Friday, September 28, 2018

He Sad, She Sad

The purpose of this blog is to reveal shades of gray at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

he-sheThis week, a couple hard questions for your table.

Let's start with a definition - ask your table: What's irony?

Oh, never mind, that's too hard. 
Let's move on to #2, a Talmudic question for your table:

Is it possible for a plaintiff and defendant to contradict each other 100%, yet both be telling the truth?

I'm not asking if it's likely. Or even plausible. Is it possible.

After everyone chimes in, tell them this old one about the rabbi and rebbetzin counseling a couple.

The wife speaks her piece, and the rabbi says, "You're right."

Then the husband speaks, and the rabbi says, "You're right."

Then the Rebbetzin says, "Can they both be right?" And the Rabbi says, "You're right too!"

Many people cannot see life this way.

They can't see that two contradictory "truths" can both be true. It's either black or it's white. It cannot be both black and white.

The ability to hold two contradictory truths in our heads at the same time is the basis of Jewish humor, and I think it is the root of what is called "comic irony".

This is why Isaac, the progenitor of Israel, is named "Yitzchak" - "he shall laugh".

We apparently developed this talent through millennia of Torah study.

(With occasional periods of suffering, requiring a coping mechanism.)

Now, what I just wrote two sentences ago may spark some controversy. After all, how many of the 80 percent of American comics who are Jewish ever studied the Torah?

Maybe 2?

But it doesn't matter. An ounce of Torah study in one generation will cause a pound of irony for generations to come.

If you personally possess this ability, and you are not a Torah scholar, maybe you descend from Torah scholars....

So now, if she says X and he says Y, what are the truth possibilities?

X - and he's wrong/lying;

Y - and she's wrong/lying;

XY - and they're each trapped in their own perspective.

or . .

Z (an unnamed alternative) - maybe ______? (fill in the blank)

Speaking of Torah scholars, next week is Simchat Torah when we roll the scroll back to the beginning.

I overheard a conversation this morning between two nice Jewish guys.

One said, "Simchat Torah is my least favorite holiday. I just want to get it over with as quickly as possible."

The other said, "I love it."

"What do you love about it?"

"All year long I've been studying the weekly parasha. On Simchat Torah, I'm celebrating completing it."

"How often do you study it?"

"A little bit every day."

"Wow, you must have tremendous discipline to do that."

"I started a few years ago with English only. Eventually I started reading the Hebrew too."


Happy Sukkot


Shabbat Shalom


Chag Sameach

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Plain Vanilla for a Change?

The purpose of this blog is to challenge tastes at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

vanillaL'shana tova - Happy 5779.

(Happy New Year has the same afterglow as a birthday - you're allowed to say happy birthday to someone up to a month late.)

One of my resolutions is to try to expand my culinary horizons.

Thank Trader Joe's for making it so easy.

And if that link isn't proof enough, if you've been reading this space for long enough, you know that I'm a chocolate kind of guy.

(Although I admit, I've never shelled out $300 a box.)

Question for chocoholics: Does tasting new varieties of chocolate count as expanding your culinary horizons?

Maybe it's time to give chocolate's evil twin a chance.

I refer, of course, to vanilla.

Could we do with vanilla what we did with chocolate?

I.e., inspiration, perspiration and invention of the next up-and-coming beverage phenomenon?

(The chocolate invention is code-named the Hot Seinfeld.)

It is touted to have some appealing health benefits (which don't beat chocolate of course, but that's OK).

But as soon as I go to the baking cupboard (inspiration) to fetch the vanilla and start testing it with everything (perspiration) it becomes apparent that any invention is going to have to overcome a formidable challenge.

It turns out there's a reason why vanilla comes in those tiny little bottles.

Vanilla, like chocolate, has lost its innocence.

Real vanilla is actually quite scarce.

To quote National Geographic:

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world (after saffron) because its production is so labor-intensive. Vanilla grows as a clinging vine, reaching lengths of up to 300 feet, from which sprout pale greenish-yellow flowers, about four inches in diameter. These-in Mexico, vanilla’s native habitat-are pollinated by melipona bees and, occasionally, by hummingbirds. Each flower remains open for just 24 hours, after which, if not pollinated, it wilts, dies, and drops to the ground.

It gets much more complicated than that, resulting in a product so scarce that 99 percent of the "vanilla" products don't actually contain vanilla.

Vanilla extract = good
Vanilla flavor = bad
Vanillin = ugly

Read those labels!

(Fun fact: while cookies like Nilla Wafers are typically 100% artificially flavored, by law in the US, vanilla ice cream must contain 100% natural vanilla.)

So how come they don't make vanilla bars like chocolate bars?

The best I could find are these Health Warrior bars.

One solution is to get your own beans and make your own.

So the perspiration goes on. In the meantime, if you have a favorite vanilla dish or recipe, please send it along.

(Hey, while we're at it, any suggestions for gourmet chocolate?)

Now your wondering how all this plain vanilla talk could lead to a dinner table conversation.

Here's a question for your table: How much effort should we put into making our food tasty?

