The Myth of Deregulation

I’ve heard it many times, and once again we are about to enter something completely misunderstood. Some fear it, it some cheer it. Strangely it seems no one gets it: the myth of deregulation.

The idea of deregulation is simple. Rules choke business. Rules are expensive to business. If you get rid of the rules, business can make things more profitably. They make more money and everyone is happy.

It makes some assumptions though. One is the rules are meaningless. The other is that rules only come from one source. The problem is that both of those don’t hold up to the light of day.

Let’s look at rules are meaningless, only restricting business. Let’s ask a simpler question first: what does regulation do? Ideally, it protects citizens from harm or provides guidance to a best practice. If a battery can explode, should it be on a plane? The FAA prohibits some types of batteries on planes because they could catch on fire. One could argue that restricts passengers unfairly from carrying what they want on an airplane. Maybe we should get rid of rule allowing Guns and knives on planes? I think many would agree preventing weapons on planes discourage hijacking of planes and prohibiting exploding smartphones prevents mid-air fires and plane crashes.

But here we see the other side of the coin. There is more than one rule maker. The airlines themselves restricted the use of the exploding phones before the FAA stepped in and restricted use. Just because you get rid of a rule, does not mean the rule disappears. Instead, you lose control over the rule.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Suppose you have a EPA rule that says a factory must only emit a certain amount of soot from smokestacks. That might be expensive for the company to carry out, but it is the law, so they do. There’s a change in US administration, and the very pro-industry administration decides that this pollution rule restricts business, so they get rid of it. While the soot may make the production cost less for the factory it pollutes the town where everyone in the factory lives. Every brightly colored McMansion in town is now soot black. The town might propose their own clean air ordinance that restricts the factory. In the case of a small town that might not happen, because it is the only source of income for the town. In a city, they might just say good riddance to bad trash.
But suppose that factory sells products across the United States and even the world. Environmentally conscious California might write a rule that products sold in the state must be made in factories with certain emission standards. So too could China and the European Union. If this company wants to sell in a lot of markets, it has to meet those laws or not see the product sold there. The US government loses control of the rule and others pick up an environmental rule, possibly making it even more restrictive than the original.

For China, which has its own problems with pollution, that might seem a bit hypocritical, but really its something else all tougher: Protectionist. Tariffs and taxes aren’t the only way to prevent a product from importation. Very often regulation works far more effectively. California may be promoting its own low emission businesses by preventing a Kansas firm from selling in California. Many countries do it, including the U.S. There’s big offices for the FDA in China for protecting US health, but the Chinese will tell you a different story of protectionism. One way to prevent this kind of restraint of trade is harmonize the rules. If you make sure everyone is playing on the same field, then no one can play that game. But if that country then decides to pull out of harmonization, the other countries can enforce the rule and block trade with the offending country.

If there are rules in place, you do not make the world free of a rule when you lose it. You just give someone else power over you. The idea the removing the rules only works in a small closed system. The bigger the system the weaker the idea becomes and the more others can dictate what you do.

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Shemot: Knowing


The Torah portion of the week, has some verses I’m sure that will be the timely topic  of many a d’var torah:


A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph(Exodus 1:8)

I want to look at that line, because there’s an ambiguity, one not lost on commentators. How could anyone not know that Joseph saved everyone from famine?. The answer to that question is interesting.  The Rabbinic commentators summarized by the medieval French commentator  Rashi  concentrate on Pharaoh. There is a debate between Rav and Schmuel whether it was a new Pharaoh or the same pharaoh with different policies.

Let’s remember something here that became clear towards the end of Genesis. Joseph consolidated power around him, gave the choicest of pharaoh’s lands and jobs to those close  or loyal to him. Many of course were immigrants, his own family. Once Joseph was gone,  Pharaoh set about purging the immigrants from power.

I believe that could be the case, but I’m also not sure if that is the only interpretation. I think the phrase Who did not know Joseph has more packed into it. Does it modify Pharaoh or does it modify Egypt? If Egypt, then it could mean the people of egypt. This would be more clear if it said the people of egypt instead of egypt. If that was the case, Pharaoh knew, but the people did not. A people who forgot their own history is easy to manipulate, to tell a story that makes them act in certain ways.

The text continues:

9   And he said unto his people: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us;

10   come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us.

The saviors of Egypt changed from heroes to traitors with a story.The text says did not know Joseph and not did not remember Joseph. The verb root Yud-Dalet-Ayin to know is used in many senses, but one of close knowing, of intimate knowing. IT is one of many words that is used for sex, but only of an intimate relationship between a husband and a wife. I’m not implying sex here, as much as a close knowing. It’s the difference between knowing a minority exists and living with them and their culture. To not know is to not have enough knowledge for compassion.

