Friday, January 25, 2019

Feedback Loupe

The purpose of this blog is to foster philosophical debate at the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share. 
In memory of M. Leo Storch on his 47th yahrzeit.

feedback2A true story followed by a question for your table.

A couple days ago, I met with a certain world-famous
rabbi to request his wisdom on (and possible endorsement of) our new Jewish Health and Fitness program.

He first apologized that he hadn't had time to read the book, but had only skimmed through it.

But then he went on to mention a few things that he either didn't like or thought were wrong.

Finally, after discussing these substantial items, he said, "And there's a typo on page 280."

"Only one typo? That's pretty good."

And he laughed.

And then he apologized again, several times, in case he had hurt my feelings by pointing out these errors.

He was so warm and so generous with his precious time. I'm the one who should have been apologizing.

Now, I never explicitly committed to making changes to the book according to this rabbi's feedback.

But I think it makes an excellent question for the table: Should I anyway?

And if you say yes, is it because I have a moral obligation to, or an ethical one, or for some other reason?

And if you say no, are there any circumstances when you would say that I have a moral or ethical obligation?

Shabbat Shalom

"The average person's goal in life is to make the world conform to his mind, to impose their own judgments on the world, and even fight for those judgments.
The enlightened person's goal is to make his mind conform to the world - to observe nature, people, and Wisdom itself with such clarity that he grows appreciative, sympathetic and wise."

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Adore and Adorn the Abor Ardor

The purpose of this email is to seed more fruitful Shabbat table conversation. Please share.

amazing-treeDear Body,

I know I'm not supposed to feed you a lot of carbs.

I know that fruit is high in carbs.

But this coming Sunday night is Tubishvat - the Jewish New Year of the Trees.

So what can I do? It's a mitzvah to eat extra fruit.

(Greatest way to break your diet is to make it into a mitzvah. Go challa!)

Every year at this time I prowl Whole Paycheck Market (no, Bezos hasn't lowered the prices), hunting for as many different fruits as I can find. Hopefully I'll also find something novel.

A typical harvest: olives, grapes, dates, figs, pomegranate, walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, 5 varieties of apple, 2 or 3 types of grapefruit, lemon, lime, cacao nibs, pineapple (not from a tree but looks great on the table), avocado, red bananas (not strictly speaking a tree but exotic!), mango, 2 kinds of pears, kiwi, prunes, apricots (the only fruit I really don't care for), star fruit, dragon fruit, grape juice and wine, coconut water (drink it cold), capers, maple syrup....

These will all be laid out in a colorful feast Sunday night, in great anticipation.

First question for your table - anyone surprised I included maple syrup?

Second question - what did I leave out?

(How about chocolate?
Or is that cheating because it's not really a fruit?)

The Torah calls the fruits of the Land of Israel "zimrat ha-aretz" - literally, "the song of the land".

When you drive around there in the summertime through endless landscapes of ripening succulence, it does rather seem as though you're soaring through a harmonious melody.

Question for your table: So why is the New Year of the Trees in the dead of winter?

Hint: what is happening to trees in the winter that influences their fruit in the summer?

3 more questions for your table:

3. What's the most exotic fruit you ever tried?
4. What's the most exotic fruit you ever refused to try?
5. If you had to be stuck on a desert island and could pick exactly one type of fruit tree to have there, which would you choose?

Shabbat Shalom

and Happy Tubishvat

PS - It's looks like it's too late to get some miracle fruit in time for Tubishvat, but how about for Purim? (here's an Amazon link or here).....

PPS - While digesting all that fruit, I hope you'll enjoy the bloody moon.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Not Half-Baked

The purpose of this blog is to bring absolute pleasure to the Friday Night dinner table. Please share.
Happy Birthday shout-outs this week to Marc and Joel in San Fran - until 120!

ChallaA riddle for your table, which happens to be the start of a true story:

During our first year
We were poor but we were rich
We were cold but we were warm
We were down but we were up!

Figure it out?

During our first year of marriage

We were poor...We were cold...We were down...

How poor were we? During our first winter, we found ourselves in a tiny, noisy ground-floor Jerusalem apartment that had no heat, no oven and no fridge.

It was cold enough outside that we were able to keep our milk in the outdoor electrical cabinet. That took care of the fridge.

One day we came home and found someone had left an old radiator-style electric heater by our front door.

It worked. We needed one less blanket at night.

We never found out who it was.

A week or so after that, we came home and found by the front door.... a super old, super beat-up oven.

The glass in the oven window slipped a bit, but as long as you tied the door shut with a wire, it worked.

My talented wife started baking the most glorious challa.

Her challa was so good, somehow word got out and other women asked if they could buy her challas every week.

Anyone who tasted her challa would throw their hands in the air and say, "I surrender. I forfeit. I'm not worthy."

So she did sell a few challas, but that oven was only big enough to bake one at a time, and we didn't even have room for a bigger oven, so it didn't become a real business..... yet....

Eventually when we had saved enough money to buy a new oven, I agreed to do so on one condition - that we keep the old oven for one week after the new one arrives.

(Bonus question for the table: Can you guess why?)

We did move. To a slightly larger space, also ground level. But in contrast to that first space, we felt like we were in a palace. We started inviting guests. We even held a Sheva Berachos in our itsy-bitsy Sukkah.

These memories are leading to two final questions for your table:

What's warmer, the world's greatest blanket or an amazing anonymous act of kindness?
Are comforts and pleasures always relative, or are some comforts and pleasures absolute?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Did you "pass" last week's Rorschach Test?
 PPS - Yes that there challah is clickable... give it a try....

Friday, January 04, 2019

Reality, What a Concept

The purpose of this blog is to add some gravity to the Friday Night dinner table. Please share.

tunnelcrash.jpgThis week: A Rorschach Test and the Chinese moon-landing for your Shabbat table.

First, the Rorschach Test:

What's your reaction to the images on the left?

Some people find it amusing that someone could be so unaware as to think they could drive through a painted tunnel.

Some people think it's a cruel trick, and feel sorry for the driver.

Some spoil-sports claim it never happened.

But . . . on two levels, the image gives us two great questions for the table:

1. Did you ever experience reality not being what it first seemed to be?
2. What are the two levels of this allegedly illusionary image?

Regarding the moon-landing. Ask: Do you think it happened, or could it be a grand Chinese hoax?

Ask: By the way, how come the moon keeps going around us, and doesn't fly off into space?

Somebody is going to say, "Gravity."

Hmm.... Try this: Ask everyone at the table to pick up a glass or other semi-heavy object and hold it on the palm of the hand. You feel something pulling it down on your hand. What is this force?

Again, someone will say, Gravity.

But gravity is just a name. It means "heaviness". It doesn't explain what the force is, where it comes from, and how it somehow goes through your hand and pulls the object downward. And apparently nobody can explain this.

All we know is that Planet Earth is trying very hard to accelerate the glass (and everything else) downward at a rate of 9.6 meters per second per second. Fortunately, our muscles are stronger than this mystery force, so we can walk around and hold glasses and so on.

But maybe it's a good thing we don't understand gravity yet. China has some pretty clever engineers who are already mastering quantum engineering. I'm not sure we're ready for them to start experimenting with our gravity.

Or would that become the new normal?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Did you solve last week's riddle-title?

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As always, this message can be read online at

Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld PhD
Jewish Spiritual Literacy, Inc.
3700 Menlo Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215-3620
(410) 400-9820
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