Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Staying Awake on Rosh Hashana

This special Rosh Hashana edition is dedicated in honor of Kyle and Shelli of San Francisco who just celebrated their "bar mitzvah" wedding anniversary (13) and their daughter Scarlett who, according to ancient tradition, becomes bat mitzvah (12) this Thursday night. Mazal tov! (To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.)

For a different kind of Rosh Hashana tonight, try printing this email and sharing it at the table....

What's Rosh Hashana?

It's the Jewish New Year, right?


That's actually a lie.

First of all, according to the Talmud, it's not just for Jews, it's for all humanity.

Second of all, there are four "new years"....

So what's the Rosh Hashana that is happening tonight all about??

It's the day when our karma is fixed for the coming year. That means that how we think and act on Rosh Hashana (from tonight through Friday) will affect us the next 12 months.

So ask at your table: What kind of year do you want to have?

Happy? So act happy.

Patient? Then act patient.

Mindful? Then be mindful.

Energetic? So don't take a nap.

Thankful? Well, how about trying eating your food mindfully for a day?

Prosperous? Then be generous of spirit and pocket (now you know why there is a universal Jewish custom of increasing charitable donations from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur).

Everything we do should be oriented towards this positive thinking, which is why we eat sweet foods on Rosh Hashana.

So in the spirit of the day, try teaching this song to your table that I learned from my kids:
    Dip the apple in the honey make a bracha loud and clear Shana tova ["good"] u-meh-tu-ka ["sweet"] have a happy sweet new year.
    (sung to the tune of "Oh My Darlin' Clementine")
Wishing you and yours an amazing year 5772 - healthy, happy, fruitful. etc., but above all, amazing.

L'Shana Tova


PS - this vid will uplift you!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Open Season on Wisdom

First, a ginormous mazal tov to Harmon and Jorun Shragge of San Francisco, who have completed learning the entire TANACH this week, a 10-year endeavor! Besides kvelling over their achievement, I am grateful to them for being the greatest of study partners - perseverant, yes...thoughtful, yes... but most important, they ask tough questions and have never let me get lazy.

Many thanks to the 75 guests, including leaders and laity, who joined us at the celebration Wednesday from all over the Bay Area, from as far away as San Jose, Mill Valley, Berekeley, Oakland and even Piedmont.

I tried to stump the crowd with a few Tanach trivia questions. Here's a sample for a conversation-starter at your dinner table tonight (helpful hint: print this page):

Tanach: Final Exam
1. What does "Tanach" mean?
2. What does "Torah" mean?
3. What is the first event in Tanach?
4. What is the last event in Tanach?
5. Name the 3 Patriarchs and 4 Matriarchs?
6. Name 3 heroes of Tanach?
7. Name 3 villains of Tanach?
8. List the "10 Commandments"
9. What are the 10 Commandments called by Jews?
10. How many books make up Tanach?
11. Which is longer, Tanach or War and Peace?
12. Which is longer, Tanach or the collected works of Shakespeare?
Answer key:

1. Acronym for Torah (5 Books of Moses), Neviim (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings)
2. "Torah" means "instructions" and is short for "Torat Chayim" - "instructions for living"
3. The Big Bang, i.e., creation of the universe ex nihilo.
4. Historically, the returning of the Jews to the Land of Israel after the Babylonian exile and rebuilding the Temple. In the narrative, however, the last event is the Persian King Cyrus's proclamation that the Jews may go back "up" to the Land and rebuild the Temple.
5. Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah.
6. Some possibilities: Noah, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, Devorah, David, Solomon
7. Some possibilities: Pharaoh, Haman, Bilam, Nebudchanezar
8. Monotheism, Idolatry, Blasphemy, Shabbat, Honoring Parents, Murder, Adultery, Stealing/Kidnaping, Lying, Coveting.
9. "The 10 Statements" (because we count 613 commandments)
10. 24 (Gentiles divide up their "Old Testament" into as many as 39 books).
11. Tanach is slightly longer (around 600,000 words in English compared to 580,000)
12. Shakespeare's 39 plays contain over 800,000 words

Now here's the zinger for your table: Do these last two answers make the Tanach seem long or short?

