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We Shall Cower in Our Basements?

I just placed a library hold for a book reviewed in my morning paper. I have no idea when I will be able to pick it up. As in so many cities, our libraries are still closed. Why?

I understand that initially governments responded by closing down areas under their control. Yet, weeks have passed and libraries are still closed. What might have happened if libraries were privately run businesses that existed on yearly subscriptions? If they wanted me to renew my membership, they would realize that encouraging me to use only their download facilities might lead me to decide that my membership was no longer a worthwhile investment. 

Like many stores, private libraries might have organized pick-up appointments. Maybe it was time to resuscitate the idea of traveling librarians, who brought books (sometimes on horseback) to patrons who lived far from the library building.  Perhaps each returned book would be cleaned and put aside for 72 hours before recirculating. Owners and employees of a private business would be brainstorming to find ways to serve their customers. Yet, since the public library system and employees are on a government (read taxpayer) payroll, physical libraries, at least in my area, are simply closed.

I understand that those who are mourning the serious illnesses and deaths of loved ones are overwhelmed by this crisis. But, one of the saddest outcomes, in my opinion, has been the proliferation of fatalistic thinking, the very opposite of a traditional American can-do attitude.

Imagine if previous notable figures in American history were alive today and behaving as their modern counterparts are.  Instead of a General Washington who camped out at Valley Forge with his men during a brutal winter, we would have pictures of him feasting on venison at Mt. Vernon, similar to Nancy Pelosi’s tone-deaf shots of her ice cream selection.

Instead of hearing from Franklin Delano Roosevelt as we faced tough times during the Depression that, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” we would hear, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” I may not agree that President Roosevelt’s solutions helped to end the Depression, but at least he projected confidence in a better future.

On the eve of D Day, General Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Pessimism never won any battle.”  Imagine what might have happened had he told his troops, “Now is the time to fear all that could go wrong.” 

In response to Russian achievements in space, John F. Kennedy said, “…this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Today’s leaders warn us that not only will we not have a vaccine soon, we may never be able to manufacture a reliable one. Life as we knew it, is over.

If you will cross the ocean with me for a moment, can you imagine that instead of Mr. Churchill declaring that “…we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…, he might say, “We must surrender our way of life, we will cower in our basements, we will hide in our homes, we will tremble in fear in the fields and in the streets.” 

Are we facing a challenge in our country and around the world? Certainly, we are. Yet, it is hard to find a time when victory was earned through fear, cowardice and pessimism, the guiding lights for far too many of today’s media voices and politicians.

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Children Raising Mothers

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

While discussing the role of the Levites, Numbers 3:4 mentions Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu who had previously died.  The verse says:

“Nadav and Avihu died before God when they offered an alien fire before God in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children…”

This verse makes it seem as if they died for two reasons; first, for bringing a sacrifice they shouldn’t have and second because they didn’t have children. What is that about? 

The Chassam Sofer, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, explains why their not having children contributed to their deaths.  Having and raising children is the ultimate path to self-development.  I have a friend who has a blog about her homeschooling family.  Her motto is “Homeschooling builds character….In the mother.”  She is so right, but it isn’t just homeschooling, it’s parenting.  Raising children forces us, their parents, to stretch and grow way beyond any measure we did before having children.  You thought you had cultivated the character trait of patience when you were in high school?  Wait until you’ve been kvetched (whined, complained) to all day long and then you get woken up right after you’ve fallen asleep.  That’s when you begin to learn about patience! 

Nadav and Avihu never had children and so they weren’t the best versions of themselves that they could be.  They weren’t as sensitive to appropriate and inappropriate behavior as they would have been had they been through the great character development program called having children.  And so, in a way, the fact that they didn’t have children was a key factor in the mistakes they made that caused their deaths.

And so, my friends, each time we feel challenged or stretched beyond our comfort zones by our children, each time we grow by being the adult in the room, by acting with greater wisdom and maturity than we thought we could, our children are the ones making that growth possible.  We thought we helped our children grow and develop, but the Chasam Sofer reminds us that our children also help us grow and develop.  It is their immaturity, their neediness, their constant watchful presence that spurs us higher and higher helping us become our greatest selves.

I wish you a beautiful day of love and joy with your children, a day where we and our kids will grow together higher and higher.

Susan’s note: While Rebecca’s words are spoken and written for mothers, I would like to add a few words in case these words spread beyond that group. God does not bless everyone with children, including those who yearn to raise a family. This piece of ancient Jewish wisdom does not condemn anyone who is childless to a life of stagnation or immaturity. It does highlight that, just as someone who is blind cultivates other senses to compensate for the lack of sight, someone without children must recognize that there is a lack of certain opportunities and find other means to achieve the goal of growth that having children most easily provides.

Being a recipient of kindness

Friends of ours have blessed us with a huge mitzvah during a difficult health challenge.  How does one acknowledge something so abundant and beyond helpful?  We, at the moment, do not have the means to reciprocate.

Any direction would be greatly appreciated!

Kind regards,

Stacy

Dear Stacy,

Our best wishes are with you as you go through this health challenge. Your question, however, is one that faces most well-adjusted people at various times. We say well-adjusted because, unfortunately, there are those who choose unhappiness by cultivating an attitude that they are entitled to the gifts of the world, as represented by their fellow citizens, community and family. They are ungrateful “takers” and do not recognize that living successfully requires us to be givers as well as takers. Above all, we need to express gratitude frequently and regularly. Takers miss out by being unaware of these ideas.. 

That does not describe you. Circumstances right now put you on the receiving end and, while you appreciate the help, you are uncomfortable being in that situation. If we may, we’d like to correct your misuse of the word “mitzvah.” A mitzvah is the Hebrew word meaning one of God’s commandments. What your friends blessed you with is a CHeSeD—an act of loving-kindness (and one of the oft-misunderstood words we explore in our book, Buried Treasure). 

It can be very hard for those of us who prefer being on the giving end to be recipients instead. Sometimes, we are comfortable doing so when we know that the tables will be turned such as when we gratefully accept a homemade meal when we have a newborn in the house. You certainly don’t hope for the tables to be turned in your case. In fact, there may never be a way for you to reciprocate on the level of the chesed that you received.

This calls for a new experience of soul-expansion. You cannot respond in kind, however, you can learn the skill of gracious acceptance. It actually is a skill that is probably in your repertoire already as you recognize all the blessings that God showers on you and that you have no way to “repay.”

Certainly, a heartfelt thank-you letter and remembering these friends in your prayers is something you can do. The harder thing is to allow them to give to you without letting the relationship be strained by awkwardness. Abandon the idea of reciprocity. These friends are using the gifts God granted them in a good and proper way and you are the vehicle through which they are doing so. In effect, they are doing a mitzva (fulfilling God’s commandment to care for His other children) by acting towards you with chesed (loving-kindness).

Sometimes, we simply must accept being in the position of accepting help. Often, we cannot “pay back” the help we received and we cannot pay it forward in exactly the same way. We can only use our own gifts and skills to give in whatever way we can at any given time. That may be as simple as offering a smile to the tired nurse taking care of us at the end of a long shift (actually, not a simple thing at all when we are worried and in pain). When, please God, you have come through this medical challenge, you will be able to expand your own giving to others with added sensitivity and empathy. You will not be keeping score expecting those you benefit to reciprocate; you will be grateful that you can be on the giving end.

Wishing you complete healing,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Cave Grave

I love boating along coastal British Columbia. Occasionally, we spot First Nation burial apparatus, a box or platform, often a canoe, into which the departed is placed and which is then perched upon high stilts or wedged into tree forks.

The Choctaws buried their dead by leaving them atop a high scaffold. Eskimos placed their departed beneath piles of rocks.  In much of Asia, corpses were burned as a final rite and the popularity of cremation spread far and wide.  Egyptians placed their departed in pyramids while others preferred vast above-ground mausoleums.   

