Friday, May 26, 2017

Does Jerusalem Exist?

The purpose of this blog is to build a city of peace at the Friday night dinner table.... Please forward / like / tweet....
Happy birthday shoutouts to Joan (turning 80!) and Kyle. And wishing EF a speedy recovery.
(To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.)

Ivy - Western WallThis may be a first.

Imagine you found out that you had poison ivy.

How would you react?

Not too thrilled?

This morning, a friend told me just that - that he has poison ivy.

And this news made him happy.

So this week's first question for your table is a riddle:

When would a person be happy to learn he has poison ivy?

The answer (of course) is: when he had thought that he had had something even worse.

You see, for several days, he had thought that the itchy pain keeping him up half the night was shingles.

Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster (chicken pox) virus.

Everyone knows that if you had chicken pox, you're now immune for life, because your blood now has anti-varicella-zosters.

But some of those varicella-zosters stick around 
in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. If your immune system should ever weaken, the virus can wake up....

So that's one secret to being happy even while in pain: knowing that it could be a lot worse.

But Question #2 for your table: Can this wisdom apply to any situation? Could it ever be so bad that a normal person could not be happy?

And here's a real douzy - Could an increase in pain ever make someone happier? (hint)

Our confusion about pain reminds me of our confusion about "peace".

Peace is not the end of war. That's a truce, but that's not shalom.

Shalom is harmony.

So it's ironic that the world's most-contested real estate is called Jerusalem - if you know what the word means.

Hint: in Hebrew, it's Yeru-shalayim.

Now that you know what it means, you can ask this question at your table: Does it exist?

Shabbat Shalom
and Happy Shavuot

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Friday, May 19, 2017


The purpose of this blog is to turn the Friday night dinner into a "Stopping".... Please forward / like / tweet....
In memory of Doni Bulow, February 16, 1994 - May 19, 2013.

Vezmar 2Let's get right to the first question for your table:

Context: Assume there is no emergency.

What do you think of someone texting during a conversation with you:

a. Normal, no problem.
b. Slightly rude.
c. Very rude.
d. Unethical.
e. Criminal.

See the guy in this picture?

His name is Brandon Vezmar. He lives in Austin and this is his story.

He takes a young woman out on a first date. He takes her to the movies. He lays out seventeen dollars each.

In the middle of the movie she starts texting.

He asks her to stop.

She refuses.

He asks her if she wouldn't mind doing it out in the foyer.

So she obliges.

But then she doesn't come back.

Oh, by the way, they came in her car.

Meaning, he has no ride home.

At some point Brandon realizes that he has been jilted.

But he also feels gyped.

The next day he asks her to reimbuse him the seventeen bucks.

She refuses.

In her defense, she says she only texted "two or three times."

(In her first interview, she said the purpose of the texting was "
a friend who was upset over breaking up with her boyfriend" but later she claimed that the friend wanted "to make sure she was safe on the date".)

So he is suing her for $17.31 in small claims court, arguing his date's behavior was "a threat to civilised society".

Question 2 for your table: What do you think? Does Branson have a case?

UPDATE - Yesterday, someone brought them together for a little mediation and he is withdrawing the suit.

Third question: Is shutting off the phone for a few hours an occasional inconvenient necessity, or is it a healthy practice to aspire to (as many Jews happily do a few minutes before sunset on Friday)?

(If you suspect it might be really good for you, you might want to read what Huffington Post , American Express, Forbes and others and others have to say.)

Shabbat Shalom

PS - It could be worse - consider the newlywed husband who filed for divorce on his wedding night because his bride refused to stop texting.
PPS - For a more hopeful and uplfiting first-date story, read about the centigenarians who were born on the same day in 1917 and were set up on a blind date a couple weeks ago.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Bonsai Gezunt

The purpose of this email is to water, feed and prune just right at the Shabbat table.... 
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Wishing Mom and all mothers out there a happy Mother's Day.

TreeThank you for the many thoughtful replies to last week's May the Mitzvah Be With You, much appreciated.Today's theme is this lovely tree to your left.

