Friday, May 31, 2013

What's the Opposite of Pain?

Happy Birthday to Rick! Wishing you health and blessings "ad me'ah v'esrim" - until 120!

lebronDid you ever see LeBron James play?

Who would LeBron James rather play one-on-one —

Kobe Bryant or…

Alexander Seinfeld?

Why would he obviously want to play Kobe? Won’t he beat me so much more easily?

It’s obvious, isn’t it? Pleasure in life is not the absence of pain! We find pleasure only through challenges, or “pain” as it were.

No pain, no gain.

There is this guy I know.

He's trying to conquer an internet addiction.

He's trying to conquer an addiction to unhealthy food.

He's trying to conquer an addiction to comfort.

We have such a pull towards comfort - everyone knows that comfort sells.

Judaism says that comfort does not = pleasure.

Comfort comes when you get rid of pain.

Pleasure comes when you use pain to gain.

Think about exercise and sport. Think about learning music. Think about learning anything. Think about trying to be a better wife or husband or parent or child or friend.

Difficulties in life, these are the pain that we need in order to experience the real pleasures of life.

Think about it.

For your table - What are the biggest pains in your life? What are the biggest pleasure?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - This Table Talk was adapted from The Art of Amazement - nearly a decade in print.

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

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Rabbi is a Rabbi is a . . .

Dedicated to the memory of my grandparents Lester & Sylvia Seinfeld, whose yahrzeits were this week. Also dedicated to the memory of all fallen US soldiers, including the 52 Jews who have died in uniform since 9/11/01 (see list at bottom). (To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

In my grandfather's memory, and in honor of the coming end of the school year, here's a story I've told in the past with a message that we all need to hear once a year.

It was a sunny August afternoon, some weeks before my freshman year of college.

My grandparents were visiting for no particular reason and I was taking cover in the family room.

Among the old Penguin paperbacks lining the back wall. My mother's college texts that she displayed like family heirlooms. Euripides and Sophocles, Dante and Shakespeare, Brontë and Faulkner, and others in-between.

My shelter in the edifice of Plato-to-NATO.

(Ever notice that most of those guys had beards?)

That's where he cornered me.

The truth is, I didn't even known they were visiting, but in he walked with a jocular rebuke, "Don't you greet someone when they come to visit?"

"Hi, Pop, how are you?"

"I'm fine. All ready for college?"

"Not yet, getting there!"

"Well," he smiled, "I have just one word of advice for you before you go."

"Just one word?"

"One word."

I could hardly believe it. This was great. This was going to be one of those moments that I'd be able to tell my own grandchildren about, and better yet, to blog about.

I waited for the word. He had already started to stoop, yet had exchanged his 1975 dark-rimmed glasses for lighter, youthful frames.

No hurry. He was smiling, pausing for dramatic effect.

Finally came "the word":

"Don't take courses."

OK, that's interesting. Are we having a senior moment, or is there a punchline?

I raised an eyebrow or two and waited.

Then came the punchline:

"Take teachers."

"Take teachers?"

"With the most interesting subject in the world and a bad teacher, you won't learn a darn thing. But with the most boring subject in the world and a good teacher, you'll learn everything."

What a thrill! After 18 years of grandfatherly advice, here finally was something that seemed really relevant and true!

I did follow that advice, in college and beyond, and it never failed me. You can usually tell in one session. Take the great ones, no matter what they are teaching, avoid the bad ones, no matter what they are teaching.

Life is short. There is much to learn. Invest your learning time well.

Try this question at your Shabbat table: Who were the best teachers in your life? Did you ever thank them?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Please remember to thank all of your child's teachers. Gifts are unnecessary, but a hand-written thank you note from you or better yet from your child means a lot. Teaching is hard work. They don't have to be perfect to deserve our appreciation.

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

American JEWISH casualty list since SEPT 11, 2001:
Pontell, Darin
Lieutenant JG, Navy, Pentagon
9/11/01 Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia

Evnin, Mark A.
Corporal, Marines, Vermont
4/3/03 Central Iraq

Smith, Eric A.
Chief Warrant Officer, Army, New York
4/2/03, Central Iraq

Wershow, Jeffery
Specialist, Army National Guard, Florida
7/6/03 Baghdad, Iraq

Bernstein, David
1st Lieutenant, Army, Pennsylvania
10/18/03 Taza, Iraq

Fletcher, Jacob S.
Private First Class, Army, New York
11/13/03 Samara, Iraq

Seiden, Marc S.
Specialist, Army, New Jersey
1/2/04 Baghdad, Iraq

Dvorin, Seth
2nd Lieutenant, Army, New Jersey
2/3/04 Iskandariyah, Iraq

Wong, Elijah
Sergeant, Army National Guard, Arizona
2/9/04 Sinjar, Iraq

Bruckenthal, Nathan
Petty Officer, Coast Guard, New York
4/24/04 Northern Persian Gulf

