Plop. Plop. Plop. The sound is slowly driving me to the edges of madness. It is not water dripping on my head in some form of urban-myth Chinese torture. No, it is the sound of my eighteen month old daughter throwing macaroni off of her high chair one elbow at a time. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that those macaroni elbows are drenched in ketchup the way she insists on eating them. Plop. Plop. Plop.

Yes, I could jump up and stop her, but I’m bushwacked from spending the entire day cooped up in the house with two sick children and an eighteen month old who thinks she’s already in her Terrible Twos. I’m at the homestretch now, in just forty five minutes they will all be in bed, and half an hour later my wife will be home from work, setting me free. But now, I still need to deal with the professional food flinger, who is quite absorbed in perfecting her long throw.

At breakfast, she threw cereal, but the soggy Chex didn’t get far, maybe a few inches past the high chair. They stuck to the ground where they landed, keeping the mess tight. Lunch was fishsticks; they flew pretty far, but luckily there was no ketchup involved in the Fishstick Affair, so the mess was pretty minimal. Ketchuped macaroni really does seems to be the weapon of choice for professional food flingers. Its weight and density allow it to fly pretty far, and it bounces and skids after hitting the ground, leaving a streak of red all along our white kitchen tiles (I know… we bought the house with them already there…).

Food throwing has been a challenge my daughter has been struggling with for the last few weeks. It doesn’t mean “I’m not hungry anymore”, it just means “I’m finished with this particular food right now.” After throwing her food all over a 2 foot radius, she actually expects us to reload her. But with macaroni bouncing all around my floor, I felt like I was the one struggling right then.

I have a special therapist who is on call 24/7 for those moments when I’m about to blow a gasket, and I called her. She was quite busy saving lives in the hospital, but being my wife, she spent enough time on the phone with me to tell me to look for the bright side of the situation. Surprisingly, I was able to find two perspectives that would turn this into a positive experience, and I would be happy to share them with you.

Firstly, there is a lot of money to be made here. This is not a problem our family deals with alone, I’ve seen similar ketchup markings on the floors of many of my friend’s houses. Everyday, there are millions of toddlers dropping food off of their high chairs, all across the globe. It’s a universal problem, and I think I have a solution that can make big bucks if I just get the patent on it.

We need to invent high chairs with trays on the bottom to catch all the projectiles. Not only that, the trays should be interchangeable with the ones at the top of the high chair so that as soon as a kid is finished throwing all their food off their tray, you simply switch it with the one on bottom, and watch your kids face as all their hard labor is erased in a second.

The second thing that made this into a positive experience was the realization that my daughter was throwing food off her tray, not to irritate me or assert her individuality, but because she wants to focus on one food at a time. She knows that multitasking (in this case eating macaroni and apple wedges), while appearing to allow people to do a lot at once, actually makes people distracted, unfocused, and unproductive. My daughter is done with the macaroni, wants to start eating apple wedges, and doesn’t want to be distracted by two foods on her plate at the same time!

Researchers at Stanford University studied multi-taskers in an attempt to determine what makes them so adept at doing many things at once. First they tested distractibility, and found that multi-taskers are easily distracted by irrelevant information. Constantly jumping from one task to the next to the third leaves them without the ability to stick to one task and remain focused.

Next they tested for memory, hypothesizing that the multi-taskers had better abilities to store and organize all the information flowing in from multiple sources. The second test proved that theory wrong as well. After being shown sequences of alphabetical letters, the high multitaskers did a lousy job at remembering when a letter was making a repeat appearance.

“The low multi-taskers did great,” Ophir Eyal, the lead researcher said. “The high multi-taskers were doing worse and worse the further they went along because they kept seeing more letters and had difficulty keeping them sorted in their brains.”

Finally they tested the subjects for their ability to leave one job and start a different one. Here too the multi-taskers lagged behind the other subjects, because no matter what they were doing, they were busy thinking about the task they weren’t doing. All said, it seems that multi-tasking doesn’t get more done, it simply fills the brain with more noise. Now I understand why my daughter doesn’t want multiple types of food to deal with at once….

While I appreciate the Stanford study, we see this concept in Jewish literature dating back thousands of years. In Ethics of Our Fathers (2:9), Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai instructs his five primary students to go out and find the most important trait a person should try to live by. Each student comes back and proposes a different trait. Rabbenu Yonah of Gerondi (13th century, Spain) asks, what was the purpose of this exercise? Why should each student pick one trait, why not let them all strive to live by all the good traits?

Rabbenu Yonah explains that when one tries to achieve perfection in all areas, he ends up with nothing, like the old adage “Jack of all trades, master of none.” On the other hand, if one puts all of his focus into completing one task, eventually he will be successful, and from there his success will spread to other areas as well. This is why when Jacob blesses his children at the end of his life, he blesses each one according to the positive traits they already possess. Giving them blessings that they should take on new positive traits would be distracted, rather Jacob wanted each of them to focus on their best trait and build it up.

This idea of not multi-tasking does not simply mean “Don’t text and drive” (in repeated studies, texting drivers perform worse than drunk drivers), but even don’t text and wait on line at the supermarket, or text and talk to friends. It also means don’t pick up the phone during dinner, don’t go through the mail while talking to someone, or do homework with a child while cooking. It means studying or working for hour long blocks, without stopping to call friends or raid the kitchen every ten minutes.

Staying focused on a single goal takes constant awareness of that goal, and vigilance to keep out distracters, but ultimately results in a clean and pure outcome.

I would go into this a bit more in depth, but I think I’m going to go check what kind of leftovers are in the fridge, and maybe check my email…


Parsha Dvar Torah

In this week’s portion we witness G-d picking the greatest leader we ever had Moshe. Let’s see if there is a lesson we can learn about what kind of person merits leadership roles. The Torah tells us of the events leading up to G-d’s appointment of Moshe:

Moshe tended the sheep of his father-in-law Yisro, priest of Midian. He led the sheep to the edge of the wilderness and he came to the mountain of G-d, in the area of Choreiv. An angel of G-d appeared to him in the heart of a fire in the midst of a thorn-bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was on fire but the bush was not being consumed. Moshe said, “I will turn aside and see [investigate] this great sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn?” When G-d saw that he turned aside to see, El-him called to him from the midst of the thorn-bush, and said, “Moshe, Moshe.” (Exodus 3:1-4)

There is a Midrash that says that the burning bush had been there for a long time. It was well know by the locals and many people came to see the “cool” bush (pun intended). But what set Moshe apart from everyone else was that the bush didn’t merely catch his fancy, it was something he realized must be investigated. Only after G-d saw that Moshe turned off his regular path to investigate the matter, did He call out to him and offer him the leadership role.

Many times we see things that are very powerful, but how often does it really cause any significant change? We all watched with horror as the events of 9/11 unfolded. Most of us put out American flags, some of us attended memorial services, and some sent in donations to various relief efforts. But how many of us, looking back on that event 5 years ago, can say we changed our lives or lifestyles? How many of us left the path we were on because we knew that 9/11 was a clear sign from G-d, just as Moshe left his path upon seeing the burning bush?

This ability to see something powerful and then truly change is a character trait necessary in both a good Jew, and in a leader, parent, or spouse. Often, in our relationships with our spouses or children, we notice a gradual change in attitude begin to occur, such as a rebellious streak in a teen, or the feeling of a gap widening between our spouse and us. Many times, instead of confronting the problem and working on a solution, we simply let it aggravate us for a bit, and then slowly get used to it. This is the pattern of all the people near the burning bush. At first, they were certainly amazed by it, but soon they got used to it and continued living life the way they always had. Moshe taught us one of his first lessons by seeing something great and then getting off his path, moving toward change, change that ultimately ended in redemption!


