Monthly Archives: July, 2017

The Night Is Dark

July 31st, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 62 comments

It is helpful to discover that the child who seems irrationally scared of dogs was once bitten by a snarling mongrel. Knowing that Moslem forces were defeated when their siege of Vienna was repulsed on September 11th, 1683, helps make sense of their September 11, 2001 attack on the United States.  The past should not provide an excuse but it does provide insight.

After inconceivably vast numbers of casualties, Europe’s first Thirty Years War (1618—1648) ended with the Peace of Westphalia, the foundation of a fierce and formidable nation, Germany.  After even more unimaginable horror, Europe’s second Thirty Years War (1914—1945) ended with a remarkable and enduring peace.

Along with many knowledgeable professional historians, I view World War Two (1939-1945) not as a stand-alone event, but as the continuation of World War One.  Presciently, the great French military leader Marshal Ferdinand Foch who was present at the signing of the peace Treaty of Versailles, called it not a peace but a temporary twenty year cease-fire.  World War Two broke out twenty years and two months later.

That 20th century Thirty Years War, which included the utter destruction of thousands of European Jewish communities, was launched when Germany declared war on Russia on August 1st, 1914.  Till then, the year 1914 had its typical share of regional conflicts with pompous politicians and aristocrats posturing for prestige.  As in the first Thirty Years War, Germany’s war making ability changed everything.  That date on which worldwide conflict became inevitable, August 1st 1914, corresponded on the Hebrew calendar, to the 9th day of Av, in the year 5674.

That adds one more tragic event to the long and lamentable catalog of crime committed against the Jewish people on that particular date of the Jewish calendar.  Instead of a random distribution throughout the 12 months of the year, as you’d expect any nation’s disasters to occur, virtually all of Israel’s calamities have happened on or within a few days of the ninth of Av.  These include England expelling all its Jews in 1290, France doing the same in 1306, and Spain expelling its Jews in 1492.  The Nazi’s “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem was officially implemented on this day in 1941.  And so it goes, defying statistical odds for over two thousand years.

That date’s link to destiny began soon after the Exodus from Egypt.  In preparation for their assault on the Promised Land, Israel dispatched spies to obtain military intelligence on the challenge that lay ahead.  The spies returned with a dispiriting report of defensive fortifications and fierce occupants.  Instead of trusting in God, the people became unnerved and demoralized.  They wept.

The entire people raised their voices and cried out,
and the people wept on that night.
(Numbers 14:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that this night was indeed the 9th of Av and it was set aside for Jewish tragedies for all generations.

There is a street in South Tel Aviv called “The 93 Street”.  It is named after 92 young Jewish girls and their teacher who lived and died in Poland during World War II.  Here is what the New York Times wrote:

“Ninety-three Jewish girls and young Jewish women, the pupils and the teacher of a Beth Jacob School of Warsaw, Poland, chose mass suicide to escape being forced into prostitution by German soldiers, according to a letter from the teacher made public yesterday by Rabbi Leo Jung of the Jewish Center of New York City.

Declaring ‘it is good to live for God but it is also good to die for Him,’ the writer said, ‘All of us have poison. When the soldiers come we shall drink it. We have no fear.’

The letter, dated, August 11, 1942 [a few days after the ninth of Av] was received Tuesday by an official of the American Beth Jacob Committee, 131 W Eighty Sixth Street.

In part it read, ‘..When this letter will come into your hands, I shall not live anymore…we were given hot baths and were told that German soldiers would come tonight to visit us.  We yesterday swore to ourselves that we shall die together…The Germans do not know that our last bath was our purification before death….Say Kaddish [the Jewish prayer for the dead] for us, your 93 children. Soon we shall be with Mother Sarah.”

Recent scholarship has cast doubts upon whether this event happened exactly as described.  But that is of little account since the number of similar acts of horrible brutality that are fully documented is so vast as to be mind-numbingly incomprehensible.

So, if we Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora find ourselves approaching the 9th of Av, starting tonight, Monday night July 31, 2017, with trepidation and even a little fear, there is good reason.  After all, the unfolding of history didn’t end with World War II.

Moslem terrorists killed nearly 100 Jews and injured hundreds of others on the 9th of Av 1994 when they destroyed the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires with a massive bomb.  In a traumatic episode of Jew against Jew, Israeli soldiers forcibly carried Jews out of their homes in Gush Katif, Gaza,  as this day ended in 2005, after the then Israeli government decided that returning all of Gaza to the Arabs would bring peace.  And so it goes…defying statistical odds.

What lies ahead? Nobody knows, but Jews everywhere will heave a sigh of relief as the stars come out this Tuesday evening.

Brains, Heart and Courage

July 27th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 47 comments

Wednesday morning’s Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle had the following clue: “Cowardly lion’s lack.” As a child, I watched the Wizard of Oz annually on TV followed by recurring nightmares, but it has been many years since I saw it. As I dredged my memory, I remembered the Scarecrow wanting a brain and the Tin Man needing a heart, but it took a few seconds to translate the lion’s desire for courage into the five-letter word, nerve.

I used to regularly read the Wall Street Journal over breakfast. Since they introduced their crossword puzzle in the main section, that gets my attention first. Instead of frustrating and depressing news, my brain gets a work-out. But this clue led me down the path of  replacing the words ‘cowardly lion’ with Republican Congress. Actually, the Republicans need brains, heart and courage, qualities they either lack or hide from sight (conceal: 23 across).

I understand that most politicians of both parties want to ensure their own re-election. Maybe it is even true that overall they will be better for the country than ‘the other guy,’ even if to do so they need to hide, duck (evade: 14 down), weave and bob from tough positions. Some are good people and hard workers who just aren’t articulate; others don’t even realize how enmeshed they are in a corrupting system that confers unhealthy levels of power. Most politicians don’t have what it takes to be truly visionary and wise leaders. But for a party to have not even one person who can stand up and cut through the fog to speak passionately about healthcare in a forceful, caring and intelligent way? That party is an embarrassment.

Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that the movie Dunkirk is showing now. I haven’t seen it, but World War II is a part of history that is somewhat known to most people. Here is a tragic fact about war. When soldiers in World War II marched off to fight, they knew that they might not come back. The sweethearts, wives and children they left behind might end up filling the resulting void in their lives with someone not as worthy as the soldier who sacrificed his life. Going to war was still the right thing to do. In the bigger picture, it was the only thing to do for the sake of those very sweethearts, wives and children. The survival of their nation was at stake.

Healthcare is a huge issue that cannot be reduced to slogans. The slogans the Obama administration used to push it were often intentional lies such as, “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it. If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.”  Any reasonable person could see that wouldn’t be the case. That anyone principled or intelligent could vote for a plan that their leader, Nancy Pelosi, said had to be passed before it could be understood is downright mind-boggling.

Most Americans understand that no plan will be perfect. But if each and every politician would vote by placing brains, heart and courage above the desire to be re-elected or to amass money and/or power, we could start down a path to actually improving health-care in this nation. And yes, on this and other pressing issues, while clearly we, thank God, are not at war in a literal sense, I do think national survival is at stake. The two political parties currently represent dramatically different paths for the country. While the establishments of both parties are out of touch with regular Americans, decisions being made today will lead America on a path that embraces the country’s founding ideals or overturns them.

If politicians lose their next election, they still have lives to live (with cushy pensions).  That option is often not available to those who patriotically marched (and continue to march) off to any of our country’s wars. That the Republicans don’t have a Churchill is clear, but surely the Chamberlains should be disgraced.

I apologize for my tone. I know I sound utterly frustrated and quite disgusted with both political parties. I am. At least on this question, most Americans agree.

