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 ...

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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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Friday, January 13, 2017

Either That Wallpaper Goes....

The goal of this blog is to make every word count at the Shabbat table ...  Please share.
Continuing to wish a speedy recovery to Tamar Adina bas Kayna Shulamis.
Happy Birthday to Marc (but your "real" birthday ain''t til Jan 31!)

Have you prepared your last words?

Ugliest WallpaperThis week's theme is "spontaneity v. script".

It begins with a real-life dilemma you can share at the dinner table, along with two questions and two advanced questions.

The dilemma:

Someone phoned me this week with a heart-wrenching question:

"We decided we don't want so-and-so to be the godfather of our children anymore. How do we tell him?"

Question for your table: What would you have advised this person?

After offering my rabbinic view, I go home and our 11-year-old is waiting for me to share the wonderful news that her tryout was successful and she received a part in the class play.

She and now is diligently practicing her six lines.

And I'm thinking, "Isn't it wonderful to have a script? To have someone else tell you what to say and how to 'feel'?"

But didn't whoever-wrote-Shakespeare say, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players"?

So in my sleep-deprived head I'm mixing the two together, the godfather phone call and the script.

We don't like to think about end-of-life scenarios. We hope they will never happen.

But statistically-speaking, there's evidence that most people die. And yet most people don't pass away with memorable dying words.

It's a shame. It's probably more important than a first impression - it's the very last impression you'll leave on the world.

Picture the scene. You've lived a full life. You've reached the proverbial 120. You are surrounded by family and friends. Your last breath is minutes, maybe even moments away.

If you have your wits about you, what are you going to say?

A witticism?

A profound insight to
life, the universe and everything?

(Oscar Wilde combined the two:
"Either that wallpaper goes or I do.")

You know how they say an actor who writes his own script has a fool for a director?

So maybe we should all just memorize a poetic dying-word from the Bard...or one of his last-lines....

Bonus question for your table: Would it be good or bad to know when you were about to die?

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

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Super-advanced question: What well-known Yiddish word comes from "Godfather"? (Hint) (Answer)

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Friday, January 06, 2017

Can a Bribe Be Ethical? (Let's say it's for good intentions...)

The goal of this blog is to induce some better behavior at the Shabbat table ...  Please share.
Continuing to wish a speedy recovery to Tamar Adina bas Kayna Shulamis and to Ruth bat Sarah.
Happy 11th birthday to Devorah!

bribeIn honor of 2017, a new feature this week.

At the end of the email, there will be both a basic question for your table and....

an ADVANCED question. Don't worry, we'll try to keep it not-too-difficult.

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Now, here's a lead question for your table:

What should you do when there is another student in the class who is disruptive?

Do you:

A) Tell them to settle down?
B) Tell them they are bothering you?
C) Complain to the teacher?
D) Complain to the Principal?
E) All of the above?
F) Something else?
G) Do nothing?

According to our newly-turned-seven-year-old, the correct answer is....F - something else.

For week's she had been complaining about a certain girl in her class who was constantly disruptive and rude to the teacher.

Our daughter is very sensitive to this sort of thing.

Finally, a couple weeks ago, the school found a solution - they bumped the trouble-maker up a grade!

So yesterday I asked our daughter, "How is it going now?"

"Well, since they moved that girl into second grade, now another trouble-maker has stepped up to take her place."

Based on the evidence she provided, an email was crafted and sent to Admin to ask them to look into the matter.

So today's converation went something like this:

"How did it go today?"

"A little bit better. That girl is still misbehaving, but not as much. So I keep telling her, her prize is getting smaller....!"

"What prize?"

"I offered her a prize if she stops misbehaving."

"You what? What are you talking about?"

"A few weeks ago I offered her a prize."

"A few weeks ago? So this has been going on for a long time? Where....when...did you do this?"

"In the bathroom. I told her, if she behaves nicely she's going to get a prize."

"What's the prize?"

"I don't know yet. We'll see. Every time she behaves nicely the prize gets bigger. And every time she does not behave nicely, the prize gets smaller."

This revelation of my daughter's clandestine intervention in the management of her first-grade classroom left me speechless.

The question for your table: How should I react (if at all)?

Advanced question: what does this anecdote have to do with this week's parsha?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - advanced video

PPS - Thanks to those who responded to last week's "word from our sponsor".