Where we stand today in this world is sadly a reflection of this same story. While I have a very liberal bent, this is true of way too many people, bot liberal and conservative politically.   Not knowing our neighbor  may not be a sin, but  it can lead to sin and suffering, like it did back then.

The best way to stop that not knowing is to communicate fully, truthfully, to make bonds that bring understanding between people. I’ve decided to dust off my commentary skills once again, hopefully to bring understanding between people.


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For Those Who Mourn the Election: Make God Great Again

Our soon to be vice president, Mike Pence is a Creationist, yet he hates the book of Genesis. His interpretation of Genesis compared to mine, and I believe many of us who mourn this week puts him against the Word of the Lord. Our lamentations this week  are so much like the lamentations for the fall of the temple. For me, they are for the fall of the book of Genesis and the real meaning of it.

Let’s look at the opposition view point, because there we cannot ignore it. For centuries, there has been a change between what is God’s and what is Man’s.  Science and philosophy have changed what we know about the origins of the universe and about the origins of human beings. As an origin story, Genesis as a literal story suffers in comparison to the Big Bang and evolution. Genesis puts human beings in the center of the universe, Science makes humans so small as to be insignificant. Indeed we are nothing at all, less than speck of ash in all that infinity. For many, that means we don’t matter. For many a contradictory origin story of human life found in the randomness of evolution meant Genesis does not matter. If Genesis is false than all the Bible is false. For this view point then Science negates the bible and with it all belief. Science negates a person’s identity in the universe making them nothing. Negating the Bible negates those in authority of the bible too. The Bible for much of its existence has been the excuse for a few privileged to rule over the population.  Putting humans at the center of the universe gives permission for a few to dominate over this planet and its gifts and leave it less than it was.   Being the center give many an identity, and coherent identity to his neighbor, who looks and acts like him. Many ascribe to this who are not the privileged few because it gives them a place in the universe where they are more than something else, and that is a comfort. Science destroyed identity in Creation. New social norms of gender, sexual orientation and race changed identity for those who maintain Pence’s view so they became nothing. They feel like a speck of ash or dust in a chaotic universe. That  is too hard and painful to bear. These people have struck back this week against this pain, attempting to relieve it.

Yet the Ish Elohim, the person of God believes simultaneously in I am but dust and ashes and The  world was made for my sake.  The first chapters of  Genesis was never literal about human bodies. The people at the time of Jesus and the Rabbis before and after the destruction of the  second temple knew this. Instead, Genesis is the story of our souls and our relationships, that which science cannot nor ever explain. What is critical to our understanding of who we are is Genesis 1:27 (My translation):  

God made the Human in His Image, 

In the Image of God, He made it. 

Male and female He made them. 

In the image of  God, which in Hebrew is  Btzelem Elohim, means we, the descendants of the first humans are in the image of God. There is a Jewish commentary in Midrash Rabbah that forms the core of what Genesis  1 and 2 is about for I suspect many of us.

We  wonder at the power of God. For a king mints a coin in his image and they all look the same. But the Master of the Universe, blessed be the One, mints coins in God’s image and no two are alike. Btzelem Elohim is each of us, as we are. We are the image of the Creator of our souls. When we are told in Exodus there shall be no image before me, because God is the only image right in front of us.  Revere each human being exactly as we should revere God. The same commentaries note that God made only the one male and the female for a reason: we are all one family — no one is superior to another.

Black,White, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist, refugee, homeowner, poor, rich, gay, straight male, female, or transgender we are all God’s currency. We should revere each other as God’s creation. We leave judgement to the True Judge alone. Atheists might call this ethics, but for the rest of us we must call it the way to holiness. The opposition for too long has called claim to holiness in their rhetoric, while turning the currency of God into the currency of the White Christian Man. In doing so they render their coins only unto Caesar.  Though my familiarity with Christian theology is very limited I believe  as a Jew and a student of the scholars of that period, this is not what Jesus would do. I can’t read Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-31 without thinking that Jesus would think of all people as the Coins of the Kingdom of Heaven.  When Jesus said Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. he didn’t finish the sentence. Many theologians Iv’e read think he implied the last part of the sentence: Psalm 24:1 “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it and all who live in it”

While theologies disagree on my things, those of us lamenting Her foes have become her masters; her enemies are at ease (Lam 1:5) must come together. We as a nation have sinned. None of us, neither Democrat or Republican, Socialist or Independent saw the other in the Image of God. The world was created for our sake because each of us individually need to be the Image of God by seeing others in the Image of God and act accordingly.  We must all become holy people. Religion has gotten a bad rap from those who use the coin of Caesar for their own ends. It is time to reclaim religion to make the Story of God, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Allah or whatever you call the Higher Power, ours. We need to repent and reclaim our identity as the Coins of God and to treat others, no matter who they are, as the coins of God. We need to believe in a place where there is no they, only God. Some want to make America Great again. I believe it time to remove the sins of Caesar, the sin of believing the lie there is a they , and make God great again.