*  *  *

Most of us agree as well that more money in our pockets would be a good thing.
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Loans with no payback? The Shemitah Year

July 26th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

I’ve read a lot of your books, yet didn’t see you ever speak about this particular thing: 

Reading the Books of Law, I see quite a few mentions about helping out the poor. Not by giveaways, but by lending them what they need (Deut. 15:7-8). It would seem to be logical to give away, But Scripture says, “Lend,” and then, every seventh year you should forgive the debt if that is not paid. 

My questions is: I’d never think that the Bible would endorse free-rides or parasitism, but I can’t find the Bible speaking harshly to the borrower. It is quite demanding—you must give, if they don’t pay—you must forgive. Seems like license for a free-ride. I borrow, do not pay, they must forgive, and then, when I come to borrow again, they must give again… Can’t believe it to be what the Bible means to say. Could you, please share more light on that? Thank you.

Victor

 

Dear Victor,

How should a society deal with money? After thousands of years of human history, we are still trying to figure this out. Should it be, “From each according to his ability to each according to his need,” as Karl Marx wrote? Should we follow Ayn Rand’s vision where only those who produce survive and charity is a vulgar concept?

In our opinion, the closer countries get to the Biblical vision, which neither of the above mentioned authors did, the stronger the society will be. Yet, the Biblical vision is complex, and while it includes the verses you quote, that is not by any means the entire story.

The Shmitah year that takes place every seventh year in the land of Israel which you reference, functions above natural law and was intended to apply only in the Holy Land under Biblically-loyal administration.  There are several categories of people in need and they all receive different treatment, according to circumstance.

For instance, the Hebrew used for a person in financial need in those verses, an “evyon,” is one category. Throughout Scripture there are other Hebrew words such as “ani,” and “dal,” that all get translated in English as poor, ignoring the important legal distinctions and nuances.

The Biblical system deals with the reality that there are those who are needy because of their own choices or lack of work ethic, those who are battered by unfortunate circumstances out of their control, widows, orphans and ill people, etc. It has many pieces and variations including those that come into play at different times and places. These include both giving to the poor and lending.

You will remember from the book of Ruth that one element has the poor person gleaning from the leftovers in a field. If all one had to do was ask for a loan and then not repay it, why would anyone do that humbling and difficult work? There is a concept that gets poorly translated as slavery but whereby one indentures oneself or one’s children for up to six years labor, or is ordered to do so by the court. That is another idea that wouldn’t exist if all we legislated only by the verses you quote.

The system we follow to the best of our ability, is based on ancient Jewish wisdom, a combination of the written and oral transmission given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The oral transmission deals with exactly the type of question you ask—how do we implement and correctly understand verses that only tell part of a story, verses that contradict each other and verses that, if blindly followed, would have us sometimes doing precisely the wrong things.

To conclude, the Shmitah year with its forgiveness of some types of debts is one part of a grand and complex picture. Societies that simply encourage lack of responsibility and free-loading will not survive.

May your work prosper,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*  *  *

The blessing after a meal includes a request to not make us dependent
on gifts from people. We don’t ask God to drop money from the sky,
but for us to see results from our work and be able to
support ourselves without charity or personal loans.
If that blessing resonates with you,
make sure that you are doing everything that you can to earn more.
This includes rejecting anti-Biblical ideas about money and replacing them with correct ones.

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How My Israeli Children Are Different from Me – guest post

July 25th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

I love reading the blog posts of a woman who writes from Israel under the name “Jewish Mom.” She has given permission to repost what she wrote after the slaughter of the Salomon family at their home on Friday night. I have put an asterisk next to terms that may be unfamiliar to many of you and written a glossary at the bottom. I apologize if that makes the article more difficult to read, but I think it very worthwhile.

When I was growing up in Baltimore, I learned which neighborhoods were safe and which neighborhoods were dangerous. Which places I could go to, and which places I should carefully avoid.

