Friday, May 18, 2018

Galactic Torah

Announcement - I'm happy to announce a new JSL product - a unique bar/bat mitzvah gift — a customized book that details the chain of Tradition from Moses to the bar or bat mitzvah child. Please see and share the link with everyone.
the-chance-to-be-unlimited.jpg?timestamp=1512417797Imagine a project at Harvard to convene the greatest scholars in every field over a period of several hundred years in order to create an encyclopedia of their collective knowledge. Who wouldn't want to see the final product?

This is the Talmud: a unique collection of wisdom that would surprise experts in any discipline, including law, ethics, psychology and economics. In the realm of cosmology, too, the Talmud makes assertions -- sometimes literal, sometimes metaphoric, and sometimes both.

To give one example, consider the Talmudic estimate of the number and distribution of stars in the universe.

In order to appreciate this passage, bear in mind two things. First, the vast bulk of Talmudic wisdom is claimed to be a transmitted tradition, from Moses to Joshua, to the prophets, to the Elders, to the Great Assembly, and then to a chain of scholars until the completion of the Talmud 1,500 years ago. Hence it is called the Oral Law.

Second, we need to appreciate the limitations of science 1,500 years ago: the telescope was invented in the 16th century, and the number of stars visible to the naked eye is approximately 9,000.

So what did these ancient rabbis say about the number of stars? In Tractate Brachot, page 32b, the Talmud records a tradition, in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, that there are roughly 1018 stars in the universe. This number is remarkably big and much closer to the current scientific consensus of 1022 than common sense would allow.

Now, although it is interesting for an ancient people to have such a large estimate, this single coincidence could perhaps be explained as an extremely lucky guess. Never mind that no other ancient people had an estimate anywhere near this order of magnitude, nor did they have a conventional way to write such a number. (I have queried dozens of astronomers and none could identify a single other ancient culture with remotely similar numbers.)

Multiple Patterns

However, the Talmud relates more than a raw number. The passage explains that the distribution of stars throughout the cosmos is neither even nor random. Rather, it states that they are clustered in groups of billions of stars (what we call galaxies), which themselves are clustered into groups (what astronomers call galactic clusters), which in turn are in mega-groups (what we call superclusters).

To describe the stars as clustered together, both locally and in clusters of clusters, was far beyond the imagination and the telescopes of scientists until Edwin Hubble's famous photographs of Andromeda in the 1920s. Galactic clusters and superclusters have been described only in the past decade or so. Moreover, the Talmud states that the number of galaxies in a cluster is about 30. And by coincidence, astronomers today set the number of galaxies in our own local cluster at about 30!1

Further, the Talmud adds that the superclusters consist of about 30 clusters each, and that superclusters are themselves grouped into a bigger pattern of about 30 (megasuperclusters?) of which the universe has a total of about 360. Thus, the Talmud appears consistent with one major theory that the overall structure of the universe is shaped by the rules of fractal mathematics. I've shown this data to numerous astronomers around the world and the consensus are pure astonishment.

Could it be that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish made an extremely lucky guess? That might be plausible if he had used a number that had symbolic significance in Judaism, such as seven, 10, 18 or 40. What is the significance of the number 30? To my knowledge, there is no spiritual or religious reason for choosing that number. It therefore seems to be exactly what it claims to be: a conscientious oral transmission of a received tradition, rather than simply one person's guesstimate.

Moreover, Rabbi Shimon had a reputation for impeccable honesty; it is unthinkable that he would have invented these numbers or guessed without telling us so. The clear intent of the passage is to convey an oral tradition.
You are now in on the secret of Shavuot: There is something special about the Torah (and rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated!). The Torah is much more than a mere "cultural expression" of one tiny group of ancient people, so numerically small that we reminded Mark Twain of a "nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way."

This passage about the stars is a mere five Talmudic lines, itself about as significant as a puff of star dust. But it also hints to the treasures available to those who seek them. Shavuot is a great time to begin.

