Eat Your Cake and Have it Too

Of course, that’s not the way the expression goes. It’s supposed to be “Have your cake and eat it too”.
But what’s so unusual about that? In life, first you get a piece of cake, so now you have it and then you eat it!
The expression really means that you want to have the best of both worlds. Have something, consume it and still have it.
But as we all know, you can’t have it both ways, it’s impossible. Or is it?
Try a simple experiment:
Eat an apple. Take the seeds and plant them in a little bit of soil in a cutoff little milk box like you once did in First Grade. Water it, pull the weeds.
Wait about six months.
Carefully replant the tiny sapling into a giant box filled with carefully measured out soil (be sure not to shake the original soil off the tender roots).
Wait another 4 or 5 years until the apple tree starts producing ripe, juicy apples.
Eat ‘em. Bake ‘em. Make apple pie out of them.
Now go back and measure the amount of soil left in the box.
If you’ve done this properly, you will find that only a tiny fraction of soil has been consumed.
So where did all those apples come from?
Where did the tree and its leaves come from?
The answer is water, sunlight and soil!
(If you like, try repeating the experiment using just water and sunlight. It just won’t work without soil).
Every tree, every plant, every stalk of wheat and blade of grass utilizes soil and its nutrients to grow. Yet, after all these years, the earth is still encrusted about four feet deep with rich, fertile soil. Seems like they’ve all eaten their soil and have it too.
How does that happen? _ _ _

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Comments icon June 15, 2012

Loving Thy Neighbor: Judaism’s Unique Approach

love thy neighbor

Many people – Jew and Christian alike – are surprised to discover that the principle “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is found in the “Old” Testament, and even in Leviticus, probably the most maligned (and misunderstood) book in what we Jews call the Torah.

The Christian Gospels also say that loving thy neighbor is one of the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:29-31). However, long before Christianity, Jewish tradition taught: “Love thy neighbor is one of the great principles in the Torah” (Sifra 2:12). The famous Jewish sage Hillel, who flourished well before Christianity, said: “Don’t do unto others what you would not want do to you – that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 31a).

However, Judaism’s love principle not only came before Christianity but goes deeper and is more effective than most people, Jew and non-Jew, imagine.

It is not enough to only cite inspiring aphorisms. For instance, Christianity prides itself on the idea of “loving thy enemies” (Matthew 5:43-44). Judaism goes further, however, because it not only provides the aphorism but gives us examples how to love our enemies:

If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall help him to lift it up. (Exodus 23:4-5)

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. (Proverbs 25:21)

The Torah does not merely cite an aphorism, but provides a case study how to live up to it. The Talmud goes even further and provides more examples and numerous details how to fulfill the love principle.

The Gospel writers blasted Judaism for being legalistic. Love is a spiritual thing, not a legal concept, they said. However, by doing so, they totally missed the point. Yes, love is a spiritual thing; it is all over the Torah. But so often the love principle is not easy to actually live up to.

How does one live up to the principle? Judaism’s renowned emphasis on education comes into play here. From the earliest years, Jewish children in home and school are taught a) practical applications of the love idea and b) that it is a law, not just a nice idea.

Pounding that into generation after generation of children may not have guaranteed that everyone would fulfill it perfectly, but increased the odds of its practical implementation in everyday life in ways those merely echoing the platitudes could never approach.

Listen, I’m not here to knock Christianity. I think it can be, has been and still is for many people a positive force. But it is also, historically, the bloodiest religion in history. Could the fact that they taught the aphorism but failed to make it practical like Judaism did have to do with it?

On that note, we can now understand why Hillel said, “Don’t do unto others what you would not want done to you,” which is the inverse of love thy neighbor. Why not word it in the positive, as Christianity did: “Do unto others as you would want them to do to you”?

Because it is not so easy to love an enemy; someone that has done wrong to you. Therefore, at the minimum, “don’t do unto them as you wouldn’t want done to you.” Included in Hillel’s aphorism is Judaism’s practical approach to all the lofty ideals that attract people to the Bible. It’s not enough to espouse them. In the Torah’s eyes, we have to really work on ourselves to live up to them.

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Comments icon June 1, 2012

Leggo My Gecko

Question – what do your toothbrush and a gecko have in common?
Multiple Choice:
1. They both come in green.
2. They both fit in the palm of your hand.
3. They both get into every nook and cranny.

