Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Columbus and Yizkor


Over 40 years ago, the noted Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, took a break from his efforts and published a book on Columbus: Sails of Hope, in which he claimed the explorer for us. He argued that Columbus was in fact a descendant of conversos who had left Spain and had settled in Italy. For example, Wiesenthal points to the fact that Columbus’ Spanish name Colon was one shared by many a Spanish Jew. It is an intriguing argument; however, since outwardly Columbus appears to have been a pious Catholic, I am not persuaded by the book. And furthermore given the current climate of re-evaluation, maybe we shouldn’t be racing to embrace Columbus as a MOT, a member of the tribe.


We are in a period of revisionism, re-examining the heroes of previous ages and discovering their flaws. But the truth is that they were all flawed, as they were imperfect human beings. True, statues of Confederate war heroes probably should be removed from major public venues, for they honor those who would have torn this nation asunder. But if Columbus, a product of his own time, who thought he was claiming new lands for Spain, should be knocked off his pedestal for his maltreatment of the Native Americans, who to his dying day, thought were Indians—as in India--, what do we do with our founding fathers, such as Washington and Jefferson: blast off their faces from Mount Rushmore; remove them from our currency?  After all they were slave-holders. And undoubtedly one can find unsavory elements in the lives of all of our national heroes. JFK, the hero of our youth, turns to have clay feet or should I say an over-active libido?


If we turn to our Tradition, and specifically back to the Hebrew Bible, we discover that the text is replete with flawed figures. Nary a single Biblical figure was without some flaw. Later tradition makes them saintly in efforts to create hagiography, holy biography. But the truth is that we can learn more from the flawed individuals than from the saints. We are closer in our behavior to the former than the latter.


For the moment, keep Columbus where he is, honor Leif Erikson and the Norse who were here in the New World—at least up in Canada—centuries before Columbus and his contemporaries—, but also honor the original settlers, the Native Americans, who were more than decimated, often unwittingly, by European diseases for which they had no immunity. But remember that all of them were imperfect.


And so when we turn to Yizkor tomorrow as part of our Shemini Atzeret service, we can recall both our departed relatives and friends and remember both their noble characteristics as well as their few flaws, and learn from and be inspired by their lives.


Chag sameach v’shabbat shalom.






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


A New Synthetic Cornea


According to the World Health Organization corneal disease is the second leading cause of blindness around the globe. Each year 2 million people are diagnosed with this medical issue. Currently corneal transplantation is undergone by about 200,000 per year.


An Israeli company, CorNeat Vision, based in Ra’anana, has developed a synthetic cornea that uses advanced cell technology to integrate artificial optics with ocular tissue. The device, which employs nanotech-based technology, has been tested on animals and is now moving on to human implantations within in the year: with trials both in Israel and in the United States.


The CorNeat KPro, CorNeat Vision’s implant was unveiled this week at the Congress of the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons and has already received approval from the European Patent Office. 


The Israeli developed implant uses nanoscale chemical engineering that stimulates cellular growth. Moreover, unlike current devices, which attempt to integrate optics into the native cornea, CorNeat Vision’s implant leverages a virtual space under the conjunctiva that is rich with fibroblast cells. This promotes faster healing and provides long-term integration. The surgical procedure takes only half an hour.


According to Professor Ehud Assia, who heads the ophthalmic department at the Meir Medical Center in kfar Saba, and a member of the company’s scientific advisory board: “The innovative approach behind CorNeat KPro coupled by the team’s execution ability present a unique opportunity to finally address the global corneal blindness challenge.” 






Payrush LaParshahah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The Torah reading fort Shemini Atzeret (Thursday, October 12th) is Deuteronomy 14:22-16:19.


15:4 There shall be no needy among you—since the Lord your God will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion—(5) if only you heed the Lord your God and take care to keep all this Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day. (6) For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised you: you will extend loans to many nations, but require none yourself, you will dominate many nations, but they will not dominate you. (7) If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. (8) Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.


15: 7) If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land. This is in reference to the Land of Israel. When Israel performs the will of the Place there will be but one indigent person in the city. This comes to teach that the poor of the Land of Israel take precedence over the poor outside of the Land, even though Tsedakah is a bodily need. And it says further [15:11] “For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land”, this references the situation outside of the Land, and at the time in which they fail to perform the will of the Place as they have not moved to the Land of Israel. And though the poor outside of the Land struggled to go from afar to the Land of Israel, nevertheless the poor of the Land of Israel take precedence. (Klee Yakar in B’shaym Omro: Devarim. Klee Yakar [also transliterated as Keli Yekar] was the commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz. He was born in Łęczyca[ [Luntschitz—hence the family name--] and studied under Rabbi Shlomo Luria in Lublin. The name Shlomo was added as per Jewish custom when he was critically ill. He served as the head of the yeshiva in Lemberg/Lvov [now Lviv in Ukraine]. In 1604 he was appointed the rabbi of Prague. His commentary was first published in 1602 in Lublin, and has been reprinted many times. In addition to this commentary, he was the author of Ir Gibborim, homilies on the Torah, which was first printed in Basel in 1580. Several collections of his sermons were printed during his lifetime: Olelot Ephraim, 4 volumes, published in 1590, Orach LeChayim, sermons for Shabbat HaGadol and Shabbat Shuvah, which appeared in 1595, and Amuday Shaysh, printed in Prague in 1617. Siftay Da’at, a continuation of the style of Keli Yakar was issued in 1610. He also composed two penitential prayers in the wake of the 1611 Prague pogrom. He died in 1619.)






