Tag Archive: torah

Why I Respect Salman Khan & Charlie Harary!

I’ll admit it. I have only recently heard of Salman Khan. Prior to hearing of this “Professor 2.0,” if you would have mentioned the name Salman Khan, I would have easily assumed it was a new dish at a high end fish restaurant. In all seriousness, what Mr. Khan has done is something that we should all respect! Here was a bright young man with a future that only seemed to suggest that he would become rich…if not certainly comfortable. He was a senior analyst at a hedge fund (prior to the onslaught of the Great Recession), holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an M.Eng and B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, and a B.S. in mathematics from MIT.

On paper and in person Salman Kahn is one impressive individual. And then…he gave it all up!!!

Why?

It all started when he tutored his cousins by posting math tutorials on YouTube. Six years later, he has posted more than 2,000 tutorials, which are viewed nearly 100,000 times around the world each day. Currently, he is the founder and faculty of The Khan Academy a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a FREE world-class education to anyone, anywhere. It now consists of self-paced software and, with over 1 million unique students per month. What’s more, ALL 2000+ video tutorials, covering everything from basic addition to advanced calculus, physics, chemistry and biology, have been made by Salman.

I’d venture to guess, that there’s not many people who will give up a life in the finance world to start from scratch and build an online academy. However, that’s exactly what Mr. Salman did. He had a dream and he made it a reality!

In so doing, Mr. Khan is truly rich, for he enriches the lives of millions of people the world over. To learn more about his life work, and his enlightening educational model, I encourage you to set aside time to watch this Ted Talk:

As a Jewish educator it is my hope that we can see brilliant laymen and individuals from within our greater community walk in the footsteps of Mr. Khan and consider not even dropping their profession entirely, but giving of their time and expertise, to educate and empower the future of Klal Yisrael. Solely assuming that, “I’ll just leave it up to the Rebbe,” is not a path that will lead us on new modes of conveying the ancient wisdom of the Torah.

One such person that I can think of is Mr. Charlie Harary.

Mr. Harary is the First Vice President of Residential Operations and Legal Counsel of RXR Realty, (a multi-billion dollar Real Estate Company based in New York). And yet, as someone who considers Rav Shmuel Brazil his Rebbe and who spent time in Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv, Mr. Harary gives not solely of his money, but he spends countless hours using his innate and intangible talents (on the weekends as well!!) to educate and inspire young Jews through live presentations as well as a plethora of videos that are posted online.

I’m glad that innovative educational initiatives such as TorahLive exist. I believe that for good or for bad this method of education will be necessary in hundreds of Jewish classrooms around the globe.

Likewise, due to the economy, Hebrew Charter schools have formed (see here).

In short, I see our current stage in Jewish history as a transformative time period. Do we need to solve the Tuition Crisis?

Yes!

But in addition to figuring out how we can afford the cost of a Jewish education, we need to solve the seemingly increased disconnect between Educators and contemporary children who stare at a screen for hours and hours a day (see here).

Our goal should be to show the “Facebook Generation” that the greatest book that there face should be in is called the Torah!

And so, that is why I respect Salman Khan & Charlie Harary…and why you should as well!

Life Lessons from an iPhone App

I’ve enjoyed the ability to pull out my iPhone 4 and snap cute moments of my kids or an interesting scene as I’m out and about walking the holy streets of Jerusalem. That said, while there’s seemingly so many iPhone Apps out there that they are becoming hard to find (see this article by Hillel Fuld illustrating this point) the soon to launch iPhone App Lifelapse caught my eye. You see, I don’t view it as simply another iPhone App. Rather, I consider it a Mussar App. The reason for this is because while we all know that Hashem is watching and recording our actions, with the hectic daily schedules we lead it is hard to remember that we still must account for our every move and decision. Ultimately, we will have to account for  all of our interpersonal relationships. From the  the person we greet in the street to our loved ones at home…we must perform with proper Middos.

Enter: Lifelapse.

This App reminds us that every moment in our life counts and is recorded. And so, while I’m not encouraging you to buy or even try it (quite frankly I can’t see myself doing either of those two things :) ….), the fact that such an App will be available for the consumer, can serve as a perfect contemporary reminder to think before we simply respond to something with a knee-jerk reaction or a crude flippant remark.

JemSem.org Features Rabbi Green’s Article!

Please note: I dedicate this article, Practice Makes Perfect, to my Grandmother of blessed memory: Sylvia (Sima Simcha) Kohn. I believe it is fitting that her Yarhzheit is in the month of Adar, a month in which we are instructed to increase and exude joy. She was a woman who was known by friends and family to truly live each day to its fullest extent. In both name and spirit she personified Simchas HaChaim! Savta, you continue to inspire me! May your memory be forever blessed!

