Saturday, October 29, 2016

Complete Imperfection or Incomplete Perfection?

The goal of this blog is a perfect dinner table discussion. Please share.

perfectsquare27Apologies for not getting this out on Friday. (It was one of those weeks.)

(I think that's only the first or second time in the eight years of this blog that I have missed a deadline.)

In the spirit of yesterday's reboot of our annual Torah cycle, here's a thought from the first chapter of Genesis.

During each stage of of creation, God "saw that it was good."

Fair enough. If I were the sun, moon or stars, or a plant, or one of the fish in the sea, or an animal, I would probably be quite satisfied with that divine approval.

But there are a couple exceptions to all these warm-fuzzies.

Notably: humanity.

God does not see that it was good to create us.

Question for your table: Why not???
I suppose the more basic question is, what does it mean, "that it was good"?

Some say that "good" here means "complete."

The reason humanity is not judged as "good" is because we were not made complete.

We were made imperfect so that we could complete - perfect - ourselves.

Now that we've launched the new year with the new Torah cycle, there is no better time than to ask:

What am I doing this week to complete myself?

Shavua Tov - may you have a perfect week.

PS - Can you guess how many days to Channuka?

When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.
Read more at:
When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.
Read more at:


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Friday, October 21, 2016

Thin Skinned?

The goal of this blog is to adjust some attitudes around the Friday night dinner table. Please share.
skin cross-sectionThank you to all who continue to respond to our 36¢ challenge.

Last week, I mentioned visiting the assisted living folks, talking about smiles, and making new friends.

This week, a story of serendipity, followed by a challenge.

Serendipitously, one of the new friends I made on Yom Kippur is a certain Mr. and Mrs. Lowen.

He is 92 and she 90, and both are sharp as a tack.

He was born in Frankfurt. By 14 he had learned Hebrew and French, and a solid background in Torah and Talmud.

Then he witnessed Kristallnacht in Frankfurt, after which the Gestapo arrested his father and sent him to a camp.

Miraculously, his mother was able to get him released after a month. How?

She went to the police station and proved that he had served the Fatherland in WWI.

But they saw the writing on the wall. They put him and his brother on the famous Kindertransport to the UK in the late spring of 1939.

The parents never got out.

In England, they were hosted by a non-Jewish family, a big challenge for boys from a kosher home.

Her story is no less dramatic. Her family had fled to Milan, only to flee again a year later.

And here they are today, 78 years later, married for 70 years.

And they show no sign of malice, no hint of rancor. They told me they never returned to Germany and would not ever; yet they are people of faith, from families of faith, and one can see their parents' glow in their eyes so many years later.

This morning I asked Mr. and Mrs. Lowen if they had a message for the 1,000 people who read this email-blog every week.

She said, "Believe in God."

He said, "Love God."

Some people say, "How can I believe in God, let alone love God, after the Holocaust?"

Maybe they should ask the Lowens.

I've often said that the hardest two words in the English language are "I'm sorry," and the second-hardest are "I'm wrong."

Question for your table: What are the third hardest two words?

I would suggest: When someone apologizes to you, to say, "It's okay."

So I would like to suggest an appendix to last week's challenge.

Train yourself to become excellent at saying "It's okay" — even when they don't apologize.
To do so, you need to know that you matter, you were created for a purpose, and that the struggle itself, that's your purpose. There is no greater joy than knowing that. 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot/Simchat Torah

PS -  Here are some great inspirational quotes about forgiveness. And here. (My favorite: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” (N. Mandela) What's yours?)
When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.
Read more at:
When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.
Read more at:

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Smile a Day

The goal of this blog is to increase the SF at the Friday night dinner table. Please share.

BQXp7ioAThank you to all who responded generously to last week's 36¢ challenge!

First question for your table: Do you enjoy Yom Kippur?

I love Yom Kippur.

It's the one day a year I get a real chance just to sit and think.

No one expects you to be anywhere. You can find yourself a quiet meditative spot and think.

But thinking is hard. So I take a break every year and head over to the assisted living facility to lead a Yizkor service.

In there you have the most interesting, diverse and interested group of people. Interesting, because they have all lived long lives. Diverse, because they are a random selection of the community. Interested, because their lives are pretty monotonous, and they love visitors.

I saw some old friends (some of whom remembered me) and met some new ones.

My daughter Tehila joined me. She helped me distribute the Yizkor sheets and she helped me tell the story of Jonah.

Yizkor, I reminded them, is a way we remember our loved ones who have passed away. It's a very simple prayer, in a nutshell: "May the Almighty remember _____, in whose merit I pledge to give tzedaka."

Sometimes when we think of such loved ones, we wonder, "Why?"

Why did they die? Why not me?

