Friday, December 31, 2010

Knowledge v. Wisdom

Congratulations to our friend Eric Swergold who is going solo as of January 1, 2011 in a new venture called Firestorm Capital. There's nothing harder, nor more rewarding, than "hanging out your shingle". More on this topic next week.

This week, an anecdote, 2 questions, and a story.

The anecdote:

One reader of last week's blog complained that the question, "Is this weekly Table Talk worth a nickel?" wouldn't really go over well at their Friday night dinner table, as not everyone there reads it.

I pointed out that they should consider last week like pledge week on NPR - you know, diminished content in order to remind you to send in your nickel.

Well, thank you to everyone who contributed a nickel (or more) to our non-profit mission, which is described here. Total Table Talk contributions for the end-of-the-year have reached nearly $2,000. Your generosity is quite literally making this and other programs possible.

Look at these two emails we received recently, the first is from someone less connected:

The Art of Amazement has resonated very well with me as its contents are directed at a number of principles I have already sought to incorporate into my life, and by citing Judaism as one of the greatest ways of achieving these goals it does a great deal to ease my hesitation in becoming a more connected Jew.

The second comes from someone who describes herself as "religious":

My friend and I were searching for a meaningful book on prayer. Your book "The Art of Kavanah" opened our eyes to the spiritual potential of our Judaism - the very spiritually that had pulled us into the fold, but gotten lost on ritual and rote.

Thank you for your publishing and your work in this area, your books have forever changed our relationship with Hashem.

(If you still want to put your nickel in the pushkeh (that's Yiddish for collection box), click here.)

Also, thank you to everyone who completed the 2-minute annual Table Talk reader survey, which is extremely helpful to us in creating this and other services. You can still find it here.

This reader's question (above) prompted me to wonder about the following question...

Question 1What's the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

Try asking that at the table, and see what people say.

It seems to me that knowledge is information and wisdom is the ability to process information and make decisions.

What's interesting is that most people are willing to pay for knowledge but fewer seem willing to pay for wisdom.

For example, people will pay a lot of money to learn how to make money. But every year I find that only a minority will contribute a nickel a week to learn how to live a meaningful life.

This observation leads to...

Question 2 - Why is that?

(I have two theories, but would like to hear yours.)

Shabbat Shalom

...with blessings for a happy, healthy and fruitful 2011!

PS... we are now putting an amazing-video-of-the-week on our homepage - you'll love this one!

PPS - I'm sure I mentioned my new iphone/ipod/ipad app, right?

The goal of this blog is to give you a conversation-starter for your Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Happy Birthdays this week and next to Lily and Suzanne - neither of you have hit your prime yet, but keep up the great work - you're getting there! (;-)>
Two amazing things for you this week:

When the Arab Street rises up, the Jewish Street looks for somewhere to hide.

We shall cower no more.

Background: People frequently ask me about the compatibility of Judaism with Eastern traditions, including Buddhism, Yoga and the martial arts.

As you may know, the first two I deal with in The Art of Amazement and in several classes such as this.

Today, for the first time, here's something about the martial arts.

Some believe (based on passages in Tanach) that King David's soldiers practiced a form of martial arts.

There is a small but growing movement to restore or recreate an authentic Torah martial arts (Torah-do?).

And we're not talking IDF here. Check this out:

See more here:

This leads to 2 questions for your table....

1. After looking at that link and those videos, do you buy it?
2. Do we need a "Jewish martial arts"?

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Reader is Always Right

Dedicated to the loving memory of Bert Walker and Avraham ben Leib Samuels, whose Yahrzeits were recently observed. They were both men of high moral character and both deeply devoted to their families.

This week, 2 things: Something from you to me and a treat from me to you.

From You to Me

It's that time of year again, time for me to ask for your anonymous feedback on this blog. It means a lot to me to hear from you, please take a minute or two to complete only 10 questions:

While we're on the subject, I would like to invite you to a behind-the-scenes look at what Jewish Spiritual Literacy is doing lately....

In addition to spending our Friday mornings crafting and delivering stories and questions for your nourishment, this non-profit organization spends the rest of the week bringing this Table-Talk type of Judaism to individuals and groups around the country.

Some pay their way and others – notably college programs – don’t have the funds to cover our costs. We also train teachers teach Judaism in a hands-on, spiritually rich pedagogy ("Art-of-Amazement style").

