Friday, January 28, 2011

Being Mivater

My Bas Mitzva D’var Torah

Let’s say you walk into the dining room Friday night, to eat your meal. As you approach your normal seat, you notice someone sitting there. Who’s that someone?

Your most annoying, pesty little brother.

What do you do? Well, you have three choices.

Either you:

a. You shout “Get out of my seat! You have your own seat!” You run towards him, shove him off your chair causing him to cry, plop down in your seat, satisfied at what you just did.

b. You say “Please give me my seat.”

c. Quietly, without a word, you walk to a different chair, causing no problems.

What’s the difference between these three responses?

#A is getting really mad and totally going out of control and lousing your temper.

B, however, is different. There's nothing wrong with it. You have every right to ask for your seat back.

#C is what we call being mivater. You care more about other people’s feelings than about what you deserve.

It’s very hard to do #C, be mivater. You are thinking “What chutzpa does he have to sit in my seat!! You have to fight your Yetzeir Harah, hold back your anger, and quietly be mivater.

Why is it so important to be mivater?

We all know that after 7 years of working, Yaakov (Jacob) was able to marry Rochel Imeinu (Rachel). They were ready to get married. But did Yaakov marry Rochel? Oh, no! Tricky Uncle Lavan came along and gave Yaakov Rochel’s sister, Leah, to marry. He hid her face with a veil so Yaakov would not be able to see who it was. Yaakov and Rochel knew Lavan would do this, so they made secret signs so they would know if the kallah (bride) was really Rochel. But when it came time for the wedding, Rochel knew her sister would be so embarrassed if she didn’t know the signs, so she told them to Leah.

The midrash tells us that years later, when the Jewish People went into Gulus (exile), each of the Avos and Imohos (Forebears) pleaded to God to set their children free. But Hashem said “no” to each one.

First, Avraham came forward and said, “Please, in the merit of bringing my son up for a sacrifice, You should free my grandchildren,” but Hashem didn’t listen.

Then Yitchok (Isaac) came and said, “How about in the merit of my allowing myself to be a korban (sacrifice)? I asked my father to tie me up so that I would a kosher sacrifice for you!” but Hashem didn’t listen.

And so on, every Forefather and Foremother came forward to plead for the Bnei Yisroel (Jewish People) but Hashem didn’t listen.

Then Rochel Imeinu came to plead to Hashem. She told Him that even though she really wanted to marry Yaakov, she gave up her whole life to her sister just so that her sister wouldn’t be embarrassed. Then Hashem said: “Because of what you did, in your zechus (merit), I will bring the Bnei Yisroel back to me.”

We therefore learn from Rochel the importance of being mivater.

But the story needs an explanation.

Why is being mivater any better than Avraham Avinu and Sara Imeinu’s Hachanasas Orchim (hosting guests in their home)? Or Avraham giving up his only precious son to Hashem? Or Yitzchak Avinu giving up his life to be a sacrifice to Hashem? Or Yaakov learning so many years of Torah? After all, we learn that Talmud Torah Kineged Koolam - learning Torah is compared to everything! Surely Hashem should have agreed to take Bnai Yisroel out of exile in Yaakov’s zechus (merit).

I think that there are 2 ways to be mivater.

Lets say 5 year old Shprintzter Shloigenboigen wants his mother to give him a dollar for a soda, and Shprintzy who is a year older also wants one. Their mother only has one dollar in cash on her and so finally, after much arguing, Shprintzy is mivater and lets her younger brother have the dollar for soda. Shprintzy wanted the dollar. She didn’t deserve it. And she gave in. That’s the easy way to be mivater.

The second way to be mivater is like this.

Let’s imagine Rochel Imeinu’s chasunah (wedding). She had been engaged for 7 years. It wasn’t only that Leah was taking her chosson, she was taking her chasuna too! It was her invitations, her guests, her music, her banquet. She’s been planning this for 7 years already and she didn’t even get to get married - instead, she let Leah get married. And she did all this just so that her sister would not be embarrassed in front of everyone.

