Friday, April 28, 2017

Have You Had "The Talk"?

The purpose of this blog is to get them talking about talking at the Friday night dinner table.... Please forward / like / tweet....
Happy Birthday shout-out to Avramy Seinfeld - no longer a teenager! :-(

malicious-gossipLast week was about archaeology. This week, for balance, is about neophilism.

We've all had the birds-and-bees talk.

We've had the honesty talk.

We've had the technology responsibility talk.

We may have even had the "be courteous kind and forgiving" talk.

But have we had the gossip talk?

I had jury duty this week and the pompous judge had every prospective juror (about 100 of us) stand, state our full name, educational level, occupation and spouse's occupation. And at nearly every turn, he would make a witty comment about the responses. Especially if the victim was a young woman.

(I've never seen anything like it and had I been selected I would have informed the judge that I could never convict someone of attempted murder knowing that he knows my full name.)

The gossip talk is when we lecture teach our children how utterly evil it is to say anything negative about another person, true or untrue. In their presence or not.

Or to listen to someone else saying it.

Or to hint.

Or to read about it.

This is one of those great ethical teachings of Judaism that we should label with a Jewish label - lashon hara - and praise the kids for avoiding it.

First question for your table: Why do people love to tell, hear and read about gossip?

Second question: Is it ever ethical to say something negative about someone?

Third question: Does it really matter that much?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Want to get your family on board with ethical speech? Try sharing a few pages of this, this or this book (or the one in the easter-egg link above) every week at the Shabbat table.

PPS - The exceptions: when you're venting, or telling someone something to protect them, or telling a parent or teacher something in order to protect yourself.

Good one this week? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, or just forward it.
(Haven't tried the new "forward" button yet? Give it a tap!)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Your Inner Archaeologist

The purpose of this email is to dig a little deeper at the Shabbat table.... Please forward / like / tweet....
(Yes, that's a cool new "forward" button - give it a try!)

indiana-jones-raiders-of-the-lost-ark-minimalist-illustration-vectorDid this ever happen to you?
It happened to me yesterday.

A certain website isn't accepting my saved password, so I have to reset it.

It then starts the usual prove-you're-you questions.

But it turns out they are nothing like the usual questions, like your father's middle name or model of your first car. Because obviously any junior-high hacker could find out that kind of stuff about you.

Instead, this site is asking some really unusual questions:

1. In what month was your best friend born?

Wait a second. Before we go there, who is my best friend? Do I have a best friend?

Hmm, the rabbis say that a man's wife is (or should be) his best friend. But is it true? Hmm.... I think so, I'm pretty sure I have no better friend than my wife .But they also say you have to work hard to "acquire" a friend, have I really worked hard enough to make her my best friend? Well (perspiration starts) I guess I could try her birth-month....

Phew, got it right.

2. If you could meet a former US President, who would it be?

Sheesh, who knows? I mean I know what I might say today, but who knows what I said way back whenever I joined this website?

But there are only five choices, and in that group, FDR wins. Because I've always wanted to ask him how he reconciled being so compassionate with abandoning us.

3. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

This one has a drop-down list of about a dozen professions. But surely it doesn't have... let's see... sure enough, there it is - Archaeologist.

What a smart and friendly website to know this intimate detail about my childhood....

But why, pre-Indiana Jones, did I want to be an archaeologist?

It might have had something to do with discoveries like this.

(By the way, that tomb may have been built by Israelites and most certainly the judge who occupied it judged and enslaved them.)

Or maybe it connected me in a real way to the mythical past like this amazing story.

Or.... maybe I just liked to dig?

2 questions for your table:

What's the appeal of archaeology? (did you know there a shortage?)
2. What do (or did) you want to be?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Yes there is a hidden "easter egg" in this message....

Good one this week? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, or just forward it.
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Friday, April 07, 2017

Which Son are You?

The purpose of this email is to separate the "men" from the "boys".... Please forward, like, tweet....
In honor of Yoseph Seinfeld, who turns 13 years old today.

The 4 SonsLast night I attended my first "bo-bayom" party. Imagine a mini-wedding with 40 kids dancing with skill and abandon.

What greater simcha (joy) is there for a parent than seeing their child b'simcha (happy)?

In his speech our son talked about two rather opposite qualities:

a. Zerizut - acting with alacrity, not being lazy
b. Kavana - acting deliberately, not hastily

First question for your table: Are these two qualities mutually-opposed, or is it possible to cultivate them both simultaneously?

(If you would like a copy of his entire speech, shoot me an email.)

Over the past couple weeks, you've had some encouragement and suggestions about making your own Seder.

And you've heard the pitch for the new Art of Amazement Haggada.

Is there anything else to say about Pesach?

Can you name the "Four Sons" of the Haggada (often modernized to the "Four Children")?

A. The wise child - "I want to learn as much Jewish wisdom as I can"
B. The wicked child - "I've learned a lot, I know enough."
C. The simple child - "What is Jewish wisdom?"
D. The one too young to ask.

Two more questions for your table:

2. Which of the four are you?
3. Which of the four is the Haggada speaking to?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover

New Haggada
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Monday, April 03, 2017

The Gamble

The purpose of this email is to burn that chametz.... Please forward, like, tweet....

You are PharaohLast time I sent some encouragement and suggestions about making your own Seder.

Then someone asked, "OK, but if you're going to be a guest at someone else's Seder, what's a recommended gift to bring?"

Let's see..... I guess wine and matzah are always safe....

But if they have kids, how about the new Exodus card game? Passover Bingo? The captivating Seder Night Miracle?

And even adults love those great crowd-pleasers, the 10-Plagues Finger Puppets.

Or you might try showing up in a Pharaoh costume (it's only 10 bucks) or perhaps come as the Plague of Frog?

(I personally think the Angel of Death has been underrepresented at the Seder.)

Of course, if it's an adults-only group, you may want to stick with an <> engaging Haggada.

Yes, it's here - The revised 2017 Art of Amazement Haggada.

New Haggada Sort of here.

The problem: when you look at the Amazon page, you see the new description but the old image. If you order it today, you will get one edition or the other in 2-days with Prime, I'm just not sure which one.

If you use the CreateSpace page, you will definitely get the new edition, but the fastest they say you can get it is next Monday - cutting it a bit close.

So no promises, unless you do our print-your-own-Haggada option (or get our 2017 Pesach Kit).

Alas, the struggle for perfection goes on. In the meantime, you might opt for a hostess-gift book that has already achieved perfection, such as
Rabbi Wohlberg's Un-Haggada.

Wishing you happy prepping....!

PS - If a podcast of my Pesach class, "Faster than Time" would help you get through the shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc., shoot me an email.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

To Lead or Not to Lead, That is the Question

The purpose of this blog is to put a little order back into Friday night dinner.... Please forward, like, tweet or at least print and share.
seder plate
Out of the blue yesterday a call came in from a sixty-something man who told me he was planning to make a Seder for the first time in his life.

He had Googled "how to run a Seder" and stumbled upon my article, "The Art of Leading an Amazing Seder", and from there tracked me down.

The first question of the week for your table:

Does it really matter (doing your own Seder v. being a guest at someone else's)?

We sympathize with those who feel that making your own Seder just seems so overwhelming.

But if you have children (even grown) or grandchildren, then making your own Seder really is a big deal.

The basic premise of the Seder is the older generation telling the younger generation why it matters that we're Jewish.

And we ritualize it, we make it fun, we invent variations, but in the end the message is the same: it matters that we're Jewish.

It matters so much that we're going to the effort to make our own Seder.

I mean, even Groucho did it.

Think about it.

And then get busy. You might start 
here or here or even here

Or here? or here....or here... or here for sure.

(And if you already have Seder plans, you could always try this.)

Shabbat Shalom!

PS - If you are wondering what's going on with the Art of Amazement Haggada - we've been putting a lot of time into a new 2017 edition. I hope to be able to announce it next week in this space.

PPS - SPEAKING OF JEWISH IDENTITY, Did you know you can gift the Amazing Jewish-Fact-a-Day Calendar app (or use this link).  No matter how Jewishly literate, guaranteed to larn you something new! So if you know someone who is Jewish, send them the app!

