Friday, March 29, 2013

Groucho and You

The purpose of this blog is to lighten up your Shabbat dinner table. Please print and share.

Groucho MarxIt's Pesach vacation and there wasn't supposed to be be a Table Talk this week.

But after eight years, it's a hard habit to break.

It seems to me that one way the night of Pesach is different from all other nights is that it's the most celebrated Jewish holiday.

Even Groucho Marx made a Seder.

It wasn't like your or mine, that's for sure!

(You can read all about it here.)

But it was a Seder nonetheless.

Which is enough background for today's three questions:

1. What's your favorite Groucho line?

2. What does it mean to you that Jews everywhere - North and South America, Asia (world's largest one), Africa, probably even Antartica (although apparently not this year) (oh yeah, and also in the White House)- all sit down and make a Seder on the very same night?

3. Despite our being scattered around the globe, it is being reported that the Land of Israel is now the world's biggest Jewish center. What, if anything, does that mean to you and me?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Pesach

PS - Want to give your Table Talk rabbi a taste of freedom? Like it, tweet it, or just forward it to someone who might enjoy it.

And remember, when looking for books, gifts etc. for Passover and beyond, you should let us do the searching for you:

Friday, March 22, 2013

If You Were God

The purpose of this blog is to fire up your Shabbat dinner table. Please print and share.

If you were God and had decided that Egypt needed to experience 10 plagues, which plague would be the first?

What would be your opening shot?
Ancient Egypt was a fabulously rich, powerful country, thanks in large part to the great Nile River. And they knew that the Nile was the source of their wealth and power. So naturally, these idolatrous people worshiped the Nile like a god.

So if you were God, wouldn't you strike the Nile first?

Imagine this scene: Achmud and Thasnas, an Egyptian couple, go down to the Nile river one morning with their buckets to get some water and just as they are putting in their buckets, the strangest thing in the world happens. The entire river turns red, blood-red.

Hmm, maybe it’s some kind of omen, maybe it’s just a natural phenomenon. But as surprised as they are at seeing the water turn red, when they draw out their buckets they’re completely shocked. It’s not just the color of blood, it is blood.


It’s easy to tell the difference between red-colored water and blood. Blood is thick, blood smells, blood coagulates.

And not only that, fish have a hard time surviving in a river of blood. In fact, all the fish in the river die. When you have millions of dead fish, what happens next? (It stinks.)

OK, so now we know it's no trick, no optical illusion.

So poor Achmud and Thasnas, what are they supposed to do? They went to get water for their families, and there’s no water. All there is is blood. Well, Egypt has other sources of water, there are other rivers, there are lakes, cisterns and so on. But soon they and every other Egyptian finds out that it’s not just the water in the river. It’s in every river in Egypt. In every lake, in every well, in every cistern.

In their bathtubs! Someone could have been in the middle of taking a bath and suddenly it was blood. Even water-based substances, like fruit. When you bite into an apple, normally a little juice will come out, right? That also was blood!

So Achmud and Thasnas go home without water hoping that they have enough stored in bottles to last until this water crisis is over. What do they find out when they get home? That even bottles of water in their homes have all turned to blood. This is a major crisis for Egypt, and for Achmud and Thasnas, who have no idea what’s going on.

Then the word comes around, there is a rumor, that the Jews have water. Achmud and Thasnas have no idea why, they don’t even stop to think why. By this time they are so desparate for water, they know a Jewish family not far away and they run to see if its true. If it is, the Jews are down-trodden slaves, they won’t even bother asking, they’ll just take the water.

So they get to the Jewish home. They know this guy, his name is Reuven and his wife Rivka and they’ve both done hard labor for Achmud and Thasnas in the past. They burst into Reuven’s home without knocking and see Reuven and Rivka each holding a glass of what looks like water.

“Reuven and Rivka, is that water?”

“Yessir,” Reuven says in a very humble way. He is, after all, a beaten, harrassed, molested slave.

“Hand it over.”

As soon as Reuven and Rivka give their glasses to Achmud and Thasnas, before everyone’s eyes, the water turns to blood.

“Aye!” you can imagine how disappointed Achmud and Thasnas are. By now they’re quite thirsty. But they’re also angry. “Is this some kind of magic?”


“Then how did your water turn to blood just now?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Aye, take it back, I can’t look at any more blood!!!!”

And as soon as Achmud and Thasnas hand the glasses back to Reuven and Rivka, do you know what happens? It turns back into water.

Achmud, Thasnas, Reuven and Rivka are all equally shocked to see this.