In my opinion, here's what the numbers are saying: It is long, especially when you're actually studying rather than merely reading, but those numbers make it clear - it's not out of reach....

You, too, can become literate in the Torah.
You, too, can explore ancient Jewish ethics.
You, too, can taste a little Talmud.
You, too, can learn a little Kabbalah.

Rosh Hashana is next week, what a great time to begin.

(If you'd like my help finding a suitable:

- class (live or online)
- study-partner (live or telephone)
- methodology (that fits your personality)
- plan (that fits your crazy schedule)

...send me an email. Like losing weight, if you don't have a goal and a plan, you're not being real.)

Consider this: the Torah belongs to you as much as it does to me, and great people have observed how much wisdom is there. How about the words of Churchill:

“Some people like Jews and some do not; but no thoughtful man can doubt the fact that they are beyond all question the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world…. We owe to the Jews…a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together.” (Illustrated Sunday Herald, February 8, 1920)

Isn't it about time you discovered what's in there?

No, really. If not now, when?

(Have I made my point?)


My family joins me in wishing you and yours an amazing New Year signed and sealed for life, wisdom, health, peace and prosperity, deep contentment and soaring joy. (I will try to send a special TT Wednesday for Rosh Hashana, but no promises...)

If you have been enjoying this weekly email for some time and would like to express your appreciation, know that your emails are meaningful and appreciated and your donations to help - quite literally - keep the lights on and make this weekly service possible.

Shabbat Shalom and l'Shana Tova.

You can start your daily pursuit of Jewish wisdom with my iphone app.
Rosh Hashana video #1
Rosh Hashana video #2

Rosh Hashana video #3
"24 Questions to Think About Before Rosh Hashana". Here's the link.
A great affordable shofar: Great Shofar
Our four favorite honey dishes: Here's the link.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Satisficer or Maximizer?

Yesterday I met a man who told me he was having trouble making a major choice in his life, and he was troubled because he wasn't sure WHY he was having such trouble.

Here's a simple question for your table:

Do you ever feel like you have too many choices?

Barry Schwartz thinks that more choices often lead to more misery. A video and link to his book are below.

In a nutshell, Barry would ask you:

Are you a "satisficer" or a "maximizer"?

A satisficer is a person who chooses a product or service that is "good enough".

A maximizer is a person who is always trying to get the "best".

A satisficer is usually happy with their choice.

A maximizer isn't happy and often regrets what they bought.

Try to apply this question to five things you've purchased recently.

Question #2 - how does this model apply to things we create?

There is a line in the Torah that unfortunately few people know about. It says that it's a mitzvah to act with happiness, with connectedness, with joy, without exception.

Question #3 - That seems like a high bar - how can a person get there?

 My answer:

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Here's Barry:

And here's his book:

(If you haven't seen RH videos 1+2, they are here: Rosh Hashana video #1....Rosh Hashana video # 2.)

AND.... some Rosh Hashana links....

1. Download my free "24 Questions to Think About Before Rosh Hashana". Here's the link.
2. Get your very own shofar before it's too late!.
3. Our four favorite honey dishes which make great gifts. Here's the link.

Friday, September 09, 2011

2 Minutes, 2 Checks

Pouring, pouring rain.
Easily seven inches
A world waterlogged.

(My apologies to those who don't like haiku.)


(Did he say spiders?)

Yes, spiders. There has been a burst of spider activity this week. The most stunning webs glistening with raindrops. Here's a photo of Goldy with a giant one on our front porch:
As time keeps on slipping towards Rosh Hashana, last week I challenged someone to make two immediate changes in her daily life in preparation.

Because of the order in which I said them, she reacted quite negatively to the first one. She hardly let me continue to tell the second one. But then, when she heard the second one, she completely got it. She even apologized (unnecessarily) for her first reaction. She even phoned me later to apologize again (unnecessarily).

So this time around, I'm going to switch the order for you, Dear Reader.

