Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hero, Israel

Question 1: Should a religion or philosophy be judged by what kind of people it produces?

IMHO, If a religion or philosophy doesn't make its followers into better human beings, what's the point?

These two short films about two very real Jewish heroes say more than I possibly can:

Tonight and Friday is the holiday of Shavuos/Shavuot - a time to re-think the relevance of this religion-philosophy called Judaism and how important it is to us.

Passover: renew your tribal membership
Shavuos: rejuvenate your religious-philosophical membership.

Question 2: Why do we eat cheesecake on Shavuos? What’s your best guess?

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom

Friday, May 22, 2009

This Year

Just when you thought you knew it all, today I’d like to introduce to you a Jewish holiday that I’ll bet most readers of this blog have not heard about. Do me a favor, after reading this email, click “reply” and tell me if you knew all about this before or if you learned something new.

The holiday is called "Yom Yerushalayim" - Jerusalem Day.

It's often wrongly called an "Israeli holiday".

In fact, it's a Jewish holiday.

Question 1 for your table: Who knows when and why it was created?

Here’s the answer:

In June, 1967, after 1,897 years of saying “Next year in Jerusalem!” at our Passover seders, a united Jerusalem was returned to the Jewish People.

The mystics teach to relate to Jerusalem as the navel of the world. It has been the geographic focus of Jewish thought for about 3,000 years. All synagogues (and churches by the way) face it. There are special Jewish customs and rules that apply to Jerusalem and nowhere else.

Question 2: What is the significance of the Hebrew name, Yerushalayim?

Answer: The “-im” ending in Hebrew denotes a plural. E.g., yeled means boy, yeladim means boys. The name Yerushalayim alludes to the concept that there are really two Jerusalems, the one below and the one above, and one who enters the one below properly can also enter the one above....

Others say that the name means “city of peace”. Ideally or ironically?

I would be derelict in my duty if I did not point you to this: http://tinyurl.com/jerusalemundersiege

Question 3: How do you feel about the French vision to re-divide Jerusalem?

Shabbat Shalom

PS – here are photos of the celebration last night in J’lem:


Friday, May 15, 2009

Insult to Injury

The goal of Table Talk (the Art of Amazement blog) is to stimulate conversation at your Friday night dinner table. Please print and share the story and question.
Announcement – we have a new 2-minute marketing video up on jsli.org - please tell me what you think.

This is a true story: a Holocaust survivor made it to Israel and became a teacher. Unfortunately, she was not able to find a husband. But she was a dedicated teacher who loved her job and her students. One year, however, she had a nightmare class – the kind that every teacher gets once in awhile. A girl in that class wrote her a note, “I don’t like you because you’re an old maid.” The teacher was so devastated by this insult that she immediately left not only the classroom but the school, and she failed to appear the next day. Nor did she answer her phone. The school principal went to her apartment and found her dead. The medical examiner determined that she had died of a heart attack.

This is a dramatic and tragic example of the power of speech. The problem is that when making hurtful comments, we’re usually completely unaware of what we’re doing.

So how do you fix the problem when you’ve insulted someone?

Gotta say sorry.

But not just “sorry”. It has to be from the heart. Something like, “I was being stupid, I was under a lot of stress, what I said wasn’t true, I was trying to hurt you and I feel terrible about it, etc.” You have to convince the victim that you are really sorry. If they don’t forgive you in their heart, if they only mouth the words “it’s OK”, it’s not true forgiveness.

So what do you do if they don’t forgive you?

Try again. The second time, come up with a different strategy. Try a different tone, a different approach.

How many times should you try? Three.

When it comes to hurting someone’s feelings, as R. Avigdor Miller says, “Even when you're right, you're wrong. And when you're wrong, that's right.”

The above is based on a story in the book Walking with Rabbi Miller.

So here's your table-talk question - what do you do about the people who insulted you and never asked for forgiveness, either because they were too proud, or lazy, or simply forgot?

There is an ancient Jewish bedtime practice of verbally declaring “I hereby forgive anyone who has insulted me or hurt me in any way today.”

