Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
“The earth is filled with Your creatures”
We went on safari in Sri Lanka. True, it wasn’t comparable to African safaris, where you can see seemingly a myriad of animals in the wild. Furthermore, there were no zebras, no gnus, no lions, no rhinos, and no hippos. Not even a solitary giraffe in sight. But as you can see from the included picture—a collage that I created, courtesy of a class on the wonders of “Photo Gallery”--, we did manage to see a variety of animals in their natural habitats. (Also thank goodness for the “sports setting” on my camera, which enables one to shoot in rapid fire mode.) There were certainly more animals out in Yala National Park than the ones I captured on my camera, but, as anybody who has gone on safari knows, it is often mazal as to what you see. Someone coming five minutes earlier or later to the same spot may see more animals—we saw but one elephant, some other fellow travelers who passed by the same spot a few minutes earlier had seen a small herd--, or sometimes none.
What is amazing is that despite our sense of being civilized and increasingly detached from nature, there seems to be almost a primeval call of the wild. We took a 4 x 4 to see the animals. We were not alone: 10 4 x 4s pulled out in caravan style from the pier, each carrying 6 passengers. Other passengers opted for a bus trip to the park before boarding a 4 x 4; and yet others journeyed elsewhere on the island to see an elephant preserve or a bird sanctuary. Zoos are nice and animal preserves such as the one at Great Adventure offer a semblance of nature, but viewing wild animals in their natural habitats offers a different level of experience. (Though we were all doing it safely: carefully staying in the vehicles, so we would not become prey.) We feel we come closer to nature.
Tuesday and Wednesday of this week—declares: “How varied are Your works, O Lord, in wisdom have You made them all. The earth is filled with Your creatures.” Perhaps because wild animals still roamed areas not far from where the ancient rabbis resided, they failed to fashion a special blessing for seeing them in the wild. (Undoubtedly, without access to Land Rovers and the like for safaris, if they had a blessing it would have been similar to the one at the beginning of “Fiddler”—keeps them far from us.) And yet for us, a blessing might well have been in order, acknowledging not only the variety of God’s creatures, but also gratitude that occasionally humanity has the sense to separate out zones for these creatures to maintain their own uninhibited existence, so we can see them on safari.
And now through the wonders of technology, we can share our experiences with friends and family—depending on internet access—almost instantaneously. That, too, is a blessing.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
A Tiny Step in Battling ALS
ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, has no known cure. A new treatment tested at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem and developed by an American-Israeli biotech company appears at least to slow the progression of this dreaded disease.
According to the findings that were published in mid-January of this year in JAMA Neurology, the treatment, which uses something called stem cell infusion protocol, is safe and offers possible clinical benefits. Twenty Six patients had stem cells harvested from their bone marrow which were then injected into the cerebrospinal fluid.
Dr. Dimitros Karussis of Hadassah described the results as “very encouraging.” “Close to 90 percent of patients who were injected…were regarded as responders to the treatment either in terms of their respiratory function or their motor disability. Almost all of the patients injected in this way showed less progression and some even improved in their respiratory functions or their motor functions.”
Currently, a Phase 2, double blind study using the Hadassah protocol is running at three American medical centers: the Mayo Clinic, Mass General and Mass Memorial.
Karussis admitted: “While this is absolutely by no means a cure; it is the first step in a long process in that direction. I see this treatment as being potentially one of the major future tools to treat degenerative diseases of the brain and spinal cord, in general.”
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Terumah (Exodus 26:31-27:19) is read this Saturday, February 13th.
27:1 You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide—the altar is to be square—and three cubits high. (2) Make its horns on the four corners, the horns to be of one piece with it; and overlay it with copper.
What do Iron Age altars reveal about Biblical sacrifices and worship?
Biblical Archaeology Society Staff • 11/09/2015
The Bible contains many detailed sections regarding worship and the proper ways in which to conduct worship. These pronouncements go beyond instructions on how to worship both in spirit and in content, but also how to design the physical space for worship. In ancient Israelite religion, what kind of altar was used to make Biblical sacrifices?
Archaeological excavations throughout Israel have uncovered two types of altars for Biblical sacrifices in the Iron Age: the four-horned altar and the simple earthen altar. The four-horned altars are made of carved stones with a flat top and a pointed “horn” at each of the corners. The earthen altars are comprised of uncut stones and packed earth. Which one was the “correct” altar in ancient Israelite religion? Archaeologist Casey Sharp explores the evidence in his Archaeological Views column “Alternate Altars” in the November/December 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Remnants of the four-horned altar have been found in excavations conducted at Iron Age temples and religious spaces at Tel Dan, Gezer, Shiloh, Shechem, Dothan, Kedesh and Megiddo in northern Israel. Four-horned altars were also found in Philistia around the seventh century C.E., the period following the Assyrian conquest and destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. These intriguing structures for Biblical sacrifices seem to find parallels in the Books of Kings and Chronicles as well as in Exodus 27:1–8.
Excavations at Iron Age sites located in the southern kingdom of Judah, however, have revealed a different picture of ritual sacrifice and worship in ancient Israelite religion. In the Iron Age temple at Arad in the Negev and in a sacred area at Tel Motza outside of Jerusalem, archaeologists discovered earthen altars. This type of altar is attested in Exodus 20:24–26 and Deuteronomy 27:1–8. (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/which-altar-was-the-right-one-in-ancient-israelite-religion/ The Biblical Archaeology Society was founded in the mid-70’s by Hershel Shanks and began publishing Biblical Archaeology Reivew in 1975. From 1985-2005 it also published Bible Review and from 1996-2006 it issued Archaeology Odyssey, which had a larger scope than the ancient Mid-east. In addition to the bi-monthly magazine, it maintains a website with news about biblical archaeology: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/biblehistorydaily/.)