AND we give away thousands of books every year. Technically, we sell them at a loss, otherwise they don’t have a budget for them.

Check this out:

"Being able to walk away with a physical copy of the ideas you presented was a great opportunity, as most speeches that inspire me seem to slip out of reach when I get caught back up in the hustle of life. The Art of Amazement has resonated very well with me as its contents are directed at a number of principles I have already sought to incorporate into my life, and by citing Judaism as one of the greatest ways of achieving these goals it does a great deal to ease my hesitation in becoming a more committed Jew.” - Univ. of Maryland student

We are enabling teachers to inspire their students of all ages and parents to transmit a Judaism that works.

On that vein, our pilot "Love Your Neighbor" program is organizing and training volunteers in Jewish communities to visit senior living facilities on Shabbat, so that the residents can enjoy kiddush and the feeling of being connected to a community and so that the volunteers and their children can feel connected to the seniors.

Next week I'll send you our winter newsletter with the details of these and our other programs.

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

But to close out 2010, I would like to ask you to transform your participation into a partnership.

Maybe you don't read the blog/email every week. Maybe you only enjoy it on occasion. What's it worth to you? A quarter? A nickel?

There’s your question of the week: Is the thought-provoking Table Talk worth a nickel to you?

If so, please use the address or link below to send in your nickel. But if you want, I’ll offer you something on top of partnership just to sweeten the relationship. 5¢ a week comes to two-and-a-half bucks a year. If you are willing to double that – 10¢ a week or $5 for the year, I’ll send you a thank you gift that I know you’re going to enjoy. I’ll send you an exclusive podcast from the JSL archives, "From Hangnails to Hurricanes - An Ancient Approach to Suffering".

Please send your tax-deductible donation to:

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

On-line (credit card, paypal, google):

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

All of these programs, including this blog, incur costs. Someone is paying for them (and none of them are meeting the full demand due to funding realities). For those who are already partners in this effort, thank you. For everyone, I so appreciate your occasional feedback (both enthusiastic and critical).

But if you have been enjoying this blog (even on occasion) for free, or if you find any of our projects meaningful, please become a member today for 5¢ or more a week.

But whether or not this is a good time for you to become a member or renew your membership, please do help by completing a the one-minute anonymous on-line survey.

This week, I'm asking you to step up to the metaphorical plate. Next week, an amazing new way to step up to the physical plate. Stay tuned....

From Me to You

Now that that's behind us... the "From Me to You" section of this email....

Remember the two dedications at the top of this email? Both of those men have grandsons who are making this world a better place through music.

Here's Brandon Walker's classic music video, "Chinese Food for Xmas".

And here's a Bobby Samuels beat-hiphop sample: "Keep Walkin'". Enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom

PS – want to help without spending a dime? This video will show you how to support your favorite non-profit just by searching the web:

Or go straight to their site:

Business as Unusual

Mazal tov to our friends Ben and Lindy Sovin of London on the birth of a baby boy this week.

Thank you again to all those who contributed to our successful pledge drive in December. We raised nearly $2,000 in small (under $500) contributions and about as much in large contributions. Your support makes this Table Talk as well as our other programs possible.

This personal account by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz is a great conversation starter for your dinner table....

"A Blanket of Trust"

At the end of the day, when business is really good, it's not about building a brand or making money. That's a means to an end. It's about honoring the human spirit, honoring the people who work in the business and honoring the customer.

When I was in Israel, I went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi [Nosson Tzvi] Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there [Mir Yeshiva]. I had never heard of him and did not know anything about him. We went into his study and waited ten to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.

What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson's disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We did not want to embarrass him.

We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: "Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now." Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him. He said, "I have only a few minutes for you because I know you are all busy American businessmen." You know, just a little dig there.

Then he asked, "Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?" He called on one guy, who did not know what to do - it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, "We will never, ever forget." And the rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away - you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: "We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander."

The rabbi said, "You guys just do not get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.

"As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.

"After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.

"As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, 'Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'"

And Rabbi Finkel says, "It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others."

And with that, he stood up and said, "Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people."

Question for your table: What's your "blanket"? What could you do that you are not already doing?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Have you seen our amazing video of the week?

The goal of this blog is to give you a conversation-starter for your Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Happy Birthday to our daughter Devorah who turned 5 this week (on the Hebrew calendar).

