Monthly Archives: July, 2020

Uncovering the School Cover-Up

July 30th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 32 comments

Jason Gay is a talented writer and, despite a general apathy about  the topic, I sometimes do read his sports columns for the Wall Street Journal. His words are clear and witty, unexpectedly enticing me to spend a few minutes on matters of baseball, football and basketball.

Mr. Gay also writes on family issues and while his approach is often comical, a recent article left me more annoyed than amused. He lamented how poorly he was coping with his children  at home and how exhausted both he and his wife are. The idea that schools might not open in the fall loomed as an insurmountable challenge to him.

While I didn’t love the general tone of the piece, what particularly irritated me were two paragraphs in the middle.

“Let’s not ignore the serious problems we’re creating—how these issues with schools are causing learning gaps and putting disadvantaged children at an even greater disadvantage. Children who need extra educational support are in crisis…

‘Meanwhile, privileged families are creating their own little education yurts with tutors and tennis coaches and pastry chefs and widening the chasm between families who can and cannot bathe problems in money.”

Excuse me? Where do I even begin to list the many flaws in this?

Let’s look at his, “serious problems we’re creating.” The fact is, that schools have been creating serious problems for decades now that result in more “disadvantaged children.”

Society has been living a great lie—that the government can replace devoted parents. Do you want to have a child without a spouse? Go ahead! All families are equal. Do you want to invite a rotating cadre of boyfriends to live with you and your children? It will be the school’s job to see that your children are emotionally healthy. Are you an immigrant? The school’s job is to welcome your child but not to integrate him into American life or demand that he or she learn English—after all, every culture is equal and all languages are valuable. Do you tell your children that studying is a waste of time and model poor behavior and decision-making? Not to worry! The school will make your child learn as well as a child whose parents read to him and sit with her at healthy family meals.

We have prioritized imparting social and political views over education. We have treated students as bargaining pawns in union negotiations and destroyed what used to be an admirable public school system that produced literate, responsible and productive graduates no matter the poverty level in their homes. Was it imperfect? Yes. But there was no pretense that schools could and should fill every academic, social, emotional and psychological need.

Certainly, many children with special needs are more impacted by the closing of programs geared specifically to them. However, an incredible number of children who need “extra educational support” need that support because the schools they attend are awful and because we have devalued family and home life. We have pretended that having children is not the awesome blessing and responsibility it is, but rather one of hundreds of  “lifestyle choices.” The closure of schools has shone a light on how we have deemphasized the importance of being a parent and how unskilled even well-educated parents are in their most important task of raising the next generation. It did not create the problem.

I can’t ignore the disparagement of wealth that Jason Gay presents in the second paragraph I quoted. Money does not guarantee raising successful children—if it did, Seattle and Portland would most likely not be the disaster areas they are today. But for every parent who is hiring a pastry chef, thousands more are standing in the kitchen and baking with their children. Many more parents are reading stories and playing games with their children than are hiring private tutors. Not having to scramble to put food on the table so that you can spend time reading and playing games with your children is an advantage to which everyone should aspire rather than one that should be mocked.

“Bathe problems in money”? Really? Is it worthy of derision when parents delay gratification and work hard so that they can take care of their own children rather than expecting their fellow citizens to do so? If Mr. Gay’s children needed medical, educational or psychological help I imagine he would be happy to scrimp and sacrifice and utter prayers of gratitude for a saving account that would allow him not to “bathe” the problem in money but to solve, mitigate and deal with it.

I will still continue to enjoy Mr. Gay’s writing. But this article badly missed the mark.

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How Do I Connect to God?

July 28th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Hi,

I was raised Christian and midway into my adult life, I questioned many things about my faith and reevaluated where I stand. I went through bouts of atheism and ended up more agnostic in my beliefs. I felt abandoned and always searching for God/Creator and what that really is.

I still enjoy the moral lessons in scripture and especially yours. But I still feel that sense of disconnection from God.

I would like your advice on what I should do to accomplish my quests to find the peace, connection, and love of God, while all the while, always questioning the existence and presence that I cannot see. I hope that you can offer advice.

