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Are You a Pious Pushover?

Anyone who spends any time in neighborhoods populated by Bible-believing, religiously inclined people, knows that, for the most part, such people are kinder, gentler, more empathetic and more compassionate than the general population.  Sometimes, however, unselfish behavior can morph into unwarranted meekness and timidity.

Here are five questions that might help determine if you have allowed your own goodness to be exploited by others less restrained than you.

  • Do you always deflect adversarial encounters?
  • Is being liked more important than standing your ground?
  • Do you often tell yourself, “I’m just too tired to argue”?
  • Do you frequently resent how “pushy people” seem to get their way and pride yourself on not being pushy?
  • Do you sometimes feel embarrassed after standing firm and ‘winning’?

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of those questions, what’s to be done?  As usual, ancient Jewish wisdom points to the Bible for help.  Remember that we learn as much from the flaws of Biblical personalities as we do from their greatness.

My wife, Susan, attends a weekly Bible class she greatly values. In one class, the rabbi  described the patriarch Jacob using the phrase ‘conflict-averse.’  Seeking peace, the rabbi explained, is be a wonderful thing to do most of the time but taken to an extreme, it can lead us down the wrong path. This was a failing of Jacob’s. I would like to impart some of what Susan learned along with some additional truths from ancient Jewish wisdom.

Looking at Jacob in Genesis 32 as he prepares to meet Esau, Jacob has sent messengers and gifts to the brother whom he worries is coming towards him with animosity.  Then he settles down for the night.

On that night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions.  And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. 
(Genesis 32:23-25)

Mystery #1:  After the camp settles down for the night, why does he wake everyone up?

Mystery #2:  Why did God send an adversarial angel to detain Jacob in struggle all the night? (Genesis 32:25-30)

Mystery #3:  When he does meet with Esau, why is there only one camp when earlier Jacob thought of dividing his camp in two so that, if attacked, at least one camp might survive? (Genesis 32:8)

It seems that, at the last minute, Jacob changed his plans. Rather than facing Esau, he contemplated avoiding him. To that end, he has everyone retreat across the river.  In the last minute disorganization, he is temporarily alone and God sends an angel to struggle with him.

By the time dawn comes and Jacob disengages from the angel,  Esau unexpectedly materializes right in Jacob’s path. (Genesis 33:1) God defeated Jacob’s plan to evade the confrontation by keeping him busy through the night and speeding up Esau’s travel.

This was only one example of Jacob’s tendency to avoid conflict. 

Earlier, Jacob who had legitimately purchased the birthright from his older brother Esau, doesn’t question his mother’s decision to trick his father, Isaac, into believing that he was Esau.  While Rebecca acted with prophecy, Jacob was quick to acquiesce in order to avoid confrontation and conflict.

He did the same thing when instead of confronting his deceitful father-in-law, Lavan, and telling him he was leaving, Jacob snuck away.  (Genesis 31:8)

We see the pattern again when Jacob’s daughter Dina is raped.  Rather than plan the necessary retribution, Jacob doesn’t even castigate the perpetrator but merely waits for his sons to return home.  (Genesis 34:5)

Later on, we will see this tendency again. When Joseph recounts his disturbing dreams provoking jealous fury among his brothers, instead of settling things with his sons then and there, Jacob avoided conflict and merely put the thought away in his memory.  (Genesis 37:11)

Similarly, although he knows something is wrong when the brothers show him Joseph’s bloody coat, as we see by the fact that he stays in an active state of bereavement for years, he doesn’t push his sons to tell him the truth. (Genesis 37:34)

From examining each of Jacob’s experiences we see that it is the emotion of fear that underlies his all-too-human tendency to avoid conflict. In fact, Genesis 32:8  states that Jacob was afraid. He wasn’t a coward; his fear was for his family and also fear of harming his brother should a fight ensue. Both concerns were praiseworthy, but giving in to them was not. Throughout his life, had Jacob faced his fears, we could see each event turn out more satisfactorily than it did. 

