Friday, April 26, 2013

Are You a VIP?

The purpose of this email is to promote life-altering conversation at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.
images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRIsPysccxtf-7pJk7Rs9UoxMuvMC20Re7MaNdJzg4-HWi-aMB6 The other day, the five-minute hourly newscast included this breaking news.... can you fill in the blank?

"Actor Allan Arbus has died. He was best known for his role as _________________."

So strong is the lure of the VIP that some people who cannot achieve it do the next best thing, try to take the VIPs down from their pedastals. There is even a cottage industry in death hoaxes, such as this recent one.

These news items lead us to this week's first question for your table: Are you at all tempted to click on the graphic to the left?

Even the slightest bit?

Not even slightly curious about what it takes?

Come on, be honest.

If you look around our world, who are the VIPs?

It's easy to tell. Whoever, when they die of old age, their passing away gets mentioned in the news:

- Just about anyone who ever starred in a movie or television show, even if it was 50 years ago
- Anyone who invented, created or discovered something useful or unusually beautiful
- Anyone who broke some kind of record, even if it was entirely by accident (like the world's tallest man)
- Anyone with a billion dollars or more.
- Anyone else?

A rabbi in the Talmud rejects all those definitions of VIP.

The true path to VIP-hood, says the rabbi called Ben Zoma, is open to anyone. It's a level playing field. Follow his advice and you can become a true VIP, regardless of your talent, genes or luck.

What it takes to be a true VIP is simply treating others with respect.

Your spouse, your children, your parents, your neighbors, the clerk in the grocery store, the stranger on the street.

The greatest VIPs are those who honor others all the time.

Did I mention your spouse?

Did I mention your parents?

Second question for your table:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how big a VIP are you? What's missing?

Shabbat Shalom

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

Friday, April 19, 2013

Explosive News

In memory of my father, who would have turned 73 today.
The purpose of this blog is to promote soul-stirring conversation at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Photo credit: ABC News
Who said it:

"A tragedy and devastation that has stolen our innocence, forced our children to grow up way too soon to experience a pain that nobody should ever know, and to confront questions that simply have no answers."

Can you guess???

We all heard about two terrifying explosions this week (I'm counting Boston as one).

But there was a third that made fewer headlines.

The quote above was a response to the one you didn't hear about.

It happened this past Sunday, but the story begins twenty years ago.

Twenty years ago, yours, truly wandered into Jerusalem looking for a place to learn about Judaism.

Some Jews I'd met in Paris told me that there were these schools called yeshivas where beginners like me could learn.

In English.

For free.

(Although it isn't always easy to decide to go.)

(Nor to find them when you do decide to go.)

(Nor to learn once you get there.)

OK, I wasn't a total beginner, but I knew all of about 10 words in Hebrew, didn't know what the Western Wall was west of, and couldn't have told you why Jacob was the good guy and Esav was the bad guy (although I somehow knew that much).

There's a long story here, but let's cut to the chase.

One of the several yeshivas I tried out put me up in an apartment with a couple other guys in it.

One of these guys was a rabbinical student named Mike.

Mike was about two days from his wedding.

He was one of the happiest guys I'd ever met.

He invited me to the wedding and it had a profound impact on me. That night I wrote in my journal, "I don't know if I'll ever become religious, but I know that I want to get married like that!"

Later I often visited Mike and Denise in their Jerusalem apartment. I helped with the baby, etc. And I discovered that Mike (and Denise) was happy all the time, it wasn't just because of his wedding.

That happy energy made Mike and Denise a magnet for all kinds of people, Jewish and Gentile. They set up rabbi-shop in Philly for a few years, then in Milwaukee, and most recently in Boca Raton.

Over the past twenty years, they have hosted thousands at their Shabbat table. The impact of their kindness is immeasuraable.

Twelve years ago, while they were still in Philly and the world was still innocent, they had a baby girl, their second daughter and fourth child.

MIke and Denise named her Shoshana Rachel, which means "the Rose of Rachel".

Shoshie grew up in a family whose middle name was Lovingkindness.

shoshieShe grew up with a natural compassion, second nature to her.  She was the rare kid who never complained where she had to sit in the carpool, or next to whom, she was happy and she connected with all kinds of people.

Shoshie was also a natural athlete, and on Sunday afternoon, she went out sliding (reportedly a form of skateboarding).

She was crossing a street at the crosswalk. She waited for the light. She was not wearing headphones or otherwise distracted. She passed in front of a car waiting at the light and smiled her warm smile at the driver, perhaps she recognized him, a member of her Jewish community.

This happy smile was her final communication.

To his horror, the driver watched the light change before Shoshie reached the other side. He realized that she was in mortal danger but there was nothing he could do. A moment later,  a car (not speeding) hit her, she was in the air and she was gone. This eyewitness, a doctor, leaped out of his own car and rushed to the scene but her soul had already departed.

An hour later when Denise went out looking for her daughter, the ambulance had already come and gone and the police were doing their investigation.

The 1,000 people at Shoshie's funeral Tuesday, arriving from all corners of the country, were a testament to what Mike and Denise mean to us.

By "us" I mean you and me.

