Monthly Archives: June, 2020

Character, Not Curriculum

June 30th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Sometimes, the passage of time makes things crystal clear. It is obvious today that there is no link between education and wisdom and, furthermore, no link between hours spent in school and education. Scores of college students and graduates constantly reveal their ignorance about basic concepts of American history, democracy and the Constitution on a daily basis.

During the 19th century, when England was largely populated by Bible-believing Christians, Thomas Henry Huxley was an outlier.  He invented the word ‘agnostic’ to explain himself and later devoted his life to promoting what he thought of as “scientific rationalism” rather than religion. Among his writings is this paragraph:

“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.”

It serves to show how even smart people can say foolish things.  Huxley is suggesting that education can give us the ability to do what we should do when we ought to do it, whether we feel like it or not.  In other words, he believes that will power and self-discipline can be academically taught.  If this were true, there would be some correlation between education and successful living. However, many people with advanced academic degrees exercise no willpower and demonstrate no self-discipline whereas many people who failed to graduate high school possess those indispensable characteristics.

He is certainly correct that it would be most valuable to acquire early in life the ability to make yourself do the things you have to do when you ought to do them.  Conversely, it follows that acquiring the ability to refrain from doing those things that you ought not to do would be equally valuable. 

But it just isn’t that simple.  There is no course you can take in high school or college that will equip you with these vital life skills.  If there were, there would be no such thing as a procrastinating professor. Doing what you should do and doing it in a timely manner is not a matter of fact. Refraining from things you ought not to do is not a matter of curriculum.  They are a matter of character.

Here is a little of ancient Jewish wisdom’s teachings on the topic.

Each of the three letters making up the Hebrew word for ‘king’ (MeLeCh) stands for a part of the human body. However, ancient Jewish wisdom is not a textbook on anatomy so what is being highlighted are internal characteristics. 

מ     ל    כ
C       L      M

M – Mo-aCH – Brain

L- LeV –  Heart

C – CaVeD – Liver

Those three parts of the human body each carry special spiritual allusions.  The brain alludes to our analytical and thoughtful abilities. Whenever the word heart is used in Scripture, it means our emotional beings.  Finally, the word CaVeD, liver, means base bodily appetites.

Furthermore, the word MeLeCh, ‘king,’ occurs many times in Scripture. Biblically, when discussing people, a king can refer to anybody rising to leadership over his fellow humans.

Thus, aspiring to leadership means running your life and making your decisions based primarily on intellectual and thoughtful analysis.  Secondly, consider your emotions.  Finally, only once all else is in place, indulge the bodily appetites.  A successful life is lived firstly on doing what one’s head directs and only subsequently on what one’s heart wants.  Seldom, if ever, are important decisions made based on the calls of the body.

Conversely, let’s see what Hebrew word emerges by reversing the three letters.  What if one runs one’s life with a paramount emphasis on food, sex, and fun?  Then if time and energy still allow, one does what one’s heart directs, and finally, if ever, one listens to the call of one’s head. What would that life look like?

Reversing the order of the letters making up the Hebrew for king, we now have:

Caved – liver – bodily appetites

Lev – heart – emotions

Mo-aCH – brain – the intellect.

What does the Hebrew word CaLeM, (the opposite of MeLeCh) mean?  Answer:  Embarrassment, shame, calumny.  Notice that words like calumny and calamity possess the root letters of CLM. 

The lesson is clear.  To reach the heights of leadership and success, do first what your head tells you. Only then consult your heart, and finally, very finally, think of what your body craves. Failing to heed this guidance leads to calumny, embarrassment and shame. 

The problem is that knowing this does not ensure that we will follow it.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the basic requirement for a king of Israel was an active and healthy relationship with God.  The Israelite king had to write his own copy of the Torah and he had to follow it.  A connection with God is one of the strongest tools for building character.  Possessing deep conviction that regardless of where one finds oneself, the King of Kings is watching with the highest expectations is a guard rail of moral safety. 

There are naturally agnostics and atheists with high character, just as there are, sadly, religious people without.  However, what I say to an atheist who asks me if I think being religious makes me better than him, is this:  I don’t think my faith in God makes me better than you. I don’t know what is in your heart. How could I?  But I do know that my religion makes me far better than I would be without it. And me, I do know.

Huxley was an intelligent man.  Of this, there is no doubt.  However, he lacked wisdom, believing that character could be taught as if it were a page of historic facts.

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It’s Not Fair!

