Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Rabbi Sacks makes some beautiful points about Jacob vs Essua

1. To Hashem: Thank you for giving me this nissayon (challenge) for my spiritual growth.

2. To people: Thank you for giving me an opportunity to improve my middos.

3. To myself: I have eternal G-dly value as I am at this moment. I will do my utmost to be loving. Even 1% will pull me forward.
Love Yehuda Lave

Photo Credit: Courtesy Dr. Mordechai Aviam
Basalt lioness relief weighing some 1,320 lbs.

The relief statue of a lioness carved in a basalt rock was recently discovered in a pile of debris that had been evacuated by a tractor from the Beit Ha'Bek excavation site by the northern Kinneret. It is estimated that the statue was placed at the entrance to a Jewish synagogue that operated there or at the entrance to another significant structure from the time the site was known as the lost Roman city of Julias, formerly the village of Bethsaida, which, according to Christian tradition, was the home of Jesus' apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip. The age of the statue is estimated at more than 2,000 years.

Two researchers who were touring the area noticed in one of the dirt piles removed by the tractor an unusual looking stone. As they approached it and cleaned it up a little, they noticed the outline of a lion. The archaeologists, Mark Turnag and Eli Shukron, contacted the Director of Excavations at the site on behalf of the Kinneret Academic College, Dr. Mordechai Aviam, who arrived at the scene.

Basalt lioness lifted by crane. / Photo credit: Courtesy Dr. Mordechai Aviam

"It turned out to be a magnificent statue of a carved lioness in a large basalt block, weighing 1,320 lbs.," Dr. Aviam related. "With a quick effort, a truck with a crane was brought over, and with careful and painstaking work the statue was raised, loaded onto the truck and transported to safety."

Dr. Aviam added: "The lioness statue is completely whole, starting with the short mane, the big fangs, the tongue sticking out and even the carved tail along the hind legs."

He added that "the statue is very similar to statues of lions and lionesses that have been discovered in synagogues in the Golan Heights, which is why it seems that in this case, too, it is a remnant of a Jewish synagogue. However, since there is also the possibility that this was the location of the lost city of Julias, the statue may have originated in another magnificent structure."

Last July, archaeologists from Kinneret College in Israel and Nyack College in New York completed excavations at el-Araj, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which has long been considered a possible location of ancient Julias, a.k.a. Bethsaida, which is mentioned in the writings of first-centuryJewish scholar, historian and hagiographer Flavius Josephus, born Yosef ben Matityahu.

World's First Artificial Kidney Is All Set To Replace Dialysis in 2-3 Years. Here is how it works !

A team of university scientists has developed the world's first artificial kidney technology to be implanted in the body. Their bio-hybrid approach uses living kidney cells in tandem with a series of specialized microchips powered by the human heart to filter waste from the blood stream.

The National Kidney Foundation estimates that over 100,000 patients are on the waiting list for a donor kidney, and over 3,000 are added list each year. The average patient spends 3.6 years waiting for a viable transplant, and may be treated with dialysis while they wait, but only one in three dialysis patient survives longer than five years without a transplant.

Transplanted organs from deceased or living donors must be carefully matched in order to avoid tissue rejection, but an artificial solution could potentially bypass these complications and be manufactured to better meet the demand. To address this unmet need, William Fissell from Vanderbilt and Shuvo Roy from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) launched The Kidney Project.

"We can leverage Mother Nature's 60 million years of research and development and use kidney cells that fortunately for us grow well in the lab dish, and grow them into a bioreactor of living cells," explained Fissell in a recent article published by Research News @ Vanderbilt. Fissell described the device as a "Santa Claus System," because it can reliably distinguish between waste chemicals and those nutrients a body should reabsorb.

It can be inserted through common surgery

The world's first bionic kidney can be inserted in a body by a common surgical procedure and it has proved to work efficiently. It is now proving to be the perfect replacement for a damaged kidney. The bionic kidney consists of several microchips which is moved by the heart. The bionic kidney also filters out toxins from the blood in the same way as a normal kidney.

Members of the research team Shuvo Roy of the University of California and William H Fissel nephrologist and associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have said that the invention is all set to give hope to the millions suffering from kidney failure and who are on dialysis.

How will it work?

It is a microchip made in nanotechnology. Each kidney will have 15 microchips built one atop the other. They will act as filters, and they will hold living renal cells which will find its way to grow around those microchips. They will mimic the real kidney.

Well, the primary goal is a steady blood flow through the device. Engineers are working and testing every single detail of this device to make sure that the device can safely let the blood flow through it without clotting or damage anything.

So far, so good.