Parsha Summary

This week’s parsha, Shmos, is the first one in the Book of Exodus. This book deals with the story of the Jewish people’s enslavement in Egypt and their subsequent miraculous redemption. One of the reasons it is so important is because the Egyptian ordeal is the spiritual root of all the exiles the Jews have endured, and learning about it helps us understand how we can best navigate life in Diaspora.

The parsha starts off by listing the original people who came down to Egypt, and then mentions that Yosef and all his brothers passed away. This is key, as exiles always begin when we experience detachment from the previous generations, and an abandonment of their ways. Soon after the death of the last son of Jacob, a new Pharaoh arose in Egypt. Some say he was a new king and others say that he put out new decrees, but according to both opinions he didn’t bode well for the Jews.

Pharaoh convened his council and decided that the Jews, who were becoming numerous and prosperous, were a threat to his nation, and thus he began subjugating and enslaving them. Not only that, but based on his astrologers’ predictions that a male Jewish savior was soon to be born, he commanded the two Jewish midwives to kill every Jewish male infant. Luckily for me, they didn’t listen, but, au contraire, helped nourish the babies and keep them alive and healthy. For this brave and heroic act, G-d rewarded them by giving their children the Kehuna, the priesthood, and Malchus, the kingship.

Then Pharaoh kicked it up a notch by decreeing that the Egyptians throw every Jewish male into the Nile River.Eventually, as the astrologers’ predictions got more ominous, he decreed that all male children, Egyptians included, be thrown in the water.

When the decrees came out, a leader of the Jews named Amram declared that Jewish couples should separate to spare themselves from the horror of watching their sons thrown into the water. His daughter Miriam pointed out to him that his declaration was worse than Pharaoh’s, because at least Pharaoh was allowing Jewish girls to live, whereas Amram’s declaration was spelling doom for the entire Jewish people! Heeding his daughter’s wise words, Amram remarried his wife Yocheved, and six months later they had a son.

When their son was born, the house filled with light, and they saw that he was born circumcised, so they knew they were dealing with a special baby. They hid him in the house for 3 months, because the Egyptians were expecting the baby to be a full term baby (9 months for those who didn’t know that) and after three months they put him in a little waterproof cradle, in the Nile, with his sister watching from a distance. At that exact time, Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh, was going to the Nile to bathe and she saw the child, drew him out, had pity on him and decided to keep him. She named him Moshe.

Although Moshe grew up as a prince, he would go out and see the hardships of his brethren, and would take part in their labor. One day he saw an Egyptian beating the life out of a Jew and, after ensuring that no one was looking, he killed the Egyptian. This event became known to Pharaoh, and Moshe was forced to flee to Midian.

In Midian, Moshe met his wife, the daughter of Midian’s ex-High Priest who had rejected the Midianite Gods, and he settled down to life as a shepherd. One day, while tending to the sheep, he saw a burning bush. Upon approaching it, G-d called out to him from the bush and told him that He had chosen him to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Moshe protested, saying he wasn’t worthy, but eventually G-d convinced him to go. G-d gave him three miracles to show the Jews as a sign that he was G-d’s messenger, and Moshe headed back to Egypt. In Egypt, he showed the signs to the Jewish elders, who believed it was G-d’s sign of a coming redemption

Moshe appeared before Pharaoh with his brother acting as his interpreter since his speech was hindered by a burning experience he had had as a child. The pair demanded that Pharaoh let the Jews go to serve G-d in the wilderness. Pharaoh claimed to not know of the Jewish G-d and flat-out refused. Not only that, he decided to force the Jews to work harder in order to prevent them from wasting their time with foolish hopes of redemption. The people complained to Moshe that after promising them salvation, he actually made their lives harder. The Parsha closes with G-d assuring Moshe that not only will Pharaoh let the Jews go, he will beg them to leave!

Quote of the Week: The best place to succeed is where you are with what you have. ~ Charles Schwab

Random Fact of the Week: Honeybees have a strange type of hair on their eyes!

Funny Line of the Week: We need this cold like you need suntan lotion in a coal mine!

Have a Majestic Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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