Correct answer – all of the above.
While you might choose to ignore choices 1 and 2 and buy an oversized toothbrush that comes in pink, you can understand why choice #3 is important for your toothbrush. Each individual bristle makes contact with your teeth so that it can clean all of the surfaces, including below the gum line and in between. That’s one of the main reasons why we use a toothbrush and not a squeegee. (Other reasons are beyond the scope of this article).
But what’s so special about a gecko getting into those hard to reach places like your ceiling or under your table?
Two answers. The first is that obviously it has to have a good contact with the wall if it expects to be able to climb straight up.
But rodents, insects and, yes, even Spiderman can do that. Why is a gecko different?
Rodents and insects are able to climb because they have sharp claws that dig into the crevices of a wall that lets them grab and hold on. Geckos have super-serrated hands and legs and hold on with millions of microscopic hairs that divide into billions of split ends. Each hair is so small that when a gecko makes contact, almost 100% of its foot surface actually “touches” the wall. These minute split ends practically combine with the wall through the molecular force called the “Van der Waals” force. It doesn’t stick and it doesn’t dig in – it actually bonds. And then, almost magically, the gecko reverses the pull on his feet and just lets go.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Leapin’ lizards! If I had a toothbrush with all those fine hairs, I’d never get cavities. It would clean every microscopic square inch of my teeth”.
Not quite. You see, once it touched your tooth, one false move and, forget about - goodbye bacteria, it’s goodbye tooth!
Which brings us to answer #2. By replicating the unique structure of a gecko’s foot pads, scientists are developing vice-like adhesives that take hold merely by touching a surface. And when moved in the opposite direction, simply slip off with no trace of adhesion.
Geckos make it look easy.
And you thought they only sold car insurance!

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Comments icon May 21, 2012

Time is Money is Time

Imagine you’re walking through the streets of  a busy city and in front of you is a well-dressed gentleman walking at a brisk pace. And every minute, he reaches into his pocket and drops a $10 bill onto the street. You bend down and pick it up. A real $10 bill. Naturally, you continue to follow him.

Soon he has a whole entourage of people trailing behind him. Every minute, some other lucky follower gets a ten.

By the time he has reached his destination, he’s thrown away hundreds of dollars.

As it turns out, his destination was the Welfare Department. “Help me, please. I have no money”.

What would you say? He’s crazy, no?

Who throws away their own money, especially if they don’t have it or, at best, a limited supply of it?

Money comes and money goes and sometimes you can make it back. 

There  is a concept called time. But unlike money, time only goes.

When you’re a child growing up you say, “I want to be a fireman, I want to be a doctor, I want to be a millionaire”.

Hey, why not? Go for it. There’s plenty of time. At least when you’re a kid, that is. The more time you have, the more you can take time to develop yourself.

As grownups, we are fortunate in today’s modern society, that even if we’re not (yet) millionaires, we still have the luxury of spare time. The time line may not be as long, but there are still 24 hours in each day and 365 days in our years.

If someone wasting money is crazy (with a chance that someday he may get it back), how much more so someone who wastes their time?

Read a book, learn a trade, help another, take up a hobby, develop your mind, explore your heritage, investigate your family tree. The value of spare time is when it is spent wisely.

Remember, fruit flies like bananas (see previous article), but time flies like the wind.

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Comments icon May 15, 2012

Yes! We Have Know Bananas

Did you ever feel that people don’t understand you?

Just be glad you’re not a banana.

Bananas are probably the most misunderstood fruits in the world.

Let’s begin:

Did you ever see a banana tree?

Couldn’t have.

It’s not a tree. It’s a pseudostem that looks like a tree. It might even be a perennial, but it’s not a tree.

In fact, if you’re familiar with the blessings that the Jewish people say over fruits, we traditionally bless, “the fruit of the tree”.

Not for bananas. We bless them as “the fruit of the ground” the way we do with vegetables. (Strange how our rabbis knew hundreds of years ago that bananas don’t grow on trees).

Thought that bananas only come in yellow? (Well first they’re green, then they’re yellow.  Then they’re brown, but we won’t talk about that part). Bet you didn’t know they also come in red and purple. You probably thought that only grapes and beets come in purple. Not so. How else would you make banana wine if not from the purple ones?