Change #1:

1. Choose a time during the day when you could most likely find two extra minutes.
2. Between now and Rosh Hashana, take two full minutes every day when you do nothing else besides focus on something good in your life. Clock it - make sure it's a full 120 seconds.

Think you could do it?

Think it would be good for you?

Change #2: Sometime during the day (maybe before you go to bed), give yourself a check (on a calendar or chart).

If you did the 2 minutes, give yourself a second check.

Now, here's the question for your dinner table tonight: What's the first check for?

Here's a contribution from a reader who knows how to take 2 minutes:

The sun is just beginning to spread 
it's pinkish silvery sheen across the still strait 
outside my rustic cabin window. My bed, 
made from thick timber logs, 
looks as if it was made for Pappa Bear: soaring 40 inches from the floor:
I can view the panorama of wooded islands and distant snow capped mountains 
all from my cozy aerie. My "cliff" cabin 
is truthfully named: at the end of the road, 
its perch plunges into the water below. 
A small gnarled madroƱa tree,
the calls of herons and seagulls 
punctuate the serenity.

Q2 for your table: If you can't the wherewithal to take two minutes, what are you living for?

Shabbat Shalom

Rosh Hashana links:
1. Get your very own shofar.
2. Download my free "24 Questions to Think About Before Rosh Hashana". Here's the link.
3. On, you can find links to our four favorite honey dishes which make great gifts. Here's the page.
4. Finally, now that school is back for young and old, how about showing your appreciation to the teachers? Don't wait until the end of year. We have found 11 gifts that are inexpensive but quite useful for any classroom teacher. Get them a small gift now that will both show your appreciation and help them be effective. Go to and browse the category, "Gifts for Teachers".
5. The amazing Jewish iphone/ipad app....

Friday, September 02, 2011

It's Not the Hurricane, Stupid!

Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, blackouts, yada yada yada.

Why do these things happen. That's what everyone wants to know.

Why did that bozo driving on a darkened street not only ram the shopping cart lying in the road, sending it hurtling across into my lane and putting a nice dent into my fender, but also speed away?

Why did I go out at all Tuesday night to look for ice when I should have known everyone would be sold out?

Why does this fruit fly buzzing around my desk keep pestering me? Why won't it just go away or die or something?

Why why why?

I have a more basic, Rosh Hashana-dik question.

After all, tis the season.

If you have a shofar at home, now's a good time to dust it off and get that lip back in shape. I've been blowing mine every morning starting Wednesday this week to wake up the kids.

If you don't have one,
here's a low-cost one online.

Nothing beats the real thing, but there is also the virtual shofar for iphone/ipad.

Now, I know I haven't asked you the question yet, but there are a few more Rosh Hashana links I'd like to share....

On, you can download for free our "24 Questions to Think About Before Rosh Hashana". Here's the link.

On, you can find links to our four favorite honey dishes which make great gifts. Here's the page.

Finally, now that school is back for young and old, how about showing your appreciation to the teachers? Don't wait until the end of year. We have found 11 gifts that are inexpensive but quite useful for any classroom teacher. Get them a small gift now that will both show your appreciation and help them be effective. Go to and browse the category, "Gifts for Teachers".

Now back to our main program.

It seems to me that the question of "Why did such-and-such happen" is useful and instructive if and only if we begin with a more basic question:

What am I here for?

Meaning, What's the purpose of my life?

We now have a little over 3 weeks until Rosh Hashana. Here's your action plan:

1. Download my 24 questions worksheet. Print a copy for everyone you love.
2. Set aside 5 minutes a day to work on one question.

Friday night dinner is a great time to begin with question #1.

Do this, and then between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we'll be able to talk more meaningfully about the "why why why".

Shabbat Shalom

(I made these vids a couple years ago as an experiment. Please tell me what you think.)

PS - If you know anyone who might appreciate this blog, kindly send them the link, or post it to your facebook wall or even tweet it.

PPS - We have audio (CD and mp3) on Rosh Hashana / Yom Kippur here.

PPPS - What better way to help someone prepare for the new year than sending them the amazing Jewish iphone/ipad app?