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Monthly Archives: September, 2012

Physical = Spiritual

September 26th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Kids, don’t try this at home, but an experienced adult with nerves of steel can quickly whip out a tablecloth from beneath expensive china place settings without doing any damage.  He would be relying on Newton’s first law of motion which says that objects tend to keep doing whatever they were doing.  If they are at rest, they stay at rest unless some force makes them move.  If they are moving, they tend to keep moving unless some force makes them stop.  Being at rest, the plates initially resist the tablecloth’s impetus to move.

Isaac Newton broke this important news to the world in 1687.  Since then we’ve understood why plates remain on the table even while the tablecloth is rapidly pulled away.  We’ve understood why a fast-moving truck will keep on rolling for a while, even after it has run out of gas.

What Newton, as a deeply fervent Bible-believer would not have been baffled to hear, is that physical laws have spiritual equivalents. Just as objects like plates and motor vehicles tend to keep doing exactly what they are doing, so do human beings.  Whatever life habits we’ve fallen into, either good or bad; we tend to just keep on doing.

Admittedly, it is possible to obey Newton’s first law of spiritual motion and continue doing the right thing by walking with God.  However, that is not all that God expects from us.

Noah, for instance, righteously walked with God.  (Genesis 6:9)  However, Scripture qualifies his praise by indicating that he was perfect, but only in the context of his evil generation. (Genesis 6:9) When Abraham came along, he walked not with God, but before God.

…God in front of whom I have walked…
(Genesis 24:40)

What is the difference? If I am traveling together with another rider on a tandem bicycle, I have very little power to change direction, especially if he is in front.  The destination might be perfectly satisfactory, but it does not necessarily express my own conscious and deliberate choice.  We are connected, not independent.

By contrast, if I am riding my own bicycle ahead of my companion, my destination is entirely in my own hands.  I can blame nobody else and nobody else deserves the credit for where I go.

Abraham was willing to walk ahead of God and take responsibility for changing the direction of his life.  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that at age three, Abraham began searching for the Source of all. He resisted the prevalent thinking of his time and set out to search for the truth. Even those of us who already recognize the Source would do well to emulate Abraham.

Leave those things that are most familiar and which anchor you to behavior patterns that inhibit your potential for growth.  Carefully examine your life for instances where you might be missing out on exciting possibilities by walking only with God instead of, like Abraham, before God.

This brings us to Newton’s second law of motion, which says that any object that has a force applied to it not only moves but also picks up speed. This law, too, has a spiritual equivalent.  When we take the initiative by walking ahead of God, His force will not only move us to marvelous new opportunities but it will accelerate us towards them at ever-increasing speed.  We only have to start the process by identifying those dragging anchors in our lives that prevent us from exploring desirable change.

We appreciate your patience as we close for so many days this month for the holidays. In recognition, we are slashing by 50% the download price on all our Genesis Journey audio CDs this week. (If you prefer to order them by mail, you can save an additional $10 off the always-reduced Set price.) Focusing on four sections of Genesis, each of these programs consists of two CDs and a full-color 16 page study guide, and explains how the world really works through the lens of the Hebrew language and 3,000 years of oral transmission. The wisdom therein will improve your life and provide impetus for growth propelling you to walk before God with all the possibility for exciting change that involves.

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This week’s  Susan’s Musings: The ‘Personal-is-Political’ Musing

A reader chided me the other week for writing too often about politics. He prefers to read about family events, holidays and the like. His perspective is shared by others, and I know that I have lost readers who are either bored with hearing about the coming election or whose political views differ from mine.
I appreciate the point. Last week, while celebrating Rosh HaShanah…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here

Is it okay to pray for a specific person to be your husband if that person is not already married?

READ Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE

I made huge sacrifices to return to school to complete my MFA last year.
I need to contribute to my 3 children’s college educations as they are good students and people. I have applied for teaching jobs and every job I have an interest and a good knowledge base for.
I have barely gotten any thank you follow up letters and only 1 interview but still no employment. I am attractive, well spoken, intelligent…. I want to work and use my talents; Why has God overlooked me?

