Monthly Archives: January, 2017

For Yoruba, press 6

January 30th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 4 comments

We were living in Washington State at a time when popular culture decided that loggers were one of the greatest threats to society. Good men lost good jobs as media and politicians treated them with disdain. Exhibit number 3,295 in why I think our government is out of control recently came in the mail. I received a six page insurance statement. One of the pages, on both sides, told me in twelve languages that I was entitled to have the statement translated. Somehow, I don’t think the insurance company decided on their own that it was a good business decision to ask me if I wanted to read what it has to say in Tagalog, Russian, Bengali or Farsi. I feel the heavy hand of government here. Now, I know people who do speak some of those languages and who might prefer to read a statement in their native language. But does every subscriber need to get a page with that information each time the company sends any notice to them? How many trees are cut down because of ludicrous government paperwork? Is it more or fewer than the number of men who lost their jobs because the same people who demand that their Congressional representatives support this ridiculous language policy also had scorn and derision for loggers?

How’s the Weather? Quite Offensive, Thanks.

January 26th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 196 comments

I have had a troubled few days. Let me give you some background. In the late 1970s, my husband was a business professional in Los Angeles when he was introduced to Michael Medved, who had recently begun exploring his Jewish background. My husband began teaching Torah classes to Michael and a few of his friends. This small bunch soon grew to a sizable group studying in crowded living rooms. After a short while, they discovered an almost abandoned old synagogue on the Venice (CA) oceanfront. Within a year this forgotten little synagogue was filled by young people. Although almost everyone started with little knowledge of his or her Jewish roots, they thrilled to investigate Scripture and discover the majesty of religious Jewish life.

While synagogue attendance played a role in the feeling of community, the passionate congregation that sprang up was chiefly based on Bible study and growing together in connection to God.  In fact that is what constituted membership!  If you attended at least one Torah class a week, you were a member. The group, as befits the time and place, was composed of many whose values and views had been shaped by the turbulent Sixties and confused Seventies. It included ex-commune members and hippies as well as an unusually large number of scientists who started off believing that science and religion were in conflict.

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My mother is a hard-core Leftist? How can I respect her?

January 25th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 38 comments

Question:

My mother is a hardcore leftist. She views government as a savior. I am completely on the other side- I am a conservative. 

We always crash, argue and go weeks without speaking. (This is WITHOUT talking politics!)  

I understand about Honoring thy Mother and Father- but it seems impossible to build anything with a person whose ideology is destruction. How can I Honor the Lord with this commandment when I have no optimism in having a healthy relationship with her?

Answer: 

Dear Krystle,

For the purposes of this answer, it would make no difference if you were liberal and your mother, conservative.  We aren’t going to discuss the relative virtue of the politics here, but we do want to make the point that having differing world-views can come in many forms. There are many liberals who would say that conservatives have an ideology of destruction. They would point to skepticism on man-made climate change and suggest that Republicans want women to die from back alley abortions. So let’s focus on relationship repair and maintenance.

You say that you “crash, argue and go weeks without speaking,” even when you avoid politics. Since our first suggestion would have been to avoid politics even to the point of not taking the bait if your mother brought up certain topics (covering your mouth with duct tape can be helpful here) it seems that there is something fundamentally troublesome about your relationship. It isn’t only about politics. 

The religious obligation to honor your mother is not synonymous with enjoying her company. Along with any siblings you may have, you must be sure that she has her basic needs met.  The Fifth Commandment also means not contradicting her no matter how provocative or foolish you find her statements.  Ask, inquire, even challenge politely but don’t contradict.  Introduce your viewpoint with the phrase, “I sometimes feel that….”   Avoid presenting her with threats or ultimatums and whenever the conversation first begins to turn awkward or uncomfortable, politely excuse yourself, “I am sorry but I have to leave now.”

Not speaking for weeks on end makes it difficult to be assured that she is basically okay.  While this may not be so important right now, as she ages there is every likelihood that it may become a problem.  For example, you need to know she has food. This doesn’t mean that you must go eat with her, but you do need to be around her enough, or have someone reporting to you, to know what’s going on. 

Certainly, cutting off contact is extreme. Especially if your mother’s social circle is limited, being in touch with you may very well make a huge physical difference in her health. Is there any way you can organize your time together so you spend it at activities such as going to the movies or a concert where you are sharing time but little conversation? Staying home and playing cards or watching TV are other options. Phone calls don’t need to last an hour, but they should be regular. 

