Friday, December 29, 2017

Deadline or Dead Line?

The purpose of this blog is to meet deadline at the Friday night dinner table.
Mazal tov to our daughter Devorah becoming bat mitzvah this week.

Melting clock There is an ancient Jewish custom to bless our children Friday night. Girls get the blessing, "May God make you like Sarah, Rivka (Rebecca), Rachel and Leah. Fair enough, those are four of the greatest.

But boys get the blessing, "May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe."

Not like Avraham, Yizchak, or Yaakov. Not like Yoseph or Moshe or Aharon nor even like King David.

Rather, be like Ephraim and Menashe, the two sons of Yoseph, who were famous for ______?

Try using that as your first question for the table this week.

If everyone responds with a bewildered stare, you can say, "You're all right! Ephraim and Menashe didn't do anything worthy of inclusion in the Torah!"

So what's the point of the blessing? Because unlike so many who came before and after them, they lived with zero envy, despite their inequality.

Second question for your table: Do girls in general need such a blessing as much as boys?

Our daughter Devorah is the kind of girl who does not need it. She is way beyond petty envy or rivalry. She is genuinely happy for the success of others - even her sister.

We are proud her for this and many other qualities she has developed in herself, and in honor of her becoming Bat Mitzvah this week, here is her original Dvar Torah.

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This week's parsha, Vayechi, is mainly about Yaakov Avinu’s (Jacob's) death in Mitrayaim (Egypt) and burial in Eretz Yisrael (Israel).

The parsha says:

“Va'yickuru y'may Yisroel lamos v’yickra l'veino l'Yosef vayomar lo sim na yadcha tachas yrechi usisu imadee chesed v’emes: al na tik'b'rni b'Mitzraim.”

When Yaakov realized his end was near he called for his son Yosef and said, “Swear to me that you will do me a kindness and truth, and do not bury me in Egypt; bury me in Eretz Yisroel with my fathers...."

It’s strange the way Yaakov says chesed v’emes —  “kindness and truth”. Why does he say it like that?

Rashi says we should read Yaakov’s words as if he says, “Chesed shel Emes” — Kindness of truth, because that's a well-known expression that means to bury somebody.

In other words, Rashi is saying that it makes more sense for Yaakov to say “kindness of truth,” than “kindness and truth.”

But that’s not what Yaakov says. He says “chesed v’emes” – kindness and truth. If he means 'kindness of truth", why doesn't he say it? If "kindness and truth" doesn’t make sense, then why does he say it? Why not just say “chesed” — do me a kindness?

What is he adding when he says “and truth”?

Rashi then quotes a Midrash that gives three reasons Yaakov insisted on being buried in Eretz Yisroel and not in Mitzraim. The reasons have to do with both the merit of being buried in the Holy Land and the detriment of his body remaining in Egypt.

But why does it really matter? Why does he care so much about what will happen after he has died?

The Ohr HaChaim provides a mashal (parable):

Once there was a king, he decided to appoint people to make a piece of jewelry out of diamonds, so he appointed the people to do the task. Each person got its own amount of diamonds and time limit. Finally the day came, and all the people came with their “piece of art.” but it wasn’t really a piece of art so the king was not so happy, he saw that nobody put time and effort on this task that he assigned, it either wasn’t finished, or the pieces were was just not nice looking, it was just looking like junk. So the king was furious about this, and ordered for them all to be killed!

The nimshal (the meaning of the parable) is:

God is the king, and we are the people who are making a piece of jewelry. And our jewelry is each day of one’s life. Each day is another step up to be closer to God.  But we have a deadline when we move on to the next world. After that, we can’t get any closer to God.

A tzaddik like Yaakov works to be closer to Hashem in everything he does. Even in his burial, which is after he’s dead! So that is what he means by asking Yoseph to act with truth and not with mere kindness. Yaakov is trying to be truthful about every detail – even about where he is buried. It is not just a favor he is asking his son. He is not just asking for respect. He is asking for something based on truth and holiness.

We should learn from this that even in our daily lives, we should be careful with the details and make every day a jewel. We should always choose what’s best for us, meaning what is true. And that's why we need Torah. To bring us closer to truth, before our deadline.

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Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Three Thousand Years

The purpose of this email is to find all the pintele-Yids at the Shabbat table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).

3,000 yearsOnce upon a time, in the early 90s, I was visiting some Israeli friends in Tel Aviv named Yoav and Tami.

Picture your stereotypical "hilonim" (secularists).

Floppy sandals, short pants, strong sense of irony.

They'd already traveled the world. Their English was flawless.

Now they were very happy in Tel Aviv and ... this is the important point: they said they felt very little desire to visit Jerusalem.

But as the conversation continued, it came out that they were upset about what they perceived was going on in Jerusalem.

Specifically, some religious people's attempts to close Jerusalem roads on Shabbat.

"If they want to have a religious city, let it be in Bnai Braq!" Tami said.

Yoav nodded his head in agreement. "Israel already has a religious city. Jerusalem is for everyone."

First Question for your table - What was bothering these hilonim who rarely set foot in Yerushalayim?

Three thousand years ago, King David conqured Jerusalem and made it the capital of the Jewish People.

2,500 years ago, the Babylonian empire destroyed Jerusalem and exiled us from there.

1,948 years ago, the Romans did it again.

Since then, Christians and Muslems have battled over hegemony there. Why? Because they know that Jerusalem symbolizes the eternality of the Jewish People.

And the eternality of the Jewish People implies there is something deficient with Christianity and Islam.

Tami and Yoav know that they're Jews and there isn't a snowball's chance in Mecca that that will ever change.

Question #2 for your table - Are they right?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Your True Value

The purpose of this blog is to peel back the foil at the Friday night dinner table outward. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
chocolate CoinsThis week's Story Corps has one of their best 2-minute ever.

It's Dr. William Weaver telling about the most memorable December 25 of his life, when he was a teenager, "That made me feel better than any Christmas I’ve ever had."

First question for your table: What would you guess happened?

(Better to hear his 2-minute telling, but in a nutshell, his family gave their turkey dinner and a bicycle and a wad of cash to a family poorer than they.)

Is this more than superficially connected to Channukah?

Hannukah has obvious layers. But the top layer is surely this:

A tiny group of zealots take on a mighty army, and with persistence they succeed.

The basic message is our latent potential — far beyond our usual self-image.

So ask your table: What does Chanukkah teach about unlocking that potential?

Answer: You have to analyze how the Maccabees succeed:

A. They're persistent for years because they understood their mission to be sacred. They keep their proverbial eye on the prize. It's never about me.

B. The story of the oil comes after years of blood, sweat and tears. What precisely triggers the miracle? They are victorious and finally rededicating the Temple and decide to make that fresh start as beautiful and pure as possible.

Once a year, we become givers - "masters of chesed".

Some people I know are masters of chesed year-round.

But here's Question #3 - Can a master of chesed become a bigger master of chesed? And if so, how Channukah teach that?

(Hint: look at the candles.)

Happy Channuka


Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, December 08, 2017

Great Men

The purpose of this email is to turn the Friday night dinner table outward. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
In memory of Raphael Shachar ben Aharon.
WeissbergRaise your hand if you're tired of hearing about, and talking about, failed men?

So let's talk about a great man who died this week at age 37.

His name was Shachar Weissberg.

Shachar was born in Baltimore on March 25, 1980, one week before Pesach.

At age 7 he was first hospitalized with a neurological disease.

Here is one story from that time that shows you exactly what kind of person he was - and man he became:

At Channuka time, he asked his family to please bring him presents to the hospital.

And how they did! Their beloved brother was stuck in the hospital while other kids his age were going to school, playing in the snow, and so on.

What was his reaction to all the gifts?

He went down the hallway and gave them to all the other children in the hospital.

For Shachar, life wasn't about getting his needs or wants met. It was about looking for opportunities to do chesed.

Here is one of the only blog posts he managed to write:

On the first night of Chanuka, 2011, I arrived in Israel with my mother for what was going to be a three in a half week vacation to visit my dear siblings and their families. We also came to see what our options where in order to make aliyah that summer. I will never forget that night when I arrived in Israel and how excited I was to finally be here. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new chapter in my journey in life. Two weeks later, I was hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia and a collapsed lung, and I spent the next three in half months in Shaare Zedek. It was a very difficult time and I will write the many stories of hashgacha pratis that accompanied me and helped me pull through. I am currently living in Yerushalayim where I have always wanted to live. Although it was not the way I dreamed of coming and settling here, but it was definitely the hand of God that brought me here.

ShacharQuestion for your table: What's more important - being happy right now or making someone else happy right now?

May his memory be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom
and Happy Channuka!

PS - 4 days to Channuka? Here's our recommended books and toys for kids of all ages?

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Friday, December 01, 2017

Our Biggest Problem?

The purpose of this blog is to turn the Friday night dinner table inward. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
PogoHow did you do on last week's "5 Thanksgiving Questions"?

Current events have brought up a long-forgotten memory.

In college I spent a semester in Rome, the so-called "Eternal City".

Every day we had a field trip to some part of the city or around Umbria, to look at something Classical or Baroque.

On our big trip to southern Italy, this incident occurred on a bridge in Naples.

We were waiting for the bus to fetch us when a couple of Italian guys came up to me and wanted to negotiate a price for being intimate with one or two of the women in our group.

At first I assumed they were joking and so I played along with it.

But then one of the women became suspicious and asked me what they were saying.

Only then did it dawn on me that they were actually serious.

And that it didn't really matter.

What mattered was that, the entire premise of the conversation, joking or not, was highly offensive. But it was so absurd that I played along with it...."guy talk".....

Q1 for your table: That kind of "guy talk" is bad, but how bad?

And let's flush this out with a few random comparisons.

(Q2 for your dinner-table conversation.)

We all have limited time and attention spans, so we should focus on the most urgent problems, right?

Therefore, what's worse?

Guys talking guy talk, or guys like Matt Lauer having a secret button?

Guys like Matt Lauer, or plastic choking our ecosystems?

The steady destruction of marine ecosystems, or the loss of young people to opioid overdose ?

The opioid epidemic, or the technology-depression-suicide epidemic?

It is interesting that Judaism addressed some of these issues thousands of years ago.

For instance, there is a millenial-old prohibition against a man and woman who are not family to be secluded together. Even to touch each other beyond a formal handshake.

This is not the path of "orthodox" Judaism. It is Jewish wisdom. Just like you don't have to be "religious" in order to decide not to speak lashon hara and to practice shmirat halashon, you also don't need to be religious to practice shmirat hanegiah and save your hugs and kisses for your family.

But don't we live in a culture that expects hugs and kisses at every social gathering?

We also live in a culture that honors lashon hara.

Think about it.

They said the following story of the late Dayan Erintroy - he was once visiting a factory in Germany for a kosher food inspection. The manager was a woman who extended her hand. He said, "I'm sorry, the only woman I touch is my wife."

She smiled and said, "If my husband had had that attitude, we'd still be married!"

Q3: Maybe some habits simply too engrained to make it worth the fight?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Counting down the days to Channuka? Have you seen our recommended books and toys for kids of all ages?

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