Janice

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s Answer

READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

In studying the book of Exodus I’m perplexed at what the Bible means when it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It seems like God set him up to fail which doesn’t make sense. Is there something in the interpretation I’m missing?

Lynn Q.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s Answer

The ‘Personal-is-Political’ Musing

September 26th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 20 comments

A reader chided me the other week for writing too often about politics. He prefers to read about family events, holidays and the like. His perspective is shared by others, and I know that I have lost readers who are either bored with hearing about the coming election or whose political views differ from mine.


I appreciate the point. Last week, while celebrating Rosh HaShanah at a Jewish conference retreat at which my husband was speaking, I had no idea what was happening in the outside world. For two days, I, along with the 700 people with whom I shared the holy days, shut ourselves off from newspapers, radio, TV and Internet. It was wonderful. We focused on God, family, and friends enjoying ourselves even more for not knowing what President Obama and Governor Romney were doing.

Nevertheless, although I appreciate Bill’s letter, I’m afraid that I am not able to accommodate his request. I write about what is on my mind, and while holidays are treasured, they are, by definition, narrow spaces removed from time. One of the Rosh HaShana prayers increasingly sends chills down my spine. It speaks of God decreeing what will happen in the coming year during this very period of time. It cites how He is deciding – right now -which nations and which people will face war or peace; famine or plenty; health or illness in the coming year. We pray, repent for our transgressions and commit to doing better, with the plea that God will judge us with mercy rather than strict justice.

That prayer reminds me how tentative our lives are. It is terrifying to look at history and see how unaware people frequently were of events that were going to shatter their lives. One can read of those who took picnic baskets out to watch the “entertainment” as the first major battle of the Civil War took place. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria rated a footnote in many newspapers, yet led to World War I, which was itself a precursor of World War II. The day before Germany invaded Poland in 1939, families sat down to meals and went to work, unaware that their world was soon to be obliterated.

I love America and believe that she has been greatly blessed by Divine Providence. But I do not believe that we are immune to the laws of history that God has decreed. As we recklessly abandon the Godly principles on which this country is founded, I am greatly afraid. As Peter B. commented in response to the plea for less political writing, my husband explains that politics is nothing more and nothing less than the practical application of our most deeply held moral values. When two weeks ago I expressed my deep dismay with President Obama’s presidency as well as my intense disappointment in Governor Romney’s campaign, I did consider that I might offend some in both camps. My reason for writing was twofold. Firstly, I try to write and share what is in my heart, and I am severely troubled at what is happening in this country. Secondly, I thought that there might be some Musings’ readers whose frustration is leading them to think of sitting out this election cycle. I hoped that my words might encourage even one or two people to examine the issues closely and vote Republican, in spite of Mr. Romney and the Republican Party’s inadequacies. (For those who lean Democrat, if they appreciate some of what I write, I assume they are able to tolerate our disagreeing— even passionately—on this topic. I welcome respectful comments whether they support or condemn what I write.)


We are at a dangerous junction and I fear that, if we do not change course, generations after us will wonder how we did not see the precipice over which we were marching. An election won’t automatically repair our situation, but it can be the first, tiny step in halting our perilous plunge toward tragedy.

Yours, Mine and Our Sins

September 18th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Please note that next week’s Thought Tool is scheduled to go out 24 hours late as our office and store  are closed from sunset on Tuesday night through late Wednesday night in honor of Yom Kipur – the Day of Atonement.

“But everybody’s doing it.” Is there any parent who has not heard that cry? Perhaps your child wants to go to an inadequately chaperoned party. Maybe a teenager wants to read the latest best-selling book that his or her parents see as morally suspect. No matter the issue, children want to be part of a group.

We adults are susceptible to this desire as well. We buy new clothing and cars so that we ‘fit in’ with a certain crowd; we watch popular movies because ‘everyone’ is talking about them. Sometimes we even vote with our social group rather than researching and making an informed decision.

