Friday, July 29, 2016

Suppose You Call a Sheep's Tail a Leg

The goal of this blog is to enhance reality at the Shabbat table....
In memory of my father - Dovid ben Eliezer - who's 11th yahrzeit will be Monday, August 1.

LincolnThey say the following riddle was really said by Avraham Lincoln:

Suppose you call a sheep's tail a leg - how many legs does it have?

The answer, of course, is four.

Calling a tail a "leg" does not make it a leg.

Or does it?

Lincoln reminds me of my father (tall, beard, bow-tie, wry humor, lawyer)....

And my father reminds me of his generosity.

And generosity reminds me of this true story with a moral dilemma - how would you (and the folks at your table) answer it?
Mordechai (not his real name) was a very wealthy philanthropist. One day Shlomo, a needy member of the community came to him to ask for his help with a pressing family matter that required a substantial financial obligation. Mordechai was very distracted by an overload of work but had sympathy on Shlomo and gave him a check with a generous donation. Shlomo left thanking Mordechai profusely for his generosity.

Some time later Shlomo went to deposit the check. He then saw the problem: the numeric box had the amount $300. But the written amount said “three thousand dollars”. Shlomo assumed that the latter was the correct amount (remember, Mordechai was very wealthy and very generous), and attempted to deposit $3,000. The bank teller didn't know what to do and called the bank manager. The bank manager happened to know Mordechai. She called him up to ask him which amount he intended to give to Shlomo. “Is it $300 or $3,000? You can decide now, how much do you want to give, sir," the manager told him.

Mordechai rememebered giving Shlomo the check, but couldn’t recall which amount he had wanted to give. It was clear that he made an error, but he couldn’t remember if his error was that he left out a 0 in 3,000, or wrote the word thousand instead of hundred. Moreover, in his haste he had neglected to write it in his check ledger. That day Mordechai's cash flow happened to be slightly more limited, and he preferred to give $300, but he didn’t want to renege on his commitment if he meant to donate $3,000. Mordechai wondered if he is he obligated to give the larger number.

What do you think is Mordechai’s obligation?

And what would you do?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Still time to help you favorite teacher or school -

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Friday, July 22, 2016

PG-613? (Pokemon Go, is it a Mitzvah?)

The goal of this email is to augment reality at the Friday night dinner table....

twitter v. pokemonI heard that the new Pokemon-Go game works like a pedometer and knows when you are walking, giving extra points for being on your feet.

I also heard that it rewards sportsmanship and teamwork.

Is that icing on the cake, or a silver lining on a gray cloud?

The cake is that people are obviously having a lot of fun with it.

The gray cloud is that it's a hammer in our ADD-toolbox.

(And perhaps some other pushback.)

There is a solution, based on last week's Hellen Keller piece.

This is a tool that you can use right now to enact Keller's vision (pardon the pun).

It's called NATURE.

Ironically, it works best when your smart phone runs out of juice.

If you're one of the unfortunate few to have an ultra-long battery life, it may require shutting off your phone. Or leaving it in the car.

(Hard to do, right? I know.)

It's great to be out in nature.

It makes you mentally and physically healthier.

But what do you do when you have to return home, and get back to work/school/life?

How about this: bring nature home with you.

Here's how:

Two years ago we launched the Amazing Nature for Teachers curriculum.

The site is now called

Last year, we trifurcated it:

1. Amazing Nature - for secular teachers
2. Nifla'ot - for Judaics teachers
3. Ma Rabu - for teaching tefila (prayer)

There are three ways you can play:

1. Register your kid's teacher or school for next year.
2. Sign up your family.
3. Subscribe yourself.

Go ahead - give it a try! I guarantee it will give you 301x more long-term gratification than Pokemon-Go, or your money back.

Now let's get to this week's first question for your table - Why is Pokemon Go so popular, even though it is PG (pardon the second pun)?

Is it the instant gratification? Is it the challenge?

Is it that it's safe (well, most of the time anyway)?

Is it the energy and synergy?

When you watch people play, it seems like are striving for something that seems intangible, like the energy of a fire.

In Jewish wisdom, fire represents the evil inclination. And the only way to cool it down is through the Torah.

Yet the Torah, too, is compared to a fire. Fight fire with fire? The Torah is also a challenge that is also nearly instantly gratifying, and is 100% safe.

Some say it's the greatest "game" ever played.

We have an ancient tradition that just as Jerusalem was destroyed with fire, it will be rebuilt with (metaphorical) fire.

It so happens that "Pokemon Go" in Hebrew has the gematria (numerical value) of 301, which is the same as eish (fire).