So far, this solution has proven to be much better than a transplant from a human donor. The rejection factor has been zero! The newest invention with renal cells is something completely new, and the prototype is the size of a coffee cup. It does everything just like the healthy kidney, and it even regulates the blood pressure, it filters all the toxins (like medications and food supplements).

Artificial kidneys are not a new thing. There have been some experiments in the past. Four years ago, a team of scientists successfully transplanted an artificial kidney to some animals. It started producing urine. However, scientists weren't satisfied. That was an old idea.

They used an old kidney which they cleaned up from all the unwanted cells to get a mold similar to a hive. Then they reconstructed a kidney using donor's cells. Lab tests confirmed that an artificial kidney could produce somewhere around 23% of urine. However, when they installed that kind of a kidney into a rat, it only got 5% of urine's production. But that was just beginning.

Although there haven't been any human trials (and will not be until the next year), scientists are assuring us that bionic kidney has a zero rejection factor.

Here is video about The Kidney Project at UCSF :


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ancient Chronology of Jerusalem's Holy Rock

A deserted mountain nested among others, one rock from top to bottom between an eastern and western valley. Then, on its lower eastern face its first permanent home, a cave dwelling, a living space with three sleeping quarters carved neatly into the mountainside rock. A narrow single access passage through the rock provided entry. The dwelling passed through generations, but the mountain, which was periodically occupied remained mostly desolate and the cave empty of inhabitants.

A spiritual practitioner, perhaps an oracle or healer brought visitors. Temporarily dwelling on the mountain they sought advice, prayed, made offerings and moved on. Higher up the slope, a ridge with views to the stream along the eastern valley floor became the meeting place for worshipers and advice seekers.

Artisans once chipped away at bedrock that rose from the high ridge on the eastern face until hollow spaces formed depressions in the rock. Then, the depressions were shaped into rooms exposed to the sky. More rock-on-rock chipping smoothed vertical walls from the hollowed spaces, until the depressions became rectangular and bedrock walls arose from the bedrock floor. The eastern face of each of three rooms opened to provide access at the descending section of the ridge.

Two rooms preserved access to the rear, rising, undulating bedrock ridge, perhaps to facilitate movement of people, supplies and animals to be sacrificed. A platform in room 3 purposefully spared by the rock-chippers.

Archaeology recently revealed that the openings in the rear of room 1 and room 3 provided access to a rising bedrock as seen in the images below.

The features chiseled into the bedrock are confirmed to have been made by rock implements. Other features carved into the bedrock floor may have been added after the walls and complex was completed. At some point after completion, a matzevah was placed onto the bedrock, between the walls of room 2. This matzevah has been standing in its place on the bedrock of the high ridge ever since it was erected.

How long did bedrock room 2 exist before the matzevah was placed? Did room 2 serve an initial purpose other than for the placement of the matzevah? To answer some of these questions we explore the cave dwelling and ridge complex to chronologically estimate construction.

Room 1 and adjacent room 2, being tidied by Eli Shukron who rediscovered it in 2008
The earliest small rudimentary cave dwelling on the lower eastern face was first re-discovered by Colonel Montague Parker between 1909-1911. In the only published picture of the cave he is seen sitting with his assistant. Although this cave was preceded by other paleolithic sites on the eastern face, this chalcolithic era cave is relatively sophisticated in its design.
The living area of the cave dwelling and 3 sleeping quarters can be see in K 19,20,21 (bottom left) of the map that Parker compiled during his excavations. The rectangular area marks the site of present excavations on the high ridge and the circled area the focus of this article.
Permanent dwelling on the mountain and more substantial construction followed the high ridge. Later in the Bronze age water was channeled from the eastern face Gihon Spring to the rock cut Upper Gihon Pool. The pool, immediately adjacent and below the cave dwelling was constructed specifically to hold water and spill excess to the stream along the valley floor. These are the features in the image below that are left of the red line and are the earliest additions after the high ridge construction. Exclusively bones of kosher animals and many pictorial bullae were discovered in the pool.
Significantly and curiously the next major construction appears to be the fortress over the Gihon Spring (House) and the walls of the city. The above feature (left of the red line), which were rediscovered by Eli Shukron and Ronnie Reich in 2008 are not rendered in the next artist impression and many public renderings fail to recognize their significance and include them. The time of construction is thought to be late Bronze age. Although the Upper Gihon Pool is not shown below, for some time water continued to flow into it and into the stream along the valley floor. But that may have changed at some point after construction.
The archaeology clarifies that water sourced from the Gihon Spring was not the target of the significant fortress construction. The image below demonstrates that water was channeled from the Gihon (left) to the later pool structure right of rock "B" and from there it flowed to the valley floor. Once this became the default channel, the previous route may have been blocked to prevent water entering the Upper Gihon Pool, but not to the valley floor.
The map below demonstrates the Rock-cut Upper Gihon Pool (grey box) was first fed by Tunnel III. Channel II indicates the by-pass discussed in the image above, which flowed water to the newer Lower Gihon Pool (see Pool Wall). It also shows the Fortification (cream color) made of large boulders constructed on top and adjacent to the older grey rock-cut bedrock elements.
Water does not appear to have been the motivating reason for construction of the very significant fortification over the Gihon Spring and the steep eastern face to butt the north side of the high ridge. Further, the construction completely blocked access to the high ridge and prioritized water flow to the Lower Gihon Pool, most likely blocking water flow to the Upper Pool.
Inspiration for this most significant, labor intensive construction, favors obfuscation of the high ridge, upper Gihon pool and cave dwelling complex on the eastern face of Mount Moriah. The imposing double wall features of the Gihon fortification terminated high above the valley floor, at the high ridge cutting access to the lower slope and rooms that once featured so heavily on the mountain face.