PPPS - Did you find the hidden link?

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Time to Get Serious

This blog is called "Table Talk" for a reason - the goal is to start cleaning our minds around the Friday night dinner table.... Please forward, like, tweet or at least print and share.
Wishing D-D in Portland a happy 80th birthday this week - may you live to 120!

YES THE RUMORS ARE TRUE - The Amazing Jewish-Fact-a-Day Calendar app has been updated (v. 2.11). Search by title, or by my name, or use this link. No matter how Jewishly literate, guaranteed to larn you something new! So please forward this paragraph or this email to everyone you care about.

Time to Get Serious

 Matzah Clock
Last week's humor was too much for some readers. Stunned them into silence.

This week, the humor is gone but not the food.

For wouldn't you know, Amazon's matzah selection keeps getting better and better.

First question for your table: Would it be cool to have it drone-delivered to the Seder?

You know why we're talking about matzah this week, right?


If you're already ordering matzah, it may be time to start thinking about some essential Seder shopping (such as props or the Un-Haggadah).

Here's the question chain for your table: Is all this stuff really important for a great Seder? Or does a great Seder require something different?


Shabbat Shalom!

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Friday, March 10, 2017

The Good, the Bad and the Yummy

The goal of this blog is to lighten up the Shabbat table in good taste. Please forward, like, tweet or at least print and share.
Wishing Dede bat Sima a speedy and complete recovery.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT - The Amazing Jewish-Fact-a-Day Calendar has been updated (v. 2.11). It should be available for all iOS devices. Either search by title, or by my name, or use this link. With the proceeds, we are hoping to release a completely revamped v. 3.0 later this year. In the meantime, enjoy!

71d8e19470ab8e144cfbd2d5fb4e0f29Last week's reader-challenge failed to turn up a superior Jewish joke, so the "two guys in Argentina joke" remains at the top.

In the meantime, hamantasch (
that favorite Purim cookie) factories big and small have been at full-steam, leading us to a question for your table:

What would you guess are the three most popular hamantasch flavors?

(Answer below.)

That question leads us to some good news, some bad news, and some yummy news.

The good news is more people than ever before are doing Purim this year.

Why is that good news?

Because one of the main ways to celebrate Purim is to give gifts (money and food). So more people celebrating = more giving.

The bad
news is that the world still has a few Haman-wanna-bes. The current front-runner is the president of Persia/Iran, Mr. Rou-Haman-i (who took over for Mr. A-Haman-nijadad in 2013.

Still building the bomb, still wants to kill the Jews.

Note that Persia is the setting of the ancient Purim story.

Rouhani-RouHaman(In case the face doesn't ring a bell, click on it and learn something about the Haman of our day. Or click here, or here.)

The yummy news is what these modern Hamans have taught us about hamantaschen.

We have all wondered why are they shaped like that, and what does hamantash mean, anyhow?

When I was a kid, we used to call them “Haman’s hat”. But that’s because we didn’t spreken Yiddish. Then I went to Israel where they call them “Oznay Haman” - Haman’s ears. So I thought that tashen meant ears.

And then I stumbled upon these photos, hard evidence that the ear theory is correct. At least that's one benefit of Rou-Haman-i's election.

HamabbasSo I'm guessing you're thinking, "What are supposed to do, Rabbi, defeat our enemies by mocking them?"

This calls for a Monty Python line:

“We spit on you, you silly Persian. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries. Now go away or we will taunt you a second time!” (say with French accent)

(Here is a YouTube clip that says it best.)

Like I said, more people are doing Purim this year. Here are the stats from Israel alone:

+ Some thirty million hamantaschen are being baked.
+ This year Israelis will be able to buy goat cheese and onion hamantaschen.
+ Goat cheese and onion has a ways to go before it overtake the most popular flavors of poppy-seed, chocolate and date.

(For the adventurous, here ere are some other interesting flavor innovations.)

Final questions for your table: What's your favorite hamantaschen flavor? What flavor would you never want to try?

