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Stamp Honoring the Highest and Lowest Points on Earth

Sep 6, 2012 at 08:50:08 AM

Students of Geography 101 know that Mt. Everest is the highest place on Earth, and the Dead Sea is the lowest. And now, these two "extreme" spots have joined together in a gorgeous new postage stamp, simultaneously issued by the governments of Israel and Nepal.

Nepal was among the first Asian countries to establish relations with Israel. Over the years, the two countries have cooperated closely in areas of health, agriculture and security. This marks the first time that Nepal has issued a joint stamp with another country.

The Dead Sea, at 422 meters below sea level, is the largest spa in the world. Its hypersalinity (about 10 times more salty than the ocean) provides unparalleled health benefits in the form of minerals found in its water and mud.

Mt. Everest, at 8,848 meters above sea level, is located in the Himalaya Mountains, on the border between Nepal and China. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary became the first climber to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, a feat that ever since come to symbolize extraordinary achievement.

The stamps are valued at 5 Shekels in Israel and at NPR 35 in Nepal.

Visitor Comments: 1

(1) dvorah, September 7, 2012 7:59 AM

Information regarding another special stamp

Thanks for making us aware of this lovely new stamp. There is another very lovely new Israeli stamp valued at NIS 5.50 in honor of the Hadassah organization's 100 year anniversary. It has a Star of David made up of religious, cultural, and medical images — all elements related to Hadassah’s support of medicine, education, and Zionism.


Dodging a Bullet

Sep 3, 2012 at 10:41:00 PM

This week I read the horrific story of Thalidomide, a drug which pregnant women took during the late 1950s and early '60s to counter the nausea of "morning sickness."

Many children born to these mothers were too deformed to survive; those who did survive had a soaring rate of birth defects – most commonly stumps of arms and legs.

Today there is a whole group of armless survivors called "Thalidomide kids." They include an amazing guitar player who plays with his toes, and a filmmaker whose feature documentary on the disastrous side-effects of Thalidomide, "NoBody's Perfect," won the 2009 German Film Award for Best Documentary.

The drug was pulled from sale in 1961 after doctors linked it to birth defects.

Now – this week, 50 years later – the German pharmaceutical company Gruenenthal has finally apologized for the damage caused.

Also this week my mother told me that when she was pregnant with me (in 1960-61), the doctor suggested looking into the possibility of Thalidomide.

Thankfully, she refused.

Imagine what my life would be like, had my mother made a different decision.

Life is so complex, so fraught with perilous decisions at every turn.

Some people prosper, while others suffer.

We see "bad things" that happen to us, and may feel that our lot in life is unfair. Yet what about the many things in life that could have happened – the near-misses – that we don't even know about?

When put in this perspective, our own set of challenges becomes easier to bear. No, I didn't suffer the disaster of Thalidomide. But I do have my own set of challenges. And I embrace them, knowing that my life is closely guided by a loving and caring God.

Visitor Comments: 3

(2) Anonymous, October 6, 2012 3:29 AM

Even if your mother had taken thalidomide and you had become a thalidomide baby how to you know that HaShem could meet this challenge of the pharmaceutical corporation only apologizing for their mistake years later by HaShem as a loving compassionate G-d getting you to rise to the challenge and doing something more wonderful in life than you have done so far and have been less blessed as a result of not having become a gifted thalidomide baby blessed to have some stumps perhaps and show that your soul still was able to make your body hold because HaShem is holy.

Devorah, April 11, 2018 2:26 AM

Or premature babies who have lived their entire lives unable to bond with their mothers and with themselves thus anyone else. The despair of such loneliness! And yet, baruch Hashem, "the soul was able to make your body hold because Hashem is holy."

(1) Saul Pillai, September 5, 2012 1:01 AM

Thank you

Dear Rabbi Shraga, Thank you so much for this sharing. It’s so true what you wrote about the near misses in life and the things that could have happened. Makes me truly grateful for the many things that I in my human weakness and blindness have failed to see/understand. Also your last two sentences really touched me; “But I do have my own set of challenges. And I embrace them, knowing that my life is closely guided by a loving and caring G_d.”


