Friday, January 29, 2016

Whaddya Snow?

The purpose of this blog is to spark some warm wisdom at the Shabbat table.
Wishing Mom a continued recovery. Please keep Chaya bas Yehudis in your tefilot.

The goal of this blog is foster a warm + cozy conversation at your Shabbat table. Please print and share...

Blizzard smileNow that the East Coast has mostly dug out, here's a story from the Table Talk archives.

The story takes place in snowy Jerusalem a couple years ago.

I had left the USA early enough to reach Jerusalem ahead of the snowstorm, but too early to have packed any snow gear.

When I arrived, in fact, the snowstorm was preceded by unbelievable torrential rain.

In Jerusalem, umbrellas are easy to come by.

Snow boots are not.

I thought, this is such a rainy place. Even without snow, there must be a lot of people who like to wear galoshes.

So I asked around. None of the local shoe stores understood the concept of a rubber shoe that you wear over another shoe.

Finally at about the 7th store the salesman at least had a clue what I was talking about and he even taught me the Hebrew name for it: andalayim (I'm guessing it's a Yiddish word formed from "on the na'alayim" - i.e., "on the shoes". Later someone told me that the correct hebrew is ardalayim, of equally unknown origin. Go figure.).

Anyway, this non-Yiddish-speaking shoe salesman who taught me how to say andalayim had no clue where to buy them, but someone else (maybe as a joke) suggested that I go looking in a Yiddish-speaking neighborhood to find them.

It turns out that the nearby Yiddish neighborhood of Belz had a shoe store and when I phoned up, the salesman told me that the indeed carried andalayim.

"But what size do you need?"


"Sorry, we're all sold out of Medium."

But this was no time to quibble over details. The blizzard of the century was blowing into Jerusalem and I was going to be stuck inside without boots?

So I took a cab to Belz and I managed to get one of his last pairs of small andalayim. They're rubber, so they should stretch over my shoes right?

The snow was already falling and I was pulling and pulling, trying to get these things over my shoes.

Would they tear first?

No way, they went on and I hobbled out of the shop back to the cab. I think the cab ride cost more than the andalayim. The problem was, when I got back to where I was staying, I couldn't get them off.

It became clear that I was going to enjoy snowy Jerusalem wearing galoshes without shoes. It seemed a bit backwards, but galoshes are galoshes, right?

So while the buses and taxis were immobilized, and most of the population either stuck indoors or resorting to plastic bags and rubber bands, I sailed through the white streets of Jerusalem in amazingly strong made-in-Israel rubber and five pairs of socks.

It was magical.

A blanket of snow is always magical.

Leading to the first question for your table:

Why is a fresh snowfall ALWAYS so magical?

Think about it for a moment.

Is it because snow softens the sounds, slows the pace?

Is it because snow closes schools and is fun to play in?

The Hebrew word for snow is sheleg.

Normally, we look for significance of a Hebrew word by how it's used in the Torah.

Sheleg is not used qua snow, rather to describe a perfect whiteness, as in "your sins will be made white as snow."

But the word sheleg has a peculiar quality.

Peculiar, that is, to those who study gematria (numerology). It's numerical value is 333.

Numerologists read that as: "The number three expanded to the utmost."

Or, "the ulimate in three-ness."

But what is "three-ness"?

The number 3 in Jewish thought represents something foundational about humanity: "The world stands on 3 pillars: Torah, Avodah and Chesed" (Pirkei Avot).

(Loose translation: wisdom, spirituality, kindness)

These three qualities are exemplified by the three Patriarchs: Avraham (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac), Yaakov (Jacob).

Perhaps this numerology is the key to the lesson of snow.

We need those 3 pillars - Torah, Avodah and Chesed - to have a stable world. Snow shows us what the world would look like when we get the right balance of those three.

Jlem snow boys 2It's magical - blanketing the world with a clean whiteness, smoothing over all the bumps, hiding all the dirt.

Yes, we know the dirt is there, and will be back soon enough.

But isn't it fun for a few minutes to pretend that it isn't?

But it's more than pretending. That magic is teaching us something.

It's reminding us what the world could look like all the time, if each of us worked on the area(s) where we are deficient in our own personal triangle.

Final question for your table: What's most lacking in the world - Torah, Avodah or Chesed?

Shabbat Shalom 

Let me guess - you made a resolution to become more wise in 2016? Or to become more spiritually connected? Put your $$ where your ) is - give yourself a subscription to the Amazing Nature for Teachers program - Great for anyone who enjoys a daily dose of inspiration.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Who Can Marseille?

The purpose of this blog is to spark some lively tête-a-tête at the Shabbat table.
Wishing Mom a continued recovery. Please keep Chaya bas Yehudis in your tefilot.

Kippa parisDid you hear what happened last week in Marseille?

On Monday morning, 35-year-old Benjamin Amsellem was walking to work.

He teaches a
at a Jewish school. He was wearing a kippa (yarmulke/skullcap) and carrying a copy of the Torah.

Suddenly he found himself attacked from behind by a machete-wielding 15-year-old.

Amsellem fell to the ground and protected himself with his feet and the Torah in his hands. Although wounded, he survived.

The teen, soon captured, later said he was proud of the attack, had acted “in the name of Allah and Islamic State," and that his only shame was that he had not managed to kill the teacher.