Shabbat Shalom


Happy Sukkot

PS - Thank you everyone who responded to our appeal last week to support this email along with the rest of JSL's mission. To send this weekly message actually costs something. There is server time, hardware maintenance, and general overhead. If you enjoy this weekly or even on occasion, please consider a tax-deductible tzeddaka contribution of any amount.  If you read this, please consider 25¢/week ($12/year). Here's the link:

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Why Me???

The purpose of this blog is to trigger even deeper thought at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

exasperatedL'shana tova.

For the past couple weeks, we've been encouraging everyone to try the new 40 Meditations for the High Holidays.

And last week we gave you a puzzler for your table that I'm wondering if anyone figured out (?)

This week, two emotional encounters that occurred on Wednesday and Thursday of this week which may shed a little extra light on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Encounter 1, Wednesday:

On Wednesday, I received the following email from a rabbi I know:

I was leading a great discussion on Rosh Hashana.
Then one woman began to speak. She said 'I'm not religious but I'm a good person. But I'm appalled at these Orthodox families, who go through red lights, yak on their cell while driving, act rude, etc. They're ruining the neighborhood, etc."

Clearly, she was tanking the whole discussion. Other people raised their hands, and I was hoping the subject would get changed. Wrong - they started piling on. I did what I thought was right to get things back on a positive note without shutting her down and/or hurting her feelings. I'm not sure I had the most elegant solution. I really want to know what others would have done.


Question for your table: What should the rabbi have done?

My instinct:

“I feel the same way! Nothing burns me more than seeing someone wearing one of these [points to yarmulke] doing something obviously wrong. And while I would personally guess that the average Orthodox person is more careful about following the law, not speaking gossip, etc., it just goes to show you – nobody’s perfect. The question is – for you and for me and for the Orthodox person who ran the red light – what can you honestly improve about yourself this year??

Encounter 2, Thursday:

This was a call from someone who only calls me when his marriage is on the rocks.

It took us over an hour to get to the heart of what was bothering him, but we got there.

It was this:

Why is God doing this to me? Why would he want me to be married to a woman who is selfish and unable to sympathize with me?

So I guess the first question for your table is, What would you say to such a guy?

In case you're interested, here's what I told him.

Our tradtion teaches us that, while each of us has a different mission, we all have the same purpose.

That purpose is to become "perfect" - or Godly, or holy.

Therefore, everything that happens to us is custom designed to help us achieve our purpose.

For example, that person who tries your patience was put in your life in order to teach you patience.

Some challenges can teach us perseverance, others faithfulness, others gratitude, others calmness.

The only way to learn the lesson is to think about it. That's what these 10 Days of Awe are for.

It also really helps to try to work on changing only one habit at a time (see the 40 Meditations sheet).

Question 2 for your table: Whom do we expect and want to be an egotist?

The answer of course is a baby ("feed me, change me!").

But for adults, that latent egotism is the root of most of our imperfections. It was very healthy when we were babies, but....

Now you can understand why one of the three main customs during these 10 Days of Awe is to give extra tzeddaka.

If life is made of time, and time is money, then giving some of your hard-earned money to others is giving a part of yourself.

Hard to do? That may be a sign of how good it is for you. No pain, no gain.

Shabbat Shalom


G'mar ketiva tova — may you have a good inscription (i.e., in the Book of Life)!

PS - Once or twice a year we ask you, our subscribers, to support this email along with the rest of JSL's mission. To send this weekly message actually costs something. There is server time, hardware maintenance, and general overhead. If you enjoy this weekly or even on occasion, please consider a tax-deductible tzeddaka contribution of any amount.  If everyone who reads this were to contribute 25¢/week ($12/year), it would cover all the costs.

Here's the link:

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Friday, September 07, 2018

Every Good Boy Does Fine

The purpose of this email is to trigger memory and thought at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

dont-forget-fingerLast week we offered you the new 40 Meditations for the High Holidays.

All that you need to do is send an email.

This week, a new 1-pager for Rosh Hashana. See below....

First, here's a puzzle that some people at your table will get right away, others will say, "Wait, wait, don't tell me...!" and others will say, "I have no clue."

Can you complete the missing line?

1. Good boys do fine always.
2. All cows eat grass.
3. Every good boy does fine.
4. ___________________

I hope no one is griping at me about not including girls or transgenders or post-genders or whomever, or preaching about the role of 1,000,000,000 cows in global warming, at least not until you hear the answer:

4.    Face.           

OK, for those who are still scratching their heads, these four phrases are
mnemonics to help remember the notes on bass clef (GBDFA - lines; ACEG - spaces) and treble clef (EGBDF - lines; FACE - spaces).


Ask your table: What does this have to do with Rosh Hashana???!!!

If they give up, remind them about the Simanim.

Such as apples in honey, pomegranate, etc.

What does the word "simanim" mean?

A: neumonic!

So here's the real clincher - what's a
mnemonic and why do we have them on our dinner table on Rosh Hashana?

Shabbat Shalom
L'shana tova u'metuka - wishing you a good and sweet year!

PS - The new 1-pager mentioned above is this year's updated Rosh Hashana Simanim (translated and transliterated). send me an email or download it from our teacher's and parent's resource site,

PPS - Yes, the image above is clickable.

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