On Simchat Torah (October 13th), we conclude the yearly cycle, reading the final section of V’zot HaBrachah (Deuteronomy 33:1-34;12), and symbolically start anew with Genesis 1:2:4.


34:5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there, in the land of Moab, at the command of the Lord.


34:5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there. [Beginning with this verse} the final 8 verses are to be read by only one person and one doesn’t divide up the section so that two people read it. [Our practice is that the final aliyah in the Torah begins with 33:27] One doesn’t have to say that only one person reads that two can’t read these eight verses together. And this is the case in the other sections of the Torah that as a general rule in the Torah only one person not two [reads], And the current practice of two reading is that one is the reader and one is the Shalaich Tsibur [the prayer leader] and we rely on what was taught in the tractate of Bikurim [3;7]; originally one who knew how to read [from the Torah][ would [themselves] read [from the Torah] and one who didn’t had someone read for him and they would be embarrassed ; and they enacted a ruling that there is someone who reads both for those who are capable of reading [from the Torah] and those who aren’t; and in this instance so none embarrassed, the prayer leader reads everything. [The current term is Ba’al Koray, the master of the reading.] (Sefer Ha G”N by Rabbi Aharon b’Rabbi Yose HaKohen.. Rabbi Aharon lived in northern France in the first half of the 13th century. He studied with several of the scholars who are included among the Tosafists—the medieval cadre of commentators on the Talmud--, including Rabbi Samson of Coucy. His father, Rabbi Yose HaKohen, also was a noted scholar and is frequently quoted in the commentary. The work was composed circa 1240, and though cited by other medieval scholars, survived in but a single manuscript and was published in 2009. The title is based on the idea that the weekly Torah reading cycle is divided into 53 sections. [G=Gimmel=3; N=Nun=50] This is a minority view: the dominant view is that there are 54 distinct sections.)






We begin the annual Torah cycle this Saturday, October 14th with Bereshit. As we are in the 2nd year of the triennial cycle we begin with Genesis 2:4 and continue to 4:26.


2:8 The Lord planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and place there the man whom He had formed. (9) And from the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.


…Why withhold the tree of life, the essential F [Feminine] principle, from the couple, M/male and F/female together, forever?  Here, too, there are possibilities. Can we detect some male (authorial) anxiety here? In Genesis 1, both male and female are given the option, actually the command, to reproduce themselves, unproblematically so; at the end of Genesis 3, the woman is given that option, but as accompanied with pain (v. 16a9. Ub 4L1 Adam is certainly involved—he “knows” his wife, she conceives—but the event is related, in the explanation of Cain’s name, directly to Yhwh. Should we imagine that had they—had she—had access to the banned tree of life, her role as mother would have been redundant? Or different? Or unnecessary?


Be that as it may, I’m not at all sure of the preliminary reflections that I’m offering here regarding the two trees standing in the middle as the garden, in a grammatically awkward sentence (2:9) and in what seems like opposition and apposition to one another. The two trees may or may not represent or symbolize gender essences. How such a reading may affect another understanding of a foundational text I’m not at all certain at this point, but this is hardly the issue for me. What matters is that certain elements of my own contexts are at play here…As a feminist, I look for gender issues. As a secular person, I do not need to find in the bible references to gods and goddesses at every turn; I can live with the notion that divine elements may metamorphose into forgotten patterns. I don’t feel an urge to always find a single consistent god and to supply with him a single, consistent, named female consort. This may help me understand a world of a long time ago—or will it? (Athalya Brenner, “The Tree of Life as a Female Symbol?” in Athalya Brenner, Archie Chi Chung Lee, and Gale A. Yee, editors, Genesis, p.42. Professor Brenner-Idan was born in Haifa and studied at Haifa University and the Hebrew University prior to receiving her doctorate from the University of Manchester. For a time she taught at Ornaim College. Currently she is Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at the University of Amsterdam and Professor in Biblical Studies at Tel Aviv University. In 2015, she served as President of the Society of Biblical Literature. She has written extensively about the Bible from a feminist perspective and is considered at the forefront of feminist biblical studies. In addition to editing this volume, she is the author of I am: Biblical Women Tell Their Own Stories, Are We Amused?: Humor About Women in the Biblical World and her collection of essays in a volume entitled Song of Songs. She has also edited a number of volumes on feminist biblical interpretation, including Feminist Companion to the Song of Songs.)



Mon, October 16 2017 26 Tishrei 5778