Friday, October 30, 2015

Big Ben

The goal of this blog is to chase down some "true" wisdom at your Shabbat table.... please print and share.
Happy Anniversary to Lawrence and Amy and Happy Birthday to Steve, all in California! Live long and prosper. (To dedicate a future Table talk - send an email.)
BenThis week I had the honor of attending a unique event.

It was the bar mitzvah celebration of a young man in California.

His name is Ben.

It was unique in the very true sense that Ben is unique. It had his unmistakable imprint.

Some of the guests were nonplussed at the venue - a golf club instead of a synagogue? Is that allowed??

In my opinion, the essence of a bar mitzvah is not the ritual, it is the bar mitzvah boy's (or girl's) speech. He's teaching us a bit of Torah wisdom that he has learned.

That is his true coming-of-age - taking ownership of the tradition.

As I told him, "It's your Torah as much as it is mine."

What Ben said was inspired and inspiring.

He spoke of his favorite pastime - the game of golf - and how Torah lessons can be applied to the game. He then expanded the theme to point out that the same is true for life itself.

After all, Ben concluded:

The Torah’s full name is Torat Chayin – which means wisdom for living, wisdom for life. So you could say that the entire book is wisdom not just one section. One of the great rabbis, Ben Zoma, said: the person who is wise is someone who learns from all others. I think this is a great way to sum up the entire Torah.

The obvious question for your table is, What in the world does Ben Zoma mean? How can he define wisdom as "learning from all others"? Does he really mean all others?

Mazal tov Ben!

and Shabbat Shalom

PS - Here's your countdown timer to remember how many days til Hannuka.
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Friday, October 23, 2015

The Real Deal

The goal of this blog is to bring a reality-check to your Shabbat table.... please print and share.

Bill Joe FergusonDid you notice last week when I gave a shout-out to my buddy BJ in Mississippi?

Some have wondered who in the world I'm talkin' 'bout. 

This week I called him to wish him happy birthday and now I've got the bug again.
The gentleman to your left is the man.

We met on the first day of summer 25 years ago when he rescued me in his cream-colored Buick from the 99 percent humidity of Jackson, Mississippi.

 As we cruised up I-65 (barely more than a stone's throw from Highway 61), the sky darkened so quickly I thought there must be an eclipse. 

Suddenly it was raining so hard you got wet just lookin' at it. 

The temperature plunged to a cool 78°.

Pulling into town, he pointed to the Vaiden (sounds like maiden) water tower, sayin', "There ain't been too many times in my life I been outta sight of that water tower there."
That was the start of many adventures together....

For now, here's his interview explaining why he gave up his salary in order to help his school district stay afloat.

And here he is in last Friday's report on Mississippi's public school crisis.

Here's his contact info in case you want to give him a virtual high-five or donate some books to the poor kids of Carroll County, Mississippi.

Or in case you want to wish him a happy birthday.

(Or in case you have a blind date for him.)

(When he came to our wedding in Jerusalem 19 years ago, we were at a big Friday night dinner. Afterwards, a Hasidic woman in attendance, a matchmaker, asked me incredulously, "Why isn't he married?????")

He's the real deal, as they say down in Mississippi.

In "Jewish" (as my grandmother would have said), we say, he's a mensch.

Here's this week's question for you and your table:

What makes a person the "real deal"?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Do you know how many days til Hannuka?

PPS - If you're fixin' to visit, you may wanna check out the Vaiden visitor's guide.

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Friday, October 16, 2015


The goal of this blog is to turn extrospection into introspection at your Shabbat table.... please print and share.

Joseph's Tomb in FlamesThe image to the left is Joseph's Tomb, set ablaze by a mob last night.

Here is a little background.

In 1867, Mark Twain wrote:

About a mile and a half from Shechem we halted at the base of Mount Ebal before a little square area, inclosed by a high stone wall, neatly whitewashed. Across one end of this inclosure is a tomb…. It is the tomb of Joseph. No truth is better authenticated than this....Few tombs on earth command the veneration of so many races and men of diverse creeds as that of Joseph. Samaritan and Jew, and Christian alike, revere it, and honour it with their visits. The tomb of Joseph, the dutiful son, the affectionate, forgiving brother, the virtuous man, the wise Prince and ruler. Egypt felt his influence--the world knows his history."

For Allasake, there is an entire sura in the Koran devoted to him (#12: "Joseph - Peace Be Upon Him").

So how has it come to this?

There are so many answers!

1. The Moslem preacher's answer:

2. The US government's answer:
Mr. Obama's true feelings.
Mr. Obama's "clarified" feelings.

3. The Stanford professor's answer:

4. The American Anthropology Association's answer (make sure you read the comments):

5. Hadassah Hospital's answer:

6. The New York Times' answer (and a YU professor's critique of it):

7. The European press's answer:

Two weeks ago the question was, "When does life begin?" Last week the answer was: Now and the question was, How?

This week the question for your table is
8. What's the Jewish answer?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Hint #1 -
PPS - Hint #2 -
PPPS - Hint #3 -
PPPPS - Hint #4 -

PPPPPS - Hint #5 - or or 

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Friday, October 09, 2015

KISS (when life truly begins)

The goal of this blog is to get back to the basics at your Friday night dinner table.... please print and share.
KISS BANDQuick - can you spot the two Jews in the photo? What about the Nazi-sympathizer?

(OK, so these ageing guys have some interesting material for their therapists.)

(And no, the moral of the story is not that we can all get along if we would only just try a little harder. Tragically, it's not that simple.)

Let's talk about a different kind of KISS.

I'll give you the background, then explain the KISS.

You may recall that a year ago we launched a new curriculum for middle- and high school teachers, called Amazing Nature for Teachers.

This week we launched a new version which now includes engagement questions for teachers.

Here are two samples - feel free to send to your favorite teachers, principals or even parents who may enjoy:

Unit #1 - Baby Octopus.

Click here if you are prepared to be amazed.

Unit #2 - The Living Camera

Click here and you'll never see the world the same.

Here's the KISS:

It stands for "Keep It Simple, Silly!"

Everyone is looking for happiness. As they climb up the ladder of needs, they find happiness more and more elusive.

Sometimes they make it too complicated: Just take a look around you!

Last week the question was, "When does life begin?" This week the answer is: Now.

Question for your table: How can a person learn to slow down and smell the roses (to coin a phrase)?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, October 02, 2015

When Does Life Begin?

The goal of this blog is to pursue and promote wisdom at your Friday night dinner table.... please print and share.
In honor of Keith on his 50th birthday! The doctor is in? (see below)

KeithImagine there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400.

It carries over no balance from day to day.

Every evening, it deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use.

What would you do?

Draw out every cent.

Each one of us has such a bank.

It's called "time."

Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds.....


The above is the intro to a three-minute video that is linked below.

I have watched it a dozen times.

I recommend you watch it.

And think.

But before you do, here is a rabbinic background.

The rabbis (of old) say that a person goes through 12 stages of development:

At five years old study the Written Wisdom
at ten years the Oral Wisdom,
at thirteen become responsible for your actions;
at fifteen dialectics,
at eighteen get married,
at twenty find an occupation;
at thirty for authority,
at forty for discernment,
at fifty for counsel,
at sixty to be an elder,
at seventy for gray hairs,
at eighty for special strength.

Maybe you're precocious, maybe you're a late bloomer.

The question for your table:

Are you en route to "special strength" or are you headed the other way ?

The three-minute time video is now playing on our home page:

Happy Sukkot and Shabbat Shalom

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