Reuven and Rivka slowly hand the water back to Achmud and Thasnas, and it turns to blood. They slowly hand it back, and it turns to water. They hand it back, it turns to blood, they hand it back, it turns to water.

How are Achmud and Thasnas going to drink water before they die of thirst?

“I know!” says Thasnas. “You hold the glass and pour the water into my mouth.”

So they try that [wait for them to mime this] but as soon as the water enters Achmud and Thasnas’s mouths, it turns to blood. Yech!!!

“I know!” says Achmud. “Let’s drink it together. Now I don’t want any tricks, or I’m going to beat you.”

So Achmud and Reuven are drinking out of the same glass of water at the same time and Thasnas and Rivka are drinking out of the same glass at the same time, but you know what happens? Reuven and Rivka are drinking water, but Achmud and Thasnas are drinking blood! It’s double-yech!!!

It turns out that the Egyptians learn that the only way they can drink water during this crisis is if they.....

Excerpted from the newly-updated Art of Amazement Haggada, now available for download as last year, and for the first time now available in a print edition. There are 2 versions, Leader and General.

1. Downloadable Art of Amazement Haggada (Leader’s Edition)
2. Downloadable 2013 Pesach Kit (includes both Haggados
+ 7 other goodies, including activities and games)3. Amazon print version – (Leader’s Edition)
4. Amazon print version – (Regular Edition)

Know someone running a Seder? Or who might benefit from a very-user-friendly Haggada or Pesach Kit? Please forward them this blog, or do what I did and send them the Haggada as a gift.


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Pesach

PS - Want to give your Table Talk rabbi a taste of freedom? Like it, tweet it, or just forward it to someone who might enjoy it.

As always, this message can be received via email. Sign up here.

And remember, when looking for 10-Plagues toys, other Passover books, even matzah, it's a mitzvah to do your search here:


Friday, March 15, 2013

That Kid-Cat-Dog-Stick Shtick

The purpose of this blog is to give you an excuse to change the subject at your Shabbat dinner table. Please print and share.  

This week's topic is a Passover enigma.

You may recall that the Passover Haggada ends with the fun but peculiar song, “Chad Gadya” – An Only Kid.

This colorful song features a kid (i.e., a baby goat) purchased by “my father” for the price of two zuz, evidently an ancient coin.

No sooner does he buy the kid, it is eaten by “the cat”, which is in turn bitten by “the dog”, which itself suffers being beaten by “the stick”. The stick doesn’t get off lightly for its beating; it is burnt by “the fire”, which is naturally doused by “the water”.

What happens to the water seems quite natural: it gets lapped up by “the ox”, which leads to the fatal slaughtering of the ox by “the butcher”. The butcher faces none other than the Angel of Death, and in case you thought that this dastardly fellow was invincible, he is ultimately vanquished at the conclusion of the song by the Holy One, Blessed be He.

So what's it all about?

Try asking that at the table, listen patiently, then read on.

The symbolic meaning of this sequence of people, animals and objects remained obscure until the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Elijah of Vilna, late 1700s) presented the following interpretation.

Each verse alludes to one person or event in Jewish history:

The kid is the birthright mentioned in Genesis 25. This is the right to take the baton that had been passed from Abraham to Isaac, to continue Abraham’s mission to build a world full of lovingkindness and monotheism and devoid of idolatry, child sacrifice and other evils.

My father is Jacob who bought the birthright from his twin brother Esau, who had been born first and thus had the natural right to the birthright.

The two zuzim are the bread and stew Jacob paid Esau for the birthright.

The cat represents the envy of Jacob’s sons toward their brother Joseph’s, leading them to sell him into slavery in Egypt.

The dog  is Egypt, where Joseph landed, and where eventually the entire clan of Jacob and the subsequent Israelite nation lived, were enslaved and were redeemed.

The stick is the famous staff of Moses, used to call forth various plagues and part the waters of the Sea for the Israelites to cross.

The fire represents the thirst for idolatry among Israelites that proved to be a persistent bane for over 800 years, from the year they left Egypt until the destruction of the First Temple in the Fifth Century BCE.

The water represents the Fourth Century BCE sages who eradicated idolatry.

The ox is Rome (Esau’s descendent) who destroyed the 2nd Temple in 70 CE.

The butcher is the “Messiah Son of Joseph” (Mashiach Ben-Yoseph) who will restore full Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

The Angel of Death needs no introduction; in this song he represents the death of Messiah Ben-Yoseph.