We can destroy fear and  hate with the love of God with all our heart all our soul and all our might. We must love our neighbor as ourselves, Think and act as both of these commandments are really just One — because they are. This will not be easy. The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, but the Master is pressing.

I alone cannot do this, though I will do my part. I bring a message of my one small, almost still, slightly trembling, voice in the storm. There are many leaders better able to  organize and inspire than me. Many of you both Christian and Jewish I call friend.  I can only add these thoughts, and maybe that is comfort for some of you who still don’t know what to say.

Our faith my be our ultimate weapon of light in the darkness to come. May we use it well and bring about the day Zechariah proclaims: On that day the Lord will be one and his name One.

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Why I Answer Forty Two to Every Number Quiz I Get.

Monday I got a curious apology in my inbox. I don’t think the apology is necessary. I do I think the authors solution misses something. LinkedIn Expert Wayne Breitbarth had posted an apology to his e-mail list about his last blog entry which started:

The other day I counted six puzzles, four number games, and three eye charts in my LinkedIn home-page feed…and that was in one hour.

Is that really how you want to spend your time on LinkedIn? For most of us, I think not.

So, here is a quick fix to stop the madness.

Wayne goes on to show how to block this type of posting. Apparently some people were upset with this. People apparently like those puzzles. Wayne apologized. I’m not the biggest fan of them but do fill them out occasionally. I almost always answer forty-two, in a nod to Author Douglas Adams’. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy . However with due respect to Wayne, who knows how to get stuff done with LinkedIn like no one else I know. I think those quizzes are gold. Don’t block them. Douglas Adams has a solution for all of these quizzes for me.

In Adams’ book the plot concerns a lot of work and a couple of billion years of computing time to find the answer to Life the Universe and Everything only to find out it is forty-two.Yet, there is no Question to this answer. I jokingly put forty-two in the answer to these quizzes trying to match the quiz question to The Answer. Anyone familiar with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reading the responses, gets my reference, has a little chuckle, and connects with me in a way all the right answers never will.

There is the gold – don’t answer the quiz, read the responses. It will tell you a lot about people. Some will give just an answer they believe right. But some will give you more. Those are people to pay attention to. It’s not what if the answer is right, but what they respond with. Is it a formula, a joke, a literary reference, or a philosophical argument that invalidates the quiz? That will tell you a lot more about the person who answered than any profile ever will.

Sometimes we have a question and not an answer. Sometimes we have an answer and not a question. We can learn from both.

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The Flappy Bird Dare: A Tutorial on SpriteKit and Programming for iPhone

I stuck my foot in my mouth.
I’m now chewing vigorously and that is why you are reading this.
For those who never heard of Flappy Bird, it was the game sensation nobody expected. It was a game that was very simple: a little bird moves up if you tap the screen, and falls due to gravity if you don’t. The game play is also simple: fly between two pipes without touching them and get a point. If you touch the pies or the ground, the game ends. While that seems easy, game play is very difficult.
The programming world was outraged when this jumped into #1 slot in iTunes and the developer began making $50,000 a day, far more than much slicker games with intensely realistic graphics. Then suddenly, the author pulled it from the stores. There was controversy. Not only was it simple, the game was put together with graphics that went out of style in before the Gameboy. How did such a cheap game added to the store almost a year ago suddenly have such a meteoric rise? Apple’s App Store and Google Play hunkered down for an invasion of clones to the now defunct Flappy Bird, and the author now says he pulled it because it was so addictive.
I was explaining the Flappy Bird controversy to a Friend. I claimed I could, actually anyone could, write Flappy Bird in a week. My friend dared me to try, and so I had ended up with a week-long challenge — write a Flappy bird clone in a week then get it into the App store, with a variation or two.
Thus Slippy Flippy Penguin was born. If it gets into the App Store is another thing.
I didn’t want to write a clone – I prefer originality, like the game I’ve been working months to finish and is still under development. Besides Apple throwing it into a garbage heap in a second with the rest of the cheap knockoffs of the originall, I want to teach how to write games and how to program. I’m an educator at heart. Apple also last year made game programming a lot easier by introducing Sprite Kit to Xcode, the suite of programs used to write apps for iPhone and iPad. So a bigger challenge looms — can anyone write not just a clone but any game similar within a week’s time? If you have a Mac and can load Xcode, you are certainly welcome to follow along and write your own game. If you don’t, you may learn something too about a lot of what goes on behind the touchscreen of your iPhone.
The game itself is simple, which is what makes it such a great educational tool. I’m also going to keep myself extremely simple to follow. It means we can learn programming easily. But I will make a disclaimer here about my teaching style, which is different from almost every other tutorial I have ever read: I will intentionally write buggy code. I will then go through the process of fixing it. That happens so rarely and debugging is one of the most important programming (and arguably life) skills one can have.
How I approach the game design (indeed all design) is to break it into the various parts, far before I start coding. Imagine we have a scene in a play or movie. As a director I have the following things I need to use:

  1. Actors
  2. The stage
  3. The script

I can break that down a little further:

  1. Actors
    1. The hero/heroine
    2. The bad guys
    3. The bit players
  2.   The stage
    1. Acting space
    2. Backgrounds and scenery
    3. Stage entrances and exits
  3. The script

Games organize themselves a lot like this, with a few additions. For example in my game:

  1. Actors
    1. Player’s Character or Characters — a Penguin
    2. Obstacles or Opponents — Ice blocks and walls.
    3. Other actors — changes in gravity
  2. The stage
    1. Foreground action penguins and ice blocks
    2. Background (may also be in action) – icicles
    3. Informational displays score — one point for passing an obstacle high score — a remembered high score. Lives — this game you only get one life.
    4. Places for characters to enter and exit — left and right
  3. The script
    1. How characters move — penguin has controlled movement up or down to some extent. Penguin is affected by gravity and collisions with objects. Ice blocks will move from right to left, giving illusion of Penguin sliding scenery will also move right to left how characters interact collision with ice pushes penguin back, or possibly ricochet’s out of control.
    2. What starts the game – touch to start what ends it — penguin falls into the water or off the back of the ice flow. (May also be water)
    3. How to start the game again.

Note I didn’t answer all the questions, but I try to get a much as I can before I start. Once I have that much as a framework, I can then begin to program.

In our next entry, we will open up Xcode and set up our main character: a penguin that suspiciously looks like a spaceship.

Editor’s note: I moved the adventure of wirting this app to my programming blog for all the information click over to the SlippyFlippy penguin page at including links to the finished game.

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Thoughts about the future of Apple and the iPhone.

Yesterday, through videos of the Apple’s World Wide Developer’s conference, I thought a lot about Apple and its future. I think they made some very good moves yesterday.

Some people are very passionate about their operating system, and the debate between the two will continue. I came up with a frame work to understand them both — cars.  The first internal combustion engine vehicle was made by Karl Benz. The first mass-produced car was of course by Henry Ford. What became of Mercedes Benz and Ford Motor company best describes iOS and Android rather well. Data collected by Time Magazine   suggest a similar pattern to my thoughts. Apple is the phone for people with money, and people who like to part with money.   It is the high-end car, with high customer satisfaction, and with all the cool features.  People pay for apps for the iOS, and people pay for their iPhones. It is not the cheap, mass-produced car. The mass-produced car, is approachable for anyone, and looking at non US sales of smartphones shows that well. But these people tend to be cheap. People with android phones do not pay for apps, they download only the free ones, where Apple consumers will see more downloads of paid apps, though many free ones too. I don’t think Apple and Google really are competing for market share, any more that Ford Fiestas and Mercedes-Benz C300’s  are competing for the same customers. We are seeing a market segmentation.

As an  iPhone app developer I see a different perspective. For me,  and I would not be surprised for others, Android’s supposed strength is also its biggest weakness: open source. Open source means as a developer and as a user I’m allowed to get at all the guts of the software in the device. It it a lot of power, and some like that much power.  Android has it, Apple doesn’t. Apple is actually very cranky about this, not letting me get into the guts of anything. In exchange for that, Apple gives some very powerful, fast and easy ways to do what I need to do — and do them very quickly.  Open Source  usually means I do have to get into the guts to get anything done, and that takes effort and time.

An example of this is what I refer to as the Hello World test. Back in the early days of computing, the very first program someone would write is some code to prove the system works by getting it to output the phrase “hello world”. It is the simplest program anyone could write.  One of the first places Hello World is mentioned is in The C Programming Language by Kernigan and Ritchie(1978). In the computer language C it is written as:

   printf(“hello, world\n”);

Simple enough even for those who don’t know computer languages. The words hello world  print to the screen.  In both Android and iOS, this takes no code.  But if you add a button to your device and then have the button  print hello world on the button, there is a huge difference in the two operating systems. In Android, this takes three files that need typing out. The first two are complicated  XML files explaining the layout and the text you want to put in. Then you get the  program.

public void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {
public void onClick(View v){
 Toast toast = Toast.makeText(this, "Hello World",toast.LENGTH_LONG);;

iOS on the other hand you do almost everything by clicking and dragging things around (it is writing all that XML for you) and then writing the following line of code:

<pre>self.button1.titleLabel.text = @"hello world";</pre>

The development environment does everything for you. Android requires you to do everything manually, so to write the above code for Android might take a quarter of an hour for what on iOS would take three minutes.

When you remember that people are far more likely to download only free apps from Android than they are if they have a iOS device, the economics of the situation seems clear. A developer could spend a lot more time writing an app that one will get less money for on an Android phone  platform than one will get on a iPhone spending a lot less time and money writing. Economically for a developer, it does not makes sense to write an Android app first. The way you might get money for an Android app is some will pay for something that has a huge social pressure to buy, such as the current hot game to play or a social media platform. Who will buy such a thing is iPhone users, and the platform for making such a thing profitably is the iPhone or iPad. As far as an app development is concerned it is a good business  strategy to make an app on iOS first, then if it gets popular, port it to Android.

It’s clear to me that Apple gets this. While many of its critics want it to be more like Android, Apple is not buying into those critics. Granted, Apple has updated the user interface to more modern design practices, to reflect the  look of Android and Windows 8. While I cannot give details, it’s whats under the hood for us developers which says volumes. Apple has made it even easier to make very cool games and applications very easily.  Apple’s moves are for being the first platform someone develops in, because it is relatively easy and because the developer will make money. They too then make money and become the driving force behind what comes out next.

Customizing Ford Mustangs  is a hobby for many, and so too is open source on Android for those people who like that sort of thing.  While Android might be wonderful for the hacker and the enthusiast, for those who need to quickly get product to market, to involve their design teams more in development than just software engineers,  and to make money at it, Apple remains the first platform choice in app development.

2011 was a hard year for both Apple and me, and exactly for the same reasons. For me, it will always be remembered as the year my mom died and my life changed radically.  Apple lost its parent too with the death of Steve Jobs. It is said  by those who study grief that it takes two years to mourn the loss of a loved one, and one’s loses direction during that time. I know that is true for me: the last two years were a very big struggle. I believe it was for Apple too, making some serious mistakes. But in the grief process, one finds their new identity, the post-parent identity. I have mine, and I believe Apple has theirs. Apple acknowledges Android’s existence, and Samsung will continue to sell a lot of smart phones. The data in the Time article above indicates most others selling Android smartphones are now losing money. As Tim Cook mentioned in the WWDC keynote, most users haven’t upgraded to a new version of Android in three years, while most of the iOS base keeps current.  Apple is a company that doesn’t need to be #1 in sales of units. Apple makes insanely great products, and people buy insanely great products. Apple, almost two years after Steve Jobs’ passing, has remembered that identity, and has set itself to be the company that makes the insanely great. I think this is only one of many steps we will see in that direction. Apple will continue to be the company the people who will pay to get the insanely great premium products will go to, like Mercedes Benz or Bang and Olufsen.

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What Comes Next?

For seven years, I did my best to write a column in Shlomo’s Drash every week. For seven years, I pretty much succeeded. But my commentary fell of a lot after that first seven years. This August, it will be twelve years since I started Shlomos Drash. A lot changed and my motivations for writing changed, and to a large extent, withered. Yet I still see the need to have something here, to still come up with stuff and tell someone.


I cannot promise much. I’m busy trying to survive and support my wife on one income that hasn’t changed for five years. I’m not making as much in real terms as I used to, and that means a lot more hard work for me. It also means I cannot afford the synagogue that was much of my inspiration for much of the last few years writing fo Shlomo’s Drash commentary. I’ve also been too embarrassed about that I cannot afford membership that I am reluctant to go. Yet,  I’ve heard the call to write often in the last few months, and haven’t really sat down to do anything about it. Much of what I am thinking is not strictly Torah, or at not least written law. In some sense it may be the Oral law, but it seems even different from that. For lack of a better term I’ll call it the Living Law, Torah Shel Hayyim.  The term probably was used by someone else for something else, but I like it, so I’ll use it.

Like much I have written in the past, it is based on my experiences. As a student of Torah, I wrote about Torah and its refection in what I did everyday. I’m other things now, and what  I think of Jewish Observance is different, and will need to be one of my pieces in the future — it is far too long to go into here. I’m a lot of things. An app developer, an artist, a runner, an inventor, a husband. these things are what informs my experience now. yet I wonder if they also inform Torah shel Hayyim. I think they do.


Let’s see what I come up with. I’ll be posting various things, some technical some not. Every article may not be for everyone, but we shall see what develops.