Marcus

Dear Marcus,

By its very definition, having faith means trusting in something that cannot be proven beyond a doubt. Maimonides, a great sage who lived from 1138-1204 instructs us, not to believe that there is a God, but to “know that there is a God”.  Of course, that quest to know God is an ongoing one. We do not each day need to set out to “know” that we need to breathe oxygen or that our bodies require food. Other things that we “know” do need constant reinforcement such as knowing that we should be faithful (there’s that faith word again) to our spouses or that getting up with alacrity is better than lounging in bed.

You are clearly a thinking person and also one who feels deeply. It sounds like you have gone through a process and it is possible that you may even have confused accepting specific tenets of a specific religious path with being aware of a loving Father in heaven.

You now seek connection with God. Please know that being aware of a connection with God and of His love for you does lead to peace, but most of us feel that more at some times and less at others. The search for that connection does not always make us feel peaceful; it can actually be disturbing just as an emerging newborn is jostled, pushed and prodded by going through the birth canal.

Here are some practical tips we hope may help you.

1)        If you don’t feel the way you wished you felt, start acting the way you’d act if you already felt the way you’d like to feel.  You may need to read that sentence twice, but it boils down to talking and praying to God before you are sure He is there and listening.

2)        Try to designate a time and place for daily prayer when you won’t be disturbed or interrupted by the phone or by people. You certainly can and should talk to God “off the cuff” throughout the day, but a set time and place will serve to “prime the pump” so to speak.

3)        Spend twice as much time during your prayer session, in silent contemplation as you do speaking. So many times, we talk to God telling Him of our needs, desires and questions, but we run around the rest of the day, not allowing ourselves the quiet to listen for His responses to us.

4)        Get to know in person or listen to or read about people of deep and simple faith for an hour or two each week.  Reading about someone who trained for and ran a marathon or listening to them present a motivational speech makes it easier to follow in their footsteps. The same is true for faith. There are so many people and resources out there, some public figures and others less well-known. Find those who resonate with you.

5)        Start reading a book about how the world and the human body work. Understanding how complex and miraculous this universe and our human existence are evokes gratitude to God for each day we survive and each breath we take.

6)        You might want to go through the book of Psalms slowly, taking half a year or even a whole year to work your way through.

We are confident that 90 days or so into this regimen you will feel more secure and settled than you are today. Don’t expect a steady, consistent change. You will face challenges that make you take a step back and that seduce you to give up and quit your quest. Persistence, humility and courage will keep you on the right track.

Let us know how it goes,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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The Socialization Trap

July 28th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

During this pandemic, many parents have been surprised to discover just how valuable family time is. Some discovered that their children made more academic progress by not going to traditional school. No matter what the benefits, however, many had to cope with kids who desperately missed their friends.

This last problem might lead some parents who are thinking, “Wow, could homeschooling be for us?” to dismiss it out of hand. After all, no matter what the benefits of being home, friendship and social interactions are important.

Three of my daughters—all homeschooling moms—and I were each asked to film a short video about socialization and homeschooling. We’re actually not sure where the final product will be seen, but we know the person collecting the videos so we were willing to participate. As things developed, our eldest was helping facilitate the COVID-19 wedding of a friend so she didn’t manage to contribute. My other daughters and I ended up approaching the topic from different directions and I thought you might enjoy getting a composite view.

DD3 and her husband took advantage of the changes wrought by the virus to load their three children onto an RV and set off to discover America. She made the point that her children are meeting all sorts of people at each RV park they frequent. They are becoming less diffident and shy as they meet both kids and adults from different backgrounds and areas. Since everyone might move out at any moment, there is no time for slowly warming up to each other. This has made her realize that, in schools, kids are often with basically the same group of friends for many years. Certainly, some social skills are practiced, but breaking out of the school bubble is valuable as well.

DD2 spoke about the many social opportunities her children usually have ranging from homeschool coop scenarios to homeschool activities run by the local science center or other organizations. The picture of children sitting at home and seeing no one may be applicable to a pandemic situation, but it certainly does not represent most families and their normal homeschooling experiences. After initially being excited at how very many social activities are available, many homeschooling moms end up realizing that they need to choose carefully so that they do not find their entire week taken up with running between amazing options. The challenge is often too much socialization rather than too little.