The Holy One of course also needs no introduction; here He arrives with Messiah Ben-David.

The repetition in each stanza underscores the ebb and flow of Jewish history – sometimes we’re down, but then we rise up. While most of the song looks backwards, it ends with an optimistic view toward the future, a fitting conclusion to the Seder.

Adapted from the new Art of Amazement Haggada  

Leader's Edition (i.e., for someone leading a Seder)
Standard binding:
Spiral binding: click here

Freedom Edition (i.e., for everyone else)
Standard binding:
Spiral binding - coming soon! 

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Passover begins Monday March 25.

PPS - Want to make your Table Talk rabbi happy? Like it, tweet it, or just forward it to someone who might enjoy it.

Oh, yeah, one other thing - please remember, don't forget, when looking for 10-Plagues toys, other Passover books, even matzah, start your search here:

Your rabbi will be proud of you.

Friday, March 08, 2013

HaHa! Haggada

The purpose of this email is to prod your family and friends toward some meaningful banter at the Shabbat meals. Please print and share.

CreateSpaceBookCoverFrontToday's question for your table is: What was the best Seder you ever attended? What made it so?
At last count, there were 1,733 different haggadahs and 202 "haggadas" for sale on Amazon.

Aren't they all basically the same?

Ever hear about a "new" haggada that turned out to be the same old thing as every other haggada out there, just with new artwork?

Today we — yes, that's the editorial "we" —  have a treat for you.

Fifteen years in the making, the Art of Amazement Haggada is now in print.

Some may recall that it was available for download last year.

But who has room for a stack of 8x11 pages on their Seder table?

Who can afford the ink?

The new edition is a small size and you have the option of getting it with a spiral binding, so it will lie flat.

How cool is that?

OK, that's the boring stuff.

How is this haggada different from all other haggadas?

All other haggadas have the standard text with some commentary at the bottom or in the margins.
This haggada imbeds the midrashic color right into the text.'

All other haggadas are one-size-fits-all.
This haggada is designed for the person leading the Seder, to turn you into a master storyteller.

All other haggadas focus on the rules of running a Seder.
This haggada assumes you know how to arrange the Seder Plate (and if you don't remember, you'll know where to look it up), and instead offers tips and tricks for keeping kids and adults engaged and involved in the Seder.

All other haggadas give you a feeling of inadequacy or disconnect when you get to passages you don't understand or relate to.
This haggada gently suggests that you skip certain sections if you find them difficult to relate to.

All other haggadas (or most other haggadas) offer the interpretations of a single point of view.
This haggada gives you the unembellished classic midrash. For instance, did you know that when the river turned to blood, so did every bottle of water in the homes of the Egyptians. So what did they drink?

Regardless of your level of religiosity, this haggada offers the liveliest, most engaging Pesach storytelling. That's what it's all about.

Spiral-bound version is available today here:

That's right... You can order it today and select the cheapest shipping and it will still arrive in time for Pesach.

Regular binding should be available on Amazon in a few days.

haggada_cover_backSorry if this sounds like a sales pitch. If you know me, you know this was a labor of love.

Don't forget, I already gave you a great question for your table:

What was the best Seder you ever attended? What made it so?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Passover begins in 2 weeks and change, on Monday March 25.

PPS - To my friends in the Bay Area: hope to see you Monday or Tuesday next week.

PPPS - Want to make your Table Talk rabbi happy? Like it, tweet it, or just forward it to someone who might enjoy it.

Oh, yeah, one other thing - please remember, don't forget, when looking for 10-Plagues toys, other Passover books, even matzah, start your search here:

Your rabbi will be proud of you.

Friday, March 01, 2013

How Full Is Your Glass?

This week, I got to spend two days with someone who told me, "I'm excited to get out of bed in the morning."

That inspires me.

Is he problem-free?

No way, hozay. Nobody is.

But what an amazing attitude!

So in his honor, today's topic is a new twist on that old line about the optimist versus the pessimist.

Here's how to play it at your table:

Fill a glass halfway with water.

Ask: "How would you describe this glass - half full or half empty?"

I predict that most people are either truly optimistic or have heard this metaphor and want to appear optimistic, so say, "Half full".

Some may say, "Half empty".

You then ask:

What kind of person would answer, "The glass is empty" ??

The responses should be interesting.

Then you get to ask the kicker:

What kind of person does it take to answer, "The glass is full!" ??

And how does one become such a person?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Want to make your Table Talk rabbi happy? Like it, tweet it, or just forward it to someone who might enjoy it.