Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Channuka-Thanksgiving Myth

The purpose of this blog is to help you turn Thanksgiving into thanksgiving. Please share at the table and forward to everyone you know.... If you are still scrambling for Channuka gifts, you might look at our suggestions.

Stephen-Colbert-Report-Thanksgiving-HannukahQuestion for your table:

Why so much to-do about the intersection of Channuka and Thanksgiving today?

One email going around claims that "it has never happened before...and it will never happen again."

Others have claimed that there is no connection between Channuka and Thanksgiving.

In fact, they're both wrong.

As always, we will try to dispel myths and to tell you the full truth.

First, Thanksgiving wasn't always in November.

The first official American Thanksgiving was celebrated in December.

It was proclaimed by President Henry Laurens as his first official act as President of the Continental Congress of the United States of America.

George Washington was the first president under the Constitution, and he too issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation, but he wasn't the first (unlike this Wikipedia article).

Washington began his first term in 1789. Who do you think ran the country before that?

When the United States of America was born on July 4, 1776, John Hancock was at the helm. Then Laurens began his term on November 1, 1777.

He was a veteran, a farmer and a wealthy slave trader. He was also a free-thinking .

His first act as President was to declare a national Day of Thanksgiving on December 18, 1777.

According to the Proclamation, Thanksgiving should be a solemn day: "Servile labor and such recreations (although at other times innocent) may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment [and should] be omitted on so solemn an occasion.”

(Presidents like to issue proclamations, by the way. Back then, in times of war, they even declared days of "humiliation, fasting and prayer".)

Laurens was succeed by John Jay, Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean and finally Maryland's own John Hanson.

200px-John_Hanson_Portrait_1770 Hanson proclaimed that December 13, 1781 should be a national Day of Thanksgiving.

Guess what, that was the 2nd night of Channuka.

Happened again in the 1800s.

And to those who say it won't happen again for 70,000 years?

That depends - will Thanksgiving always be on the 4th Thursday in November? I doubt it.

But there is a much more interesting connection between Channuka and Thanksgiving than merely the date.

On Channuka, there is a custom of saying Hallel - the song of praise, which emphasizes the Hebrew word HODU.

To understand this deeply, try to imagine you are the first European to visit America.

Of course, you think you're in India.

It's an amazing New World! Strange people, strange foliage, strange animals.

And you see this gobbly chicken-like bird.

What do you call it?

Remember, you think you're in India, so you naturally call it "Indian chicken."

Are you with me so far?

So French explorers dubbed this new bird poulet d'Inde (Indian chicken) later shortened to dinde (pronounced "dand").

English settlers called the bird turkey because they thought it looked like another type of fowl that was imported from Turkey.

Jewish explorers sided with the French and called it tarnegol hodu which means "hindu chicken" and was later shortened it to simply hodu.

What's interesting for us is that the Hebrew word HODU is prominent in Hallel (mentioned above) because it also happens to mean "give thanks."

So from a Jewish perspective, you could say it's very appropriate to eat hodu on "hodu"-day.

But does that make Thanksgiving Jewish?

Look up the word "Jewish".

It means from the tribe of Judah.

Look up the word Judah.

It means, you guessed it: "thankful".

Therefore, being "Jewish" means cultivating a thanksgiving mindset every single day.

(I can hear it already - "Gee honey, I'm watching so much football because the rabbi told me to....)

Wait a second (I know you're thinking this)... Did he say "Jewish explorers"??

He did.

In fact - and this is a juicy one for your table - when Columbus famously came to the New World, who among his crew was the very first to spot land? Obviously, it must have been the man working in the upper mast on the front ship, right? And we know who this was: Roderigo De Triana, a Jewish sailor.

So for your table: How Jewish is Thanksgiving?

One last thought:

Jews on this side of the pond should consider ourselves lucky to live in a country that has a national day of Thanksgiving.

Think about it.

I will just leave you with one question for your table and my own answer.

If Channuka and Thanksgiving are both about thanksgiving, what's the difference?

It might be interesting to pose that to the table before reading them the rabbi's answer.

The rabbi says:

Thanksgiving has traditionally - since the Pilgrims - been about gratitude for our material blessings.

Channuka has always been about gratitude for our spiritual blessings, and our membership in a Tribe that takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. Then and now.

Happy Hannuka

Happy Thanksgiving

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Audio class on cultivating gratitude by the inimitable R. Rietti

PPS - Some of the above is quoted from the Amazing Jewish Fact-a-Day Calendar for iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle etc. Isn't it about time you forwarded a nugget like this to all your friends?

iPhone/iPad app

Android (Google) app

Android/Kindle (Amazon) version

Friday, November 22, 2013


Hannuka is next week.... here is the web's best list of the best Hannuka books, toys and gifts.

 embarrassed-300x300This week: a question for your table and an anti-question.

The question: What would you do if you realized that you had harmed someone?

(I hope the answers you get will be at the very least "I'd apologize.")

Now for the anti-question (meaning - don't answer it out loud!):

Have you ever embarrassed someone?

How about in public?The rabbis say that embarrassing someone in public is just about the worst thing you could do to someone. (Talmud Baba Metzia 59a).

Worse than murder!

It's so bad we should rather die a painful death than to do it!

It's so bad that if one does it and fails to get the victim's forgiveness, one "loses one's share in the World to Come" (ibid.).


Here's a true story told in the Art of Amazement (p. 174):

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the greatest of twentieth century sages, always attracted a crowd when he went outside his home in New York. Once, a particularly eager student rushed to help the Rav get into his car, and in doing so, slammed the door shut on Rav Moshe’s finger. Yet the Rav did not cry out—indeed, he did not react at all and the other occupants of the car did not realize what had happened until the car had driven several blocks and Rav Moshe opened the door to relieve his finger.

