Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
A Sacrifice Honored
A couple of years ago, as part of the Presidents’ Conference mission to Israel, we visited an army base in Israel in which soldiers trained not only in urban warfare but in tunnels. The buildings were set up complete with hidden panels and trap doors and the tunnels had hiding places and branches from which terrorists could attack. Of course they all had simulated booby traps. Unfortunately, all this training is not sufficient to prevent causalities in real-life combat. As of this writing (Thursday am), 32 Israeli soldiers have lost their lives. Among the first to die were two whose families are in the United States: Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg. Carmeli, 21, was born in Israel but moved with his family to Texas when he was 10, but he returned for high school, and entered the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), though he could have exercised his exemption, based on having left Israel before the age of 15. As for Max Steinberg, 24, his first visit was only a couple of years ago on Birthright and he returned six months later and enlisted. Both of them, though they were “lone soldiers”, soldiers whose families live outside of Israel, had funerals of extraordinary size. 20,000 paid final respects to Carmeli. Even more accompanied Steinberg to his final resting place, along with his family who flew in from California
My colleague, Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, who formerly directed the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, attended the Steinberg funeral and shared his reflections and graciously is allowing us his colleagues to share them with a larger audience.
Ada and I attended the funeral of Max Steinberg this morning here in Jerusalem. When pulling off the Begin highway north, towards Shaare Tzedek Hospital and Har Herzl [Mount Herzl, the national military cemetery], the traffic was already jammed. Tens of thousands of people who never heard of Max Steinberg before yesterday were coming to his funeral. We parked half a mile away, illegally, and joined the crowd.
On arrival at the cemetery area, young women soldiers gave each person a piece of paper. I thought naively it would be about Max Steinberg. In fact, it was a message from the Home Front Command, "Guidelines for Protection within the Cemetery in case of a Rocket Alert." When's the last time you were told on attending a funeral that you have 90 seconds to take cover if there is a siren? "Lie on the ground and protect your head with your hands. Wait 10 minutes and then you may resume your routine."
The huge crowd was all over the cemetery and it behaved very non-Israeli – there was no pushing, no cell phones range, complete silence, even during the remarks in English by Max's parents and sister and brother. Max's father said he had no regret that Max had decided to leave Los Angeles and come to Israel and join the IDF. Max's brother Jake recalled their last time together, watching a film about Bob Marley, of whom Max was a big fan: “Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you're living?” Max had found satisfaction and meaning in Israel, Jake said. He concluded with another quote from Bob Marley: “Live for yourself and you will live in vain; live for others, and you will live again.” Max, he said, addressing the fresh grave, "you lived for others. You will live in the hearts of all us, again."
I recalled a statement made by our wise colleague Chaim Listfield over 35 years ago when we were learning Brachot Mishna 7:3, about enhancing the name of God in the zimun [call to prayer] before Birkhat HaMazon [Grace after Meals]. In practice we follow Rabbi Akiva, by adding "Elohenu" [our God] for any crowd over 10, but the Mishna gives Rabbi Yossi Hagalili's view that for 100, and 1000, and even 10,000, the name of God is enlarged. And "when there are ten thousand v'hu, and one more..." it changes the invitation to bless God. "This is amazing," Chaim said, "you can have 10,000 Jews together, and one more comes, and he/she makes a difference." We were not close to the burial area, we couldn't see the family (though there were speakers so we could hear), but we could feel that every Jew there made a difference. We came to pay last respects for Max Steinberg and to support his family, and we came away saddened and strengthened. Max "will live again," but the "routine" we returned to after the funeral will never be the same. Yehi zichro baruch [May his memory be a blessing].
May all the tunnels and launchers soon be destroyed and uprooted, so there can be an end to war-related funerals.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
Preventing Prescriptions Errors: A New Israeli Solution
The death of a 9 year old in Israel because his doctor accidentally prescribed the wrong drug served as the stimulus for Dr. Gidi Stein to invent a better way of preventing prescription errors. Prescription error is unfortunately a relatively common occurrence: here in the United States it affects over 200,000 patients a year!
Dr. Stein teamed with Tuvik Beker and Prof. Eytan Ruppin to create MedAware’s Prescription Analysis and Alert System . Stein has an unique background: not only a trained doctor, previously, he was a software engineer before going on to earn a doctorate in computational biology from Tel Aviv University, where he teaches clinical medicine and molecular imaging. Ruppin is a professor of computer science and medicine and is an international authority in biomedical modeling and served as Stein’s PhD advisor. Beker is a machine-learning and algorithm expert.