1 This was true several years ago when this article was first written. Since then, astronomers have discovered “ultra-faint” dwarf galaxies in our local group, so the official number of galaxies in our group is presently 54. Some of these are not clearly “galaxies”, such as Andromeda VIII; some are visible to the naked eye while others are invisible to all but the best telescopes. The term “local group” was coined by astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1936 and originally included 12 galaxies. It is interesting to note that astronomers now recognize that 31 of these “local group” galaxies are satellites of our Milky Way galaxy: Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy, Large Magellanic Cloud, Small Magellanic Cloud, Canis Major Dwarf, Ursa Minor Dwarf, Draco Dwarf, Carina Dwarf, Sextans Dwarf, Sculptor Dwarf, Fornax Dwarf, Leo I, Leo II, Leo IV, Leo V, Leo T, Ursa Major I Dwarf, Ursa Major II Dwarf, Boötes II, Coma Berenices, Segue 2, Hercules, Pisces II, Reticulum II, Eridanus II, Gurs, Tucana II, Horologium, Pictoris, Phoenix II, Indus, Eridanus III. (I have excluded Boötes III because its galactic status is in doubt, as well as the nine ultra-faint galaxies discovered in March, 2015.) The exact number is less interesting to me than the fractal pattern described in the Talmud is exactly what we observe through the telescope.

Shabbat Shalom

and Happy Shavuot

PS - Please don't forget to visit . . . If you blog, please considering adding this link to your website. If you facebook, how about sharing the link?

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet, forward it....

Friday, May 11, 2018

Teens, Tears, Cheers & Fears

The purpose of this post is to take a new look at this entire teen thing, inside and out.
In honor of my wonderful mom, may she be well until 120!

watching eyeQuestion for your table: Who is watching whom the most?

Parents watching kids? Or kids watching parents?

Does it depend on the age of the kids?

We know that babies and toddlers watch their parents intently.

But parents also watch their babies and toddlers intently.

What about teens?

Does the role-modeling phase ended at adolesence?

Is being a teenager more about rebellion than about imitation?

I would suggest to you that it's still all about imitation - but now with more circumspection.

Translation: count on them to imitate what you do, not what you say.

If you have a teen at the Shabbat table, ask him or her, "Do I (parent) ever fail to practice what I preach?"

I guarantee you that they will immediately be able to come up with at least one example.

Try applying this insight to my previous post - technology use.

We say, "Limit your time" yet if we don't limit our own time....

If we say, please leave your phone in the kitchen overnight, but we take our own to bed . . . definitey going to follow the action, not the words.

But it applies to everything.

You want your teen to say "Please" and "Thank you" every time? Are you saying it every time?

You want your teen to smile when walking in the room - do you??

You want your teen to be calm and happy and less worried and anxious - are you?

You want your teen to say more positive things and less negative things. How are you doing on this?

Shabbat Shalom

and Happy Mother's Day
Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like, tweet, forward it....

Friday, April 20, 2018

Teens, Tech & Parents: 10 Truths and 4 Suggestions

The purpose of this blog is to generate some empathy for teenagers - and their parents. (Please like it, tweet it, forward).
Happy Birthday to our son Avramy who is finally able to go buy his old man a bottle of wine!

smart phone, lazy brainLast week was the first of a series about our wonderful teens, inspired by the new book Step Into My Shoes.

This week, a few thoughts about this smartphone.

I was tempted to title this email, "Smart Phone, Lazy Brain".

Do you fight or give in?

This is on my mind because we gave one of our teens a phone last week.

Did we give in?

Before you answer, consider the following truths that I personally believe to be true:

1. Phone addiction is real and a real problem.
2. The developing brain of a child (including teen) is more subceptible to addiction than that of an adult.
3. A good nights' sleep matters very much to the happiness and success of every teenager.
4. Teenagers do not always know what's best for themselves nor act in their own self-interest.
5. What parents do is even more important than what they say.
6. In some ways, smart phones are actually making us dumber.
7. Having a smart phone increases stress and anxiety.
8. The smartphone is not a passing fad; our children will be using them the rest of their lives.
9. You only have one chance to raise a child.
10. Loving your child means always doing what you judge is best for them, even if its hard.

PS - If the above links haven't focused your attention, try these two short videos: this and this.

Based on these truths, here are four possible parental interventions to consider:

1. Family rule - everyone (parents included) leaves phone in a different room during meal time.
2. Family rule - everyone (yes everyone) leaves phone in kitchen at bedtime.
3. Family rule - everyone's phone has age-appropriate time limits and scheduled time-outs. These can be easily set up with

4. Family rule - everyone's phone has parental controls on what apps can be installed and what websites visited. Mother has father's password, father has mother's, and parents have kids'.

