Thursday, September 28, 2017

Day of At-One-Ment

The purpose of this blog is to bring some clarity to the Shabbat pre- or post-Yom Kippur table. Please like it, tweet it, forward it or ....  print and share?

Jewish Spiritual GrowthHappy New Year!

On Wednesday I took my car for its state emissions testing.

There was a rather simple notice at the testing station:
The VEIP will be
on Saturday
September 30
State holiday

I could not think of a state holiday that occurred between Labor Day and Columbus Day.

A quick check of the state website shows my memory to be correct.

But the attendant, Roger, is of the opinion that it is in honor of Yom Kippur.

How do you feel about that? I asked him.

Pretty happy! he said.

You're welcome! I said.

Roger smiled.

So the Day of Atonement brought you, me and Roger together, momentarily.

Is that the meaning of atonement?

Try sharing this week's title with your pre- or post-YK table and ask them if they believe that this indeed the etymology of atonement. Or is it just meant to be clever or cute?

After you take a vote, let them know that...

In fact, it's the actual etymology.

Maybe I should just stop there, say "Good Yom Kippur" and sign off.

But let's take this a little deeper.

Next question for your table: What does atonement have to do with being "at one"?

And after they answer that, try this: Is there any sin or crime that is so terrible that atonement is impossible?

According to Harvard University there is.

Here's the gist of it:
Michelle Jones was released last month after serving more than two decades in an Indiana prison for the murder of her 4-year-old son. The very next day, she arrived at New York University, a promising Ph.D. student in American studies.

In a breathtaking feat of rehabilitation, Ms. Jones, now 45, became a published scholar of American history while behind bars, and presented her work by videoconference to historians’ conclaves and the Indiana General Assembly. With no internet access and a prison library that hewed toward romance novels, she led a team of inmates that pored through reams of photocopied documents from the Indiana State Archives to produce the Indiana Historical Society’s best research project last year. As prisoner No. 970554, Ms. Jones also wrote several dance compositions and historical plays, one of which is slated to open at an Indianapolis theater in December.

N.Y.U. was one of several top schools that recruited her for their doctoral programs. She was also among 18 selected from more than 300 applicants to Harvard University’s history program. But in a rare override of a department’s authority to choose its graduate students, Harvard’s top brass overturned Ms. Jones’s admission after some professors raised concerns that she played down her crime in the application process.
While anyone with even half a heart would be highly sympathetic to Ms. Jones - and rooting for her - is it possible Harvard got it right?

Chag Sameach - a good Yom Kippur to you and yours

PS - Quick YK primer:

It is customary to increase 3 things from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur:

Tefila - prayer. That's the one .
Teshuva - regretting and fixing. Saying I'm sorry to everyone whom you have possibly hurt, including hurting their feelings. When in doubt, apologize. Yes, Colbert got it right, even over the phone.
Tzedaka - increasing one's tzeddaka between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

The Dreaded Question

The purpose of this blog is to bring some color to the Shabbat table. Please print and share, or forward or...

Last week's hurricane post (if you got past the dad-jokes) made a surprise connection between hurricanes and Rosh Hashana.

This week begins with a question that our 11-year-old daughter asked me last night.
She asked the Dreaded Question.

It's that question that parents know is coming sooner or later and hope that it will be later rather than sooner.

Some parents are pro-active and don't wait until they're asked.

But many parents put it off as long as possible.

On any other subject, we're the experts we have all the answers.

But when this one comes up - especially when we're not expecting it - it catches us tongue-tied.

The question I'm referring to of course is:

"Abba, why is the sky blue?"

Try asking that one at your table. How many people can answer it?

How many think they can answer it, but when you press them on it, they clearly don't understand?

How many are willing to admit, they really have no idea?

So to save you from any further awkwardness, here's your "blue sky for dummies" crib notes:

Sunlight looks white, but it is actually made from a mixture of colors (like a rainbow). See (picture above) how each color has a different wavelength?

This white sunlight travels super fast — it leaves the sun at 186,000 miles per second, racing towards us across 93 million miles of space.

But just before it reaches us it crashes into something — can you guess what? The atmosphere! When it hits those tiny molecules of air, the shortest wavelengths don’t make it through – they bounce off those air molecules and scatter, like rain splashing off your windshield. Look at the diagram: What color has the shortest wavelength? Blue! The air is just dense enough to scatter some of the blue, causing the sky to look blue.