The system was piloted in Israel for more than a year and then last year had the good fortune to be accepted to the MassChallenge accelerator in Boston. During the four-month accelerator period, selected startups have access to world-class mentors, a large entrepreneurial community, training, networking events, free office space and cash prizes. (Recently MassChallenge has opened a branch in Israel.)
The new system flags errors prescribing drugs with names similar to the intended one; to prescribing drugs to the wrong patient; and prescribing drugs that are contra-indicated by recent lab work. Stein noted that it is unique. “Current solutions,” he said, “are mainly rule-based systems like drug-interaction databases. They catch many errors, but there are two problems: First, you can only find what you’ve defined as a rule. There are many random errors that nobody would think of, like a three-year-old boy getting a prescription for a birth-control pill, or a patient without cancer getting a prescription for a chemotherapy drug. These mistakes really happen.”
“The second problem is that more than seven percent of prescriptions are flagged by current systems, and 90% of those flags are false alarms. That leads to ‘alert fatigue’ and the physician ignores the alert. So in practice, the current solutions don’t work and nobody uses them.”
In large-scale studies MedAware’s Prescription Analysis and Alert System has flagged life-threatening errors that had escaped detection by existing systems in more than 1% of the patients.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Mas’ay (Numbers 33:1-49) is read this Saturday, July 26th.
33:1 These were the marches of the Israelites, who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron.
These were the marches of the Israelites. Why are these stations recorded? In order to publicize the loving acts of the Omnipresent; that although he had decreed to move them about, and make them wander in the wilderness, you should not think they wandered and moved about from one stage to another, the whole forty years and that they had no rest, for you see that there are here only forty two stages… But the Tanhuma took something different from it: A parable. To what may it be compared? To a king whose son was ill and whom he took to a distant place to cure. As soon as they returned home the father began to enumerate all the stages, saying to him, Here we slept, here we caught cold, here you had a headache. So the Holy one blessed be he said to him: Moses! Enumerate all the places where they provoked Me to anger. For this reason it is written: “These are the stages of the children of Israel.” (Rashi)
Rashi’s supercommentary Be’er Yitzhak aptly compares Rashi’s observation with other contexts in the Torah where similar listings are to be found, in the census taken of the people in Numbers…
How aptly did R. Tanhuma expound it, since most of what is recorded in the Torah is concerned with Israel, the commandments and admonitions directed at them, the story of what befell them, the retribution for their sins and reward for their obedience. He similarly expounded the reason for the counting of the children of Israel on each occasion to make known how beloved they were to the Omnipresent. God commanded a census be taken of them because they suffered decimation in the plague, the Almighty thus indirectly apprising us of how deeply the death of even one member of Israel distressed Him, as it were. This was the lesson to be learnt from the counting, to know how many had survived, like a father consoling himself after the loss of his children with those who still survived and yearning for them.
A similar reason underlay the recording of the stages of Israel’s journeying’s. Since the Holy One blessed be He brought them out of Egypt till they arrived at the gates of the land of promise, much had befallen them, both favorable and unfavorable. This short listing of the stages of their wanderings was designed as reading material for them after they settled down in their homeland. Each stage that they noted in their reading would enable them to recall what had befallen them, at that place. They would accordingly take to heart the kindness shown to them by the Omnipresent and the sufferings they endured for their disobedience so that, in future, they would act rightly and not sin.
This chapter draws our attention to the love of the Holy One blessed be He for His people. After their return to their homeland the faithful Father imparted to them a record in everlasting memory of what had befallen them on the way enabling them to appreciate the security they had achieved and their true happiness—the love and fear of the Lord. (Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, Numbers, pp. 388-390, translated by Aryeh Newman. The commentary, Be’er Yitzchak, was composed by Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Horowitz. Rabbi Horowitz was the grandson of Rabbi Yitzchak Horowitz, who served as the rabbi of Hamburg in the mid-18th century. The younger Rabbi Horowitz was born circa 1770, served for a time as a rabbi inCieszanow. He was appointed in 1854 as the communal rabbi in Jaroslaw, then in Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today in southern Poland. He died in 1864 at the age of 94.)