen Y's changing habits: they're too busy chatting with friends to look at online skin. Imagine.

This reshaped online landscape leaves me feeling old and out of the loop. It seems that social-networking sites have not only usurped porn in popularity, but they've also gobbled up time Gen Y-ers used to spend on traditional e-mail and IM. When you can reach all of your friends through Facebook or MySpace, there's little reason to spend time in your old-school inbox. So, if social networking is becoming e-mail 2.0, then perhaps Microsoft's recent $240 million dollar payout for such a small stake in Facebook isn't that ridiculous.

The reality is that Facebook isn't just for kids. Last week — and this was a highlight — my dad, who just turned 75, added me as a friend on Facebook. I considered sending him a virtual beer to celebrate the occasion, but I didn't think either of us would see the point. Back in my day, we drank beers out of bottles and cans — we didn't have these new-fangled virtual beers. But, then again, I think that's something I probably still have in common with the younger generation, something I don't need Hitwise data to back up: the love of a good old-fashioned beer.

Let the messages roll in.

Bill Tancer is general manger of global research at Hitwise

(can be found at,8599,1678586,00.html)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Chayei Sarah (Meester Eesaak! Meester Eesaak! Save the Isaac, save the world)

We now reach the transition between the stories of Abraham and Jacob. But wait, what about Isaac? Isaac gets very few verses that are about him and that do not either relate to his father or his son. Just to present an analogy as SAT season hits critical mass: Shavuot/Hanukkah:Talmudic mention of Festivals::Isaac:Patriarchs. The Talmud only has a page in a half about Hanukkah and practically nothing about Shavuot whereas Sukkot and Pesach have entire tractates dedicated to them.

In his biggest story he isn't even the main-character. Isaac is a key player, unwilling and unwitting though he is (debatable) in one of the most infamous stories in History: His sacrifice. I mentioned last week the Akedah, and Isaac's pseudonym in poetic literature as HaBen HaNe'ekad, The Bound Son. This is what people remember about Isaac, helpless and tied to an altar.

His other "major" story is when he is tricked by his son Jacob into giving him the greater blessing. Now Issac is the decrepit, blind, and gullible old coot.

This week mentions the only part of the narrative that is somewhat in his court, when Sarah dies and Abraham sends Eliezer his Damascan servant to find a wife for Isaac. In this story, however, Eliezer is the one with the active role in finding the wife, not Isaac (and Eliezer even gets his own Shalshelet trop; check it out!)

Maybe the Torah doesn't give Isaac enough credit. However, I realized that Isaac does not need additional storyline. His silence may be more powerful than any words he could have spoken. The Akedah can be regarded as the most important event in Jewish history prior to the Exodus from Egypt. The Paytanim, the medieval poets pick up on this and assign to him the saving of the Jewish people through the grace of God. The most important part of the Selichot services of the High Holidays center on the recitation of a penitential poem known as the Akedah which appeals to God to save us for the sake of the young lad, Isaac, who was bound on the altar. Many Orthodox Jews recite the Torah verses of the account of the Akedah at the very beginning of morning services daily. Isaac has also been unfortunately the paradigm of the slaughtering of Jews throughout history, and the aforementioned liturgical additions were very likely in response to the Crusades when Jews were murdered, when the survivors poured their hearts out to God to save them as He saved Isaac as he was on the verge of being slaughtered. Finally a mysterious acronym that might be from a more familiar prayer, the very beginning of the Shacharit service of Shabbat, Festivals, and the High Holidays:

בְּפִי יְשָׁרִים תִּתְהַלָּל,

וּבְדִבְרֵי צַדִּיקִים תִּתְבָּרַךְ,

וּבִלְשׁוֹן חֲסִידִים תִּתְרוֹמָם,

וּבְקֶֽרֶב קְדוֹשִׁים תִּתְקַדָּשׁ.

Notice the acronym of how God will be praised? Those that praise him, ישרים, צדיקים, חסדים, קדוֹשים is an acronym of יצחק. Still not convinced? On the High Holidays, when both the birth of Isaac and the Binding of Isaac are the central stories presented in the Torah service (the Annunciation of his impending conception reportedly made a year before his birth on Rosh Hashannah), we reorganize the ways in which God is praised

בְּפִי יְשָׁרִים תִּתְרוֹמָם,

וּבְדִבְרֵי צַדִּיקִים תִּתְבָּרַךְ,

וּבִלְשׁוֹן חֲסִידִים תִּתְקַדָּשׁ,

וּבְקֶֽרֶב קְדוֹשִׁים תִּתְהַלָּל.

The codifiers of the liturgy reorganize the arrangement of the words to form the acronym רבקה, Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, to always dwell by her husband. Isaac may not possess the nickname of his father Abraham, Eitan, the Mighty One, but rather is the Ben HaNe'ekad, but not only bound to the altar in Jerusalem, but is tied to each and every Jewish person who identifies with his plight as their own. Just as God saved Isaac, so may He save us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sound the foghorn!

If you live in the LA area, particularly the San Fernando Valley or Bel Air, you might have noticed the spooky fog we've had today. The Valley basin was covered with it this morning, I saw from my Bel Air vista. Around 5:15 PM the fog started coming in to Bel Air itself and has persisted ever since. It is a very strange fog, almost London-like. I don't remember seeing much evening fog in LA county in my 20 years I have spent in LA. Perhaps there is therefore symbolism in this fog

After all of these wildfires we finally get some beneficial weather. But perhaps there is another symbol being represented here. This fog, filled with precipitation, comes the very same day that the Dodgers picked up Joe Torre to be their manager. I'm sure you can come
"up with something about that, but I'm to tired to make the connection. I am both excited and slightly weirded out. Excited because... he's Joe Torre! Slightly weirded out because... he's Joe Torre! The former Yankees skipper is now a Dodger I think that the Dodgers are quickly turning into the All-Century team but with the players past their prime. At the same time, I tzAhink Joe Torre has a great chance to turn around a ball club that is used to having great win streaks followed by even greater lose streak. And If we get A-Rod, our menagerie of future hall-of-famers will be complete. I'm not complaining, I'm excited to have such an interesting collection of players on one team, my team. What would Nomar and A-Rod talk about, formerly on the Red Sox and Yankees respectively)? Would Joe Torre hold anything against Nomar who, though was off the Red Sox earlier in the year when the Curse of the Bambino was broken, represents the Bane of his existence? Maybe I'm reading much too into this. This is going to be a fun season...