Monthly Archives: August, 2017

Your Next Postcard = The Transcontinental Railroad of The 1860s

August 15th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

When the Golden Spike was driven in the spring of 1869 to join the railroad that came from the east to that which came from the west where they met in Utah, a new era of human productivity began. Anything that facilitates human connection brings positive results whether it was the telegraph in 1844 or the telephone, radio, television right up to the Internet in our time. Every time you pick up the phone to connect with someone, positive steps are set in place even though you may not know the eventual result. When you write someone a postcard and drop it in the mail, it might end up as significant as the first time it became possible to ride the rails across the continent. We never know what can grow from the seeds of human connection. Try it!

Sloppy Shoes and Donald Trump

August 15th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 49 comments

What is wrong with the following scenario? Mr. and Mrs. Jones have three children. Over the course of a week, each of the children leaves his or her shoes lying in the middle of the living room floor. Mr.and Mrs. Jones ignore the first child’s messiness rationalizing that she is in the middle of finals. Mr. and Mrs. Jones excuse the second child’s carelessness because his girlfriend just broke up with him and he’s feeling down. Mr. and Mrs. Jones confiscate the third child’s shoes, berating her for being so sloppy.

You don’t have to be a parenting expert or in favor of shoes being left lying around to recognize that something is off-kilter in the above family. That is why I was not upset by President Trump’s tweet following the criminal car-ramming in Virginia on Saturday, August 13. While the President was lambasted for initially condemning hatred and violence “on many sides”  rather than singling out white supremacists, I didn’t take it that way.

Granted, I have no idea what goes on in President Trump’s mind and I don’t think that we are exactly “kindred spirits,” but wasn’t ready to jump on the indictment bandwagon. In fact, once emotions of the day have subsided, I wish he would give a serious, thoughtful speech explaining that there is a problem when marginalized people on one end of a spectrum are used to condemn large groups of Americans.

Here is a quote from one newspaper article about the gathering that ended in violence. “The group had gathered to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and another arrived to protest the racism.” In other words, wanting a statue of Robert E. Lee to remain where it has stood for many years is inherently racist. No! It is not. It may be something that should be challenged and discussed, but ascribing racism as the only reason for opposing the statue’s removal is wrong. Was the side General Lee chose during the Civil War a side that supported slavery? Yes. But it is a sad comment on the lack of education, wisdom and discernment on the part of people today that we aren’t able to handle the complexities that surrounded the heinous sin of slavery amidst other issues including states’ rights. Maybe a generation that gets their political understanding from late night entertainment shows should grow up before demanding an overthrow of history?

In a country where we hear the comment, “His motives are unknown,” when someone yells Allahu Akbar while murdering people and where those who speak of killing all white people or who attack people because they’re white get no media attention, there seems to be only one association that leads to  immediate and virulent condemnation. I’m certainly not in favor or neo-Nazis or white supremacists. But, something is wrong with a scenario that not only sees them as the only violent or hateful people in America, but wantonly includes millions of upstanding citizens among their number.  In America today, child #1 gets away with anything as does child #2.  Only child #3 is criticized.  All the time.

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Can I keep my children safe?

August 15th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments

Michelle Carter was just sentenced in the text message case [where she was found to encourage a young man to commit suicide and didn’t call for help when he did so]. Is there a moral equivalent in the Bible by which one could instruct their children so that they do not go down the path of either of the participants in this event? 

Is it possible that both were equally mentally disturbed and this is only an anomaly? Is social media distorting our mores and morals?

 How would a parent use scripture to keep their children on the correct path when young people are so absorbed in social media to the point it takes over their life, personality, and time?

Michael G. 


Dear Michael,

You actually asked four interesting questions tucked inside your letter. In the case you reference, a young woman was sentenced for encouraging her boyfriend’s suicide. It got attention because there was a trail of text messages detailing her words. Yet, from a moral perspective (rather than a legal one because of proof) there is no difference between this case and one that might have taken place decades ago with conversation substituting for texts. Urging someone to take his life, whether by letter, speech, texts or skywriting is wrong. The message is the problem, not the medium.

We have no doubt that both these individuals were deeply troubled. In fact reading between the lines of the news story suggest a history of bizarre behavior on the part of both players in this tragedy. However, your next question, “Is social media distorting our mores and morals?” intrigues us. Some individuals are born more susceptible to emotional and mental problems than other people. We think that there is no question that trends in our times, including the prevalence of time spent online and bullying social messaging, can exacerbate certain unhealthy tendencies. Today’s media can certainly cause problems for some who might have been perfectly emotionally healthy under different circumstances. From an emotional point of view, the support and balance one gets from a relationship with a real flesh-and-blood friend is not at all replicated by a so-called friend on social media.   We wish they’d have come up with another term than ‘friend’ for the slender digital connection made online. At the same time, the online community is a tremendous gift for some who, for whatever reason, would be less connected in any way to people without the Internet.   With all its shortcomings, for these people, a frail electronic connection might be better than they’d have done in pre-Internet days.

