Yearly Archives: 2019

Reach Your Promised Land

December 30th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

As the new year and a new decade dawns, it is natural to wonder what lies ahead. Whatever they are, keep your dreams alive.  Maybe you wish you were happily married, or prospering, or healthier.  Accepting your current circumstances as your normal reality is a terrible trap.

Who would have blamed the Israelites for accepting their nomadic lifestyle as normal?  After two hundred years of slavery, followed by forty years wandering around a desert, how could they ever have seen themselves becoming independent landowners?

Every Israelite should have dismissed the words of Moses as a hopeless fantasy when he said to them:

And it shall be when you come into the land that the
Lord your God gives you as an inheritance…
(Deuteronomy 26:1)

What made them accept the vision of their own Promised Land without skepticism?

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Caveat Parente!

December 30th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

If your five-year-old cannot translate the above title or write an essay about the play on words with the better know phrase ‘caveat emptor,’ perhaps you should hold off sending him or her to kindergarten.

Ok. I’m exaggerating. But if an article in Psychology Today reflects current trends, I am not off by much. The article focuses on the anguish of kindergarten teachers as they are instructed to treat their young students in ways that they, especially those teachers with years of experience, feel damages the little ones psychologically and educationally.

These teachers speak of pressure from the government (Common Core) via the administration insisting that they do age-inappropriate activities in their classrooms. They find themselves needing to ignore the tears, frustrations and growing hatred towards learning that they are seeing. The teachers’ other option is to quit their jobs.

There are many reasons why too many of America’s schools drastically fail those they are supposed to be serving, whether we are speaking of elementary, middle, high school or college. At the same time, as a society we are encouraging parents to put their children into organized, structured groups at earlier and earlier ages. It is not unusual today for kindergarten to be a youngster’s third, fourth of even fifth year of day care or schooling.

We can certainly get involved and try to solve society’s ills. However, as parents, our first responsibility is to those lives we brought into the world. We cannot afford for our motto to be, “See no evil; hear no evil.” Our eyes must be open and we need to be ready to act.  The onus is on us to know whether those teaching our children nod in agreement to the horrific comments below the article. Are we harming or helping our children by sending them off to school? Isn’t that an important question to ask?

Faith and Faithlessness

December 26th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

As a fan of all types of puzzles, I enjoy seeing both jigsaw puzzle pieces and words fall into place. The separate become connected and the random suddenly makes sense. I tend to follow the same steps when reading, looking for patterns that tie disparate topics together.

As such, when I recently read two disturbing articles within a few pages of each other in my morning paper, I viewed them as a pair rather than individually. The first relayed a distressing tale of women who, after testing for genes associated with a highly increased cancer risk, chose to have mastectomies and hysterectomies as a preventative measure. Increased data recently revealed that their risk was much lower than they had been told. It was too late to undo the emotional or physical pain they underwent and those whose decisions included having no more children had no way to reverse events.

The second article spoke of the growing estrangement from organized religion among the young. It featured families for whom Christmas always meant attending church and how they are coping when adult children wish to join their parents for the holidays, but not attend services with them.

What is the connection?

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Should women be preaching?

December 25th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 39 comments

My question is very frequently asked in Christian circles and the answer is split. I must know what your response would be. 

The question is very simple. Are women allowed to pastor and preach? Yes or No? Please explain in detail and reference from verses. I appreciate all of your work. I look forward to your response!

Anthony

Dear Anthony,

We hope you enjoyed anticipating our response because we are pretty sure you are not going to enjoy our answer. 

If you have followed our teachings for a while, you will know that while we treasure Scripture, we find simplistically seeking substantiating verses to be rather meaningless. Partially this is because one can easily find many seemingly incompatible verses that appear to contradict one another. That is why we peruse and base our answers upon the ancient Jewish wisdom on the Bible that has been handed down for thousands of years rather than doing no more than simply reading the words themselves. So, as to your last demand, we can probably find verses making the case both for and against women pastoring and preaching, but they wouldn’t be so helpful.  

We also cannot answer with a clear-cut yes or no. How simple life would be if we could tackle life’s challenges in that way! We can answer only very few questions with no more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and none of life’s most challenging and most important questions fall into that category. 

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From Hair to There

December 25th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

Genesis 37:2 introduces us to Joseph at 17 years old, described in Hebrew as a “na’ar,” a lad.  The transmitter of Biblical wisdom known as Rashi quotes an earlier source on the words, “and he was a lad,” and tells us that he acted like an adolescent fixing his hair and eyes to look attractive.  Doesn’t this sound out of place? The righteous Joseph was a typical teenager?  Does that sound right to us? Is that the message of the word “na’ar”?

Rav Shimon Schwab helps us understand the meaning of “na’ar” by looking at Genesis 34:19 where Shechem, the son of Chamor, is also described as a “na’ar.”  Rav Schwab notes that in that context, na’ar can’t mean young and adolescent, because Shechem was described as the “prince of the land,” certainly not a boy.  The word na’ar is teaching us here that Shechem acted impetuously and impatiently, like a young lad who jumps into action without thinking carefully.

This is the explanation of Joseph too being a na’ar – no he wasn’t acting like a teenager, he was jumping the gun, showing impatience.  How? Joseph knew that his dreams weren’t only dreams, but were prophetic visions. He was destined to be a king.  Jewish transmission teaches that a king must spend time grooming himself, to the point of cutting his hair daily, so he looks the part.  Joseph’s mistake here was youthful impatience.  Instead of waiting patiently for the day in the future when he would be crowned king, he started preparing prematurely.  The self-grooming Rashi describes is what he would, indeed, one day need to do when king, but it wasn’t right to impatiently begin preparing until the time was  right.  Being a “na’ar” is equated with a level of impatience.

We all recognize impatience and impulsivity as a youthful trait.  From the very first car ride when your preschooler asks,  “Are we there yet?” to a teen desperate to drive before getting his license, that is the way youth are!  I’d like to suggest that being an adult, specifically a parent, requires a person to put aside this youthful attitude and cultivate its exact opposite, patience and perseverance.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe wrote a masterpiece on education, called (in translation) Planting and Building.  Rav Wolbe tells us that there are two parts to child raising and the first relates to planting—plants grow in a natural organic way, on their own time-table.  You can’t force the plant to grow more quickly by tugging at the stems or leaves.  You can’t even force them to grow more by drowning them in extra water or giving them trellises and extra support. They will grow at their pace.  As we’ve talked about before, raising children is a long-term project; impatience really can’t play a role. 

We, mothers, are the ones who can put aside the youthful impatience we once had, and develop long-term patience as we help our children grow and develop at their own pace and in their own time.  We all know this is easier said than done, especially when our children’s timetables may seem to be too slow in one area or another, but this principle is very real and profound. The perspective of  patience, perseverance, and long-term thinking are gifts that mature parents give to their immature children.

Of Cannibals and Chanukah

December 24th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

Let’s use our imaginations for a thought experiment. In 1946, a crew is airlifting the latest model Dodge from Detroit to a car dealership in Brisbane, Australia. On the final leg of its flight the airplane develops engine problems over Papua, New Guinea.  The crew’s only hope is to shove the shiny new sedan out of the ramp at the back of the airplane. In the hope of a possible salvage, they attach a few parachutes to the car which then floats down towards the jungle below. It finally settles right side up in a small clearing outside a Korowai village.  

 The local cannibals generally prevent themselves from becoming the dinner of neighboring villages by building their homes high up in trees. On this day, however, one Korowai chief takes refuge in the Dodge, laughing delightedly as his enemies’ arrows bounce harmlessly off the car.  

I presented you with this little thought experiment only to ask you this question:  Language difficulties aside, is there any way you’d be able to explain to that cannibal chief that in using the motorcar as a fort, he is not making the best use of the Dodge sedan?  

He has never seen a car before and he has no idea of what gasoline might be. After all, the Korowai people never even encountered a westerner or a wheeled wagon until about 1970. No, there is nothing you could say that would convince  our mid-20th century cannibal chief that he is wasting a huge asset.

Anyone assuming that the Bible is no more than a simple story about long ago people and their anachronistic beliefs is making a similar  mistake to that of the Korowai chief living in his Dodge. If we were to inform the Papuan primitive that by using his new fortress properly he could effortlessly transport himself and a handful of his warriors to Port Moresby, he’d blink at us in clueless incomprehension.  If we were to inform our Bible illiterate that the volume he disparages not only relates information from the past, but it also reveals data on events that have not yet happened, he’d look like the twin brother of our New Guinea native. 

The festival now being celebrated, Chanukah, provides an excellent example of this Biblical phenomenon. In his sublime ignorance, our scriptural skeptic is quite certain that Chanukah is a “post-Biblical minor celebration.” While it is true that the central historical events of Chanukah occurred about 1,000 years after the death of Moses, the seeds of that historical event are planted in the Bible. 

Leviticus 23 lists all the festivals in order through the Jewish calendar year.  Each is allocated its own “paragraph” in the unique graphical layout of the Torah. The festival of Tabernacles (Sukot) which occurs in autumn is treated in  Leviticus 23:33-44. The very next paragraph is devoted to an instruction to use pure olive oil to light a menorah. It starts off describing one flame, corresponding to the first night of Chanukah, (Leviticus 24:2) and ends with, “..he shall arrange the flames (plural) upon the menorah…(Leviticus 24:4).  Those flames were activated after the historical events of Chanukah and to this day we add an additional flame on each of the eight nights.

Years before the Greek invasion of Israel,   Daniel provided King Nebuchadnezzar with a prophecy about several subsequent empires. Each was represented by a different metallic element such as iron, gold, silver and copper.  (Some translations mistakenly render NeCHoSHeT as bronze or brass.)  

But another kingdom will arise after you, inferior to yours; then yet a third kingdom, of copper,
which will rule over the whole earth.

(Daniel 2:39)

The empire referred to as copper is Greece, the antagonist of Jerusalem in the Chanukah account.  Each time copper is mentioned in Scripture, an aspect of Greek domination is being referenced. 

With this in mind, we can look at these words having to do with vessels in the Tabernacle: .  “…shall be of copper.” (Exodus 27:19) The very next verse reads: “You shall instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling the lamps regularly.”  (Exodus 27:20) Again we see lighting olive oil referring to the yet-to-be events of Chanukah, when the light will overwhelm the darkness brought on by Greece.

Here is one more Biblical reference to Chanukah. Every number possesses a specific significance in ancient Jewish wisdom. The number 25 always alludes to the Festival of Light. In fact the final syllable of the word Chanukah actually means 25.  It is no coincidence that Chanukah is the only festival in the Hebrew calendar that falls on the 25th day of the month. In that context, are you surprised to hear that the 25th word of the Bible is the word, OHR—light? 

 “God said, “Let there be light”
(Genesis 1:3)

It is through these and several other similar hints and allusions that we see that Chanukah, far from being solely a historical event, is actually part of the Bible’s depiction of how we humans are to relate to the electromagnetic phenomenon known as light. Light is always to be contrasted with darkness as metaphors for good and evil. We are always to be reminded that the stygian gloom of bad times can be dispelled by even one small ray of light. A tiny flame fed by pure olive oil has the power to push back the darkness of evil. If we celebrate Chanukah solely as a depiction of a historical conflict, or even as a remembrance of a miraculous military victory and subsequent miracle with oil, we are making the same error as our Korowai chief. The holiday will benefit us, but nowhere near to its fullest potential. 

If you wish to explore how this message can impact you, we invite you to find out more in our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. It remains on sale through the holiday.

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The Candyland® Congress

December 19th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

When trying  to evoke what a tough mother I had been, my children sometimes mention that I often ruthlessly defeated them when we played Candyland®, a game that appeals to the five-and-under crowd. Clearly, only the most heartless mother would fail to manipulate the cards allowing her toddler to jump ahead by drawing Queen Frostine.  A compassionate mom   whose child picked Plummy, a card necessitating going back almost all the way to the beginning, would lovingly say, “There, there, don’t worry. You can pick again.” I was not that mother.

It’s easy to divide  the country into liberals and conservatives, pro-2nd Amendment or gun seizers and larger government advocates vs. those who champion personal responsibility. But maybe the country also divides into those whose mothers (and teachers and coaches) always let them win and those whose mothers and mentors tolerated frustration and tears, teaching their children to withstand the disappointment of sometimes losing.

Too  many Americans  fall into the wrong category.  They believed the rhetoric telling them that Barack Obama’s election was a sea change for positive  transformation  and that those marching leftward would never lose an election again. They celebrated when the Judiciary forced anti-God morality on their fellow citizens. Surrendering the ability to think for themselves and ask questions, they only pay attention to that which (as my husband would say) massages them with warm butter. They cannot have fairly and squarely lost the 2016  election, because they are not supposed to ever lose. The world owes them happiness and respect.

To be honest, I sometimes did use sleight of hand to allow my children to win Candyland®. Often, the game just had to end so life could go on. But, I did not do that too often. Yes, the game helped teach counting and colors. More importantly, it taught sportsmanship and the idea that even after a crushing defeat, you don’t throw the cards across the room and have a tantrum, instead you pick up the pieces and try again.

A minor holiday? NO
A post-Biblical holiday? NO
A war in the past? NO
Get the real story!
FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS: TRANSFORM YOUR 24/7 EXISTENCE INTO A 25/8 LIFE


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No Friends?

December 19th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

The following question came across my desk. Teachers know an old truism that when one student  verbalizes confusion about material being taught, it usually means that more than one student needs help. I imagine that the many parents agonize over their children’s relationships and this is not a unique scenario.

 

 I am writing to you regarding my 7 year old son.

Recently he asked me to pray with him to ask God to give him more friends. He’s been sad because (according to him) he has “only one friend” at school and he sees that other kids don’t want to play with him.

I would love to hear what an ancient Hebrew perspective would be on how to help a child be more likable and make more friends. What principles can be learned on in this situation and how to relate them to a 7 yet old?

 Thanks again,

 J.D.

 

Dear J.D.,

I imagine that your son is not the only one in your family who is sad. It is hard for any loving parent to watch a child be unhappy. Yet, we are called on to empathize with our child and at the same time to step back and see if we can help our child to help himself. It sounds like you are doing both those things, which is a good start.

Here is where you need to be a bit of a detective. There are so many possible scenarios as to what the problem could be, or even if there is a problem. Don’t forget that seven-year-olds don’t have perspective.  The here and now is magnified. However, assuming that this wasn’t just a bad week your son was having or a rejection by one boy that he is assuming goes beyond that, here are a few ideas you might want to explore.

How about finding out more about this “one friend”? Can your son invite him over to your house for a play date? Watching their interaction will give you lots of information. Maybe he’s a charming kid and the boys really are compatible. Or maybe the only thing the boys have in common is a lack of popularity and this isn’t a healthy relationship. Is your son a gracious host? Does he pick up on emotional cues? Observing from the sidelines will provide a wealth of information.

In a similar vein, do you belong to a church that has a youth group or does your son play any community sports? Are his interests very different from most boys his age? Does he have cousins and neighbors with whom he interacts? Is this problem isolated to school, in which case there may be a problem with the classroom rather than with your son, or do you see it in other parts of his life as well? Does he see you and your wife modeling friendship both to each other and to others? I know you love him, but do you find him “likable”? Have you met with your son’s teacher? He or she probably has insight into the situation.

Two of the Hebrew words for friend are ‘YeDiD’ and ‘CHaVeR.’ The first literally means hand/hand while the root of the second word is obligation. Reciprocity is a basis for friendship. One needs to be able to be both a giver and a taker in a relationship. Young boys’ friendships are often based more on shared activities than on the above. School is an artificial environment in that it uniquely groups people together based on their age. I certainly do not limit my friends to those born within X months of me and I’m sure you don’t either. With maturity that you have, but your son does not, you know that many of the “less popular” kids in school turned out to have the most successful lives and vice-versa.

At the same time, much of how we view ourselves is formed in the school environment and you want to make sure to take your son’s concerns seriously.  You can certainly help your son work on developing social skills and awareness that will serve him well throughout life. If the classroom is a healthy environment, there are most likely specific steps that can be taken once you pinpoint what the problem is. However, don’t underestimate the importance of his feeling that you and his mother and God are in his corner. Make sure to let your son know that he is valuable and loved no matter what his current social status at school.

Hope some of these ideas help and I hope that readers can share some of their thoughts as well,

Susan Lapin

How do we explain to our son why circumcision matters?

December 18th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 29 comments

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

Could you help me out? We are reading a Torah Sidra [portion] every Saturday evening as a family.  We happened to read the Sidra that included Genesis 17.  I have three children and the oldest is a boy of 9. I am sure you can guess where this is going.  He had many questions about circumcision. 

  Circumcision is very important to me. My father, brother, husband and son are all circumcised.  My brother’s wife and my brother changed their mind and chose not to circumcise their two boys when they were born. 🙁

I would love my son to be just as proud as we are that he his circumcised, not that he isn’t. But, I am sure someday when he may have awkward conversations with his cousins camping or sports friends.

I just want to make sure that we, as parents, have done everything that we should explaining this very Holy covenant to my children boys and girls.  I would be heartbroken if twenty years down the road my grandchildren were not circumcised just because I didn’t convey things to my children properly while they were in my care.

Thank you so much,

Gina

Dear Gina,

Your question is a very apt one for this time of year as Chanukah starts this coming Sunday evening. Among the Jewish observances that the Greek-Syrians outlawed, was circumcision.  They also made the studying and teaching of Torah prohibited on penalty of death.   These acts of religious oppression led to the rebellion of Chanukah.

So extreme was the Greek aversion to circumcision that the historian Josephus tells us that Hellenist physicians performed plastic surgery operations ‘restoring’ the foreskin. In a culture that extolled the gymnasium and athletic games one needed to “look the part” in order to fit in. This, of course, is the crux of the episode of Chanukah—it was most of all a battle between those Jews eager to shed their connection to God and Judaism and those Jews who remained faithful to their heritage.

Chanukah is the only festival in the Jewish calendar that lasts eight days. Notably, circumcision takes place on the eighth day of a Jewish boy’s life. In ancient Jewish wisdom, the number seven is associated with nature: 7 days of the week; 7 colors of the rainbow; 7 notes in a western musical scale. The number 8 is associated with partnering with God to transcend nature. Circumcision is a statement, both to the young boy and to the community, that the incredible power of sexuality is part of his connection to God and the ability to create life is holy.  We are commanded to overcome the animalistic impulse to act as if sex is solely physical.  This rejection of secularism is central to both circumcision and Chanukah. 

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Hey Buddy, Got a Light?

December 16th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 26 comments

What three changes could you institute that would improve your life? Most people know exactly what they ought to do and what they ought to stop doing that would make their lives better. Which begs the question—why don’t we just go ahead and do these things?

The answer is what I call “The Force of Darkness.” Understanding and learning to conquer this sinister force is so important that God introduces us to this primeval darkness and general chaos no later than the second verse of Genesis.

According to ancient Jewish wisdom, this verse reveals a dark force built into the universe that attempts to combat progress towards improving our lives. This is why it is harder to diet, exercise, and grow thin than it is to sit around, eat, and grow fat. This is why it is harder to save and invest than it is to spend and consume or to educate one’s self and improve one’s career rather than to seek entertainment. This is why self-discipline is harder than indulgence or why it is harder to build a marriage than it is to destroy one. In other words, keeping the flame burning is just plain hard. It is far easier to sit back and allow darkness to win.

If the problem is darkness, surely the antidote is light—which brings us to Chanukah, the festival of light.

Many mistakenly think that Chanukah is a post-Biblical rabbinical holiday. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, its roots lie in the Torah and within the prophecies of Hagai and Zecharia centuries before the historic events.

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