That’s the hard way to be mivater - when you totally deserve something, yet you let someone else have it anyway. This gives us a clue why Hashem only listened to Rochel’s pleas. All the other Avos and Imohos did what was right, but Rochel did beyond right.

If we really want Hashem to listen to our tefillos (prayers), we should concentrate less on what we deserve, and more on what other people need.

- Goldy Seinfeld

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, January 21, 2011

Son of a Gun! Daughter of a Mitzvah!

Mazal tov to Goldy Seinfeld who became bas/bat Mitzvah this week. (Notice how I said "became" and not "had"...why is that?) (PS - we don't want to embarrass her, but we are very proud of her!)

Two stories for you this week, and two questions.

Story #1

At a rabbinical conference in New York on Sunday. The best part of this annual conference is mealtime. I hardly eat, but it's the best shmuze-time.

So here I am sitting at dinner hoping someone interesting will sit next to me. The voice arrives before the face:

"Excuse me, is this seat taken?"

The voice was vaguely familiar, but the face was a textbook caricature of a rabbi - black hat, long beard, serious gaze.

I did a bona fide double-take.

Peering out from under that hat and beard was my childhood Sunday School classmate Joe Kanofsky.

Sorry, that's Yossel Kanofsky.

Sorry, that's Rabbi Yossel Kanofsky.

In fact, to you, that's Rabbi Dr. Yossel Kanofsky, a menshe if there ever was a menshe.

Surely the most warm-hearted and intelligent person ever to come out of Tacoma Wash (the serious expression was a put-on).

And here he was, in living color. Son of a gun!

First Question for your table... Is it comforting or discomforting to see someone who knows things about you ( and you know things about him) that no one else in the world knows?

Story #2

The next day I found myself back in sunny San Francisco, former home of my great-grandmother Granny Goldy.

My itinerary included a bunch of private meetings and two semi-public classes (see below for audio links).

In one class I made a bold statement that some participants found challenging to accept.

I declared that the classical definition of "mitzvah" is not simply a good dead. It's more than that.

It's a good deed performed mindfully.

One person told me it bothered her that I declared this value as normative, as in "Judaism says that a mitzvah requires kavana (mindfulness)."

Question #2 - What was bothering her about that statement?

A final note - yesterday you may have missed it, it was Tubishvat - the mini Jewish celebration of the trees. Missed it? Don't miss out - do what we're doing, serving a platter for desert tonight with as many edible tree-products as we can find (and yes that includes chocolate!)

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Here's the link to my SF class, "Why Money Matters". (If you get the download and need the handouts, send me an email.)

PPS - Don't know where we keep finding these inspiring videos, but if you like dogs, or happy stories, you'll enjoy this week's amazing video.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Who Has a Dream?

Big Mazal Tov to Alexandre and Elisheva Bronstein of Beit Shemesh on their recent 20th Anniversary. (Almost out of the woods!)

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Many people have noticed that Jewish people seem to be disproportionately represented in science, in Hollywood, in international chess, in business, all stuff that requires savoir-faire.

But what about this?

Ask these 4 simple yet profound questions at your table:

1. What portion of the USA is Jewish? (Answer, about 2 percent).

2. What portion of the white participants in the Civil Rights movement were Jewish? (Answer, about 30 percent)

3. What percentage of the civil rights lawyers in Mississippi were Jewish (Answer, about 90).

(for more info, click here)

4. How do you explain this huge disproportionality?

Our friends (and Table Talk subscriber) Lee Hendler runs a program called "Freedom's Feast"... Check out their ideas on nurturing the value of public service at In particular, I recommend their 1-page MLK Table Talk download.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - This week's AMAZING VIDEO is not to be missed - you'll love it.

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

Business as Usual

Whoops - I sent out last week's TT to the email list but forgot to post it on the blog! Sorry to all blog readers. Here it is, and shortly to be followed by this week's TT...


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.

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Business as Usual

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."

Two questions for your table: What's your "business as usual"? What's your "blanket"?

Shabbat Shalom

PPS - 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.