Friday, December 26, 2008

Hannuka for the Rest of Us

Guess what? I just made my 4th foray into the youtube world. Please check it out here (and leave a rating!).

In case you are not able to view the vid, here’s a rough transcript:

Take a look at this picture:
Is this what Hannuka has become?

How do you have a Hannuka that is more in tune with the ancient, pre-Xmas wisdom of the holiday?

The secret is on the last night, the eighth night.

This year, on Sunday night, get yourself a menorah and those eight candles lit.

While they are burning in the darkness of the night, take a few minutes to meditate on the candles.

What the 8 candles represent is that totally spiritual person that is inside of you trying to get out.

On Sunday night, meditate on those candles and find that person inside of you who wants to have a totally meaningful life. That person inside of you who wants to change the world.

Then you can enter 2009 inspired with the simplicity and joy of a child, and the wisdom of the ancients.

Have a Happy Hannuka!

and Shabbat Shalom.

PS – here is an inspiring article on Hannuka in a concentration camp.
- here are some jazzy new Hannuka songs.
- feeling the winter blues? Here’s Tom Lehrer to bring you some Hannuka sunshine:

Tis the season.... If you enjoy this weekly message, please support it. For as little 25¢ a week, you can become a partner in our educational mission. Make your tax-deductible contribution to the address below or go online to the website below and click on the “donate” button.

Jewish Spiritual Literacy, Inc.
3700 Menlo Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215-3620
A 501(c)3 organization.

Friday, December 19, 2008


In memory of Yeudel ben Avraham, z'l, on his first yahrzeit. “He was a quiet person but he did not live his life in a quiet way.”
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

+ + + national Hannuka class via conference call – see below for details + + +

3 questions for your table, followed by some Hannuka fun.

I don’t know about you, but I’m flabbergasted.

Say what you want about human nature. There are crooks out there. But this is staggering.

Isn’t it?

No, it’s not surprising that he tried to pull of the biggest heist in history. It’s not even surprising that he ripped off friends and family, and wonderful charitable organizations (although it is extremely upsetting.)

That’s the kind of thing they make movies about.

What is staggering is that he thought he could get away with it.

Or did he?

Question 1 for your table – Why do you think Madoff did it?

Question 2 - Did you ever know someone who turned out to be not at all how they portrayed themselves?

Question 3 – Did you ever know someone who turned out much better than you had thought they were?

+ + + +

You probably heard by now that Hannuka starts Sunday night.

My class, “The Jewish Xmas?” is available for a free streaming or download at – the goal is to make Hannuka an adult holiday again. Please let me know what you think!

There will be a phone-in class Sunday night on “The Hannuka Secret to Happiness”.
If there is sufficient demand, we can run a separate session for each coast; otherwise, it will be 9:00 Eastern / 6 pm Western.

Email me if you’d like to join.

This animated menorah is...well, for kids.
This animated shorrer is...well.... (it’s Madoff in an interview from the past talking about the problem of too much regulation)

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, December 12, 2008

Split Personality

This week: 3 questions.

Do you ever feel like you have a split personality?

Let’s say you have a sweet tooth. OK, you probably don’t have one, but maybe you know someone who does. This person gets up every morning and declares, “Today I’m not going to eat those sweets! I’m going to stick to my healthy diet!”

And they go to bed each night feeling, “I blew it again! How could I have let myself do that?”

There is a secret to our dual nature.

There were originally 12 tribes in Israel.

Each tribe was like a unique wavelength of color that combine to make the rainbow.

Most Jews today are “Jews” - i.e., from Judah, which means appreciation.

All the tribes together - the full spectrum - is called both “Jacob” (as in children of Jacob) and “Israel” (as in children of Israel).

“Jacob” is the person who is always devising plans, figuring out how to be successful in life. Jacob is often reacting to other people and situations.

“Israel” is the person who is struggling with his or her own self, struggling to master one’s own self-destructive tendencies.

First question for your table
: As an appreciative person, are you more of a “Jacob” or more of an “Israel”?

+ + +

This morning, someone sent me a list of “isn’t it funny” questions. Here are three:

Isn't it funny that $10 seems like a lot when we give tzedaka, but so little when we go shopping?

Isn't it funny how one hour seems so long in shul, and so short when we watch a ball game?

Isn't it funny how readily we forward email jokes and hoaxes, but when we receive something about Judaism or spirituality, we don't
re-send them to anyone?

Second question - a thought-experiment: Try reading the questions first as a “Jacob” then as an “Israel”.

+ + +


Are you tired of all the end-of-the-year fundraising pitches? Donate now, get your tax deduction (as if any of us need one this year!)

Last year at this time, I devoted an entire week’s Table Talk to ask you to support the organization (JSL) that makes Table Talk possible. I suggested 25¢/week as a reasonable level, and many people responded much more generously than that.

