Friday, April 28, 2006

Juicy one

Today’s Table Talk theme is speech.

Speech is central to the human experience and to the Torah. The six days of creation are accomplished via Divine speech. Adam and Eve’s speech is what sets them apart and what gets them into trouble. Similarly Moses, who had a speech impediment and whose untoward words brought his own demise. Some Biblical characters are unusually quiet, such as Noah and Isaac.

One type of speech is particularly destructive: lashon hara - negative talk about others. The simplest definition of lashon hara is anything that might embarrass the person you are talking about. Judaism considers it extremely destructive to speak about other people this way, even if you’re joking. It follows that we shouldn’t ask people questions that might lead them to speak lashon hara inadvertently. In the end, three people get hurt: the speaker, the listener and the subject.

Here are some examples – try reading these at your dinner table and ask the others if they think these are lashon hara or not.

“You should have seen the ridiculous thing that Al did at the office today.”
“You know, my 8-year-old Joey still wets his pants.”
“Hey there, Bill. How’s my favorite niece doing in school these days?”
“Don’t mind my husband, he always makes dumb jokes.”
“Sorry we’re late, Brian lost his wallet and it was in his pocket the entire time!”
“Did you hear that the Smiths are getting a divorce? I hear that they had a real nasty fight.”
“Gosh, don’t shop there – it’s a rip-off. Shop over here.”
“I’m thinking of hiring Irene to work for me. Can you tell me about her work habits when she worked for you?”

One of the above statements is “kosher” - can you guess which one?

(after you guess, scroll down to see the answer)

The answer is: the last one. When lashon hara is sought or related for a constructive purpose, it is OK, as long as the speaker only relates what they know first-hand.

A question to ask at your table: Did you hear someone speaking lashon hara this week (don't tell me who!)? What could you have done do to avoid hearing it?

Shabbat Shalom.

PS - this film is so well done and disturbing I feel everyone should view it: Pallywood

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Til the crunchy end

A friendly person asked me yesterday, "How was your Passover?"

I answered, "It was and still is great, thanks!"

For many people, the holiday began and ended last Wednesday night.

But it's actually an 8-day holiday and the R. Eliyahu of Vilna taught that there is a special benefit from eating a little matza every day all the way to the end. Matza can be nutritious, but it doesn't satisfy like leavened bread. It is good for us to spend a week every year relating to food in this way.

The image below is not an endorsement (!) but a conversation-starter. What's your reaction?

Happy Passover, til the crunchy end.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Future is Now

It was the year 2020 and everyone was finally equal.

The Microsoft iPod (renamed after the merger) had reached the final stage of its evolution, and was now worn on the wrist of 95 out of 100 Americans from age 2 to 102, with built-in instant messaging and Blue Tooth II technology worn in the ear and in Microsoft iGlasses (which of course met Federal Law for mandatory UV protection). In short, the MS iPod had become as essential to life as a pair of shoes. Even more so, because Microsoft had increased the pace of development to the point that they were bringing out a new feature every single day. We woke with excited anticipation of what today’s upgrade would be, and the entire world tuned in to their podcast at precisely noon Pacific time to hear the report. If it was a software upgrade, it could be downloaded within the hour, if hardware, one had only to stop at the nearest iService station to make the exchange.

We used our iPods for everything – entertainment, shopping, voting, studying, raising children, and so on. It was clear to most of us that technology had finally fulfilled the promise of liberation of the masses, and already by 2015 Rev Billy Gates III had founded the First iPod Church, where worldwide daily virtual attendance peaked at 1.6 billion in 2020. The Church’s motto was, “Touch your wrist and love God”.

But there was a group of spoilers who had rejected the blessings of this salvation. One wondered how they got along, with cell phones? It was hard to imagine. Why not carrier pigeons? I knew some of these people. Somehow, they became very good at predicting natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes and annoyed a lot of people. Then they started talking about leaving en masse to outer space, to who knows where? We thought they were completely nuts. Who would have guessed that they would succeed? Just before they left, they started amassing iPods – both old and new – and bragging that they would be holding a public burning of our Salvation Technology, which would be followed, they claimed, by their invisible God (why would you want an invisible god when you can wear one on your wrist? I still don’t understand) taking them out of our beautiful country to the wilderness of space.

I don’t know why nobody tried to stop them. Those mounds of iPods were so big, and our hearts were breaking to see the sacrilege, but no one had the guts to try to stop them, maybe because they seemed so confident.


On the Shabbat before Passover, the Israelites gathered sheep – worshipped by Egyptians – to slaughter a few days later. The Jews finally recognized the emptiness of material gods and killing the Egyptian god was a sign of spiritual maturity. This is a deeper meaning of Shabbat HaGadol – the Sabbath of the Mature. The Jewish People had finally reached adolescence.

A question for your table: There are many ideas and “gods” that enslave people today, all of them materialistic (can you name 3?). When we discard bread and eat matza, what does this annual ritual teach us about life?

Time is running out - go get your matza and get rid of that chametz! (If you don't yet have a seder to attend, or if you would like to host someone who needs a seder to attend, please email me.)

Shabbat Shalom.