Friday, October 25, 2013

If Not Now, When?

The purpose of this blog is to convert your Friday night dinner table into a Shabbat table. Please print and share. (To dedicate a weekly message in honor or memory of a loved one, send an email.)

harbin smog china Here's a conversation-starter for your table tonight:

"So what do China's smog, the smell of coral, and the US Mail have in common?"

Answer: They all remind us how interconnected we all are (no more privacy and local problems easily become global), and geography matters more than ever before.

By hook or by crook.

Question 2: What's the solution?

I'm interested in your table's answers, please send.

I propose leadership-by-example.

For example, in this remarkable, true tear-jerker about an "ordinary" guy named Gershon who somehow managed to embrace globalization and exemplify selflessness while maintaining privacy.

A 3rd question for your dinner table:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”
“My great concern is not whether you failed but if you are content with your failure.”
“That some achieve great success is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.”

OK, now let's put the two together. Instead of "happy", substitute your own emotional challenge:

"Most folks are as _______ as they make up their minds to be."

And then read the other 3 lines.

Now try out your new mantra every morning and once an hour. Try it for a week.

(Unless you disagree.)

But to quote the great rabbi, Hillel:

If I'm not for myself, why should anyone else be for me?
Yet if I'm only for myself, what value am I?
And what's my excuse not to start (having some self-esteem and start thinking beyond myself) right now?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you agree with those four quotes, you are in the company of Abe Lincoln.

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

What Happy People Do (and So Can You)

Happy Birthday Lisa - wishing you a year - and many more - of daily happiness! Love, Joel
(To dedicate a table talk in honor or memory of a loved one, send an email.)

If the title of this week's blog caught your attention, you're either a happy person or an unhappy person.

Or maybe a little of each?

(What sort do you suppose call or email their rabbi the most often? Sometimes the phone rings off the hook. Other times it's quiet. No news is good news? Or are they too stressed to call?)

 I don't know if it's a trend, or maybe we've entered a particularly unhappy period of human history, but happiness courses are now packed at Harvard and Stanford.

But I'm sure you know some people who are "happy people" and others who are "unhappy people".

Here's the first question for your table:

What do happy people do (differently from unhappy people)?
After everyone has a chance to answer, you might want to share with them this excellent post by blogger Jacob Sokol. Worth printing the entire thing, but here is my abridgement of his main points, called "12 Things Happy People Do Differently — And Why I Started Doing Them":

  1. Express gratitude. -- When you appreciate what you have, what you have appreciates in value. We're gonna have a hard time ever being happy if we aren't thankful for what we already have.
  2. Cultivate optimism. -- People who think optimistically see the world as a place packed with endless opportunities, especially in trying times.
  3. Avoid over-thinking and social comparison. -- Comparing yourself to someone else can be poisonous. If you feel called to compare yourself to something, compare yourself to an earlier version of yourself.
  4. Practice acts of kindness. -- Performing an act of kindness releases serotonin in your brain. Selflessly helping someone is a super powerful way to feel good inside. (The job of most anti-depressants is to release more serotonin.)
  5. Nurture social relationships. -- The happiest people on the planet are the ones who have deep, meaningful relationships. Did you know studies show that people's mortality rates are DOUBLED when they're lonely? We feel connected and a part of something more meaningful than our lonesome existence.
  6. Develop strategies for coping. -- How you respond to the tough moments is what shapes your character. It can be hard to come up with creative solutions in the moment It helps to have healthy strategies for coping pre-rehearsed, on-call, and in your arsenal at your disposal.
  7. Learn to forgive. -- Harboring feelings of hatred is horrible for your well-being. Your mind doesn't know the difference between past and present emotion. When you "hate" someone, and you're continuously thinking about it, those negative emotions are toxic for your well-being.
  8. Increase flow experiences. -- Flow is a state in which it feels like time stands still. It's when you're so focused on what you're doing that you become one with the task. Action and awareness are merged. You're not hungry, sleepy, or emotional. You're just completely engaged in the activity that you're doing.
  9. Savor life's joys. -- Deep happiness cannot exist without slowing down to enjoy the joy. When we neglect to appreciate, we rob the moment of its magic. It's the simple things in life that can be the most rewarding if we remember to fully experience them.
  10. Commit to your goals. -- Being wholeheartedly dedicated to doing something comes fully-equipped with an ineffable force. Magical things start happening when we commit ourselves to doing whatever it takes to get somewhere. Counter-intuitively, having no option -- where you can't change your mind -- subconsciously makes humans happier because they know part of their purpose.
  11. Practice spirituality. -- When we practice spirituality or religion, we recognize that life is bigger than us. We surrender the silly idea that we are the mightiest thing ever. It enables us to connect to the source of all creation and embrace a connectedness with everything that exists.
  12. Take care of your body. -- Taking care of your body is crucial to being the happiest person you can be. If you don't have your physical energy in good shape, then your mental energy (your focus), your emotional energy (your feelings), and your spiritual energy (your purpose) will all be negatively affected. Did you know that studies conducted on people who were clinically depressed showed that consistent exercise raises happiness levels just as much as Zoloft? Not only that, but here's the double whammy... Six months later, the people who participated in exercise were less likely to relapse because they had a higher sense of self-accomplishment and self-worth.
Wow - awesome blog. It makes me happy just to read it (#2) and happier to share it with you (#4).