We are not only influenced by others, but we are also the influencers. When I succumb to complaining, cowardice or anger, I affect my spouse, children, neighbors and co-workers. Contaminated by my attitude, they will be more likely to behave the same way. If I lower my standards and speak rudely or profanely, others will more easily do so as well.

We are in the Jewish High Holy Day period that began with Rosh HaShana and ends on Yom Kipur, the Day of Atonement next Wednesday. It is a time for intense introspection on one’s life, achievements, failures and goals. Simultaneously, it is a time for communal reflection and involvement. When we enumerate our sins on Yom Kipur, each individual has his or her own list, yet the format we recite is in plural language. Sentence after sentence begins with the words “We have sinned…” rather than, “I have sinned.”

Isn’t this strange? Even orphans say, “We are guilty of not appreciating parents.” Even the most upright among us say, “We have stolen.”

This interaction between our unique lives and the larger community is one of the universal messages of Yom Kipur (download my audio CD Day for Atonement, now at half price, to learn more). It is a time to strip away the illusion that we are independent and self-directed and to recognize how much of the wrong way that we think and act is a function of following the crowd. It is a time to recognize our own responsibility not only for ourselves but also for others.  As we take an annual moral inventory, we need to assess with clarity the inescapable intertwining of our lives with the lives of the many different groups of people with whom we share life on earth.

After starkly facing our failings during this period, we emerge from the holy days with optimism and conviction. It is wrong to think of peer pressure only as negative. When we smile despite our pain, we also influence others. When we express gratitude and are gracious to others, the effects of that ripple outward as well. If we are courageous and cling to standards, immune to what ‘everyone else’ is doing, we make it easier for others to do so as well.

This is a good time of year to set the odometer back to zero and reject becoming ensnared in the failings of society, no matter how widespread they are. It is a particularly conducive time to commit to being leaders in exemplifying moral greatness. Each of the five audio CDs in our Biblical Blueprint Set (one of which is Day for Atonement) highlights one area on which to focus our attention. Whether it is guarding our words, managing our time, understanding the importance of the two tablets given on Mt. Sinai or escaping from seemingly impossible problems, these messages can help you embark on an improved path. These five CDs are particularly cost-effective right now, at only $20 for the set via instant download. Save $19.95 as you chart a fresh course. As the Day of Atonement teaches us, the benefits will not only enhance your own life, but will affect those around you in immeasurable ways.

Yom Kipur teaches us to work from the inside out, in contrast to tyrants who impose their will on others while indulging themselves. When we change ourselves, we change our families. When we change our families, we change our communities. When we change our communities, we change our country. When we change our country, we change the world.

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This week’s Susan’s Musings: Oops!

What do you do when you realize, years after the fact, that you gave bad advice to someone? What if it wasn’t only one person, but many? What if you gave the advice in a book or article and have no idea how to find the people who took your advice? READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

In studying the book of Exodus I’m perplexed at what the Bible means when it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It seems like God set him up to fail which doesn’t make sense. Is there something in the interpretation I’m missing?

Lynn Q.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s Answer

Oops!

September 18th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

What do you do when you realize, years after the fact, that
you gave bad advice to someone? What if it wasn’t only one person, but many?
What if you gave the advice in a book or article and have no idea how to find
the people who took your advice?

If you are a writer, you might
choose to write about your change of heart.
A while ago, I read Peggy
Orenstein’s lament
when, despite years of insisting that she didn’t want
children, she found out that she actually did. She also discovered that leaving
that decision until she was in her late thirties led to six, tormented, neurotic
years during which she damaged and almost destroyed her marriage, spent tens of
thousands of dollars and frequently behaved shamefully. She honestly portrays
herself in quite a negative light: the self-centered product of a women’s
movement that delivered false promises.  (To
her credit, during those years she did turn down a career-enhancing opportunity
to appear on national TV advocating for childlessness.)