Sometimes, rather than face the fact that we are unworthily yielding to fear, we deliberately mislead ourselves into believing that we are avoiding conflict on account of our virtue.  While there are certainly occasions on which to yield in the name of peace, we must be on guard not to yield on account of our own fears of conflict.  Most times, avoiding today’s conflict almost guarantees worse and unavoidable strife tomorrow. In fact, ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Jacob was unnecessarily subservient to Esau when they did meet again, causing his descendants problems.

The best antidote to becoming a pious pushover is to remember that it nearly always results in bigger problems.  Nowhere is this clearer than contemporary news headlines concerning Israel and Islam.  Each time Israel yields in the hope of generating goodwill the problems mount.  Whenever Israel displays firm resolve, the situation improves or at least does not deteriorate. 

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A “Your Mother’s Guidance” post by Rebecca Masinter

The book of Exodus ends with the completion and assembly of the Tabernacle.  The description of assembling the materials, building the vessels, and sewing the tapestries and clothing for the Priests are in the active tense, “and he made,” “and he placed,” with one exception.  Verse 40:17 says,  “And it was in the first month of the second year on the first of the month that the Tabernacle was erected.”  The actual assembly of the Tabernacle is said in a passive voice, “was erected.”

Why? Ancient Jewish wisdom describes that after the children of Israel brought all the components of the Tabernacle to Moses it was time to assemble it.  God wanted to give Moses the honor of actually assembling the Tabernacle but the planks and pieces were so huge and heavy that Moses knew it was impossible for a human being to lift them and put them in place.

As ancient Jewish wisdom beautifully states, Moses said before God, “How can it be erected by a human being?” 

God said to him, “You do your part—make an attempt so it looks as if you’re doing it, and it will rise and be assembled by itself.”

And that is why the verse says, “…the Tabernacle was erected” in a passive voice. It assembled itself.

Wow!  I’m going to share with you an idea that I would have rejected as a mother of young children, but has become very dear to me as they have grown older.  We put in our effort.  We make an enormous effort to parent well, to be good mothers.  And that is our responsibility. We have to make our attempts. To the rest of the world it may look as if we are raising our children!  But the truth is that just as it appeared as if Moses was lifting the Tabernacle and it was really happening independently of him, the development of our children is really independent of us.  The outcome of how our children turn out, what type of person they become—that is up to God. 

I have a friend who went to speak to a Torah scholar about one of her children who was born with innate behavioral challenges. Despite years of various efforts and therapies, my friend was still very concerned about what would be with this child in adulthood.  The Torah sage told her, “That’s not your concern.  You put in your effort to be a good mother.  You make an effort to research doctors, providers, and treatments within reason, and that is all!  What will be with him and who he will become is not dependent on your actions.  That is up to God.” 

Our children’s successes are not due to us, and our children’s struggles and failures are not ours either.  Our job as mothers is about effort;  the outcome is independent of us and dependent on God (and the child’s own input).

This is really a mind-blowing idea and it may not resonate with each of you, and that’s okay.  For me, it resonates.  We put in our best efforts, do our best and have faith in God who can bring about the results without our help, in the same way as the Tabernacle was assembled.

Twinkling Talent

Please don’t tell the budding musicians in my family but, while I go to their first concerts out of love for them, the music isn’t all that great. Hot Cross Buns and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star grow old rather quickly, especially when played by novice violinists and violists.

This past Sunday, I went to a cello concert, once again motivated by love. This time, the performers, who only a few years ago debuted with the songs mentioned above, provided the audience with a rewarding musical experience. We heard the music of JS Bach and Saint-Saens, Bruch (my grandson’s piece) and Paganini. While not yet quite concert-level performers, these young teenagers’ playing revealed the hours of disciplined practice they have invested. It was a delightful ninety minutes.

There was much to admire. The teachers and parents’ dedication and the youths’ hard work and love for music all obviously deserve praise. But something else jumped out at me as well. The five young men and two young women who performed came from different ethnic, religious, economic and racial groups. In addition to their perseverance and talent, they shared something else in common, something that used to be taken for granted but no longer is. Looking around the audience of relatives and friends (and one woman I spoke to who came because she loves music), I saw mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. And I realized that many teenagers today don’t have that extended family network to cheer them on.

