Friday, January 30, 2009

The Case of the Mezuza


Just had to share that with you!

Here's today's story....

Rabbi Weiner was stopped in the hallway the large apartment complex by a Gentile woman. "Rabbi, could you please come up to my apartment to check the mezuzah?"

Thinking he'd heard incorrectly, he asked the woman to repeat her request.

"I know you think it's strange, considering I'm not Jewish. But my Jewish friends told me if you put one of those mezuzahs on the doorpost, nothing bad can happen to you. They also told me it has to be checked by a rabbi twice in seven years."

Rabbi Weiner unscrewed the mezuzah case, took it off the wall, and looked inside, but there was no parchment. "Uh, was there something in here when you bought it?"

"Yes, there was. But I couldn't read the instructions, so I threw them away."

(Excerpted with permission from Major Impact! - 285 Short Stories with an Immediate Message from Targum Press)

Some mezuzah trivia for your table...
What’s written on the parchment inside a mezuzah?
On which doorway(s) of the house are mezuzahs affixed?
When you sell your house, what about the mezuzahs - part of the house or personal property?

Shabbat Shalom

PS – if you’d like my free 1-page sheet on mezuzahs, send an email.

I am launching a new email list for married men. Let me know if you'd like to join.

Friday, January 23, 2009

For Whom the Bell Plays

This week: a provocative story and a question for your table.

(as always, try printing and sharing at the dinner table)

The Story:

Have you ever stopped to listen to a street musician? Have you ever not stopped? How do you decide when to stop, and for how long?

It was a cold January day in Washington. Typical Friday morning rush hour.

A good-looking man in jeans and baseball cap emerged from the metro at L’Enfant Plaza and opened his violin case near a trash can.

He threw in a few dollars from his own pocket, then began to play.

For the next 43 minutes, he played six songs by Bach. During that time, 1,097 people passed by on their way to work.

Consultants, analysts, specialists....

Of those 1,097 passers-by, seven people stopped for at least a minute. 27 gave money (he earned $32.17). The other 1,070 people simply rushed by.

Only one of those who stopped recognized that she was face-to-face with Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. Typically, people are willing to pay $100 or more to hear him perform (and that’s for average seats).

He was playing his $4 million Stradivarius.

In the Washington Post’s story about this event, the journalist noticed that “every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”


Here is the Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story: “Pearls Before Breakfast”.

Question for your table – Would you have stopped on your way to work, or are you in “too much of a hurry”? Would you have even noticed?

Shabbat Shalom

Here is a bonus - Bell does Beethoven:

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Next Generation

In memory of Eidla bas Avraham Yonah, who lived to the age of 95, as sharp as she was growing up in Memphis. She was a role model for the idea that you're never too old to learn something new.

If you missed last week's post on the war in Gaza, see the "Here, Israel" link to the right - including how to "adopt" a soldier.

This week: a comment, a story, a story, and a question.

The comment:

I was in San Francisco this week and someone wanted to know: What is the Jewish view of the new leadership in Washington?

The question reminds me of a story, my first day teaching public school in rural Mississippi.

Fresh out of college on the West Coast, I'd never been to the South before. Some of my mostly-black students were suspicious of me for my whiteness as were some of my white neighbors (for my choosing to teach black students. (Most were just surprised that an outsider had taken interest in their little corner of the world.)

The students let me know that what they wanted most from me was to treat them "normal". What the white people wanted most from me was not to make waves. I never had any problems with anyone who met me, only those who saw me from afar, or heard about me.

For example, I once heard through the grapevine that some folks were talking about me because they saw me talking in a friendly way to a certain black person in the grocery store.

Similarly, once I had to call the father of one of my more challenging students in to school to discuss his son's behavior. His son, Toby, was rude to me and often refused to follow directions. The father was six-foot-two and spoke with a deep, slow voice. He came in wearing the dusty clothes of a lumberjack. had to take time off from his low-paying job, and this displeased him.

He spoke to me so deliberately it sounded like he was putting a comma between every word, "I, hear, you, are, too, hard, on, the, children."

It is no accident that Jewish people have been at the forefront of civil rights movements around the world. We should look at Obama's presidency as a great victory for Jewish values. Our vision of leadership is a meritocracy, period.

Or that's the way it's supposed to be at least.

Here's a mini Talmudic story you can tell at your dinner table:

On Yom Kippur, the High Priest used to make a giant break-the-fast feast. Everyone knew and believed that what he did in the Temple that day was on their behalf. So when he came out successfully, the crowd would cheer and escort him. Remember, the High Priesthood can only be held by a direct male descendant of Aaron, Moses's brother. No one else need bother apply.