2nd Question for your table - Is happiness a matter of nature or nurture?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Want to join a Happiness Club? Send me an email.

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

In memory of HaRav Ovadia Yosef, ztz'l. While he made occasional inflammatory remarks (sometimes misquoted sometimes flat-out wrong), he was undeniably an historic figure, a meteoric scholar, a transcendent and yet utterly compassionate Jewish leader. To give you a small idea of his enormous impact, one in seven Israelis, including untold thousands of secular Jews, attended his funeral on Monday (and I assume that most of the others who couldn't possibly fit into the streets of Jerusalem listened to it on the radio).

Dedicated to Mom in honor of her birthday - Happy Birthday, Mom!

In response to last week's post, at least one reader actually wondered, "Is that really what Judaism says, or his he making that up?"

I assure you, Dear Reader, I don't make this stuff up.

Like the story I'm about to tell you. It's a true story, believe it or not.

But first, a question:

Who is greater: one who never sins, or one who does wrong but then comes clean?

Here's the story:

Dan is a guy who lives in a pretty average American town.

He's employed. He has money. He is not having trouble making ends meet.

Let me mention as well that he's a married man, with children.

He gives to his local Jewish Federation. People know him.

So the other day he's shopping at a Whole Foods Market. He walks past the bulk sugar cookie bin and feels a wormhole  opening up, transporting him back in time.

Suddenly Dan is a teenager again. He feels an uncontrollable urge to do something risky. To do something illicit. To do something wild.

He snatches and stuffs not one but two cookies into his mouth.

These are not free samples.

For the next sixty seconds, Dan's mouth is so full that he can't even speak when greeted by one of the staff.

Can you picture this?

Not exactly your poster-child for human greatness, is it?

So the next day, Dan calls me to tell me about it. He's not proud. He is very matter-of-fact: "I knew what I was doing was wrong, I was just a kid again."

And the day after that, Dan is back in the store, insisting that the manager accept payment for the two cookies and apologizing.

True story.

Now I ask you again:

Who is greater: someone who would never stoop so low? Or someone like Dan, who does stoop low, but then comes clean, rights the wrong and apologizes?

As I told Dan, there ain't no one who never sinned, but the world is full of people who cannot - will not - own up to their wrongs.

Because they're more worried about looking good than being good.

Think about it.

(And there are also those who worry more about money than either looking good or being good. Oy.)

All right, one last question for you table:  
If you were the store manager, how would you respond to the apology? What if you caught someone like that with his hand in the cookie jar?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - A few weeks ago I sent out the following quote. Please forgive me for resending it:

"Apology is a lovely perfume - it can transform the clumsiest moment into the most gracious gift." - Margaret Runbeck

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

Friday, October 04, 2013

Better Late Than Never?

The purpose of this email is to help you turn Friday night dinner banter into a thoughtful discussion. Please print and share.

In memory of Andrew Sarosi - Aharon ben Chaim - whose first yahrzeit was observed this week. May his memory be for a blessing.

Better Late Than Never?

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQAOvfwk8cPmW3symC96kyHj6UavsaFmBtnQUL9On5v0XEWVUoYThe other day I dropped our teenager off at the barbershop with a word of fatherly wisdom.

As I handed my son the tenspot, I said, "Don't forget to have in mind when you pay the barber that you're doing a mitzvah."

First question for your table: What mitzvah are you doing when you pay the barber?

Here's a clue in the form of a riddle:

What mitzvah is a chesed (kindness) if you do it and tantamount to murder if you don't do it?

Still don't get it? Alright I'll tell you.

Answer: "Thou shalt pay your worker on time."

Does the Torah really say that?

Sure does - Deuteronomy 24:14.

OK, if you read the actual verse, you might think it only means a poor person. (And I suppose that those people who read it casually or don't know about Judaism's Oral Tradition can interpret it in many ways, such as this and this and this.)

But the rabbis teach that this mitzvah:

1. Applies to any sort of wage earner, poor, rich or even middle-class
2. Is fulfilled if and only if you pay them before the end of the day that payment is due
3. Is only a spiritually-meaningful act ("mitzvah") if you have in mind that you're doing a mitzvah
4. In addition to the obvious benefit to the worker, has two benefits to the one who is paying

Second question for your table: What are the two benefits to the employer (including, in this case, my son)?

Shabbat Shalom

PS: This discussion is based on the idea that the Torah's essence, its fundamental principles, can be summed up in three words. Know what they are?

If you don't already know, watch this: