Monthly Archives: August, 2020

Gatherings are Great – or Not

August 31st, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

Why is it that people who excessively indulge their physical appetites for food, sex, or material goods, to the point we could call it an addiction, often yield to many other temptations as well?

Shakespeare’s character Sir John Falstaff highlights this very truth.  Not only is Falstaff a glutton and a drunkard but he is also a liar and a coward.  In yielding to physical appetite he also yields to decay of character.

Before I was ever taught Shakespeare’s depiction of this principle, I had already been taught it from the Book of Numbers.

The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving
and the Children of Israel wept, crying, ‘Who will feed us meat?’
(Numbers 11:4)

Though they had God’s miracle food, Manna, they still lusted for meat.  Their desire for variety in food was quickly followed by the desire for variety in another area.

Moses heard the nation crying about their families
(Numbers 11:10)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that they were angry about the limitations on sexual relationships and the rules for moral family life which they had received in the Torah a year earlier on Mt. Sinai.

What can we learn from the juxtaposition of problems with these two appetites? Can this section help us deal more effectively with situations in which we or people with whom we have to interact are controlled by physical desires rather than in control of them?

Before we answer that question, we have to understand how to isolate a section of the Bible. Numbers 11 extends from verses 1 – 35. However, as incredibly useful the chapter divisions are, they were developed in the 13th century by Steven Langton, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury, England. His divisions became accepted and were used in the Wycliffe Bible of 1382 and, after the invention of printing, in the King James translation of 1611. While they are universally accepted, they do not always share the divisions that exist in ancient Jewish wisdom.

Every hand-written “official” Torah scroll, whether large or small, is written following precise instructions. For example, each page must start and end with exact words. Among these directives, the scribe must accurately leave some lines only partially filled and other times he must put a break between two sentences even though they are written on the same line. These show two types of God’s paragraphs – ways of connecting or disconnecting topics that we might have thought (and Archbishop Langton did think) did not or did belong together.

We frequently find the most important clue to a perplexing Torah passage by looking to see what Hebrew root word appears seven times. Looking at our section, we see a word that appears exactly seven times over the span of three successive paragraphs of chapter eleven. We have identified our motif!

It turns out that variations of the Hebrew root ASF, which means gathering, appear seven times in noun or verb format.

One:  The rabble (ASaFsuf) that was among them…
(Numbers 11:4)

Two:  God said to Moses, ‘Gather (ASFah) me seventy men from the elders…’
(Numbers 11:16)

Three: …If all the fish of the sea were gathered (y’ASaF) for them would it suffice for them
(Numbers 11:22)

Four: …and he gathered (vay’ASaF) seventy men from among the elders…
(Numbers 11:24)

Five:  And Moses was gathered (vay’ASaF) into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.
(Numbers 11:30)

Six: …and they gathered (vayASaFu) up the quails…
(Numbers 11:32)

Seven: …the one with the least still gathered (ASaF) ten measures…
(Numbers 11:32)

The motif word ‘gathering’ implies gathering for a specific purpose rather than a bunch of people or things in the same place and time by happenstance.  While gathering the manna was good, gathering the quail was bad, having little to do with hunger and everything to do with lust. Moses gathered himself and the seventy elders into the camp, where, injected with God’s spirit, they successfully countered the gathering of the fleshy rabble.

In other words, the solution to excesses of the flesh is an injection of the spirit.  Over-indulgence of a physical substance often reflects a lack of spiritual completion. There is a reason that Alcoholics Anonymous and other successful rehab groups focus on building the person and connecting him with a higher power rather than just treating the physical addiction. There is a reason that people who exert tremendous effort to wean themselves from one physical addiction frequently succumb to another. People who mistreat their bodies reveal pain-filled souls.

As King David notes in Psalm 1, people may gather together to behave foolishly and wickedly. The rabble in Numbers 11 did exactly that. God’s response was to gather a group for purposes of wisdom and good. We, indeed, are very affected by those with whom we associate. But we mustn’t look at people’s physical make-up to choose our peers; rather, it is the spiritual make-up that matters.

For years, many of you have asked me to recommend an English translation of the Bible. I have demurred because no translation can adequately convey the deep meaning and ancient Jewish wisdom of the original Hebrew. However, I recently discovered a Hebrew/English Bible that does capture certain aspects including visually showing the paragraph breaks. It also retains the Hebrew names of people and places so that you can more easily understand the meaning of those names. If you’d like to see more advantages of this Bible and see if you would like to acquire one, we are delighted to tell you that it is available in our store.

NEW!
our long-awaited recommended Bible

What’s Positive about Pigs? (and camels)

August 30th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ by Rebecca Masinter

Chapter 14 of the book of Deuteronomy lists two signs that kosher mammals must possess: they must have cloven hooves and chew their cuds. A few animals have one sign but are lacking the other one, rendering them non-kosher. The Torah lists these animals.

We would have expected that when listing these animals that are not kosher because they lack a required feature, the Torah would have said, for example, “Don’t eat the camel, hare, and hyrax because their hoof is not split even though they bring up their cud.”  Since we’re explaining that they’re not Kosher, let’s begin with the quality that makes them not kosher!  But the Torah does exactly the opposite in Deuteronomy 14:7 and in Deuteronomy 14:8 when it discusses the pig.  First, the Torah lists their kosher attributes and only afterward their non-kosher one.  The verse says, “Don’t eat these animals, for they do bring up their cud which is a kosher quality, but their hoof is not split, so you can’t eat it; it is not Kosher.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us here that even when its necessary to point out a negative quality or disqualify something for a valid reason, we always should begin by pointing out a positive trait.  Every situation and every person at every time has something positive about them and we learn from here to begin by noticing and complimenting the positive even when it may be necessary to continue on to what is lacking.

What a lovely lesson for mothers!  Maybe our children don’t have their shoes tied but we can compliment them on their brushed hair.  Maybe they forgot to do their chores, but they helped a sibling in need.  Mothers surely have many opportunities to point out deficiencies, but let’s take this message from Deuteronomy and remember to stress the positives.  If the Torah can introduce non-Kosher animals with their pure characteristic, we surely can focus on the positive qualities of our pure children.

One More Double Standard

August 24th, 2020 Posted by On Our Mind 3 comments

Do you remember the very young boy who was sent home from school for biting his toast into the shape of a gun? He might even have —GASP— pointed it at a fellow kindergartener.

Well, have you seen the pictures of kids returning to school where a masked official points a temperature-recording gun-like object at the children’s foreheads before they are allowed in?

To paraphrase the words from the movie Casablanca: I’m shocked,  shocked to find that hypocrisy is going on here.

Timely Honesty

August 20th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 12 comments

One of the gifts of the Jewish calendar is that it keeps us in touch with the cycles of the moon. This Thursday and Friday, August 20 and 21, as the moon wanes away to nothing and then a tiny sliver of moon reappears and begins to grow again, we usher in the new month called Elul (Eh-lool). Among other things, this monthly cycle reminds us that as we go through difficult periods we should seek solace from knowing that just as the moon wanes and waxes so do our lives; better times will return.

The month of Elul begins a forty-day period that culminates with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is the time of year set aside for introspection, evaluation of the previous year’s triumphs and failures, and an opportunity for repairing damage and committing to doing better in the coming year. Those words are quick to write, but the concept is difficult to act on. It takes humility and honesty to confront our failures.

Not believing in coincidence, I was blown away when I just “happened” to download a “random” book from my library, written by Mitch Albom, whose Tuesdays with Morrie was a best-seller a number of years back. This book, Finding Chika, chronicles the author and his wife’s experiences running an orphanage in Haiti after an earthquake devastated that area. The book focuses on one little girl, Chika, who came to live with them in the United States when she was diagnosed with a difficult and terminal illness. As they supported her through this traumatic period of her short life, they became her parents in every way other than legal adoption. As she became sicker and died, their hearts broke.  Their misery was no less than it would have been had she been their natural child.

Mr. Albom writes the book through “discussions” with Chika after she died at the young age of seven. The whole book is a moving and inspiring refutation to those who think that goodness is extinct.  However, the part that made me think of  Elul and astounded me with its honesty and self-scrutiny had less to do with Chika and was, instead, a shockingly revealing self-evaluation by Mr. Albom.

In one of their after-death conversations, Chika asks her stand-in father why he and his wife did not have children of their own. His answer is brutal and includes sentences such as, “I have always warned you about being selfish, Chika, but that does not mean I was not selfish myself.” He explains that despite appreciating and loving the woman in his life, he delayed marriage to her. Then, despite not marrying until their late thirties, he resisted having children. There were so many more important things like enjoying time together and advancing careers. After waiting too long and finding that science cannot create life on demand, Mr. Albom grieves at sometimes finding his wife crying over their childlessness. Having a too-short window into the blessing of a child as the terminally ill Chika brings a unique love into their orbit, he writes,  “To this day it pains me. There are many kinds of selfishness in this world, but the most selfish is hoarding time, because none of us know how much we have, and it is an affront to God to assume there will be more.”

I was almost embarrassed reading this section of the book as if I had voyeuristically peered into someone’s life. Writing those words acknowledging the loss caused by his selfishness is brave and even heroic. God does not always grant children to those who desperately want them, but, increasingly, our society promotes having and raising children as among the least important and fulfilling of activities. I wonder if the twenty or twenty-five-year-old Mitch would have been strong enough to overcome his own leanings and ignore the anti-marriage and anti-family cultural messages surrounding him if somehow he could have read the words he later penned.

There are many pieces of wisdom that we only understand long after we need to implement them. Few five-year-olds brush their teeth because they intellectually comprehend the value of dental hygiene. They do so because their parents inculcate a habit and supervise until they can be trusted to follow through on their own. It is the rare teenage driver who thanks his parents for a curfew, for not allowing him to drive his friends home late at night or for insisting that he pay for his own insurance. Years later, he might appreciate his parents’ foresight. And when religion and culture encourage you to marry and have children when you are young even if that precludes (pre-COVID) exciting trips abroad, acquiring expensive toys and devoting oneself single-mindedly to career advancement, you might not recognize the gift until years later.

I thank Mr. Albom for his searing honesty and for acknowledging the pain of not always being able to undo every mistake once we later recognize its impact. I hope that his words hit home for some young readers so that they do not find themselves following in his remorseful footsteps. And I appreciate his modeling for me the humility and proper frame of mind in which to usher in the period introduced by the arrival of Elul.

SALE

Want a little help getting a daily journaling habit started? Pick up our newest resource:  

Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges – ON SALE

52 weeks of journaling for a few minutes a day add up to a new you!

  • We provide a weekly challenge, Bible reference and inspiration.
  • Track your thoughts, actions and progress throughout the week.
  • Relish your personal growth as you move through the year.

Available to ship in US/Canada, and also available internationally through Amazon.

 

Finances: a sticky point in our marriage

August 18th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 4 comments

I love your program and rarely miss a podcast.  We have a bit of a conundrum in our marriage and would like to avoid pitfalls and are wondering what you recommend.

I’ve (Jennifer) worked in the business world for many years now and have worked my way up to management positions.  Years ago, I read your book Thou Shall Prosper and it has really helped me to keep my career on track.  I started out working from home when our children were small so that I could take care of them and so we could afford to buy groceries.

My husband is in law enforcement, a career that notoriously doesn’t pay very well.  He does well for where we live, but as the second-in-command of his office, he is at the top of what he can possibly earn, especially in this current political climate where departments are making cutbacks and now his department’s pay has been cut even more by our commissioners.  He’s got 4 more years until retirement and would like to stick it out that long so that he doesn’t lose his pension, which by law, 10% of his earnings go into.  He’s worked his way up to an administrative position and that has been a very welcome change for our family as far as his work schedule is concerned.  We both work full time and we homeschool (we have one child left at home), so him being more available has been a tremendous help.

Our conundrum is that I now out-earn him by a considerable amount. I have always handled the family finances, so it’s not something that he regularly worries about as this is not the “department” he deals with on a regular basis, however, when we do discuss finances, it’s clearly difficult for him to be in such a position.  It’s okay as long as it’s not really discussed.

How can we best keep this issue from becoming a problem?  We don’t have high expenses…we don’t have any debt besides our home and we live within our means.  We are finally at a place where buying groceries, having a vehicle in good running order, and buying fuel to get to work are not a concern.  We do live in a low-wage/high-cost-of-living area of the country.  My additional earnings have really lifted the financial burden for our family and now we make ends meet much more easily.   

Additionally, as a second career, my husband plans on earning his helicopter pilot’s license in his spare time over the next few years prior to retirement from law enforcement, an expensive venture. This will provide him with another career and far less stress once he leaves law enforcement.  My income will make the necessary education possible while he pursues this.  Getting this license and his first responder and search and rescue training will enable him to continue to provide a valuable service to the community in a different capacity.

Anyway, how shall we best handle this?  Avoiding discussing finances isn’t a good option.  It doesn’t seem reasonable for me to quit and go to a lower paying job when I’d be investing the same amount of time away from my family.  After I got my last raise, I dreaded going home and telling him about it…in fact, it took me several weeks to mention it because I don’t want him to feel insufficient.  I don’t bring my earnings to light, but he does.  I feel like my contribution is no greater than his…we’re both just working to take care of our family.  How do we avoid this becoming a serious issue?

Blessings,

Jennifer F.

Dear Jennifer,

Double congratulations to you; first for writing so lucidly on a sensitive topic and second for being so competent at your business that you have merited promotions and raises.  And, no, you absolutely should not even think about quitting your work and taking a lower-paying job or doing something way below your level of performance. Let us also tell you at the outset of what will necessarily be a bit of a gloomy letter, that we have reasons for believing that you are going to succeed in making your marriage continue to work well and perhaps even improve it.

But the problem you raise is a very real one. Unlike for women’s sense of femininity, a  man’s sense of masculine identity is closely tied to his earning. It is not tied just to an objective figure but it is comparative. In other words, how is he earning compared to others?  When he compares his earnings to other men, the resulting spur to ambition is usually quite healthy.  When he compares his earnings to his wife’s we have an entirely different and less positive dynamic.  What is more, a marriage suffers significantly higher stress when the wife out-earns the husband and the likelihood of divorce rises meteorically. We are very familiar with the literature on this subject, such as the three-year-old study done by Organization Science and widely discussed at Harvard. Seven years earlier, Forbes magazine picked up on the business implications of the work done by the Journal of Family Issues relating divorce to higher-earning wives. Recently, the American Economic Association probed the Stockholm University study trying to understand why marriages are imperiled when the wife wins raises and promotions but not when the husband does.

Nonetheless, we emphasize that our own knowledge and understanding of this matter comes not from countless studies but chiefly from Scripture and ancient Jewish wisdom. We smile reading the numerous articles and we note that though they have correctly identified the phenomenon, their varied prescriptions are way off. They range from, “Well, hubby just has to get more ‘woke’ and be happy that the ‘wage-gap’ is now on the other foot,” to, “Perhaps if he helps more with the laundry, the income difference will be less obvious.”  In other words, none of the studies with which we are familiar (and that is most of them) have the slightest idea of what to do about the problem.

And unfortunately, we’re not a whole lot better.  We feel a bit like the doctor whose sedentary and self-indulgent patient insists on living a lifestyle of gourmand gluttony, but complains when he puts on weight and demands that his doctor does something about it.  Society insists on creating tax and other incentives that lead to the end of traditional marriage and promotes ideas that compromise women by making them want to emulate men and emasculate men, yet citizens are shocked, yes shocked, to discover that their choices threaten the viability of marriage and imperil its durability.

It’s a mistake to believe that the passage of time will help people adapt to new enlightened ways of equality or that, “men must become more feminized” or, “women must become more assertive ” and then it will be fine as we all live happily ever after. No, long before that, our sick society will stagger its way to terminal decline while we struggle to cope with the consequences of collapsed families. Every attempt to revolutionize patterns of human life has failed.

As in most games, in the ‘game of life,’ it is better to know the rules than to shake a defiant fist at the umpire.  It is better to understand that the way God created us (or how unaided materialistic evolution evolved us if you prefer) most women will lose respect, sometimes even without being aware of it, for a man not pulling his financial weight.

We apologize if you feel we’re reading too much into your letter but we get to read, study, and scrutinize a whole heap of great letters like yours every month.  We note that your letter is remarkably devoid of any words of personal praise for your husband. Is he a great father? A warm and attentive husband?  A really good man?  We don’t know. Forgive us, we can’t help asking ourselves if perhaps you have started losing just a little respect for your man. After all, in a six hundred word letter, there’s nary a word of warmth or appreciation for the guy with whom you built a family.  Your letter really could have been written about a roommate and it would read much the same.

What is more, we didn’t read of pride in his occupation. If the two of you tremendously value dedicating oneself to promote the welfare of the community, as both law enforcement and rescue workers do, then the money might be secondary to the feeling that the two of you are dedicated to a joint ideal. Instead, and of course, we could be misreading, but this sounds like your husband’s career decisions are his alone.

We credit your wifely wisdom in first spotting the potential problem and for being so sensitive to it.  We’re sure it was hard and a bit sad, not to be able to jointly celebrate your last raise.  We wish it had been your husband writing to ask us about what you rightly describe as your conundrum. If he had, one of the first things we’d have recommended is that he decline your gracious willingness to underwrite the tuition at helicopter flight school out of your income.  Being fully aware of the slightly added cost of interest, we nonetheless would strongly recommend that he takes out a loan to be repaid entirely from his earnings as a SAR pilot.  Accredited flight schools may be eligible for federal low-interest student loans. If that doesn’t work, Sallie Mae (Student Loan Marketing Association) has been making loans to students enrolled in flight school. In any event, whatever it takes, we are sure this avenue would be an excellent investment in your marriage. This would encourage him to deal with the economic reality of his job choice.

But your husband hasn’t asked us and we are sure that it would be a very bad idea for you to be the one to suggest that he takes out a loan to prepare for his next career. (Remaining where he is until his pension vests is a good plan unless he unexpectedly receives another job offer paying twice what you earn.)  Jennifer, we sincerely hope that you have a very wise family friend, perhaps your pastor, or maybe an older relative whom your husband thinks well of. (Male, needless to say.)  If there is such a person, show him your letter and this, our response, and ask if he can approach your husband and make the loan suggestion in a compellingly persuasive way. Obviously, you would have to have complete trust in this person.

You ask “How shall we best handle this?”  The “we” part is a bit tough because seldom does a husband feel more alone than when he worries about money. In fact, we are sure that you are wrong when you say that the financial income disparity between you is, “not something that he regularly worries about.”  We are certain that he is constantly concerned about it.   However, there are some things you can do to help mitigate the reality you find yourselves in. It sounds as if your earnings are actually needed on a regular basis to help, “make ends meet much more easily.”  But apparently there would have been enough surplus also to cover helicopter flight school.  Typically, to get FAA commercially rated and gain enough flight hours, at least 200 hours on a rotary-wing aircraft, that is to say, a helicopter, can take an employed person, say, two years and cost maybe fifty thousand dollars. If flight instruction will be covered by a loan, close to that sum ought now to be available from your earnings for saving towards, or investment into, something you both care about. Sharing that joint project will be so much better for the marriage than for you to pay for your husband’s flight instruction.