This week's question for your table: If you are a smart parent and implementing some or all of the above, what do you say in response to, "But no one does that!" or "But everyone has that!" ???

Shabbat Shalom

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, forward it....

Friday, April 13, 2018

Step Into (Not Onto) My Shoes

The purpose of this blog is to generate some sympathy for teenagers - and their parents. (Please like it, tweet it, forward).
Step Into My Shoes bookTalked to a teenager lately?

Ever been aggravated by one?

This post may be for you.

First, the book on the left.

Just published by two mothers, it is a refreshing, inspired, inspiring, pragmatic (and well-written) read for anyone looking for a Jewish approach to parenting a teen.

(Please click on the image to see it on Amazon.)

Second, on that theme, here's a true story you could try sharing at your dinner table tonight, with 3 questions.

This morning someone mentioned that they are taking their son to their temple's mandatory Bnai Mitzvah Shabbat retreat.

Sounded fun until he mentioned that the son has less than zero interest in attending.

So why are they going?

Well, "mandatory" means that if you don't attend, they cancel your bar mitzvah.

First question for your table - Is this a case of laudable hardball rabbi-ing, or is it an "oy va-voy"?

I asked, "Does he want to have the bar mitzvah?"

"Oh yes, he does."

"What does that mean to him?"

"Well, I'm not sure he's going to be ready to read from the Torah, so I don't know. I guess it's mainly the party."

Second question for your table: Should we force our teens to do things they don't want to do? Or should they be able to pick and choose? Is this one of those times?

So I said, "What about creating a super meaningful backyard bar mitzvah at the time of your choosing (and not when it fits the Temple calendar)?"
Many people don't know that an at-home bar mitzvah can be perfectly kosher (sometime even more kosher). And probably saves money too.

Question 3: If someone could have a more enjoyable, perfectly kosher, 100% meaningful bar mitzvah at home, is there a downside?

(I've personally run a few of these, they were wonderful and as far as I know, there were no regrets.)

Today's Table Talk is the first in a series on the subject of our wonderful teens and parenting them.

Next week, the smart phone edition.

In the meantime,

Shabbat Shalom

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, forward it....

Friday, March 30, 2018

Rule #3: Think, Then Feel

The purpose of this blog is to help you focus your thoughts for Pesach. (Please like it, tweet it, forward).
daffodilWhy is this email different from all other emails?

First, because it has a picture of a daffodil - which popped up today, just in time for the only holiday in the Torah that is defined by a season (i.e., spring) (Exodus 23:15).

Second, because you're in a big hurry and don't have time to read this.

Third, to save you time, I've made a 6-minute video to watch or listen to while you are rushing around in your Pesach prep:

Fourth, because in the Afikomen-spirit, it actually contains a hidden question that you can ask at your table... can you find it?

Shabbat Shalom


Happy Pesach!

(See you in a couple weeks.)
 PS - Missed Rule #1 + #2? Click here and here.    
Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, forward it...

Friday, March 23, 2018

Rule #2: The Four Weapons

The purpose of this blog is to inspire you to click some links, and then do some numerology Shabbat table. Please print and use and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
Mazal tov to 3 bnei mitzvah in SF: Chaim Shragge, Luke BloomKing and Spencer Mosson! May you go from strength to strength.

AofAHaggada2017By now everyone knows how many days until Passover, right?

But we're not panicking, right?
Here are four weapons to arm you for an amazing Passover:

A. If you are within shouting distance of San Francisco next Monday, please join me for a special evening - social and intellectual - including a class, "When Elijah Knocks". Reply for details.

B. Get a free copy of our "10 Tips and Tricks for Making an Amazing Seder"  - shoot me an email.

C. #2 is an excerpt from the Art of Amazement Haggada - order one now.

D. As I try to send every year, here is the updated list of great Seder gifts, props and paraphernalia (had to spell-check that):

1. Let's start with food:
Round (hand-made) maztah
Whole wheat square matzah
Yehuda Matzos
Matzo Meal (yes that's how they spell it)

2. Seder-related props, toys, games:
Start with a Pharaoh Hat and staff (or the tall one).
Make sure you stock props for the 10 Plagues
(This is new, haven't tested it yet - the Rite Lite Can of Plagues)
(Martha Stewart's interesting idea of a bag of plagues for each person.)
(Whaddya think -  edible plagues?)
The Passover Bingo cards will keep them engaged at the table.
Any energetic teens at the table? Try a set of Juggling Matzah Balls

AKLIB - All Kids Love Israeli Bazooka gum
Get the Passover Memory Game

3. Other great Seder prizes:

Puzzles - This year, I'm going to try these as thanks-for-participating Seder gifts for all ages - the Passover connection is that the Seder - like life - is a puzzle, and if it isn't challenging, it isn't satisfying. According to the effort is the reward does't mean we reward you for your effort, it means that the deep enjoyment of the activity is proportional to the effort. So check out these really cool puzzles:
Level 2:
Level 3:
Level 4:
Level 5:

Level 7
The reviewers all say the Enigma is maddenly challenging and will take a smart person days to solve. I'm going to show it and announce that whoever can solve the lower level puzzles gets to try it.
4. Books:

Artscroll Youth Haggada - great illustrations for all ages
The Un-Haggadah - keep the Seder conversation flowing
Escape From Seville - Riveting - great for teens and young adults
Seder in Herlin - early teens
Seder Night Miracle (out of print, hard to find but worth it if you can)
Touch of Passover - board book
What Do You See on Pesach? - board book
If You Give a Frog a Piece of Matzah - kids

The Mouse in the Matzah Factory - kids
Only Nine Chairs: A Tall Tale for Passover

Zaidy's Great Idea - audio CD
Toward a Meaningful Mood - Turning Your Dark Moments into Light

And here's the question for your table tonight: 
Ever notice how the number 4 keeps popping up in the Seder (and in this post)? Why is that?

Shabbat Shalom


Happy Pesach!

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, forward it....

Friday, March 09, 2018

Rule #1: Don't Panic

The purpose of this email is to ask and answer ultimate questions at the Shabbat table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
Pesach-handsAt a certain climax in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, we learn that the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is.... "forty-two".

But that begs the question: What's that the answer to?

So in the story, the supercomputer Deep Thought runs an experiment to solve this problem. The experiment is called Earth, another supercomputer, comprised of people who will collectively reveal the answer (meaning, the question whose answer is 42).

Unfortunately, five minutes before the supercomputer-called-Earth is going to finally reveal the solution, the planet is destroyed by the Vogons in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Therefore - if you're still with me - the
hyper-intelligent (and rather evil) mice need to quickly invent an answer (which is really the question) because they're about to go on the air on a talk show with everybody watching. So after some debate, they decide that the question (whose answer is 42) would most plausibly be: "How many roads must a man walk down?"

Now why am I telling you all this?

Two days ago, our son was at a Torah class where the rabbi quoted the 20th Century Chassidic classic, Nesivos Shalom. The author - the Slonimer Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky zt”l - interprets the 42 stages of the Israelites in the wilderness as symbolic of the 42 paths a person walks in a lifetime.


But now for your table: What's more flabbergasting, that Douglas Adams somehow channeled the Nesivos Shalom? Or that we have 42 paths to walk in our lifetime?

It may be hard for you to concentrate right now because you are so preoccupied with preparing for Pesach.

Just in case you are not feeling enough anxiety, your second question for the table is, How many days until Pesach?

I sense that the question makes you uncomfortable, so we have updated the website with a Passover countdown-clock:

Rule #1 in using the clock: Don't panic.

All that you have to do is laugh a bit.

And a little bit more.

And then ask yourself, "How many paths have I walked until now?"

Shabbat Shalom

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, forward it....

Friday, March 02, 2018

Happy Windsday (?)

The purpose of this email is to turn things upside-down at the Shabbat table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
Fallen treeYou may have heard about these tremendous winds on the East Coast today.

Major trees down. Power flickering.

This is a classic case of forest v. trees.

If there's a flood, some people say, "Woe is me!"

Others react, "What a great opportunity to replace that floor!"

When the power goes out in the middle of your work, some people say, "Oy, how am I going to work?"

Others say, "What a great opportunity to take a break!"

Question 1 for your table: When the wind is strong enough to blow trees down, what do you say?

Question 2 for your table: What's your favorite optimist quote?

(Here is one of mine:
"You can't make an omeletet without breaking eggs.")

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Some people make a bracha on strong winds - can you guess which one?

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, forward it....

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Q U Thought U Knew

The purpose of this blog is to turn things over at the Shabbat table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
Remember last week's bad dad joke, about the fish with no eyes?

