Friday, September 13, 2019

10K or Bust?

The purpose of this blog is to work toward Shabbat table mastery. Please print and share.

10KIn a way, this week's question is an addendum to last week's Back to School Special.

The question is simple:

At what point does a person say, "I've learned enough, I'm ready to play" (or work, or participate - whatever the situation may be)?

For example, imagine you're learning how to be an electrician. How do you know when you're ready to take the Master Electrician Test?

I assume that everyone at your table will agree that the answer is, "When your teacher tells you that you're ready."

If that's the case, what if you don't have a teacher? What if you're learning it on your own?
What if you follow the line (that some are skeptical about), that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you'll master it.

Is it true?

One summer in college I worked for a temp agency. Every day I was doing some sort of manual labor.

One of the gigs was at a paper factory. Do you know how copy paper comes in a ream (500 sheets), folded into a paper cover?

The job was to take reams of copy paper and fold them into this type of paper cover. That's all I did. For five hours.

With some practice, I was able to fold and tape a ream in about a minute.

The master of the operation was this wiry seventy-year-old guy named Jake. He could package a ream in about five seconds. I kid you not. Watching this man fold paper was like watching Houdini doing a card trick.

And after five hours of listening to it, I'll never forget the sound of his whistle. He whistled the same five-second tune for each ream that he packaged.

I suppose he had had his 10k hours?

But some have argued that quantity of practice is less important than quality, and that we focus on three most important qualities:

1. Create a Feedback Loop - need to know what to fix
2. Deliberate Practice - work very hard on specific skills
3. Become a Teacher - no one learns more than a teacher!

Final question for your table:

What skills do you want to master? Do you agree that qualitative practice is more important than quantitative?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, September 06, 2019

Back to School Special

The purpose of this blog is create a "teachable moment" at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Great teachersHere's the question on my mind this week, I wonder how you and your table would answer it:

What's greater - the joy of a child engaged in and loving learning?

Or the pain of a child disengaged, bored and hating school?

That joy of learning can be one of the greatest highs.

But that pain of ennui can be so devastating.

OK, what if you had the following choice:

You are going to take two required courses. You can either have one that is amazing and takes you to the moon every class while the other is so dreadful you'd rather they submit you to the Medieval rack than have to sit through another one;

Or... you could take two classes that are average - neither particularly inspiring nor particularly boring.

Which would you choose?

In the first scenario, would the amazing class make up for the horrible one, or would the horrible negate the life-changing spirit of the amazing one?

At about this time of year, when I was headed off to college for the first time, my grandfather of blessed memory took me aside and said, "I have one word of advice for you for college."

I thought, "Fantastic, this is going to be one of those memorable moments that I'll tell my own children about and maybe I'll even blog about it one day (once blogs are invented)!"

"One word?"

"One word: don't take classes."

OK, that was three words, but I was far worried about the content of the message than I was about my grandfather's number sense. Perhaps this was not a senior moment, perhaps there was going to be a punchline. I waited.

And the punchline came: "Take teachers."

"You see," he explained, "You could take the most interesting class with a boring teacher, and learn nothing. And you could take what you think is the most uninteresting class with an excellent teacher, and you'll learn everything."
That advice made a lot of sense and I'm happy to say that I followed it most of the time in all of the places that I have studied since then. And I continue to do so.

Two final questions for your table:

1. What are some of the things that great teachers do that makes them great?

2. What can you do when you have no alternative to the poor teacher? When your child has no alternative?
Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, August 30, 2019

What's So Hard About Stopping?

The purpose of this blog is transform Friday night into Shabbat. Please print and share.
unplugThe closest red light to our home has four crosswalks.

However, I have taught my children to avoid them.

Please, I beg them, cross only a block away, where there is no crosswalk.

First question for your table - can you guess why?

Routinely - meaning daily - I see cars running this red light.

Or turning there (on green) with pedestrians in the crosswalk.

It happened to me - once I was crossing with two children and a turning car very nearly hit us.