The Sunday N.Y. Times featured another “Was I wrong?” piece
on June 24, 2012. In Missing
the Love Boat
, Jessica Bennett admits that she may have destroyed a
priceless relationship when, at 24, she turned down a proposal, insisting that
marriage was unnecessary. A while later she proceeded to write a cover story
for Newsweek telling young women around the world why the institution of marriage
could be discarded. Today, while recognizing that getting married is not a
guarantee of life-long commitment, she honestly faces the fact that by turning
down her beloved’s proposal, she may have caused the pain that lay at the root
of her relationship’s demise, an outcome she mourns.  As time goes on will she also face Ms.
Orenstein’s dilemma, realizing that the traditional idea of marriage and family
that she so dreaded, is actually that for which she yearns?

We all make mistakes. However, when we publicly champion
wrong ideas, as writers, teachers or public policy influencers, we are not the
only ones living with the outcome of our erroneous thinking. I admit to
empathy. To my husband’s dismay, there are nights I lay awake, tormented at
what I did or did not say at venues ranging from an individual seeking my
advice to TV appearances or public speeches. While I haven’t authored a
Newsweek cover story, I do speak up, and I am aware that people sometimes are
influenced by my words. While I hope I haven’t advocated wrong causes, what I
want to say is not necessarily what I do say, and what people hear is too often
not what I thought I said.

Most of us do not sway tens of thousands with our words.
However, we all affect those around us and the option of remaining completely
silent and not interacting with others for fear of saying the wrong thing would
be a tragic loss to individuals and society. Of necessity, we speak about decisions
we are making whose effects on our own lives are often not visible until years,
even decades, later.

Each of us needs to accept responsibility for our own choices
and to be aware that as persuasive, scientific and reasonable something may sound,
it may be very wrong. We must arm ourselves with moral and ethical compasses, unchanging
core principles, and a permanent vision of life to which we cling no matter how
rare or ridiculed it is and no matter how convincing the arguments made against
our beliefs. We can certainly seek advice and explore issues. Nevertheless, we
need to know that ‘the buck stops here’ when making decisions. When those who
beam a false cultural message face reality, there is no “rewind” button they
can press, that allows them or us a second chance.  

Celebrate The Day!

September 11th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Quick! What’s the name of the person most blameworthy for your biggest failure?  Hint: You’ll find it printed on your driving license.  Nobody is without regrets about opportunities squandered, lesser paths chosen, or challenges spurned.  One of the reasons that New Year makes us feel good is that we see it as a chance for a fresh start.

Of course, by February, most of us have forgotten our resolutions and slid back to the languor of last year. Then, we feel bad and attribute our dismay to the darker days of winter rather than to the sad recognition that the opportunity for another new beginning won’t come around for months.

However, it needn’t be that way.  There is a powerful message of renewal for all in next week’s celebration of Rosh HaShana, incorrectly translated as Jewish New Year.  The good news is that just as we are responsible for our failures, we also have the power to bring about renewal and change in our lives.

The Torah festivals (Leviticus 23) are all associated with events in Jewish history.

Passover—On the 15th day of the first month, God took Israel out of Egypt.

Shavuot—Fifty days after the Exodus God gave the Torah to Moses.

Sukot—…I made them dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:43)

Yom Kippur—On the 10th day of the seventh month Moses descended with the second set of Tablets.

However, Rosh HaShana, literally the head of the year, observed on the 1st and 2nd day of the seventh month, is not linked to any occasion in Jewish history.

Rosh HaShana floats through time, connected to renewal rather than to a specific event.   For instance, the day on which the prophet Elisha brought the Shunamite woman’s son back to life was Rosh HaShana.

And it was the day, and he came there…

(II Kings 4:11)

Though no date is mentioned, a clue is given in the use of the word HaYoM, –“The Day” which Scripturally alludes to the renewing power of Rosh HaShana.

In this way, Rosh HaShana has a more universal theme than the other holydays. The coming days are, as I explain in my audio CD, Day for Atonement, especially suited for God and us to judge our actions and redirect our behavior.  Rosh HaShana means Head of the Year, not New Year.  We invest great effort in each facet of ‘The Day’ planning for it to direct the following months as our heads direct our bodies.