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Yittro 5773:Who Honors Whom? (In memory of my mom )

This week, at the foot of Sinai, Moses’ father in law Yitro catches up with the Israelites, bringing Moses’ sons and wife with him. Yitro explains to a rather clueless Moses the concepts of delegation and bureaucracy, and then the people get ready for the receiving of Torah at Sinai, hear the Ten Commandments, then promptly freak out. They delegate dealing with God to Moses, who then gets four more commandments: a repeat of the prohibition of no idols, how to build a earth altar, how to build a stone altar, and using ramps on altars so one’s privates don’t show when ascending the altar.

Given today’s date one verse in Torah stands out for me today.

Honor Your father and your Mother in order that you lengthen your days on the the earth that the lord has set you.

It is seductive to look at only the first half of that verse, Honor your father and mother. But what of the second, that a consequence of doing so is to lengthen your days?

If this commandment applies to in-laws as well, we see one possible thread in this Torah reading. At the beginning of this portion, Yitro, Moses’ father in law, instructs Moses to delegate, indeed to build a big judicial hierarchy. Yitro sees Moses is pretty much killing himself doing everything for everyone. We don’t hear that Moses actually carried out Yitro’s advice in Torah. There’s indeed evidence in B’midbar that Moses didn’t heed his father in law, and Yitro leaves in a huff, despite Moses’ pleas for him to stay. Not long after Yitro leaves, Moses begs God to kill him because he can’t handle all the complaining. God’s answer is pretty much the same as Yitro’s–delegate.

Parents are the guidance to make the right choices in life, the people who should take the lead while children follow them down the paths that will lead to a good and long life.

I am thinking of my mom today. Two years ago today, a gray morning, I stood with my sister and with Sunny holding my mom’s hands as she took her last breath and her heart beat for the last time. January had been a nightmare month. First there was the extreme pain she was admitted to the emergency room with, the surgery to correct a critical condition to her spinal chord, the recovery from that only to lapse in what would one of two comas, the last she would not wake up from.

My mom loved to travel. Together we went to Alaska and Hawai and Israel. She and I went on once-in-a-lifetime adventures on Safari in South Africa. We dined with a wild elephant along the Zambezi River just before it dumps into Victoria Falls. we saw penguins, iguanas and of course Lonesome George in the Galapagos Islands. When we went to Petra she took a fall. She insisted it was nothing but I did convince her to take a donkey halfway back to the bus. SHe limped the last mile back to the bus, insisting it was nothing. In reality she was in intense pain and wouldn’t tell anyone until she was home and her own doctor’s care back in the States three days later. She never wanted to be the center of attention, and never ever wanted to ruin another’s experience.

It started snowing not long after she died. By the time we met with My mom’s Rabbi for the funeral arrangements, it was snowing very heavily. It didn’t stop for a day and a half, the largest Snowstorm we have had in quite a while. To this day I believe that freak snowstorm which kept all the relatives from flying in for the funeral is her doing.

My inheritance from my mom was not financial but a part of my soul: My mom had a streak of compassion and caring the runs deep. A huge part of her life was is to make sure those around her are cared for and were happy, even to her own detriment no matter how painful. She just did, and never said anything about it. She never wanted a big deal made over anything she did. As a parent, she like Yitro only wanted the best for her children. I am Definitely my mother’s son in that respect. Though I fall short in my efforts compared to her, I take care of those around me, also to my own detriment at times.

There is another mom I’m thinking of tonight as well. She was just a schoolteacher in the Bronx, yet when her son was beaten merely for being gay, she took action. On June 25th 1972, Jeanne Manford marched in what would evolve into the New York Gay Pride parade with her son. The enthusiastic reaction from many was startling; many young people wanted her to talk to their parents. Within a year, She and her husband Jules held a meeting of parents of GLBT children, those meetings would eventually become PFLAG. Jeanne Manford’s death lash month is another death of a parent who did their best to help their children live a long full life.

Memorializing Jeanne Manford sadly brings up her tragic opposite: Those who do not accept their children’s identity as easily and fervently as she did. We are to honor our father and mother, but is the converse true? What if our father and mother do not honor us?

The question in the GLBT community is far from academic, it is far more tragic.
LGBT youth comprise approximately 40% of the clientele served by homeless agencies agencies represented in the sample of the LGBT Homeless Youth Provider Survey,
46% Ran away because of family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity
43% were forced out by parents because of sexual orientation or gender identity

“To lengthen your days” is a two way contract between parent and child. The child honors the parent, yet the parents need to show the leadership, compassion and wisdom to lead the child to the child’s full life, the one set by God and DNA, not by the parent’s actions. The verse is clear: God set us on this Earth the way we are. The mitzvah is the parents have to deal with what God gave us. Those parents who in their own self-asorbtion, reject their children or throw their children from their home for a gender identity or sexual identity set by God is a failure of the parent to do this. In suicides and homelessness, the parent shortens the full life of their child to nothing. Their GLBT children were denied parents Like Jeanne and Jules Mamford and other PFLAG parents. They were denied parents like my dad and my mom.