Schrage, Dustin
Corporal, Marines, Florida
5/6/04 Anbar province, Iraq

Sherman, Alan D.
Sergeant, Marines, New Jersey
6/29/04 Southeast of Baghdad

Engel, Mark E.
Lance Corporal, Marines, Colorado
7/21/04 Brook Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas

Tarlavsky, Michael
Captain, Army, 5th Special Forces Group
8/12/04 Najaf, Iraq

Stern, Andrew K.
1st Lieutenant, Marines, Tennessee
9/16/04 Anbar province, Iraq

Harrington, Foster
Sergeant, Marines, Texas
9/20/04 Anbar province, Iraq

Cohen, Michael R.
Corporal, Marines, Pennsylvania
11/22/04 Anbar province, Iraq

Shackelford, Michael
Sergeant, Army, Colorado
11/28/04 Ramadi, Iraq

Freeman, Daniel J.
Specialist, Army, Ohio
4/6/05 Ghazni, Afghanistan

Ben Yahudah, Benyahmin
Specialist, Army, Georgia
7/27/05 Baghdad, Iraq

Allen, Howard Paul
Sergeant, Army National Guard, Arizona
9/26/05 Baghdad, Iraq

Jacobson, Elizabeth N.
Airman First Class, Air Force, Florida
9/28/05 Near Camp Bucca, Iraq

Clark, Ryan J.
Corporal, Army, California
6/29/06, San Antonio, TX

Wolfe, Colin J.
Private First Class, Marines, Virginia
8/30/06 Habbaniyah, Iraq

Paul, Robert J.
Staff Sergeant, Army Reserve, Oregon
9/8/06, Kabul, Afghanistan

Secher, Robert Michael
Captain, Marines, Tennessee
10/8/06 Anbar province, Iraq

Oremus , Michael K.
Private First Class, Army, New York
10/2/06, Baghdad, Iraq

Krissoff, Nathan M.
1st Lieutenant, Marines, Nevada
12/9/06 Anbar province, Iraq

Blum, Aron C.
Sergeant, Marines, Arizona
12/28/06 Naval Medical Center, San Diego

Weiner , Timothy, R.
Tech Sergeant, Air Force, Florida
1/7/07, Baghdad, Iraq

Agami, Daniel
Specialist, Army, Florida
6/21/07 Northern Baghdad, Iraq

Bitton, Albert
Corporal, Army, Chicago
2/20/08 Baghdad, Iraq

Wolfer, Stuart A.
Major, Army, Florida
4/6/08 Baghdad, Iraq

Rosenberg, Mark
Major, Army, Florida
4/8/08 Baghdad, Iraq

Yelner, Jonathan
Senior Airman, Air Force, California
4/29/08 Near Bagram, Afghanistan

Farkas, Daniel
1st Lieutenant, Army National Guard, New York
7/4/08 Kabul, Afghanistan (Camp Phoenix)

Weinger, Robert M.
Sergeant, Army National Guard, Illinois
3/15/09 Jalabad, Afghanistan

Pine, Shawn
Lieutenant Colonel, Army Reserve, Texas
5/20/09 Near Kabul, Afghanistan

Schulte, Roslyn
1st Lieutenant, Air Force, Missouri
5/20/09 Near Kabul, Afghanistan

Fairbairn, Aaron
Private First Class, Army, Washington
7/4/09 Combat Outpost Zerok, Afghanistan

Walker, Morris L.
Private First Class, Army, North Carolina
8/18/09, Dila, Afghanistan

Sklaver, Benjamin
Captain, Army Reserve, Connecticut
10/2/09 Muscheh, Afghanistan

Kane, Jeremy M.
Lance Corporal. Marines, New Jersey
1/22/10, Afghanistan

Zilberman, Steven Miroslav
Lieutenant, Navy, Ohio
4/2/10, Arabian Gulf

Fisher, Zachary M.
Sergeant, Army, Missouri
7/14/2010, Lagman, Afghanistan

Malachowski, James M.
Staff Sergeant , Marine Corps, Maryland
3/20/2011, Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Soufrine, Eric D.
Private First Class. Army, Connecticut
6/14/11, Afghanistan

Green, Douglas J.
Specialist, Army, Virginia
8/28/2011, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

Shapiro, Steven F.
Private First Class, Army, California
10/21/11, Iraq

Seidler, Matthew R.
Airman First Class, Air Force, Maryland
1/5/12, Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Brodsky, Michael  J.
Petty Officer Second Class , Navy, Florida
7/21/12, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

Friday, May 17, 2013

Releasing the Geney

In memory of Bruce Keller, who tragically left this world this week. Our condolences to his family and all those who cared for him.