What else can you do, Jennifer?  Of course, we don’t know you and we stand at a distance, but from our understanding of these marriages, of which we’ve seen more than a few, we’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that manifestations of physical affection are less than ideal in both quantity and quality.  That too is typically a casualty of what we call MIDS-marital income disparity syndrome. What makes it so problematic is that it causes the condition to cascade with each cycle of resentment and withdrawal feeding on the previous. As ancient Jewish wisdom puts it in Aramaic: “Dai lechacimah beremizah”–To the wise, just a hint is sufficient. Only you can mend this and the consequences of its repair will be wonderful and widespread.

We urge you to search your heart and find a group of women whose husbands uphold our communities through their work (military, police, firefighter wives etc.) and who take pride in that sacrifice. The families of these men often make sacrifices so that their husbands can serve and you are doing the same. You should feel pride in and respect for both you and your husband and that feeling should be conveyed to your children as well. We don’t suggest showing fake interest in what your husband faces, but we do encourage you to recognize his role in keeping society safe.

Finally, find opportunities to ask for his advice.  There will be those readers who bristle at the idea of a woman deliberately feeding her husband’s ego by asking for his advice. They are wrong.  All civilized interactions, whether personal, business or even diplomatic are lubricated by certain conventions.  We ask, “How are you?” not because we desire a detailed catalog of current diseases being endured but because we want the person to feel we care about them. A man might tell a woman, “I think you’re beautiful” and an ambassador might address the local despot by saying, “With all respect, your highness.” Like a woman seeking opportunities to elicit her husband’s advice, these are all effective conventions for smooth interactions.

These dear Jennifer are some of our recommendations for avoiding the pitfalls in your marriage.  We do feel confident that you will succeed in doing far more than merely avoiding the pitfalls. Because of our evaluation of the sort of woman you are, we anticipate you carefully putting into place each of the many golden bricks of marriage that will together knit themselves into an impregnable fortress of love, respect and tranquility.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Daniel & Susan Lapin

SALE

Want a little help getting a daily journaling habit started? Pick up our newest resource:  

Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges – ON SALE

52 weeks of journaling for a few minutes a day add up to a new you!

  • We provide a weekly challenge, Bible reference and inspiration.
  • Track your thoughts, actions and progress throughout the week.
  • Relish your personal growth as you move through the year.

Available to ship in US/Canada, and also available internationally through Amazon.

 

We Interrupt This Ceremony

August 17th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Have you ever attended a company’s annual shareholder meeting?  A couple’s fortieth wedding anniversary?  A school graduation?  A president’s inauguration?  These occasions share pomp, ceremony, and ceremonial structure that go way beyond their utilitarian function.  The music, the way people are dressed and the formal proceedings all help to conjure an atmosphere of unforgettable significance.  We can use this principle to add meaning to our lives.

Deuteronomy 31 opens with Moses telling Israel that he’s 120 years-old and Joshua will soon take over.  “Be strong and of good courage,” he says, and assures the nation that God will never forsake them.  (Deuteronomy 31:1-6)

The next two verses describe Moses charging Joshua with the task of leadership. (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)

Here’s what should come next:

And God said to Moses, now your days approach death, call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting that I may command him…

(Deuteronomy 31:14)

But this verse follows only after five intervening verses interrupt the flow. These verses explain that Moses wrote down the Torah, entrusted it to the priests and instituted a massive convention every seven years at which the Torah would be read before the entire nation — men, women, and children. (Deuteronomy 31:9-13)

Why does this instruction for a once-every-seven-years-Torah-reading-convention interrupt the story of the succession of leadership?

The clue lies in Moses’ use of the first word in verse 12, the verb “gather” or in Hebrew, HaKHeL.

This word is spelled exactly the same way as one of the Hebrew words for, “the congregation,” HaKaHaL. Hebrew in the Torah is written without vowels, so two words that have different pronunciations and meanings are sometimes spelled identically. In a way that is unique to God’s language, this similarity between words tells us to look at those words together.  When we encounter the word made up of the consonants HKHL we are reminded that we saw it used twice earlier in Deuteronomy describing the revelatory encounter at Sinai.

The day when you stood before the Lord your God in Horeb (Sinai), when the Lord said to me, gather (HKHL) the people…

(Deuteronomy 4:10)

and

And the Lord gave me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God;

and on them were written all the words which the Lord spoke with you…

on the day of the gathering (HKHL)

(Deuteronomy 9:10)

Interrupting the story of Joshua’s succession with news of a once in seven years special national Torah shareholders meeting tells us the most important thing about any future leader of Israel. Leadership must always be subservient to the nation’s constitution—the Torah.

At this dramatic reminder of the Sinai experience, shofars (ram horns) will be blown and the king of Israel will sit on a large platform reading the whole Torah aloud to the nation.  Being told about this powerful ceremony at this crucial point near Moses’ death, places the transfer of power to Joshua in context.  Leaders can change as long as allegiance to the Torah doesn’t.

Like the ceremonies that surround this gathering, like the pomp of a graduation, the way we dress for work or family functions is an important tool for establishing the importance of those events.  Sitting at a table and eating off attractive plates, rather than grabbing food on the fly, transforms eating from an animal-like to an exclusively human activity. Writing your daily journal with a fountain pen filled with green ink in a finely bound notebook rather than scrawling it with a free give-away promotional ballpoint pen on a scrap of old dog-eared paper, reflects the weight you put on your writing.

Want a little help getting a daily journaling habit started? Pick up our newest resource:  

Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges – ON SALE

52 weeks of journaling for a few minutes a day add up to a new you!

  • We provide a weekly challenge, Bible reference and inspiration.
  • Track your thoughts, actions and progress throughout the week.
  • Relish your personal growth as you move through the year.

Available to ship in US/Canada, and also available internationally through Amazon.

What Do You Mean I Need to Teach My Child to Read???

August 16th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

Schools are opening. Or they are not. In many districts, parents simply don’t know what will happen. Meanwhile, we are being assaulted by articles telling us of the decades-long consequences that will affect different age groups if they do not get back in the classroom. College-aged students will see a lifelong lessening of earning power (Funny, isn’t it, how the soldiers returning from WWII who delayed or missed out on college did rather well economically.) Middle-school students will face unprecedented mental crises (Is it possible that was a path we were already on and, if we act wisely, school closing could lead to a different and better path?). Today my concern is for those parents who cannot imagine how their children will learn to read without an adult who holds multiple educational degrees to guide them.

I do not boast of many letters after my name indicating advanced degrees. My BA heralded the end of my accreditations and it was not in early childhood education. However, most of the children to whom I gave birth learned to read under my roof. I can’t say that I taught all of them to read because some of them taught themselves. All I did was supply an environment that provided the soil for that miracle to take place. I did follow a program with a few of the others that I will describe below and two of my girls learned to read in school, though not without consequences. Let’s discuss each of these in turn.

Our children were born into a home that teemed with books. When we moved from an apartment to a house, we filled out a questionnaire that asked how many TVs we had and whether a piano was involved. We dutifully filled in the numbers of beds and chairs we were transporting. The three strapping young men who came to facilitate the move blanched when they saw the number of boxes awaiting them. No one had asked how many books we owned.

We acquired very few toys that beeped, buzzed and lit up, but we bought lots of books for little hands. We also had adult books on low shelves that weren’t slated for destruction but that we didn’t mind teeny hands using for practice in turning pages. We kept a stream of conversation aimed at our children as we changed their diapers and took them for walks and we sat them on our laps, reading aloud as we showed them pictures that matched the words. When they were very young and still nursing, I sometimes read aloud from whatever my current reading was. I think some of the babies showed a distinct affection for Thomas Sowell. From quite a young age we played variations on games such as, “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with coat and goat and float and we see it at a dock.” We also laughed rather than became terrified when our delighted three-year-old yelled out “dinghy” as her first guess.

Our children frequently saw us reading. Books were clearly a source of pleasure and just as they wanted to cook along with me or pump gas alongside my husband, they wanted access to the exciting, adult world of reading. For two of our children that was all that was needed. With no directed instruction, they simply began reading at about the age of four.

In our pre-homeschooling years, two more of our daughters learned to read in school. That worked for one of them but caused problems for the other. We accept the fact that children start crawling and walking at different ages, and we don’t rush to enroll our not-yet-erect eleven-month-old in remedial walking classes. We somehow don’t allow the same latitude for reading. Unbeknownst to us, one of our daughter’s eye muscles weren’t ready to read when that was the focus of the classroom. As a bright girl who loved stories she managed, but we didn’t realize until we started homeschooling that she was seeing double of some letters and had developed some other vision problems that needed correcting. It’s easy to be a post-game coach, but I think that we might have avoided those difficulties had she learned to read naturally rather than because the curricula demanded it.

For those of you counting, that leaves three more children who learned to read somewhere between the ages of five and seven. Even in those years before homeschooling exploded, there were quite a few programs on the market, but my choice was a simple paperback book called, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  One child greedily lapped up the lessons at age five so that she was reading fluently in closer to 70  than 100 days, while another child showed no interest at all at that age. The book went back on the shelf with attempts every few months until finally, at close to age seven, she asked to use it and was reading on a second-grade level within a month. Our third child fell somewhere in between those extremes.