In other words, no matter how vehemently you disagree with your mother’s views or dislike her personality, you are going to have to find a way to cope. You need to rally all your creative energies and seek suggestions far and wide to do this in as painless a way as possible. It doesn’t need to be a healthy relationship, but it does have to be a relationship.  

It is just remotely possible that deep down your mother yearns for a normal relationship with you but due to psychological damage or emotional frailties she lacks the ability to communicate that effectively.   If you do both actually want to have a relationship, then some joint counseling might accomplish wonders.  A third party, neutral facilitator or mediator can make an enormous difference in these situations.  With a purposeful program, you might end up with a restored relationship with mom.  Stranger things have happened.

We wish you success,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Grounded with the B52 Bomber

January 24th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

In January 1991, during “Desert Storm,” a group of American B52 Stratofortress bombers flew to Iraq, bombed their targets, and returned safely home after 35 non-stop hours airborne.  In September 1996, the same type of bomber destroyed Baghdad’s power stations as part of “Desert Strike”.

The enormous eight-engine bomber was again used in Yugoslavia in 1999, and played a major bombing and support role in Afghanistan in 2001. In November 2015, to deny recognition of China’s claim to some islands, B52s were flown through the region ignoring China’s demand to vacate the airspace.  During 2016, B52s based in Qatar flew many devastating bombing missions against Isis.

The United States simply does not possess a more capable long-range strategic bomber than the amazing 160 foot-long, 4 story high, Boeing-built Stratofortress.  Yet the truly amazing part of the B52 story is that the airplane first saw service in the United States Airforce in 1955.  For over sixty years, this airplane has been the backbone of America’s airborne power.

It is hard to imagine that the three Boeing engineers chiefly responsible for designing the B52 could have dreamed that their creation would play so important a role in American history for so long.  Without the B52 in their arsenal, several famous American leaders might well have failed to achieve their military and political objectives.  Though not nameless, those Boeing engineers are not nearly as well known as the political and military leaders who deployed the lethal airplane.

Most of us perform our daily work in relative obscurity.  We tackle our tasks, confront challenges, strive for success and face failures without ever knowing what vital long term consequences might result from what we did last month.  It’s a lot like raising children.  It doesn’t bring the fame that might come to the women heading General Motors or Yahoo but without the children being raised as productive and law-abiding citizens today, there wouldn’t be large corporations tomorrow.

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Time for a Mirror?

January 24th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 7 comments

I’m having trouble understanding how people who have spent fifty years advocating for vulgarity in our culture can profess shock at vulgar comments by a presidential candidate and then protest his inauguration by spouting vulgarities. At a certain point, doesn’t hypocrisy have to smack you in the face?

Welcome President Trump

January 20th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 7 comments

The last time we welcomed as president someone who was not of the anointed political elite was 36 years ago when we watched Ronald Wilson Reagan take the oath of office. I am struck by three things about him that I think are as true for President Trump. (1) He may not have been elected were it not that he followed one of the worst presidents in living memory (2) He understood that many Americans had come to view the government and its vast army of unelected bureaucrats as the biggest threat to freedom and their way of life. (3) Recognizing the threat he posed to the unwholesome alliance of the DNC, unions, media and the professional intellectual class he was loathed, vilified and insulted personally before he even took office. Since March 2016 when I began supporting Mr Trump’s candidacy, I have felt that God-willing, President Trump and President Reagan might just might share another similarity–lifting America up out of its cultural, economic, and military malaise.

Mr. Trump’s Low Approval Ratings

January 19th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 67 comments

I’ve often received poor approval ratings. There were the times I insisted that my children write thank you notes before birthday presents were enjoyed. That certainly wasn’t a popular demand. Then there were the times that I joined my husband in his alliances with Christian leaders, years before the Jewish community recognized what an important friendship this was.

Most recently, a woman at my exercise class backed away from me as if I had just told her that I had beri-beri disease when I said that I voted for Donald Trump. In different times and places, being popular is at odds with being principled, correct or even righteous (not that I’m claiming those mantles).

For this reason, I find the constant headline news that Donald Trump is heading into Inauguration Day with low approval ratings (or conversely that Barack Obama has high ratings at the same time) completely irrelevant. Not being omniscient, I have no way of knowing if President Trump will be principled, correct or righteous. However, I do know that aiming for popularity would be disastrous for his presidency.

Certainly, ignoring the public is risky. In 2012, many people felt that Mitt Romney didn’t care about people like them; in 2016 Hillary Clinton had the same problem. Yet, small slices of information can be misleading. President Trump clearly had a better read on Americans than the pollsters who were incessantly gauging public opinion. Maybe all those people who are gleefully touting the new president’s low approval ratings need to be reminded that doing the job well and being unpopular is preferable to doing the job poorly while being personally popular.

If the country does well, economically, globally and socially over the next few years, it matters little if people (like me) have issues with Mr. Trump’s demeanor. It is certainly nice that the Bushes, father and son, as well as Mr. Obama represented respectable family lives. Neither main party candidate gave that option this time around. I will look elsewhere for role models for my grandchildren in all sorts of areas including guarding one’s speech. There are many aspects that I don’t like about Donald Trump, the man. Right now, I’m looking for a strong hand on the tiller steering our country in the best direction, not a best friend.

Noah’s approval ratings were even lower than Donald Trump’s. His neighbors hated him while God valued him. Why? What made Noah stand out? Find out in The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah, on sale now.

The Gathering Storm

How do I learn Kabbalah?

January 18th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 46 comments

Question:

I am studying kabbalah.  Last year my kabbalah mentor suggested I buy the Zohar book at close to $400 which I couldn’t afford.  Now, it is selling for $72. They say it is translated in English.  My question is if it will have the same effect of spiritual benefits if it is not in its original language.  Will I be spending my money for nothing.  Thank you!

John R.

Answer: 

Dear John,

We’re going to try to answer this delicately because we are  aware that our answer may dismay you. But you did ask, right? 

Imagine if someone offered you a high-priced pill to solve a physical problem you were having, let’s say high blood pressure, and your blood pressure went down. Did the pill work? It is indeed possible that the pill worked in accordance with well established medical and pharmacological principles.  However it is also possible that the pill  was really a  placebo made from innocuous ingredients.  It was your miraculous human mind and its belief in the efficacy of the pill that was responsible for the health improvement you experienced.   To the chagrin of many, and to the amazement of some doctors, that can and does happen. 

Kabbalah (also known as caballa, kabala, kabbala, Qabala, etc….) is an authentic part of ancient Jewish wisdom. However, we can assure you with no doubt whatsoever  that people who publicly teach it or claim to be teaching it to students who have no solid background in Hebrew, Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud, and Halachah, may be teaching some interesting things but they are not teaching Kabbalah.  

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Push Me, Push You

January 17th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 70 comments

It’s always a bad idea when I spurn Susan Lapin’s advice.  No good has ever come of it.  In fact, I must confess to more than one painful memory of the consequences of doing so.  Nonetheless, here goes.  Susan says, “Go light on science topics; it won’t interest women as much as it interests men.”

I had three responses to her today.  First, I may inadvertently be escalating arrogance to new levels of obnoxiousness, but I think I can write about science engagingly for everyone.  Second, worst case scenario, I have a male friend in North Carolina, who’ll just love this!  Third, I have to speak science if I wish to teach this aspect of ancient Jewish wisdom.

So here goes and please be gentle with your comments. I don’t want to be subjected to a self-envisaged burden of, “I told you so!”

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May Seem Simple But Riding An Elevator Up a Skyscraper Is No Circus

January 15th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 4 comments

Well, Barnum and Bailey Circus is shutting down. Everything has its day. Opera and theater used to be for everyone. Now they are kept alive by elite life support. But the end of the circus is a little sad for anyone who remembers the sheer magic of being taken to the big top as a child. But even though his circus is sliding into history, Phineas Taylor Barnum will never be forgotten because about 20 years before founding his eponymous circus he promoted Elisha Otis’ elevator at the 1853 New York World’s Fair. Up till then nobody was interested in the frightening contraption. P T Barnum helped prove it safe and within only a few years buildings were being built four times higher than the 3 or 4 stories considered practicable up till then. It may be Otis’ name on the elevator you rode in yesterday but it was P T Barnum that made it possible for you to ride in it. Aren’t humans great? And isn’t He who created us, great?

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