Unlike grapefruits and oranges, when you bite into a banana the juice doesn’t come squirting out. That’s because it’s a dry plant. Right?

Bananas are 75% water and only 25% dry matter. (Human beings are only about 67% water).

Bananas are usually quiet fruits. They lay on your kitchen counters and usually don’t call much attention to themselves. But shy, they are not!

In fact, they are the most glorious, shining stars of God’s little acres.

How’s that? Everyone knows that bananas are high in potassium. In fact, they are also high in radioactive potassium 40. That means that when the sun shines on them, they actually glow! Not only the banana itself, but its leaves too. But only when they’re ripe so that birds and animals that don’t “see” in sunlight, only in the ultraviolet range, know when it’s time for a tasty treat.

Aren’t you glad you got to “know” a little bit about bananas?

So whether you eat them, drink them, use them for cooking oil or chip them as a snack, understand, you can go bananas for bananas.

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Comments icon May 2, 2012

The Bear Went Over The Mountain

There’s a childhood song that people sing when they go hiking on a picnic or taking a long drive with the kids. The longer version goes something like this:
“The bear went over the mountain (3x)
To see what he could see
The bear went over the mountain (3x)
And what do you think he saw?
He saw another mountain (3X)
So what do you think he did?”
Now, I never actually met that particular bear personally, but I can only imagine his disappointment. Here we was looking for something greater than life and all he got was more of the same.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller (of blessed memory), one of the giants of the modern-day American sages, used to compare us to that poor bear. So many people get bored with the big city life and are longing for adventure. They can’t wait to get to the isle of Tahiti. They picture the clean white beaches, the cool, refreshing blue ocean and the exotic food and villages of that tiny island.

And what does he get when he gets there? He finds that the people of Tahiti can’t wait to come to New York to see the tall buildings and to marvel at the hustle and bustle of millions of people.
And somehow, for each group, they’re never satisfied. It’s just not IT!

Whether climbing the Himalayas, diving into the depths of the ocean, exploring Eastern religions or trying to build a better mousetrap, we are all longing for something.

Our sages tell us that that is the yearning of the soul to reunite with its Source. Our bodies are tied to the physical world but our souls are looking for something beyond.

It took a Dorothy from Kansas to teach us that the greatest happiness can be found in your own backyard.

There’s a reason that Judaism has given religion to three-quarters of the globe. It is the formula for happiness and contentment.
And you don’t have to live on a mountain, or cross over one, to find it.

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Comments icon April 25, 2012

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Imagine the following scene:
“Hey, Jimmy, guess what?”
“Mommy and daddy are taking you to Disney World!”
“Oh, wow! Thank you so much! I can’t wait!”
“Well, you know Jimmy, it’s not so easy to get there.”
“We have to pack all our suitcases. Crease all our clothes. Then we have to lug them to the airport.”
“And then we have to wait for the luggage when we get there and hope they didn’t lose it.”
“Yes. Then we have to go through security. That can take a half an hour.”
“We have to empty our pockets, take off our shoes. We can’t bring any liquids.”
“Yeh. And if you set off the alarm, they have to call special people to examine you. It’s a big hassle.”
“Not only that, when we get on the plane, there’s no guarantee we’ll be sitting together.”
“How come?”
“Well, sometimes the computer makes a mistake when you buy your tickets online the way daddy does. So we might wind up sitting a few rows apart.”
“By the way, honey, I hope I don’t get a middle seat again like the last time we flew.”
“My gosh, I remember you were surrounded by those two bruisers. I don’t know how you ever fit!”
“And don’t forget the lines at Disney. Remember the last time we were there when Jimmy was only two?”
“Oh man, was that a hassle.”
“Mom, dad, do we really have to go?”
“Don’t worry, Jimmy, it’s really not so bad.”
Could you imagine parents speaking to their children like that? Poor Jimmy. He’ll probably live in dread of that terrible day when he has to go to Disney!
There’s a saying in the Talmud:
“Man is led in the direction in which he desires to go.”
If we constantly look at the glass as half empty, our children will grow up looking at the world the same way.
If we wouldn’t talk about Disney’s World that way, why would we ever talk that way about God’s world?

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Posted in:
by Max Anteby

Comments icon April 16, 2012

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