Friday, May 11, 2007

Life-or-Death Talk

This Table Talk is dedicated to the memory of Shulamis bas Mesha Hershel and Daniel Reuven ben Shmuel, both of whom were laid to rest this week. To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

A Life-or-Death Dilemma:

Two people are traveling in the desert. One of them has a canteen with just enough water to survive the trek. Oy gavalt! Should he keep it for himself, give it to his friend, or share it? (Yes, assume that they are not going to find any way out of this ordeal.)

While you’re thinking, and gathering wisdom from around your table, I’ll share with you why I chose this Talmudic dilemma.

This was a heavy week. In addition to my regular teaching, writing and family duties, fielding calls and emails from around the country, organizing events, fundraising, staff management, curriculum development and daily meditation, I had two funerals this week, one as officiating rabbi and another as non-officiating rabbi. Normally the funerals are the province of the pulpit rabbis, but not everyone has a relationship with a pulpit rabbi so sometimes we free-lancers get the call. It’s a mitzvah and an honor; moreover, we have a Talmudic principle that “in a place where are no men, be a man” - meaning, you’re not obligated to drop a mitzvah in order to do another mitzvah. However, a “hasidic” person might do so if you are the only one who can do it.

But Baltimore has no shortage of rabbis. When I get such a call, I have to decide: am I really needed for this extra-curricular non-compensated mitzvah, or is it going to over-fill my cup?

In other words, I had to decide: Do I have enough water in my canteen to share?

That takes us back to the story. What did you decide?

In the Talmud’s version of this dilemma, Rabbi Potiri opines that you should share the water, because it’s better that neither of you should live to witness the other’s demise. But Rabbi Akiva responded that the mitzvah of helping others is so that they should “live with you” - meaning your own life comes first.

This is the old airplane rule of “secure your own mask before that of your child.” Successful parents make sure that they have their own heads on straight before trying to fix their kids. Make sure your basic emotional and physical needs are taken care of, and you will then be equipped to help others. (But make sure you do take that next step!)

Shabbat Shalom.

Upcoming speaking schedule:

May 20 – New York: “Ghosts, Demons and Necromancy” - Hineni Center,
June 12 – Mill Valley: “Why Do Bad Things Really Happen?”
June 13 – San Francisco: “Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism: Hidden Connections”
June 15-16 – San Francisco: Shabbat Scholar-in-Residence
Late June – Philadelphia (TBA)

(For details, send an email)

Yiddish of the week:
Gavaltig — wonderful
Oy gavalt — how wonderful (sarcastic)

Yiddish review - how many do you know?
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!
mensch — a decent person
rachmanos — mercy
neshoma (neh-SHOH-ma) — soul
minig — custom, as in, "Why do you do that?" "It's my minig!"

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