While a doctor treated the wound, an astonished student asked how it could be that Rav Moshe uttered no expression
of pain when the door was closed on his hand. Rav Moshe was reportedly taken aback with the question: “What? And embarrass that young man in public? God forbid!”

Can you name some common situations when this happens?

How about:
  • Embarrassing a child in front of other children
  • Embarrassing a spouse in front of children
  • A teacher embarrassing a student in class
  • Teasing someone when it ends up embarrassing them
So what's the remedy?

As you know by now, Channuka begins next week. If you'd like to hear one of my two Channuka classes (mp3 download), shoot me an email.

But I'd like to leave you with a pre-Channuka challenge. See if you can go 8 days in a row without embarrassing anyone.

It sounds easy, but it ain't.

Anyone who succeeds, let me know the dates you were embarrassment-free (honor system) and I'll send you a special Channuka present.

(Please share this challenge with any kids in your life so I can send them a special Hannuka present too!)

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Channuka

"The mouth is like a loaded gun. Before one shoots, he can aim the gun harmlessly at a target. However, once he fires the bullet, he loses control, and the bullet will hit anything in its path." - Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern

PS - Please follow me on Twitter, or tweet this week's blog, or like it, or just send it to someone you love...

Friday, November 15, 2013

LIfe is a Pyramid

Looking for a Channuka gift, book or activity? Here's the web's best list of the best.

Life is a Pyramid
Three questions for your table: jewishspirituality.net_lifepyramid

1. Raise your hand if you ever felt like you just wasted a lot of time.

2. Why does this happen?

3. What's the solution?

Recently I joined Quora and have been asking myself if it is a good or poor use of my time.

In asking the question, I noticed that I'm able to rationalize just about anything.

Ever have that problem?

So someone on Quora recently asked:

What's the best way to manage your time?

The answers were quite interesting and if you'd like to see my compendium of the best ones, send me an email.

One of the answers included a pyramid similar to the one above.

I took one look at his pyramid and felt like I was having déjà vu all over again.

It's uncannily similar to the structure of Chapter 3 of my book (The Art of Amazement).

I borrowed his idea for the colored pyramid and tweaked the words to match my own orientation, and now present it to you as a self-assessment.

Color version
Black-and-white version

(Note the point system!)

Please print a copy for everyone at your Shabbat table and let me know if they agree or disagree that this is the surest path to living every day to the fullest.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Please follow me on Twitter, or tweet this week's message, or like it, or just forward it to someone you love...

Friday, November 08, 2013

Everyday Greatness

Looking for a Channuka book, gift or activity? 
We don't sell them, but we have an exclusive list of the best.

Have you heard of Alan Morinis?

Easily one of the nicest guys I've met.

Having done time in Marin, California, he now lives in Vancouver and has started a Jewish movement.

Alan has this great personal story.

By profession, he was an anthropologist, specializing in pilgrimmages.

And as a middle-aged Jewish male, Alan was looking up and down for meaning.

He tried everything.

Then he stumbled upon an obscure Jewish book that talked about something called "mussar". He loved what he read, and wanted to know more.

But he didn't know where to go.

He noticed that the book had been endorsed by a certain rabbi in Brooklyn. There was no information about this rabbi, but there was a phone book. Alan found him and asked if he could visit.

Over the next several years, Alan commuted from Vancouver to New York. He sat at the proverbial feet of his mentor - his rebbe - in order to absorb what he could and change his life.

From this learning came:

• Three books: Climbing Jacob's Ladder (partly a memoir of his journey), Everyday Holiness, and Every Day Holy Day.
• An organization with a mission to educate the world about mussar.
• Thousands of lives changed for the better.

So this all leads to two questions for your table:

1. Does spiritual greatness require a pilgrimage or quest, or can it be done at home?
2. What would get you to fly across the country to study with a rabbi?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Please follow me on Twitter, or tweet this week's email, or like it, or just forward it to someone you love...

Friday, November 01, 2013

Luck, Fate or Karma?

The purpose of this blog is to get kids of all ages talking at the Friday night dinner table. Print and share.

image001 Here's a true story for your table tonight, followed by an inescapable question.

Take a look at this photo, to the left.

Take your time to study it carefully.

Notice the position of the white pickup truck. How do you think it got there?

Notice where the guardrail is broken where the people are standing?

Notice how the breach is on the other side of the culvert (tunnel)?

According to police, the pickup was traveling about 80 mph when it crashed through the guardrail.

It flipped end-over-end bounced off and across the culvert and landed right side up on the left side of the culvert, now facing the opposite direction from which the driver was traveling.

The 22-year-old driver and his 18-year-old passenger were unhurt except for minor cuts and bruises.

This occurred near Hurricane, Utah on Highway 59, on December 30, 2006.

Here's one speculation of how the accident occurred:


Now look at this perspective on the same scene:


Think it's a photoshop hoax?

I thought so too, but Snopes doesn't think so.

Snopes' research goes so far as to give us an arial photo of the same spot:


So now the obvious question for your dinner table:

Luck, fate or karma?

As I often tell the seniors in a local assisted-living home where many are mobility-challenged: If you're here today, that means you have something to contribute to the world. Even something as "small" as a smile can change the world.

(Even if your answer to the question is "luck", doesn't this attitude make life more liveable?)

Think about it.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - the locals want you to know that they call their town “Her-ah-kun”. Don't want you to sound like a tourist, they say.

PPS - IMHO, the idea of karma relates to the Jewish idea of hashgacha.
PPPS - Follow me on Twitter, or tweet this week's email, or like it, or just forward it on...