Thursday, July 26, 2018

Et Tu?

The purpose of this email is to move the dinner or lunch table from Et-tu to Tub'av. Please share, and share, and share again.
heart-brain-seesawQuick triva question for your Shabbat table:

Who said, "Et tu, Brute?"

The answer is, of course, Juilus Caesar.

Or, should I say, the Julius Caesar of William Shakespeare's imagination.

Or should I say, Julius Caesar as imagined by the author of the eponymous play attributed to William Shakespeare.

OK, we remember from high school English that Julius Caesar says it. Second question - When does he say it?

These are of course his dying words as he is being stabbed by
the conspirators.

Third question: What do the words mean?

Answer: "You too, Brutus?"

Fourth question: What's that supposed to mean?

Answer: If, you, my close frrend Brutus, are among the conspirators, then I truly have no friends in the world and I might as well die.

But in Hebrew, the word Tu has an entirely different meaning.

It means 15 (as in the number).

You may have heard of Tu Bishvat - the 15th of Shevat (month) - our Arbor Day.

But have you heard of Tu B'Av - the 15th of Av?

That's today - all day until sundown.

What's it all about? The diametric opposite of Caesar's death — it's all about brotherly love.

It's when the maidens and young men used to go out to the fields and try to make matches for marriage.

But what made it a time of love wasn't the match-making.

The more affluent girls would share outfits with the less affluent girls, so that everyone would be looking her best and equally attractive.

That's awesome to think about.

Do we have people like that today, who go against their own self-interest to help someone else succeed?

If they're out there, I would love to meet them.

Shabbat Shalom


PS - For some easy ideas on how to spread the love, click on the pic above.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

"Bla Bla Bla"

The purpose of this blog is to cultivate refinement at the Shabbat table. Please share.
In memory of Ezekiel ben Elana z''l.

What Dogs HearHere's a great question for your dinner table:

What is a "refined" person?

The Talmud tells of a certain Rabbi Alexandri, one of my personal favorites, who famously called out, "Who wants life? Who wants life?"

The people gathered around him and said, "Give us life, Rebbe (i.e., teach us)!"

"Guard your tongue from evil and your mouth from deceit....turn from the bad and toward the good."

Three questions about this lesson.

1. Why does R' Alexandri ask the question two times?
2. Why does he focus on speech, among all other human activities and faculties?
3. Does this teaching imply that we should all sleep as much as possible? When you're sleeping you are not able to speak lashon hara nor to lie.

A1 — The repetition implies two kinds of life - in this world and the next. Many things we do improve our life in this world, and many things we do improve our life in the next. Only a few mitzvahs directly impact both worlds.

A2 — Speech is our most human faculty. While all animals (and some plants!) communicate, human speech is fundamentally different (and this). gives us the greatest potential for holiness.

A3 — Pay attention to the second half of what R' Alexandri says - "turn from the bad and toward the good" means more than avoiding bad speech. It means cultivating good speech.

Question for your table - What types of speech are "good"?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Tonight/tomorrow is the 9th of Av (short video). However, the fast is postponed until after Shabbat.

PPS - For some of the greatest Jewish speeches, click on the pic above.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Cure for Boredom

The purpose of this blog is to eradicate all boredom from the Shabbat table. Please share.
In memory of Dovid ben Eliezer A"H.

Dad-2003As I mentioned last week ("My Father's Keeper"), this week we honored my father's 13th yahrzeit.

One activity was a family outing that required a whole hour's drive.

Try to remember what that was like when you were eight years old.

On the way there, you are brimming with anticipation.

On the way home, you are writhing with boredom.

Sure enough, in the middle of the return trip, our eight-year-old began the "Abba, I'm bored" routine.

I tried ignoring her for a few minutes, but that didn't work.

So I fought fire with fire: "How bored are you?"

This question led to everyone competing to come up with a funny ending to the sentence, "I'm so bored, I'd rather..."

My daughter finally got into the spirit: "I'm so bored I'd rather watch paint dry! I'm so bored I'd rather watch a tree grow!"

We all laughed with her, and while I had no idea how she came up with these lines, the ruse worked. We used boredom to fight boredom.

That's the secret: stay busy.

It reminds me of my father, who never stopped being busy. He was always doing something meaningful, whether creating, mending, reparing, relaxing or - one of his favorite - learning. He was focused.

Personally, one of the things that keeps me busy and focused year-round is my goal of completing a tractate of the Talmud (Gemara) in his honor on each yahrzeit.

This year's tractate was Shavuot - Oaths, which ends with an interesting question.

It goes without saying a lie (or swearing falsely) in order to avoid paying someone what is owed to them is sinful.

But what if there is no victim? What if the falsehood or false oath harms no one - or what if it is to the oath-taker's own detriment? Is that considered sinful?

The Gemara concludes that indeed it is.

This is the ethic: distance yourself from falsehood. The entire Torah rests on the principle of Truth. Truth is God's middle name (so to speak).

The old friends of my father who were gathered for this event concurred that Truth could also have been his middle name.

Later, in the spirit of truth, I asked her how she had come up with those answers. She quickly turned to the pages in a Beverly Clearly where she'd read them. Busy and focused.

This week, the POTUS has proposed to the American people that we be judged by kavanah (Cavanaugh).

That's another way of saying how busy and focused you are (as opposed to being lazy and distracted).

Did you ever notice how most people will sit in the airport or stand in a line for hours without anything to do.

Aren't you people bored?

In contrast, there is a rabbi I know who opens the Talmud whenever there is extra time - even waiting at a red light.

Don't waste a moment of your life! Be like my father and stay busy and focused on something meaningful.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you're struggling with focus, click on the pic above.

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Friday, July 06, 2018

My Father's Keeper?

The purpose of this blog is to create some new narratives at the Shabbat table. Please share.
In memory of Dovid ben Eliezer A"H.
Dennis SeinfeldThis coming Sunday night will be the 13th yahrzeit of my father.

My father did not live to be an old man. He died quite young after falling off a ladder, preparing the house for our family's visit.

I sometimes wonder, had he lived to be an old man, what kind of old man would he have been?

Perhaps he would have been like my late friend Norman Hansen. I knew Norman  in his 80s and into his 90s. He was a riot. One of my favorite line: "The greatest mistake of my life was voting for Roosevelt in 1944. I should have known he was too sick!"

He was a widower and lonely, and before he met me he had very few people to talk to, so he used to make cassette recordings of himself arguing a thesis, then play it back and argue with himself.

When he found out that I am Jewish, he gave me one of his recordings, entitled, "Why there will never be a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict."

Bottom line: Norman's reasoning was that peace is not compatible with "truth".

If you stick to your truth and I stick to mine, how can we ever have peace?

Therefore, while some people pursue peace, most pursue their truth.

The question for your table is, was Norman right? Are truth and peace compatible, or are they mutually exclusive?

It would be interesting if both parties said, we're willing to compromise on our version of truth so that we can have peace. But more often you hear people jettison the entire concept of truth. There is no truth, there are just "competing narratives".

This narratives approach is convenient because it protects you from every being wrong. "I'm not wrong, I just have a different narrative. And therefore my claim is as legitimate as yours."

Fortunately, there are some sane intellectuals out there, such as UK journalist Melanie Phillips, who haven't forsaken the age-old concept of truth.

But what about peace?

Was Norman right, that peace between such people can never come about peacefully?

My father would have appreciated Phillips's argument. He was a truth-seeker. His tombstone says, "Champion of Justice." His his mind, true peace can only come when there is justice.

What say you and the folks at your table?

Shabbat Shalom

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