Monthly Archives: September, 2020

The Squabble – er, Debate

September 30th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 1 comment

A number of parents sat with their children to watch the first presidential debate of 2020. They hoped to teach their children about the importance of being able to articulate one’s policies, how to carefully frame one’s arguments and what issues affect this great country. That is not exactly the lesson that emerged.

The debate (which admittedly I turned off before it was over because I was so  dismayed) seemed to be an enactment of a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle story that was beloved by my children. For those of you who are not familiar with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, this fictional character is the source of wisdom for neighborhood mothers, adored by their children, and the solver of all sorts of parenting dilemmas.

In the story I am recollecting, a mother approaches Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for advice because her son and daughter are always squabbling. Breakfast means an exchange of, “His piece of toast is bigger than mine,” and “She’s sitting too close to me.” That bickering continues through the whole day, exhausting both the parents. (Confession – I don’t have the story before me so these examples may not be accurate, but I am capturing the idea.)

After consulting Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the very next morning the mother and father begin to implement the recommended cure. Instead of greeting their normal, pleasant parents, the children awaken to a mother and father who are whining about unfairness, carping at each other and complaining about the slightest thing the other one says or does. It doesn’t take long before the little boy and girl realize how unpleasant it is to live in a house where family members talk over each other, call each other names and moan and whine, treating each other and everyone forced to listen to them with gross disrespect,

If your children saw the first presidential debate of 2020, hopefully they learned that same lesson.

The debate has not change how I plan to vote. The two men represent two very different visions of America, one of which I see as a road to improvement and the other as the road to destructive socialism. That isn’t a choice that foolish statements or a show of poor character is going to affect. However, both President Trump and Vice-president Biden acted more like badly behaved ten-year-olds than adult statesmen. That is embarrassing and disappointing and an apology is due by both to the citizens of the United States.

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Reaching Joy

September 30th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

These past six months, since COVID-19 has dominated the headlines (with no end in sight), we have been called on to adjust, revise and improvise in both our personal and professional lives.  Thinking outside the box, hatching new ideas and implementing them has become a necessary tool for survival.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of books and blogs detailing tips and tools for generating ideas: Calendar a specific time and set an alarm to terminate the session.  Make it quiet time with no electronic distractions.  Pencil and paper will do more for you than tablet or smartphone.  Discipline your mind not to wander or daydream but to focus only on possible solutions to the problem.  Calendar a second creative thinking session the following day allowing ideas to percolate in your subconscious overnight.  You probably already know most of these ideas.

However, one indispensable element of truly creative thinking is largely unknown. Its absence is usually most responsible for failure.  It makes all the difference between a productive creative session and wasted time.

The one absolutely necessary ingredient for successful creativity is having a heart filled with happiness.  When joyfulness overwhelms your soul, the gates of limitless mental creativity swing wide open.

In order to understand how this works, read these three verses that seem to repeat the same idea.

Three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord God.
(Exodus 23:17)

Three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.
(Exodus 34:23)

…thou shall rejoice in your feast…and in all the work of your hands…three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord your God in the place which He shall choose; in the festival of unleavened bread (Passover), in the festival of weeks (Shavuot/Pentecost), and in the festival of booths (Sukkot)…
(Deuteronomy 16:14-16)

Readers who think the Bible is the work of assorted human authors must ask themselves why some early editor didn’t remove two redundant verses.  After all, how many times does anyone need to be told something?

Those of us comfortable knowing that God authored His book, ask what message is encoded into the triplicated message. We got it the first time—males must pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year.

Three times a year?  A message repeated three times?  Hmmm…ancient Jewish wisdom to the rescue.

A general rule in understanding the Torah is that repeating messages ascend in importance.  The first verse matches Passover. God took us out of Egypt; He’s the Boss. If He says to go up to Jerusalem, we go.

The second verse relates to Shavuot (Pentecost), the time of the giving of the Torah. God is our God – there is a close relationship.

Mention of rejoicing and productivity precedes the third verse. We go up not only to follow orders, not only because we crave a close relationship with God, but also as an expression of joy and fulfillment.

That’s it!  If you are happy, you will be productive enough to appear before the Lord bearing gifts.  The three festivals all emphasize gratitude to God, and few things contribute more to a feeling of happy optimism than expressing gratitude.  But that’s not all; each festival also highlights its own mechanism for inculcating a happy feeling in our hearts.  Passover is all about visualizing a spirit of redemption.

The Passover Seder teaches that we must each see ourselves as emerging from Egypt (rule of man) to freedom (rule of God).  Therefore, seeing success in our mind’s eye is the first step in bringing about a happy heart.

Shavuot is about seven weeks of progress, journeying from the depths of Egypt to the sublime heights of Sinai. Hence, the second step trains us to plan detailed steps that can take us from where we are to where we want to be.

Finally, Sukkot is all about happiness and water.  One of the Torah messages of water is that it flows to the lowest point; a metaphor of humility.  When we lower ourselves from an elevated posture of arrogance, water, which in Torah nomenclature evokes both wisdom and happiness, flows in our direction.

Those are the four steps to a ‘soul set’ conducive to creativity.  Once you are all set up for a session of creative thinking:

1) Evoke gratitude

2) Imagine how you’ll feel when you have come up with a successful solution

3) Visualize the stepping stones to get to the solution you need.

4) Arouse your humble persona.

These four steps will fill your heart with indescribable joy and thereby equip you for the most successful creative thinking session of your life.

(Our offices and store will close this coming Friday night – Sunday night in observance of the first days of Sukkot)

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Ruth and Marty: Is Their Love Story Your Love Story?

September 24th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 19 comments

I am not knowledgeable enough to weigh in on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal legacy. I do want to tell you what I think about a number of articles such as the one that appeared in Vogue entitled May Every Woman Find Her Marty Ginsburg. By all accounts, Justice Ginsburg’s marriage reads as a solid love story, a partnership with an intelligent, accomplished man who delighted in her professional success as she delighted in his.

My question is whether encouraging every woman to aim for such a collaboration is wise. Students, especially girls, in Jewish religious schools are taught the story of Akiba and Rachel. Here is a (very) shortened summary. Akiba was an uneducated shepherd working for a wealthy man who had a beautiful daughter, Rachel. At the age of forty, Akiba’s soul sparked a desire to find God through studying the Torah, leading him initially to sit next to small children as they learned the aleph-bet. Rachel recognized his potential and joined her destiny to his, marrying him despite her father’s repudiation of the couple, leaving them in desperate poverty. Over many, many years, Rachel lived not only with the barest necessities but even without her husband as she sent him off to learn with the greatest teachers, far away from her.

Decades later, Akiba, now the highly respected Rabbi Akiba and teacher of thousands of students, returned home. As they entered the town, a peasant woman rushed to greet him only to be rudely blocked by those flocking to greet the esteemed rabbi. Rabbi Akiba turned to the crowd and said, “Let her through. All my accomplishments and all your learning are only because of her.”

Romantic visions fill the minds of Jewish high school girls hearing this story and they too picture marriages of sacrifice and suffering where they help to transform their young husbands into this generation’s giant in Torah scholarship. Wise parents and teachers ask them a simple question: “What makes you think that you can be Rachel and that your husband can be Akiba?” The story of Rabbi Akiba and Rachel is famous not because they are representative run of the mill prototypes but precisely because they are exceptional. Inspiring? Yes.  Easy to emulate? No.

Visionaries in the 1970s painted a rosy picture of a society filled with thriving and optimistic men and women, happily relating as equals in the workplace and at home with fulfilling careers, enduring marriages and well-adjusted children. That has not come to pass.

Something went wrong.

Instead of a world filled with light, sunshine and joy as we frolic in a feminist utopia, we keep hearing about how unhappy and dissatisfied both women and men are. Children—when there are children—are increasingly emotionally fragile. Marriages are fewer and less stable. Most of us aren’t living the lives of our dreams. We may not even know what those dreams are anymore.

Let’s be completely honest. How many women and men can say that they are Ruth and Marty Ginsburg?

If I may, I’d like to share one more story. In the book, House Calls to Eternity, Rabbi Yaakov and Hadassah Wehl write about the rabbi’s physician mother, a woman clearly blessed by God with unusual talent, intuition and ability. Dr. Wehl, who qualified as a physician while a young woman in Germany in the 1920s, overcame numerous hurdles to become a pediatrician and to qualify as such a second time after arriving in  America as a refugee. She and her husband decided that the couple should focus on her doing so, rather than on his establishing a new profession.

Dr. Wehl said, “I insisted that my young son, who was one and a half years old, should not be sent to a baby-sitter. He was to be cared for by my husband.”

Aha! A working mom and a stay-at-home father back in 1939! Dr. Wehl’s husband completely supported her work as the following quotes from the book attest:

[In the early years] “Sometimes my husband and I would stay up to twelve or one o’clock at night recording the blood counts.”

[Years later, after their son was grown] “Omi (grandma) went to check on a baby in the hospital at twelve-thirty at night. The mother, dumbstruck at seeing Dr. Wehl at that hour, couldn’t understand why she was there and finally remarked,

“Dr. Wehl, all alone at this hour of the night, isn’t it dangerous?”

Omi answered, “I am not alone, my husband is sitting outside in the car waiting for me.”

Opi (grandpa) was ninety-two-years old at the time.”

Let’s be honest. Most of us, men and women alike, do not have callings like that, where we happily devote ourselves to our professions day and night, never thinking of retirement, working not for money but because our souls allow us no alternative.  Dr. Wehl would have gone out in the snow in the middle of the night even had she won the lottery and never needed to work for financial reasons again. How many of us can honestly say that about our jobs, professions and careers? How many of us have been blessed with a unique gift that the world needs such as Dr. Wehl’s ?

From their son’s book, it seems that the Wehls were blessed with only one child.  The Ginsburgs leave behind two children. I know nothing more about them. I hope that they are happy, well-adjusted and have loving memories of their parents. But, in the adulation of career, how many women today are rejecting motherhood or limiting it, unaware that decades from now the only lasting impact they might have made would be through the next generation? Most of these women are not going to sit on the Supreme Court. They may well savor the zest of a professional challenge when they are young, but will that excitement and the accompanying experiences and ‘stuff’ for which a good salary provides have been a worthwhile trade-off for marriage and children? For many women, the answer is a resounding No!

Few men have the fire, passion, desire, talent and persistence to act boldly on the world’s stage. As I have written before, most of those who do, fulfill their potential only due to their wives’ support. While it is politically incorrect, I suspect that even fewer women have such dreams, though certainly some, like Justice Ginsburg, do. Just as thousands of boys each year handicap their lives by ignoring education as they fantasize at being a sports superstar, let’s acknowledge that we are selling a myth if we present Marty and Ruth Ginsburg’s distinctive relationship and accomplishments as an easily attainable goal that is or should be universally desired.

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Why doesn’t “Do Not Kill” apply to war and law?

September 23rd, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

In the 10 commandments, it says, “Thou shalt not kill.”  So if a police officer shoots a burglar breaking into your home, is God happy or displeased?  What about the military whose job it is to kill people?  Is God happy or angry?  Does it make a difference which army you are in?  Is a German soldier in WW2 treated the same as a soldier in the Israeli army?

Peter H.

Dear Peter,

Your question is one that we have received from many people so we are delighted to answer. Actually, though, your question is based on a mistaken premise.  This is because the sixth commandment does not state, “Thou shall not kill.” It says in Hebrew, לא תרצח, for which ‘thou shall not kill’ is a poor translation.   

Every legal system differentiates between varied aspects of killing.   These different words for killing carry different connotations and, when appropriate, different legal penalties. There are major differences between execution, killing, murder, manslaughter, assassination, as well as degrees such as 2nd-degree manslaughter. In the Hebrew language and Biblical culture, there are also different ways in which a life can be taken.   

God’s law requires that we punish some transgressions with the death penalty handed down and carried out by a legally constituted court. The laws surrounding the court and such a verdict are extremely tightly drawn, but the idea that a person can forfeit his life through certain actions is an important one. War is also part of God’s picture and, once again, while a soldier’s behavior is tightly regulated, killing one’s enemy on the battlefield is a reality.

When it comes to war, there are extremely complex issues. Is your country asking you to do something in opposition to God’s will? This issue can come up, not only in war but in other ways as well. To our disgrace and dismay, it is not far-fetched to imagine these days that a nurse might be ordered to participate in killing a perfectly viable newborn baby, whether through an action or through neglect. The bottom line is, that while respect for country and civil law is a Biblical value, respect for God’s law trumps that. This isn’t a “do what you want” card; it is a serious commitment of faith for which one is willing to sacrifice one’s own life.

When it comes to war, once the war itself is moral, there is still behavior within that war that must be followed. However, killing is an inevitable part of war and while we have great admiration for communities like the Quakers who shun violence no matter the cost, ancient Jewish wisdom posits that refusal to use violence will cause more bloodshed and evil in the long term. War and killing are sometimes necessary.

Similarly, the Bible stresses the need for a safe and stable society and the establishment of law and justice. Police, judges and legislators have an authority that can extend to killing within the parameters of a just legal system. Questions may arise about how the system works but not on whether killing is ever allowed. On that, there is no question.

You ask about a police officer killing a burglar breaking into your home. It doesn’t have to be a police officer. If you have reason to believe that the burglar might use force against you or your family, you shouldn’t wait for law enforcement to arrive.  You should prevent the intruder from inflicting bodily harm by whatever means necessary, including killing him.

A better translation of the sixth commandment would be, “Thou shalt not murder.” (And that is the translation our recommended Bible uses*.) Even so, there is nothing simplistic about this sentence just as there is nothing simplistic about any law or command given in the Five Books of Moses.

We hope this gives you the beginning of a path to understanding,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*In our recommended Bible:

Page 226, top line, middle two words: Thou Shalt Not Murder לא תרצח

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Two Mountains; Two Choices

September 22nd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

I have been spending a significant amount of time listening to and speaking with mothers who are trying to determine what is best to do for their children this school year.  It is clear to all of us is that this won’t be an easy year, not for teachers, not for parents, and not for children.  No matter what decisions the mothers I’ve been talking to end up making, they are decisions that many of them never wanted to make, never wanted to think about. They, and all of us, have been forced into a situation that wasn’t our preference.

There is an insight in Deuteronomy 11:29 that can help us all realign and greet the upcoming school year, whatever choices we make, in an optimal way.  Moshe begins the section by saying,

“See I am setting before you today blessing and curse and you have a choice, you can pursue the blessing by following Hashem or you can choose the curse by turning away from  Hashem.”  (Deut. 11:26-27)

Then Moshe gives us a tiny glimpse of what will happen later on as he continues, “and you shall deliver the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Eival.”

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) beautifully points out that Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival are the perfect mountains to illustrate the difference between a blessing and a curse.  He says:

The two mountains, located side by side, present the most striking, instructive visualization of a blessing and a curse.  Both of them rise from the same soil, both are watered by the same precipitation, rain and dew.  The same air passes over them both, the same pollen is blown over them both.  Yet Eival remains starkly barren, while Gerizim is covered with lush vegetation to its very top.  Thus we see that blessings and curses are not dependent on external circumstances – but on the manner in which we react to these circumstances.  Hence, whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on the superficial conditions that are imposed upon us, but on how we deal with them—on our attitude toward that which should bring us blessing.

Wow!  Blessings and curses are not dependent on external circumstances but on the manner in which we react to those circumstances!  That is exactly what I need to hear, what my children need to hear, and what each mother I’ve talked to this week needs to hear.

It is easy to fixate on the external circumstances: how can my child learn in a mask all day?  How they can handle socially distanced lunches and recesses?  How can my child cope with more Zoom classes?  Lots and lots of external circumstances which we may be tempted to think are the problem!  But no, it’s not the circumstance that are the problem;  it is our attitude to them that can be the blessing or the curse.

This is such an empowering message, for ourselves, and to give over to our children.  Yes, the circumstances are out of our control, but our attitude is within our control and at the end of the day, our attitude is all that matters.  We can fill ourselves with delight and anticipation of all the growth, all the learning, all the new opportunities that are coming our way and we can share that with our children. That is the message of Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival.  External situations just don’t matter all that much; it’s what’s inside of us that counts.

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The Sinister Lights of Perverted Science

September 22nd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Science doesn’t lie—some scientists do.  Up till the 1970s, California was building, cleaning, and maintaining fire breaks around residential communities in forested areas.  Fire roads were bulldozed and kept usable for large firefighting equipment.  This provided rapid access allowing fires to be fought while they were still small.  Going back to Spanish times, controlled burning, backfires and removal of dead undergrowth in the forests all kept fires controllable. Up until the 1970s, any fire that burned 10,000 acres was considered a huge conflagration because fires were fought effectively and they were quickly extinguished.