According to comments by Eli Shukron the entire high ridge and particularly the areas around the matzevah were preserved with soft sand, where everything else included rocks and rough rubble. Therefore the high ridge areas were carefully buried for preservation.

Whether or not the high ridge was used or re-discovered by King David or by Hezekiah during the construction of his channel remains unknown. However, matzevot (like the matzevah on the high ridge) were not permitted to be erected after the period of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Well before Herod, Solomon or Joshua, there was a matzevah erected on the eastern slope of Mount Moriah in a location that was a dwelling and used for holy worship.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Why Isaac? Why Jacob? (Toldot 5778)

Why Isaac, not Ishmael? Why Jacob, not Esau? These are among the most searing questions in the whole of Judaism.

It is impossible to read Genesis 21, with its description of how Hagar and her son were cast out into the wilderness, how their water ran out, how Hagar placed Ishmael under a bush and sat at a distance so she would not see him die, without feeling intensely for both of them, mother and child. They are both crying. The Torah tells us that God heard Ishmael's tears and sent an angel to comfort Hagar, show her a well of water, and assure her that God would make her son " a great nation" (Gen. 21:18) – the very promise he gave Abraham himself at the start of his mission (Gen. 12:2).

Likewise in the case of Esau. The emotional climax of the parsha occurs in chapter 27, at the point when Jacob leaves Isaac's presence, having deceived him into thinking that he was Esau. Then Esau enters, and slowly both father and son realise what has happened. This is what we read:

Then Isaac trembled with a very great trembling, and said, "Who then was it who hunted game and brought it to me and I ate it before you came and I blessed him?—and he will be blessed." When Esau heard his father's words, he cried an intensely loud and bitter cry, and said to his father, "Bless me, me too, my father!" (Gen. 27:33-34)

These are among the most powerful descriptions of emotion in the whole of the Torah, and they are precisely the opposite of what we would expect. We would expect the Torah to enlist our sympathies for the chosen: Isaac and Jacob. Instead it almost forces us to empathise with the unchosen: Hagar, Ishmael and Esau. We feel their pain and sense of loss.

So, why Isaac and not Ishmael? Why Jacob and not Esau? To this there are two types of answer. The first is given by midrash. On this reading Isaac and Jacob were righteous. Ishmael and Esau were not.

Ishmael worshipped idols. [1] He violated married women. [2] He tried to kill Isaac with his bow and arrow while making it look as if it were an accident. [3] Esau was attracted, even in the womb, to idolatrous shrines. [4]He trapped not only animals but also his father Isaac by pretending to be pious when he was not. [5] God cut short Abraham's life by five years so that he would not live to see his grandson violate a betrothed woman, commit murder, deny God, deny the resurrection of the dead, and despise the birthright. [6] Such is the way of midrash. It helps us see Isaac and Jacob as perfectly good, Ishmael and Esau as dangerously bad. That is an important part of our tradition.

But it is not the way of the written Torah itself, at least insofar as we seek what Rashbam called omek peshuto shel mikra, the "deep plain sense of Scripture." [7] The Torah does not portray Ishmael and Esau as wicked. The worst it has to say about Ishmael is that Sarah saw him metzachek (Gen. 21:9), a word with many meanings, most of them not negative. Literally, it means, "he was laughing." But Abraham and Sarah also laughed. [8] So did Isaac. [9] Indeed Isaac's name, chosen by God himself, [10] means, "He will laugh." There is nothing in the word itself that implies improper conduct. [11]

In the case of Esau, the most pointed verse is the one in which he agrees to part with his birthright in return for a bowl of soup (Gen. 25:34). In a staccato series of five consecutive verbs, the Torah says that he "ate, drank, rose, went and despised" his birthright. Yet this tells us that he was impetuous, not that he was evil.