The whole idea was that we're now in Purim season, all the way through next week.

See that crown over there on the left?

If you don't relate very much to Purim, that crown is for you.

Because hidden in that crown you will find a link to a book that will as sure as eggs is eggs change your understanding of Purim from a romantic story into a most profound tale of Jewish history, purpose and being.

And like all great Jewish books, it leaves questions unanswered. Much to think about.

In the meantime, here's a question for your table:

What is one thing about the Purim story that never made sense to you?

Here's a quick review of the story..... Here's a quicker video review.

And if you have headspace to learn just one new thing about Purim this year, please watch this (45 min video). 
 Shabbat Shalom


!miruP yppaH

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, forward it....

Friday, February 16, 2018

Did You Hear the One About...

The purpose of this blog is to increase simcha at the Shabbat table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
Corny joke #3.... the guy who could never remember the punchline of a joke?

Get it?

Remember, the purpose of this email is to read it aloud at your Friday night dinner table.

Here are a few more:

What is brown and sticky?
A stick.

Why do seagulls fly over the sea?
Because if they flew over the bay, they'd be bagels.

What kind of music do planets like?

Why are there gates around cemeteries?
Because people are dyin' to get in.

Don't trust atoms. They make up everything.

A guy walks into a library and says, "Hi, I'll have the fish please."
The librarian says, "Sir, this is a library."
The guy whispers, "Oh, I'm sorry! I'll have the fish."

Survey time for your table - 5 questions....

Which of these is the best? The worst?

Why are "bad" jokes good?

What's the world's best "bad" joke?

(Send it my way and I'll send you a prize.)

You often hear people talk about "Jewish" humor — is there such a thing?
(Hint - click on the image above.)

Shabbat Shalom

A mensch tracht un Got lacht A person plans and God laughs.

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, forward it....

Friday, February 09, 2018


The purpose of this blog is to create some DIY wisdom at the Shabbat table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
Happy birthday shout-outs this week to Marc in SF and Lily in Mill Valley - ad meah v'esrim.

aluminum-foilWhat do you do when your wife is leaving town for a week and says:

"Sorry to saddle you with this, but the washing machine is broken."

Maybe you would call a repairman?

Personally, I first want to know what "broken" means.

Remember the old days, with the purely analog machine?

I miss that old machine, just had a couple buttons, and anything that broke was mechanical.

Do all the electronics really get our clothes cleaner?

Well, there is a Yiddish expression, "Before God sends the disease, he sends the cure."

The cure in this day and age is of course Dr. G.

As in Google.

The last time around, Dr. G. told me that the problem was probably the thermostat, which was located in the underbelly and the only way to access it would be to remove the entire rubber seal around the washing machine's door.

That seemed too daunting so I asked Dr. G. for a second opinion, which came up as a video of a guy who said, forget that nightmare of trying to remove (and replace) the rubber seal - just tilt the machine back, prop it up on a couple bricks, and pull out the thermostat from below.

That's what I did. And Dr. Google told me how to test it - it was working.

So what was the problem?

I crawled back under the machine and looked at the whole setup and it looked to me like the connector pins were not making a tight connection. Maybe years of vibrations had loosened them.

So I went and got a tiny piece of aluminum foil and shoved it in there.

Solved the problem, has worked perfectly ever since.

Until last week when my wife was leaving.

This time the error was not the thermostat, it was on the LCD, telling me, "Door open" when the door was tightly closed.

So I did the same thing: removed the faulty piece and studied it, looking for what was loose.

I'm pretty sure I found the problem, bent a small piece of metal a bit and put it back in. Sure enough, that fixed it.

Until it stopped again a few minutes later with the same error.

This went back and forth three times until I realized I wasn't going to fix it this way.

Question for your table: What did I do?

Answer: a tiny piece of foil.

Yes, I was overriding the "open door" safety feature, but at least I got the laundry done.

Question #2 for your table: When is the last time that you tried to fix something yourself, why didn't you call an expert, and how did you feel afterwards?

Shabbat Shalom

Ven tsu a krcnk iz do a refueh, iz dos a halbeh krenk - When there’s a cure for an ailment, it’s only half an ailment.
Far an akshen iz kain refueh nito - For the disease of stubbornness there is no cure.

PS - If your inclined to try DYI repairs but don't know where to start, click on the picture above.
Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers! Like it, tweet it, forward it....