June 30th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

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

How many times have you heard your children cry, “It isn’t fair!”  Children are born with an acute sense of what is fair and what isn’t.  They keep detailed track of who sat next to Mommy and Daddy last week at the Shabbat table, who got the extra piece of cake, and whose turn it is to take out the garbage.  The problem is that focusing on what is fair doesn’t make happy people because there is always something in our lives that isn’t fair or that doesn’t match up with our expectations of what we deserve.

Let’s take a look at Numbers 16.  Korach was upset that his father’s family had been unfairly skipped over when a younger sibling’s son was appointed to leadership. Surely it would be fairer for the older brother’s family to be honored first?  He gathered with him the tribe of Reuven (Reuben) who, in the words of the transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom known as the Kli Yakar, were bitter of soul because many, many years earlier, Jacob had taken away the firstborn privileges from their ancestor, Reuven, and given the privilege of the oldest to Joseph.  For generations, they had held onto a spirit of, “That’s not fair!” Korach’s group of discontents were all people who thought they deserved more than they were given, who perceived life as unfair. 

That is a very seductive way of thinking and incredibly contagious.  Who can’t jump on the bandwagon of something in our lives being unfair?  It’s no wonder that Korach was able to quickly attract hundreds of followers, and it’s no wonder that our children so quickly cry, “It isn’t fair”.

But we know that wallowing in victimhood doesn’t lead to a happy life. As parents, our job is to help our children move past the immature perspective that breeds misery when life isn’t fair.  How can we do this?  I think the answer lies in Moses’ response to Korach and the Levites in this section.  Moses says two things.  The first is, ”In the morning God will make known that which is His.” God has a plan for each person and He chooses who will be who and who will get what.  We don’t get to decide what is appropriate and fair for each person. That is God’s job, and when we accept His decisions as His perfect will to give us exactly what is best for us and to give our friends exactly what is best for them, we can discard discontent and be happy with our portion.

My children and I recently finished reading an inspiring book about the life of a woman in Jerusalem who recently died.  One lesson from her life really resonated with us. That is the recognition that whatever happens to you in life, even through other people, such as when someone yells at you, when someone breaks your toys, or any frustration you experience, is directly given to you from God as a way to help you grow in that moment.  Our lives are utterly and completely what God gives us and when you live with that consciousness, the whole notion of “Is it fair?” becomes ridiculous.  It doesn’t matter at all what someone else has or what I think I should have—I accept that everything I have is perfect for me because God made it so.

Moses’ second argument is, “Tribe of Levi, you have so much greatness that has already been granted to you!“

“Is it is a small matter that God has separated you from the rest of the children of Israel to bring you close to Him to serve in  the Tabernacle and to stand before the congregation to minister to them?”

Instead of focusing on what others have that you don’t, take a look at what you’ve been given!  Focus on the good that is in your life, the disproportionate good, the good that you have in ways that others don’t!  My mother had a great aunt who had a tragic life from beginning to end.  Yet my mother recalls that she was the most cheerful woman who, when asked to explain how she could be cheerful in the face of all her hardships, responded, “You can always look over your shoulder and find someone worse off than you.”  Moses is calling for a shift in perspective.  Don’t look at what you don’t have and others do, look at what you have despite the fact that others don’t.  Each of us can think of blessings in our lives that we were given “unfairly.” Each of our children can think of a time they got an extra treat, a special outing, special talents and gifts—focus on those!

I’m sure they can all relate to Korach’s bitterness over not being given what he thought was fair, but we have a powerful opportunity here to share with our children a different philosophy in life, one that will stand them in good stead for years to come.

Ennui For Me

June 26th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 41 comments

You know you’re in for a rough time when you hear a speaker begin his speech by saying, “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking.” I hope that this Musing isn’t an echo of that as I say, “Unaccustomed as I am at having nothing to say…”

As an introvert, the increased isolation engendered by COVID-19 has been less burdensome on me than on my extroverted friends. We do not have a house of young children needing almost-constant attention. My instrument for work, otherwise known as my computer, is readily available and my husband and I enjoy each other’s company.

What I have noticed, however, is that I am beginning to bore myself. The news rotates on a cycle of Coronavirus, protests, violence, racism and perfidy. Hypocrisy and lies are constant. How much more is there to say? Opportunities to speak to regular people are limited and most politicians and pundits are predictable and amazingly disconnected from reality.

I am disappointed that, in confusing and momentous times, President Trump,has so far failed to address the nation as a strong leader. While he could not say or do anything that would result in the press or many Americans treating him fairly, he could and should have provided his citizens with straight talk and with uplifting inspiration.