Rosh HaShana provides three effective strategies for new beginnings:

1) Don’t do it now.   Instead of the usual, “Don’t delay—do it today!” set a formal date a few days ahead for your change regime to commence. Declare a date and imbue it with significance.  Jews start preparing for Rosh HaShana thirty days in advance. On the day itself, we hear one hundred blasts of the shofar (Leviticus 23:24) which make the day feel enormously significant and quite unforgettable.

2) Set up accountability.  Rosh HaShana is a communal not a private event.  Each of us attending services in the synagogue is there for the same purpose—introspection and self-judgment.  Whatever change you’re determined to bring about, involve others.  Include friends and family in your plans. Announcing one’s commitment to change is helpful.

3) Talk to yourself and to God.  On Rosh HaShana we constantly remind ourselves aloud of the ever seeing eye of the King of Kings, the Judge of all, who sees everything and expects us to fulfill our potential.  Give yourself pep talks when there’s nobody around to make you self-conscious.  Ask God to help you and share your successes and failures with Him.

These strategies will help the name on your driving license become the person who brings success and achievement into your life.

Along with Day for Atonement, The Biblical Blueprint Set includes four additional audio CDs, each one providing enlightenment and direction for a vital part of your life. They provide guidance for not just thinking about, but actually implementing, change. Download them at almost half  off right now or have them mailed to you (on sale too). Maximize the season’s power for change!

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This week’s Susan’s Musings: The Leaders We Deserve

Four years ago, Barack Obama excited huge numbers of Americans, precipitating an emotional reaction among many. Media swooning and malfeasance meant that most Americans were never exposed to the the man’s history or his principles. Even those who would have voted for him if they knew his beliefs and goals weren’t given the opportunity to do so. As for those of us who were not swept away by his aura, we wished that we too, could have a candidate whose very being would rouse America’s enthusiasm…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

My father-in-law recently was in a Christian bible class when the meaning of the word “blessed” came up. After discussion, there was no resolution as to its meaning. Can you help or provide a reference?

Darrell F.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s Answer

The Leaders We Deserve

September 11th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

 As the year 5773 comes into view, arriving this coming Sunday
night, I’d like to wish all of you a year filled with peace, health, prosperity
and joy.

Four years ago, Barack Obama
excited huge numbers of Americans, precipitating an emotional reaction among
many. Media swooning and malfeasance meant that most Americans were never
exposed to the the man’s history or his principles. Even those who would have
voted for him if they knew his beliefs and goals weren’t given the opportunity
to do so. As for those of us who were not swept away by his aura, we wished
that we too, could have a candidate whose very being would rouse America’s enthusiasm.

This year, neither candidate is eliciting such passion. It
is better that way. A larger than life candidate can fool us into thinking that
electing him to office will fix what is awry and secure an optimistic future. When
we are swept away in teenybopper rapture, we happily shrug off responsibility
for our own lives, anticipating that the elected one will do the hard work
while we reap the benefits.

Four years after the last election, the Obama glow is gone.
However, it is not only in politics that we live in a period of
disillusionment. Within my own Jewish world, there are pathologies that surely
cause God to weep, both by those who clearly reject Him and by those who present
themselves as His devotees. In the world at large, hatred of Israel and the
Jewish people is emerging in whopping force (this is not at all disconnected
from the pathologies mentioned – God very clearly links our fate as a people to
our behavior). Other faiths face similar challenges and false faiths and ‘isms’
abound. Rejection of God and His directions reaches into every facet of life. The
culture bombards our children with damaging messages, stripping them of the optimism
and innocence that should be a child’s birthright. America faces great peril from
a values vacuum, one sign of which is an economic downturn. The sliver that
divides a functioning, healthy society from one in free-fall is fast becoming
ever thinner. 

