Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
The other night, Sarrae and I attended a disheartening play, The Humans. The Tsores of the family would give Job a run for his money. It is set on Thanksgiving Day and the problems of each of the characters are slowly revealed in the course of the 90+ minutes of the performance. (I should note that the play has some comic moments, so it wasn’t totally depressing.) One of the more interesting things revealed in the course of the evening is a family Thanksgiving tradition: they take a small peppermint flavored pig—presumably candy, not pork --, place it in a small bag, and pass it around with a small hammer. And then each person at the table must first state for what they are thankful and then smash the pig. After the pig has made its rounds, everybody eats a piece of it. (I suspect it is a bit tastier than the pieces of the afikoman we “enjoy” at the end of our seder meal!)
It is a unique way of highlighting the thanksgiving element of the fourth Thursday of November. So often that gets lost beneath the tons of food that are served, the football games on tv—Thanksgiving football has long antecedents, going back to the 19th century--, and of course, family reunions.
Being thankful is a difficult task, as Reverend Justin Kosec of St, Andrews Lutheran highlighted at the inter-faith Thanksgiving service on Sunday evening. (It is a shame that more people don’t come out: it is a rare opportunity for the local clergy and parishioners to join together and share in a collective moment of thanksgiving.) My colleague referenced Ben Stiller in “Meet the Parents” who as the Jewish boy friend is put on the spot by his girlfriend’s father to say grace. Why Stiller’s character couldn’t have responded with a quick Hamotzee [the blessing on bread]—after all the same year (2000) he played a young rabbi—is perplexing. Be that as it may, Stiller’s character hems and haws his way through grace, finding it difficult to be thankful in the presence of De Niro’s blustery character.
But the fact is for many of us words of prayer are hard to come by, unless they are written out before us. Before the service began, Reverend Paynter, the host pastor, first invited Father Walden, the new priest at St Patrick’s to offer a prayer and he declined. Then she turned to me and I, too, declined: I am not good with a prayer book in hand, without a prescribed liturgy., Frankly, I often wonder how my Protestant colleagues can formulate prayers at a drop of the hat: do their Seminaries offer mandatory courses such as Extemporaneous Prayer 101 and 102?
The challenge for us this Thanksgiving is to be able to be thankful: to reflect on our gifts and if called upon to articulate at least some of the things for which we are thankful. I am sure that there won’t be a peppermint pig making the rounds at my brother’s house, but I have no doubt that my sister-in-law Eve will coerce all of us sitting at her bountiful table to share a brief statement of thanksgiving. And we shall all be better for it.
A blessed Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom.
P.S. I include, courtesy of Rabbi Naomi Levy and the Rabbinical Assembly a passage that evokes many of the blessings that we enjoy and for which we should be thankful. It is a passage that I myself may well share at our Thanksgiving dinner.
A Prayer for the Thanksgiving Feast
By Rabbi Naomi Levy, spiritual leader of Nashuv
For the laughter of the children, For my own life breath,
For the abundance of food on this table,
For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast, For the roof over our: heads,
The clothes on our backs,
For our: health,
And ow: wealth of blessings,
For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends, For the freedom to pray these words
In any language, In any faith,
In this great country,
Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.
Thank You, God, for giving us all these. Amen
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
A Breath of Air: New Detection Device for Cancer
“Breathe into this tube” is a phrase associated with being tested for alcohol or drugs. Now, an Israeli invention will be able to detect lung cancer also by breathing into a tube.
Professor Hossam Haick, a Christian Arab from Nazareth, who was named in 2010 one of the 10 Most Promising Israeli Scientists by Calcalist, and who works at the Technion, has announced a joint venture between the Technion and Alpha Szenszor, a Boston-based manufacturer of carbon nanotube sensing equipment. The invention is called “Na-Nose”—“na” as in “nanotechnology”_-and in clinical trials it has demonstrated in the ability to differentiate between different types of lung cancer with up to 95% accuracy.
A patient breathes into a tube the Na-Nose analyzes more than a 1,000 different gases to identify those that may indicate that something is amiss. The device so far has been used only in laboratory settings. However, the new partnership seeks to produce a commercial device within 2-3 years, after which FDA testing could take another 5 years. Nonetheless, both Haick and Steve Lerner, the CEO of the Boston-based company, are confident that within a decade not only Na-Nose be available in hospitals, but that a smaller version, less costly version, will be produced so that doctors’ offices will be equipped with it as well.
Currently, lung cancer diagnosis is dependent upon CT scans and invasive biopsies. And because of the nature of the disease, most diagnoses come late in the game and hence 85% of those diagnosed don’t survive more than 5 years. It is the hope that this device will revolutionize detection, and up the odds for survival with earlier detection, as this non-invasive produce will become part of a standardized check-up.
While the initial focus is on lung cancer, the possible benefits extend beyond that disease. Haick indicated that since he began working on the technology five years ago, his team has expanded the range of diseases that their invention can detect. It can now find with high degree of accuracy multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and other types of cancer, including breast and gastric.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Vahyishlach (Genesis 35:16-36:43) is read this Saturday, November 28th.
35:16 They set out from Bethel; but when they were still some distance short of Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. (17) When her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Have no fear, for it is another boy for you.” (18) But as she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. (19) Thus Rachel died. She was buried on the road to Ephrath—now Bethlehem.
35:19 Thus Rachel died. And it is written “But as she breathed last”. Why are there two separate statements about her dying? This is the interpretation: when she wished to die [when she was about to die] they shouted at her and she revived and called him Ben-oni [the son of my affliction]. One must ask: isn’t it a commandment to fulfill the words of the dying, so how is that Jacob called him Benjamin and altered her [dying] statement? One must say that in Jacob’s old age that he rested on him on his right [understanding Benjamin, as Ben Yamin, the son of [on] the right. (Rabbi Chayim Palatiel cited in Otzar Rishonim: Bereshit. (The text in Paryushay HaTorah L’R. Chayim Paltiel is a bit different with respect to the second half---which is found as a comment on verse 18--:” that is to say the son of his strength/son of his right, for he was born in his [Jacob’s] old age and he upheld his right when he was walking and served as a support.” According to Yitzchak Shimshon Lange, who edited the manuscripts, the text was prepared by R. Chayim Paltiel’s son. R. Chayim Paltiel lived in the 13th century and is identified as Chaim of Falaise, the grandson of the Tosafist—commentator on the Talmud--, Samuel of Falaise. In later commentaries, he is sometimes referred to as Paltiel Gaon. According to Lange, R. Chayim Paltiel is to be identified with the person of the same name with whom Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg was in communication and to whom several of his responsa are addressed. Furthermore, his book of customs served as the foundation for the book of customs of Abraham Kloizner.)