In other words, we humans managed to “distort our mores and morals” before the Internet, before typewriters, and before ball point pens. It is something we have always been rather good at.

That doesn’t mean that we can be sanguine. The greater the technology available to us, the greater potential it has to be used for both good and for bad. Just as we demand more maturity and practice before we let a child drive a car than we do before we let him roller skate, we do need to pay more attention to our children as technology and communication expand. Just as you wouldn’t hand your sixteen-year-old your car keys with no limitations or rules, parents have the obligation to provide rules and restrictions, alternatives and supervision rather than allowing social media to take over their children’s lives, basically replacing parents as the prime instillers of values. We would suggest that in today’s times, children, teens and young adults need more time with their parents (and parents acting more wisely and  thoughtfully) than they did in some other generations.

The many basic messages of Scripture (such as valuing all life)  that provide for healthy living are timeless. It’s up to us to figure out how to apply those messages in appropriate ways for our times.

Make sure you have both quality and quantity time with your children,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*  *  *

Shem, Ham and Jafeth may not have texted,
but they were also subject to their generation’s immorality.
How did Noah keep them on the right path? Find out in:


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The Four Sees

August 14th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

If you’re fortunate enough to have a new baby in your life you already know how he or she constantly brings moments of joyful discovery.  Here is one that recently startled me.  From about their first birthday, babies respond to eye cues more than head direction cues.  This is really quite amazing.  What this means is that when I direct my face towards the left but move my eyes to look right, the baby follows my eyes not my head!

Animals don’t do this.  They are very alert to the direction that the head of another animal is facing but seem oblivious to eye movement.  Most animals including baboons and chimpanzees will glance in the direction they see a human looking.  But if a person faces one direction and moves his eyes to another, the primate will follow the face not the eyes.  (A dog may be an exception here, but I’ll discuss that in the future.) In fact, we seldom see any animal looking in any direction it is not facing.

Of course, it is not only babies who seem to be cued significantly by people’s eyes.  We adults do that all the time.  Regardless of the direction a person’s head is facing, we watch the eyes.  A politician may be facing you and speaking to you, but watch his eyes glance over your shoulder to spot someone more important.  A flirtatious glance is revealed by the eyes.  Sometimes, people roll their eyes to reveal disdain.

But why are our eyes so much more revealing than those of animals?  It turns out that no creature on the planet has as much white of the eye as do we humans.  Thus, our eyes are uniquely equipped to reveal their movement.  Because God gave this special gift, the white of the eye known as the sclera, to His children, we are able to easily and quickly read another person.  A lot of exposed white suggests shock or fear.  Reduced white is a happy smile. Skilled artists make use of how much the white of the eyes reveals.

Yes, human eyes really are quite different from animal eyes. Perhaps this is why of over five hundred references to eyes in the Hebrew Scriptures, all apply to humans or to God.  When eyes are first mentioned, the word appears three times in three consecutive verses in Genesis chapter 3.

For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened,
and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

(Genesis 3:5)

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise,
she took of its fruit, and ate, and gave also to her husband with her;
and he ate.

(Genesis 3:6)

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;
and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

(Genesis 3:7)

Eyes have nothing to do with the biological process of sight in any of those three verses.  Eyes in verse 5 refers to the intellect.  Eyes in verse 6 refers to the emotions and eyes in verse 7 refers to the sensual.  In our relationships with others, we relate either intellectually (business partners, study partners, etc.) emotionally (friends, lovers, etc.) or sensually and physically.  Often a relationship involves more than one of these.

Similarly, in all the other many Scriptural instances in which eyes are mentioned, the deeper meaning always goes beyond the simple process of biological vision.  Before we communicate with someone else by speech, we are already communicating with our eyes.  We were created to Connect, to Communicate, to Collaborate, and to Create.  Indeed, the four Cs!  No wonder that tiny humans yet incapable of speech communicate via their—and our—eyes.

 *  *  *

The institutions of society that make our lives comfortable and secure, such as the economy, the military and so on, all depend upon human relationships. When one aspect of human relationships deteriorate, so do the others. If marriage collapses in a society, don’t expect its economy or its military to long survive. Is there a way for the average family to build its own ark in which to survive the turbulent storms swirling around its foundations? Find out by listening to our 2 audio CD program, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah, on sale this week.

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How far does the 5th Commandment go?

August 9th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

Does the 5th commandment also apply to relatives who had a major role in my life?

I am very new to the Jewish teachings. Pastor Larry Huch talked about you and said you were good friends so I looked you up on the internet and have been listening to you since. In all my 13 years in church, I have never heard anyone teach what you teach. I appreciate the materials you make available to all.

Here is a matter that I need to lay to rest.

I was born and raised in the Ivory Coast, a country with too many ethnic divisions. My mom told me in the tradition of their ethnic heritage the aunt (the mother’s sister) is really my mother. That’s what they have been believing for years. So that’s how in 1998, my aunt and her husband who had 3 sons, paid my way to come and live with them in the U.S. b/c “she doesn’t have any daughter” my mom told me. I was 15 and left my parents, siblings and friends back in the Ivory Coast.

My relatives paid my way through high school and college. At a price. I was the one doing all the household chores out of duty. Cooking, cleaning up after them, doing dishes on Christian holidays while her husband and sons play video games and surf the internet. In all honesty, I spent 10 miserable years living with them and do not remember a happy day. I don’t like their personalities and being around them. There was always the “you owe us” attitude.

Fast forward today, I live alone and The Good Lord has given me a job. I still have my mother in the Ivory Coast that I take care of on a regular basis. My dad is 73 and retired. They are divorced and both of them do not have any financial savings. So their financial help falls on me b/c my 2 siblings are not helping at all. The younger, 30 years old, has cut contact with the family and the older, 36 years old only cares about her.

I feel a financial obligation only toward my relatives (even though, I did not live with them for free) b/c they paid my way through school, along with food, housing, clothes, medical bills etc… so I send them some money, when I can on an irregular basis but according to them, it is not enough. My aunt doesn’t want to work so she stays home all day and her husband makes a six figure salary, more than me. Their 3 sons are living their own lives. My mom tells me I need to do what they are supposed to do and I refuse to shoulder their responsibilities toward their own parents.

I don’t have enough finances to take care of 2 sets of parents and build a life of my own. I don’t feel a “5th commandment” mandate toward my aunt and my uncle. They consider themselves as my parents but I do not. My mind has never accepted them as my mother and father according to their ethnic tradition. The 5th commandment only applies to my mother in the Ivory Coast and my 73 year old retired father.

What does the Torah and ancient Jewish wisdom have to say about this kind of situation? 

Thank you for helping.


Dear Neal,

We tend to shy away from letters as long as yours, but we found your story so riveting that we made an exception. We are also tremendously fond of Pastors Larry and Tiz Huch, and appreciate that you found us through them.

One of the issues you raise is the challenges that come up when someone replaces one cultural or religious tradition with another one. This is a common theme that plays out when a child immigrates to a new country with its own way of life. The pattern and understanding that an aunt is like your mother, isn’t one that you accept. While this may be painful for your family to hear, the “rules” they are holding over your head don’t apply to you.

Another issue you raise has to do with the understanding of what ‘honoring parents’ entails. One of the reasons that Torah observant Jews have a rabbi who is familiar with their personal situation is because that very general statement needs to be translated into specifics. While certain principles apply in all cases, such as addressing parents in a respectful manner, other concepts such as defining required financial support will vary according to the individual circumstances.

The Torah does not accept the idea of entitlements but rather works on the principle of obligation. Not even your parents can demand that they are entitled to your money; the question is what your obligation is. This may seem to be a semantic difference, but it removes emotional blackmail from the picture. You must shoulder whatever obligations you have, but those obligations are not based on the desires of either your parents or relatives. In fact, the majority of what ancient Jewish wisdom sees as the financial laws of honoring parents makes use of the parents’ financial resources, not the child’s.

You sound like a lovely and strong person with a keen sense of responsibility. You might want to discuss your particular situation with your spiritual leader, but our bird’s-eye-view answer is that you are not obligated to provide the support that is being demanded from you.

We hope that you find a group of Christian-minded friends and  a spouse who can fill in the emotional gaps from your childhood.

Wishing you all the best,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*  *  *

It’s hard to pass values from generation to generation.

What really happened in the ten generation between Adam and Noah?
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Do today’s cultural issues mirror Genesis?

The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah

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Frankly Electrifying

August 8th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

One of the great delights of sharing life with my wife is her voracious reading appetite.  She tells me about some books, she summarizes others and occasionally recommends one for me to read.  This she did recently with Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley in the early 19th century.

In her introduction, Shelley contemplates the ‘nature of the principle of life’ and suggests that ‘galvanism’ might reanimate a corpse.  About 30 years before Frankenstein was published, Luigi Galvani had discovered that electricity stimulated a muscle to contract.  In chapter five, Frankenstein, “…collected the instruments of life…” so that he might infuse “…a spark of being into the lifeless thing…”  In Boris Karloff’s 1931 movie classic, a bolt of lightning animated the creature.

While the Torah conceals the nature of the ‘breath of life’ that God breathed into Adam (Genesis 2:7), today we understand that our bodies function by means of electrical currents traveling through cellular protein ion channels.  The beating of our hearts; the warm sunlight we feel upon our arms; our ability to see; all this and everything else functions because of tiny electrical currents coursing through our bodies.

Walk across a carpet then touch a metal doorknob.  The resulting crackle and spark prove our body’s ability to convey electricity.

The Hebrew word used today to mean electricity is CHaSH-MaL found in Ezekiel 1:4 and 1:27 which ancient Jewish wisdom explains as a powerful force that God put into the world that can be activated or switched off.  Electricity’s power began to be understood in the mid-18th century with the invention of the Leyden Jar, a glass jar lined inside and out with tin foil. An electrical charge can be built up on the inside foil which eventually jumps to the outer foil with a crackle and a spark.

If you know that both gold and tin foil are excellent conductors of energy and that wood and glass are not, the Leyden jar sounds very much like this:

They shall make an ark of acacia wood…coat it with pure gold, inside and outside…
(Exodus 25:10-11)

In this Thought Tool I am not going to discuss why God wanted the Ark of the Covenant to possess these electrical properties. I do want to explain that electricity was not invented while God’s attention was distracted.  Electricity is part of God’s blueprint of creation and His plan for life.

Indeed, electricity can restore life.  In the medical emergency of a person’s heart ceasing to function effectively, a small electrical shock is administered by a defibrillator to stimulate the heart back to regular rhythm.

Scripture records two parallel events of a prophet restoring the dead son of his landlady back to life. In I Kings 17:21, Elijah prayed then stretched himself out over the boy three times, and Elisha prayed then lay upon the boy in II Kings 4:34.

The Bible conceals the miracles’ details and I am not claiming that the prophets’ bodies emulated the paddles of a portable defibrillator but I am emphasizing that the enormous wonders of human life depend upon a tiny invisible force called electricity that God put into His creation.

Similarly, the amazing structures of our families and of systems that allow us to earn a living all depend on many tiny and invisible spiritual forces.  Just like electricity, these small spiritual forces need to be generated appropriately, conducted down correct channels and insulated from others.  They include forces like gratitude, faith, discipline, vision and communication.  Just like electricity they have disproportionate consequence.

God counted upon us to create textbooks and manuals teaching safe operation of electricity.  He gave us blueprints and directives for the safe operation of spiritual forces.  Our mission is to make them available to you as part of ancient Jewish wisdom. Contempt for in-utero life as well as a discussion of how moral and economic corruption intersect to destroy a society are found in Genesis along with guidance for dealing with those issues and transmitting correct values to children. We’d be honored and happy if you decided to listen to our 2 audio CD program, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah. Both download and mail formats of this mind-blowing and amazingly up-to-date resource are bargain-priced this week and, unlike Frankenstein, this information is true!

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What does Noah’s name mean in Hebrew?
Who are the Nephilim in Genesis?
Why did Noah merit to save not only himself but also his family?

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The Bluest Skies

August 4th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 3 comments

The bluest skies – are not – in Seattle, amazingly enough. We landed here last night and there is a smoky haze obscuring the sky and much else due to fires in British Columbia. Years of experience tell us that the skies are still blue and the water is still actually glistening. It’s just obscured right now. We need to see past the haze, just as we need to do with much else in life.

Years of Our Discontent

August 3rd, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

It is funny what sticks in your mind, isn’t it? Over 25 years ago, I heard my father-in-law ask in a tone that managed to be both amused and acerbic, why people couldn’t simply serve roast chicken every Friday night. At the time, my sympathies went to the woman who had innocently asked him whether a certain item only available in a specialty Japanese store was kosher. While not a gourmet cook like she was, I do vary the dishes served at my Shabbat table; my family and I would be bored with the same exact meal week after week.

My mother-in-law, like my mother and grandmothers offered no such variety. For them, being able to afford and have access to kosher chicken was in itself the special Friday night treat. How could anyone want more than chicken soup, roast chicken, and a simple side dish? They lived in different times.

I enjoy experimenting with new Shabbat recipes and while certain holidays cry out for specific traditional dishes, it is unusual for us to have exactly the same meal two weeks in a row. Yet, something I recently read made me recall my father-in-law’s lament and relate to it with greater understanding.

What spurred my realization was discovering that I had completely—I mean totally, without a clue—missed out on hearing about the trend of ‘late-in-life lesbians’. While this trend is obviously elementary compared to the politically correct idea that there are 31, no, actually 56, no wait, its 72 (the number changes almost daily) genders, perhaps the comparative simplicity of the idea caused me to laugh.

How unbelievably unhappy and confused we are. In Richard III, William Shakespeare wrote of “the winter of our discontent.” Today, we seem to be living through years of discontent. There are many real challenges in the world. Venezuelans are starving, people around the world are being killed by Islamic extremists, serious illnesses abound and too many children are born into situations that make successful living a terrible struggle, to name only a few. There are those who are born with discernible physical and genetic gender confusion.

And then, there are those of us born basically healthy and, even in difficult economic times, living shockingly well. Instead of counting our blessings, for decades now we have been busily looking for reasons to be unhappy. We don’t just seek to improve and tweak our society but to radically change: our marriages, our schools, our economic system, our beliefs, our gender…

I don’t think we can lay the blame for this on serving lemon chicken one week and potato-crusted chicken another. I plan to keep enjoying trying out new recipes. Yet, it isn’t completely unrelated either. Somehow, when there isn’t a counter-balance to the natural desire for excitement and newness, when we confusedly think that happiness can be delivered by someone or something outside of ourselves, and when we lose touch with our souls and magnify the demands of our bodies, we find ourselves on a road that has no natural end. Our rebellions may take different forms, but one warning that is very modern and up-to-date is found in Deuteronomy 32:15  explaining how instead of feeling gratitude when showered with blessings, humans tend to kick rather than kneel.

  *   *  *

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Too Many Gifts?

August 2nd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

A small coffee shop recently opened in my town and I visit them every day for coffee and sometimes a pastry. Because I enjoy the food and I appreciate being able to have a friendly conversation with the owner, and occasionally get a free refill on coffee, I like to leave a tip in the jar. Sometimes I’m even given free pastries, which are wonderful fresh-baked creations by the owner’s wife, typically sold for a few dollars. I’ve even been given whole loaves of bread for free. 

Here is where my dilemma comes in. I don’t like to go around looking for hand-outs or expecting gifts; I prefer to pay for whatever I receive. However, I understand and respect that people like to give gifts without expecting anything in return. I’m the same way.

I understand that the coffee shop owner and his wife are likely allowing me their extra goods because it creates customer loyalty and it is also a sign of their appreciation for my patronage. I tend to feel guilty for receiving as much as I do from them because I feel like I’m not doing anything to really deserve it. I’m not sure how to adequately express my genuine thanks in return. 

I want to give them more tips, but is that not being respectful of their act of giving a gift? What might be the best way to show my thanks, in addition to continuing to purchase my usual coffee and treats? 

Thank you very much for your time and consideration!

Elsa S.

Dear Elsa,

While you may very well live downtown in a major metropolis, in our minds we’re conjuring up a rural small-town atmosphere. Either way, your dilemma is a wonderful one to have.

We want to be clear that had you told us that a friend of yours worked for a cafe and kept on giving you freebies, that would be a completely different question. However, in your case, the owners are the ones giving you gifts. We think you are right to recognize their appreciation of your patronage as well as their desire to foster customer loyalty.

As you note, while I’m sure any tips you leave are appreciated, attempting to ‘pay’ for your gifts in that way would be ungracious. They are making their own business/personal decision and you can pleasantly accept what they give you without feeling that it calls for a response. Indeed, as their clientele grows they may cut back on the gifts and it would be just as misplaced for you to resent that as to feel that you presently owe something in return.

However, you do want to support them and let them know how much you appreciate their business. One of the ways you can do that is by letting people know about them. This can include word-of-mouth as well as using social media such as leaving a review on Yelp or similar websites. (We would encourage you to talk about the pleasant surroundings and delicious coffee and food while staying quiet about the generosity. No need to set people up for disappointment when they have to pay for their pastries.) Let the proprietors know of your promotional efforts, not in a bragging way but because it will strengthen them as they cope with the inevitable difficulties that running a business entails.

You could also offer gift certificates to your friendly coffee shop when you want a way to thank someone local, for example a neighbor who takes in your mail while you’re away or as a ‘notice of appreciation’ to your mailman.

Some of us have more trouble giving than receiving while others of us lean in the opposite direction. Cultivating the ability to both give and to receive is desirable.

Enjoy a coffee for us,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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