The point I made was to question what the word socialization means in the first place. During my 16-year homeschooling journey, my children made friends based more on interest than on age. Isn’t that how life works? As adults, we don’t restrict our friendships to those born within the same year as us nor to those who live in the same neighborhood. As the only Jewish family within a once-a-week Christian coop, my children learned to clearly define and be proud of their unique family and religious heritage at the same time as they learned that we can be friends with those who are different from us. They took classes at the coop based on their interests rather than their age and learned to function in a group with those both older and younger than they were.

It isn’t uncommon for those parents whose children face social difficulties in school to decide to homeschool. In many cases, parents find it easier to work on these difficulties, with or without professional help, while their children aren’t having daily negative experiences in school. Outsiders may see a struggling child and attribute their awkwardness to homeschooling while the reality is that the cause and effect are reversed. The child is homeschooling because he had challenges; the challenges aren’t the result of the homeschooling.

Most kids who would socially do well in school are perfectly fine making friends through the homeschooling community as well as at their neighborhoods and synagogues or churches. Those of my children who transitioned to school during their high school or college years had no difficulty whatsoever in making friends and I hear the same from others.

If you have found that having your children home has brought blessing into your family, I hope you won’t take homeschooling off the table because of the false narrative that the need for  “socialization”  can only take place in traditional school settings. You may not have a choice next year—when and how schools will open is up for debate. However, if your school opens in a way that isolates each child and “socialization” is no longer even a goal of schooling, I hope you know that having friends and getting along with others is extremely important, but something that parents are perfectly capable of facilitating.

Breaking Up or Breaking Through?

July 27th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

Neil Sedaka’s song “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” hit number one on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 in the summer of 1962.  And as all who’ve loved and lost know, it is hard to do.  But if you are in the wrong relationship, you must do it if you are ever to move on and unite with the right person.

My wife and I nursed many a young congregant through the heartbreak of a relationship ending.  Indeed, we often encouraged and hastened the goodbye, assuring our tormented friend that only by enduring the tears of break up now, could joy arrive tomorrow.

Ford’s Model T debuted in 1908.  By 1914, a quarter-million were being built each year.  This was terrible for people who had spent years in the horse wagon business.  In fact, in the year 1900, about 110,000 people were employed building or repairing carriages and harnesses.  Nearly 250,000 blacksmiths lived and worked in America that year fitting shoes on countless horses.  And thousands more kept busy sweeping tons of horse manure off city streets.

Jobs for horse-driven transport workers quickly vanished.  However, there were soon far more automobiles than there had ever been horses and carriages and along with the cascade of cars came not thousands, but millions, of new jobs.  The end of the horse-drawn era was tough on many and those who clung to the past deprived themselves of the blessings that were marching down the new highways.

Sometimes a divorce allows two people in a doomed marriage to rebuild new lives; the breakup of an empire allows many newly independent nations to thrive; the breaking up of an old building allows a new one to rise in its place or the breaking apart of an atom releases unimaginable amounts of energy and frees humans from drudgery.  Every act of breaking, as painful as it always is, can launch something new that carries us further down the path of our own development as individuals, as a nation, and as the human family of God’s children.

I’d like to show you what the Hebrew verb for breaking looks like.

ש ב ר

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…
(Psalms 29:5)

But exactly the same word also means place of birth:

…for the children have arrived at the birthstool
(Isaiah 37:3)

משבר

,And what is more, exactly the same word .also means food

And Jacob saw that there was food in Egypt…
(Genesis 42:1)

ש ב ר

Ancient Jewish wisdom expresses this equation:

Breakup    =    Birth     =     Sustenance

The Lord’s language is teaching us that when something breaks and is destroyed, it also can give birth to something entirely new which can provide ongoing sustenance. It’s interesting that this idea has carried over into English where we have similar positive connotations for, “giving someone a break,” “breaking into a new business,” the phrase, “break of day” and of course, having a “breakthrough.”

One problem is that often we allow a breaking of something in our lives to break our spirits.  Instead, we must ensure that it becomes the birth of something new and positive.  To learn how to transform breakage into birth we need to see two more uses of the same Hebrew word which help to make everything clear.

And when Gideon heard the recounting of the dream and its interpretation
(Judges 7:15)

שברו

I hoped for your salvation, Oh Lord…
(Psalms 119:166)

שברתי

That’s right, when confronting the breakup of something we regarded as valuable we must analyze and interpret the past but then we must face only forward and anticipate salvation with confidence.