And since I moved to Israel 24 years ago, I’ve been doing the same thing.

When I heard that 2 Israeli police officers had been shot to death and, later, there was rioting in and surrounding the Old City, I shook my head with concern and decided to nix the outing I had been planning to daven* this week at the Kotel*. When I heard that 3 members of the Solomon family celebrating the Shalom Zachar* of a newborn baby boy, were murdered by an Arab terrorist around the corner from my daughter’s high school in Neve Tsuf, I got more scared and started keeping our doors and windows locked at all times.

Looking out for Number One, just like when I was growing up.

But my kids and kids around Israel have been responding differently to the recent tragedies here…

Yesterday, my bat mitzvah girl’s summer camp cancelled their planned outing to the Jerusalem Forest and took all the girls to the Kotel instead.

Another daughter’s youth group decided to move the location of the scavenger hunt they had planned from downtown Jerusalem to the Old City.

And it’s not just my kids.

Yesterday, several high school girls approached me and my daughter when we were in a store and handed us a slip of paper they had prepared with a psalm, urging us to read it for the safety and security of Am Yisrael*.

Then this morning at the light-rail station, some elementary school girls handed me a toffee attached to a note that read, “The Race to a Million Blessings: Say a blessing over this toffee for the elevation of the souls of the Solomon family victims HY”D*.”

Seeing how my kids and their peers are reacting to current events has made me realize that when I get scared, I do what I did when I was growing up. I look out for Number One. I stay away from the Old City, I lock my doors, I nervously check out the Arab passengers standing beside me on the light rail (that man’s too old to pull out a knife, that woman’s with her baby, so there’s no way she’s about to start stabbing people with a pair of scissors.)

And these Israeli kids, in their own way, are also looking out of Number One. But their Number One, I’m realizing, is different than mine. For them, their Number One is Am Yisrael* and Eretz Yisrael*. The Jewish people and the Land of Israel. And praying for Hashem’s protection and mercy upon them.

A year and a half ago there was a terror attack next to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, and the young father of a large family was brutally murdered while walking home from work. That Friday night, my then 15-year-old daughter informed me after candle-lighting that she and her friends were going to daven at a minyan* next to Jaffa Gate that night.

And I told her: “You can’t go to Jaffa Gate! There was just a terror attack there yesterday!”

“Eema*,” she responded slowly, as if speaking to someone who didn’t fully understand her language, “of course I know there was a terror attack there. That’s why we’re going there!”

I recently heard a French-born father of 11 Israeli children speaking about what it’s like moving to Israel. And this what he said:

“Moving to Israel is like climbing a very high mountain. You are climbing and climbing, you are breathing hard and sweating from the steep climb. And then you achieve the impossible–you reach the top. And when you get there, you sit down to catch your breath, and you turn around and find your children sitting there, at the peak.

‘How did you possibly make the climb up here? It was so steep and high and difficult!’ you ask them.

And your children answer you, ‘We didn’t have to climb at all. We were born here.’”

*Glossary:

daven: pray

Kotel: The Western Wall; The Wailing Wall

Shalom Zachar: a celebration that takes place the Friday night after a baby’s birth

HY”D: God will avenge their blood

Am Yisrael: the nation (people) of Israel

Eretz Yisrael: the land of Israel

minyan: a prayer group

Eema: Hebrew for Mommy

 

How Much Is Too Much?

July 25th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

Policies that contradict timeless truths expressed in the Bible simply don’t work.  Confiscatory rates of taxation and punitive inheritance taxes fly in the face of wisdom contained in ancient texts revered by tens of millions of Jews and Christians.

These texts are relevant today because ideologies which the Bible frowns upon inevitably turn out to be poor public policy.  For example, when the Good Book labels promiscuity as a sin, believers understand that God is not only indicating His displeasure at this behavior, He is assuring us that no societal good will come of it.  The Bible offers insights into destructive taxation policies that prove equally true.