If you're stuck in an assisted living facility because you are mobility-challenged, you might even wonder why God is punishing you.

So I told them, if you are alive today, it is because you still have work to do. What work could you possibly do when you can hardly get yourself dressed in the morning?

Maybe it's something as simple as smiling.

If you want to leave a legacy, just keep in mind that chances are, a hundred years from now, no one, not even your descendants, will remember your name, let alone anything you did (no, digital storage won't help).

Therefore, your greatest legacy is going to be how you can affect people right here, right now.

I'm talking about the littlest things - like smiling at someone, which
cascades like dominoes to.

Or pay someone a compliment. You just made their day.

Here's a New Year's resolution, for those who haven't made one yet:

Every day for 2 weeks, get five people to smile.

Second question for your table: Think you can do it?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." (Churchill)
(Sorry to use the same quote twice in a row, it is just that good.)

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Friday, October 07, 2016

Yom Kippur - Vive la Différence

The goal of this email is to put the PUR back into Yom Kippur. Please share.

pattern-line-white-black-zigzag-30149489Here's a puzzler for your Friday night dinner table:

What's black and white and read all over, and worth 36¢?

Too hard? OK, we'll come back to that.

First, a more personal question:

Now that the hard work is behind us, and Yom Kippur is so far off, what's there to do?

The answer, according to the Rambam, is.... do more.
If you are ordinarily not particularly friendly.... try to be friendly.

If you are ordinarily friendly.... be more friendly.

If you ordinarily are not particularly careful about what you say.... be careful.

If you ordinarily are careful about what you say.... be more careful.

If you ordinarily don't give tzedakah generously.... give tzedakah generously.

And if you are ordinarily generous.... now be more generous.

Once or twice a year I remind you that this blog is a project of a non-profit organization that is doing ambitious, creative work for the betterment of the Jewish People and humanity (like this, and this, and this, not to mention this

and this and this.)
Our operating budget is funded mainly by people like you. If you find this email occasionally uplifting, thought-provoking, discussion provoking, educational or even amusing, please consider an $18 donation for the New Year. (

Doing so sends the message that this blog is worth at least 36¢ a week to you.

Is it?

A final question for your table:

If a person is normally a tzaddik - is
it possible for them to become a greater tzaddik?

We have one week to practice being a greater tzaddik until the big soul-scrub next Tuesday night.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a happy Yom Kippur.

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." (Churchill)

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Rosh Hashana for Thinkers

The goal of this blog is a BOFA (breath of fresh air) at the Rosh Hashana table. Please share.

applesandhoneyLast Monday, with just a week left of the year 5776, we attended the funeral of my 19-year-old son's best friend.

I do not need to tell you that it was heart-wrenching.

He was a nice kid. Soft-spoken, smart. One summer a few years ago I hired him and my son to paint our fence. When they completed the job, he refused to accept payment, telling me that he didn't feel he had done a good enough job. I was satisfied, but his own sense of integrity prevented him from accepting payment.

(The official cause of death was accidental drowning.)

I share this unhappy news in the spirit of Rosh Hashana.

If you find that a bit ironic, it may be because you are thinking of Rosh Hashana like January 1: champagne, fireworks, saxophone, Scotch whiskey.


Rosh Hashanah is that one day a year (OK, two) (OK, maybe one) to think about your life.

How fragile it is, how quickly it can end ....

How precious it is.

What it will take to make 5777 the best year ever.

My Rav used to tell us, "Yom Kippur is easy. You fast and say I'm sorry a bunch of times. Rosh Hashana is hard work. You have to think."

Tradition says that how you think on Rosh Hashana affects your entire year. The day has a certain karmic energy that causes your thoughts  to have more influence than on any other time of the year.

Rosh Hashana determines who will be healthy and who will get sick. Who will earn and who will lose. Who will live and who will die.

(The root of "hashana" is shina which means "change". Rosh Hashana = beginning of change.)

This need to think is the real reason for two days of Rosh Hashana: clarity matters, and most of us need two days to get it.

Whether you do it for one day or two, if you end Rosh Hashana before achieving greater clarity about your life, you just missed an opportunity.

Here are two questions to help those at your table hear the shofar a little differently this year:

1. If you knew that this was going to be the last year of your life, how would you live it?
2. If you had to stand in a court and justify living for another year, what would you say? What do you hope to accomplish that would justify another year of life?

(For 23 more questions for contemplation, or for my "Rosh Hashana Omens" sheet, send me an email.)

Wishing you and yours a good, sweet year of health, success and great happiness. May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

If I have written or said anything in the past year to offend, kindly forgive me. And let's all pause around sunset tonight and forgive everyone who may have offended us.

L'shana tova!

"Men will forgive a man anything except bad prose." (Churchill)

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