Another time I chose not to use the crosswalk and then saw a car run the red at the exact moment that I would have been there.

Until now, I thought this was perhaps a local Baltimore phenomenon.

It turns out that more people are running red lights (causing more fatalities) everywhere.

Every day, on average, two or more people in the USA are killed by someone running a red light.

My state is at the exact national average (2.4 annual red-light-running deaths per 1M population). What would you guess is your state's ranking? Do you feel like it's getting better or worse where you live? Here's the data.

Even scarier, a new AAA survey found that 16 percent of teenagers and six percent of drivers overall say that it is not particularly dangerous to run a red light.

The AAA researchers cannot explain this increase in red-light-running and its increase in fatalities.

I personally suspect it may be rooted in more and more people - especially young people - being socialized to be impatient.

What do you think?

And what's the solution?

Shabbat Shalom

(PS - Clicking on the above image will take you to one suggested solution)

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Flexing Your Muscle

The purpose of this email is to build some strength at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

muscleMany thanks to those who sided with me in last week's debate!

This week's topic for your table is about airports.

Question for your table:

Do you have an airport nightmare story?

Who doesn’t?

Delayed flights, lost baggage, missed connections...

Anyone who has traveled has been there. How many times have I heard, “I’ll never fly on X Airline again”, when all of these problems occur on every airline.

13 years ago, when we had to cut short our Israel trip after two days for my grandmother’s funeral, my mom’s suitcase didn’t make it to San Francisco and the airline knew where it was but, maddingly, couldn’t figure out how to get it to us. But every time I found myself feeling the slightest twinge of frustration, I thought of the next woman in line at the lost baggage claim, who was weeping.

“What’s wrong,” my mom asked her. “Did you lose something particularly valuable?”

“Yes,” sobbed the woman, “My daughter!”

It seems her unaccompanied-minor daughter didn’t show up, and an airline rep had sent her to lost baggage for help!

No matter how bad it seems, there’s always someone who has it worse.

Not only that, but the fact that we have a functioning air transport system is a wonderful thing. If I plan ahead of time for contingencies, I don’t mind the delays. I’m puzzled by the fact that while 100 of us waited at baggage claim for 45 minutes, I appeared to be alone in opening a book. Everyone else seemed to prefer watching the pot boil.

Anything as complex and human as an airport is bound to have snafus. So many people responded favorably to what I wrote on June 9, it maybe bears repeating here.....

Every experience and every person in our life has a purpose in our life. It seems to me that the purpose usually falls into one of three categories:

A. To make you wise
B. To get you to ask for help or to say thanks
C. For you to give or to receive an act of kindness.

Sometimes a single experience can have more than one purpose.

Here’s an interesting question to ask: which is a better quality, firm v. flexible?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Rings a Bell?

The purpose of this email is to help everyone sharpen their vision. Please print and share.
Happy Birthday shout-out to Shelli in SF - one year older and a lightyear wiser.

moon-bellI'm having an ongoing debate with a good friend. Perhaps you (and those at your table) can help us resolve it.

If you try stargazing in or near any city, you're only going to see about fifty stars, one percent of what ought to be visible without a telescope. If you try - once a year, perhaps - to "get away from it all" - somewhere at least 30 miles from the nearest city, you will be see the missing ninety-nine percent.

First question to resolve: It takes a lot of effort to get to such a remote place, and there are many benefits; would it be worth it just to see the stars?

Now, if you are unable to get away just now, but you happen to have a small (30 power) telescope or binoculars (with a tripod), and a clear night tonight, look south around 10 pm.

That bright star about 40° up from the horizon is Saturn. The other bright star to the SW is Jupiter.

Get your scope focused on Jupiter (again, this only works with a tripod). You should see 3 or 4 tiny dots of light near it. You are witnessing what Galileo discovered with his 20x telescope in 1609.

Question for your table - what are those dots of light?

Yes, they are the four largest of Jupiter's moons.

Note - Galileo didn't give them their the famous and rather immodest names of Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto: that was Simon Marius, who independently discovered them (and he and Galileo accused each other of plagiarism...), and the names didn't catch on until the 20th Century.)

(Bonus question - how many moons does Jupiter have? [79])

Now let's turn our scope to Saturn. You should be able to see its rings, albeit a bit fuzzy.

(Bonus question - how many moons does Saturn have? [62])

BTW, at their closest to us, Jupiter is about 365 million miles and Saturn about 750 million miles.
That means that we can see the rings because sunlight travels 890 million miles to Saturn, bounces off the rings and then returns 750 million miles, a total round trip of more than 2 hours.

Sorry for all the "science" but this is all leading to today's final question:

Is it cool and beautiful to see the moons of Jupiter and rings of Saturn with your own eyes, or is it just as well to look at much more stunning Hubble or Voyager photos?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, August 09, 2019

Eat, Drink and Be Wary...

The purpose of this blog is to help everyone unplug. Please print and share.

kindnessThank you for your kind replies to last week's "Seven Bridges Run" email.

Another thing I learned from my father - multi-task (within reason). For insance, he kept a small radio in the bathroom to listen to the news while brushing his teeth.

Nowadays, brushing my teeth is about the only time I get a chance to hear the radio.

And yesterday an ad came on that began:

"Want to unplug? Want to get away from the constant stream of the digital world?"

Three questions for your table:

1. What would you guess was the next line of the ad?
2. Is unplugging a want or a need?
3. Other than Shabbat, is there any way to truly, fully, one hundred percent unplug?

By the way (pardon the awkward transition), for most of Jewish history, this time of year has been the darkest.

Unfortunately, massacres of innocent Jews can happen and have happened in all seasons, but the worst have been saved for mid-summer, leading up to the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av) which begins tonight (since it's Shabbat, the fast is pushed off until Saturday night).

(Can you name the 5 catastrophes that occurred on the 9th of Av?)

The Rabbis of old tell us that the root of these tragedies is baseless hatred.

Final question for your table: If so, how should we be responding to ongoing tragedy?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, August 02, 2019

What's Your Seven-Bridges Run?

The purpose of this blog is to add a little fun to the Shabbat table. Please print and share.
In memory of my father Dovid ben Eliezer, whose 14th yahrzeit was this week.

Denny-seinfeld-buttonsTwo questions for your table:

1. How many people do you know who exercise regularly?

2. How many of them make it fun? Not just enjoyable - but actually FUN???

At my father's yahrzeit celebration this week, several of his old friends spoke about how he would do things that most people would be too inhibited to do.

For example, in the summer of 1965 he left his pregnant wife and traveled to Neshoba County, Mississippi to provide legal services to civil rights workers.

In case you forgot, Neshoba County was the least welcoming county of the least welcoming state to Yankee Jewish civil rights workers.

If he were visiting a museum and there was a closed gallery that he wanted to see, he might just ignore the "gallery closed" sign and go in.

As long as he felt he wasn't breaking any laws, he lived as though every day might be his last. If that museum gallery had a guard on duty - and he very much wanted to see it - he would try to talk his way in (although I never once saw him resort to actual bribery).

I believe that what drove him was a tremendous sense of carpe diem. He would say, "Why not do it today? Who knows if you'll have another chance?"

For him, daily exercise was a given - because (I think) his own father used to say, "Take care of your health! If you don't have your health, you don't have anything!"

But it was never a chore; he would always find ways to make it fun. For example, he would play tennis or squash or any game that got his legs moving.

He never ran on a treadmill or even around a track - that would be dull - he would run outside. But each run was a different route - let's go this way and see what there is to see!

Eventually, in his native Tacoma, Wash., he proudly discovered that he could run over seven different bridges without repeating, and this became his jocular authenticity-test for anyone claiming Tacoma blue-blood: How can you run over seven bridges downtown without repeating?

In his memory, the downtown Y holds an annual Denny Seinfeld Seven Bridges Run on one of the Fridays in August. This year it will be on Friday, August 16 at 5:45 am. If you'd like to exercise your own carpe diem muscles, maybe I'll see you there.