Back in my days of study at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, I would spend some of my free time (a.k.a. Bein HaSedarim) exercising or reading. One of the most revealing books that I read during this time was: Jerusalem Jems: Jerusalem’s Top Educator’s Talk About Issues that Concern You Most. This easy to read work, was compiled by Rabbi Menachem Nissel (author of Women and Tefillah: Perspectives, Laws, and Customs
and Rabbinic Resource for NCSY) from the various articles that appeared for several years on JemSem.org. What I enjoyed then and now about Jerusalem Jems, to the extent that I even highlighted certain pages, was the frankness of the Question and Answer chapter as well as the fact that it was not written from one perspective! Rather, the reader can read the thoughts of anyone ranging from Rabbi Noach Orlowek to Mrs. Chana Silver and yet walk away with clear answers and Hashkafos to contemporary issues—regardless of if you were a Seminary Girl or a Yeshiva Bochur!

Today, I am happy to call many of the writers in this book—colleagues of mine!

What’s more, I was pleasantly surprised when I was asked to be a part of JemSem.org for the month of Adar 1 2011, and write the lead column called: “Chizuk from Yerushalayim!”

If you’ve never checked out JemSem.org I encourage you to visit this site. The JemSem.org website is massive. Whether one opts to agree or disagree with the articles that appear on the site, you could spend hours, perhaps days, discovering more and more about Judaism. On a monthly basis, the site features a “Chizuk from Yerushalayim” column, as well as the popular “Dear Chana” section which offers advice on Shidduchim to other matters that are relevant to young Jewish women. Plus, the “Ask a Shayla!” and the “I Didn’t Know That!” sections always seem to address timely issues and provide a wealth of information.

While I wish that JemSem.org would have included all of the footnotes to the original article that I wrote, I understand their editorial decision to remove them.

I encourage you to click on over to the site here and enjoy the article I wrote, entitled: Practice Makes Perfect!

Mount Carmel Fire in Tanach!

I was just sent an astonishing email that contained Pesukim! However, before I share the verses with you, a little background is necessary. We all know that Jews living from Efrat to Rosh HaNikrah and from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv have all been watching and praying for the Mount Carmel Wildfire to end. Baruch Hashem, it is now under control! Indeed, the world media has covered this story of what has been the most horrific and tragic fire to wreak havoc in the State of Israel. And yet, we know that nothing that happens in this world is simply by chance…and certainly when it comes to events that take place or effect the Land of Israel. Hence, it’s certainly without coincidence that we will read in the Haftorah portion for Ki Sesei the following words that appear in 1 Kings Chapter 18:

וַיִּשְׁלַח אַחְאָב בְּכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּקְבֹּץ אֶת הַנְּבִיאִים אֶל הַר הַכַּרְמֶל
וַתִּפֹּל אֵשׁ יְהֹוָה וַתֹּאכַל אֶת הָעֹלָה וְאֶת הָעֵצִים וְאֶת הָאֲבָנִים
וְאֶת הֶעָפָר וְאֶת הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר בַּתְּעָלָה לִחֵכָה:
וַיַּרְא כָּל הָעָם וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ יְהֹוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים
וַיְהִי עַד כֹּה וְעַד כֹּה וְהַשָּׁמַיִם הִתְקַדְּרוּ עָבִים וְרוּחַ וַיְהִי גֶּשֶׁם גָּדוֹל

While I’m not a Prophet, these verses clearly allude to their being a large fire on Mount Carmel that will cause a great amount of damage. In fact, the words describe the power of destruction that this fire will possess in that it will “eat trees”. Indeed,  to date well over 3 million trees have been lost! However, if one continues reading the verses one sees that ultimately from this tragic fire, people will recognize Hashem, and by extension, there will be a great rain fail….

Is it without coincidence that only after the fire is proclaimed to be “in control” and people are really assessing what this fire can teach us about Jewish Unity and soo much more, that the Land of Israel merited its first real rainy day today…?

I think not….!

May we all sieze this moment to ignite our inner fire with the lessons of Kislev and Chanukah to spurn us towards a great showering of spiritual and physical blessings from the Almighty!

Lessons from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch & Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki, the legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist and co-founder of AllTop.com, recently wrote, “As a follow-up to the beating heart, researchers at the University of Minnesota have used a similar technique to create breathing lungs in the lab. Lead researcher Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari, associate professor of pediatrics and pulmonary medicine, believes the ‘possibilities are endless’ for using the approach to increase the number of lungs needed for transplant into people with lung cancer and irreversible lung diseases.”