If we seek the "deep plain sense," we must rely on the explicit testimony of the Torah itself – and what it tells us is fascinating. An angel told Hagar before Ishmael was born that he would be " a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him" (Gen. 16:12). He became an expert archer (Gen. 21:20). Esau, red-haired, physically mature at a young age, was "a skilful hunter, a man of the field" (Gen. 25:27). Ishmael and Esau were at home in nature. They were strong, adroit, unafraid of the wild. In any other culture they might have emerged as heroes.

And that is the point. We will only understand the Torah if we recall that every other religion in the ancient world worshipped nature. That is where they found God, or more precisely, the gods: in the sun, the moon, the stars, the storm, the rain that fed the earth and the earth that gave forth food.

Even in the twenty-first century, people for whom science has taken the place of religion still worship nature. For them we are physical beings. For them there is no such thing as a soul, merely electrical impulses in the brain. For them there is no real freedom: we are what we are because of genetic and epigenetic causes over which we have no real control. Freewill, they say, is an illusion. Human life, they believe, is not sacred, nor are we different in kind from other animals. Nature is all there is. Such was the view of Lucretius in ancient Rome and Epicurus in pre-Christian Greece, and it is the view of scientific atheists today.

The faith of Abraham and his descendants is different. God, we believe, is beyond nature, because He created nature. And because He made us in His image, there is something in us that is beyond nature also. We are free. We are creative. We can conceive of possibilities that have not yet existed, and act so as to make them real. We can adapt to our environment, but we can also adapt our environment to us. Like every other animal we have desires, but unlike any other animal we are capable of standing outside our desires and choosing which to satisfy and which not. We can distinguish between what is and what ought to be. We can ask the question "Why?"

After the Flood God was reconciled to human nature and vowed never again to destroy the world (Gen. 8-9). Yet He wanted humanity to know that there is something beyond nature. That is why He chose Abraham and his descendants as His "witnesses". [12]

Not by accident were Abraham-and-Sarah, Isaac-and-Rebekah, and Jacob-and-Rachel, unable to have children by natural means. Nor was it mere happenstance that God promised the holy land to a landless people. He chose Moses, the man who said, "I am not a man of words," to be the bearer of His word. When Moses spoke God's words, people knew they were not his own.

God promised two things to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: children and a land. Throughout history, most people at most times have taken children and a land for granted. They are part of nature. They constitute the two most basic natural drives: the Darwinian imperative and the territorial imperative. All animals have children, and many have their own territory that they mark and defend.

Jews – one of the world's smallest people – have rarely been able to take children for granted. Abraham's first recorded words to God were: "O Lord God, what can you give me seeing that I go childless?" and even today we ask, Will we have Jewish grandchildren? Nor have they been able to take their land for granted. They were often surrounded by enemies larger and more powerful than themselves. For many centuries they suffered exile. Even today they find the State of Israel's very right to be called into question in a way that applies to no other sovereign people. As David Ben-Gurion said, "In Israel, to be a realist you have to believe in miracles."

Isaac and Jacob were not men of nature: the field, the hunt, the gladiatorial game of predator-and-prey. They were not Ishmael and Esau, people who could survive by their own strength and skill. They were men who needed God's spirit to survive. Israel is the people who in themselves testify to something beyond themselves.

Jews have consistently shown that you can make a contribution to humanity out of all proportion to your numbers, and that a small nation can outlive every empire that sought its destruction. They have shown that a nation is strong when it cares for the weak, and rich when it cares for the poor. Jews are the people through whom God has shown that the human spirit can rise above nature, testifying that there is something real that transcends nature.

That is a life-changing idea. We are as great as our ideals. If we truly believe in something beyond ourselves, we will achieve beyond ourselves.

[1] Bereishit Rabbah 53:11. Shemot Rabbah 1:1.

[2] Bereishit Rabbah 53:11.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bereishit Rabbah 63:6.

[5] Tanhuma, Toldot 8.

[6] Baba Batra 16b.

[7] Rashbam to Gen. 37:2, 28; Ex. 3:14, 13:9.

[8] Gen. 17:17; 18:12.

[9] Gen. 26:8.

[10] Gen. 17:19.

[11] Robert Alter makes the ingenious suggestion that it means that Ishmael was "Isaac-ing," imitating his younger brother (Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: a translation with commentary, Norton, 2004, 103).

[12] Isaiah 43:10-12; 44:8.

See you tomorrow
Love Yehuda Lave
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