If my dad knew you were going to show up, he'd be honored, but even more honored if you made up your own.
For your table: What's your seven-bridges run?

Shabbat Shalom
PS - the buttons in the image above are worn by the Seven-Bridges Run runners (and the image is, as always, clickable).

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Two Steps Forward...

The purpose of this blog is to light up the Shabbat table. Please print and share.
Happy Birthday shoutouts to Pinchas in Jerusalem and Ilana in Providence - may you live in good health til 120!

tobacco_bgLast week's Giant Leap questions stumped a lot of people; here's the answer: the first quote is from the rabbi, the second from a non-Jewish journalist.

This week I learned about a remarkable Baltimorian named Avraham Lilienfeld, MD. His daughter and family (and many grandchildren) still live here.

Hopkins University memorializes Dr. Lilienfeld as a "hero of public health". They credit him with tranforming epidemiology "from a discipline limited to infectious diseases to one concerned with all diseases that afflict mankind."

(He was also an amazing, caring teacher, they say.)

What they would rather you not know is that Dr. Lilienfeld had been denied entry to Hopkins Medical School because he was Jewish.

Even though he grew up in Baltimore and earned his Bachelor's at Hopkins, the Medical School told him that they were very sorry, but they had filled their Jew-quota for the year.

When he heard that, he vowed, "I'll be back."

He kept that vow, and how.

You can read more of his amazing story here.

Speaking of advances in medicine, someone in the locker room today commented that Germany probably stunted the field by 100 years because they murdered three generations of brilliant minds.

Yet here's an "interesting fact" about German medical science.

Question for your table: is it truly interesting, and moreover, why?

The fact, courtesy the Atlantic, 2014:

Nazi Germany’s well-known obsession with creating a master Aryan race led to many atrocities. But from these same sinister motives came research that may have had health benefits for the German people during World War II — studies on the dangers of smoking that led to the most advanced anti-tobacco campaign of its time.

Question for your table: Why is this newsworthy?

After you elicit some answers, you might share the following:

- Some find it newsworthy that such an evil empire could display even a modicum of goodness.
(and therefore they'd rather not publicize it - why give them credit for anything and risk diminishing even slightly their evil?)

- Others find it newsworthy that a nation with such advanced thinking, science and culture could create such tremendous evil.

What do you think - newsworthy (and why or why not)?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, July 19, 2019

A Giant Leap?

The purpose of this blog is to make small giant steps at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Footprint_on_moonIf you missed Andrew Chaikin's thrilling seven-minute retelling of the moon landing, you can stream it here or download it here.

Cool. But let's try to go a small step beyond the wow.

Apollo 11 was amazing. It was hard, and required the concerted effort of thousands of dedicated people (according to NASA, hundreds of thousands, when you include the many companies in the supply chain). Not to mention the price tag - about $140 billion in today's dollars.

(Which inspired certain critics.)

But the obvious question for your table is, How was the moon landing truly a giant leap for humanity?

Here's another way of looking at it - and asking at your table. Compare and contrast the image above with this one:
For your table: Which represents a greater moment?

Thinking back to that era, other putative "great leaps" come to mind, such as this, this, or this (or more specifically this detail)....some say even this.

Here are two editorial thoughts from the era, one from a Jewish and the other from a non-Jewish source. Can you guess which is which?

1. B
uilding on his knowledge of our planet, and the laws which govern nature on Earth, man was able to plot a course to a place he had never been; land on a surface he had never before touched; and predict quite accurately what that surface would be like. Man was able to protect himself against an environment he had never experienced, and find his way back through the blackness of Space. And-the laws worked: they worked on the Moon exactly as they worked on Earth.

2. An accomplishment of this immensity had transcended nationhood. Such global unity was something that no peacemaker, politician or prophet had ever quite achieved. But 400,000 engineers with a promise to keep to a president had done it and Nasa knew it. On the plaque fixed to the legs of their machine they had written the words: "We came in peace, for all mankind."

