Friday, December 28, 2012

How to Live Forever

Ask this question at your table - How can you live forever?

You may be surprised at the answers you get.

Some take a scientific approach to this age-old question. I'm not opposed to that.

But I'm going to suggest a non-scientific answer and I'm betting you'll agree with me.

But first, a word from our sponsor.

It's that time of year again, end of the tax calendar: Your last chance to make a 2012 donation. So all of your favorite charities are sending those last-ditch emails.

Let's try for something more appealing here (pardon the pun): just a question.

This is not a question for your table. This is a question for you.

What's this weekly blog actually worth to you? A nickel? Two bits? A dollar?

Think about it for a moment.

Think about your favorite table talks. Maybe the Sandy Hook one last week did it for you. Perhaps it was We of the Storm. One of the most popular of all time was Late for the Train (2006). Some still remember the musical Chinese Food on Xmas, dedicated to the yahrzeit of Bert Walker that falls at this time of year.

If you had paid a buck for your favorite one, would you have said, "Money well spent"?

Now what does it say that it comes to your inbox for free every Friday? Does that make worthless or priceless?

This blog actually costs several nickels to produce, and we rely on readers like you to keep it going. There are the costs of the 7-year-old computers and the rest of the office overhead. There is staff time.

Yet this blog is provided as a free service by JSL in order to achieve our mission of increasing the level of Jewish spiritual literacy worldwide. You have the opportunity today to enjoy being being an active partner in this mission. At any level of contribution, you will be a partner. (If you are already a JSL partner, thank you.)

Once you estimate the average value of the weekly blog, please multiply by 50 and show your appreciation by making a tax-deductible contribution. For online and snail-mail instructions click here (and read about the thank-you gift you'll receive).

(If you cannot become a partner today, then at least enjoy the fact that when you read this blog, you are enabling someone else to give to you!)

With that out of the way, the promised answer....

To remind you, the question was, How can you live forever

Try asking this at your table before reading my three answers.

My first answer is very simple and perhaps too obvious. When I give to you - anything, whether a physical gift, time, or just a smile - some of me is now part of you.

Maybe you'll give to others, so that some of me now gets further redistributed.

But you may or may not give to others. So to maximize my immortality, I need to give to as many people as I can.

You already knew this answer, didn't you? Maybe this answer is reminding you to be a bigger giver, but so far, you haven't heard anything new.

My second answer: acquire wisdom. Whatever wisdom you acquire in this life stays with you in the next world (Talmud).

My third answer is deeper: Someone who learns to live in the moment turns every moment into eternity.

"Living forever" is therefore possible right here, right now.

It takes practice, spiritual practice. Some kind of meditative practice.

(If you would like to learn this kind of meditative practice in the comfort of your own home, shoot me an email. Perhaps we can create an online program.)

The fourth answer is deeper still.

(Wait, didn't he say there were 3 answers? This is a blog, not a math class.)

Jewish wisdom teaches that we all live forever. Nothing to worry about. But the quality of that forever - the experience you will have after you leave this world - will be a sum of three things:
  • the wisdom you acquired
  • the giving that you gave
  • the meditative level that you achieved.
We need to strive for all three. Yet most of us excel at one or two, and find at least one much harder. Now you know what to work on.

Shabbat Shalom 

PS - If you didn't do so already, please click here and enable us to send you that thank-you gift.

As always, if you enjoyed this message, please forward the link to others who may enjoy it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sandy Hook: Blame the Maya?

The goal of Table talk is to turn the Friday night dinner table into Shabbat experience. Please print and share.
20 Sandy Hook Teddy Bears

Someone asked me the other day if I was going to write about Sandy Hook Elementary School.

To be honest, I wasn’t.

What more can I offer for your table talk that hasn’t already been offered?

Half of the victims have yet to be buried; emotions are too raw. Words of comfort are what are needed.

There are no words. Maybe hugs.

But he insisted that you, dear reader, would want a table talk on this theme.

As I have noted in the wake of other calamities like the earthquakes in China, Haiti, and Japan, the daily level of human suffering in the world is high.

Since last Friday’s massacre, approximately 50 American children were killed with handguns.

Some of them are accidental, like the father who accidentally shot and killed his seven-year-old son in the gun store parking lot.

Today, some 16,000 young children died of starvation. Oh, and yesterday too. And the day before that.

Vibrant young Americans continue to return in body bags from Afghanistan, more than one per day, yet their photos never appear on the first page of the newspaper. Most of them don’t even appear on any page of the newspaper. (If you'd like to do the media's job and know their names, bookmark this page. If you want to gaze into their eyes, click here.)

American bombs – sent with your dollar and by your government – accidentally kill and maim  thousands of women, children and other innocents in Afghanistan, but we don’t see their pix or hear their names on NPR. Here's a site that tries to humanize this tragedy.

Yet unlike these daily tragedies, our collective grief for the angels of Sandy Hook reached such a level that Newtown had to open a special branch of the post office to handle the influx of care packages.

We’ve got big problems, but together, we have the wealth and knowledge to end hunger, eradicate many diseases and reduce violence.

