There are two kinds of people in the world. The people who wonder why tall, strong buildings fall down during earthquakes and the people who don’t think about it much. Most people are in the latter group, as they assume that considering that an earthquake is a natural disaster, anything can happen. If a little girl from Kansas can get transported, with her whole house, to a fantasy world called Oz during a natural disaster, surely a building or two can fall down.

On the other hand, the group that is troubled by this question ponders further. They question how it is possible that a building with a foundation so strong that it can uphold thousands of tons every day, decade after decade, topples from even a relatively minor earthquake. (I hate the fact that earthquakes are rated from 1 to 10, the system makes them seem so puny. They should be rated by millions or billions, then they would sound like serious threats. Which sounds scarier: “We were hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6” or “We were hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 BILLION!”?)

There are two types of people who read the previous paragraph. Some people are saying to themselves, “Hmm, that is a good question, why did I never think of that?” while others are thinking, “What a foolish question, the force of an earthquake is much more that the pressure of thousands of tons of weight lying on something!” (There are probably even some people thinking, “Hmm, that was a good answer, why didn’t I think of that?)

Well, to tell you the truth, that is not a good answer. Although the force of an earthquake is extremely powerful, the force alone is not enough to explain the toppling of the buildings. Buildings with strong foundations fall, because their foundations are made to withstand great vertical pressure (the weight of the building bearing down on the building). However, the force of an earthquake is horizontal (the earth moving right to left), and the buildings foundations are not prepared for that at all.

Luckily, there are a few ways to remedy this situation, and that’s why we can have tall buildings in cities like San Francisco or Tokyo which are located in very earthquake prone areas. One way is to use what is called an isolated base foundation. The method involves resting the building on a number of massive rubber pads (with steel plates in between the pads to give them some strength), with a big lead plug going down the middle. This way, if there is an earthquake, the rubber layers slowly slide in the direction of the earth’s movement, while the building stays upright. If not for those layers which isolate the building from its foundation, the entire building would move in the direction of the earth, and then it’s time to call the rescue teams and the news channels, because buildings don’t move gracefully.

Another method uses a similar concept, but instead of the building resting on rubber pads, the “feet” of the building rest on massive balls that lie in bowl-shaped concrete enclosures. In the event of an earthquake, the building rolls (slightly, no it does not go across the street) on the rollers, and once again the entire building stays upright. This of course explains the videos you may have seen of downtown Tokyo during last year’s massive earthquake in Japan. In these videos, you can actually see building swaying back and forth, rolling on massive balls below the ground.

At the end of the article are some drawings to help you understand this concept better if you feel the inclination. The pictures tell you all you need to know, but if you are one of those people who can’t sleep at night due to an intense fascination of the effects of earthquakes upon buildings, please call me and I will give you more info.

What does all this have to do with Judaism or self development? Well, G-d made earthquakes, and He made you and me, so there! No, I’m kidding, there is a very important lesson to be learned here. Building foundations show us that something may be very strong and fortified in one area, but if an attack comes from an unexpected angle, the whole thing may tumble.

This applies to personalities as well. We may work very hard to develop a specific character trait, but when a challenge comes at an unguarded area, our whole building comes tumbling down. A common example is a person who worked diligently to reduce his angry outbursts, and is mostly successful. However, if someone gets on his nerves when he is particularly tired or physically very hot, he may not be fortified for that kind of shove, and it will send him over the edge. Another example is someone who works very hard to control what they eat, and watches every thing they put in their mouth, yet if they are in a social situation where they have been embarrassed, or they are shy, they may head straight to the smorgasbord, and work it with the unrestrained enthusiasm of a politician during election-week!

To remedy this, there are two important tasks we need to see to. First, we need to identify for ourselves exactly where we are vulnerable. Are we built for horizontal pressure or vertical pressure? What will make us snap? Where are the weaknesses in our foundations?

Once we have identified them, we need to put pressure easing mechanisms in place so that we can slide a bit without toppling. These steps need to be taken before the situation arises. If we wait for the problem to come, by the time we are ready to work on them, we will need the rescue crews and the news channels!

If we know we are very vulnerable to anger when we come home from work after a long day at work, we can pause outside our door and prepare ourselves for the coming challenge. If we know we love to gossip with a particular person, we can either avoid them or directly tell them ahead of time that we are really uncomfortable with the gossip and ask them to work with us on curbing it. If we know that when the family gathers for Thanksgiving we always find ourselves fighting with Uncle Kenny or Aunt Beatty then we need to prepare ourselves mentally beforehand and perhaps enlist the help of another relative to keep the cool between us. The key is to prepare ahead of time for the natural disasters that may come. It keeps buildings standing, and keeps us on top of our game.

