Monthly Archives: May, 2020

My friend rejects social distancing – I don’t want to offend him

May 27th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

Dear Rabbi & Susan,

I am caught between a rock and a hard spot.  There is a member of our community who does not believe in social distancing or abiding by any of the government-mandated precautions against COVID-19.   While my father was in the hospital, I was very firm with him about not visiting my home.  To gain access to the hospital after Shabbat, I would need to pass the hospital regimen and wanted to take no risks.

Secondly, the fellow who I am dating takes social distancing seriously.   Finally, others of my friends are frowning upon this person’s disregard for following guidelines and testing everyone and the protocols in place.

This person showed up at my house, on Shabbat, with no warning.  I answered the door and I was shocked to find him there. The person just stood there until I would allow him in so I ushered him to the deck.   He then invited me for an upcoming holiday lunch and I told him that I would attend if we were outside.  Now, I think I have made a mistake in accepting the invitation.   

The situation has upset the person who I am dating and I am afraid to tell any of my other friends. This person will be angry if I back out of the invitation. 

What should I do? 

Confused

Dear Confused,

Despite the risk of sounding harsh, we must tell you that you are not caught between a rock and a hard spot. You yourself actively crawled down into a hard spot and then you carefully and diligently reached for a rock and pulled it down against you making sure to wedge it firmly into place.  Rocks and hard spots are not malign machines that autonomously track you down.  Own it!  You created this awkward situation.  Right?  Right!

So the real question is not how to get out of this one; it’s how to stop seeking out rocks and hard spots to wiggle into.

Regardless of what this person, let’s call him Mr. X, believes about corona, and regardless of the extent to which others ‘frown’ at Mr. X, as you put it,  it is only his behavior and your response that matters.  So the relevant portion of your letter starts with him showing up unexpectedly on your doorstep on Shabbat. 

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The First Time You…

May 26th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

In the charming 1980 South African movie masterpiece, The Gods Must Be Crazy, the Kalahari bushman hero found an empty Coca Cola bottle dropped from his plane by a careless pilot.  No life experience or knowledge gained till now prepared Xi to understand the bottle’s purpose.  He couldn’t imagine its value other than as a magic talisman. 

In a similar way, no education or experience in the lives of many young men today prepares them to view a wife as anything other than an economic asset in an attractive package. They marry with a picture dancing in their minds of the larger house for whose mortgage they will now jointly qualify.  Understandably, they can’t imagine the magic of a marriage partnership in which each partner carries responsibility for a separate specialty just as in a successful business partnership.

Social media and occasional news articles reveal the existence of an informal association of women devoted to the homes and families of the husbands who happily support them.  These women, in the U.K., Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States gather beneath the banner of traditional wives and have assumed the hashtag #Tradwives.

Angry voices in mainstream media malign these women in terms so vituperative that you’d think traditional wives drank the blood of journalists.  You might have thought that feminism’s commitment to “choice” would praise these wives for making their own unconventional choice. Yet, they disparage these wives in the vilest ways going so far as to drum up today’s ultimate charge—racism.  Yes, these primitive and bigoted women are not only setting back women’s “progress” by decades, but they are obviously trying to have and raise more—that’s right—white children.

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We Shall Cower in Our Basements?

May 21st, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 45 comments

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.

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Children Raising Mothers

May 20th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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! 

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Being a recipient of kindness

May 20th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

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.

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Cave Grave

May 18th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

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).

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A Room with a (Distorted?) View

May 14th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

With local libraries closed, my reading has branched in two directions. I am re-reading old favorites from our shelves and browsing available library downloads for fresh selections. Among the latter is E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, A Room with a View. Written just over a hundred years ago, it may not qualify as a new book by most definitions, but I have neither read it nor seen a movie of it, so it is quite new to me. 

As I tend to read in bed at night, my mind is far from fresh and I sometimes fall asleep in the middle of even the most interesting book. Nonetheless, I was jolted awake by these words at the beginning of chapter 4:

“Why were most big things unladylike?… It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves.”

These words described what young Lucy, the protagonist of the novel, was taught as a budding English lady in Edwardian England. In my experience, a number of people today who are antagonistic to those who choose to be traditional wives, homemakers and mothers think that these “old-fashioned females” share this 19th-century view of a lady’s ‘mission’. 

I found something off-putting about those first and third sentences (I have no problem with men and women being different), but only once I awoke the next morning did I realize what I didn’t like.

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No Cameras, Please!

May 13th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

My husband recently shared a family legend, describing how he decided to add joy and mirth to our young daughter’s birthday party by joining the festivities in a gorilla costume. The screams and tears of the young girls attending were not part of the original plan.

One of the column’s readers asked if we had pictures, saying how much she would enjoy seeing them. My reply was that we were too busy coping with hysteria to run for a camera. That reply inadvertently revealed how long ago the botched birthday party was.

Today, most of us are within inches of our phones at all times, if not unremittingly clutching them in our hands. Our ubiquitous camera phones are constantly ready to capture the moment, often with accompanying audio.

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Obstacles in religious growth

May 13th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 75 comments

Hi there!

I know this will seem a ridiculous question, and I feel ridiculous asking.

I was raised Pentecostal Christian.  I did drugs and was very lost. I was married at 18, and had my first child, then divorced after 1 year due to drug abuse and violence.  I then shacked up with my current husband and had six more kids before finally getting married to him.  He’s a good husband and father.  We’ve been attending a Baptist church for a few years now.

I am trying to figure out how to honor God, and not just assume that I can dismiss everything I am, or do wrong, as excused by grace.

I am no scholar, I have only just recently started reading the bible, and I don’t feel like I’m even doing that correctly… On top of that, my husband is totally disinterested in what I’m trying to do.  He thinks I’m trying to “be a Jew,” which isn’t true, I just want to honor, and obey God. 

What research I have done recently, has felt discouraging, people in the forums argue, and are all sure they know the real truth, but there can only be one real truth.

Last week, I convinced my family to do Sabbath with me.  Even though I tried, I still failed and didn’t have everything prepped.  My husband works odd hours, so we’re used to eating dinner fairly late.  So I was working serving dinner, when the sun had gone down.  I did succeed at taking everyone’s phones away, and keeping the tv off.  We didn’t even play music.  The next morning, Saturday, we slept in.  We ate toast and eggs, again I failed to prepare food for the day. Went hiking into our woods, started a fire, and hung out until it was almost dark.  Everyone said it was a good day, but in my heart I felt lacking.

I know you can’t hear my voice, or feel the depth of what I’m trying to say.  But I often weep over my inadequacies.  I feel incredibly overwhelmed, floating between the Law, and the Grace.  I’m a Christian, so I believe in Jesus, but He said that He came to fulfill the Law.  I don’t even really know the Law. 

I’m afraid that my children will suffer because of me.  Perhaps I am suffering because of my parents, and they from theirs…the blame can go all the way back to Adam and Eve.  What should I do?

I don’t want to insult the Lord with my pitiful attempts, but at the same time, I love the Lord.

Thank you for your time, and all you do.

Blessings,

Jessica

I love your podcasts.

Dear Jessica,

You sound like you have traveled far in your personal and emotional growth. Women, in particular, sometimes have a tendency not to give themselves credit for things they do and instead fixate on their flaws and what they must yet accomplish. Before we discuss your question we’d like you to take a moment to recognize the huge steps you’ve made. You got off drugs, left a violent marriage, and stayed with and married a man who, like you, is committed to the children you are raising. You are connected to a church and working hard to be the best wife, mother and Christian you can be. Whew! You have accomplished a lot.

What is more, we want you to know that if one had to choose between a life that started well but then went off the tracks and ended horribly or, one like yours that started with painful turbulence but ends in harmony and happiness, this is by far the preferred path.  It’s a big thing you’ve done in changing your trajectory and you are fortunate enough to have a “good husband and father” as a partner. Be grateful. 

At this point, you are a spiritual striver and trying best to understand God’s directions for your life. As Jews trying to follow ancient Jewish wisdom, we can explain that God assigns different roles, challenges and tasks to different people. These include  men and women; mothers and fathers, children and siblings, doctors and plumbers, those living in the land of Israel and those outside the land; those descended from Aaron the High Priest or the tribe of Levi and those descended from the other tribes. It is all about which religious responsibilities, restrictions, rules and regulations we adopt, not about being better or worse. In this scenario,  Jews are supposed to shoulder more responsibilities, restrictions and obligations than everyone else. 

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Pandemic Pandemonium

May 12th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 47 comments

Oftentimes, when people start a story by saying, “I’m not proud of this…” the truth is that they really are rather proud of whatever they are fake-confessing.  But I am really, really not proud of this. What I did was just plain incredibly stupid. It was a male sort of thing.  Honestly, I wouldn’t even mention it if it didn’t help me make an important point for this Thought Tool.

When one of our lovely daughters turned six, she asked for a sleepover party. Accordingly, in the late afternoon, about a dozen excited little girls between the ages of five and seven were dropped off at our home in their pyjamas. They had supper together before burrowing into blankets and sleeping bags in our living room, chattering and giggling. 

That was the moment I donned my rented gorilla costume.  Beating my chest while uttering gorilla-like roars, I leaped into the living room and pranced among the sleeping bags.  Yes, I really did. I hate myself for this and all I can say is that it was a male sort of thing. Little boys would have loved it. (I was so sure Susan and our daughter would love my exciting plan that I neglected to inform them in advance.)

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