There are the teens whose mothers decided to have a child on their own, depriving their offspring not only of a father but of one set of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins as well. There are the teens who had one parent walk out of their life when a marriage ended—and those whose parents never married to begin with—where one parent didn’t want the responsibility of a child. Certainly, there are fortunate teens whose extended families widen to include step-parents and additional loved ones, but they are outnumbered by those who have fewer adult figures in their lives than biology would suggest. In most cases, the missing figures are men.

There are more than a few foolish women who argue that men aren’t necessary in a child’s life. The entire (false) concept that pregnancy is an issue of “a woman’s body–a woman’s choice”  has been drilled into the culture suggesting that anything other than a man’s biological contribution is superfluous. The idea that any and every variation of family is equivalent is so widespread, that I rejoiced not only in the euphonious music but also in the web of love and support that surrounded these young musicians.

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Can pork ever be kosher?

Jews can’t eat pig because it’s a scavenger and eats the dead therefore unclean. If the pig is farm raised it doesn’t eat the dead so would it be clean to eat?

Miguel

Dear Miguel,

We are choosing to answer your question because you are in not alone in your misconception about kosher food. The mistake you make is quite common, but it is based on a completely incorrect basic premise.

Not eating pig has nothing to do with it being a scavenger. The prohibition is based on Leviticus 11:7 where God specifically forbids it with no reason given. That animal is singled out and mentioned by name because it has one of the two signs that mark an animal as kosher.  Pigs have split hooves but do not chew the cud.

This prohibition is, for example, different from the injunction not to harvest the produce of the land of Israel during the Shmittah cycle every seven years (Exodus 23:11). In that case, Israel has developed a healthy industry in hydroponics growing crops in glass houses and in large trays of water. Carrots, as one example, aren’t the problem; the problem is only carrots grown in the earth during that special seventh year. Not so with the pig —regardless of how it is raised, the animal is forbidden, end of discussion.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explores the difference between God’s laws that a rational society might eventually understand on its own and those laws that human beings would never intuit. Laws against stealing or murder seem to make sense to us, while committees could meet for years and not come up with not mixing wool and flax (Leviticus 19:19). The important thing to understand is that, whether or not we understand or can think of benefits of these laws, we follow them because they are God’s laws.

We find it interesting that today there is even controversy over those laws that civilized people once upon a time accepted.  As our society moves further from the Biblical vision we find much discord about abortion, euthanasia,  capital punishment and increasingly vocally about redistributing property.  We don’t all intuitively know and agree on the correct paths.

The bottom line is that we try, to the best of our abilities and to the extent that we can control our weaknesses, to follow God’s word. Part of that word tells us that no matter how healthy, clean, tasty or economical pork is, it is not going to be part of our diet.

Hoping that, like us, you get to enjoy all the wonderful and tasty food permitted,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Are You a Pious Pushover? March 19, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin- Anyone who spends any time in neighborhoods populated by Bible-believing, religiously inclined people, knows that, for the most part, such people are kinder, gentler, more empathetic and more compassionate than the general population.  Sometimes, however, unselfish behavior can morph into unwarranted meekness and timidity. Here are five questions that might help determine if you have… Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • Can pork ever be kosher? March 12, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin- Jews can’t eat pig because it’s a scavenger and eats the dead therefore unclean. If the pig is farm raised it doesn’t eat the dead so would it be clean to eat? Miguel Dear Miguel, We are choosing to answer your question because you are in not alone in your misconception about kosher food. The… Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Twinkling Talent March 14, 2019 by Susan Lapin- Please don’t tell the budding musicians in my family but, while I go to their first concerts out of love for them, the music isn’t all that great. Hot Cross Buns and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star grow old rather quickly, especially when played by novice violinists and violists. This past Sunday, I went to a… Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • On California’s Radical Policies March 7, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin- We loved this line from Professor Charles R. Kesler in the Wall Street Journal and thought you would enjoy it too: "Karl Marx called his kind of socialism "scientific," as opposed to his predecessors' "utopian" fantasies. California appears to be pioneering a third kind, which might be called "infantile."  Our Democrats strongly suspect their programs… 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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