Did you get it?

Let's see: If you were on the moon, where there is no air, what color would the sky be?

Here's a trickier one - How does this knowledge explain why sunsets are so beautiful?

(As the sun gets lower and lower, that sunlight has to pass through more and more atmosphere; so more wavelengths get filtered: first green, making the sun look more yellow; then yellow, making it look more orange; then finally the orange, leaving only the red. Sunrise is the opposite – it’s getting higher and higher, red to orange to yellow.)

Last question for your table: What does this topic have to do with Rosh Hashana?

The best way that I know to experience Rosh Hashana is to hear the shofar and concentrate on the end of the year - not concrete resolutions but a bigger picture vision of what kind of person you want to become - you know you can become - in the next 12 months.

If you'd like this year's edition of our "Questions to think about from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur", shoot me an email. Or our "Significant Omens for Rosh Hashana". Or anything else.

As the year ends, I know that I haven't pleased all the people all the time, but I hope that I've pleased all the people some of the time. If any of my missives fell short for you, please forgive me.

Wishing you and yours a healthy and happy, connected and uplifting 5778!

Shabbat Shalom

L'Shana Tova — May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life!

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Friday, September 08, 2017

A Cone, a Levee and a Hurricane Walk Into a Bar...

The purpose of this blog is to shoot the breeze at the Shabbat table. Please print and share, or forward or...

Irma-coneToday's question for your table:

What do these hurricanes have to do with Rosh Hashana?

We're supposed to be happy on Rosh Hashana, right? As in, "Happy New Year"?

So maybe this is an opportunity, among the stress and concern, for some hurricane humor?

Why was the hurricane so relaxed?
It was under very low pressure.

Why did the hurricane turn and go out to sea?
It was under a lot of pressure.

What did God tell the hurricane that wanted to speed up?
He gave a categorical denial.

How did the Category-1 hurricane feel about slowing down?
It went into a depression.

That Category-5 hurricane was so impressive! It blew me away.

They voted on whether or not the center of hurricanes is the scariest part - what was the result?
The eyes have it.

What do they call sugar that grows faster in a cyclone?

What do they call a misspelling at the National Hurricane Center?
A typoon.

(Please be sensitive when forwarding these excellent original jokes. While I'm sure Houstonians appreciated last week's General Zod tribute, it wasn't while they were still in the grip of terror.)

Irma, by the way, is a German name, from Irmin, the god of war. The ancient Germans had this giant pillar of Irmin where they would bring sacrifices after every victory.

José is of course Spanish for Yoseph (Joseph), who is one of the Torah's greatest peace-makers.

So if they got the names right, expect Irma to do major damage and José to do no harm.

But let's take a deeper look at these storms.

Look at these images. The one above is what the NHC calls Irma's "cone" - the statistical projection of the storm.

Here's Harvey's cone:


Here's José:


These are the images projected around the world — "cone" after "cone".

Here we are less than two weeks before Rosh Hashana, and we're sleep-walking.

Do you see the same Jewish message that I see?

Let's look at them again:




So now we can finally ask this week's question for the table:

Is it plausable, or is it fanciful, that the hurricane cones should remind me of the shofar and its message?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you're looking for a shofar, click on those pics to find them on Amazon - and you may also be interested in this.

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Friday, September 01, 2017

So This is Planet Hooston

Zod in lakeYou never heard of Planet Hooston?

(If you know where it is, you might have a super memory.... If you don't, maybe this will jog your memory.)

Besides the eeriness (today) of General Zod mistaking a lake for Houston, it's somehow comforting to hear him call water "a very strange surface."

That's our cue that he's an alien. It's OK to fear and loathe him.

And so Hooston in the movie stands for Planet Earth - we're all on this spaceship together.

If you're not in Texas, the real Houston seems so far away, it might as well be another planet.

But the people there are suffering majorly, and it's super easy to help them:

Houston Federation
Texas Chabad

Be generous. Many of these families have lost everything but the proverbial shirts on their proverbial backs.

They're drained, they're sad, they're scared, they're hugely uncomfortable, they're in shock.

You know, when your street turns into a river and there are fish swimming in your living room, you might just pause and say, "Is this really happening?"

There's your question for the table: Did you ever experience something so strange that you said, "Is this really happening, or am I dreaming?"

If not, what would it take?

Shabbat Shalom

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