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It’s a Holy Day; Let’s Eat

Please note that our office and store will be closed from Wednesday evening, Pacific Time until nightfall on Saturday night in honor and observance of Rosh HaShanah.

A four-week window of Jewish holy days is approaching. I understand why we will spend more time in synagogue than usual. However, we will also spend more time at the dining room table. This isn’t a concession to human frailty; it is recognition of human greatness.

Ever since the start of our lives as babes suckling at our mothers’ breasts, eating provides us with not one, but two benefits.  They are (i) physical nourishment and sustenance, and (ii) spiritual and emotional sustenance.  The link between eating and emotion is well studied.  Many of us have ‘comfort foods.’  Gloom and uncertainty are often banished by a meal that fills our heart as well as our stomach.

Have you ever wondered why so many young people nowadays suffer from eating disorders that were virtually unknown a generation or two ago?  Surely the answer is the spiritual desert in which so many young people live.  Eating disorders are more often treated by a psychologist than by a nutritionist because there is a powerful spiritual component to eating. In other words, food and faith go together.

Here is the first occurrence in Scripture of God issuing a commandment to man:

And the Lord God commanded the Adam saying, “Of every tree of the garden eat you must eat.” (Genesis 2:16)

Many English translations get it wrong by translating, “…of every tree of the garden you shall surely eat”

The original Hebrew does not say “surely”.  Instead it repeats the commandment to eat.  Here is what the Hebrew looks like:

מכל  עץ  הגן  אכל  תאכל

Reading from right to left, you will see five words.  [From all]    [the trees]   [of the garden]   [eat!]    [you must eat].

You can see that the fourth and fifth words look very similar, distinguished only by the one letter prefix ‘you must’.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God’s first explicit directive repeats the verb ‘to eat’ to tell us to perform two separate and distinct acts with every mouthful. We are to eat for both physical and spiritual reasons.  That way we extract the full benefit from every morsel of food.

Our Creator surely knew that in the future scientists could find ways to fulfill our bodies’ needs through tablets or infusions, bypassing the fruits, vegetables and grains He provided for us. No! Machines need fuel. Humans need more than that; they must eat!

How weird is it that we absorb nutrition through the same facial orifice from which our voices emerge?  Dedicated functionality seems to be God’s design. After all, we don’t smell and hear through our ears. Mouths are different.

Speech is a uniquely human function while eating is not. Sharing the same orifice reminds us to take care to eat in a uniquely human way—one that provides spiritual as well as physical nourishment. In this vein, we prefer not to eat alone and to show gratitude to God for our food by blessings before and after eating, as we’ve written on in previous Thought Tools. Festival days are the perfect opportunity to create one cohesive totality in our lives. Yes, we pray a little more. We also eat a little more, sharing that experience with God’s other children.

Some of us face the danger of thinking ourselves to be sophisticated animals, forgetting that we have been touched by God. Others of us face the danger of thinking of ourselves as angels—spiritual beings at war with our physical selves. The dining room table reveals the truth, providing a place where our true selves can shine.

We place emphasis during this month on starting our year off in the way we wish it to continue. We can’t realistically reach straight for the stars, but we can commit to reaching for growth – maybe that way we will reach the stars! To encourage this growth we have a few special things going on as we race to this week’s finish line when our offices and store will close for the holy days of Rosh HaShanah at sunset, Wednesday evening Pacific Time, reopening on Saturday evening.

  1. We have added a new book to our inventory (it will also be in the Library Pack PLUS very soon). Judy Gruen is a well-known humor columnist who discovered a deeper layer to Judaism when she, very reluctantly, came to Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s Torah class. Read about her book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith.
  2. Susan and I taped a few videos about the Festival of Rosh HaShana. Three will go up this week. See the first one HERE.
  3. Rosh HaShanah starts a ten day period that culminates in the Day of Atonement. There are universal messages of that special day which we share in Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity. It is on sale right now.

Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity
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The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith

Encouraging Loneliness

A headline from the Wall Street  Journal, “Innovation in Health Care” report reads: Government Role in Fighting Loneliness. More accurate would be: Government Role Over the Years in Causing Loneliness. So many government policies have been factors in breaking up families, reducing the need for belonging to churches and social groups, and making people think that they can “make it on their own” (with government assistance) rather than needing human support and connection. Before spending taxpayer money to combat loneliness maybe we could just roll back all sorts of government innovations that increased it.

An Honest Man

Sometimes, what I start out thinking I am going to write about and what I end up saying are entirely different. Last week was a case in point. I intended to write about the book I had just read, Will and Ariel Durant: A Dual Autobiography, but from an entirely different perspective than I ended up doing.

As I read, I was captivated by the honesty of Will Durant. Over the course of a long life, he often found his ideas tested by reality and he showed immense strength of character and depths of wisdom in a willingness to question some of his strongest convictions.

Relatively early in his career, his socialist leanings absorbed a harsh blow when he and his wife, Ariel, travelled to Russia during its Stalinist era. What they saw was far from the worker’s paradise in which they believed. Over the years, Mr. Durant developed an understanding of human nature that sought to merge his affection for the ideals of socialism with the reality of what actually motivates people to work hard.

His ideas on education were also uprooted as he saw the flourishing of roots that he had helped to plant.  As far back as 1941, he wrote words that resonate today. In an essay titled, “Self-Discipline or Slavery,” the man who, starting in 1912, taught at a libertarian school (tending towards anarchy) and believed in its principles wrote:

 Education, above all in America, surrendered to the student. For the most part he chose his teachers and his courses, discountenanced discipline, avoided tasks that required concentration, and helped a superannuated curriculum to transform school and college days into an enfeebling isolation…

Every lad of eighteen sat in judgment upon institutions of society, and codes of conduct, that represented the experience of a thousand generations of men; if he could not understand in one adolescence what had been learned in a millennium, he was free to trust his powerful eighteen-year old reason, and to reject the family as tyranny, marriage as bondage, religion as opium, government as exploitation and property as theft. Every restraint aroused resentment; standards faded from conduct—even, here and there from memory…

Libertarian education was a mistake, a pleasant indulgence of parental love, a weak inability on our own part to command because we had never learned to obey. The result is an adolescence without responsibility, a maturity without character…”

His abandonment of the Catholic Church into which he was born and for which he always retained a tenderness, led Mr. Durant into further introspection. Remaining an atheist, he had the honesty to recognize the dangers and flaws in a society which abandoned God. 

Writing about her husband’s thoughts in the 1960s, Ariel Durant says that her husband was tremendously concerned about where society was going, recognizing that much of it was in response to ideas in which he believed. She writes:

“Had not the apparent victory of the scientists, the historians, and the philosophers deposed the God who had been the very staff of life to the poor, and a pillar of support to the moral code that had helped tame the savage hunter into law and order, morality and civilization? Would philosophy or education or statemanship (sic) ever succeed in establishing an effective moral code without the aid of religious sanctions and beliefs? And if they failed, and religion continued to fade, would Western civilization lapse into a chaos of sexual laxity, political corruption, mutual violence, and a common, consuming despair? Could it be that all that enthusiastic slaughter of irrational creeds had undermined the secret foundations of civilization itself? Will repeatedly broached these problems to me…”

I apologize for quoting such long passages but I found the writing in this book so elegant, entertaining and thoughtful that I wanted to share some of it.  Although I come from a different perspective than Mr. Durant on both religious and political issues, I finished the book with great respect for the authors and also a hope that we can return to a time when ideas can be dissected and debated with intelligence, humility and grace.


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Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Obstacles and Escape Your Own Egypt

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My Wife Wants to be Cremated

My wife has stage 4 cervical cancer and is not healthy enough for the standard treatments. We are preparing for the worst but praying for the best. 

She has expressed a desire to be cremated.  It’s cheaper, and when I pass I will  be interned at Arlington as I am a veteran.  It sounded OK to me at first but I’m having reservations.

Your thoughts, should a Jew or a Christian consider cremation?

Robert H.

Dear Robert,

We are moved by your words, “We are preparing for the worst but praying for the best,” and pray that God responds favorably to your prayers.

While we love teaching what the Torah says we aren’t comfortable telling you as a Christian how to act. We recommend that you discuss this with a respected mentor and/or clergy from your own faith.

We can tell you that in Torah Judaism, proper treatment of the body after death is defined as burial, just as God told Adam toward the end of Genesis chapter 3. This is so important that, for faithful Jews, even if one’s parents expressed their wishes to be cremated, their children may not carry out those wishes. The idea is that after death, the parents will have entered a World of Truth and will be appalled that they ever wanted to do something counter to God’s law. As such, giving them a proper burial is actually following their final wishes.

When the soul leaves the body at the time of death, the body’s purpose for being no longer exists. However, as the vehicle that allowed the soul to interact with the world it requires special treatment. Part of that treatment requires a gradual return to the earth via burial rather than the abrupt return via cremation.

You might find it interesting that a Torah scroll and other holy writings as well as printed prayer books and Bibles are never thrown out. They are also buried in the ground.

In addition, resurrection of the dead is a central tenet of Judaism. Choosing to treat the body as if it will never be needed again could be seen as rejecting that belief.

It sounds like two things might be troubling your wife. Is she upset that since you are a veteran and will be buried at Arlington, the two of you will not be together? Does she feel that no one will care where she lies?

You also mention that she is concerned with the cost. Perhaps she would feel differently if you assured her that you would rather have a cemetery plot to visit than more dollars in your pocket.

We pray that the two of you find moments of peace and joy during this difficult time,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*   *   *

 Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt
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THOUGHT TOOLS

  • It’s a Holy Day; Let’s Eat September 19, 2017 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - Please note that our office and store will be closed from Wednesday evening, Pacific Time until nightfall on Saturday night in honor and observance of Rosh HaShanah. A four-week window of Jewish holy days is approaching. I understand why we will spend more time in synagogue than usual. However, we will also spend more time Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • My Wife Wants to be Cremated September 12, 2017 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - My wife has stage 4 cervical cancer and is not healthy enough for the standard treatments. We are preparing for the worst but praying for the best.  She has expressed a desire to be cremated.  It’s cheaper, and when I pass I will  be interned at Arlington as I am a veteran.  It sounded OK Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • An Honest Man September 13, 2017 by Susan Lapin - Sometimes, what I start out thinking I am going to write about and what I end up saying are entirely different. Last week was a case in point. I intended to write about the book I had just read, Will and Ariel Durant: A Dual Autobiography, but from an entirely different perspective than I ended Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • Encouraging Loneliness September 13, 2017 by Susan Lapin - A headline from the Wall Street  Journal, "Innovation in Health Care" report reads: Government Role in Fighting Loneliness. More accurate would be: Government Role Over the Years in Causing Loneliness. So many government policies have been factors in breaking up families, reducing the need for belonging to churches and social groups, and making people think Read More

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Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, best-selling author and host of the Rabbi Daniel Lapin Show on The Blaze Radio Network. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths. Newsweek magazine included him in its list of America’s fifty most influential rabbis.

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