You might be surprised to discover that America’s literacy rate did not necessarily improve when compulsory education was instituted. Colonial America was a highly literate society. If you don’t count slaves, who were deliberately kept from reading, early America was a nation where the average person often knew his Bible as well as his Shakespeare. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, was a popular rather than academic best-seller, while books like James Fenimore Cooper’s, The Last of the Mohicans were read for enjoyment in the early 1800s. Try reading either of those with a college student today.

My point is that the educational establishment is entirely unnecessary for most children to learn to read. Even more so, many academicians promote reading programs that inhibit fluency. If you don’t know whether your school district is whole-language or phonics-based, that is really something you need to explore. Do parents need to be aware of potential vision problems or other impediments to reading? Yes, just as they need to be alert to hearing loss or allergies. In the overwhelming majority of cases, parents are entirely competent to introduce their children to one of life’s major pleasures and gateways to accomplishment. Should professional guidance be needed (and it is needed much, much less than thought) it can be sought at the right time.

I believe that reading can be taught with no special material. At the same time, there is an abundance of useful ideas and, yes, stuff you can buy to help accomplish your objective, which in my mind is a child who loves reading and is competent in it. My recommendation is not to spend a lot of money until you have spent a lot of time snuggling and reading together and approaching the subject playfully. Do your research and try different things such as carving letters in sand, baking pretzels in the shape of letters and serving snacks with items that begin with a specific letter. If you absolutely love a program, purchase it. But ignore any sales claims that you “need” this material in order to succeed. You and your relationship with your child is actually the main requirement.

The moment when your child takes his or her first step is incredibly exciting. The moment when your child deciphers lines and swirls on a page into meaningful words is even more so. If your young one will be home this fall—and winter—and spring, consider it a gift.

One More Opportunity

August 14th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 42 comments

Four years ago, I wrote Musing after Musing as I thrashed out my views on candidate Donald Trump. I wrote as a means of clarifying my own thoughts and many of you honed my internal conversation by adding your own ideas in the Musings’ comment section.

After the election, I wrote this piece. I think the ideas in it are still relevant and true, though my words, “Can we now [that the election is over] have a respectful conversation?” clearly were naive. If anyone was prescient enough to see how the vitriolic hatred of the Left would magnify over the past four years, it wasn’t me.

Before this pandemic, I would have rated President Trump’s presidency as an A—.  I don’t know if it is possible to have a higher score. I am disappointed in his handling of COVID-19 and I also feel that he squandered a political opportunity to present himself to the whole nation as a statesman.  The truth is, however, that  I do not know that anyone would have handled this unprecedented crisis any better. Certainly, many would have done much worse. Nonetheless, I must now change my rating to B+. That still earns him my enthusiastic support.

I pray that God will give our country another chance, but I do want to repeat my call to us, America’s citizens. Yes, voting in elections matters tremendously, but our daily conduct and willingness to stand up for and convey our principles matters even more.

If you don’t understand words like happiness, family and life,
how will you attain them?
ON SALE
Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language
and
Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

I Need Some Chutzpah!

August 11th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Hello, I’m one of your grateful students. My name is Roman, want to say thank u for all your work and wisdom.

Can u explain notion of Chutzpah and some tips how to develop and improve it. Probably u know some books that have deep explanation of the notion.

Thank u a lot.

Roman

Dear Roman,

We must ask you to have a little patience as we begin our answer with words that seem to have little to do with your question.

In 1909, the first kibbutz was established in what is now the modern State of Israel. A kibbutz is a collective where all property is shared and the group takes precedence over individuals and individual families. In those days, many of those who immigrated to the land of Israel were Socialists from Russia and the kibbutz is a Socialist utopian dream. Today, few kibbutzim exist anymore and those that do are based much more on a capitalist and sometimes even a religious foundation.

Why do we tell you this? Because many people associate a kibbutz with Judaism because of the misguided, and often religiously alienated, founders of the modern State of Israel. Yet, were you to ask us to tell you tips about kibbutzim, the first thing we would have to say is that they are, at their basic level, in opposition to how God wishes us to live our lives. The Torah lauds both family integrity and private property.

What does this have to do with chutzpah, a word that has entered the English language with synonyms such as gall, audacity, effrontery and boldness? Well, rather than telling you how to develop and improve chutzpah, we have to tell you to run away from it! The word (and its root) does not appear in Scripture other than two references in the book of Daniel where it is based in Aramaic rather than Hebrew.

The classic illustration of chutzpah is a man who murders his mother and father and then pleads for mercy from the judge on the basis of his being an orphan. That is not something that makes God smile. We are not meant to be brazen and cheeky but rather humble and modest.

However, we assume that you meant chutzpah mistakenly thinking of it as acting with confidence and conviction. You are looking for the quality that allowed Moses to confront Pharaoh, which enabled Joseph to assume control of the Egyptian economy and that gave a spine of steel to the numerous Jews over centuries who accepted death rather than betray their God.

