Thursday, March 24, 2016

Purim at.... Starbucks?

The goal of this blog is to put some spring into your step at the Shabbat table.
(To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.)
Wondering how to get yourself and family into the Purim mood? Get yourself down to Starbucks, where you can now get Hamentaschen-flavored coffee, just for Purim. Starbucks announced that the special flavor would only be available in participating locations, and only on the day of Purim. (It comes in a souvenir mug, as you can see pictured here.)

Also newsworthy, Google has announced that, in partnership with an enterprising Rabbi in Silicon Valley, they will soon launch the first on-line circumcision service. Called gMOIL, the service will be available to both men and women alike and will be, for the time being, a free service. Go to

But quite seriously – is there anything more to Purim than costumes and booze?

Here’s a secret that few people know.

1,000 years ago, Rabbi Moshe Maimonides (RAMBAM) wrote that the best way to get into Purim is to give extra tzedaka (money to the poor).

But why? We give tzeddaka all year long – why especially increase it on Purim?

Listen to his reason: the main goal of Purim is to be happy – really very happy.

And there are two ways to create true simcha (joy).

One of those is to help someone who's down - a poor person, an orphan, a widow, a new immigrant (legal, of course!).

The problem is, many of us who don't live in San Francisco don’t know where to find such people...

For that reason, some thoughtful people have created avenues to give, where you can be sure your tzeddaka is going to the very neediest. Here is an example:

I encourage you to give to them, and to be extra generous on Purim, to give to anyone who opens up their hand.

That’s Purim in a nutshell, the rest is commentary.

Happy Purim and Shabbat Shalom


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Friday, March 18, 2016

It's a Steal

The goal of this blog is to put some spring into your step at the Shabbat table.
In memory of
Chaya-Esther bas Moshe.
(To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

7-eleven-byo-cup-day-a2bacfcf15e94a88Someone asked me today: Are you going to 7-11?

What was she talking about?

Evidently, for some reason today 7-11 will let you fill any container you can carry with their famous Slurpee.

Some people show up with fish bowls.

It causes long lines.

Now, I can provide enough Slurpee for my entire family with the extra-large cup. Why would I even want any more than that?

Evidently, people just love the idea of "free".

Question for your table: Is this a Jewish ethic?

It is told of the famous Chafetz Chaim that once upon a time he was at a rabbinic conference in Warsaw and needed paper to take some notes. On the table at the home where he was staying, there was a small piece of paper. He asked whose it was?

People who heard the question said, "Surely whoever owns that paper would be happy for the Rav to use it! Besides, it has little value!"

The Chafetz Chaim replied, "True, the piece of paper may have little value, but the material for teh prosecuting Angel that would be created by such a lapse in sensitivity to another person's property could destroy all of Warsaw!"

That is the Torah ethic - that we should develop such sensitivity to other people's property, even greater than our desire for "free".

Shabbat Shalom 

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Putting Your Foot Down

The goal of this blog is to put some spring into your step at the Shabbat table.
Dedicated to the continued and speedy recovery of my Mom, completing post-rehab week 2 and doing better every day.

Foot collageQuick – which part of your body contains the most bones, joints and muscles?

Would you have guessed your feet?

A full one-quarter of your bones are in your feet! Why so many?

We humans are top-heavy. And gravity is pulling us downward all the time. And the world is a bumpy place. So your feet are designed to give you maximum safety and comfort as you walk around. Each foot is a complex mechanical structure with 26 bones, 33 joints, more than 100 muscles, tendons & ligaments and 7,800 nerves.

That complex design allows your foot to react to uneven surfaces, like grass, sand or rocks. Your foot actually changes shape and orientation. And it does that automatically - you don’t even have to think about it!

Central to that design is the arch. Everyone knows about the arch of the foot. But most people don't know that each foot actually has five or more interconnected arches (not merely three or four as some websites claim). They work together like a sophisticated spring and protect your whole body from the shocks of walking.

Speaking of walking, how many steps would you guess you take every day?