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Yes, LTC Armstrong's footprint is clickable.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

The Sixty-Year Secret

The purpose of this blog is to add longevity to your Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

60 yearsIt's not every day that you meet a couple who have been married for sixty years.

We're talking about long enough to start looking like siblings.

I was fortunate enough to be seated beside such a couple on a flight this week.

They were blessed with great health. They sauntered down the aisle and lifted their bags into the overhead storage with such spryness that it didn't even occur to me to offer to help.

During the next couple hours, I learned a lot about them - their careers, their children and grandchildren, their current pasttimes.

But... let's make this a question for your table:

What would you ask a couple who have been married for sixty years?

Naturally, most people want to know what's the "secret" to staying married so long. So naturally, I asked them this.

Before I tell you what they said, try asking it at your table - what do you think is the most important secret to a long marriage?

Their answer actually surprised me. I expected something about learning how to ignore the negative. Instead, they said that for them it was something very positive - building trust.

Interesting - and potentially deep - answer that leads to the obvious question: how do you do that?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Yes, as usual, the image above links to something interesting.
PPS - Only one person correctly guessed the answer to last week's penultimate question. Any takers?

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Friday, July 05, 2019

Locker Room Talk

The purpose of this blog is to help you not be boring at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 
In memory of my never-boring grandmother - Yehudis bas Alexander - whose yahrzeit was this week.

locker-room-towelsThere are these two guys in the JCC locker room. Our paths cross once every few weeks.

They are both the sort of people (maybe you know some of them) who are obsessed with President Trump.

One is obsessed because he dislikes Mr. Trump.

The other is obsessed because he appreciates Mr. Trump.

As I said, our paths cross every so often.

Yesterday, for the first time, they were both in the locker room at the same time.

Don't worry, it remained cordial. It was no different than two guys taking jabs at each other over which football team is superior.

The problem (for me) is that these conversations are so boring. How can you carry on a conversation about these things for so long?

But I kept my mouth shut. Until the Trump non-fan tried to rope me in.

"So, are you going down to DC for Mr. Trump's Fourth of July 'celebration'?"

He's done this before - assumed that I'm a Trump fanboy. Maybe he's been traumatized by the Jewish support for Trump.

I said, "I wasn't invited."

But he continued to try to draw me in, so I said, "Don't you ever get tired of talking about politics?"

"It's important. Don't you think it's important? It affects you, doesn't it?"

"If you're trying to understand an issue, I hear that. But just talking the way your talking, it's like you're talking about sports or the weather. It's not making you wiser, it's just entertainment."

"OK, so it's entertainment. I guess that's why I like it."

And that was that, until we both finished our workouts at the same time and we were back in the locker room. I'd forgotten about the conversation, but he hadn't.

"So what do you enjoy talking about?"

"Do you really want to know?"



"Your family?"


"Your job?"


"The movies?"

"No - do you want me to tell you?"

"Let me guess. Torah?"

"Not in the locker room."

This went on for at least another minute until he had exhausted all possibilities in his mind.
"OK, I give up." He was sitting down now, looking a bit defeated.

"Well if you really want to know, what I enjoy talking about is...."

2 questions for your table:

1. What would you guess I said?
2. What would you have said?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Jewish Education, Nutshell Version

The purpose of this blog is to get them thinking - yes, thinking! - at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 
TalmudYesterday I participated in a panel discussion at the US Department of Education.

I was the only panelist.

They have a monthly staff lecture and really wanted to honor Jewish American Heritage Month (who knew? and, incredibly, there's even a competing website). So they worked their network and somehow, rather randomly, came to me.

I was asked a series of questions about Jewish education. The overall goal was to give them a snapshot, framed however I would like.

So here's a great first question for your table:

If you had the opportunity to describe and explain American Jewish education to a group of potentially influential staffers at the DOE, how would you frame it?

Naturally, I began with a biographical note, mentioning my roots in the City of Destiny and making the usual Tacoma, Washington / Takoma Park Maryland joke. They always love that.

I was also asked to describe my professional background. I explained that there are two kinds of rabbis, the pulpit kind and the scholarly kind. Only I didn't use the word "scholarly"; instead, I held up a hefty volume of the Talmud (see above) and explained that this is the thinnest volume on my shelf, and my own "rabbi" badge means that I was tested for a level of competence in this set of books. That's not precise, but it's reasonably accurate.

And it made for great show-and-tell.

And then I gave them a handout that looked like this:


OCTAE Panel • June 27, 2019
Background to Jewish Education: A Few Selected Dates

50 BCE
OCTAE-handout-cut 2
135 (Israel), 553 (Rome), 468 (Persia), 1242 (Paris), 1244 (Paris), 1248 (Paris), 1255 (Paris), 1263 (Barcelona), 1299 (Paris), 1309 (Paris), 1315 (Toulouse), 1320 (Bourges), 1322 (Rome), 1426 (Savoy [c] and Cologne), 1510 (Frankfurt, Worms, etc.), 1553 (Barcelona, Venice, Rome, Ferrara, Mantua, Padua, Ravenna, et al.), 1554 (Rome), 1557 (Rome, Poland), 1559 (Milan, Rome, Venice), 1569 (Cremona), 1592 (Rome), 1618 (Seville), 1753 (Rome), 1753 (Ravenna et al.), 1757 (Poland).
© 2019 JSL • A 501(c)3 organization Orders/duplication permissions: 410-400-9820 •

2nd Question for your table - can you ID those four sets?

IMHO, anyone who wants to understand much of what we call Jewish education today must understand the significance of these dates and events.

50 CE - approximately when we instituted mandatory universal public school systems.
The 2 columns - the major expulsions of Jews from various countries from 70-1956 CE
The paragraph of dates and places - when Talmudic teaching was outlawed including mass-confiscation of volumes of the Talmud and burning them in public pyres.
1892 - When the Harvard of yeshivas - Volozhin - was closed by its dean rather than comply with the government's attempt to secularize the curriculum.

Ask your table: How did we manage to persevere and thrive despite those 100+ expulsions?

One answer must certainly be "thanks to the Talmud".

You see, when you kick Jews out but they have their Talmud, they stay Jewish. They burned the Talmud when they realized it was their only hope to rip the Judaism out of us.

We are of course grateful to live in a country that has not kicked us out (well, except for that one time) nor attempted to curtail our Jewish education.

One of the points I made that seemed to resonate with many of them is that our word for education is chinuch - same root as Chanukah - and it doesn't literally mean education. You could try asking at your table if anyone knows it's literal meaning.

Answer: preparation.

When we "educate" a person, we are preparing them to become a lifelong learner. Because if you're not continuing to learn, what are you living for?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, June 21, 2019

My name is Alexander and I'm...

The purpose of this blog is to challenge everyone's thinking at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.
In memory of my grandfather Eliezer ben Zelig, whose yahrzeit was this week.

Addicting-thinkingMy grandfather was for a time "the" Jewish lawyer in his hometown, the City of Destiny.

Then my father joined him, forming the firm Seinfeld and Seinfeld.

They leased office space in the strategically-located Tacoma Mall Office Building (where there are currently vacancies should anyone be looking for some extra work space). The same building housed the local AM radio station and I remember during Sunday afternooon stops at the office ("to pick up some papers") being fascinated by the radio antennae perched atop the building.

What I did not know at the time - and learned only after my grandfather's death - was that he used to take a work-break and head down to the first-floor cafe. Not to drink coffee, but to play pinball. And sometimes my father would have to go down there after a couple hours and remind him of the time.

First question for your table - Does it sound to you like my grandfather was a pinball addict?

The great Psychiatrist Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski, author of over 60 books and founder of Pittsburgh's Gateways rehab clinic, broadens the definition of addiction. We usually think of addiction in terms of harmful behavior, such as drugs or excessive screentime.