In Search of the Real You

Aug 31, 2012 at 07:57:44 AM

We are now in the Jewish month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This is the year's biggest opportunity to get our act together, to look deep inside and make those changes that we all know are painful but necessary. (Do I sound like a presidential candidate?)

It all starts with some brutal self-analysis, and a plan of action. The first step in making a plan is to determine your goals:

• What do I want my life to look like five years from now?
• How will I implement these goals?
• Do I have a series of achievable, short-term goals?
• What system will I use to monitor my progress?

This is not about solving the Iranian threat or finding the cure for cancer. It's all about getting down to the real you.

It's two weeks till Rosh Hashanah. You deserve a better you. And now's the time to get started.

To get started, check out some of these great tools on

Spiritual Accounting System
20 Questions for the New Year
Making a Plan for Your Life

Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Jong, September 2, 2012 12:38 PM


Thanks Rabbi for these valuable sources!


Neil Armstrong's Greatest Steps

Aug 27, 2012 at 11:30:46 PM

Neil Armstrong passed away this week at age 82 – a global iconic hero who became the first man to walk on the moon, uttering those immortal words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

What many don't know is that Armstrong was a lover of Zion. Thomas Friedman's book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, describes a visit that Armstrong made to Israel after his trip to the moon. He was taken on a tour of Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov.

"I have to tell you," Armstrong remarked while walking near the Temple Mount. "I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon."

Truly immortal words.

Visitor Comments: 3

(1) Shoshana-Jerusalem, August 28, 2012 1:35 PM


When they were circling the moon just before the famous landing. he quoted from lthe book of Bereishis (Genesis) and said, " In the beginning G-d created the heaven and lthe earth and the earth was void and the spirit of G-d hovered above it."

Jimbo Salsa, August 29, 2012 7:26 PM

I think you're confused.

Actually, it was the astronauts of the Apollo 8 who read from Breishis on 24 December 1984.

Anonymous , August 29, 2012 8:13 PM

Reading from Genesis was genius

Interesting comment. Considering that this was the cold war, reminding the atheist Soviets that there is a G-d who created the world was genius and very appropriate. These days, if an astronaut were to read from the bible. people would be screamig "separation of religion and state, etc." and the ACLU would probably shoot him down with a missile.


Norwegian Injustice

Aug 25, 2012 at 05:53:31 PM

There's good news and bad news from the Norwegian justice system.

The good news is that terrorist mass murderer Anders Breivik has been pronounced guilty of the brutal bomb and gun rampage that left 77 people dead last year – mostly kids at summer camp.

The bad news is that Breivik has been sentenced to a grand total of 21 years in prison. His incarceration will be in a three-room cell with a TV, exercise room and Ikea-style furniture.

This is shocking.

Although the sentence can later be extended (21 years is the maximum sentence allowed by Norwegian law, except for war crimes and genocide), given the beastly, premeditated, cold-blooded nature of the crime, justice has clearly not been served.

So what were the folks in Norway thinking over there? Before we Tweet our outrage and move on to the next piece of news, perhaps we should look a bit deeper and try to understand what might be behind this Norwegian system.

I believe the reason for our adverse reaction is because the American penal system is based on "punishment": Commit a crime, and you will suffer. But in Norway and other "progressive" countries, the purpose of incarceration is geared more toward rehabilitation – treating the psychological dysfunction which spurred the crime.

As Max Fisher reports in The Atlantic

The pleasant-sounding experience of being in Norwegian prison isn't some sign of Scandinavian weakness or naïveté; it's precisely the point. A comfortable cell, clean and relaxing environment, and nice daily activities such as cooking classes are all meant to prepare the criminal for potentially difficult or painful internal reformation. Incarceration, in this thinking, is the treatment for whatever social or psychological disease led them to transgress. The criminals are not primarily wrongdoers to be punished, but broken people to be fixed...