But our wealth and knowledge has to be mobilized. Otherwise we’re back to auto-pilot.

So here are three questions for your Shabbat table… and I’ll venture one suggestion below.

Q1 – Why wasn’t the Batman massacre enough to get us moving?
Q2 – Do you think Newtown might be the same – all too soon forgotten?
Q3 – If you were personally moved to action by Sandy Hook, what would it take to get you to stay awake and not slip back into business-as-usual?

Jewishly, there is simply ethic that – should you choose to adopt it – will guarantee that you will put your money where your mouth is.

The ethic is – if you are really serious about doing something to help repair the world – right here and now make one commitment.

Commit - out loud - to give X percent of your net income for the rest of your life to worthy causes.

10-20 percent is the recommended range, but if that's above your comfort level, start with less. But make that commitment in this rare moment of clarify.

It’s hard to do, right?!!!

But if you will just do it, you might just find that not only will you heal the world, you’ll heal yourself.

Teach this to the kids: When you get 10 bucks, a dollar goes to the charity of your choice.
As I wrote in May, 2008, I’ve never met someone who didn’t want to leave the world better off than we found it. Anyone who has ever loved a child wants to. So here's a fourth and hopefully uplifting question for your table:

Is life on earth getting worse, or is the world in balance getting better?

Shabbat Shalom  

(PS – volunteer time counts)

(PPS - One of our biggest needs is demonstrably in the area of education.... How did the Maya, an abhorrent civilization of warfare and human sacrifice, become a respected source of futurism? Or any other wisdom? Should this man have been protected from himself? How about this one? Finally, read this and weep.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Beautiful People

The purpose of this email is to help you turn your dinner table into a Shabbat table. Please print & share.

Trivia question for your Shabbat table:

What's the darkest day of the year?

Winter solstice, no?

No!!! Sorry Charlie, buzzer.

I didn't ask what's the shortest day of the year.

I asked what's the darkest day of the year.

The answer is: the new moon closest to the winter solstice.

For if the winter solstice happens to coincide with a bright moon, it will be a brighter 24 hour period than the most recent new moon.

The new moon happens to be today.

And every year, Channuka, the festival of lights, happens exactly at this darkest time. That's why it jumps around a lot, following the moon and not the sun.

In the darkest time of the year, light a candle.

In a world that cares about who won the ball game, be the rare one who can enjoy the game without losing a minute of sleep over it.

In a world rewarding beauty and honoring net-worth, be the one-in-a-million who honors kindness, hard work and wisdom.

In a world spending $160 billion on "hope in a jar", be the crazy one who gives 20 percent to charity.

In a world chasing randomness, be the leader who projects faithfulness.

In a world directed by gossip, be the oddball who runs from lashon hara (even the really juicy stuff,)

In a world of science-worship, get in on the broader and deeper meaning of "Torah" without sacrificing the truth or joy of nature.

If you are already a candle in the darkness, then you are one of the truly beautiful people.

And this song is for you (or this version, or this one).

Shabbat Shalom & Happy Hannuka

Friday, December 07, 2012

Thanks for Saying Thanks!

The purpose of this blog is to help you turn Friday night chat into conversation. Please print & share.

If you have not seen the Guitar Dreidel, the Texas Dreidel, the 101 Things to Do for Channuka, or the stylish Rambam Menorah, your Channuka is certainly not going to be complete!

You might also like to know that Apple now allows you to gift an app — such as the Amazing Jewish Fact-a-Day Calendar. It's an easy system, you pay the 99¢ and Apple either sends the recipient an email for you or gives you a digital card that you can either print or email yourself. For all the iphone/ipad/ipod users in your network of family and friends, wouldn't some of them enjoy an app that puts a nugget of amazing Jewish wisdom on their screen every day? Can you think of a better last-minute Channuka gift? 

Tonight's questions for your Shabbat table are inspired by leadership teacher Peter Bregman.

Bregman thinks that every personal email deserves a reply.

His full argument will take you about a minute or two to read, here on the Harvard Business Review.

Bregman challenges us:
Consider what saying "thank you" represents.
On a basic level, it communicates that you received the email. While there's a lot of advice that discourages writing "thank you" emails because they contribute to email overload, I disagree. I answer every real email I receive because I want to avoid the recipient's "Did Peter get my email and what's he thinking?" angst. It takes three seconds to respond "thanks" and it completes the transaction initiated by the sender.
Ultimately, saying thanks for even a brief helpful email is a moral duty: "Acknowledging each other is our basic responsibility as human beings living in community with other human beings."

Question #1 for your table: Do you agree?

(perhaps I'll know when I see what kind of replies, if any, I receive to this email ;-)

Question #2: If every act of kindness needs a thank you, and saying thank you is an act of kindness, where does it end?

Question #3: Where off-line might this be a point well taken?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hannuka.

(Yes, that's right, I spelt it with a simple "H" even though when I pronounce it that way it drives my kids batty.)

PS - we've added two short Hannuka videos that will make you smile (I hope), on both home pages:

(if you need help downloading these videos, send me an email and I'll teach you the trick)