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 53 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 39 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.  

Imagine someone claiming to be teaching nuclear physics to students who have no background in algebra, physics, chemistry, calculus, let alone thermodynamics.  It’s laughable really, right?  Kabbalah is exactly the same. It is quite  impossible to understand the real Kabbalah without many years of study and mastery of the underlying basics. It usually isn’t available on the open market, but rather passed privately from a very limited number of teachers to very specifically chosen students. 

Your teacher may indeed have valuable information to impart, but the term Kabbalah is perhaps being used in a generic way. There is no way that we can judge if what you are learning is equivalent to buying a Rolex watch on a Manhattan street corner for $20 or if your teacher is providing value and using the name ‘kabbalah’ just to suggest a tie to ancient spiritual secrets.  

Would a copy of the Zohar help you? If you believe that reading it has spiritual powers then it might, akin to that placebo pill we mentioned earlier. We would, however, suggest that you find a less expensive way to attain your goal. We would also suggest judging anything you are learning based on measurable improvements in your life not on assuming that it is spiritual magic and certainly not based on being told that spending some more money will allow you to see amazing and wondrous things. 

Sadly, there is no shortcut to authentic wisdom any more than there is to authentic physical health and vitality.  It takes time and work.  Seldom is a $400 or even a $70 book necessary.  

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

Push Me, Push You

January 17th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 69 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!”

Imagine a shiny silvery sphere about the size of a ping pong ball.  Based on its size and upon your life experience, you expect to pick it up easily with your thumb and forefinger.  To your astonishment, you need your entire hand to lift it as it actually weighs well over a pound.  Turns out, it is not a hollow Christmas ornament. It’s a ball of uranium and is surprisingly heavy and dense.  (For this thought experiment, we’re using a type of uranium called Uranium 235)

Now imagine a uranium sphere the size of a bowling ball; it weighs well over one hundred pounds.  More importantly, it is enough uranium to constitute what is called critical mass.  Whereas the ping pong ball of uranium is almost inert and does nothing, the bowling ball of uranium contains enough of the radioactive material to start a spontaneous nuclear reaction, getting hotter and hotter.  (Don’t try this at home!)

The heat from that ball of uranium can boil water into steam which can drive a turbine and push an aircraft carrier across the Pacific Ocean.  The smaller ping pong ball of uranium produces no heat at all.

One of the truly fascinating permanent principles of ancient Jewish wisdom is that for every single physical law governing material phenomena, God set up a parallel spiritual law.

What is the matching spiritual equivalent to the idea of physical critical mass that we just discussed?  Have you ever noticed how the first few people at a party drift around aimlessly?  Nobody is having much fun until…yes, you’ve got it.  The party takes off when enough people have arrived for it to hit critical mass.

Here’s another example: If one or two people stop on a busy sidewalk and peer upwards, nothing much is likely to happen.  However, if ten or eleven people stop on that same sidewalk and gaze upwards, you can be sure others will join in.

Ladies, can we look at one more example or is Susan right when she says, “You’re pushing your luck!”?

In the 17th century, a deeply religious and Bible-believing English scientist, Isaac Newton, identified three laws of motion. The third one states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  For instance, when one fires a gun, the action is that a bullet goes flying out the barrel towards its target.  The reaction is that the gun recoils and pushes back against your hand or shoulder.  Another example is that if a billiard ball rolls across the velvet and strikes a second ball, both are affected by the impact.  The action is that the second ball starts moving.  The reaction is that the first ball bounces away in a new direction as a result of the impact.

The spiritual equivalent to Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion is that if you push another person away from you, you also start feeling distant.  In marriage, sometimes without even meaning to do so, a wife might rebuff her husband.  Naturally he feels banished and hurt.  However, what we now understand is that often without even knowing why, she too feels more alienated from him.  The action is her pushing him away.  The reaction is that she feels just as much pushed away in the opposite direction.

The same principle is often found in business relationships and works for positive as well as negative.  For instance, if a merchant does something really nice for a customer, the action is that the customer feels good towards the merchant.  The reaction is that the merchant starts feeling newfound sensations of appreciation towards his customer.

I know I spurned Susan’s advice in writing this Thought Tool on a scientific topic, but Newton’s First Law of Motion explains that without any outside force acting upon it, a body remains at rest.  This means that if you don’t engage the gear and press down on the accelerator, your car will remain stationary.

The spiritual equivalent of this law is that we humans tend towards lethargy unless stimulated to action.  Do you think it possible that with full knowledge of this spiritual law, my smart wife knew that in discouraging me from writing a scientific Thought Tool, she’d actually be goading me towards doing so?  That would be scary.

Ladies, now is your chance to support me by obtaining your own copy of The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah. This audio CD starts with another example of a physical and spiritual law and goes on to cover abortion, child raising, affluence  and so much more. It even explains why the boring ‘begat’ sections of Scripture aren’t boring! Please get it (on sale) right now.

What was Susan thinking? I’ll probably find out when I read the comments.

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?

Avoidable Heartbreak

January 12th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

Most of the time, my daughter doesn’t share details of the overnight shifts that she spends as a nurse in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). Sometimes the care that she and other medical professionals give allow their patients, with God’s grace, to graduate from the ICU on the road to recovery. Other times, she is honored to tend with dignity to those losing the battle for life. Many of her patients are not awake and communicative; she often doesn’t get to uncover the unique individual  hidden behind the person in her charge.

Last week she did share a story. While the natural human emotions of medical professionals need to be controlled for them to do their job, one patient’s plight pierced through my daughter’s defenses. It was not the first time she cared for a young man dying from sickle cell anemia, and his fate upended her equilibrium.

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Are my academic studies a mistake?

January 11th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

Question:

I was wondering what are your thoughts on why modern Universities tend  to support “progressive ideals” and go left. As a conservative on a University completing a postgraduate degree , it seems that  this left leaning culture seems to be increasingly and overtly celebrated on campus. 

Secondly, what is your opinion on the role of a University professor/Academic as a vocation  and how it fits in with the idea that we ought to be obsessively pre-occupied with serving God’s fellow creation? The reason for asking is that the science field I am involved in is largely knowledge/theoretical based rather than service based.

Ken

Answer: 

Dear Ken,

Many excellent books and articles have been written explaining why campuses overwhelmingly tilt Left. They make fascinating reading and we do suggest that if your life is heavily campus-based, you delve into this subject.

In brief, however, as I often explain on my podcast ( https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show ) there are basically only two lenses to reality. One is God-centric and humble while the other is arrogant and secular-materialistic. The former says we’re on this lonely planet because God put us here while the latter takes the position that we’re here by a random accident that makes us nothing more than super-sophisticated chimpanzees.

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Did You Make that Resolution?

January 11th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

Want to lose weight?  Me too.  And so did 84 female housekeepers in seven different hotels who typically clean fifteen rooms a day. They were measured for physiological health variables affected by exercise and then two Harvard University psychologists informed half the women (untruthfully) that their daily work alone constituted enough exercise to make them lose weight and keep healthy.

In 2007, Psychological Science reported that those in the informed group lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, and had significantly healthier body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio while the others had no changes.

What you believe can make your body do amazing things.

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Once Again

January 9th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Chana Beri lost her son Meir during the Yom Kippur war.

She lost her grandson Moshe during the Lebanon War.

Now, she lost her great-grandson Erez Orbach in a terror attack in Jerusalem.

May his memory, and that of his fellow murdered soldiers, be for a blessing and may we merit to live in peace. Amen.

The Bigger and Not Always Better Picture

January 5th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 10 comments

For the past few months I’ve been driving to a class a few times a week. Rather than listening to the radio, I’ve immersed myself in a podcast, Presidential. Lillian Cunningham of the Washington Post began hosting this weekly broadcast 44 weeks before the recent election.  She intended November’s historical event to coincide with her final episode which, I believe, turned out to be quite a surprise to her.

I am only up to Dwight Eisenhower, though I admit that I cheated and jumped ahead to hear the episode on Donald Trump. What have I learned? I’ve certainly learned about presidents like Chester Arthur who existed only on the periphery of my historical knowledge. I’ve learned interesting factoids on better known presidents like Abraham Lincoln. I’ve gotten a view of the sweep of American history through the eyes of the executive branch. Mostly what I’ve learned though, is how many hills and valleys, tragedies and triumphs, twists and turns have dotted our past.  Personal tragedy, illness and assassination along with national and international events and well or poorly chosen appointees helped frequently to make presidents’ achievements differ greatly from the expectations that existed prior to their elections.

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