I will vote for Mr. Romney and I pray that he wins. The
stakes in this election are too great for anything but choosing whichever of
the two major party choices best, rather than perfectly, points the way to a
positive future. Nevertheless, the very fact that I am far from enamored reminds
me that for this country to regain her greatness the mercy of God rather than
human leadership is the crucial factor. We certainly have to do our part as
involved citizens, but, when all is said and done, we are not in control.
Certainly, voting is important as is being supportive of chosen campaigns, but all
those running for office can do nothing without God’s acquiescence and can
attain excellence only with it. Free choice means that God will not overtly
intervene (except on glorious, rare occasions) to save us from ourselves.  Along with civic involvement, the most
important thing I can do is to inspect my own actions and find ways to correct
my own behavior.  Millions of citizens
combining prayer with self-improvement can have a more powerful effect than a
million dollar ad campaign. Rather than expecting great leaders to save the
American people, the American people need to work and change to deserve great
leaders.

Losing It

September 4th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

My husband brought me two dozen miniature yellow roses this
past Friday. I did not deserve them. I spent the day on the verge of hysteria, alternating
between muttering and shrieking as I prepared our Shabbat meals. Things were so
bad that one of our expected guests, dropping off a bottle of wine in advance,
left it on the doorstep, positive that he was hearing a knockout, drag down
fight between one of my daughters and me. Not quite. None of our daughters was
home this week and I was the only human in the house when he came.

What he actually heard, was me, yelling at a swarm of teensy
flies that were circling my kitchen. These micro-bombers started invading
Thursday. At that point, I cleaned the counters making sure there were no
inviting fruit or sweets lying around, and opened the door to give the flies a
point of egress. As a further precaution, my husband hung a few strips of
flypaper around the kitchen, confident that would end the assault.

Having minor oral surgery Thursday afternoon, I went straight
upstairs when I got home, anticipating a full day of cooking on Friday for our
table of ten Shabbat lunch guests.  This
meant that I didn’t see the pests in their full glory until Friday morning. The
effectiveness of the flypaper seemed to have led the flies to call in
reinforcements and it was clear that they intended to share my kitchen through
the day. Though my husband insisted that I was attributing more power to the
insects than they possessed, as the day went on, I was increasingly convinced
that they were malevolently smirking at me.

By mid-afternoon, after obsessively covering each and every
bowl, pot and utensil I used and hovering over my food like a helicopter mom guarding
her toddler on the playground, I had had it. The final straw was when not once,
but twice, I walked into strands of flypaper, which proceeded to cling to me in
octopus-like fashion.

In between cries of misery, I lectured myself. I told myself
how fortunate I am that my husband and I, children and grandchildren, are
healthy. I reminded me what a blessed life I live if a fly infestation is a
major crisis. I conjured up images of pioneer women watching hordes of locusts
devour their year’s crop. To no avail.  I
continued falling apart.

I had the luxury of losing it for one reason only. My
closest child was a few hundred miles away. Had any of them been in the house,
I would have had to SET AN EXAMPLE. When our sailboat almost suffered a
knockdown in a storm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I clutched three
life-vested girls and sang songs with them. My children think that blackouts
are major fun activities, providing serendipitous occasions for ice cream
parties around a fireplace. Six children with chickenpox prompted ‘Camp Mommy’
complete with arts and crafts activities and canteen time. That is what mothers
do. We overcome our own natures to make our children feel safe, secure and
happy.

I don’t want to suggest that I always coped with a pleasant and
calm demeanor when the children were around. I remember being so exhausted with
a newborn in the house that I didn’t know how I would make it through another
hour. There were times I was afraid to open my mouth, unsure what would come
out, and those times that, unfortunately, I did open it anyway. There were,
regretfully, times I completely lost it. In general, though, I was wrong to
expect that it would be easier to cook without seven pairs of hands wanting to
knead the dough and stir the soup or to run to the market without lots of ‘helpers’.
When all is said and done, being forced to be mature, competent and cheerful knowing
that every move I made was being avidly tracked, made life a lot more fun.

