Friday, October 26, 2018

What Chesed Did You Do?

The purpose of this blog is to get everyone's 2-bits at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Piece of 8OK, here is a pair of questions for your table that are sure to stir up discussion:

1. Why do parents always ask their kids, "What did you learn in school today?"
2. Why do kids hate this question?

While I eagerly await the results of your own dinner-table poll, here is my 2-bits, as my grandfather would have said.

(By the way, the reason 2-bits became the nickname for 25¢ is a complete tangent, but it's an interesting bit of triva. Don't rely on Google or you'll miss this one. [But you coudl read this and this.] Dollars used to be solid silver, with tremendous purchasing power. The most common silver dollar then is the one pictured here, the Spanish Piece of 8, aka Peso. This coin represented four days' labor for the average worker, not so convenient for small purchases. So they would cut it into 8 pieces or "bits". So 2-bits - a day's wage - meant a quarter-dollar.)

I suspect that the answer to question #1 is both genuine interest in the lives of our children, and a desire for them to appreciate what they accomplished.

And the answer to #2 may be because too often, kids have a hard time recalling what they learned. Learning is often accumulated in such small steps, and unless the teacher posts, discusses, summarizes and reviews a daily "learning objective", it can be hard for a student on her own to articulate it.


I recently discovered with our almost-eight-year-old that a slightly different question can get a consistent daily engagement with her father:

"What chesed did you do today?"

In case she hesitates, I prompt a bit further: "Did you help anyone? Did you play or sit with someone who was all alone?"

Now, the third question for your table is Why does she respond so well to this question?

Again, I can give you my own theory, but feel free to disagree.

My theory is that doing an act of chesed is a complete, self-contained accomplishment, and it feels complete. In contrast, whatever you learned today may be such a small increment toward a long-term mastery that it doesn't feel like such an accomplishment.

Fourth question for your table: Imagine you got a phone call from God. Not a prank call, it's the real thing! The voice on the other end proves itself to be God with all kinds of knowledge that no human could ever know about you.

So you're in the middle of this conversation when the doorbell rings. You peek out the window and see that it's a poor person collecting tzedaka. You can't do both - you cannot stay on the phone and help the poor person. You must decide - talk to God and get all of your questions answered, or hang up and go help the poor person.

What would you do?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, October 19, 2018

How to Lose.... Wait!

The purpose of this blog is to turn Friday night dinner into a valuable asset. Please print and share.
Happy birthday shouts-out to Lisa + Susan in SF!

alarm-clock-with-tight-beltOne of my favorite motivational videos is "The Time You Have (in Jellybeans)".

He starts with 28,835 jellybeans, representing the days in a lifetime of 79 years.

Then he starts removing jellybeans from the pile, to represent the time we spend in childhood, sleeping, eating, shopping, work, commuting, watching TV, chores, taking care of others' needs, etc.

He ends up with a small pile of jellybeans representing free time - time for enjoying life, self-fulfillment etc.

And he asks: What are you going to do with this small bit of time that remains after you have done all those other activities?

In my opinion, there is something very Jewish and yet something very un-Jewish about this message.

First question for your table: What do you think?

Second question: Imagine you were sitting on a bus next to someone with a bag full of dollar bills.

Every minute or so, he reaches into the bag, pulls out a dollar, and drops it out the window.

You are watching this peculiar behavior for awhile, until he appears to run out of money.

Then he turns to you and asks, "May I borrow a dollar?"

What do you say?

In the video, an efficient person may notice something he left out of his jellybean count: time that is wasted.

Wasted not because a person's standing in line at airport security, but because they're standing in line at airport security without a book.


Our life is filled with little time-nuggets of wait-time. These are opportunities to learn and to grow.

But we totally waste most of these .

3rd Q for your table: If someone asked you how to use their wait-time for a purpose, what would you advise?

"If you love life, then love time, for that is the stuff that life is made of." (Ben Franklin)

Shabbat Shalom
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Friday, October 12, 2018

But Are We Awake?

The purpose of this blog is to restore spirited conversation to the Shabbat table. Please print and share.
In honor of someone very special's birthday today.... Happy birthday, Mom!
And a big mazal tov to Shalev and Rocky on your wedding!

two-candles-in-handsA Jew I know just lost his non-Jewish mother.