End that bad relationship; analyze what went wrong and why you stuck with it; walk away and don’t look back; face the future with optimism.  Convert your stock of buggy whips into fan belts and join the car revolution.

Breakup        Birth         Sustenance

…if you react with analysis and optimism.

___________________________________________

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Masked Strangers: a COVID Cost

July 24th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 36 comments

Going to the supermarket, library or store used to be a social activity. I may not have known anyone but, invariably, I chatted with those around me. Perhaps we discussed whether this year’s corn was sweet or if we should wait to buy, maybe we bonded for a few fleeting moments over a shared delight in an author, or we might have exchanged eyeball rolls at the annoyance of a computer glitch that delayed checkout. These transient interactions acknowledged a human fellowship.

Now, those around me view me not as a source of information and camaraderie but as a threat. How dare you come near me while I am picking out peaches? Are you going to make me sick? If there are smiles, one cannot see them. I sometimes don’t even recognize the masked face of those I do know; I certainly don’t relate to strangers.

What a loss! This week, I was remembering a Musing I wrote eight years ago that highlighted how severely damaging it is when something severs human relationships. Whether casual, neighborly connections get cut or if deeper and more intense connections between friends and family are hurt, the results for society are deadly serious.

Here is some of what I wrote then that is even more applicable today.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. A siyum marks the conclusion of learning a specific portion of God’s word. In this case, our grandson, Yosef, completed his very first section of the Mishnah—a compilation of ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning Mishnah marks a growth in maturity of thought and is a portal to deeper understanding. To mark the event, Yosef’s parents invited his teacher to a celebratory dinner.

What made this event particularly special is that we have known the young man who teaches Yosef since he was born. We met his parents when, as singles, they began attending my husband’s Torah classes. We rejoiced at their wedding; our families have shared many joyous and some sad times together as the teacher/student relationship evolved into one of close friendship. When our children were looking for a Torah teacher for Yosef, our friends’ oldest child was a natural choice.

When society functions successfully, this is how life works. People get to know, care for and trust each other. They interact in small family units, extended units of family and friends, and larger units like synagogue, church or business networks. When times are good they share Fourth of July barbecues, pick up groceries for each other and exchange recipes and books. In a time of need, such as illness, losing a job or a natural disaster like a hurricane, they support each other, providing not only physical assistance but also loving comfort.

Inevitably, as the government grows ever-bigger, family and friendship ties shrink. The more an impersonal government provides, the less people rely on each other. The less people rely on each other, the more they generally need government support. As taxes increase to provide more necessities and entitlements it forces more people to work longer hours, leaving them less time for strengthening ties to family and friends. When government is the first resource rather than the last one, forming relationships becomes optional and temporary. “What can you do for me” associations replace the traditional connections that are a vital, necessary part of successful living.

In the final analysis, the government cannot supply love, affection, compassion or charity. It can provide money and services, but not heart. It can provide a monthly check but it strips dignity. It can label you as needy but not recognize and encourage the sparks of your soul that turn you into a giver rather than a taker. It can fool you into thinking that you are self-sufficient, while preventing you from forming networks of community and recognizing that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is devolving so that people relate more to the government than to each other. The sad results are poorer and more bitter lives.

Yosef’s teacher and his wife brought their newborn daughter to the siyum. Since my husband’s late parents were also part of the web of connection with our students and friends, four generations were spiritually present at the celebration. That kind of safety net cannot be equaled no matter how many billions of dollars a government spends.

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Am I a Criminal?

July 22nd, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

I have followed and listened to you for a few years now and have done quite a bit to improve my character, think with my brain first, impress my employers as my customers, and build trust and display and teach my values to others.

Recently I have been ‘called out’ on something that I have been doing pretty mindlessly with my employer that, now that I am looking at it objectively, looks quite dishonest.

I am crushed as I don’t think I was doing it intentionally, but I don’t think my employer will see it this way.

I have had a great relationship with them for many years and this hurts me in ways I cannot describe. I am having a hard time sleeping, thinking about anything else, and wrapping my brain around how I could do this in the first place? To protect my wife I haven’t told her the extent, but she can tell something is bothering me.

I have worked hard on my reputation, and I cannot see how I couldn’t see this in myself?