When Sarah, the wife of Abraham died, Abraham didn’t place her body in a tree or under a heap of rocks.  He certainly didn’t burn it.  Instead, he said to the locals:

…entreat for me to Ephron the son of Tzochar…that he give me the cave of MaCHPeLah…as a burying place…
(Genesis 23:8-9)

The first Scriptural account of a burial follows:

 …Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of MaCHPeLah…
(Genesis 23:19).

 Later we read about the burial of Abraham.

 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of MaCHPeLah, in the field of Ephron the son of Tzochar…
(Genesis 25:9)

 Subsequently, Isaac and his wife Rebecca were buried in that cave, as were Jacob and Leah.

When Abraham negotiated his purchase of the cave from Ephron the son of Tzochar, it was only the second mention of a cave in the Bible.  The first was the cave in which Lot and his two daughters sought refuge as Sodom was being destroyed.

 Lot went up out of Tzoar…and his two daughters…and he lived in a cave, he and his two daughters.
(Genesis 19:30)

Not only did Abraham choose to place his kin to rest in the same kind of location as the one in which Lot and his daughters took refuge but the name of the father of the seller of Abraham’s cave, TzoCHaR, strongly resembles the town from which Lot departed for the cave, TzoAR.

Tz-o-A-R and Tz-o-CH-a-R share their first and last letters, tzadi and reish, which respectively have the sounds of TZ and R.

צ   ר

   R   TZ 

In God’s language, where each letter and word has vast hidden meaning, words that start and end with these letters relate to the concept of narrowness, confinement, pain and restriction.

Lot and his daughters stopped in a place named for having the quality of TzAR as they escaped Sodom (Genesis 19:20-23), but leave it for the promise of a cave. Abraham acquired a cave from the possession of a man called TzochaR, expanding its quality from simply being a cave to becoming an eternal burial place. What is going on here?

Both caves served as temporary abodes while future events took shape.  In one cave, Lot and one of his daughters lay the foundations for the eventual birth of Ruth, ancestress of King David.  In the other cave, the founding fathers and mothers of Israel lie until the ultimate redemption when death is undone and eternal life is resumed.

Similar meaning of future promise attaches to all other Biblical caves such as that in which David did not kill Saul (I Samuel 24:6-7), in which Obadiah hid the prophets from Jezebel (I Kings 18:4) and in which Elijah hid (I Kings 19:9).  Not surprisingly, the root meaning of the Hebrew word cave, MeARah, is awaken!

מ  ע  ר  ה = cave
     ע  ר = awake

As a seed is placed in the ground only in anticipation of the green living plant that will eventually spring forth, so do people enter Biblical caves.  In ancient Jewish wisdom, a grave is no more than a personal private cave in which to await the ultimate deliverance.

It would be hard to overstate the depth of meaning that springs from Hebrew. In our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, we share powerful, practical and moving insights from dozens of Hebrew words along with tips on understanding the language itself. Give the young (and young at heart) ones in your life the added advantage of familiarity with the Hebrew alphabet with Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet. Take advantage of the sale on both these books to acquire them for yourself and those you wish to bless.

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Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s LanguageAleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

Reprinted from 2013

THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Cave Grave May 18, 2020 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - I love boating along coastal British Columbia. Occasionally, we spot First Nation burial apparatus, a box or platform, often a canoe, into which the departed is placed and which is then perched upon high stilts or wedged into tree forks. The Choctaws buried their dead by leaving them atop a high scaffold. Eskimos placed their… Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • Being a recipient of kindness May 20, 2020 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - Friends of ours have blessed us with a huge mitzvah during a difficult health challenge.  How does one acknowledge something so abundant and beyond helpful?  We, at the moment, do not have the means to reciprocate. Any direction would be greatly appreciated! Kind regards, Stacy Dear Stacy, Our best wishes are with you as you… Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • We Shall Cower in Our Basements? May 21, 2020 by Susan Lapin - I just placed a library hold for a book reviewed in my morning paper. I have no idea when I will be able to pick it up. As in so many cities, our libraries are still closed. Why? I understand that initially governments responded by closing down areas under their control. Yet, weeks have passed… 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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