Friday, November 28, 2008

Your Brother’s Blood

In memory of Rabbi Gabriel and Rivka Holtzberg and all the other victims.

Please print this message and read/share at your Friday night dinner table.

November 27th, 2008 (Ynet News): The two-year-old son of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka is asking about the whereabouts of his parents, his nanny told Ynet. The nanny, Sandra Samuel, is a local who had been living with the family. She and the toddler are currently staying in the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai. “The baby is okay, but I have no idea about the couple. Nobody told us anything,” she said. “In the evening his mother always puts him to sleep and now he doesn’t understand what’s going on,” she added.

I’m very sad. I did not know the Hotlzbergs, yet I knew them intimately.

I am them. Like the Holtzbergs, my wife and I, too, left our comfort zone to go to the high tech capital on the West Coast, in order to do a little Jewish outreach.

OK, so they chose Mumbai and we chose Silicon Valley, but believe me I can relate to them. I know many Chabad emissaries (several of whom knew the Holtzbergs) and they are as a rule the most giving, loving, selfless and hardworking people you will ever meet. When they move to a community, they are committed forever to that community (unlike yours, truly, who relocated to Baltimore). Contrary to popular myth, they don’t enjoy long-term support from some golden Chabad bankroll. They quickly have to support themselves. I know several who moonlight in other jobs just to pay the bills. Abandoning their mission due to hardship is not an option, not because they took an oath but because they care.

Now, my style of teaching Judaism is slightly different than some Chabad rabbis. Some will tell you, “Just put on the tefillin, it’s good for you, even if you don’t understand it, it’s a mitzvah.”

I will tell you, “You want to learn about tefillin? So come and learn. Whether or not you put it on is your business.”

You may prefer one style over the other. Different strokes for different folks.

But make no mistake: the terrorists did not choose the Chabad House of Mumbai randomly. It was a premeditated attack on Mumbai’s most visibly Jewish target. Unlike all the other victims of this tragedy, the Holtzbergs and their guests were not killed because they represented international business or because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were killed because they were Jews.

This week’s question for your table is: what does that simple fact mean to you?

In other words, do you agree with this news analysis:

For a change, I’m going to put on my Chasidic hat and ask you outright to do a mitzvah, even if you haven’t learned about it.

Please, tonight, 18 minutes before sunset, light Shabbat candles. If you light them anyway and know someone who doesn’t, phone them up and encourage them to – just this one time.

In memory of those who lost their lives, in honor of those who need healing, and in solidarity with the frontline soldiers of Chabad worldwide.

Time to light Nov 28:
Los Angeles: 4:26
New York: 4:12
San Francisco: 4:34
Seattle: 4:03

Other cities – try one of these sites:

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, November 21, 2008


Dedicated to the memory of Miriam bas Simcha (Rudick), who passed away last week. She was an extraordinarily loyal wife and mother who taught her children the art of lovingkindness.
(To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.)

Please print this page for your dinner table....

A story, a question, an enigma and a question.

The story – remember the sukka rain cover that I blogged about a few weeks ago? (here’s a photo)

So last weekend, a fairly strong (but not unusual) wind blew off one of the plastic roof panels. It looked to me that this specific panel had been improperly secured in the first place.

When I phoned the carpenter on Sunday to tell him what happened, the conversation went something like this:

“Hi Mike (not his real name)? How are you?”

“Fine Mr. Seinfeld, what can I do for you?”

“Well, unfortunately, one of the roof panels came off.”

“How did this happen?”

“Well, I think I know exactly how it happened, but I want you to come look at it. I think it was the wind.”

“The wind?! Then it’s not my fault! I cannot be responsible for wind! You expect if a tree falls on your roof that I will be responsible for it? This is not my fault!”

“Mike, it wasn’t a hurricane. It was a regular wind. Are you saying that you didn’t build the roof strong enough to stand in a regular wind?”

“Of course I did. There’s no way a regular wind could have blown off one of those panels. They had plenty of screws. If one blew off, it’s not my fault!”

“Mike, I think that the way this panel was attached was the problem, but I want you to come look at it. Will you please come look at it?”

This leads to my first question: We all have our bad moments, our moments of anger or frustration – what creates the tipping point?

+ + + +

The Enigma – A married guy calls to ask how to deal with his anger problem (actually, this happened several times recently; is it a trend?)

After we discussed the roots of anger and certain strategies, I told him the midrash about Moses.

In the Torah, Moses is described as both the “greatest” person who ever lived and the “most humble.” Yet the midrash describes him differently, as having an angry nature, burning with an intense and ugly wrath.

How do these two versions of Moses fit together?

My answer is that greatness is not defined by your natural abilities. It is in fact defined by your natural shortcomings, and what you do in this very short lifetime to transcend them.

In other words, Moses wasn't great in spite of his anger. He was great because of his anger. Conquering his anger was the key to his personal shleimus (spiritual completion). His anger was a gift.

Which leads to my second question – since I’m confident that only good people read this blog, I’m wondering if there are any wanna-be great ones out there? If so, would you mind sharing your secret?

Shabbat Shalom.

Some anger vids 4 U...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Goes Around

In honor of the birthday this week (Hebrew) of Harmon Shragge, one of the most giving people I know.

There’s a story in the Talmud about Rabbi Akiva’s encounter with Roman governor Tarnus Rufus. The latter asks the rabbi, “If your God loves the poor, why doesn’t he help them? If you believe that God made them that way, then giving them money is going against God’s will!”

Question for your table: What would you guess was Rabbi Akiva’s reply?

Shabbat Shalom

PS – your movie of the week is about that uplifting topic of the national debt: IOUSA
(please don’t shoot the messenger!)

And if you missed last week’s most amazing film, here's an encore:

Friday, November 07, 2008

B + W

If you don’t live in NY, you may have missed this poster campaign on the eve of the election.


Real change, deep change, requires departing from prejudices, stereotypes and biases of the past. Usually these are rooted in people’s childhood, so they are very hard to change.

Obama’s first move as Pres-Elect was interesting... He offered the real seat of power (Chief of Staff) to a Hebrew-speaking, shul-going Chicago Jew. Don’t believe it? Look up Rahm Emanuel on Wikipedia.

Someone in China must have cursed us a few years ago....the are sure interesting times.

Question for your table: If you knew that your family and friends would support you unconditionally and lovingly, what radical change(s) would you make in your life?

Shabbat Shalom