"Do you represent Isis," the investigators asked?

“I don’t represent Isis, they represent me.”

You may not have heard this story initially (since when is it newsworthy that someone attacks a Jew?)

But more media (including NPR) picked it up after what happened next.

What happened next was the response of Zvi Ammar, the head of Marseille's Jewish community.

"Not wearing the kippa can save lives and nothing is more important. It really hurts to reach that point but I don't want anyone to die in Marseille because they have a kippa on their head."

However, French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia demurred:

"To suggest this is like saying Jews bear some responsibility for being attacked. This is the same kind of thinking as those who would say a woman is guilty of an assault because her skirt wasn't long enough.
It's an interesting question for your table.

It's also an old question that has some interesting precedents.

For instance, there is an ancient midrash (traditional story) that when Moses arrived to Median (Exod. 2:15), his failure to identify himself as an Israelite (he evidently presented himself as an Egyptian) landed him 10 years in prison, as a Divine punishment.

In the rabbinic literature, the question has been debated for a thousand years.

Where does your table stand?

First, what issues are at play here? Safety? Perception of safety? Ethic pride? Freedom of expression? Freedom of religion? Anything else?

Second, imagine you lived in or visited a major French city. Perhaps you would want to visit the shul there on Friday night. Would you sport a kippa in the street? If you were a French parent, would you let your child walk to school wearing one?

Or would you prefer the middle-ground of the invisible kippa?

Shabbat Shalom.

PS - Sunday night (and Monday) is Tu-bishvat, our "New Year of the Trees", a great excuse to find as many fruits of trees as you can, put them all on the dining room table, and invite family and friends to enjoy. My goal every year is to gather the kabbalistic 30 different fruits, but sometimes have to cheat by counting different varieties of apple. Can you match that?

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Thursday, January 07, 2016

Carpool Conundrum

The purpose of this blog is to share it at the Shabbat table.....
Happy birthday to Marc in Marin! Wishing you a amazing year.

car in poolYesterday the following ethical question landed in my inbox:

You have a car pool where you alternate dropping off and picking up kids at school.

May one parent decide not to do carpool because their child is sick which means the other family is stuck running carpool when it is not their official day?

The sender was asking for Jewish or Talmudic approach.

What do you think?

Details to consider: they clearly made some kind of commitment to share the driving, and a schedule, but they probably did not sign a contract. Does a contract make a difference in this case? Is there a generally-accepted understanding in their community about what the carpool commitment entails?

While different cases may result in different answers, you may find it useful to know that the Talmud says that in general a verbal agreement is binding (unless the other party never really expected you to carry it out) and that renegging on an agreement is worthy of a curse (Baba Metzia 48b-49a).

So perhaps the question here is, what did they actually agree upon? What were the terms, explicit or implicit?

Looking forward to hearing the answers from your table.

Shabbat Shalom.

PS - This so-called "first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre" is perhaps a bon moment to dust off my open letter to the French People, inspired by Zola (NB - I also published an English translation).

"We owe to the Jews…a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together.” (ANSWER FOUND HERE)

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Friday, January 01, 2016

And the Greatest Leader is....

The purpose of this blog is to lead an inspired Shabbat table.... Please print and share.
humble-leaderYesterday the following email came in:

I was just on your site searching for materials on leadership.
I was surprised not to find any . . .
Please lmk if you've got but just have not uploaded.

The site he is referring to is our teacher's resource site,, where one can download free lesson plans, handouts, and other materials on any subject loosely related to Judaism (including ethics, spirituality, history, philosophy etc.)

Alas, while we have many unique materials that you won't find on any other site anywhere, many of our materials have not yet been published, awaiting editing and formatting.

Indeed a brief search of our server turned up what he was aksking for - our 40-week course, "Lessons in Leadership" which teases out the leadership lesson of many chapters in the Torah.

I wrote that curriculum nearly three years ago when I was studying privately via Skype with someone who wanted and needed that approach. He wasn't interested in the religious parts of Judaism, nor the philosophical. But as a businessman, father and grandfather, becoming a wiser leader mattered to him.

Someone more recently suggested I lead such a course as a webinar, perhaps via Facebook....

What are your thoughts?

In the meantime, as we race towards the presidential primaries, this may be a good time to ask at your table the broad but meaningful question, What is your ideal of leadership? What qualities make the greatest leader?

It seems to me that this is a worthwhile question to ask every four years or so.

Maybe in the coming months, some readers of this email will join me in an exploration of what ancient Jewish wisdom has to say on the subject.

In the meantime,

Shabbat Shalom.


"We owe to the Jews…a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together.”
(Winston Churchill, Illustrated Sunday Herald, February 8, 1920)

PS - Not a lot of time to read, but recently enjoyed Stephen MR Covey (jr)'s new book on leadership and the role of trust - highly recommended. Click here.

PPS - Notice how every mailing list you are (un)lucky enough to be on have bombarded you with end-of-2015 appeals? Notice how this list has not? We are contrarians here at JSL, and I hope you are too, believing that starting '16 on the right foot is even more important than scrambling at the end of '15. If so, please show your leadership instinct and click here to become a partner (or renew your partnership) in our inspiring educational mission.
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