Although I am straight, I have had a parallel experience, which informs my views on how hard it is to say who you really are. About ten years ago, I came to the conclusion I wasn’t put on this earth to have children. My girlfriend at the time, who had forced the issue, simply got up and left without saying anything more — I never saw her again. I found when I told friends and my congregation I got a lot of negative reactions, shunning and people trying convincing me I was wrong, and I was a traitor to the Jews, I was sinning against the pseudo-mitzvah of be fruitful and multiply. At it’s worst, I even received hate mail from a board member. I was eventually run out of that community, one that was supposedly strongly liberal and accepting of everyone. In contrast, my parents accepted who I was without a problem, ineed my mom said something I will always remember.

My mom loved to write comments about my D’var Torah Blog Shlomo’s Drash. She once commented to me after I wrote about my decision publicly “Others enjoy making the kids and grandkids. some are called to teach, that’s their choice. You are one who needs to teach. I’m proud of you for that.” She had something there. We read in Talmud:

If [a man’s] own lost article and his father’s lost article [need attention], his own takes precedence. [if] His own and his teacher’s [then] his own takes precedence; [if] his father’ s and his teacher’s [then] his teacher’s takes precedence, because his father brought him into this world, whereas his teacher. ‘who instructed him in wisdom, brings him to the future world. [Baba Metzia 33a,]

So it is also with the study of the law; if the son has been worthy [to sit] before the teacher, the teacher comes before the father in all places, because both a man and his father are bound to honor the teacher. [K’rithot 28a,]

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan’s name: He who teaches his neighbor’s child the Torah, Scripture ascribes it to him as if he had begotten him. [Sanh. 19b]

Who are the teachers that can become the surrogate parents for those who own mother and father have rejected them? I have not far to look, but to those who understand both Torah and the GLBTQ experience sitting in front of me today. In teaching Torah here on Shabbat we may be the only teachers for some whose families have rejected them. We of the is congregation may be the only ones that some have in times of sadness and support –and love.

The Kotsker Rebbe quipped once, when asked if he would resurrect the dead, he replied he would rather resurrect the living. Let us continue the tradition of the this congregation to help raise up the living.

It’s what my mom would have wanted.

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The Tzaddik of Klaas

Since my total royalties in the month of December has been $0.70, (and I appreciate those who have bought the book) I thought as a Christmas  and Hanukkah present I’d give a few parts of my  book”The Tzaddik of Klaas”  in serialized form. The story may be set in a Jewish world of Hassidic Fable, but it is also a Christmas story. The Kindle edition and the Paperback edition are available at if you want to read the rest of the story. 

Goniff was a thief. Now, I know what you are thinking. Naming a boy Goniff is going to be bad for his profession, for everyone will think that a man named thief is a thief, and nobody will ever trust him. Goniff wasn’t his real name, however, but a nickname. Goniff was a thief who had a very bad habit of returning what he stole. It made it hard to prosecute him, since he never actually had the goods on him that he stole; they were invariably back where they were originally taken, even if someone put him in jail immediately after stealing them. Sometimes things were just found somewhere they weren’t normally found in the house. Yet most in the town knew that if something disappeared for a bit, it was probably Goniff who took it, so he was nicknamed Goniff.

Because he never kept or sold any stolen goods, Goniff was a rather poor man. He made his real living selling wood that he had chopped in the forest. As a woodcutter, he made enough for a few morsels and a small hut in the forest. No one wanted him in town anyway. Yet while Goniff never made a lot of money being a thief, he was really the most skillful thief there ever was. There was no castle or house that was safe from him. No one would ever see him come in, and no one would ever find any trace that he was ever there. Even when locked in jail, he could break out and replace the stolen item before the court ever brought him to trial, then break back into prison so that no one even noticed he was missing. But he just never felt right about taking other people’s stuff. He had learned his Torah well: not to steal and what to do to thieves if they did steal. But it was irresistible to break into someone’s home and take something, just to say that he could do it.