I am disappointed at how many gullible people think that a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for Joe Biden. That demands a naiveté that historically leads to disaster The media’s failure to report on almost unimaginable excesses occurring in academia, CHOP, what used to be known as the free press or other Leftist enclaves means that those pronouncing that a “normalcy” and “return to respectability” will accompany any Democrat power are deluding themselves.

There is absolutely nothing new or insightful in what I just wrote. As I said, I’m beginning to find my own thoughts tedious. I enjoy engaging with you through the comments section and I appreciate ZOOM get-togethers with family and friends, but I am more than ready to meet you again in person and feel the energy and vitality kindled by being around large groups.

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My turn to be a Matchmaker?

June 24th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 1 comment

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

Thank you so much for your words of wisdom.

Very dear friends of mine have a daughter in her mid 30’s. She is a modern orthodox Jew or at least Lubavitcher.  She lives in the Houston area, which doesn’t have a huge Orthodox population so there aren’t that many opportunities for her to meet suitable men.

How can I help her? She’s a beautiful gal with charm and wit. While she works, she doesn’t think of herself as a career gal.  She still lives with her parents whom she helps to support.

What would you recommend?

Blessings and thank you for all you do.

Sammy T.

Dear Sammy,

You are a very kind person and we think it is lovely that you are concerned about this young woman and want to help her.  While it can be mocked through the use of stereotypes as in the plays Hello Dolly! or Fiddler on the Roof, matchmaking at its best is a lovely sign of caring. It is simply wanting to assist others to find a life partner and establish a home and it is a time-treasured pastime among religious Jews.  In matchmaking, we are emulating the Almighty who Himself introduced the first couple to one another.

Like many other religious groups, many young Jews spurn the dating system for meeting a potential life partner. They seek not only shared interests but especially shared values. That is often facilitated best by a wise third party who knows both the man and the woman.  Considering the emotional roller-coaster ride that dating often inflicts, on women particularly, many couples feel profound gratitude to their matchmakers.  Matchmakers can be informal friends or relatives but often they are trained men and women who take their profession very seriously.  (We know of what we speak because as leaders of the synagogue we planted in Southern California a few years ago, we were privileged to serve as matchmakers for more than a hundred couples.)The task doesn’t end with the introduction—it has then just begun. The fledgling relationship needs to be nurtured and during those fifteen years of our lives, we were accustomed to many late-night after-date phone calls from excited or sometimes distraught men and women.

Within the religious  Jewish community, in addition to formal matchmakers, friends, and family, there are many online and offline resources that help in this search. Couples frequently meet each other using these paths. Before COVID, it was not at all unusual for a man or woman who lives in a smaller community to fly a few times a year into a larger one for a few days specifically to meet and date someone they either met online or whom a matchmaker suggested. If this woman is over 30, affiliated with the community and looking to marry, you can be quite sure that she is very familiar with most of these resources. 

Honestly, Sammy, you are so well-intentioned, but since you are not involved in that religious community yourself, the chances are high that you would be lost in a maze trying to actively help her unless God puts someone right in your path who seems appropriate. (It has been known to happen.)  Why do we say you are not involved in that community?  Because you wrote that she is  “modern Orthodox or Lubavitcher”.  You see, that is somewhat akin to saying that she is looking to live only in Miami or only in Montreal. Men and women who fit into one of those categories do not easily fit in the other one.  In fact, they are even more distinct than Miami is from Montreal.

What can you do? Foremost, you can pray. Whether you can do more than that is really a question of how close is your friendship with her parents. Doing more might be perceived as prying and poking your nose where it doesn’t belong and could be an awful idea. There certainly could be reasons she is still living at home and other family dynamics of which you are unaware. A very narrow line separates concern from intrusiveness.

If you are convinced that involving yourself would be welcome, you might tentatively see if your friends could encourage their daughter to spend time in a larger Jewish community on a regular basis. If you knew a warm family in Miami, Montreal, Baltimore, Los Angeles or New York who would be happy to host her and introduce her around, that might well be your most valuable contribution.  This may very well mean her spending Shabbat and holidays away from her parents. The more friendships she cultivates, the more people will be looking out for a good man for her.

You sound like many a frustrated parent who watches a child not move forward in his or her personal or career life. The reality is that by the time someone is in her mid-30s, she is the main actor in her destiny and the biggest steps need to come from her. 

Keep her in your prayers, and know that dancing at the wedding of a couple you introduced is a special joy.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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The Cure Is Hated More Than The Disease

June 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 38 comments

How do you like this allegory?  Once upon a time, there was a wonderful country filled with happy people. It wasn’t perfect, but there was hardly a citizen who’d rather be living somewhere else.  Then a wicked and ugly old witch whispered her evil curse over the land.  Little by little some children stopped getting educated and grew up illiterate.  Some children grew up sullen, surly, and unemployable. Many little girls, even before they grew up, fell victim to overgrown boys of poor character and many little boys grew up to become vicious thugs who enjoyed inflicting violence and pain on other people.  Because of these curses, many people suffered from poverty.

One day it happened that a beautiful good witch took pity on the once happy land and gave a priceless present to the people.  They gathered around to unwrap the gift. “What could it be?” they asked. Finally, the colorful wrapping was removed and the box was opened. Inside they found a big pot of magic paint.  “What do we do with it?” they asked.

The beautiful good witch stood up to explain and everyone listened silently and respectfully. “Paint a small patch of this magic paint upon the right ear of every newborn child,” she instructed. “All children with a small daub of this paint upon their ears will study diligently until they have acquired an excellent education. Every one of these children will be quickly hired by good employers or they will start their own businesses.  They will all grow up to be peaceful and law-abiding and they will marry before having children.  What is more, they will all prosper financially,” she pronounced.  Then, in a cloud of blue smoke, she vanished.

Upon hearing these words, the leaders of this once happy land immediately made it mandatory for every newborn to receive a daub of magic blue paint upon their right ears before leaving the hospital with their mothers. Like vaccinations, the blue patch as it became known, was declared a public health matter and complying was mandatory.  Well, it didn’t take much more than about twenty years and the country was again happy.  Once again the land was peaceful and filled with productive people.  The land returned to harmony, happiness, and prosperity.  The End.

Every allegory has a germ of truth in it; that is what makes it an allegory.  This one is no exception.  There truly is one simple thing that can be done for every newborn which will reduce its chances of poverty by over 85%.  That one thing will also increase the probability of the child getting a good education by 220%.  Furthermore, that one thing will almost eliminate the likelihood of the child getting into trouble with the law and reduce teenage pregnancy to almost the vanishing point.  The good news is that all these wonderful outcomes are almost inevitable if only one thing is done. It doesn’t even involve painting a blue patch on every child’s ear.

The bad news is that the one simple thing that can be done to bring about a wonderful life for every child is to make sure that it is born to a mother who is married to its father and that it is raised in a stable two-parent home.  Almost all else follows. Are there exceptions? Yes, sure, just as in any group of 320 million souls, there will be thousands of exceptions to the rule that people have five fingers on each hand.  That doesn’t change the truths that most people have ten fingers and that most children raised in stable two-married-heterosexual-parent homes do far better in life than those who weren’t.

For this happy outcome, it is necessary for parents to fulfill their obligations to their children and for children to fulfill their obligations to their parents, chiefly by respecting them in accordance with the fifth of the Ten Commandments. 

For that to work, there has to be both a mother and a father.  It goes against the grain for most women to insist on honor, even from their children.  If men insist on honor from their children, they look like bullying buffoons.  There is only one way children can learn to honor their mothers and their fathers: Mom teaches them to respect dad, and he, in turn, demands that they respect and obey their mother.  That is why this additional verse emphasizes not just the abstract ‘parents’ but explicitly ‘mother’ and ‘father’.

Each person should revere his mother and his father, and keep my sabbaths,
I, the Lord, am your God. 
(Leviticus 19:3)

This verse is not only about honoring our parents. It is also about the 7th day, the Sabbath.  In fact, the really interesting thing about this verse is that it actually encapsulates 3 of the Ten Commandments.

Commandment number 5, “Honor your father and your mother…” (Deuteronomy 5:16)

Commandment number 4,  “Keep the sabbath day…”   (Deuteronomy 5:12)

Commandment number 1,  “I am the Lord your God…”   (Deuteronomy 5:6)

If you’re lucky enough to receive a beautiful bouquet of flowers you anxiously search for a card that will tell you who sent it to you, its source. If we were merely materialistic beings, all that would matter are the tangible things–the flowers. But as spiritual beings, we recognize the flowers as symbolic of an abstract relationship. We want to know the source.

One of the important ways we retain our cosmic balance in a big and confusing world is by remaining linked to sources. “Who said that?” you ask the person to who spoke a beguiling quote. Does it matter? Yes, sources and origins do matter. “I got this recipe from my mother-in-law.”  “You see this hammer? I inherited it from my grandfather.”  Genealogy is a growing Internet theme.  We all want to know where we came from. One of the terrible curses of that wicked old witch is the large number of Americans who don’t know the name or the whereabouts of their fathers. 

Leviticus 19:3 says to revere your mother and your father. Apart from all the good they have done you, they are your source.  They are your connection to yesterday.  And remember the Sabbath because it too is a reminder to an origin. In six days God created heaven and earth and on the seventh day, He rested. Look around you. Everything you see had an origin and a source. The ultimate origin of all is of course God Himself hence the final phrase of Leviticus 19:3.

But it all starts with having a mother and a father to revere.  And making sure that every born child has his and her rightful legacy of a mother and a father is surely the business of anyone who claims to care about people.

It is not about protests, it is about parents. If you care about people suffering from poverty, make sure every child is born to a married mother and father. If you care about violent crime, do everything you can to ensure that every child is born to a married mom and dad. If you care about educational failure and want to stop multi-generational dysfunction, end the curse of children growing up without fathers.

It is shockingly hypocritical for elected lawmakers and officials, community leaders and activists (What are they? Who pays you to become a community activist?) to blame loudly for society’s problems everything imaginable except the one major cause; the cataclysmic failure of marriage and family.

We don’t need blue paint patches. What we need are influential people courageous enough to stigmatize publicly women, no matter how rich and famous,  who have child after child without being married. We need brave voices to condemn and marginalize men who impregnate women and then walk away.  America learned to stop smoking and it learned not to drink and drive. In a frighteningly short three months, America learned to distance and wear masks. Why can’t it learn that letting a helpless child tumble into the world without a mother and a father is terrible for the child, terrible for society, and just plain wrong? 

Promoting culture and government policies that destroy the traditional family has not led to greater happiness and prosperity. We have become afraid to proclaim that success is grounded in the Source, our Creator. Our mission is to share the Bible and ancient Jewish wisdom, the blueprint that lays out what leads a society to thrive or to shrivel. Our costs have increased, and on July 1, most of our prices will rise. This week is a great chance to stock up before that takes effect.

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Parents Disagreeing about TV Time (Part II)

June 23rd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Last week, we discussed how parents can get on the same page when it comes to children watching TV/video or using technology. While I didn’t mention how important it is for parents to present a unified front, that is imperative. One of the biggest gifts parents can give children is predictability and security. When mothers and fathers enforce different rules, children are the losers. The discussions about watching TV, or any other area where mothers and fathers conflict, should not be in front of the children. Since children are equipped with X-ray eyes and hyper-sensitive hearing when they are interested in a conversation, these discussions should best take place out of the home or, at least, in a private room with relatively loud music playing (even if you are sure your children are asleep).

What can children do instead of watching TV or videos? Let’s compare this to food. What would you do if your family was accustomed to a diet of nutritionally empty snacks and fast-food main courses washed down by soda and you reached the conclusion that this wasn’t a great idea?

Here is what you would not do: You would not get up and lecture about the dangers of sugar and the importance of cruciferous vegetables. You would not insist that you could only switch to a healthier menu if it took exactly the same time and cost the same as a fast-food supper. You would not choose to make this change the same week as you have two overdue projects at work, your daughter’s best friend was moving out of town or your annoying cousins were coming to visit.

What you would do (I hope) is recognize that often the immediate reaction to making an improvement seems to make things worse. Do you want to renovate your house? Get ready for expense, dirt and noise. Do you want to get in shape? Prepare for sore muscles and aches. You get the idea.

Make a strategic plan. Pick a stretch of time when you and your wife will be more available than usual. Make time each day for playing with your children. If your children are not accustomed to imaginative and independent play, you are going to have to help ease them into this.

Invest in art supplies, games, building and construction toys, puzzles and books. Don’t overbuy—too many “things” tend to lead to boredom. You have lots of supplies already at your fingertips: empty paper towel and toilet rolls, empty matchboxes, socks without matches, etc.

If you and your wife’s imaginations could use a boost, there are thousands of ideas online as well as tons of craft books in the library. Spend time together discovering if your children enjoy board games, books on tape, building towers or having relay races. If you invest time doing these things with them now, they will grab the initiative down the road and be able to do these activities on their own.

Yes, this will make for a messier house. Establish ground rules for cleaning up after each project/game before beginning a new one. Make designated places for library books and art supplies. The time and thought the two of you put into converting your household from passive to active past-times will pay off down the road.

You mentioned “young children,” but did not designate an age. Toddlers can entertain themselves as can eight-year-olds, but obviously not for the same amount of time. Be realistic. If your children are very young, you and your wife may well have to take turns being on call and playing at any designated hour. Maybe a pre-teen or young teen-age neighbor can play with your children while you are in the house getting some work done.