That quality is not chutzpah, but rather strength and integrity. When you know what is right and are able to distinguish meaningless stubbornness from principled stance, you do not allow yourself to be moved by anyone or anything. How best to develop those traits? That is an ongoing process that goes hand in hand with Bible study. Seeking and committing to a wise mentor and counselor is invaluable as well since we all can be blind to our own biases. Surrounding yourself with those who act the way you wish to act is also essential; just as cowardice is contagious, so is courage.

By asking the question, Roman, you are showing a desire to be a greater person. There are wonderful biographies of people that you can read which will inspire you, but in the final analysis, working on yourself each and every day is the only way forward.

Be strong and of good courage,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Fascinated by the wisdom flowing from the Hebrew language?

ON SALE

 Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

When Noah Met Abraham

August 10th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 32 comments

I know a lawyer who really wishes that he was a rabbi.  I also know a rabbi who really wishes he was a doctor.  Have you met the plumber who really wishes he was a poet or the bookkeeper who really wishes she was a ballerina?  The lawyer is doing nothing to change his profession and neither is the rabbi. The plumber only dreams of writing and the bookkeeper only dreams of dancing.

Do I hear you say, “No harm in fantasy”?  Wrong! Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that fantasizing makes us less happy with our reality.  Remember that lawyer harboring secret rabbinic dreams? Well, he’s less effective at his work.  That rabbi daydreaming of replacing his dark suit with green scrubs has no passion for his profession.  Deep down that plumber is dissatisfied with fixing faucets and as for that want-to-be ballerina, her clients get less of her enthusiasm than that faded old tutu in her closet.

Lingering thoughts of roads not traveled infiltrate all our minds, so how do we generate focused passion for what we actually are doing?

Let’s become flies on the wall for what must have been one of history’s most extraordinary meetings.  But first, a little Genesis arithmetic. Let’s say Adam was created at the beginning of year 1 and died in the year 930.  (Genesis 5:5)

It is easy to calculate that ten generations later, Noah was born in the year 1056 and died in the year 2006 at the age of 950 years-old.  (Genesis 9:29)  Meanwhile, in the year 1948, Abraham was born, which means that at the time of Noah’s death, Abraham was 58 years old.

Do you think it feasible that Abraham, a spiritual seeker, would not have sought out the elderly Noah?  It is impossible to fathom Abraham not seeking a meeting with the man whom God had directly instructed to build the ark and who was the living ancestor of everyone on earth.

What did they discuss?  They might have discussed their families.  Or perhaps they discussed the pain and peril of adult genitourinary operations.

That is merely conjecture but what they certainly did discuss was the value of trying to save others by bringing them God’s word by outreach and evangelism.  Noah would have argued against it because we know he never engaged in evangelism.  When God warned of the impending destruction of humanity, Noah neglected the opportunity of trying to persuade the population away from their wicked ways.  He merely built an ark and saved himself and his family.

Abraham, by contrast, never missed an opportunity to talk to people about God.  He regularly invited strangers into his tent to share a meal during which he shared his faith.  Noah silently accepted God’s decree on humanity whereas Abraham argued with God in a vain attempt to save the inhabitants of the doomed city of Sodom.  Noah kept his relationship with God to himself.  Abraham couldn’t stop talking about it.

Which man was more successful?  To be sure, Noah did save his family but Abraham launched a movement of God-fearing and Bible-believing people numbering in the millions and which endures to this day even after the passage of thousands of years.

Talking enthusiastically about your work not only signals your passion but it also serves to augment that passion.  Another way to increase the passion you have for the things you must do is to increase your professionalism.  The pride felt by a professional is almost palpable and nurtures itself.

Increasing one’s professionalism is the surest way to increase how enthusiastically one tackles one’s work.  These are ten actions that build one’s professionalism:

  • seize responsibility and accept accountability for your work
  • be punctual in all your work commitments
  • be consistently pleasant and polite in all work encounters regardless of your mood
  • speak and write like an educated adult
  • be sufficiently serious as frivolity is not professional unless you’re a paid comedian
  • dress with dignity
  • expand your skills and improve them constantly
  • never yield to your anger
  • be reliable
  • deliver more than expected

So banish those daydreams and enjoy whatever it is you do by becoming ever more professional about it.  Of course, if you really mean to make a major life change, then don’t just dream of doing it; do it.  But if you are retaining your current occupation, you’ll discover unsuspected delights by embracing professionalism.  These delights will far exceed anything available through fantasies and daydreams.

Fascinated by the wisdom flowing from the Hebrew language?

ON SALE

 Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet
Sign up to receive our AAJC newsletter and our free weekly teachings!

Sign Up Now!

Follow AAJC on its new Facebook Page!
X