If you’re really, really busy, maybe only 1,000. If you’re average, about 3,000; more active than average, about 5,000; and the super-walkers out there get up to 10,000. (By the way, if you're wondering if really matters, click here or here.)

But even at 3,000 steps
, your feet must get pretty hot! Fortunately, you have about 250,000 sweat glands in your feet producing a cup of perspiration daily.

And that brings me to the toes.... Why do we have them? Could you learn to walk without toes? Do we really need these funny knobs sticking out of our feet?

People without toes can walk, but toes make it a lot easier to balance, especially when you’re running and jumping. Your foot is the perfect design for your body!

So you’re walking around on these complex balancing machines called feet. Think of everything you do in a day on your feet – walking, running, playing and so on. 3,000 steps! Think of how much force and stress your feet withstand, every day. During an average day of walking, the total forces on your feet can total hundreds of tons, that’s like a fully loaded cement truck. And every time you take a step, all of your body weight is shifted onto one foot. Your feet take a beating every day.

All this leads to today's question for your table:

Can you imagine doing all that walking and running around without shoes? What it would be like? What would it do to your feet? If there were no shoe factories, no shoe stores, no cobblers, what would you do? Could you make your own?

(The above is a unit in our Amazing Nature for Teachers curriculum. For more info or to subscribe, click here.)

Shabbat Shalom 

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Friday, March 04, 2016

The Poly Ticks

The goal of this blog is to avoid politics at the Friday night dinner table.
Dedicated to the continued and speedy recovery of my Mom, who is returned home from rehab this week and is doing better every day. (To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

trump-cardAs you know, this space avoids politics and current events like the plague.

This week so many people have asked me my take on the popularity of Mr. Trump and my curiosity was piqued enough to do some research.

To me, the wild theories by non-Trump supporters trying to make sense of his popularity are even more extraordinary than his popularity itself.

According to NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, quoting various polls and studies, people support Trump because they are un-intellectual xenophobic paranoids. The Washington Post's Jeff Guo says nearly the same thing.

"NerdWriter" Evan Puschak boils it down to the un-intellectual part, for Trump evidently speaks at a 3rd grade level. (There is a video version of Pushak's analysis here.)

The Atlantic, too, finds that his popularity is a result of (mostly poor white male) ignorance and racism.

This Huffington Post collumnist, under the headline "I Know the Real Reason Why Donald Trump is So Popular", has the chuzpa to say:

I don't even think most of the Trump supporters realize why they like him so much. They think they like Trump's "tough talk." But that's not what it is. They're simply hypnotized by the power of celebrity. It's sort of like how if your grandfather gets a tattoo, it's gross. Meanwhile, if an attractive woman gets the exact same tattoo, it's sexy. It's not the tattoo- it's the woman. It's not what Trump says- it's the celebrity saying it.

One common theory among the dumfounded is that the Trump phenomenon is nothing short of class-war-driven fascism. Consider this alarmed analysis from Presbyterian minister Chris Hedges:

There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.

All of the above is, in my opinion, wishful thinking.

This morning C-SPAN asked Trump supports to call in and tell why they are Trump supporters.

Here is the entire 20-minute segment (requires updated Flash).

The callers were not under-educated. They were not mostly white males.

They were often women, mostly well-educated, sometimes African Americans.

Here's the basic message I heard from caller after caller:

"I support Trump because he is not trying to be a smooth-talking politician and because he is an outsider to the big-money-driven machine of Washington D.C. Yes, he's sometimes offensive or illogical, but those qualities are less offensive to me than being motivated by greed."

In other words, ever since September 26, 1960, we have allowed our video media to drive elections more and more towards style rather than substance.

Think about it: does being the sharpest debater make you the best president?

Along comes Mr. Trump and thumbs his nose at that entire image-driven culture. His willingness to say offensive things actually makes him appear more genuine and trustworthy.

He appears to say what he really believes and not merely insincere sweet talk in order to get elected.

That, as my grandfather would have said, is my two-bits.

Leaving you with this question for your table: Given the following alternatives, what's more important in a leader: that s/he should be a tactful, impressive statesman, or that s/he should be genuine and trustworthy?

Shabbat Shalom 

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