So let’s examine our foundations and make ourselves earthquake-resistant before any of those 8.9 BILLION magnitude earthquakes hit!

To see an in-depth explanation of how buildings are built to withstand earthquakes, please see the bottom of this email…


Parsha Dvar Torah

In the beginning of this week’s portion we read about how Eisov (Esau) sold his rights as the firstborn to his brother for a meal of beans. (Now there’s a guy who either really likes beans, or really doesn’t care about the rights of the firstborn, which include service in the Temple!) Let us look at the verses surrounding this monumental sale, and see what we can learn from it.

Yaakov was simmering a pottage when Eisov came in from the field, exhausted. Eisov said to Yaakov, “Please give me a swallow of this red [pottage], for I am exhausted.” He was therefore named Edom [Red]. Yaakov said, “As of this day, sell your birthright to me.” Eisov said, “Here I am about to die, what [good] is this birthright to me.” Yaakov said, “Swear to me as of this day.” He swore to him, and sold his birthright to Yaakov. Yaakov then gave Eisov bread and a pottage of lentils. He [Eisov] ate and drank, got up and left. [Thus] Eisov scorned the birthright. (Gen. 25:29-34)

As we can see, Eisov had no respect for the birthright and it was Yaakov the brother who did care for it that really deserved it anyway. (Mini lesson- If you don’t appreciate the gifts you get, you don’t deserve them.) But what we need to put the magnifying glass on, is the idea that the nation that came out of Eisov acquired their name through this event, and a strange name at that.

In the Holy Tongue (Biblical Hebrew) a person’s name represents the essence of what they are. The word for name sheim is spelled exactly the same way as sham, which means there, because a person’s name tells you where they are. For example, Avraham is called Avraham because it is an acronym for Av Hamon Goyim, Father of Many Nations, which he was as he fathered the Jews, and the Arabs (through Yishmael, his other son, the one we don’t invite to our Chanukah parties), and spiritually he was a patriarch to the world.

That being the case, how do we understand that Edom, the nation that came out of Eisov got their name from him asking for red beans? If Yaakov was making a split pea soup instead of red lentils, would the nation now be called Green? And maybe they should have been called Lentils because the pottage was a lentil pottage.

The reason Eisov’s nation was called Edom, red, is because that is the way he described the pottage when he saw it as it says “Please give me a swallow of this red [pottage], for I am exhausted.” He was therefore named Edom [Red]. What does that tell us about Eisov?

It tells us that he looked at things very superficially. He comes in and glances at a pot, and simply asks for some of the red stuff. He doesn’t even take the time to ascertain what it is. The color of something is the factor that one sees first, but reveals the least info about the identity of something. If Eisov would have been less superficial, less concerned with immediate gratification, he might have asked for some of the lentils or perhaps some of the nourishing food. But Eisov is the kind of person that doesn’t care for any delay in gratification, so he blurts out a request for the most surface aspect of the dish, in his rush for gratification.

This theme continues as he sells his rights as a firstborn, which would have given his progeny the rights to serve in the Temple, so that he can satiate his hunger. Imagine, if he would have simply waited and gone into the kitchen and made himself a grilled cheese sandwich, his children would possibly have been the ones who served in the different Temples for hundreds of years instead of us, Yaakov’s children! But that is not who Eisov is, as he says “Here I am about to die, what [good] is this birthright to me.” I.e. if I can’t get some immediate pleasure out of it, I’ll just trade it in for something I can enjoy right now! (This is also possibly why Eisov was born fully formed, which is how he got the name Eisov which means “made.” This showed that his core is something that expects everything all at once. Jacob was born normal which indicated that for him development was a necessary process.)

This character of Eisov of only looking at the superficial explains the name Edom, and how it represents the essence of Eisov the forebear of that nation. This is the exact opposite of Yaakov, who is willing to give up some of the lentils now in return for greatness in the future. We are the Children of Yaakov, we have inherited his spiritual genes, and therefore we have the ability to spurn the momentary pleasures of this world, in an attempt to build better character for our future, and for a glorious next world. In each of our lives we have a pottage that is red, enticing, and ready to deliver instant gratification, but we overcome the Edom in us, we spurn the momentary and choose the eternal.


Parsha Summary

The Parsha begins with Yitzchak and his wife Rivka, praying fervently for a child as they didn’t have one in twenty years of marriage. G-d grants them their wish and grants them twins. One of them is great and every time Rivka passes a Yeshiva he kicks indicating that he wants to learn. However, when she passes an idolatrous temple, the other guy is kicking away! This confuses Rivka, who didn’t know she had twins, so she goes to ask two scholars, Shem and Aver. They, through Divine Knowledge explain to her that she has two babies in her womb, both of who will be the father of great nations. They further tell her that there will be an inverse relationship between them, with one gaining power when the other loses it.