The time to eat them is of course this coming Sunday afternoon, remembering that every Haman has his hour, and his downfall.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim

PS - All kidding aside, two of the great Purim mitzvot can be done online:

- Gifts to the poor - Here or here or here or ....
- Care packages to friends, neighbors, family - Amazon's selection

Friday, March 03, 2017

Proven to be the Greatest Jewish Joke Ever

The goal of this post is to crowd-source Jewish humor. For blessings and good luck yada-yada, please forward to your entire list.
Wishing Dede bat Sima a speedy and complete recovery.

God in the kitchenStop me if you've heard this one....

In Buenos Aires, two panhandlers are sitting on the ground, a few feet apart.

One wears a large cross. The other, a Star of David.

Needless to say, the plate of the former fills up quickly, with almost nothing in the plate of the latter.

After some time, a kindly priest passes and sizes up the situation. He turns to the Jewish beggar, "My son, you should put away that Star of David. You will never make enough money wearing that."

After he leaves, the Jewish beggar turns to the other with an annoyed look, saying in Yiddish, "Hey Merle, could you believe that guy, trying to tell us how to run our business?"

Greatest Jewish joke ever, right?

No? Got a better one?

(At our Purim celebration I always tell my father's favorite joke. If you want to hear it, you'll have to come over.)

This year we're making a contest for the best Jewish joke. Send it in and you may just win. Winning joke(s) will receive all the due honors thereof.

For your table tonight, 3 questions....

1. What makes a funny joke funny?
2. What makes a Jewish joke Jewish?
3. Why does Purim get all the fun?

(Hint, hint, hint...)

Shabbat Shalom

PS - All kidding aside, two of the great Purim mitzvot can be done online:

- Gifts to the poor - Here or here or here or ....
- Care packages to friends, neighbors, family - Amazon's selection

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Friday, February 24, 2017

The Oldest Profession?

The goal of this email s... honestly? to avoid the guilt of not writing it. Do what you want with it.
Ethical crossroadsFor twelfth-graders like our daughter, it is the season of acceptance/rejection letters for next year.

In that spirit, here's a doozy that you're probably not going to believe.

Or else you'll call me naïf.

I knew we had an ethics crisis ever since Michael Krasny's esteemed guests agreed that the Enron debacle was caused by greed.

"It wasn't greed!" I shouted at the radio (the first and last time I every shouted at the radio). "It was a lack of ethics!"

That said, I simply had not known the world had come to this. I'm not surprised, but I simply hadn't known about this.

Look, there have obviously always been cheaters in the world.

And who is surprised that high achievers are among them?

There is OF COURSE software for professors to detect plagiarism.

It may even be true that most people will cheat, under the right circumstances.

But what happens when the teacher aids and abets?

What happens if a professor offers his or her services to the highest bidder, to research and write that paper for the lazy student?

Beyond the pale, right?

One hesitates to give them publicity, but if I don't show you the site, you might think this is some kind of pre-Purim joke.

It is no joke, and here's the proof:

100 scholars (if they are to be believed) are competing with each other to prostitute themselves to the highest bidding cheater.

One of their star writers describes himself as "PhD: Harvard (Philosophy / Political Science").

Another claims, "I have taught in a professorial capacity at universities in both the US and UK.....Along with English, I am also fluent in Spanish, German, French, Italian, Hebrew and Polish."

(Wait - you have all that talent and your chosen career is ghost-writing for college students? Where's your self-respect? Why don't you go sell your sevices to the KGB or something?)
Reportedly, many of their clients are foreign students who barely speak English, yet are turning in A+ papers. (Which is of course entirely forgivable if their only motive is to avoid deportation.)

You always wondered why that paper you were so proud of only got a "B"? It may have been competing with papers written by professional academics.

There are so many questions this topic could generate for your table, but I'll leave you with just two.

For the young kids, fill in the blanks: What these guys are doing is ____% legal and ____% ethical.

For the older kids, note that each prostituting professor has online reviews, and most are glowing - "Thanks to you Prof, I got an A!"