One Yom Kippur, while being escorted by such a crowd, there was a sudden commotion through the crowd, and all of the people suddenly abandoned him to follow two scholars who had been seen passing down a side street. These were not just any two scholars - they were Shemayah and Abtalion, the greatest of the generation. And they were both descended from converts.

Question for your table - how do you interpret this story? What does it say about merit versus peerage?

(Question for children: How do you decide whom to be friends with? How do the other kids in your class decide?)

I was in record warm weather in San Francisco this week, to return to weather so cold it feels like we're headed for a record low. But things are supposed to warm up next week in Washington...

Shabbat Shalom

PS - sometimes we combine scholarship and royalty - have you heard of the royal rabbi from Swaziland? See also

Here he is telling his story:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Here, Israel

In honor of Marc S's birthday - Happy Birthday Marc!

4 ways to help, and one piece of table-talk quality trivia...

(as always, you are encouraged to print this blogand share it at the table)

1. Educate:

10 min film on history of conflict:
Short film on recent history:
Hamas charter:
- Hamas using UN ambulance to carry troops in battle:
- The Iran connection:
- Tom Friedman's take:

2. Empathize

- Li'el Hoshea ben Miriam - serious head injury;
- Neriya ben Rivka - serious head injury;
- Yitzchak ben Navah - moderate shoulder injury;
- Netanel ben Navah - moderate shrapnel wounds to a lower extremity;
- Maxim ben Olga - light lower extremity injury;
- Yisrael ben Ilana - light shrapnel injury to an ear;
- Yo'ad Ido ben Frieda Rivka - light shrapnel injuries;
- Idan ben Liora - light shrapnel injuries;
- Nadav ben Miriam - light shrapnel injuries;
- Raphael ben Nina
- Noam ben Elza (NOT Aliza as previously noted) - one leg amputated; doctors fighting to save the other;
- Dvir ben Leah and Tzviki Bar-Chai, seriously wounded on Sunday;
- Moshe ben Pnina Rose- soldier who is the only surviving child of a family who lost a son in the army a few years ago. He insisted on serving with his unit, even though he was exempted.
- Gilad ben Aviva has been in captivity in Gaza for over 900 days.

To "adopt" a soldier
- ie, receive an individual soldier's name to pray and/or do other good-karma acts on his or her behalf, send an email to "Office of Rabbi Kook, Rehovot" .

3. Chesed

If you know someone living in Israel, pick up the phone and call them. Assure them that you share their pain and understand what they're going through. Send e-mails of support to any Israelis you know. Let them know they are not alone!

* Yashar La’Chayal delivers basic needs, like warm socks, to soldiers, and to poor soldiers’ families.
* Yad Eliezer is sending thousands of gift packs to our soldiers in Gaza.
* Yad Ezra v'Shulamit is sending 20 tons of food to Israeli families being attacked by Hamas rockets.
* Lema'an Achai is helping over 1,000 children from cities under attack attend classes in safety and get a much-needed respite.
* Thank Israeli Soldiers delivers your personal letter of thanks and a care package of items soldiers need.
* Even more ideas from Jack Kalla:

And don’t forget about that lonely person in your neighborhood who would enjoy a Friday night dinner invitation, or even a phone call.

4. Defend
The best way to respond to media bias is to contact the news agency and complain. Keep your remarks respectful and stick to the facts. There is a media-watch email list at which has over 155,000 subscribers protesting biased news against Israel.

The Table-Talk Trivia

Riddle - try it on family and friends:
1. Close your eyes and see if you can say the “Shema” by heart.
2. You just said a poem – what type of poem?
(answer below)

Shabbat Shalom.

PS – Yours, truly has a series of new short vids on

Think about it.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Tears of Joy

Have you ever cried tears of joy?

Why does joy cause tears?

Why does anything cause tears? (other than eye irritation)

No other animal, not even primates, cry emotional tears.

We have a two-year-old, Devorah, who starred in my recent videos (did you see her last week?)

She turns 3 next week. She can gush tremendous rivers of tears one minute, then be laughing the next minute. But she does not cry tears of joy.

Tears of joy seem to require an adult sense of self-awareness.

William Frey, a biochemist at the University of Minnesota, proposed that people feel "better" after crying, due to the elimination of hormones associated with stress, specifically adrenocorticotropic hormone (Wikipedia).

Someone suggested to me last night that tears of joy are really tears of sadness that were waiting to be released.

Do you know anyone who has been dragging their feet at making a decision that they know would lead to greater happiness?

Is it possible they are afraid of being truly happy?

I would like to share with you a new website that made me truly happy to discover this week: - wow!

Shabbat Shalom