Friday, May 04, 2007

Mission Talk

This week’s Table Talk is dedicated to Yiddel ben Fruma for a speedy recovery.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, please send an email.

A little news

Last week Vladimir Putin slung mud at those Russians who are searching for a “national idea”. He admitted that “this is not a useless or uninteresting occupation, but we could engage in it forever. Let's not start debates on it today.”

Steven R. Covey’s must-read for anyone with a family, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, suggests that every family should have a mission statement.

How do you do this? Well, you actually sit around the table and talk to each other and come up with one. And then you meet again and revise it. And keep revising it.

After Putin’s address last week, I was wondering if Covey should write, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Countries. America has a mission statement. Like it or not, most Americans if you ask them will say something about freedom, democracy, prosperity. The Soviet Union had a mission statement. Nazi Germany (may it be forgotten) had a mission statement. Effective people and groups of people set goals.

Question for your table: What’s your mission statement? What’s our mission statement?

A personal story

Yoseph, our “Baltimore baby” had his first haircut recently. We waited until his third birthday. This is a Hasidic custom that for some reason we observed. We are not Hasidic, but somehow the custom resonates with us.

Three years old is about the age a child is able to comprehend the most basic elements of learning, namely the alphabet. So we took Yoseph to a couple local rabbis to give him a blessing and cut off a lock of his hair, then back home gave him his first haircut and cookies cut in the shape of Hebrew letters, so that his first experience of learning should be sweet. Then he got the prize of prizes, a visit to the big-boy’s school, the mysterious “cheder” where his big brother goes every day.

Here are a few photos of the excitement.




Why three years?

There is an interesting mitzvah in the Torah: When you plant a tree, refrain from enjoying its fruit for three years. The mystics explain that this mitzvah creates the proper spiritual relationship to the fruit. If you start eating the fruit right away, you are a little over-eager. Practice self-discipline by delaying that enjoyment, and your enjoyment will become transcendent.

The Hasidic minig of waiting for three years to cut a child’s hair alludes to the tree. The “fruit” of a person is their wisdom and good deeds, and these begin to be meaningful to a child around three years. The haircut creates a rite of passage that helps the child feel the importance of his new abilities in these areas.

In every culture, rituals enhance the process of adolescence. Growing up can be hard – there are so many expectations and responsibilities. Rituals seem to help the transitions. We did the haircut because we feel that it helped our son form an internal sense of personal and collective mission.

Question for your table: What have been the most and least meaningful life-rituals of your life?

Shabbat Shalom.

PS – speaking of missions, JSL (the organization that supports this Table Talk) has been recently approved by two funding conduits. One is called Mission Fish and allows sellers on to direct a portion of their proceeds to support our non-profit work. The other is the Jewish Federation of San Francisco, which has approved us for designated funding. If you sell on ebay or give to the JFSF, please keep us in mind.

Shabbat Shalom.

My upcoming speaking schedule:
May 20 – New York and New Jersey => please note corrected date
June 12-14 – San Francisco area classes
June 15-16 – Shabbat Scholar-in-Residence, San Francisco
Late June – Philadelphia (TBA)

(For details, send an email.)

Yiddish of the week:
minig — custom, as in, “Is it your minig to sit or stand for kiddish?”

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

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