Friday, November 25, 2016

Proof That You Do Have a Soul (and the Real Reason to Eat Turkey)

The goal of this blog is a thanksgiving weekend. Please share.

Waking upThe question to start off your table talk tonight:

Why does it have to be turkey?

I mean really —

They ate turkey so we have to eat turkey?

Would it be so bad to have a Thanksgiving pizza? Or Thanksgiving hamburgers? Or a red beans and rice Thanksgiving?

Why do Americans eat turkey like Jews eating matzah on Pesach?

Imagine you are on the boat with Columbus.

(Maybe you're even a Jewish refugee
from the Spanish Inquisition.)

Of course, you and all your geographically-challenged buddies think you're in Asia.

It's a strange world! The people, the fauna and flora.

And you see this funky chicken. What do you call it?

Remember, you think you're in the East Indies, so you call it "Indian chicken."

Are you with me so far?

French explorers agree that it looks like a chicken and they call poulet d'Inde (Indian chicken), later shortened to dinde (pronounced "dand").

English settlers think it looks more like a Turkey pheasant than a chicken, so they call the bird turkey.

Jewish explorers side with the French and call it tarnegol hodu — "Hindu chicken" — later shortened to hodu.

What's interesting for us is that the Hebrew word HODU also just happens to mean "give thanks."

So back to our question: What food should you eat on hodu-day? Hodu, of course.

Now ask somebody Jewish: You're Jewish? Can you explain what "Jewish" means?

I don't mean the religious or cultural meaning; I mean the etymological meaning of "Jewish".

Look it up. It means "a state of being thankful".

If you're living up to the name "Jewish" then you are living in a state of being thankful.

I assume that means every day. Make that every moment.

That's a lot of hodu.

Question for the table: How do you do it?

Say the rabbis: every moment is too hard, but once a day is not enough. Try this compromise: try to pause 100 times a day to say thank you.

Does that sound like trying to do 100 push-ups? A great idea, but too much effort?

+ + + +

The solution is the promised proof that you have a soul.

Remember the discussion last week about having a soul v. being a soul?

This week, counter-point:

Take a look at the daily siddur.

Most of it is various expressions of gratitude.

The very first line of the siddur begins like this:

"I'm grateful before you O Living King, for returning my soul to me..."

What can this possibly mean, if soul is what I am?

It would make more sense to say, "I'm grateful for your returning me to my body."

The confusion lies in our definition of "me".

Who am I who is speaking? Who am I who is thinking? Who am I who is experiencing?

I am not a soul. Nor am I a body.

I am a soul-body fusion. The bodily part of me is real and matters. It doesn't need the soul part of me to live, it can live as animal. It can live unconsciously.

But when consciousness returns, say in the morning, that kind of living is so much greater than being asleep.

And when consciousness is elevated, that kind of living is so much greater than being "asleep".

And the simplest way to elevate consciousness is to pause throughout your day and say, "Wow, thank you."

Or maybe it's not so simple. What do you think?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - I'm sure you're still counting down the days to Channuka.... Have you seen our recommended books and toys for kids of all ages?
PPS - Yes, once again this week this message contains a new easter egg....
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, November 18, 2016

Do You Believe You Have a Soul?

The goal of this blog is some brain-cleansing at the Friday night dinner table. Please share.
Happy birthday this week to Stuart in California.

Descartes_mind_and_bodyYesterday there was a voice message that worried me.

"Someone quoted something you said and I wanted to make sure I understood it right."


What was quoted as saying? Who is this person? What are they saying about me? What am I going to be asked to defend?

I phoned him back this morning.

The quote in question goes something like this (it actually works very well as a conversation piece for your Shabbat table).

Ask everyone:

Raise you hand if you believe you have a soul.

Most people will raise their hands. In most groups, everyone raises their hands.

Then say, Let me be the first to tell you: I heard from a card-carrying rabbi that you're wrong. You don't have a soul.

Pause and let that sink in.

Then say, You don't have a soul. You have a body. And the fact that you could raise your hand so quickly shows me how confused you really are.

The problem is that we are brainwashed, day-in and day-out, to think of ourselves as bodies. The media around us are constantly shouting, "You're a body, you're a body!" and we come to think that way.

But if your head is on straight, when someone asks you if you have a soul, your reaction should be the same as if they asked you, "Do you have a person?"

"Whaddya mean, do I have a person - I am a person."

Judaism teaches that some aspect of self exists before a person is born, and some aspect continues to exist after a person dies. We call that "soul".

Spirituality is learning how to live with the awareness of yourself as soul and not as body.

One of the most effective ways to become more spiritual is to lock yourself in the bathroom every day and look in the mirror and say, "You're a soul, you're a soul, you're a soul."

The degree to which you live each day with soul-awareness is the degree to which you are spiritual.

And it's a level playing-field. You don't have to be particularly wise, learned or righteous to walk this spiritual path.

You could end the conversation here, and indeed at this point the gentleman was ready to thank me and go about his day.

But there is one vital clarification.

This soul-body (or mind-body) split is a classic problem of epistemology, theology, psychiatry and even neurology.

Some religions teach that the split is so complete that spirituality means minimizing the body (by fasting, celibacy, etc.)

Our tradition says differently.

Mind-body dualism is only hypothetical. At this stage of reality, we are a soul that is fused to a body.

That body is inherently neutral, and can become uplifted and rarefied by using it with soul-awareness.

You can do this every time you give tzeddaka (even to the pushke) or to invite guests (which is hard to do right). Or stop some weekday activity on Shabbat.

Question for the table: When is it hardest to have soul-awareness, and what's the solution?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Hope you're still counting down the days to Channuka....

PPS - Yes, this week there is a new easter egg....
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:


Like this email? How about putting your gelt where your gab is: Like it, tweet it, or just forward it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Faith in Polls and Pols

The goal of this blog is to move half the country towards stage 5. Please share.
Happy birthday to Amy in West Hartford...!

trump-clinton-winners-tFrom a well-known social commentator:

I woke up this morning still in shock and grief... "

The grief we understand. And if the outcome had been the other way, the other 50 percent of the country was going to wake up in grief.

But where does the shock come from?


"Let’s dispense with the notion that Trump has a real shot at winning in November."
James Downie, Washington Post, Mar 3, 2016

"He lacks the political skills, the likability, the public support and the fundraising ability to beat Hillary Clinton. That's why he won't even come close."
- Tim Carney, Washington Examiner, April 11, 2016

"Donald Trump will not, cannot, win the general election for U.S president.... It's time for the media to stop pretending otherwise…"
Carlo Dade, Sr. Fellow, School of International Development and Global Studies, Univ. of Ottawa, May 17, 2016

"Relax, Donald Trump can't win. Even before you get to his campaign’s incompetence and lackluster fundraising, the numbers just aren’t on his side."
Jon Wiener, The Nation, June 21, 2016

"Moody’s Analytics is forecasting that Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, will easily win the presidency in November over Republican Donald Trump, the June forecast predicts.... The model, which has predicted every election correctly since it was created in 1980, has forecasted a Democratic victory since the release of its first run in July 2015."
- Vicki Needham, The Hill, Jul 1 2016

"Does the thought of President Donald Trump keep you up at night? Maybe this will make you feel better: he can't win."
- Annie Gabillet, Jul 2, 2016

"Trump is underperforming so comprehensively...[for him to win] it would take video evidence of a smiling Hillary drowning a litter of puppies while terrorists surrounded her with chants of ‘Death to America,’' said an Iowa Republican.
- Steven Shepard, Aug 12, 2016  

"The election is already over…. It’s possible that public opinion shifts dramatically between now and then. But if it doesn’t, Donald Trump has no path to the presidency."
- Tim Alberta, National Review, Aug 30, 2016

"Sen. Mike Lee said Sunday that embattled Republican nominee Donald Trump cannot win the White House and needs to step aside to allow the GOP to find someone who can take on Democrat Hillary Clinton."
- Salt Lake Tribune, Oct 9, 2016

"Recent polls have shown Trump as low as 35% – three weeks from the election. It is all but over for the Republican nominee. Gary Johnson is right to say that Donald Trump cannot win this election."
- J Wilson, Libertarian Future, Oct 13, 2016

"Donald Trump is a dud of politician who squandered his advantages in a winnable election. More than just a bad candidate, he has been a catastrophe for the GOP itself. He has destroyed careers, compromised institutions, revealed deep contradictions within the Republican Party, and heightened tensions between its voters and its lawmakers, its activists and its intellectuals. On Nov. 8, nearly 18 months after he announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, the saga of Trump will come to a close. If polls are accurate, he will lose. He may even face a landslide, as Hillary Clinton capitalizes on a superior campaign to score victories in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Texas. There’s a slim but real chance that, when the smoke clears, Trump will have led the GOP to a historic defeat, handing the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives to the Democratic Party."
James Rouelle, Slate, Nov 2, 2016

