GOOD MORNING!  The story is told of a man who wanted to understand the Talmudic process of analysis ... so he asks his rabbi. The rabbi answers with a question, "If two men enter a house through a chimney, one comes in covered in soot, the other enters clean ... which one will go to wash himself?" The man replies, "The dirty one, of course!" "No," responds the rabbi, "the clean one will see the dirty one, assume that he too is dirty and go to wash; the dirty one will assume that he himself is clean after looking at the clean one." The man happily exclaims, "Ah, now I understand Talmudic analysis!" The rabbi shakes his head back and forth and says, "No, you don't. If you understood Talmudic analysis you would have asked, 'How is it possible for two men to come down a chimney and one man comes out dirty while the other man comes out clean!' "

We are all subject to accepting information as fact without asking ourselves how we know what we know is true. Did you ever wonder about the old adage, as exemplified by the rabbi in the above story, that "if you ask a Jew a question, he answers with a question?" Why? If one answers a question directly it means that he accepts the assumptions the question is based upon. For example, the old favorite, "When did you stop beating your wife (or husband...)?" A question to clarify is definitely the best response to this question!

Over the years I have received several times a cute piece of historical trivia (possibly even true) that the width of railroad tracks are 4 feet, 8.5 inches because they were built by English expatriates and ... English trams were built to these specifications ... because wagons axles were this wide because ... they had to fit the ruts in the roads of the Roman war chariots ... which were made just wide enough to accommodate the two war horses.

Recently a new addition has been attached to this regarding the design of the space shuttle. The story goes that the specifications for the width of the Solid Rocket Boosters manufactured by Thiokol Propulsion which sit on either side of the main fuel tank were determined ultimately by the width of the two roman war horses. Since the Solid Rocket Boosters are shipped by train from Utah, their width was supposedly limited by the width of railroad tracks and clearance through tunnels.

So I wrote Thiokol. Here's Melodie de Guibert on behalf of Thiokol: "The part about the Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters is not true. Each SRB is composed of four segments containing solid propellant. The length of the segments varies according to where on the booster they are placed ... forward, aft or center ... with the average length being 32 feet. These segments are shipped in separate rail cars from Utah to Kennedy Space Center where they are stacked and the nose cone and nozzle attached. The segments are 12 feet in diameter, with the rail cars being almost 13 feet wide. If we were to ship an assembled SRB, not counting the nose cone and nozzle, we would need a rail car 126-feet long! After a Shuttle launch, the boosters are retrieved, separated and shipped back to Utah for refurbishment."

One of Thiokol's former employees, Eric Swedin, who holds a doctorate in history, researched the original piece and concluded: "It is a logical conclusion, but I have never found any definitive proof, i.e. measurements of the ruts in the remaining Roman roads in Europe."

Therefore, the lessons for us are:

  1. make sure of your sources

  2. verify your information

  3. answer questions with questions to clarify and ...

  4. you may just want to hedge your bets.

Torah Portion of the Week

We left off last week with Joseph's pronouncement that he was keeping Benjamin as a slave for stealing his wine cup. Judah steps forward to challenge the decision and offers himself as a slave instead of Benjamin. Joseph is overcome with emotion, clears the room and reveals his identity to his unsuspecting brothers.

The brothers are shocked! They suspect Joseph's intentions, but accept his offer to bring the extended family to Egypt. Jacob is initially numb and disbelieving of the news, but becomes very excited to see his son.

The Torah recounts the 70 souls of the Jewish people which went down to Egypt. Jacob reunites with Joseph, meets Pharaoh and settles with the family in the Goshen district. As the famine continues, Joseph buys up all of the property and people in Egypt for Pharaoh with the grain stored during the seven good years.


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "And Pharaoh said to Jacob, 'How many are the years of your life?' and Jacob said to Pharaoh, 'I have lived one hundred and thirty years. The years of my life were few and bad and they have not reached the years of my fathers" (Genesis 47;8- 9). Ultimately, Jacob lived 33 years less than his father, Isaac. Why was he not granted the years of his father?

The commentary Daas Zkainim cites the Midrash that Jacob was punished for saying that the days of his life were few and bad. He lacked appreciation for life. The Midrash tells us that the 33 years he was denied correspond to the 33 words of his complaining in verses 8-9.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, former Rosh Hayeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva, often cited this Midrash and explained that we should gain such a great appreciation for life itself that even if we have many difficulties in life, we will still live a life of joy. Experiencing this daily joy of living, we would be unable to say that our life was bad. The ultimate level to strive for is feeling a tremendous joy in living ; then trivial matters will not cause you to complain.