Outside of that, how do I repair this with my employer, and myself? And how can I be sure I’m not doing this in other areas of my life? Being a hypocrite it’s a hard pill to swallow when you really aren’t trying to be.

Thank you,

B.

Dear B.,

Congratulations on reaching this advanced stage of discomfort; it is evidence of successful spiritual growth and positive soul-steps.   Our response cannot deal with your specific situation both because you didn’t include details and also because even had you been more forthcoming, we could not possibly know enough through a letter, but we hope we can help you plot a path forward.

If you are suddenly realizing that you have been doing something on a large scale, then you are in a tough place indeed. We are casting about here, but as an example, let’s say you were putting dinners with your wife down as a “business expense” and justifying it by saying that you discussed the office while you were out. If you are in retail, giving discounts or free items to friends would be another example. This would involve more than minor sums and also something that could come to light if there was an audit. But at the same time, we are having trouble seeing you taking such flagrantly problematic liberties without realizing it.

You say you were “called out.” Perhaps this was by a close friend unconnected to the business. Or, was it by someone at your place of work? If the latter, then you have no choice but to talk to your boss. It is better for you to raise the subject than wait to be called onto the carpet. You can make your best case to explain that you did something wrong, repent that action (which includes financial restitution if applicable) and have grown so that you commit to never do such an action again. They may accept your apology or they may fire you. That is the reality of consequences.

However, we’d like to emphasize the importance of what you are asking even if the sums are very minor and if there is no way that anyone would know what you did. One of the sins of Noah’s generation that caused the Flood, was theft. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that this theft consisted of taking things that were of such small value that the owner wouldn’t follow up legally. In today’s world that might be the equivalent of pocketing paper clips and other supplies from the office or using the office postal account to mail some personal letters. These are far from embezzlement but we are expected to be extremely sensitive to misuse of someone else’s property, whether this is a friend or an employer.

However, we think that if you were doing something unseemly on this relatively low level, we don’t necessarily think that you should bring this up with your boss. If you can replace the funds in some way, that would be a good idea, but in today’s climate, we worry about some of the overly punitive consequences of true confessions.

We just don’t know where on the ‘badness’ spectrum your actions lie. Do you need legal counsel? Is your job at risk? Are you inflating things in your mind so that something that is a good sensitivity for you personally to have but which is fairly common practice today, is weighing you down too much? Are you truly guilty of hypocrisy or only of “going with the crowd” rather than making timeless moral judgments?

We hope that this answer gives you enough food for thought so that, if needed, you talk to someone in person who can guide you. Take care not to damage your marriage by withholding from your wife things that she already senses herself, and that might in her mind, assume greater significance than is warranted. If you are truly facing a serious problem, then give her the chance to adjust and stand with you before it becomes a public issue.

Growth is wonderful but being bowed down by guilt is unproductive. Repair the situation in a proportionate manner and use this new insight into yourself to move forward but not to be consumed by the past.

We admire your determination to face yourself in the mirror. Most cannot do this.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Return to Normal?

July 20th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

When will things return to normal?

That question got your attention, didn’t it?  Internet search engines report that this may be the most asked question during the first half of 2020.  This popular question was also asked (although not on the Internet)  after President Lincoln signed into law the first income tax in 1862. It was passed as an emergency temporary measure, but you know how that worked out.

During the first few years after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, harassed airline passengers used to ask, “When will things return to normal?”  No travelers ask that question anymore. You might think that the brief answer to the question is…never!  But it is not so simple. The problem is that the question employs a word with no definition—normal.

What you really mean is, when will things return to the way I remember them back in…er, when? Immediately prior to covid19?  One year before anyone heard of corona? Before mobs of Americans defaced and destroyed historical statues? There is no such thing as normal.  That is why the Lord’s language, Hebrew, possesses no word for normal.

But Hebrew does have a word for change and it shares a root source with the Hebrew word for year. This is to teach us that just as one year leads to the next, always forward never backward, so change leads to change, sometimes positive and other times negative and never returning to what we remember as normal.

ש – נ – ה            ש – נ – ה
year                  change

The trouble is that change produces anxiety in us. We worry whether we’ll be able to function under the new circumstances brought about by change.