I never saw my grandfather play pinball. But I did see him smoke a lot of tobacco, via pipe, and hear him wax poetically about the cultivation and preparation of good tabac. And I also witnessed him kick the habit, on his own - after everyone stopped hounding him about it. Something to think about.
  According to Dr. Twerski's book (click the image above), addictive thinking is part of human nature. We all have the ability and potential to fall into the trap of repeated behaviors that are not necessariy life-threatening but nor are they life-building. (For more of his amazing books, click here.)

Question for your table - what are some examples of addictive thinking that people don't realize are addictions?

Some suggestions:

- Addicted to complaining
- Addicted to criticizing
- Addicted to pessimism
- Addicted to worry
- Addicted to _________

Since addictive thinking is part of human nature, it's not something to feel bad about. But it is perhaps something to work on.

Final question for your table - is each of these examples unique and separate, or is there one or more underlying root causes of all of them?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Stop Wining?

The purpose of this blog is to raise spirits at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 
Dedicated to Marc and Lily in honor of their anniversary - Mazal tov!
Dedicated also to my grandparents - Sima bas Mordechai Yaakov and Eliezer ben Zelig - whose yahrzeits are tonight and Monday night - both of whom enjoyed lifting a glass for kiddush and l'chaim.

One count-down ended, a new one begins ...

wine-doubledQuick - name the one and only food on which you can make a beracha on my behalf even if I'm not going to eat it?

If I've stumped you, read on. This is going to be a bit of a labyrinth today....

Next question for your table:

Who's smarter, Apple or Google?

Does that sound like a loaded question?

Last week's mathematical missive generated a desired result - people wondering how big indeed is 2^613?

It turns out that most calculators - including the one that comes standard with Mac OS - cannot compute 2^613. Mac's maximum is 2^534 - after that, it gives an error: "Not a number"!!!!

(Can anyone explain why Macs are so Macmatically challenged, limited to a measly 160 digits)?

But Google disagrees. Its calculator thinks that 2^535 is indeed a number, and so is 2^613.

Second question for your table: How many digits would you guess the latter answer has?


3.399283 x 10^184

That's basically a 3 with 184 zeros after it.

For those who wonder what that looks like:


So why do we care about this again? Well, it's a bit of a carry-over from last week.

This week, let's shrink the numbers down. Like all the way down.

You may have heard of a place called Yerushalayim. Remember that stateless city (according to the birth certificates and passports of my children born there)?

If you've been there, you know that the old city is surrounded by a wall. Inside, there are four "quarters" plus the Temple Mount. The Jewish Quarter is in the SE and is much smaller than the others.

The Christian Quarter is much larger, to the NW.

There are a handful Jews who live there, just as there are a handful of Christians who live in the Jewish Quarter. That's what usually happens in a free country.

However, the idea of Jews actually buying property there is offensive to some, and if they choose to do so, the Washington Post cooperates with their propaganda and brands these Jews "settlers".

Just ponder for a moment the chuzpah behind that - to call a Jew who lives in a certain neighborhood of Jerusalem a settler. Will their children be settler too? How many generations does it take to become a resident? Most of those Christians are Arabs, so they can trace their local ancestry back maybe a few hundred years. Most of us probably had ancestors living there 2,000 years ago. And a few of us want to buy (from willing sellers) and live there, and we're settlers?

Lest this become a soapbox, let's make it a question: When did your family settle where you currently live? When did you stop being settlers?

Believe it or not, this all has something to do with wine.

Wine is super important in Judaism. We use it with almost every ritual. How many can you name that use it?

As you make your list, you'll probably leave out one that most people don't know: giving the bereaved a ceremonial cup of wine.

What is interesting is that the Torah singles out wine as the source of some of the most depraved human behavior.

If so (question for your table), why is it so important for our rituals?

Final question for your table: someone told me today that all of his children enjoy wine, which is a huge contrast to my own children, none of who enjoy wine, unless it's super sweet. Given its Jewish importance, do you think I should worry about that?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Besides taste, ever wonder about the differences between red and white wine? More than you might expect.
PPS - Figure out answer to the riddle at the top of the page yet?

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