About 325 people could have saved a lot of money and not missed a Mariners playoff game if they had chosen to buy Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s recent tome, The Book of Jewish Value: A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living, instead of venturing out on a Sunday to hear him offer excerpts in person.
But I’m willing to bet that most of the audience at the Oct. 21 Community Campaign dinner wouldn’t have traded in their seats for a copy of the book to read at home in front of the Mariners game on TV. That would have meant giving up a delicious dinner at the beautiful new Elliott Grand Hyatt and a chance to hear the man who wrote the most widely selling book on Judaism of the past two decades, Jewish Literacy, and who Talk Magazine calls one of the 50 best speakers in the United States.
Going to a concert is always more inspiring than buying the CD.
Telushkin took his job as entertainer as seriously as his role as educator and fund-raising inspiration at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle event. His talk filled the room with laughter, and several people said afterward that they wished they had been taking notes. Book sales were brisk in the lobby.
Telushkin wrapped his talk around the idea of using our creative resources to do good, to help make up for the evil in the world, as evidenced by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. He encouraged his audience to use the full resources of their intellectual abilities to solve moral dilemmas. Most of his ideas are easy and inexpensive.
Here are the 12 ideas Telushkin offered at the dinner (from his book of daily suggestions for ethical living):
1. It’s not enough to have good intentions in life: You have to have a system. He used as an example the story of a person who was so committed to helping young Jews find partners that he kept cards listing their attributes available for reference every time he saw the potential for matchmaking. Telushkin said he has learned to use a similar system for fulfilling one of his favorite mitzvot: helping match people with jobs. He says this takes his good intention of assisting people one step further toward actually helping them.
2. Tip the people we can’t see. Telushkin says its good for our character and helps us cultivate gratitude toward people we can’t see — like God — if we always remember to tip chambermaids and other people who help us behind the scenes in life.
3. Receive everyone with a cheerful countenance. This admonition from Pirkei Avot (The Sayings of our Fathers) is necessary because you don’t want the people with whom you are interacting to think you are angry with them just because you greet them with anger on your face, especially if that anger is related to traffic on the freeway. And some people believe a smile on your face will lead to a smile in your heart. Telushkin says this idea is particularly important for parents. “Moody parents make their children feel bad,” he says.
4. Everybody has a moral obligation to be as happy as they can be. Teluskin says if you have a chemical imbalance that makes you depressed, you must seek out help. This idea was discussed together with No. 3, but the emphasis he gave it made it seem with its own number.
5. Whenever you hear a siren, stop whatever you are doing and say a prayer. Telushkin says he got this idea from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of the Renewal movement who helped him work through the anger he felt every time traffic, which often resulted from emergency vehicles, made him late to an appointment. These ambulance prayers help turn a negative situation into an expansion of the idea of “love your neighbor” and has great potential for changing the world. Telushkin asks, Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every time someone was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, he would know that thousands of people he passed along the way would be saying a prayer for his recovery?
6. Love your neighbor applies especially to your wife. Telushkin suggests a good way to test the strength of your marriage is to ask the following question: Does your spouse feel you love him or her as much as you love yourself.
7. Gratitude is a prerequisite for being a happy person. Grateful people are aware that there are many good people in the world. They feel loved when they think about all the things people do for them. At Telushkin’s house, part of the family’s Shabbat dinner ritual is to go around the table and say one thing they are grateful for. Some families do a similar ritual at Thanksgiving, but Telushkin says doing so at least weekly will help the process feel more natural.
8. Declare a periodic complaining fast. Go for 24 hours without complaining about anything. This experience will make you become immediately more optimistic about your life. Telushkin says most of the country experienced this after Sept. 11 when people became a lot more grateful about what is going on in their lives. “It’s sad when people can only appreciate the good, when they no longer have it,” he adds.
9. Parents should reserve their highest praise for their children when they do kind acts. Most of us reserve our most enthusiastic accolades for achievements in academics, sports or beauty. If we want to raise children to do good works, then we need to make that our priority when offering praise.
10. Learn to apologize to your children. Most parents do not do this, but they can set a wonderful example if they learned this new skill.
11. Feed the hungry. I’m not positive if Telushkin gave this lesson a sound bite title, but his point seemed to be that Jewish law says if someone says they’re hungry, we are not allowed to ignore them. A little girl he knows carries food to give to the hungry on Shabbat, since she does not want to break the rule and deal with money. Some adults would see Shabbat as a vacation from the need to help beggars.
12. It is a sin to avert your eyes and ignore the needy. Telushkin says this can be understood to mean we must not ignore the needs of the community. Do not harden your heart, Jewish tradition teaches.
Attendees at the Community Campaign dinner heard his message and pledged about $1 million to meet the needs of the Jewish community here, in Israel and around the world.