But among all those satisfied customers, negative comments stand out, such as:

HP should feel ashamed after writing my 6 page paper over the easy topic of the american dream. I recieved a 72 percent on the paper... Thats right a 72 percent.
The assignment was accepted by HP 3 weeks before the due date, so ample time was allowed and I was contacted a few days before with questions on the paper. REALLY? I feel like a portion of the $165 I paid for a D on that paper should be refunded immediately. To make this situation right this is the only solution. If need be I will post the entire paper and show every mistake and final grade. I am disappointed and will never recommend this site to anybody unless it is handled accordingly.

Here's the second question for your table:

Does this person have cause for complaint, since his paper got a "D"?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you were wondering how your faithful correspondent, armed with PhD, can possibly avoid the temptations of scholarship-for-hire, the answer starts here ....

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As always, this message can be read online at

Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld PhD
Jewish Spiritual Literacy, Inc.
3700 Menlo Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215-3620
(410) 400-9820
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Friday, February 17, 2017

Learn It Again, Sam

The goal of this blog is to create an epic Shabbat table ...  Please share.
play-it-again-samThis week, a brief story and seven questions for your table.

Last week's Soul of a Strawberry inspired some happy responses.

Some people sent pictures of their favorite fruit. Someone thanked me for the limerick about resurrection.

But the biggest surprise was when someone said that the email made him more conscious about healthy eating.

Five questions:

1. How long can that last? How do you keep an inspiration going for more than a few days?

2. Did you ever know someone who for years has tried - and failed - to change a single habit? (I see one every time I look in the mirror.)

3. What's worse - to keep trying to turn over a new leaf yet to fail, or never to try at all?

4. Is there such a thing as a personal habit that is impossible to change?

5. If you knew you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

For me, these questions became more focused this week when I was in San Francisco for a very, very special event, a very big simcha.

For six years, a group of women have made the habit of attending a class Friday morning where the teacher doesn't even bother to come - get this - he shows up via Skype.

Why would busy people show up week-in-week-out, year-in-year-out, for so long?

(Certainly not for the teacher. I know him personally and know he won't mind my saying so.)

The main answer I think is very simple: the class is called "The Wisdom and Beauty of the Chumash" (AKA the 5 Books of Moses, AKA the Torah).

But I think the secret to that group is three things:

1. They are learning Torah, the world's greatest book of wisdom;
2. They are learning together. Some people learn best in a group, and this group are all deep thinkers;
3. They take turns bringing breakfast.

Question #6 for your table: Which of those three reasons do you think is the most important?

So this week we celebrated completing the entire Torah together. Yes, it's a "mazal tov".

Yes, I flew across the country for less than 24 hours just to celebrate that siyum. Yes, it is that big of a deal.

It's a big mazal tov for those who came every week and it's a big mazal tov for those who came even once and it's a big mazal tov for those who never came. It's a mazal tov for all of us.

I asked the women to share one special thing that they have learned from the Torah. Their answers were all inspiring and too much to quote here. But here's one that I think resonates universally:

"Everything in life is a test to make you a better person."

Wow. If you could hold onto that idea every day, you would never worry.

So today the class resumes. After all, warns the Talmud, the second question they ask you in the next world is, "Did you schedule regular times to learn Torah?"

And there is an obvious question - which I'll leave for discussion at your table....

Question #7: What should the group do next? Continue through Tanach, or go back to the beginning?

Mazal tov and

Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you'd like to test your own Chumash-knowledge with the 26-question "Final Exam" I gave them, shoot me an email.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

The Soul of a Strawberry

The goal of this email is to get to the true essence of the Shabbat table ...  Please share.
.Continuing to wish a speedy recovery to Tamar Adina bas Kayna Shulamis.
Happy birthday to our daughter Goldy, who turned 18 this week.

billy_martin_the_soul_jets-strawberry_soulTo you and me, a strawberry is a strawberry...

... is a strawberry?

But this week, to our 7-year-old, understanding the essence of a strawberry was an urgent matter.

The anecdote begins with a loosely-enforced rule chez Seinfeld: you eat a vegetable every day.

But what counts as a vegetable?

If you ask me, among other factors, it should be green.

If you ask my wife, other colors qualify.

But we agree that white (eg, pasta, potatoes) does not!

So what about strawberries?

Our seven-year-old urgently argues for the vegetability of strawberries.

It seems she had in mind to eat a bowl of strawberries immediately after her bowl of pasta, with nothing green in-between.