Hmm....Will Jerusalem be rebuilt through Pokemon?

Or through millions of people waking up from their augmented-insanity, deleting that app and making room in their heads for a bit of Jewish wisdom?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Blood, Sweat & Tears

The goal of this blog is to push your Friday night dinner table to its highest level...
I began to rewrite this email in response to the horror and tragedy on the French Riviera.

But then I remembered the letter I wrote to the French People eighteen months ago.

It's a devastating tragedy and they have only our sympathy, but I stand by what I wrote before.

What are you supposed to say to family from Texas who are going on a European vacation? Don't go? You can't live in fear.

But what you can do is emulate the "ninja rabbi" - rabbinical student Akiva Neuman - who recently competed on American Ninja in kippa and tzit-tzit fringes.

In the interviews, he stresses breaking stereotypes about rabbis and orthodox Jews.

Yada, yada, yada.

I would like to suggest a different angle.

The reports on Neuman stress his line that it's a mitzvah to take care of your health.

That's true, but Neuman didn't just wake up one day and decide he was going to become athletic. He was always inclined to sports and fitness.

What he emulates for me is, use your God-given talents. All of them. To their maximum.

So there's your question for your table - What are your talents that you are not (yet) using to their maximum?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - A prescient Netanyahu to France - help us get these guys before they come to France!

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Friday, July 08, 2016

Eyes and Ears

The goal of this blog is to break through the fog at the Friday night dinner table....

BubbegrandsonIn honor of my bubbe's 10th yahrzeit, a special treat for you this week.

Bubbe was born in 1911 in Chicago and lived most of her life in California. She was the last Yiddish speaker in the family (so far), and died with her eyes and ears wide open.

What do I mean by that?

I mean what Helen Keller means in her 1933 Atlantic Monthly essay, "Three Days to See":

Most of us, however, take life for granted. We know that one day we must die, but usually we picture that day as far in the future. When we are in buoyant health, death is all but unimaginable. We seldom think of it. The days stretch out in an endless vista. So we go about our petty tasks, hardly aware of our listless attitude toward life.

The same lethargy, I am afraid, characterizes the use of all our faculties and senses. Only the deaf appreciate hearing, only the blind realize the manifold blessings that lie in sight. Particularly does this observation apply to those who have lost sight and hearing in adult life. But those who have never suffered impairment of sight or hearing seldom make the fullest use of these blessed faculties. Their eyes and ears take in all sights and sounds hazily, without concentration and with little appreciation. It is the same old story of not being grateful for what we have until we lose it, of not being conscious of health until we are ill.....

To read Keller's entire inspired article, click here.

She concludes:

Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind. And the same method can be applied to the other senses. Hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, the mighty strains of an orchestra, as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each object you want to touch as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never smell and taste again. Make the most of every sense; glory in all the facets of pleasure and beauty which the world reveals to you through the several means of contact which Nature provides.

It's great advice, but how do you break through the daily fog of perception?

Suggestions from your table?

Shabbat Shalom


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Friday, July 01, 2016

It's Not About the Fish . . .

The goal of this blog is to foster some ethical thinking at the Shabbat table....
Tehila - our 6-year-old - came home from camp with a goldfish.

And very explicit instructions.

"Feed it once a day, just a little bit, and not more."

She was very, very careful to follow the instructions.

She also changed the water every day.

She named her pet "Goldie".

(Not to be confused with her big sister Goldy.)

And a few days later, Goldie was dead.

Her siblings all begged her to flush Goldie's carcass down the toilet.

Tehila would not hear of that.

"I want to give her a lavaya," she said firmly.

The fishbowl was starting to smell. My wife put it on the deck.

The next day, shovel in hand, she chose a spot at the far end of the backyard.

I stood at her side, holding the fishbowl.

She dug a sizable hole and then insisted that she personally pour out the contents of the bowl.

"Should I pour it all in?" she asked me.

"Yes, go ahead."

The water filled the hole and Goldie floated on top.

Then it began to subside and Tehila shoveled a bit of dirt over her pet.

"Goodbye Goldie," I said.

"Goodbye Goldie," she said.

I am telling this story not because it is a poignant heartbreaker about a child's attachment to her pet.

I don't think she had that kind of attachment to this fish.

I think that her attachment was to what she considered "doing it the right way."

What's interesting to me is how her perception of "the right way" was so different from that of everyone else in the family.

They all thought that "the right way" was to flush the dead fish down the toilet.

This then leads to this week's question for your table:

Is "the right way" always a matter of personal opinion? Or can a person sometimes just be flat-out wrong? And if so, how can you tell the difference?

Shabbat Shalom

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