Here's the tough thing about restorative justice: it works, as long as you don't consider retribution to be its own inherent good. Despite the lighter sentences, restorative justice systems seem to reduce crime, reduce the cost of imprisoning criminals, and reduce recidivism... Proponents, such as University of Oslo professor Thomas Mathiesen, say it's better for society overall because it isn't about "revenge, but sober, dignified treatment."

In this instance, Breivik is an unrepentant murderer, and although the system maintains hope that he will come to his senses and reform, if he doesn’t, the sentence will be extended and he will likely remain behind bars for a lifetime.

Although one case cannot be compared to another, it is interesting to note that this rehabilitation approach – as opposed to the punishment system that Americans are used to – is discussed in the Torah.

The Torah prescribes that when one commits an act of theft and cannot repay, he must become a servant to the one he victimized. Though at first glance this might sound oppressive, it is anything but. The Torah (Leviticus 25:43) declares: "Do not oppress him" – a directive to treat the thief with utmost dignity and respect. Specifically, the thief cannot be given any demeaning jobs, and the master must provide high-quality food and accommodations – to the extent that if only one portion of food or one pillow is available, it goes to the servant.

Hence the basis of the Jewish "rehabilitation" model: By placing the criminal into a family atmosphere, he is exposed to a healthy environment of caring and sharing. For a thief, who displayed a stunning lack of respect for others and their property, this is a powerful mode of rehabilitation.

Of course, details of the Jewish method differ widely from what is practiced in Norway today (the Torah example refers to theft, not mass murder), and there is no question we should be justifiably outraged at Breivik's light sentence and comfortable conditions.

So before you press the comment and express outrage that is condoning the Norwegian decision… No – we are not condoning it. We condemn the heinous crime, and we are outraged at the Norwegian system that is giving a mass murderer comfortable treatment. We are simply saying that we can learn something from all this. Let's appreciate that in the criminal justice system, there can be room for a lofty belief in the power of a human being to reform and rehabilitate.

Visitor Comments: 46

(30) Anonymous, August 30, 2012 7:04 PM


The problem with the Norway judicial system is that it does not in any way teach that there are dire consequences for ones actions. It is not that I believe in an eye for an eye. It is that this society has become so violent in murdering and terrorizing people. Why does this happen so frequently in the world? Because no one suffers dire consequences for murder or terrorism. Kids grow up getting away with things that they do not learn what happens when you do these things. They also play these horrendous violent games and yes when you play and you kill you do not understand what you are doing. The next day, you start all over again with the same players. Children become immuned and grow up and kill without remorse. That needs to be taught.

(29) Steve Skeete, August 29, 2012 3:32 AM

Rehabilitation, we all win?

Originally, there was the idea that to give someone a sentence of life imprisonment was more humane than giving them the death penalty. Later it was realized just how "cruel and unusual" life imprisonment was as well, Now, there is hardly a sentence of "life behind bars anywhere" in the "civlized" world since many cannot stomach the thought of executing murderers, nor fathom the idea of someone becoming old, feeble and senile and still living in a prison cell. So since both execution and life behind bars without parole were considered equally cruel "twenty-one years to life" became the new "rehabilitation" model. And what difference does it make if someone kills one person or seventy-seven? That person still needs to be rehabilitated and/or given the opportunity, in time, to rejoin polite society. Since very few people really want to die, and murderers do not mind living in "comfortable" cells, and since many no longer want to identify with "state sponsored" executions, "twenty-one years to life" is viewed as a win-win scenario.

(28) Rivka Deutsch, August 28, 2012 12:25 PM

You're way off base on this one!

First of all- you are comparing apples and oranges here. As you say - the Torah is referring to theft, not murder. So why bring it up when it is actually not relevant to this situation? Second - you assume you understand the Torah's reason for creating an "eved ivri" (jewish slave), but consider this. Only a thief who is too poor to pay the penalty becomes a slave. So what are you saying? That the Torah only wants to rehabilitate poor people? Rich people can continue to be delinquent so long as they can pay the penalty if caught? Obviously there is more to it than meets the eye..... I respect the fact that you have an opinion on this issue, but you can't bring in the Torah to back you up on this one, certainly not with the eved ivri argument.

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