Friday, April 13, 2007


This week’s Table Talk is dedicated to Yiddel ben Fruma for a speedy recovery.

Question for your table: What is Vonnegut’s most “Jewish” story?

Slaughterhouse 5, which deplores the horrors of war?
Cat’s Cradle, a satire about tikkun-olam?
Breakfast of Champions which challenges the reader’s perception of reality?

I vote for the short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, which begins, “It was the year 2081 and finally everyone was equal.” (I’m quoting from memory.)

Of course, the way that people are equal is that anyone above mediocre in any way is forced to wear a “handicap” - strong people wear weights, smart people wear headphones that made thought-disrupting noises every minute, beautiful people wear ugly masks. All these handicaps are enforced by the Handicapper General, Diana Moon-Glompers.

Here’s the entire short story online (it’s a quick read):

So how do we steer our world away from Vonnegutian horrors like Handicapper Generals and Suicide Parlors?

It seems to me that the first step is to cultivate the ability to say “I don’t know”, “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry”. Think of how many messy situations “I don’t know” and “I was wrong” would have saved us from, both on a personal and a macro-scale. Even an occasional “I’m sorry” can work wonders.

In Plato’s Republic the ideal leader is a Philosopher King who is eminently qualified due to his erudition.

In a Jewish utopia, the wise leader’s ability to model “I don’t know”, “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry” must come before the erudition. Erudition without these qualities will not endure.

If you want to become truly great in your relationships - to be a real mensch - here’s a secret:

Tonight, lock yourself in the bathroom and practice saying again and again to the mirror: “I was wrong!” “I’m wrong!” “I’m sorry.” Five minutes a day until you get good at it.

In memory of the critical-thinking Vonnegut who opened many minds, here’s a poem of his that I memorized the first time I read it:

We do, doodly do, doodly do
What me must, muddily must, muddily must
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do
Til we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust.

Shabbat Shalom

My upcoming speaking schedule (For details, send an email.):
April 20-21 – Shabbat in Los Angeles with Rebbetzin Jungreis
May 4-5 – Shabbat in San Francisco POSTPONED UNTIL JUNE
May 6-7 – various San Francisco locations
May 14 – New York and New Jersey
June 12 – San Francisco

Yiddish of the week:
mensch — a decent person

Yiddish review
anee — poor person
koptsen — panhandler
ballaboss — homeowner; layman
nu — various meanings (see archives)
mishpocha — family
mameh — mother
tateh — father
mazal – (MAH-z’l) luck or fortune, as in, “It was good mazal that....”
beshert – (b’shairt) - meant to be, as in “It was beshert that...”
mine eltern – my parents
mine lair-er – my teacher
hamantashen – Haman-pockets
zeigezunt – all the best (said upon parting)
kesher - connection
Ikh volt veln a kave, zayt azoy gut. - I'd like a coffee, please.
...kave mit shmant. – ...a coffee with cream.
...kave mit milkh. – ...a coffee with milk.
...kave mit tsuker. - ...a coffee with sugar.
Di Fir Kashes - The Four Questions
Oy vey! - Good grief!

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