Now, when I see things of this sort or watch these “Lungs” function, the first thing that comes to my head along with the word “awesome” are the words of Tehillim 104:24: “Mah Rabu Masecha Hashem!” I also recall the famous story involving Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch zt”l (for more on his real name see here) and how Rav Hirsch towards the end of his life, made it a point to visit the beautiful French Alps. When asked why he had done so, Rav Hirsch reportedly responded, “after 120 years, when I appear before the Creator of the World and  He asks, ‘Samson have you seen the magnificent French Alps?’ I want  to be able to answer in the affirmative!” This also goes in line with the words of Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem Mendel Danziger, who in his sefer, Yismach Yisrael (Chanukah #2) relays to us that the Almighty is so gracious that he designed the world in such a matter that from the dust of the Earth or other aspects of nature, we can acquire high levels of Yiras Shomayim and fulfill the words of Mishlie 22:4!

In light of the above, it is only fitting to share that Rav Hirsch did not translate the words, “Mah Rabu Masecha Hashem, Kulam Bechochma Asisa, Malah Ha’aretz Kinyanecha,” in its typical fashion of:  How manifold are Your creations, Hashem, You’ve made them all with wisdom, the earth is filled with Your creations.

Instead, he places a comma between Haaretz and Kinyanecha and translate kinyanecha in the imperative. Hence, the verse of Tehillim will read:

How manifold are Your creations, Hashem, You’ve made them all with wisdom, the earth is filled with them, (you/man) acquire it! In other words, that one should increase his awe of Hashem and his appreciation for His world by taking the time to observe and appreciate nature and the way in which every detail is designed.

While I have never visited the Alps, nor do I know when I will have such a chance, I believe that we can still fulfill this insight of Rav Hirsch through viewing Video clips such as this one and appreciate the fact that we have breathing lungs created for us not for use strictly in the lab, but for life! Thank you Hashem!

Chachma from LeBron James & Coach John Wooden

Just last week, the nation turned in to hear where, the self proclaimed, “King James,” a.k.a. LeBron James would decide to play the game of basketball! Indeed, people are still wrapped up in all the hoopla of LeBron James leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, and joing the Miami Heat! However, I’d rather focus on a man who recently passed away, just a few months ago, on June 4th, at the age of 99: Coach John Wooden. Coach Wooden, was someone who in my opinion fulfilled the words of our Sages who teach, “yesh chachma bagoyim” there is wisdom among the nations! Indeed, Rashi also contends that he who truly values wisdom will seek it wherever it can be found. In fact, our Sages even institute a special blessing to be said upon meeting a great non-Jewish scholar. In short, Coach Wooden is the polar opposite of “King James.” For instance, despite receiving other offers throughout the years, he never left his beloved UCLA Basketball Team. Moreover, he was a man of great ethics and principals. However, as related in this Rick Reily ESPN.com Video below, his greatest love was not the game of basketball. Instead, it is and remained, even after she died – his wife. For years on end, he would still write her poetry and cry over his lose of his beloved life companion.

Additionally, being that we believe that Secular knowledge is not inherently negative (see here), I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that although his UCLA Bruins won a record 10 NCAA national championships and their 88-game winning streak is the longest in major collegiate basketball history, his favorite part of coaching was leading the practice sessions in which he taught the fundamentals that were the foundation of his success. He would teach his players everything from the proper way to put on their socks to lacing their shoes! After all, he used to say, “It’s the little things that make the big things happen.”

All in all, Coach Wooden was more than a basketball coach, he was arguably the first Life Coach and always more pleased by his players’ success in life than on the basketball court. There’s much we can learn from him. Here are some of his quotes that can relate to us in our daily lives:

  • “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
  • “Never mistake activity for achievement.”
  • “Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”
  • “I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.”
  • “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”
  • “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”
  • “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
  • It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”
  • “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
  • “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
  • “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

In the midst of the era of athletes and sports figures becoming so ego-centric that it’s news when an athlete makes a subtle quiet announcement (see here in regards to Keven Durant)  I hope Coach Wooden’s words will be an inspiration and remind us to keep our eyes on the real prize of life!

I highly recommend: Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks For a Better Life.

I highly recommend: LeBronathon: How to Hype Up Your Life, by Rabbi Boruch Leff.


What Twitter Can Teach Us about Tisha B’Av!

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been taught to be careful with my words and how they can have long lasting ramifications. That said, being that we are all human, this is a very difficult topic to grasp, as our words are often just spoken and never really carefully and tactfully communicated. To that end, Judaism stresses the importance of not participating in slander, gossip, and so on and so forth. Indeed, seemingly every Tish B’Av,  thousands across the globe gather to view the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation Tisha B’Av Video. This Video features different Rabbis who remind us of the Torah’s wisdom on human relations and personal development, and by extension, inspires the public to be aware of the far reaching effects that just even a few words can have.

Indeed, our Sages relate that the episode that led to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is recorded in the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Unfortunately, the public undressing that Bar Kamtza received from the few powerful yet hurtful words of baseless hatred that was displayed towards him, led Bar Kamtza to walk right out the door and create a devious plan that would cause the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

In contemporary times, when you mention the ability to communicate in just a few words, many of us will think of Twitter. Twitter is a social networking tool that lets you easily follow other people and receive “Tweets” from this person. However there’s a catch!  Tweets are short messages that must be under 140 characters. Hence, you’ll have President Barack Obama making political statements on this platform or we’ll hear news directly from NBA All-Star Keven Dorant (see here) in which he announced his contract extension on Twitter. Both the politician and the athlete are limited to positioning their message in under 140 characters! And yet, Twitter has shown the world that even with just a few words, one has a powerful platform and can influence millions around the globe. Indeed, for making the wrong comments on Twitter, people have been fired from their position (see here)! Hence, if we ever needed a reminder of the power of just a few simple words, other than once a year on Tisha B’Av, this tool, used by millions on a daily basis, is a great way to keep this message on our “Spiritual Radar!”

Moreover, there are companies that are beginning to reveal to the general public that our words, yes even written, or in this case Tweeted, are in fact being watched from above, by not just the Almighty – but by corporate America as well! You see, PepsiCo’s Gatorade, Nabisco’s Wheat Thins or even Delta Airlines, realize what our Sages have known for years: that the collective words, comments, Tweets, or Facebook “Likes” can have a lasting positive or negative influence on society, or in this case, their brand. And so, as reported here:

“Gatorade is taking its social media strategy very seriously indeed – so much so that it has built a mission control center replete with screens beaming out brightly-coloured visualisations of what people are saying about it on the likes of Twitter…the room, in the center of Gatorade’s marketing department, contains six big monitors depicting real-time events in the social media ether. One screen is a representation of the tweets relevant to Gatorade, be they about the brand, its athletes, its competitors, or sports nutrition-related subjects. Another tracks and measures conversations across the blogosphere and allows Gatorade to conduct ’sentiment’ analysis around key topics and on product and campaign launches.”

Also see this Video:

Likewise, Wheat Thins “Crunch Control” monitored the Tweet of Tabitha Hancock and surprised her with enough Wheat Thins to feed an army! For more on the story see here and here.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the fact that Delta Airlines recently created a @DeltaAssist Twitter account to only further their Online Ears and show people that they’re listening to feedback, kvetches, and what not. Indeed, I’ve been traveling for several years and have heard other frequent fliers remark that they get quicker/better service through Tweeting their issue that they are having at GATE X or Y or Z, then if they’d have to call the airline or wait for a Gate Agent. Truth be told, this matter got national attention when Filmmaker Kevin Smith sent a series of exasperated Tweets claiming that he’d been kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for being “too fat”. Proving, perhaps, the speed at which Twitter can spread messages about your brand, his Tweets have been picked up by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, ABC and other major outlets (see here).

All in all, while these businesses realize that every word, every character, can hurt or hinder their brand and image, it is incumbent upon us, especially during The 9 Days leading up to Tisha B’Av to realize that every word or character that we say can build or destroy the Beis HaMikdash! In so doing, may we merit to no longer celebrate Tisha B’Av as a day of mourning, but rather as a day of joy!

If you are on Twitter, feel free to help bring the Geula by keeping the message of Tisha B’Av on our collective screens! Use in your Tweets this hashtag – #mtjbrd = May the Temple in Jerusalem be Rebuilt in our Days.

Jewish Law & TSA Full Body Scanners

We have formally entered the month of June! And yet, while all across the world the sun is shining, the official start of summer is not until June 21st. With the onset of summer, many individuals and families travel to sleep away camp, visit relatives in other states or countries, and so on and so forth. Indeed, the airlines capitalize on this fact and have imposed a “Summer Travel Fee!” If you thought you have seen everything, you haven’t seen nothin’ yet! Nowadays, depending upon your airline you may be charged for your hand luggage to the use of a headset, pillow or blanket. What’s more, due to the tragic events of 9-11, passengers are taxed with an additional “Security Fee.” These funds typically go to the TSA or other security needs at each airport. However, between a still lagging economy, and all of the additional fees that are lopped onto a ticket these days, there are many a person who find it cumbersome to travel via airplane. Moreover, travelers find it literally a shlep just getting to a particular gate.

Why?

Due to increased security measures, it seems like an astronomically long time before one even enters the terminal! And so, in an effort to move people along quickly all while providing better security, there are now more than twenty-three airports across the United States using Full Body Scanners.

Indeed, last year, when these scanners where beginning to get more public attention, I posed the question here of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

At the time, I didn’t get the chance to properly answer this question. Additionally, those Poskim whom I consulted with told me that they wanted to learn more about it before reaching a conclusion. Since posing this question, we have unfortunately experienced the “Underwear Bomber” as well as the misunderstanding that led many to believe that there was a “Tefillin Bomber!” All things considered, ever since the “Underwear Bomber” tried to blow up a plane over Detroit last year, these devices have been more readily adopted by airport security throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, etc. To that end, it appears inevitable that they will continue to be introduced to airports around the world. And so, while there are those who believe that these scanners increase safety, there are reputable experts who are of the opinion that they are “worthless.” See also here. Moreover, for some time now it has been reported that Al-Qaeda has been practicing how to get past these scanners! On another note, I’d be remiss to point out that for certain people there are potential health risks involved. Hence, one should consult their physician prior to stepping in a Full Body Scanner. For instance, it has already been reported here that pregnant women and children should not be subject to this scanning.

However, aside for such individuals, your average passenger may very well have to pass through a Full Body Scanner for their very first time this summer. Hence, while there is certainly room to debate if this device is truly effective, I believe that’s a moot point, as these machines are now going to be part of the travel experience. And so, I believe it’s imperative to answer the question of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

To best address this matter, we need to determine if there is even any Halachic cause for concern in using a Full Body Scanner?

While I’m certain that there are several elements of concern a pious Jew may have before walking through this machine, arguably the greatest issue is the element of: Tznius. Indeed, there are those who suggest that these devices clearly break child pornography laws. Likewise, CNN recently reported that the government is misleading the public regarding the ability of these nude airport scanners. Truth be told, these machines that see beneath people’s clothing, do have the potential to be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders. Not only would this be a grievous  invasion of privacy, but it would clearly not be within the realm of Tznius, and hence possibly forbidden to use by Jewish Law.

Indeed, a TSA worker assaulted a colleague who made a crack about the others genitalia after his fellow employee walked through the revealing scanner! As such, we certainly see that this machine can be revealingand not for simply security intentions!

And so, as pious Jews, we must turn to the words of our contemporary Sages to see if it’s permissible to consider using these machines.

Earlier this year, the European Jewish Press reported here that The Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), comprised of hundreds of Rabbis, expressed concern about the installation and implementation of Full Body Scanners in European airports.  Asher Gold, the RCE spokesperson remarked, “the implementation of Full Body Scans leaves us concerned. In line with child protection agencies in America we feel this violates the rights of [all] Religious Women whose Modesty would be compromised.” Accordingly, he vocalized the Rabbis conclusion as far as using this device by remarking that while they appreciate the concern of passenger safety, “we would recommend that men are scanned by men, and women by women, akin to body frisk.”

However, one of the foremost Poskim of today, Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita, reportedly stated clearly that, “he saw no Halachic questions with using these scanners for airport safety!” Similarly, when I recently asked this question to two other Poskim, one in America and one in Eretz Yisrael, they both remarked that using these devices would be akin to going to a doctor. If medically needed, a Jewish physician is allowed to inspect a person of the opposite sex. Likewise, if medically needed, a Jewish patient is permitted to expose themselves to a medical professional of the opposite sex. The reason for this, is beyond the scope of this post, but stems from the verse in Deuteronomy 4:15 which states, “ushmartem me’od es nafshoseichem” (you shall carefully preserve your lives). Likewise, the Poskim whom I spoke to explained that it would be permitted by Halacha to partake in this “revealing” scan as it is needed for physical safety, and would also fall in line with the above mentioned verse and rationale.

In summation, the consensus opinion is that a Jewish person is allowed to walk into a Full Body Scanner. While it may be additionally pious to try and follow the statement of the RCE that, “men are scanned by men, and women by women,” there are many other Poskim who are of the opinion that one need not be concerned for this measure.

Have a safe and meaningful trip!

What are your thoughts on these Full Body Scanners?

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