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Pearl Harbor, Chanukah and the Greatest Generation

Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. Because its date depends on the lunar rather than the solar calendar, in some years, Chanukah overlaps with Thanksgiving while on others it coincides with Christmas. This year, the fifth day of Chanukah lines up with the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In a special prayer we say each day of Chanukah we thank God for handing victory to a small, dedicated group who went to battle against the mightiest empire of the day. As part of that battle, they also faced internal opposition from the Hellenists, who were Jews who succumbed to the appeal of Greek culture.  These Hellenistic Jews wanted their faithful brethren also to abandon God.

An unusual rule surrounds the lights of Chanukah that are kindled each of the eight nights of the holiday. Before you can light the flames, there must already be light in the room. The Chanukah lights cannot be used for utilitarian purposes. The menorah beckons us to have vision, not to limit ourselves to what is within our sight. Before we can tap into the miracle of oil that burned beyond its physical ability, we have to prepare the room.

Winston Churchill recognized the tragedy at Pearl Harbor as the turning point in efforts to beat back a Nazi regime that was spreading darkness and evil across Europe. Like so many of their generation, President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, who came to honor him this week, answered the call to defend their country and its ideals. Comrades who did not survive the war were not granted the same opportunity for sterling careers, as well as children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Veterans likely felt the need to be worthy of the blessing of life so many of their peers were not granted.

Whether we think of the Maccabees 2,179 years ago or Americans joining the Allied forces seventy-seven years ago, war takes a devastating toll. Later generations reap the rewards of victory, frequently not only taking those rewards for granted but often despising them. This year Chanukah and December 7th overlap and our focus has been drawn by the funeral of President Bush to the ‘Greatest Generation’.  Let us resolve to provide whatever light we can in what often seems like a dark world, as we keep in mind the greater vision and ask God to redeem us once again.

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Is Airbnb anti-Semitic?

I’m currently an AirBnB host to earn extra money (I don’t need the extra income).  Recently AirBnB came out with a new policy not allowing Jews in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria to rent out their homes. 

To me this seems like anti-Semitism and would like your advice on what to do?  I’m debating about canceling all future reservations, so AirBnB doesn’t receive any income from my property.

Thanks,

Justin L.

Dear Justin,

We feel so privileged to have people like you reading our columns. You hold yourself to a high ethical standard and are willing to back up your convictions with action.

We’re not crazy about the term anti-Semitism because we don’t know how to define it, any more than we can define racism, misogynism or most other “isms.” Try defining these terms for yourself.  You’ll see, it is not easy.  It is far too easy to hurl labels and take refuge by claiming that you recognize it when you see it, as Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography in the 1964 Supreme Court Case. We are not fans of terms that change depending on the speaker, the day and whims and fancy.

However, what we can define is when one group is treated completely differently from all or most other groups. This is the standard that Airbnb (as well as the BDS movement, the United Nations and many others) meets. Israel is penalized for behavior that is excused, ignored or even lauded in others.

Israeli Jews living in Judea and Samaria may no longer rent out their homes and apartments on Airbnb. Yet Muslims, Christians, and citizens of the Palestinian Authority are free to continue doing so. The boycott targets only Jews. 

What is more, Airbnb has listings in many contested regions such as Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and Turkish-occupied Cyprus to name just two.

Many years ago, some of our children were in the audience at a business event whose speakers included Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream company. This was at a time when U.S. troops were deployed in Iraq. Our children came home and said that the ice-cream maker’s words were not only anti-American but actually wished our soldiers ill. That was the end of our purchasing Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream.

Despite the popularity of the dessert in our home, we don’t imagine that the company noticed our lack of support. It was less a statement to them than a statement to ourselves, though if enough people would do the same thing, the company’s bottom line would be affected.  We simply could no longer enjoy that ice-cream. We are impacted by the things we say and do, even if nobody else is.  For this reason, acting on principle has value even if nobody else will ever know.  The point is, we know.  And the action strengthens us.

On the other hand, we have problems with the political positions of so many companies and we have not treated them all similarly. We would just about have to homestead on a self-sufficient farm to do so. We do try to react when a company’s behavior is egregious rather than simply wrong and harmful. We may very well be inconsistent. But inconsistency is not hypocrisy.

Justin, we think that this is a call you have to make for yourself. If you are asking whether we think that Airbnb is singling out Jews and Israel in a way that they do not treat others, the answer is yes. If you will sleep better at night knowing that you are not partnering with them, then we salute you.

Live with conviction,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Fat is Fine

John Steinbeck’s 1937 short novel, Of Mice and Men, always brings a lump to my throat.  It tells the story of two migrant farm workers, George and Lennie, during the Depression.  Attempting to summarize it here would be futile.  It would also be a crime against great writing.  If you’ve never read it, I recommend you do so soon. For now, I quote a brief exchange that occurs in chapter three:

“Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers.  “George?”