I don’t think of watching TV as the equivalent of giving a child arsenic, but I do think of it as junk food. In small amounts, it is a treat. In large doses, it is harmful. I hope this discussion helps you and your wife figure out your own views on the subject.

Best,

Susan Lapin

American Blessings

June 18th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

It is terribly easy to become convinced that evil lurks in every heart and that cross-cultural friendships are impossible. Many rabble-rousers and politicians get rich and powerful by convincing us of such. One of our daughters mentioned that, as summer weather descended, her children (age nine and under) were playing daily in a local park. Each day, she said, different neighborhood children are there, including children of all religions, colors and ethnicities. Shared water balloons and nerf guns forge friendships. She was having difficulty reconciling the normality and community togetherness that she was witnessing in the park with the hatred presented in her morning newsfeed. Her words reminded me of the Musing I am copying below that I wrote a number of years ago:

For most of my childhood, my grandparent, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived in the same, general area. Even those who moved “far away” were usually within an hour’s drive. Family relationships were augmented by neighbors who became friends, the relationships often emerging more from proximity than from shared interests. One of my closest companions, from even before my memories start, was JoAnn who lived down the block. We had a lot of fun, but we didn’t have a lot of choices. It would never have occurred to our mothers to make playdates and arrange transport for little girls. They unlocked the door in the morning, expected their daughters back for lunch and supper, and assumed that they would find companions without leaving the block.

My friendship with JoAnn was a weekday one. Saturday was my Shabbat and Sunday her day for church. I went to a Jewish school; she to the local Catholic one. Our differences went beyond religion, though. I was an avid reader while JoAnn’s mother coerced her into reading anything at all.  JoAnn enjoyed fixing hair and trying out new styles while I wasn’t terribly interested in fashion.  Had we met in the classroom or at a camp, we probably never would have gravitated to each other. But for those many years during which we were too young to venture far, we played hopscotch and stoop ball and spent many summer days splashing about in her four-foot-deep plastic pool. We rode endless circuits around the block on our bicycles and, if memory serves me right, more than once we saved civilization from utter destruction in our roles as intrepid spies. (I never watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. but JoAnn’s mother was a fan.)

We knew each other’s families. JoAnn and her siblings rotated spending evenings with her grandmother, and I joined her in visiting the black-clad, elderly widow who knew as many words in English as I knew in Italian. I knew more about communion and convents than most of the kids in my class and JoAnn knew more about less popularized Jewish festivals, like Shavuot or Shmini Atzeret, than did the majority of Jews.

All the families on our block were either Italian-Catholic or Jewish. Across the street lived an older Jewish couple. For many years their youngest daughter was a favorite babysitter for many of the families on the block.  After her marriage, this young woman and her husband took an apartment next door to her parents.  A few years later, we were all shocked when her father had a heart attack while driving home and died.  Jewish burials take place as quickly as possible, and within 24 hours matters were arranged. I was considered too young to go to the funeral with my mother, but old enough to stay home alone. Our ex-babysitter’s toddler was sent across the street to JoAnn’s house.

About two hours after my mother left, JoAnn came running down the block. Their young Jewish charge was hungry and her mother, knowing that it was Passover and how the food restrictions on that holiday are extremely serious, was hesitant to give him as much as a fruit from her kitchen. I solved the problem by sending over kosher for Passover food, but it wasn’t until years later that I recognized and appreciated the sensitivity and respect which JoAnn’s mother exhibited. 

People endlessly talk about multiculturalism and the need for valuing all ethnicities, races and religions as if America in decades past was a hostile and evil nation for all but a select few. To speak that way is an insult to so many who, like the people on my block, treated each other with dignity, were quick to help one another, and who created safe and secure neighborhoods for their children.

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All or Nothing

June 17th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Sadly, but readily, I’ll confess that I am no dancer.  It’s not that I wouldn’t like to be Fred Astaire on the dance floor.  It’s just that when I dance, more than anything else I resemble a drunk trying to trample a cockroach.  One of my many problems in this arena is that I remember only one thing at a time.  I can remember a kindly advisor (actually it was a contemptuous teenager) at a family celebration telling me to wave my arms.  This I can do, but since the rest of me stands as rigidly as the Statue of Liberty the overall effect is less Astaire and more like a seizure.  When I remember to bounce lightly on my toes while syncopating my feet, well, we’re back to stomping cockroaches.  It really is important to apply all elements of an integrated solution; to use all the recommended ingredients in a recipe.