<== that one

I found it in the National Aboretum.

Who knew that our taxes were supporting such a wonderful place?

It's huge, it's well-maintained, and it's free.

Now if you haven't already guessed, I took this picture at that angle in order to fool you.

Here is what the same tree looks like from further away:

Tree-zoom-outIt is, of course, a Brazilian Peppertree, Schinus terebinthifolia, which Wikipedia reports to have many (folk) medical uses but alas is an invasive weed in the USA.
(Perhaps creating a bonsai version of it is a fitting expression of the human need to control nature?)
Now how this does this lead to a question for your table?

I learned this week that in order to train an ordinary tree to become a bonsai, one must while the tree is still a sapling wrap the individual roots with wire. This will prevent them from growing thicker and thus dwarf the tree. You'll still need to keep the tree trimmed, but they actually tend to be healthier and live far longer than their non-bonsai cousins.

The first question for your table is: Why is this? Why should a bonsai tree live far longer than a regular tree?

Here's a hint:

The oldest bonzai in the Arboretum is over 400 years old. It was passed down within the same Hiroshima family for all those years, and survived the Bomb (as did the members of the family). The family gifted it to the United States of America in 1776.
Get the hint?

The answer is because bonzais tend to receive better care than regular trees. Their owners are zealous to give them the right amounts of water, fertilizer, pruning and sunshine. With all that loving care, they can live longer.

Second question for your table: Could lovingly giving the right amounts of water, food, pruning and sunshine increase human longevity too?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - If bonsai interest you, you may want to click on the photos above and also see this.

Friday, May 05, 2017

May the Mitzvah Be With You

The purpose of this blog is to raise the bar at the Shabbat table.... Please forward / like / tweet....
Mazal tov to Yoseph Seinfeld on the celebration of his becoming Bar Mitzvah.

Yoda-PrayingYes, not everyone loves archaeology and some don't care for neophilism....

So today's theme is something we all want.

Well, we all say we want it.

We probably do want it.

But how many of us achieve it?

I'm talking of course about living in the present moment.

How many of us actually do it?

Every moment?

Once a day?

Once a year?

Why is it so hard?

Here is the answer you've been looking for your entire life.

Notice above at the top of this message in the fine print, I wrote, "becoming bar mitzvah".

How come I didn't write, "on his bar mitvah"?

Do you get the difference?

"Having a bar mitzvah" or "having a bat mitzvah" means that the event is external to you. It is a celebration of something, but the occasion - the event - is external - it's something you're having. Like having breakfast. You consume it, and maybe some of it affects you, maybe some of it even stays inside of you, but it begins (and ends) as something external that you "had". Once it's over, you "had" it and it is in the past.

But "becoming bar mitzvah" means it is all about you, about what's going on inside of you, about your relationship to the concept of "mitzvah".

What is the concept of "mitzvah"?

A mitzvah is - yes - a good deed. Better: it's an opportunity to do a certain kind of good deed, namely one that is defined as "good" by the Torah.

So a bar mitzvah is someone who has the awesome ability to do a TGD - a Torah Good Deed.

Question 1 for your table: What if a person becomes of age and is unaware of their ability to do a TGD?

Question 2: What if a person is aware they are bar or bat mitzvah, but doesn't know much about the Torah?

After everyone offers their answers, you might share mine with your table:

Imagine someone has telekenesis but is unaware of it. Then one day they accidentally will a chair to move in order to prevent a child from injury - the power was there all along, they just didn't know it. It is merely a matter of concentration.

That's what a mitzvah is like to a bar mitzvah. You have the power to turn every - yes every - action into a TGD.

Once again: You can turn every action into a TGD.


Step 1: Want to.

Step 2: Do the hardest thing in the world to do:

You must use your mind.

Think about it obsessively.

When you wake up and when you lie down.

And pause before every action to think, "How can this action be a TGD?"

May the mitzvah be with you.

Shabbat Shalom

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