I paid a shiva call yesterday, and would like to leave you with two things that Denise told me. Maybe you'll share them with your table.

First, I asked her, "If you had known 12 years ago that you would have only been able to have Shoshie around for 12 years, would you have wanted to have her, or is the pain of losing her too great?"

Denise said, "Are you kidding? I hate that she's gone, it hurts, but I'm grateful that she was in my life. She was a light. I'm a religious person, I was in Jerusalem for eight years. I believe that everything happens for a reason, even if I don't know the reason."

Shoshie had just recently prepared for her parents a gift of a collage of photos of herself, and a birthday gift for her sister two months in advance. These were bizarre things for her to do and Denise said that Shoshie must have known subconsciously that her time here was running out.

"What is an example of how she was a light?"

"When we moved here, Shoshie was a new kid in school. But she wasted no time making an impact. There was some kind of feud going on between two girls and each one had gotten into her own clique, and Shoshie made them make up. She told them, 'I'm not going to be friends with either of you unless you make up.' And they listened to her. That's the kind of girl she was."

May her memory be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - The best way to honor the departed is to try to emulate their goodness and to teach it to our children. JSL's Simi Yellen is offering her incomparable parenting course via telephone, beginning next week. Click here for details. Whether for yourself or a parent you know, we only get one chance to raise a Shoshie, this is the time to put in the time and effort.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Love Your Who?

The purpose of this blog is to promote friendly conversation at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

As the famous story goes, two guys made a bet.

One said to his friend, "You know that rabbi, Hillel? Nothing, and I mean nothing, can cause him to lose his cool."

The friend was skeptical. "I don't believe it."

"Wanna bet?"

"Sure, how much?"

"I bet 50 shekels you can't make Hillel lose his temper even for a second."

"You're on!"

So he goes to Hillel. But he waits until Friday afternoon when everyone is running around preparing for Shabbat.

He listens at the window until he hears the familiar splish-splash of someone taking a bath.

Then he makes his move.

Banging on the door, he shouts, "Hillel, is Hillel there? Hillel, I need Hillel!"

In moments, a dripping Hillel appears in his bathrobe with a look of great concern. "What is it? How may I help you?"

"Are you Hillel?"

"That is my name, yes."

"Are you the famous rabbi?"

"I don't know if I'm that famous, but I am the rabbi they call Hillel."

"I heard you're real smart."

"Well, I don't know about that. You shouldn't believe everything you hear."

"Listen, I want to convert to Judaism on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I'm standing on one foot [i.e., quickly]."

"My dear friend, I thought you were going to ask me a hard question. That one I certainly can agree to do."

So he converted him and then taught him: "What is hateful to you, don't do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah! The rest is explanations. Now go learn."

The whole story is much longer, but this is enough for me to ask this week's first question for your table:

Most people understand that Hillel's summary of the Torah is derived from, if not identical to the famous line from Leviticus, "Love your neighbor as yourself." But does it really mean the same thing?

This week someone asked me what is the Hebrew word for "neighbor" in "Love your neighbor". The answer is "ray'echa", the root of which is "rah" which means "bad". In other words, the verse could be interpreted as, "Love [even] the one who is bad to you as much as [you love] yourself."

(I don't think this has anything to do with someone who is dangerous or abusive. Just someone who isn't pleasing you all the time.)

Question #2 - If we're supposed to love the one who is "bad", what does that imply about someone who is for the most part good?

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.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Four More Questions

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

Question Mark Man

1. How was this Pesach different from all other Pesachim?
2. What's your definition of a successful Passover Seder?
3. How do/would you achieve it?
4. How do you want next year's Pesach to be different?

Kindly send (or post to comments below) your and your table's wisdom to share with others.

Just before Pesach I posed Q 2+3 to a few people, most of them veteran teachers.

Here's what one said:

Everyone should enjoy it – enjoyment itself gives them a strong connection. And ten years from now, what are they going to remember? Mostly whether or not they enjoyed it.

Two days later, he came back to me:

Beyond enjoying it, I hope that everyone should learn one of the lessons, such as that God is running the world. To achieve these two things, I make sure everyone is well-fed and well-rested before the Seder begins, then I keep things moving and dramatize the Plagues with many visual aids. And we sing together as much as possible.

5th question for your table - Is singing together important?

At a men's end-of-Pesach share-your-leftover-matzah meal Tuesday evening at a nearby shul, the rabbi spoke about this exact subject.

There were about 100 present, and at one point a portion of us were singing while another portion were (loudly) shmuzing.

The rabbi spoke beautifully and deeply, and told a story about the great rabbi, the Vilna Gaon.

In a nutshell, the end of the story is that the Vilna Gaon taught, "Anyone who doesn't get music, can't fully get Torah".

That's food for thought. (What do you reckon he meant?)

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Top answer to last week's Groucho question: "Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana." (Although the attribution has been questioned, Groucho afficianados have no doubt.) (For those who had too much horseradish over Pesach and are not getting the joke, click here.)

- Enjoyed this post-Pesach treat? Please like it, tweet it, or just forward it to someone who might enjoy it.

And please remember, when looking for bar or bat mitzvah gifts, books and toys of all sorts, let us do the searching for you: