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Parents Living in Fear

I often stand in awe of Israeli technology. This tiny country is the source of an unusual number of innovative, life-improving and life-saving techniques. However, not all innovation, brilliant as it may be, is positive.

I watched the following video highlighting a new product that lets babies “speak” to their parents. No more guessing whether your baby is cold or hungry, tired or thirsty—hook baby up to this AI-powered device and it will tell you!

At this point, I was figuratively shouting at my computer, “There already is such a device. God created it and it’s known as a mother or father.” What I was seeing was another nail in the coffin of parents trusting themselves and taking the time to learn their baby’s unique cries and responses.

But it got worse. The video went on to explain how this artificial intelligence gadget would give early warning about heart or breathing difficulties. It would let you know if there was a spike in temperature, perhaps reminding you that you left your baby in a hot car.  It would inform you if your baby was being abused by a caregiver.

Tragedies happen. And, yes, a device like this might prevent some tragedies. But, in my estimation, it will lead to more. Putting her purse in the back seat so that she remembers that her baby is in the car seat empowers a mother to protect her child. Trusting a machine to tell you there is a problem breeds both constant anxiety as well as dangerous mindlessness.

Suddenly losing a baby because of an undiagnosed health problem is heartbreaking. Living in constant fear of that happening slowly chips away at one’s happiness and mental health. Being given, even slightly,  the suggestion that you are a negligent parent if you don’t buy a certain product and the idea that you should drown in guilt if something bad happens is devastating.

Life is uncertain. Life holds risks. Loving someone with your whole heart, such as one’s children, means being vulnerable. It also means having a life filled with joy and meaning. Today’s trend of terrifying parents by emphasizing dangers that are inherent in being alive is not a positive innovation.

The Who-Is-A-Nazi Parlor Game

For those of us under the age of 100, the name of journalist and radio commentator Dorothy Thompson may not ring a bell. Yet, when her picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1939, the accompanying article compared her influence to that of Eleanor Roosevelt. A few years earlier while working in Germany, Ms. Thompson had interviewed Hitler. Her uncomplimentary write-ups about him made her the first American journalist to be expelled from that country as the Nazis ascended to power.

This is to say that her article published in Harper’s Magazine in 1941 entitled “Who Goes Nazi” bears attention. Ms. Thompson creates an imaginary party at which she divides the mingling guests into four categories. She tags them as, “…the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers,” as well as those,  “who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.”

She asserts that being a Nazi is not a matter of nationality or ethnicity. She is using the word Nazi as a shorthand for those who, while they may be educated and sophisticated, are capable of and likely to buy into an ideology of hate, cruelty and destruction. In this experiment, Jews can be Nazis and Aryans can fall into her last, noble category. In an imaginary party that she posits, Ms. Thompson goes around the room, putting each guest into one of the four categories. While she elucidates her thinking throughout the article, she writes that she sees a generation rising that is ripe for becoming Nazis. As she says of this youth, “His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.”

Doesn’t that sound like a good description of many university students (and members of Congress) today?

While Dorothy Thompson is long gone, Professor Robert P. George is, thankfully, alive and active. A professor of jurisprudence and the director of the James Madison program at Princeton University, you would do well to become familiar with his writings.

My husband is honored to consider him a friend, and recently Professor George shared his own experiment. He sometimes asks his students if, had they been white Southerners before abolition, they would have participated in the fight against slavery.  Amazingly, each and every student insists that he or she would have done so.

With more maturity, wisdom and honesty, Professor George knows that this is rubbish. He proceeds to tell them that he will accept their answers if they can point to a situation in their own lives where they risked social alienation and professional and economic damages for standing up for unpopular victims of injustice.

That is the equivalent of asking them to follow in the path of John Adams defending the British soldiers of the Boston Massacre or of those who provided a safe space on the Underground Railway in the 1800s risking jail, physical harm and/or damage to their property. In today’s terms, it might mean being one of the tens of thousands who post their messages on the #Walkaway movement page. Getting applause by virtue signaling that you are racist because of your skin color or that you support BLM doesn’t cut it.

The question is not why all good people did not assist runaway slaves or hide Jews during the Holocaust. I certainly do not know that I would have done so. Not surprisingly, in Nazi-occupied Europe, people’s responses differed in countries where the penalty for hiding Jews was jail vs. countries where the penalty was being sent to a concentration camp or watching your children murdered before your eyes. While I venerate those who risked their lives to save others, I do not know if I would rise to their level. I think it more likely that, especially as a mother having to put her children’s lives on the line, I would not. I’m not being modest; I’m being honest. However, that is highly problematic. What in blessedly quiet times is prudence may, in momentous times, be cowardice. What calls for discretion in quiet times can demand reckless courage in consequential times.

Recently, author Izabella Tabarovsky wrote about an oft-shared quote by Sergei Dovlatov. He was a Soviet dissident before the communist regime collapsed. (Full disclosure: I had no idea who he was until I read her article.) It seems that Mr. Dovlatov’s words are often quoted pointing out that cursing Stalin for his murderous and evil regime is fine, but Stalin could not have done what he did had millions of ordinary people not been willing to denounce their co-workers, neighbors and relatives.

Neither Hitler nor Stalin nor Mao built their following by saying that they wanted to murder millions or that their policies would lead to ruin and poverty for their nations. They spoke of valor and brotherhood, of fairness and undoing the wrongs of the past. Step by step, they built a culture of fear and punishment.

I recently read a question from an individual who didn’t know how to respond to a message from senior management announcing that, on a specific day, everyone at work would wear a t-shirt the office was providing that said, “Black Lives Matter.” The writer was asking what he should do. He judges the political BLM movement to be anti-American, anti-freedom and dangerous. Yet, not wearing the shirt would most likely damage his chances for promotion if not altogether cause him to lose his job. Most of those who responded to his dilemma urged him to call in sick. I certainly do not have the moral fortitude or virtue to recommend that he take a stand, but I fear that all of us are increasingly being called upon to do exactly that.

I don’t risk my job by writing these words, though admittedly, during the Obama administration the American Alliance of Jews and Christians and we personally received more tax audits than one might expect. Paraphrasing Dorothy Thompson, people with dark skin can be racist and those with white skin can champion true freedom and love for all. Among those who speak of an end to racism are those who are actually saying, “I suffered and now it’s my turn to make others suffer.” There are also those who see a vehicle they can use to advance their personal fortunes. These are not the majority by any means, but their violence and evil are enabled by those who do not speak against them.

Were she alive, Ms. Thompson might call these haters the “natural racists.”  Many more people fall into the category of those, “whom democracy itself has created, [and] the certain-to-be fellow-travelers…” As Sergei Dovlatov pointed out, just as slavery and Jim Crow laws existed for too long because even those who were horrified by them did not necessarily speak up, the cancel culture that is poised to end freedom of speech and expression in America cannot win if only the truly racist, power-hungry and hate-filled advocate for it. That, my friends, lays the burden upon us.

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Inheritance Conflict

Dear Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin,

This question pertains to executing my recently deceased mother’s will.  FYI, she was larger than life, the most humble person I have ever known, calm in any crisis and lived to 91 years old.  One of my sisters and I are the executors.  I have four living sisters as well as my deceased sister’s grown children to consider.  When my mom sold her house four years ago she deposited the proceeds ($115,000.00) into a credit union account that was managed by a different sister.  Mom moved into a senior apartment and this sister eventually took over all of mom’s finances when mom started to lose some cognitive abilities a couple years ago.

Long story short is my co-executor and I firmly believe there should be considerably more money in the account, upwards of $20K, as mom had monthly income that covered most of her rent. My question is this, should we do forensic accounting to look to see exactly what happened or just drop it completely.  I think of the proverb, kings will seek out a matter but God would conceal it.  If it were true I do not wish to see the blood drain from my sisters face.  I and my co-executor do not need the money, but others do including sisters and nephews.  It is difficult to see a good outcome if we research the matter.  If nothing is amiss we will have guilt for accusing falsely and if it’s true then there will be bad blood even if money is recouped.  I’m hoping you have another way to see this.

My Deepest Respect,

Lou

Dear Lou,

Is it any wonder that inheritance conflicts appear early in the book of Genesis and continue through the book of Kings? (Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, the children of King David among others) Whether we are talking about inheriting a blessing, a royal succession, or if there is strife over objects and money, anger and enmity too frequently follow the death of a parent.

The most important reason that we chose this question of yours to answer in our ‘Ask the Rabbi’ column is to try and help other families in the future. Ideally, a sibling who either bears the bulk of the physical care for a parent or who monitors finances should be financially compensated. Specifically as it relates to finances, it is a time-consuming job to keep track of expenditures and document money transactions. The person doing so should receive a salary so that the effort taken to keep an accounting record is compensated.  That way, the financial care-taker can—and should be expected to—diligently keep all siblings aware of all that is happening.

However, hindsight is 20-20. You accurately note that you and your co-executor are in a lose/lose situation. Even approaching your sister in a non-confrontational way basically says that you doubt her honesty. Not approaching her leaves the two of you, and possibly your other siblings as well, potentially feeling resentful and mistrusting.   It looks as if this is a minimize-your-losses situation.  We agree with you when you say, “It is difficult to see a good outcome if we research the matter. If nothing is amiss we will have guilt for accusing falsely and if it’s true then there will be bad blood even if money is recouped.”

In our experience, we have sometimes seen the uncompensated, care-taking sibling tell himself that he is entitled to cover some of his own expenses incurred in taking care of mom or dad’s finances. That is actually a valid point but needs to be discussed openly. At worst, one thing leads to another. In this kind of situation, accusation and perhaps even confirmation usually lead to the recovery of exactly zero. And relationships have been irretrievably ruined.

Your challenge becomes how to manage your own emotions to allow you to walk away with no resentment and to help your co-executor come to feel the same way. It might help if you consider your own culpability in allowing this awkwardness to go on for the past couple of years. We understand that you felt grateful and relieved that one sibling was taking care of it all, but you neglected to set things up in a businesslike fashion. Thus you could see the present situation as almost just recompense for your negligence. Thinking about this might make it easier for you to say, “Lesson learned, and even though I might be paying a high tuition cost, I won’t do it again.”  This way you allow family relationships to survive. You might even decide along with another more affluent sibling or two, to help out those who might have been depending upon a slightly larger legacy.

Over a period of four years, $20,000 seems to be just over $400 a month. Are you aware of all the expenses excluding housing? Can the two of you imagine a scenario that accounts for that money? The more you can explain the missing money in your own mind, whether or not it is a correct explanation, the more peace of mind you will have. Here are three that we can concoct. Perhaps your mother, in her healthier days, made monthly charity contributions and your sister continued her wishes? Could there have been expenditures for special mattresses and other items that made your mother’s last years more comfortable? Were there any legal or medical fees of which you might be unaware?

You and your siblings seem to have been blessed by a special and wonderful mother. Surely, the last thing she wishes as she observes you from Heaven is to see your family quarrel and separate. As much as some of your sisters and nieces and nephews might benefit from extra money, having a harmonious and loving family is even more important.

We should add that if truly life-transforming sums of money were involved, our answer might possibly (and only possibly) be different, but honestly, the numbers as we understand them are not life-changing.  Were you to rip the family apart over them, at the end of the day you’d probably tell yourself how willingly you would have forfeited those few thousand dollars not to have endured the family breakup.

Your question doesn’t even touch on emotional issues such as dividing up treasured belongings. All parents should make as clear as possible how they want their estates handled. Surely, for all of us, our wish to leave behind a strong and united family that projects our values into the future is far more important than any physical object or bank account.

We are sorry for your loss and hope your family shares many joyous occasions.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

The inheritance conflict between
Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau
continues to this day.
How much can you understand from the Biblical account?

Clash of Destiny: Decoding the Secrets of Israel and Islam

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Keep it Simple

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ Post by Rebecca Masinter

Deuteronomy 18:13 says, “You should be tamim with Hashem your God.”  Tamim is a difficult Hebrew word to understand. It is alternatively translated as simple, blameless or perfect. None of these capture the whole picture. One of the main transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, known as Rashi, beautifully discusses this Hebrew word. His elucidation here is especially appropriate considering that the verses surrounding this one deal with the forbidden practices of magic and sorcery.

We are not to try to uncover the future, to predict it, or stress about it.  Rather we are supposed to look to God as the one who gives us each moment, and we should accept each moment as it is, with simplicity.  At one and the same time, plan, work and strive for the future while also trusting in the moment. While “simple” has a negative connotation in English, simplicity is a different ball game. Here it is clearly intended as a lofty aspirational value. This is such a powerful statement and such a challenging concept. 

This idea may be especially challenging for mothers.  After all, we are the ones who are responsible for the future generation!  Surely we need to worry about the future!  Surely if anyone has a right to feel anxious about what is coming down the line it is a parent whose job is to raise a child for the future!  But, no.  Apparently, that isn’t our job.  Yes, we build for the future.  Yes, we do our best to help each child be prepared for his future.  But no, we don’t run in circles and try and make the future unfold the way we want it to.  No, we don’t get anxious or stressed about what will be.  We try to accept with simplicity everything that God brings upon us in the moment.

I’d like to suggest one reason why I think this idea is challenging for some of us and what we can do about it.  I think mothers tend to extrapolate from today’s reality and worry that what is today will always be the reality.  You know what I mean, don’t you?  For example, a mother who is worried that her son is bored in school can very quickly assume this means he will always be bored in school. Before you know it, her mind has jumped to what will happen if he’s bored in school forever: what if he starts disrupting the class, maybe he’ll be kicked out of class, eventually he’ll be kicked out of school, he’ll end up in the streets and be estranged from God.  All these calamities can run through a mother’s head simply because her son told her he was bored in his first week of school. 

Or maybe a mother got a call from her child’s teacher that her daughter was mean to a classmate today. That mother’s brain can jump right from today’s instance to the whole future of this child, worrying about what this means in a much bigger, more general way than the incident requires.

I think a message we can take from this verse is to accept life as it unfolds and let God take care of foreseeing the future and bringing it about.

Walking this way with God, not stressing about the future, is also a great lesson to teach our children.  Especially as anxiety in children has skyrocketed in recent years, this may be a lesson we want to consciously teach them over and over.  We can share with our children that we can trust in God and accept what He gives us at this moment without worrying about the next moment.  It’s truly a lofty vision, but one that will help our children day today just as much as it helps us.

I want to thank each one of you who has reached out to me to tell me you appreciate the ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ column.  It really means a lot to me when I hear that you are reading and enjoying it.

 

THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Character, Not Curriculum June 30, 2020 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - Sometimes, the passage of time makes things crystal clear. It is obvious today that there is no link between education and wisdom and, furthermore, no link between hours spent in school and education. Scores of college students and graduates constantly reveal their ignorance about basic concepts of American history, democracy and the Constitution on a… Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • Inheritance Conflict July 7, 2020 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - Dear Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin, This question pertains to executing my recently deceased mother's will.  FYI, she was larger than life, the most humble person I have ever known, calm in any crisis and lived to 91 years old.  One of my sisters and I are the executors.  I have four living sisters as well… Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • The Who-Is-A-Nazi Parlor Game July 8, 2020 by Susan Lapin - For those of us under the age of 100, the name of journalist and radio commentator Dorothy Thompson may not ring a bell. Yet, when her picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1939, the accompanying article compared her influence to that of Eleanor Roosevelt. A few years earlier while working in Germany,… Read More

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About Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, popular international speaker and best-selling author. He hosts the Rabbi Daniel Lapin podcast as well as co-hosting the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show on the TCT network with his wife, Susan. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner, thus improving peoples’ finances, family and community life  has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.

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