Goniff was also very much alone. Since no one trusted him, much of his time was spent alone, carving. The smaller branches of the trees he felled he would keep for himself and carve into intricate curiosities. From a single piece of wood, he could carve a doll or a set of wooden gears. Much like his ability to steal, he was always trying to better himself and to push his art to even further levels of skill. But since no one trusted him, there was no one to show these wonders to. One Erev Hanukkah, after lighting his first Hanukkah candle, he was carving an intricate set of gears with a chain on one end and a crank on the other. It did nothing but hang on the chain, and the gears would spin around, but getting the gears right out of this piece of oak was a particular challenge. He felt despair as he carved for not having anyone to share his holiday with. Finishing it, he threw the wooden contraption aside, onto a pile of dolls, soldiers, chains, and thingamabobs all carved out of single pieces of wood. He had heard that a great rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov, was coming for Shabbat. Maybe the great master could tell him something that would help him to get over his loneliness. So he decided that he would go down into the village after Shabbat.


The Kindle edition and the Paperback edition are available at



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Shlomo’s Drash: Through The Darkness

As part of Hanukkah the first  two parts of the story of Joseph come before and during the holiday.  In the first, we are introduced to Joseph and the two times he is flung into darkness.IMG_2798

24 And they took him, and threw him into a pit; and the pit was empty, there was no water in it[Genesis 37]

20  (K) And Joseph’s master took him, and put him in the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the prison.[Genesis 39]

In the next week, during Hanukkah, light dawns for Joseph:

40  You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than you.[Genesis 39]

Hanukkah is the darkest of the dark, it uses the symbol of light to dispel the dark. all the winter solstice holidays do in some way do the same. While Christmas is always close to the solstice, Hanukkah moves to the lunar calendar. The middle of the holiday is Rosh Hodesh, a new month signified by a new moon. Hanukkah always includes the longest night with no visible moon of the year, hence it is the darkest of the dark, but in the days after, also the beginning of seeing light, just as Joseph had.

I’ve written before about the darkness of the time, most notably in my fable The Tzaddik of Klaas. This year was especially dark, and I felt the despair that Joseph must have felt while lighting the first candle last night.

Oddly,  it was the following that made me realize something.

UIView *myView = [[UIVew alloc] initWithFrame: CGRect(0,0,self.view.frame.size.width,self.view.frame.size.height] ;
 myView.background = [UIColor redColor];
 [self addView: myView];

Now unless you too are a iPhone developer, you probably have absolutely no idea what I just wrote. I didn’t two months ago. It is code to turn your iPhone screen red. Back in September, I started a project, a microscope camera app for work. The idea was for the app to be a companion to a product my company is making for the microscope. I developed the app, but with limited knowledge of how to program an iPhone, I used the easiest way to get at the camera. The problem is, it meant I had to write code for every button myself. That snippet of code is similar, though not the same as a lot of the code Iv’e written since then. Unlike many developers who are able to use the storyboard, a drag and drop way of building the user interface in a mere day, I was stuck coding it out for a month.

The code was grueling work. It was eleven hour days almost five times a week. I got to work in darkness and went home in darkness too many times to count. The work was exhausting and unsettling.  Towards the end, I was in despair.

The app is done and in the submission process. I started to work on my next one and decided to use a few things I’ve never used before. Researching these new things, I was amazed how easily I understood them. Many of them used the same code I used for the red iPhone above. It was a clear as a sunlit day — I understood them perfectly.

That shocked me, but it also was a feeling of enlightenment. I thought of Joseph and this time of year as I looked out to the street with all the people rushing about getting ready for the holidays. Joseph we are told started out as a real brat. Rabbinic tales in the Midrash make him out to be even worse than the braggart the biblical text does. Yet he changes so that Pharaoh would trust him with his kingdom. Maybe it was the darkness of the pit and the prison than changed him. Like I learned programming code, Joseph had to get through the despair to become cheerful enough to be of help to Potiphar and Joseph’s jailer. That got him to be viceroy of Egypt.

The solstice holidays have always been at their root about getting though that dark despair of the season. The early church fathers and the Rabbis of the Talmud had a similar problem: people would celebrate the pagan holidays of  Kalenda/Saturnalia and of the resurrection of Mithras, because getting through the dark is a deep human need.  There is a story in the Talmud [Avodah Zarah 8a]  that Adam just after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden was the first to be afraid  in this darkness, what to him was the end of the world. When things got lighter and he celebrated. Both the rabbis and church fathers had to find a way to frame the solstice in their own terms. The church took the resurrection of a sun god Mithras and changed into the birth of the Son of God, who would be resurrected. The rabbis took the anniversary of the rededication of the Temple by the first religious zealots in history who invited Romans  into Israel and illegally sat on the throne of Israel,(the Rabbis hated the Maccabees for those reasons)  into a holiday of a miracle of light at the time of greatest darkness in  the temple. After the solstice or the re-emergence of the new moon,  we know we will live through the cycle one again, and into a successful year, like Joseph and my programming knowledge, into the light of success.

May your season, whatever you celebrate, be filled with light.

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