Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Marshmallow Test

Today's question looks like it's about kids, but it's really about you and me.

First, watch this video, then you'll understand the question below.

Question for your table - I'll bet that most people reading this blog would pass the marshmallow test. But we all have our own marshmallow test. What's yours?

Shabbat Shalom

PS: Every heard Jewish country music? Try this:

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. - Churchill

Friday, November 20, 2009

Was He Good or Bad?

Often in this space I have told you personal stories.

Occasionally these take place in Paris. (E.G., E.G.)

Here’s another one for you.

I was living in Paris trying to write a Great American novel” and my best friends were a French couple, Pierre and Veronique. Pierre was a computer programmer and Veronique an aeronautical engineer for French Aerospace. I visited them every Thursday (and they insisted I bring my laundry).

One such Thursday I found Veronique sitting in the blue beanbag chair in the corner, reading a very thick book.

She looked up at me and said, as if making an excuse, “All these years I’ve never read the Bible, so I decided to read it, the whole thing.”

She was obviously pleased with her new goal. She was reading it in French, of course, and she simply started at the beginning.

Well, the next Thursday Veronique was back in the corner reading and suddenly said, “How is it possible to use this as a source for teaching morality to children? Here you have two brothers, one who is older and has rights to a certain inheritance, and his mother tells his younger brother to trick their father into giving the inheritance to the younger! Okay, I understand that the older brother sold the birthright to the younger, but trickery isn’t the way to right a wrong, is it?”

Her question stirred some deeply-buried ethnic defensive mechanism in me and I tried to come to Jacob’s rescue. “I think that the older brother was bad, wasn’t he?”

“It doesn’t say so.”

“Didn’t you read that when they were in their mother’s womb, Jacob was going to be born first but Esau threatened to kill their mother if he didn’t get to be born first? So Jacob really was supposed to be firstborn.”

Veronique didn’t recall reading that episode, so I took the Bible and thumbed through it almost frantically. I was sure I’d learned that story in Sunday school, but she was right: it wasn’t there.

I was pretty darn sure that Esav was bad, but this episode frustrated me and reminded of my own ignorance. It wasn’t hard to decide to go to Israel for a month. I figured that:

a) Judaism is 3000+ years old and I’m mostly ignorant of it
b) It would be silly to throw it out without learning what it is I’m throwing out.

So I went to Israel.

Well, not directly, but that’s another story.

I am supposed to leave you with a question for your table, so here it is: What’s the better way to learn Jewish wisdom – to take a class every once in a while or wait until you retire and can study seriously, or to begin with 5 minutes a day right now?

Shabbat Shalom

“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” - Churchill

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The goal of this blog is to be a conversation-starter for the dinner table. Please print and share.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Change Your Mind

It's amazing to watch a child learn. It seems miraculous how they are wiring their brains from scratch.

On this episode of "The Infinite Mind", the claim is made that meditation is an effective tool to continue rewiring your brain even as an adult.

Question for your table:

Is there such thing as "meditation" in Judaism?

A lot of Jews do something called meditation. But are they adding something new to Judaism?

Maybe we should first ask, What is meditation?

There are many books about "Jewish meditation". I've read most of them.

Most claim to be inventing something new.

There is no need to. It's already there, always has been.

It's everywhere you look - in the Torah, Talmud, Kabbala, Rambam (Maimonides), Shulchan Aruch, etc. etc. Name a Jewish text and I'll show you where it teaches about meditation.

Not only that, but there are numerous types of Jewish meditation.

So here's the real question for your table: Why didn't they teach us about it in Hebrew school?

If you think you're too old to change your mind, click

Shabbat Shalom

(If you would like to learn more about this topic in a live online class, pop me an email.)

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” - Churchill

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Life is a Test, Revisited

Please help support the victims and the families of the mass shooting by sending a check here:

The Central Texas-Fort Hood Association of the U.S. Army
Attn.: Community Response to 11/5
P.O. Box 10700
Killeen, TX 765478-0700

God said to Abraham, want you to kill me a son
Abe said man, you must be puttin' me on
God said No
Abe said What
God said you can do what you want Abe but
Next time you see me comin' you'd better run....
Abe said where do you want this killin' done
God said out on Highway Sixty-One....

- Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)

(If you want to hear the song, link below.)

When a great tragedy occurs, some people sometimes ask me, "What does Jewish wisdom have to say about this?"

As if that question weren't hard enough, there's usually some smart-alex who adds, "Doesn't the Talmud say that wisdom is the ability to learn from everyone? What can we learn from this mass murderer?"

Maybe that's the question for your table - what can we possibly learn from Nidal Hasan?

You know, he was a religious person of a certain persuasion, who in all likelihood believed he was doing a religiously meaningful act.

Here's the thing - we all have books. They have their book, we have our book. Even the secular humanists have their book(s). We all turn to our respective books for wisdom.

His book tells him that he is a descendant and disciple of Abraham. That means submission to God's will.

My book tells me that I am a descendant and disciple of Abraham. My book also tells me that one of Abraham's greatest traits was submission to God's will. But my book also tells me that Abraham was a complex person, and emulating him includes acting with compassion towards all people.

Hmm.... So if you want to be a good disciple, what do you do when you believe that God wants you to hurt someone?

My book tells me that we look for every loophole to avoid hurting someone (when not in self-defense).

My book also tells me that being a vigilante (acting on my own, without consulting a higher authority) leads to evil. Not just in the area of violence, but in all areas.

So whose book is right? Can they both be right? Maybe his book is "right for him" and my book is "right for me"?

But the deeper Jewish wisdom on this subject is to turn the spotlight on myself: Am I pursuing the wisdom of my book with the same passion that he is pursuing his?

We are slumbering....time to wake up.

Shabbat Shalom