This year, I thought it would be interesting for you to have something other than an old-fashioned plea. How about a Chinese auction? But what can I auction that would be meaningful to Table Talk readers? I know, how about a class on Happiness? But would it work? Would people want to bid on happiness? Last week, if you read the blog, I challenged you to do just that – bid on happiness. If you do so, do so with a happy spirit, that you are really showing how much you value getting this email. If you read it from time to time, I assume you value it. Is it worth two-bits a week?

In addition to spending my Friday morning conjuring up “great”, “thought-provoking” “ really nice”, “enjoyable”, “beautiful and touching” stories and questions [actual reader comments] for your spiritual nourishment, I spend the rest of the week bringing Art-of-Amazement type of Judaism to individuals and groups around the country.

Some pay their way and others – notably college students – cannot. We also train teachers both live and via our website,, how to teach the Art-of-Amazement style Judaism. AND we give away (or sell at a loss) thousands of books every year. You should see the kind of feedback we’re getting from readers! We are enabling individuals of all ages to discover a Judaism that works, and helping teachers and parents to transmit a Judaism that works.

By reading this weekly blog, you are part of a national effort to uncover and promote this kind of engaging, down-to-earth, spiritual Judaism.

To close out 2008, I would like to ask you to become my partner in this national effort for 25¢ per week.

To make it fun, here’s the question: How much is happiness worth to you? The highest 20 bids will be invited to a new class (via conference call): “Hannuka and the Secret of the Darkness”.

Every pledge will be thanked with a recording of last year’s Hannuka class: “Hannuka and the Secret of the 36”.

Third question of the week: Is the weekly thought-provoking Table Talk worth a quarter to you?

If so, please use the info below to send in your 2-bits. But if you want, I’ll offer you something on top of partnership just to sweeten the relationship. 25¢ a week comes to 13 bucks a year. If you are willing to double that – 50¢ a week or $26 for the year, I’ll send you a thank you gift that I know you’re going to enjoy. I’ll send you an audio CD of a new class that premiered last August: A Jewish View of the Hinduism and Buddhism. The audience feedback was tremendous.

Please send your tax-deductible donation to:

Jewish Spiritual Literacy, Inc.
3700 Menlo Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215-3620
A 501(c)3 organization.

or via Paypal:

Donated frequent-flyer miles are also a huge help.

If there is an honoree or dedication, please let me know. All gifts will be gratefully acknowledged.

Finally - here’s a short movie that made me smile and I’ll bet it will do the same for you.

Shabbat Shalom

Click here to help rebuild the Chabad House of Mumbai

Other Chabad centers in India are in dire need – email me for details how you can help them

Speaking schedule:

December 25 – Baltimore (Etz Chaim) - “A Spiritual Interpretation of the Economic Crisis”

Friday, December 05, 2008

Happy Dreams

Dedicated to the memory of all the Mumbai victims.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

Please print this message for your Friday night dinner table.

Happy Dreams

What’s the secret to happiness?

Would you like me to tell you?

I mean the real secret, not some paltry aphorism.

And not some rabbi’s opinion.

The real, bona fide secret.

If you’re interested, how interested are you?

We show our interest in things by assigning them value.

How much would you be willing to pay for the real secret of happiness?

Would you be willing to pay $1? (I hope so!)

How about $100? (Probably, right?)

How about $1,000? (“Wait a minute, that’s real money!”)

What if we throw in a money-back guarantee – if you try the secret and it doesn’t work, you lose nothing. But if works, you have to pay. How much would you be willing to spend?

We’re talking real happiness here, the real McCoy.

The happiness itself is free, but the secret is going to cost you. Before I tell it to you, I want to know how much you value it. Really.

If you are interested in learning the secret, send me your bid by December 19, to secret (at)

The 20 highest bidders will be invited to join an invitation-only conference-call seminar on the first night of Hannuka: “Hannuka and the Secret of the Darkness”.

All bids that meet the reserve will receive a recording of last year’s Hannuka class: “Hannuka and the Secret of the 36”.

(PS – This is a silent Chinese auction - we'll let you know if you are outbid. We’re talking about a charitable, tax-deductible donation to a worthy educational cause).

You say you value happiness – put your money where your mouth is.

In the meantime, here’s a thought and a question for your table:

We all hope for happier times. Some of us even dream of happier times. What is your happiest dream?

Shabbat Shalom

To help rebuild the Chabad House of Mumbai:

Someone sent me this inspiring post-Mumbai vid:

Speaking schedule:
December 25 – Baltimore (Etz Chaim) - “A Spiritual Interpretation of the Meltdown”
January 6-8 - Los Angeles – details TBA