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Salty

September 4th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

When the hubbub of conversation around our Shabbat table occasionally lags, I sometimes delight my children with a ‘magic’ trick.  I am not a particularly talented prestidigitator but my family makes a gracious audience and besides, I do practice the illusions in private before presenting them to the table.

Here’s one that never fails to entertain.  Our Shabbat salt-shaker is made of glass with a silver screw-on cap.  Picking it up in my left hand and holding it close to my body, I gently shake it while announcing that our family is using too much salt. Unscrewing the cap with my right hand, I dramatically hand it to a child.   With everyone’s attention on the cap, I explain that I want that child to guard this very special cap, making sure that nobody can see it.  During this misdirection, I surreptitiously empty the salt-shaker with my left hand into my jacket pocket.

With my left fist clutched around the shaker so that none of the children can see that it is empty, I make a fist with my right hand and quickly pretend to pour all the salt from the shaker into the opening where my thumb curls around my index finger.  Now I flourish the empty salt shaker.

Next, I ask the child with the silver cap to blow on it and wave it over my fist.  Slowly and dramatically, I uncurl my thumb; open my index finger and all the other fingers in turn, revealing an empty hand.  The salt has vanished.

To the shipwreck survivor dying of thirst in a lifeboat, the ounce of salt dissolved in every quart of seawater around him is a curse.  To the happy diner enjoying fresh fries with his steak, salt is a blessing.

Those who travelled the Oregon Trail in the 19th century were grateful to eat meat that had been salted to preserve it for a few months without refrigeration.  But the conquered foes of Genghis Khan starved because he covered their farmlands with salt.  Salt-saturated land, like beach sand, cannot grow any food.

Some things possess enormous potential for both good and for bad. These are often though of as covenantal.  Thus, we speak of the holy covenant of marriage.  Among the things that God termed a covenant are: salt (Leviticus 2:13 & Numbers 18:19), circumcision (Genesis 17:10) and rainbow (Genesis 9:13).  As we see, salt can be good or bad; the male organ which circumcision defines can be employed very positively or very negatively.  Rain marked by a rainbow can be a gentle life-giving shower or a flood-producing drenching deluge.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches an interesting reason for why Lot’s wife was transformed into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). She had the potential to start a new life after escaping the sinful city of Sodom with her family, but she looked back longingly.  Torn between the good and bad, she turned into the substance that exemplifies tension between two moral poles.

As a stage magician uses misdirection to prevent his audience from observing certain things, the stark, obtrusive existence of bad often misdirects us from seeing the potential for good.

Sometimes we mistakenly assume that some badly behaving person cannot possibly possess a shred of human goodness.  Sometimes we evaluate a job opportunity incorrectly because we forget the polarity that exists in powerful phenomena. Sometimes we rush to embrace or alternatively shun technology because we focus on only one aspect.

Our culture today frequently condemns those who succeed financially. People often defend wealth because of its charity potential. Charity is wonderful and required by God, but we ignore the great gift of an economic system by acting as if charity alone makes wealth palatable. Here’s a major point in my book Thou Shall Prosper: The Ten Commandments for Making Money (on sale this week): if you cannot see that making money is inherently good, despite its potential for misuse, you probably won’t make much money. I devote an entire chapter to this idea. I’m delighted at how many people write to tell me how this vital point changed their lives.

As for me, I still find myself nostalgically extracting grains of salt from my jacket pockets.

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This week’s Susan’s Musings: Losing It

My husband brought me two dozen miniature yellow roses this past Friday. I did not deserve them. I spent the day on the verge of hysteria, alternating between muttering and shrieking as I prepared our Shabbat meals. Things were so bad that one of our expected guests, dropping off a bottle of wine in advance, left it on the doorstep, positive that he was hearing a knockout, drag down fight between one of my daughters and me. Not quite…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

In the 5th commandment ….you shall honor your mother and father,…..o.k. got it, but what if mother or father are living a homosexual or lesbian lifestyle? What if children are 9 and 10 years old? How do we teach them to respect the parents without tarnishing the minds and soul or spirit? Can you understand what I’m gettting at?

Timothy

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s Answer