Running a business means taking care of production, marketing, accounting, and several other key areas.  No matter how proficiently you pursue only one of those, if the others are neglected, you won’t see success.  Building a happy and tranquil family also depends on simultaneously progressing on a number of fronts.  A military campaign is another example of this principle.  If an invasion is successful but the air cover and supply lines are neglected, all is lost.  No complex task or project can be accomplished with blinders on.  One must understand all the components that taken together comprise success and then figure out how to move forward on them all at the same time.

Part of Israel’s success as a modern, democratic state is surely due to her ability to focus simultaneously on defense, tourism, industrialization, infrastructure, immigration, and many other concerns.  In all likelihood, understanding the total picture entered the DNA of Israel from the following Scriptural source:

And you shall guard them and do them [the laws and statutes] for doing so
[is evidence of] your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations who,
when they hear about ALL these statutes will say,
“Surely this is a nation of wisdom and understanding”.
Deuteronomy 4:6

Ancient Jewish wisdom describes how this verse would have read almost identically had the word ALL been omitted. 

…when they hear about these statutes (they) will say, “Surely
this is a nation of wisdom and understanding.”

See what I mean?

Nonetheless, that word ALL is vital.  If the nations see Israel observing and doing only selected laws and statutes, perhaps only those they feel emotionally drawn to, the result would be quite different.  The nations will not say, “This is a nation of wisdom and understanding.” Instead, they are more likely to say, “How weird, bizarre, and generally inexplicable is this nation!”

Revering only the parts of the Bible we like the sound of does not make us effective children of God; it subjects us to ridicule.  Seeing the Bible as the comprehensive life plan that it is, not only makes us effective but it also makes us admired.

There are those who take the Bible seriously on family matters but who ignore it at work.  There are those who meticulously study the Bible and obey its edicts on charity and justice but who regard its rulings on other social issues to be anachronistic.  All the folks in these examples are getting as much benefit from the Bible as they would from eating a culinary delight prepared by a careless chef who omitted a few key ingredients.

When you respect the Biblical statutes, that important word ALL is the key.  If you try to make a bed so perfectly that a sergeant’s coin bounces off the blanket, you need to pay equal attention and apply equal tension to ALL four corners. God’s word is no different. Perhaps certain concepts resonate with us while others baffle us. That is irrelevant.  We do well to recognize that they are all intertwined.

We met some of you because you were drawn to our business teachings; others of you first found guidance in our family resources. Our goal is to keep the various parts of your lives and ours in balance, casting an ancient Jewish wisdom lens on these four essential areas: Family, Finances, Faith, and Friendship.

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Am I Having a Mid-life Crisis?

June 16th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

I am a 35-year-old male who is sole supporter for a household of 7 and I feel like I am at or near a mid-life crisis. I admit this probably isn’t the middle of my life, but from what I read and others tell me all indications suggest this is what I am experiencing.

Are ‘mid-life’ crises normal and if so what are some strategies for managing through them? Or are they a sign that I am not living right?

W.

Dear W.,

We, too, hope that thirty-five isn’t the middle of your life, but your question stands, and we would like to approach this from four different angles.

Labels are both potentially useful and potentially harmful.  We knew someone who used to go through a full-fledged “mid-life-crisis” every two or three years of his life.   Recognizing that two-year-olds have abilities and desires that babies did not, allows parents to change the way they speak to and act towards newly independent toddlers. However, if parents chalk up every problem to “terrible twos” or, even worse, dread that period, the label will make those years less fun and more difficult. (We, personally, loved that age and if we generalized at all it was by calling it the “terrific twos.”)

Similarly, there are constantly things to be aware of as we move year-by-year through life. Many of us ignore yearly check-ups when we are young and feel invulnerable, but it is always a good idea to discover if there might be a physical cause behind emotional difficulties. Barring any physical reason, being able to label feelings as a mid-life crisis can lead to finding resources and ideas that help, but it is far more likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most people today have little patience for going through a plateau or even a darkish period.  Experiencing a down few days or even weeks is perfectly natural and perfectly normal.  It really doesn’t need a label; just know that, “This too shall pass.”

Secondly, while what we wrote to you above is true, that is not to suggest that you ignore the real obligation to probe into yourself for some explanations for how you feel.  You termed yourself as the sole supporter of your family. Unless you are a single father or your wife is completely incapacitated, your perception is false. Even if you are the sole “bringing in income from an outside source” partner, you are not the sole financial support, let alone the sole physical and emotional support. You and your wife are one team and should be seeing yourselves that way.