Two questions for your table:

1. What's the single most effective way to motivate yourself, to get yourself to focus?
2. What's the single most effective way to motivate children?

I'll answer the second one first, with a story.

As you probably know, we got a bit of snow yesterday here in Bal-more.

Newly and proudly five-year-old Devorah is always the first child home from school.

She races in yesterday and blurts out, "Where's the snow shovel?" After a somewhat lengthy process of getting her fitted with boots, gloves and pink snow pants, she saunters outside and begins shoveling the walkway. No one asked her to do this. Her orange kiddy snow shovel is about 1/4 the size of a regular shovel. Try to picture this. After she finishes the walk, she lays down in the one inch of fresh powder to make an angel (takes one to make one?).

Where did she get this from?

Now, for question #1...

Sit down and write out - don't just think it or say it, actually write it out - what you hope they will say at your funeral.

Dream big. Pretend you were living at your fullest potential, and give yourself a long life (120 years, let's say).

Try presenting this challenge at your dinner table. People who are living for a meaningful life purpose are happier and more successful than everyone else around them.

If you find that exercise too morbid for the dinner table, try asking everyone to comment on these two quotes:

"If I have a why, I can suffer almost any how." - Nietzsche
"Better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting." - King Solomon

True or false?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - did you know that the JSL website has a list of recommended books for all types of readers? Click here:

PPS - I'm sure I mentioned my new iphone/ipod/ipad app, right? Now you can get it for a friend, even if you don't have an iphone/ipod/ipad...Here's the link:

The goal of this blog is to give you a conversation-starter for your Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wikileaks - the Diaper Edition

Mazal tov to our daughter Tehila Yehudis who turned 1 this week. She celebrated the day and the season by springing a major wikileak in her diaper during the shul Channuka party (meaning, other were able to participate with her)....

It seems to me that the mixed reactions we're hearing to Wikileaks comes from the feeling that some types of speech are more ethical than others.

Ethical speech (lashon tov) is helpful, unethical speech is harmful (lashon hara).

Without a doubt, some of the recent leaks were harmful and hard for anyone to justify. Therefore, the entire enterprise is called into question.

But let's turn the spotlight onto ourselves, for our Table Talk question of the week:

Question 1 - If somebody you know has a secret that becomes publicized, is it then OK to talk about it?

Question 2 - If you knew a secret that you were sworn to keep but believed it would be helpful to publicize, would you keep a diaper on it, or would you spill the beans?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Beans Song on Youtube

Friday, December 03, 2010

Channuka Fire

As you read this, the worst forest fire in modern times is raging in the Carmel Mountains in the Land of Israel. 40 people have been killed and thousands evacuated from their homes in Haifa. Today's Table Talk is dedicated to the firefighters from Israel and neighboring countries who are grappling with this epic blaze, and to everyone living there who haven't had a drop of rain since the spring.


I walk into the house on the first night of Channuka and declare joyfully, "Happy Hannuka". Yosephi (1st grade) looks up from his coloring project and says, "Hannuka, what's Hannuka? I've never heard of Hannuka. It's Channuka!"

Sounds like the makings for a dispute....

Question for your table: How many famous disputants can you name from history?

Let's see, there's

* Socrates and Protagoras
* Lincoln and Douglas
* Bert and Ernie
* Siskel and Ebert

Hmmm.... is this a decline or is it just me?

In the Talmud, the most famous pair are Hillel and Shammai, and their academies, "Beit Hillel" and "Beit Shammai".

Among all of their disagreements, the most colorful Hillel-Shammai dispute is about Channuka. Beit Hillel (who wins the argument most of the time) state that the Channuka menorah should be lit with one additional candle each night, until on the last night there are 8 candles. Sound familiar?

Can you guess what Beit Shammai say?

Start with 8 candles on the first night, then 7 and so on until you have only one on the last night.

Question #2 -
What are the advantages to going like Beit Shammai? What are the advantages to following Beith Hillel?

This video from Charlie Harary in my opinion is a Beit-Shammai video:

While this video from yours, truly is a Beit Hillel video:

Happy Hannuka and Shabbat Shalom

PS - has featured my iphone app on the home page - check it out here (you can also read all about the fire there).

PPS - Need a last-minute holiday gift? My iPhone/iPad app can now be gifted - click here: The Amazing Jewish Fact-a-Day Calendar.