Unlike the Jewish custom of quick burial, this Catholic family will not have the funeral for several weeks.

First 2 questions for your table - Have you ever been to a wake? Do you know why they call it that?

(No, it isn't because they hope the deceased will wake up.)

Once upon a time, I attended one. It wasn't Catholic, as far as I recall. They just called it that. It was in a funeral home. The deceased was a young man - 18 years old - who had drowned while swimming with friends in a rural swimming hole.

It was incredibly sad. But seeing him there, embalmed with makeup to make him look like he was merely sleeping, somehow made it more painful, to me.

Next 2 questions: Why don't Jews do embalming? Why do we hurry to bury our dead?

We obviously love life, we don't love death.

But we don't ignore it. We even have a beracha to say upon the death of a loved one.

Question 5 for your table - Why don't we like to talk about it? Why does it make us so uncomfortable?

Some say that the answer is because we live in a culture that really does glorify the physical aspect of existence (the human body and its pleasures) and we have all been trained from a very young age to  become deeply attached to that vitality.

Put it this way: the Olympics and Superbowl get a bit more attention than the World Chess Championship.

(Although it's always encouraging to see the media pay attention to the newest Nobel Prizes.)

Others point out that even spiritual people have trouble with death. They argue that we expect God to be good and loving and kind and taking a loved one away is painful and therefore unkind and that's a contradiction so we'd rather ignore it than grapple with the contradiction.

What say you?

According to the Talmud, there are 903 types of death.

(And if anyone cares, it even tells us which are the most and the least painful.)

Question 6 for your table - What would you say are the best and worst ways to die?

Question 7 - If the Talmud is going to talk about 903 ways to die, why doesn't it also tell us how many ways there are to live?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, October 05, 2018

How to Fly High

The purpose of this blog is to raise spirits at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.
In memory of  Jeremy Dossetter (Yermiyahu Matan), zichrono livracha, whose first yahrzeit is observed tonight and tomorrow.

Jeremy-surfNow that the holidays are officially over, is it back to business-as-usual, or has something changed?

The other night, my driver-in-training daughter and I are out for a spin, trying to get her to her 60 hours.

We decide to make our destination a local drugstore.

There's always something you need at a drugstore.

No lines - looks like we were the only customers.

Now, if we could just avoid the employees, we'd have it made....

So we arrive at the checkout with our items. The employee on duty is a young woman.

As we are stepping up to the counter, this employee is tearing open a package of cookies. As I am reaching to place my items on the counter, she quickly rips two or three cookies from the package and stuffs them all in her mouth at once.

This does not occur while her back is turned to us, nor her side.

She is facing us and is not even three feet away.

Now, this account could remain a tale of mere manners and professionalism.

But it gets worse.

Maybe I should keep my mouth shut, but I feel like I should say something.

So as lighthearted and friendly as possible, with a smile, I say, "You know, those aren't very healthy."

Her answer (once she finishes swallowing, give her credit for that): "I know, but, hey, you gotta die sometime, so who cares if it's a little sooner rather than later."

She has stunned us into silence.

Back in the car, my daughter has a comment.

First question for your table: What would you guess she says?

(She said she was sad for this woman who evidently felt that she had very little to live for.)

Second question: What would you have said (if anything)?

Third question: Is this woman to be praised for 'living in the moment'?

As noted above, tonight is the first yahrzeit of our beloved student and friend Jeremy, whose helicopter went down off the coast of Molokai, Hawaii.

Jeremy exemplified both living in the moment and living with a sense of purpose. He would have been the last person to knowingly endanger his life because he loved life and had big meaningful goals.

I believe he saw this world as both a beautiful artwork and a blank canvas on which to paint the work of art called "My Life".

The best way we can honor him is to be inspired by him. May his memory be for a blessing.

Speaking of Jeremy and painting, here's a final question for your table.

This is the kind of philosophical question he enjoyed discussing when we studied Torah together via Skype.

Imagine a painter makes a picture of a natural scene, with trees and people and so on.

5 minutes after the he completes the painting, you and I look at that person in the picture. I ask you, “How old would you say that man is in the painting?”
You scrutinize it and decide that he looks like he’s 50 years old.
“Wrong! He’s only 5 minutes old!”
Who’s right?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - The image above was Jeremy's Skype image, a self-portrait I believe, and yes it is clickable.

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