"If they are not vegetables, then why is their bracha (blessing) 'borei pri ha-adama' (who creates fruit of the ground)???"

(How much tuition are we paying to her Jewish school? Maybe we should send her teacher a tip. She's obviously doing a stellar job.)

"But wait a second," another child parries, "Why is it fruit of the ground? Doesn't fruit grow on trees?"

A third child: "Are tomatoes fruits or vegetables?"

This is getting out of hand.

Tonight is Tu-bishvat. That's the tree holiday.

Tu-bishvat gives us our annual ritual to head down to Whole Foods Market and remind ourselves what pomelo, kiwi, mango, papaya etc. actually taste like.

And all those wonderful varieties of apples.

We try to create the ultimate centerpiece table arrangement - with 30 different "fruits" of trees on the table - that can include maple syrup, wine of course, and olive oil. And a glass of wine.

(A fruit of tree is one that gets a "borei pree ha'aytz" bracha. Gotta grow on an eitz (tree)

On this note, here are this week's two questions for your table:

1. What about fruit juice - should that count as "fruit of the tree"?

2. The Torah likens a person to a tree, but doesn't say in what way(s) — how is person like a tree?

On this theme here is this week's question for your table:

The Torah likens a person to a tree, but doesn't say in what way(s). How do you think a person is like a tree?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Speaking of trees....


There once was a preacher with lofty inflection
Who chanced to read Stein in the poetry section
But read it "Arose
Is arose is arose"
And thought it concerned resurrection


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Friday, February 03, 2017

Your Dough is Rising (But don't panic...yet.)

The goal of this blog is to promote alacrity at the Shabbat table ...  Please share ASAP.
Continuing to wish a speedy recovery to Tamar Adina bas Kayna Shulamis.

matzah wall clock
To start you off tonight, here's a question someone asked this week about Passover:

If we're supposed to be reliving the story, how come we open our door at the end? After all, in the story, they had to shut themselves inside in order to avoid the Angel of Death.

(Of course, we don't ordinarily put blood on our doorposts either, but maybe...?)

Are we so different from them?

(If you're really stumped, you might try re-reading the Haggada.)

Second question for your table:

Why is the rabbi talking about Passover in February?

Could it be because of the nifty new count-down timer on the homepage? (

(Try mousing over it for the animation.)

So now that we're in the Pesach mode, are you ready?

Of course not. There are a thousand and one things to do.

And you haven't done a single one.

Good place to start: new books, activities and gifts for the Seder.

To get you started, we've been updating - our searchable database of recommended books, activities etc. for kids and adults. Try searching by age and subject matter. Or search for "afikomen".

(Yes, we even put in there five amazing Passover cookbooks.)

(The site is a public service, not a store. But if you use the links, amazon contributes about 5 percent towards the JSL mission.)

On this theme of preparation, a final question for your table:

What's more important - preparing for Passover or celebrating it?

Shabbat Shalom

PS -

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Friday, January 27, 2017

Is it Eating Away at You? (the true price of freedom)

The goal of this email is to teach mind-control at the Shabbat table ...  Please share.
Continuing to wish a speedy recovery to Tamar Adina bas Kayna Shulamis.
Wishing condolences to the family of Shmuel (Sam) Wagonfeld.

cc_wasp_BNational Geographic reports this week that a new type of hyperparasite has been discovered in Texas.

(The story is a bit gruesome; reader discretion advised.)

First a tiny (1-8mm) gall wasp digs a cozy home inside an oak tree.

Along comes this newly-discovered "set" wasp (named for the murderous, manipulative Egyptian god), also called "crypt-keeper".

"Nice place to lay an egg," she says. And so she does.

When that egg hatches, what comes out? A larva of course. It's now a bit crowded in there and the larva wants to get out and grow into a wasp.

But by now the doorway into the nest has become blocked by new bark. Larvae can't dig through bark.

First question for your table: How would you guess it gets out?

can't dig through wood, but it somehow manages to burrow into the other wasp.

That's right: all the way to its head.

And it takes over the wasp's mind.

Now in control like some kind of nanoprobe, the set wasp larva forces the gall wasp to start tunneling through the tree’s bark.