The team does many wonderful things; it brings in income, raises a family, nurtures a marriage and runs a home. If you and your wife see yourselves more as independent contractors in a joint venture, then both of you will get less fulfillment from what you are doing. For instance, you need to internalize the reality that the income you earn is actually as much your wife’s achievement as yours. Getting nutritious and appealing meals on the table is your accomplishment as well, even if your wife does the shopping and cooking. If either of you fails to appreciate the contributions of the other, life is less rewarding. Your feelings could well be alerting you that your marriage needs more attention.

Likewise, if you view yourself as an outsider to the decidedly noisy and hectic activities of a house full of children, then you will not derive the pride, pleasure, and satisfaction you should from that family. If you only see your children as mouths to feed, then you certainly need to reassess your family goals, structure,  practices and above all, values.

Thirdly, human beings who are not growing do not stay at the same level, they deteriorate and they stagnate. Sometimes, we grow at a tremendous rate in one area of our life, but stagnate in others. Medical and law students are notorious for sometimes being rather boring. They are so focused on the one area of their challenging studies that other areas stagnate. For this reason, we talk of regularly needing to assess the five Fs in your life: Faith, Family, Fitness, Fortune and Friendships. A “mid-life crisis” whether one is 25, 35 or 65 might alert you to an imbalance.

As our fourth suggestion, we strongly recommend that you try this experiment. Obtain for yourself a notebook (or use the journal we have prepared) and each evening before you retire for the night, seclude yourself for ten minutes and discipline yourself to write down at least 3 things for which you’re grateful. It might be something that happened at work, something you realized for the first time, the smile one of your children gave you, how well your car runs, or your wife’s calm demeanor at the children’s bedtime. Don’t do this on a computer or other digital device. The full benefit of this activity is derived best by doing this on paper because it stimulates different cognitive processes.

We feel confident that these four points and your reactions to them will help you and perhaps also give you other ideas to consider. Bouncing these ideas off a carefully gathered group of male friends and mentors can yield much support as well.

Wishing you many fulfilling years ahead,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Parents disagreeing about TV time

June 16th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

The following question came into our office and I think this is the best venue for a response.

My question is what if your wife does not share the same thoughts of watching tv and reading. What do you do? 


Also if you have young children who watch tv but sometimes it’s difficult not to allow them especially if you are busy doing other things such work, studying. How do you balance things?

Cheers,

H

Dear H.,

Because TV watching is a relatively unemotional topic, it is a wonderful opportunity for a couple to use to learn how to discuss conflicting ideas with affection and respect. Start by acknowledging your common ground. Both of you love your children and want the best for them. Once you recognize that, you can explore together the potential benefits and/or harms of TV (or video or technology) time. You are no longer in opposition to each other; you are on the same team.

Share with each other articles and/or books presenting different sides of the issue. There is physiological evidence on what watching TV does to children’s brains.  Educate yourselves together. Discuss the cultural views that your children will acquire through commercials as well as through programs and ask if these are ones you want in your house. You may find that learning more is enough to change one of your points of view.

I imagine that your disagreement partially hinges on your second question. We are busy and TV certainly provides an easy way to keep kids sitting in one place quietly. The problem is that this is a temporary solution that can produce long-term difficulties.

What do I mean? You have probably heard about the concept of an “emotional bank.” This is based on the idea that interactions work more smoothly when positive comments and actions far outnumber negative ones. For example, if your children are in school, make a point of letting a teacher know when an assignment is clever and enjoyable, when the book chosen as a classroom read-aloud is one you love, or about the days your child comes home brimming with excitement. Should there be a time when you have a complaint, a teacher who has received approbation from you will be much more willing to listen to what is wrong. This concept is true in all relationships. Recognizing the good is a powerful tool.

I think that, similarly, there is an “imagination bank”. For every activity that stifles imagination or puts it on ice, there should be numerous activities that encourage creativity. Watching TV is a passive activity. The more TV children watch, the less capable they become of entertaining themselves. The less capable of entertaining themselves they become, the greater the urge to resort to TV to keep them quiet. The vicious cycle continues. By the way, this is true whether or not the shows are of positive, negative or neutral value.

This means that while TV can give peace and quiet, it is somewhat like taking a sleeping pill rather than acquiring habits that lead to a good night’s sleep. Eventually, the dose needs to be increased and, in the process, you may be harming your body. Some of the studies you should read together show how children can be more agitated and harder to manage after they have been watching TV. Forewarned is forearmed.

So what is a parent to do when they need quiet time? I hope to follow up next week with suggestions.

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