You would think that by now the frequency of the question would diminish ever so slightly.

Yet it doesn't let up.

Almost every day, someone asks me.

So I find myself joking, "I have a new policy, I only answer that question once a day."


Can you guess the question?

"Are you related?"

Someone asked me yesterday. And the day before that.

Sometimes it's someone that I've known for years. Other times it's a stranger who comes up to me out of the blue.

Hey Jerry, in case you're reading this, I just want you to know - one of these days, they're going to be asking you that question!

The real question that I would like to offer you for your Shabbat table is this:

What difference does it make if I'm related or not?

As my 7-year-old Devorah realized this morning, "We're related to everyone, even non-Jews, because we all come from Adam and Eve!"

Regardless of what you think of the historicity of that statement, you gotta love the ethic.

So why, I ask you, does it matter whether or not today's Jews are genetically descended from ancient Jews? (If you are not familiar with this controversy, click here.)

As I wrote last week, we are a people who have had some amazing converts. Some of our greatest rabbis were converts or descended from converts.

So what difference does it make, should it make, if there is or is not a genetic link?

That's the question for your table. Let me know what your table-mates come up with.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ruthfully Jewish

The purpose of this blog is to get the kids talking at the table. Please print and share.

Ruth, by Antonio Cortina FarinósRuth, by Antonio Cortina FarinósThis week's question for your table:

Who was the most famous convert to Judaism ever?

Answer: Ruth the Moabitess (i.e., she was from Moab).

It is an interesting fact that the numerical value (gematria) of her name is 200 (resh) + 6 (vav) + 400 (tav) = 606.

So what you ask?

Since a Gentile has 7 mitzvoth (the 7 Noahide Laws) and a Jew has 613, her name alludes to the 606 additional mitzvoth she received when she became a Jew.

(Source: Talmud Yevamot 47b)

Question #2 - Can you name the 7 Noahide Laws? (try to guess)

Question #3 for your table - The Torah says that there are about 10^18 stars in the universe. The question is, Why is this significant?

(Here is my answer to the question, and I'd love to hear yours too.)

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Shavuot

PS - What amazing smartphone/tablet app has this fact about Ruth?

Here's the answer if you have an iphone or ipad.
Here's the answer if you have an Android device.
Here's the answer if you have a Kindle.

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

This message can be received by email with a free subscription.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Ask Yer Rabbi

The purpose of this blog is to for some good ol Jewish conversation at the Shabbat meals. Please print and share.

 Ever met a first-time parent?

They're worried about everything.

Back in 1996 when we were expecting our first child, the doctor wanted to run a routine ultrasound.

He said it wasn't required, but could reveal certain problems and was a good idea, and that there was no risk.

Something about that technology sounded invasive and risky.

Something bothered us about bombarding our baby with anything, not even sound waves.

Something bothered us about his "no risk" certainty.

So we did something very unscientific.

We asked our rabbi what he thought.

Without hesitation he answered, "There's no evidence that they're harmful, but I don't think they've been around long enough to assume they're safe. Unless there is an urgent medical need, I wouldn't do it."

So we declined. (Later, during the second trimester, we had a more urgent need for one.)

NO, I did not say that rabbis can replace doctors.

And since then, ultrasound tech has become so portable that you can buy your own. (And led to some disturbing uses.)

Yet it wasn't long after that that evidence started to emerge that ultrasounds can affect fetal brain development.

For instance, this 2001 study on the increase in left-handedness among ultrasounded babies.

More recently, even scarier data has come in about a possible link to autism. (But the research, while scary, is not yet conclusive.)

So maybe having the right rabbi - even if he isn't a doctor - is not such a bad idea?

(Of course, having the right rabbi doesn't help much if you don't ask the question....)

Some people say, "I just don't want to bother the rabbi...."

To that concern, Rav Wolbe once said: When you find a rabbi who can answer your questions, "never give him any rest."

So this week's question for your table is: When is the last time you asked your rabbi a question?

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.