Soon two babies are born. The first comes out fully formed, and with a hairy coat of reddish hair, and he is called Eisov, which means “made.” His brother comes out holding onto the heel of his twin, and he earns the name Yaakov, which alludes to the heel he was pulling out in his attempt to get out first.

The twins as kids are pretty similar as babies (you know how it is with babies, they all look and act the same! They cry, dirty their diapers, and eat!) But when they get older, it becomes painfully obvious that these fellas couldn’t be farther apart. One spends his time learning in the tents, and one goes of hunting and robbing people in a way that would only make Ted Nugent proud. On the day they turn thirteen, Avraham dies right before his grandson, Eisov has his debut as All-Mesopotamian Bad Guy, as he spends his Bar Mitzvah committing all three of the Big Three sins, Adultery, Idolatry, and Homicide.

Arriving home from a day of high crimes, Eisov is famished and finds Yaakov cooking a lentil dish for his fathers (mourners are supposed to eat round things to remember that life is a cycle, and although they are in a down right now, things will turn up again). Eisov sells his birthright to his brother for a bowl of beans that was poured into his mouth and some bread, thus showing that he has zero appreciation for the finer things in life such as a fork and spirituality (the birthright is primarily a spiritual function as it designated who was supposed to serve in the Temple).

Then there is a famine in the Land of Israel and Yitzchak and his wife must go to Gerar to live amongst the Pilishtim, where food is abundant. Using a trick he learned from his father, Yitzchak tells his wife Rivka to tell everyone that she is his sister, to avoid getting killed by someone trying to steal his wife. When Avimelech, the King of Gerar finds out that they are actually married, he scolds Yitzchak, saying that one of the nation (himself) almost took Rivka as a wife, and then asks them to leave town. They pack up and move to the neighboring valley, where they successfully dig up some wells that Avraham’s servants dug when Avraham was there. There are a number of fights between the local servants and Yitzchak’s servants over the wells, until finally they come to an agreement regarding one of the wells on which they made a treaty, and it was named Be’er Sheva.

Yitzchak has enormous agricultural success producing 100 times the amount his fields were assessed to produce, and eventually realizing that Yitzchak obviously has G-d on his side, comes and makes a treaty with Yitzchak.

There has been a longstanding difference between Yitzchak and his wife, Rivka. Yitzchak displays more affection toward Eisov, hoping that the extra love showered on him will turn him around, while Rivka knows that Eisov is a no-goodnik, whose not coming back so fast and she loves Yaakov more. As Yitzchak is getting older, he decides that he must bless his children before he dies. Yitzchak decides that he should give the bulk of the blessings to Eisov hoping that success will breed success. But Rivka seeing her son with the deeper understanding that women possess, understands that Eisov will take the powers and use them for the other sides and she sets up a plan to circumvent the situation in a way that Yaakov will get the blessings. (It is interesting to note that both Avraham and his son Yitzchak had a son who was wicked, and each times their wives were the ones who realized how harmful they were, and took the necessary steps to ensure that the good children got whatever they needed.)

Yitzchak calls Eisov and tells him to bring him a good meal so that he can bless him out of appreciation. Rivka sees the opportunity and tells Yaakov to bring her two young kids (the goat kind) and she makes them into a dish she knows her husband loves. She then puts some of the goat skins on Yaakov’s smooth hands and neck so that they should feel like Eisov’s hairy ones. Yaakov brings the food into his father who asks him who he is. Yaakov, understanding the importance of his getting these blessing, needs to twist the truth a bit, and claims to be Eisov. His father unsure beckons him close to feel him, and feeling the skins thinks it is Eisov, and announces “The hands are the hands of Eisov, but the voice is the voice of Yaakov!” (This hints to the powers of the respective nations. Edom the progeny of Eisov, has their power in their hands, their physical strength, while the Jewish people, the offspring of Yaakov, has their power in their mouths, through prayer and Torah study!) Yitzchak then continues to give Yaakov all the blessings.

Soon after Eisov comes to his father with the meal he prepared for him, but when he arrives it becomes immediately clear that he has been tricked and that the blessing have already been given away. Eisov cries to his father, “have you left me at least one blessing?” Yitzchak tells him that he really gave all the good blessings to Yaakov, but he gives one blessing to Eisov, that his land should be fertile, that he shall live by his sword, and that although he will serve his brother, when his brother does the wrong things, Eisov will throw off his yoke, and dominate his brother.

Eisov furious that his brother stole his blessings begins to plan for the day his father will die so that he can kill his brother. Rivka realizing the danger facing her favored son, sends him off to the land she came from to get away from his murderous brother, and to get married with someone from her family. The parsha ends by telling us hoe Eisov seeing how much his parents dislike the local Canaanite women, marries himself a non-Canaanite woman, the daughter of Yishmael. Of course he keeps the Canaanite women, marrying a different wife was just a PR ploy to get parental approval.

Quote of the Week: Valor lies just halfway between rashness and cowardice. Miguel de Cervantes

Random Fact of the Week: The largest private sector employer in Africa is Coca Cola!

Funny Line of the week: I went into a clothes store and a lady came up to me and said, “If you need anything, I’m Jill”. I’ve never met anyone with a conditional identity before.

Have a Splendid Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham


Earthquake Easing Solutions Illustrated (EESI for short)

Figure 2: Lead-Rubber Bearing

To get a basic idea of how base isolation works, first the figure to the left. This shows an earthquake acting on both a base isolated building and a conventional, fixed-base, building. As a result of an earthquake, the ground beneath each building begins to move. In Figure 3, it is shown moving to the left. Each building responds with movement which tends toward the right. We say that the building undergoes displacement towards the right. The building’s displacement in the direction opposite the ground motion is actually due to inertia. The inertial forces acting on a building are the most important of all those generated during an earthquake.

It is important to know that the inertial forces which the building undergoes are proportional to the building’s acceleration during ground motion. It is also important to realize that buildings don’t actually shift in only one direction. Because of the complex nature of earthquake ground motion, the building actually tends to vibrate back and forth in varying directions. So, the figure is really a kind of “snapshot” of the building at only one particular point of its earthquake response.

Deformation and Damages

Figure 3: Base-Isolated, Fixed-Base Buildings

In addition to displacing toward the right, the un-isolated building is also shown to be changing its shape-from a rectangle to a parallelogram. We say that the building is deforming. The primary cause of earthquake damage to buildings is the deformation which the building undergoes as a result of the inertial forces acting upon it.

The different types of damage which buildings can suffer are quite varied and depend upon a large number of complicated factors. But to take one simple example, one can easily imagine what happens to two pieces of wood joined at a right angle by a few nails, when the very heavy building containing them suddenly starts to move very quickly–the nails pull out and the connection fails.

Response of Base Isolated Building

By contrast, even though it too is displacing, the base-isolated building retains its original, rectangular shape. It is the lead-rubber bearings supporting the building that are deformed. The base-isolated building itself escapes the deformation and damage–which implies that the inertial forces acting on the base-isolated building have been reduced. Experiments and observations of base-isolated buildings in earthquakes have been shown to reduce building accelerations to as little as 1/4 of the acceleration of comparable fixed-base buildings, which each building undergoes as a percentage of gravity. As we noted above, inertial forces increase, and decrease, proportionally as acceleration increases or decreases.

Acceleration is decreased because the base isolation system lengthens a building’s period of vibration, the time it takes for the building to rock back and forth and then back again. And in general, structures with longer periods of vibration tend to reduce acceleration, while those with shorter periods tend to increase or amplify acceleration.

Finally, since they are highly elastic, the rubber isolation bearings don’t suffer any damage. But what about that lead plug in the middle of our example bearing? It experiences the same deformation as the rubber. However, it also generates heat as it does so. In other words, the lead plug reduces, or dissipates, the energy of motion–i.e., kinetic energy–by converting that energy into heat. And by reducing the energy entering the building, it helps to slow and eventually stop the building’s vibrations sooner than would otherwise be the case–in other words, it damps the building’s vibrations. (Damping is the fundamental property of all vibrating bodies which tends to absorb the body’s energy of motion, and thus reduce the amplitude of vibrations until the body’s motion eventually ceases.

A Second Type of Base Isolation: Spherical Sliding Isolation Systems

Figure 4: Spherical Sliding Isolation Bearing

As we said earlier, lead-rubber bearings are just one of a number of different types of base isolation bearings which have now been developed. Spherical Sliding Isolation Systems are another type of base isolation. The building is supported by bearing pads that have a curved surface and low friction. During an earthquake, the building is free to slide on the bearings. Since the bearings have a curved surface, the building slides both horizontally and vertically (See Figure 4.) The force needed to move the building upwards limits the horizontal or lateral forces which would otherwise cause building deformations. Also, by adjusting the radius of the bearing’s curved surface, this property can be used to design bearings that also lengthen the building’s period of vibration.

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