If there is worry in a man’s mind, he should _________ 
(Proverbs 12:25)

That blank replaces a complex and untranslatable Hebrew verb “yaschenah”  which is used throughout Tanach in three different ways each of which sheds another ray of light onto dealing with worry and anxiety.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains the three-component meanings of “yaschenah”:

1. Quash.
2. Banish.
3. Discuss.

In other words, when overwhelmed by anxiety, there are three strategies we can employ. Different ones work best at different times, based both on what is causing the anxiety and on our own personalities and circumstances.

1. We should attempt to quash the worry by burying it beneath an avalanche of other more positive thoughts. At this point, it is still in our minds but overwhelmed by competing upbeat messages.

2. Alternatively, we might try to banish the worrying thoughts from our minds. The Tenth Commandment reveals that God expects us to control not only what we do, but also what we think. Commandment number eight already told us ‘Don’t steal’. Yet, number ten asks us not to desire the possessions of others. Simply saying, “I can’t help what I think and feel, the heart wants what the heart wants,” in the words of the illustrious sage, Woody Allen, doesn’t cut it. We can and must control our thoughts and feelings. Therefore one way of dealing with anxiety brought on by change is to banish the thoughts entirely from our minds.  Exercising discipline and willpower, we don’t allow the worry-provoking thoughts to linger in our minds, but we instantly suppress them by replacing them with alternate scenarios.

3. If we find that we can’t tackle the anxiety on our own, we can adopt the strategy derived from the third meaning of “yaschenah” by discussing the worry with the right friend. If we choose wisely, doing so should remove the worry and reintroduce joy just as the conclusion of that verse indicates.

…and a good word transforms it into joy.
(Proverbs 12:25)

When will things return to normal, exactly as they were in summer 2019?  The answer is — never.  But eventually, schools and businesses will reopen.  Eventually, the pandemic will subside and the panic will fade. The brazen wearing of masks even on outdoor hiking trails will ease up. Some will wear them and others won’t.  Eventually, the economy will bounce back with a roar, and decimated portfolios and savings accounts will get replenished. Eventually roaming mobs of barbarians will fade away; some statues will be replaced and others will be lost forever.  Homeschooled children will learn their nation’s history while those children attending *GIC’s won’t.  Eventually, universities will reopen while many former students will rethink the value proposition of their expensive ‘educations’. Yes, change. Plenty change.   

Much change may be regrettable and we’ll think back nostalgically.  However, through it all, wise and happy warriors will focus on their five Fs. They will build and protect their Families, they will maintain Friendships, they will nurture Faith, they will adjust their activities to the times in order to boost their Finances, and they will manage their Fitness.

When all those five Fs of your life are in good shape, oppressive travel regulations,  quarantine restrictions, political cupidity, civic cowardice, and a growing canyon cutting through the culture cannot shake up the core of your life.  Despite the turbulence swirling around the pilings of our peoplehood,  we can still function and be very happy indeed.

When will things return to normal? Wrong question.  When shall we live our lives to the fullest? Now.

* government indoctrination camps formerly known as public schools

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Things were VERY abnormal before the Flood
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The Journey and the Destination

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

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

The last section of the book of Numbers is known in Hebrew as Masei – journeys. It recounts the 42 journeys that the children of Israel took in the desert over the course of 40 years. Interestingly, the Torah doesn’t just give us a list of the places they went, but for each one we’re told, “And they traveled from (place A),”  and “and they camped in (place B).” The next sentence says, “And they traveled from (place B),” followed by “and they camped at (place C).”  There seems to be a lot of redundant information here.  Why do we need to be told not only the name of each campsite but also about each journey between camps?

The recounting of each of the 42 sites evoked a memory of something that had happened there, an important step on the nation’s journey.  But we also need to know that it isn’t only the points in time when things happen that are important. The journeys and processes that get us there also count.

It is easy for us to feel fulfilled and good about a positive accomplishment or depressed by a negative action, but those actions, good and bad, didn’t happen in a vacuum.  There was a journey that led up to them, and that journey in and of itself is important.  For example, if at the end of the day we snap at our kids, that’s the action, the point in time that something happened.  But what was the process?  It might have involved us skipping meals that day, worrying about something or other, trying to do too much in too short a time… There was a journey that led to us losing our patience.  It also works in a positive direction.  When we smile at our kids and have patience for them at the end of the day, it is because of the day’s journey we went on, the decisions we made that led us on a path to a happy outcome.

Each campsite is important; something momentous happened there.  But each journey was equally important.  There are times that we forget to connect the dots between our journeys and our destinations and also between our kids’ journeys and their destinations.  I’d like to share an example with you that happened in my home yesterday.

One of my children spent much of the day bored.  She wasn’t interested in doing anything I suggested, and she asked me if she could have time on the computer.  I knew that screen time would stifle creativity and leave her feeling even more disgruntled and unfulfilled so I said no.  That was the journey.  I allowed her to feel bored, to wander the house picking up books and putting them down, picking up a drawing pad, sketching for a bit and then putting it down, and I tolerated a fair bit of whining in the middle too.  Guess what?  About 4:00 in the afternoon, she took ownership of her day. She went for a bike ride, decided to write a play that required a lot of research, and got her cousins and siblings excited about putting on her play for Shabbat.  When she went to bed last night she felt that she had had a wonderful day.  Her destination was joyous and fulfilled, but it was because of the journey she went through.  Sometimes we forget that boredom can be a good thing, a journey inwards to creativity.  Sometimes we forget that the processes are important in determining what the end product will be.

In child-raising, we don’t just click a button and get a resilient, healthy, happy child.  It’s an outcome of all the decisions we make along the way. It is about the type of journey we are traveling as well as the one we allow our children to travel.

Family No More?

July 16th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

This period of the Jewish year is a three-week-long time of sad introspection and mourning, starting and ending with a fast day.  As befits mourning, Jewish weddings, live music concerts, and other festive events do not take place during these days. The sad period of 22 days reaches its apex on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.

We focus on the many tragedies over millennia that have befallen the Jewish people during these three weeks. The ninth of Av was the date that ten of the twelve spies sowed fear about entering the land of Israel upon their return to the Israelite camp. Centuries later that date saw the destruction of both the first and second Temples, leading to an exile that continues to this day. It was also the date of the tragic outbreak of World War I in the 20th century.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us to think of ourselves as active participants in our fate, not victims. As such, our tradition attributes the destruction of the Second Temple not to Roman anti-Semitism, but to baseless hatred among Jews.  We brought it upon ourselves. Not surprisingly, many classes given during this time of the year focus on increasing sensitivity to others and repairing broken ties. While we are obliged to act with decency and courtesy towards all people, we are supposed to see our coreligionists as family. The underlying message is that family can be exasperating, thick-headed, and annoying but they are still family.

I don’t know if that message still resonates today. I have been re-reading Anne of Ingleside (from the Anne of Green Gables series) and Anne’s husband’s aunt is making her family’s life a misery. Aunt Mary Maria is critical, irritable and dour. Yet, she cannot be told that she has overstayed her welcome because—well, she is family. This conclusion doesn’t seem extreme in books written in the early 1900s. In today’s climate, she might never make it over the threshold.

At the same time as my relaxing reading takes me back a  century, I am also an avid follower of the #Walkaway movement. At this point, hundreds of thousands of individuals have posted videos or written testimonials about leaving the Democrat Party. Almost everyone has a tale of long-lasting friendships ending because of their political awakening and those are certainly painful. Worse, stories abound of people being told by parents/siblings/children that speaking positively about President Trump or Republicans is a reason for shattering family ties. Watching a young man sob as he tells you that his parents kicked him out of the house for acknowledging that he will be voting for President Trump is heartbreaking. This is not about politics; it is about religion.  Yes, the left is no longer a political doctrine about which friends can disagree.  It is a fundamentalist faith with its saints and its sinners, with its heroes and its heretics.  And as history reminds us, heretics must be destroyed.

My husband founded and served a beautiful synagogue in  California most of whose members grew up in homes that were emotionally Jewish but not committed to religious observance. As adults who found their way to my husband’s Torah classes, many of these young people began confining their diet to only kosher food, observing the Shabbat and changing their lives in hundreds of ways to align with Biblical requirements for Jews. Much of my husband’s time went to ensuring that relationships with their families remained loving and healthy. When one has found a new and electrifying relationship with God, it is easy to become overbearing and judgmental towards others. My husband repeatedly emphasized that a wonderful sister who craves a cheeseburger is no less wonderful once her newly kosher sibling rejects that religiously problematic food and considers it spiritually harmful. A father who drove you to the mall every Saturday when you were fourteen and now wants to drive over to see you on the day you have come to know as Shabbat, when using a mechanical vehicle is religiously proscribed, is still the same loving father he always was.

The media delight in telling us that religion and faith are ebbing.  That is not true for the destructive religion of Secular Fundamentalism which brings to life the worst manifestations of twisted religion—arrogance, false piety, wishing harm on apostates.  Yes, this is all alive and well in the political sphere. Perhaps the lessons of the three weeks when we focus on the damage done by not treating others with sensitivity and care needs a wider audience.

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What’s Wrong with Prosecuting Hate Crimes?

July 15th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

I’m an avid podcast listener from Australia,  love hearing your perspectives and also Ms. Lapin’s balancing views!

I’ve got much of your material and I’ve heard you say on the podcast several times about Hate Crime that a law based on the intent of the person is very flawed—it should be the person’s actions that are evaluated, not their presumed intentions.

Why is it then that the 10th commandment is about coveting your neighbour’s stuff – isn’t that about intentions rather than actions? After all the preceding commandments cover the actions – stealing, adultery etc. that could flow from coveting.

I have listened to your 10 Commandments CD set and loved them – really appreciate your insights and teachings,

God Bless,

Primod

Dear Primod,

We’re delighted that together with many, many other listeners you are listening from Oz. We have not visited there yet, but would love to do so. Two of our children worked there one summer (your winter). They loved the people they met and enjoyed an amazing time.

Your question is one that we have been asked numerous times at personal appearances and speeches, so thank you for giving us this opportunity to get the answer down in writing.

One important difference between hate crime legislation and Exodus 20:14 is that this nefarious legislation allows a corrupt government to prosecute “friends” and specially favored groups lightly, while reserving aggressive prosecution for “enemies”.  This program of different punishments for different people who have committed the same crime is done by assigning a hate motive to some.  Meanwhile, Exodus 20:14 allows for no human inflicted punishment since only God knows whether we covet in our hearts.

We want to make two more points critiquing the hate crime category:  The first is that unlike God, we humans are not all-knowing. It is difficult enough to build an honest and principled judicial system that citizens trust to establish whether or not an accused individual did commit the action. It is impossible to set up an honest and principled judicial system that will read people’s minds and tell us what the accused was thinking.

To preserve safety, a just society must punish someone who physically attacks another person (with limited exceptions for self-defense, etc.). Once we increase or diminish the severity of that punishment depending on the victim’s age, sex, race, preferred language or any other label, we open up a Pandora’s box of opportunity for government overreach, corruption and politically correct vindictiveness. An equitable legal system cannot claim to probe deep into a criminal’s mind—most of us don’t even know what is in our own mind, let alone someone else’s.

It goes without saying that there is a vast judicial distinction between someone who intended to murder then did so and someone else who committed accidental homicide. This is the limit to how far we go in delving into a person’s mind.

Our next point stems from ancient Jewish wisdom. As you heard in our Ten Commandments audio program, the phrase ‘ten commandments’ is not only inaccurate but within the Torah they are much more frequently  referred to as the “Two Tablets.” This emphasizes that they are actually five principles, each with two applications.

Number ten is the match to number five. What does honoring parents have to do with not coveting? Who among us has not, particularly when young, been convinced that our friends’ parents or some mythical set of parents would understand us better and offer us a better life than our own do? One of the first steps toward spiritual maturity is acknowledging that each of our life circumstances, including the family into which we were born, was chosen for us by God to equip and challenge us on a meaningful life journey.

You have probably already made the leap to, “Do not covet…” Even if we never say one unsuitable word to our neighbor’s wife and if we treat our neighbor’s property with care and respect, if we spend time wishing that we owned what someone else has, we are not accepting that God gives each of us exactly the circumstances and the challenges that we need in order to grow. Someone else’s wife is not meant for us. Dreaming that she is makes us dissatisfied with our own blessings and ungrateful for what God has given us.

No one—other than God—can ever know what we begrudge our neighbor. Yet our lives will be immeasurably improved if we focus on what we have rather than beam out jealousy and resentment for what belongs to others.

G’day mate,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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