But set wasp larvae are a bit impatient. Rather than wait for its gall wasp host to dig all the way out, as soon as the zombie gall wasp has created a hole large enough for a larva (but too small for a wasp), the nanoprobe larva starts to grow into an adult, eating its way through its host. At the last moment before it too is too large to fit through the hole, it erupts through the gall wasp's forehead and through that small hole to freedom.

The second question for your table: Is freedom worth it if it requires the destruction of another creature?

This question reminds me of a story I heard from the Holocaust.

The Zlotchover Rebbe was in Auschwitz.

He was starving, like everyone else there.

Once he found a fellow Jew who was even worse off than himself. He was lying down and looked like he was about to die. The Rebbe had one morsel of bread in his pocket and gave it to this Jew.

I doubt that anyone writing or reading this email can appreciate what that act meant. It certainly meant greater suffering for the giver, and almost certainly meant suicide.

The recipient found the strength to say, "Rebbe, I want to give you a blessing that you should live to get out of this place."

Soon after that, the Rebbe found himself in nearly the same position that he had found the man, horizontal and dying of hunger.

Just then a capo came in, saw the Rebbe lying there, and took pity on him. He produced a bag of sugar cubes from his pocket and gave them to the Rebbe, saving his life.

The Rebbe did live to get out of that place, and he always attributed his survival to the blessing that that Jew gave him, which stemmed from his own act of chesed.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - The Zlotchover Rebbe's niggun:

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Trumpic Cascade (who's top predator?)

The goal of this blog is to send reverberations through your dinner conversation tonight ...  Continuing to wish a speedy recovery to Tamar Adina bas Kayna Shulamis.

Trump webA trophic cascade is an amazing phenomenon of nature.

In a nutshell, a top predator's presence reverberates throughout the entire ecosystem, affecting the behavior of not only all other animals in the complex food web but also the plants and even the abiotic factors.

In other words, who's at the top really matters. (Even if you believe it is Divinely ordained.)

Last summer I mentioned the perils of simple-majority voting.

This week seems like a good time to dust-off and update our leadership quiz.

So today's main question for your table: What are the qualities of a great leader?

On each of these alternatives, choose the one that you think is most important:

1. [A] Wise in all major matters of state v. [B] Relies on wisdom of advisors
2. [A] Upholds the letter of the law v. [B] Upholds the spirit of the law
3. [A] Doesn’t make serious mistakes v. [B] Admits mistakes and apologizes
4. [A] Clean background v. [B] Proverbial skeleton in the closet
5. [A] Commands respect and wields authority v. [B] Walks humbly
6. [A] Multicultural v. [B] Patriotic
7. [A] Quick to respond v. [B] Slow to respond
8. [A] Fully developed skills v. [B] Able to learn on the job

OK, don’t peek below until you’ve made your choices ...

+ + + + +

Now, I don't claim these are the "right" answers, but it seems to me that the weight of Jewish thought would say:

1. B – When King David faced a social-economic problem, he consulted the wise men (Talmud Ber. 3b).

2. A and B. Tough job. He or she should keep a travel-size copy of the Constitution on hand at all times as a reminder that not even the King (or President) is above the law. (Would the Kindle or iPhone/iPad version count?)

3. BNo question about this – everyone makes mistakes. If we expect perfect leaders we are guaranteed scandals and cover-ups. If our leaders know we can forgive their errors as long as they own up to them, then we will have both more honesty and better role models.

4. The surprising answer here is B. The Talmud considers this a necessary quality for a successful head of government. The idea is to keep your leader from becoming arrogant. See Q. 5.

5. Tough one. Obviously A and B, but how do you balance authority with humility?

6. The Executive should be patriotic but worldly. Legislators should be worldly but patriotic. Judges should be multilingual.

7. I'm going for B - we like decisiveness but we don't want hasty. The three eldest sons of Yaakov (Jacob) lost the leadership because they were impetuous.

8. I'll leave this one unanswered here, but would be pleased to hear the answers from your table.

(Advanced question: What does this whole discussion have to do with this week's parsha?)

Shabbat Shalom

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