“Huh?”

“George, how long’s it gonna’ be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the land, an’ rabbits?”

You’ll have to read it to find out about the rabbits, but George and Lennie sustain themselves with their dream of their own little farm where they’ll live in comparative luxury.  Living on the fat of the land is an expression used widely in English literature and is correctly attributed to Pharaoh’s speech to Joseph in the Bible.

…and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you will eat of the fat of the land. (Genesis 45:18)

But this is not the first time in the Bible that the phrase ‘fat of the land’ is used.  Many chapters earlier, Isaac evokes it when he blesses his two sons, Jacob and Esau.

And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fat of the land
and an abundance of grain and wine.
(Genesis 27:28)

and here:

…behold your dwelling shall be by the fat of the land and
of the dew of the heaven from above. 
(Genesis 27:39) 

What is odd, however, is that in Genesis 45, the Hebrew word for fat is CHeLeV whereas the two usages in Genesis 27 employ the Hebrew word SHeMeN. 

חלב               שמן

fat- SHeMeN                  fat- CHeLeV

Most English translations translate all three instances as ‘fat of the land’ and they are not wrong.  But there are no random uses of words in Scripture so we ought to try understand the difference between CHeLeV and SHeMeN, these two separate words for fat or oil. 

CHeLeV, while meaning fat is obviously linked to the word CHaLaV meaning milk. SHeMeN means either fat or more commonly, oil as in this verse.

… bring you pure beaten olive oil for the light, for the lamp to burn always.
(Exodus 27:20)

The most important difference between oil and milk is that milk is ready and available for instant use.  The baby is presented with this marvelous substance called milk.  No preparation needed.  It is ready for use.  Drink it and be nourished.

Oil, however, is only useful once I ignite it.  Until I light the oil in a lamp or heater, it will not cast its warm glow.  Unlike milk, I can only benefit from oil once I do my part to make its energy useful to me.

Pharaoh offered to take care of Joseph’s brothers fully, requiring nothing from them at all.  There is no surer way to lure people into slavery of the mind as well as body than by eliminating their incentive to work and providing for their every need.  For this reason, he used the word CHeLeV.   By contrast, Isaac promised his sons, Jacob and Esau, economic abundance, but of the SHeMeN kind, like oil.  Theirs would be the abundance that would flow from their own industry and effort.  This is a far higher category of blessing. 

Oil (SHeMeN) as a metaphor of financial survival appears in two other famous events.  Both the prophets Elijah (1 Kings 17:12-14) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:2-4) encounter a poverty-stricken widow.  Each has little but a small jar of oil (SHeMeN) and each is required to perform an action, thus participating in her own financial redemption.

The small jar of oil as the seed of redemption also finds expression in the eight-day festival of Chanukah which ends on Monday.  The tiny jar of uncontaminated oil found in the Temple after the rampaging Greeks departed miraculously burned for eight days. but only when the Maccabees lit the insufficient remnant rather than throwing their hands up in despair.

In ancient Jewish wisdom, the number eight always speaks to a God/People joint venture partnership. Not surprisingly, the Hebrew word for the number eight SHeMoNeH is almost identical to the word, SHeMeN, oil.  This means that when it comes to financial deliverance, God will help but only if we do our part also.  That is what living on the fat (oil) of the land, really means.

Part of the almost unbearable poignance of the book, “Of Mice and Men” is that Lennie and George don’t want to be taken care of.  All they dream of is a little land that they can work to take care of themselves.

“Lennie said quietly, “It ain’t no lie. We’re gonna do it.
Gonna get a little place an’ live on the fatta the lan’.”

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THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Fat is Fine December 4, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - John Steinbeck’s 1937 short novel, Of Mice and Men, always brings a lump to my throat.  It tells the story of two migrant farm workers, George and Lennie, during the Depression.  Attempting to summarize it here would be futile.  It would also be a crime against great writing.  If you’ve never read it, I recommend Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • Is Airbnb anti-Semitic? December 5, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - I'm currently an AirBnB host to earn extra money (I don't need the extra income).  Recently AirBnB came out with a new policy not allowing Jews in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria to rent out their homes.  To me this seems like anti-Semitism and would like your advice on what to do?  I'm Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Pearl Harbor, Chanukah and the Greatest Generation December 6, 2018 by Susan Lapin - Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. Because its date depends on the lunar rather than the solar calendar, in some years, Chanukah overlaps with Thanksgiving while on others it coincides with Christmas. This year, the fifth day of Chanukah lines up with the anniversary Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • Giving Tuesday Winner December 4, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - We're delighted to announce that Carola from Tacoma, WA was the winner of an Income Abundance Set in our Giving Tuesday raffle. We thank everyone who donated on that day (of course, we appreciate donations all year round!) for helping us to continue putting out Thought Tools, Ask the Rabbi, Susan's Musings, podcasts, and our 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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