Shabbat Shalom

PS – chesed opportunity:
Support Sara Phillips! Sara has taken a leave of absence from Michigan State University, College of Law this semester due to extensive time spent in the hospital. Sara’s medical condition, ulcerative colitis, caused her immune system to weaken and sepsis to form in her bloodstream, resulting in her right leg being amputated. Sara had the stamina to undergo three serious surgeries in the span of two weeks, in spite of her weakened condition. In addition, Sara’s colon must soon be removed. Two months later, the fighter, Sara, is staying strong!
Sara’s student insurance policy is limited, her medical bills and medication are now being paid out of pocket, and she needs all of your help. Two months ago, her parents have flown from Florida to care for Sara, meanwhile leaving their jobs. Sara’s friends and family are asking for your support in this time of need. For further information about Sara’s story, please click here. To help out, click here.

Friday, May 08, 2009

May Matzah?

Dedicated to my Mom – What more need I say?
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

Here’s a trivia question for your table – why would thousands of Jews have a custom of eating matzah today, May 8, 2009?

Before I tell you the answer, I would like to share with you a delightful new book that I received as a gift this week.
It’s called Do One Nice Thing – Little things You Can Do to Make the World a Lot Nicer!

Here’s a random example from p. 206:

Donate some of your airline miles
so family members can visit a
wounded service member in the
hospital: visit www.FisherHouse.org
and click on Hero Miles.

The author, Debbie Tenzer, follows each suggestion with a short, thoughtfully-written vignette. Every page is like a ray of sunshine, attractively packaged by Crown Publishers. Great Mother's Day present.

Here’s a link:


(disclosure – I created that link so that if you use it, Amazon donates a portion of the proceeds to JSL).

And to answer the trivia question...Did I stump you?

Today is the 15th of the month of Iyar, exactly 1 month after Pesach. In the old days, if someone missed out on Pesach because they were sick or some other legitimate reason (I think you had to have a note from your parent or doctor), they could come to Jerusalem and celebrate “Pesach Sheni” - the 2nd Passover. Lamb, matza, maror, the whole works.

To commemorate this quasi-holiday, many people eat a little matzah.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, May 01, 2009

You Be the Judge

In memory of Fruma bas Yisroel, whose yahrzeit is today.

Last week’s Talk was dedicated to Esther Safer, whose age I initially reported erroneously. She was 25 when she passed away unexpectedly from a seizure. May her memory be for a blessing.

You are driving on the highway at the speed limit. Someone zooms by and cuts in front of you. How do you react?

You see your neighbor, who you know has a violent temper, pinching his child on the ear so hard the child is crying. How do you react?

You notice someone in your office
putting a load of office supplies into her purse. How do you react?

You are in the grocery store and down at the end of the aisle, you see your favorite rabbi take something off the shelf and put it into his pocket. How do you react?

The person closest to you, who you know loves you, is extremely gruff and unfriendly one day. How do you react?

Your beloved, who is often late, is late. How do you react?

One of the most difficult and important spiritual practices a person can undertake is to train yourself not to be judgmental.

The reason this is so important is because of the Jewish law of karma: what goes around, comes around. If you are judgmental, you will be judged.

If a person is known to be unethical in some way - like the neighbor with a violent temper - there is no mitzva to judge him favorably. You can assume that he has no good reason for hurting his child (I'm assuming that there might be a good reason to pinch a child on the ear on occasion - some will differ).

If a person has a reputation as an ethical person - like the rabbi (hopefully!) - then it is unethical to assume anything wrong. The ethical reaction is to make up a story in your mind that justifies what you are seeing: "He must have had to exchange an item and the store manager told him to take a new one."

Most people, however, are in the middle, and for these, you have a choice. You can assume the worst, or you can make up a story in your mind to assume the best.

Habitually giving the benefit of the doubt, aka “judging favorably” is an enlightened spiritual practice and requirement for enlightenment. It’s opposite, judging unfavorably, is base and, while sometimes cloaked in self-righteousness, akin to wallowing in the mud. Remind you of any barnyard animal in particular?

In order not to get the “swine” bug, try giving others the benefit of the doubt.

It makes for a very lively table talk to challenge people at your table to find ways to judge favorably in these scenarios.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - if you haven't seen our spring newsletter, please download the pdf here.