The first Biblical mention of taxation comes in Genesis 41.  Bewildered by disturbing dreams, Pharaoh unsuccessfully seeks explanations from his courtiers.  Finally his butler, newly released from jail, remembers his cell-mate, the Hebrew  lad, Joseph.  Joseph interprets the king’s dreams to be God’s forewarning of seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine.  In verse 34, Joseph recommends applying a tax upon the Egyptian economy.

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Self-Made Women

July 20th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

The cover story headline on Forbes magazine, America’s Richest Self-Made Women caught my attention. Surely, the stories of the sixty women listed would shine a light on women and money. It did, though I’m not sure that what I saw will make social engineers happy.

Here are some sentences from the top four bios:

#1) Ilitch and her husband, Mike…cofounded Little Caesars pizza… (Marian Ilitch)

#2) The Wisconsin native cofounded the business with her late husband, Ken… ( Diane Hendricks)

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Are Pets Animals Too?

July 19th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

It says in the Bible that a good man cares for his “beast.” ‘Does this just mean animals that are “useful” such as cows that give meat and milk or does it mean all pets, such as dogs and cats.  

P.S. Like your show very much. We watch it every day when possible. There is so much knowledge and practical advice.

Titus R. 

 

Dear Titus,

There are certain topics that are almost guaranteed to lead to controversy, including vaccinations, the 2016 election results, and abortion. We have tackled all of those in various settings. But if you really want to get people’s emotions roiled, talk about their pets!

You don’t mention what Bible verse you are referencing, but there are many Scriptural references to treating animals well, among them Deuteronomy 25:4 with its prohibition on muzzling an ox while it is treading grain and verses that include animals in the Sabbath day of rest.

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A Tale of Two Bees

July 18th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

There are many secrets to success in life, but here’s a good one:  Empower your wife and other vital women in your life to bring out the best in you.

This lesson emerges from a mystery posed by three verses, Genesis 24:58-60.

Verse A:

They called Rebecca and said to her, 

“Will you go with this man?”  And she said, “I will go.”

Verse B:

They blessed Rebecca and they said to her, “Our sister, may you become…

Verse C:

And they sent away their sister, Rebecca, and her nurse…

There’s nothing particularly odd about these three verses, is there?

There is, if you realize that I’ve switched their order around.

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Forget Father’s Day & Dismiss Mother’s Day

July 17th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 6 comments

I know that neither of those two calendar highlights are close to us which makes this a good time to reconsider them in the cold light of clinical analysis.

Why does the culture make such a big deal about these two arbitrary days while nobody thinks of establishing a Husband’s Day and a Wife’s Day?

Reason 1: A culture fundamentally hostile to the traditional Biblical family model, is not keen on celebrating husbands and wives. Recognizing a mother or a father makes no comment about whether mom and dad were married when they conceived you or whether they invested years in raising you in the cocoon of their love and commitment.

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I’m Not Scary; Are You?

July 13th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 68 comments

There is a blog I regularly read because doing so makes me a better person. In it, a mother details with great honesty her emotions and experiences as she and her husband raise a son with serious disabilities and a, thankfully, healthy daughter.

She and I have never met, yet she is afraid of me and my family. Afraid of our support for repealing Obamacare, of our support for President Trump and of our conservative leanings.

I have two children in the medical profession. They talk of their emotions and experiences as they are hindered and frustrated by a bloated, bureaucratic and unsustainable system. They talk of their emotions and experiences as they try to help seriously ill patients and are instead forced to tend to those abusing the system, unnecessarily consuming tens of thousands of dollars and hours of human resources. They  talk of their emotions and experiences at caring for patients who act self-destructively, thus counteracting the help they have just been given, after monopolizing resources that, subsequently, were not available for others. My children have never met the woman whose blog I read. They are not afraid of her, but they see her voting patterns and liberal leanings as harmful to them and those for whom they care.

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