"The American people in their wisdom will not allow themselves to be led into the abyss by a person so dangerous and destructive of American democracy and values – something he has proved every day he has been a candidate for President of the United States. It is Hillary Clinton who will claim victory, and take the country forward."
- Bruce Wolpe, ABC News, Nov 6, 2016

"Trump Limps Toward Defeat As GOP Pollsters Say Hillary Clinton Will Get At Least 304 EVs"
- Politcus USA, Nov 6, 2016

The HuffPost presidential forecast model gives Democrat Hillary Clinton a 98.2 percent chance of winning the presidency. Republican Donald Trump has essentially no path to an Electoral College victory. Clinton’s win will be substantial, but not overwhelming. The model projects that she’ll garner 323 electoral votes to Trump’s 215.
- Natalie Jackson, Huffington Post, Nov 7, 2016

Most probable single outcome: Clinton 323 EV, Trump 215 EV. This is also the mode of the NC-adjusted histogram.
Median: Clinton 307 EV, Trump 231 EV. Meta-Margin: 2.2%. One-sigma range: Clinton 281-326 EV. The win probability is 93% using the revised assumption of polling error, +/- 1.1%.
- Princeton Election Consortium, Nov 8, 2016

Now, there were a couple (only a couple) dissenting voices out there.

One was Prof. Allan Lichtman who has correctly forecast presidential elections for 30 years. He called this one for Trump in September. (For a simpler, but probably correct take, read this.)

Two questions for your table:

1. When something occurs against all odds, pundits call it an upset and religious people a miracle. Was it an upset, a quasi-miracle?

2. Does this election herald the final downfall of faith in polls and pols?

If not, why not?

If yes, what then?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Are you counting the days to Channuka?

PPS - Did you find this week's easter egg?
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:


Like this email? How about putting your gelt where your gab is: Like it, tweet it, or just forward it.

As always, this message can be read online at

Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld, PhD
Jewish Spiritual Literacy, Inc.
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Friday, November 04, 2016

Less Than a Penny

The goal of this blog is a penny for your thoughts. Please share.
In honor of three San Francisco birthdays this week: David, Harmon and Rebecca. Happy Birthday!

Penny 5777Did something like this ever happen to you?

We're sitting at the Shabbat table. I ask a child, "So-and-so, would you please go get the orange juice."

Before she can even get out of her chair, her sister dashes ahead of her to snatch the mitzvah.

Some kids may be happy to let someone else do their chores. But this kid is upset: "Abba asked me to do it!!"

This scenario occurs often in our home. It leads to a few questions:

1. Can you steal a mitzvah? Is that really stealing?

After you get everyone's answer, you can tell them: According to the Talmud, not only is it considered stealing, you can take someone to court for stealing your mitzvah and if you win, the court may impose hefty damages. In one such case, the plaintiff was awarded ten gold coins.

2. What's the worst kind or amount of stealing?

Meaning: Is it a dollar amount, like $1M or $1B or ? Was Madoff one of the worst because he stole so much from so many? Or is it a function of the victim - stealing from poor orphans is worse than from Warren Buffet?

3. Is goodness relative or absolute?

Meaning: Should I judge myself in comparison to other people ("Hey, I'm no Bernie Madoff:), or compared to some absolute standard (no cheating anyone ever, even slightly).

Interestingly enough, while everyone agrees that stealing from poor orphans ranks among the lowest of the low, the rabbis say there's a type of stealing that's even worse:

When a person steals in a way that he convinces himself it's not really a crime.

Like the guy who steals one grape from his neighbor's vine.

"What's the big deal? One grape is worth less than a penny, what did I do?"

Indeed, under Jewish law, he cannot be prosecuted.

But imagine others copy him, each one stealing less than a penny's worth, so the poor owner has no legal recourse.

This isn't the billion-dollar Ponzi scheme. It's cheating in a way that you'll never be caught, never be tried, never be convicted.

This is called gaming the system. Cheating on a test. Not reporting all of your income. Not paying an out-of-state parking fine. Not leaving a note when you scratch someone's car.

(Some say even cheating at golf and Pokemon Go.)

If you are guilty of any of the above, don't beat yourself up. The Talmud says most people are. It's a rare person who is 100% honest in all monetary matters.

But that's the definition of an ethical person. 
So what are we waiting for?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Do you know how many days to Channuka?
PPS - Did you find the easter egg?
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:


Like this email? How about putting your gelt where your gab is: Like it, tweet it, or just forward it.