Then came the radical environmental movement declaring with a religious zeal that nature is sacred. Mother Earth must not be alienated nor angered by bulldozing access roads through forests or by clearing underbrush. Today, fires regularly consume a quarter of a million acres.

However, the New York Times has a different explanation for the increase in both the number and the size of California fires:  “…Scientists say climate change — specifically warmer temperatures that dry out vegetation — is a major factor in the region’s worsening fires…”  But no mention whatsoever of destructive public policy enacted by politicians who worship at the altar of secular fundamentalism and who serve the sacred sacrament of radical environmentalism.

You will remember that after every Soviet “Five Year Plan” inflicted devastating starvation on Russia, Stalin always explained away the catastrophes of doomed socialist policies with weather caused famine.  He killed off millions of Kulaks who transported food from farmers into the towns leaving fruit and vegetables to rot in the fields, but no, the misery was never due to his decisions, it was always the climate.

Science doesn’t lie but scientists are also human beings subject to normal human temptations like fame and favor, academic advancement, and tremendous sums of money at stake for research in areas anointed by the gods of political correctness.  Not to mention that science can only work with the tools available at the present time.

On March 21st, 2020, President Trump tweeted that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and azithromycin might be a real “game-changer” in treating COVID-19.  Immediately, the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN, began featuring articles claiming that HCQ is not only ineffective but potentially dangerous, and ignored all evidence to the contrary, in order to suggest that the president is a dangerous maniac.

In May 2020, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific and medical journals, The Lancet, did something quite unprecedented.  It strode into the heart of the country’s political rift and demanded that President Trump be defeated in November.  A week later, The Lancet published an article explaining that HCQ is not only unhelpful but is actually dangerous.

Many scientists wrote to The Lancet demanding to see the underlying data on which that startling study totally denouncing a medicine that was not entirely without promise, was based. It turned out that there was no reliable underlying data proving HCQ as completely ineffective.  The editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, did the only thing he could. He withdrew the article denouncing it to have been a “monumental fraud.”

Yes, science doesn’t lie but scientists often do.  That is part of the important task of learning how the world really works.  There have always been scientists.  Most of the time, they have been improving our lives with technology and medicine.  The people who tamed fire and learned how to work iron were scientists as were those who gave us the telephone, the automobile, and the airplane.  We just didn’t always call them scientists. In fact, in earlier times they were often thought of as magicians.

How many times do you think magicians are mentioned in the Five Books of Moses?  If I didn’t know better, my first guess would have been none!  What business does magic have in God’s message to mankind?  Actually, they are mentioned nine times in the Torah but only in the context of one story—the redemption of Israel from Egypt via the Exodus.

Magicians make their first appearance when Pharaoh dreams his strange dreams.  (Genesis 41:8 & 24)

They appear again when Aaron turns his rod into a snake in order to persuade Pharaoh that he and Moses were God’s representatives.  However, the magicians also transformed rods into snakes.  (Exodus 7:10-12)

Then God sent the plagues of Blood and Frogs but the magicians easily emulated them thus convincing Pharaoh that the plagues were natural phenomena.  (Exodus 7:22 & 8:3)

After that, we encounter the first failure of the magicians.  They try to emulate the third plague—Lice— but fail.  Amazingly, instead of making excuses, they honestly inform their boss, Pharaoh, that this must be the finger of God.  (Exodus 8:14-15)

The magicians play no role in the next two plagues and they appear for the final time during the sixth plague.  They no longer stand before Pharaoh. They have now switched their allegiance to Moses. They are human and want to be on the winning side.

And the magicians could not stand before Moshe because of the pox,
for the pox was on the magicians, and on all Mitzrayim (Egypt).
Exodus 9:11

And right there, as the eventual outcome of God’s triumph over Egypt is becoming evident, is the last we ever hear of magicians.

So who were these magicians and what are we supposed to learn from their inclusion in the account of Israel’s redemption from Egypt?

Ancient Jewish wisdom recorded by Rabbi Nissim, the great Torah transmitter who lived in 14th century Barcelona, explains that the magicians were the cutting-edge scientists of Pharaoh’s day.

The Hebrew word for magicians has the root CH-R-T.* 


ח  ר  ט

Revealing meaning by reading both forward and backward as the Lord’s language does, we can read ‘magicians’ backward and we have T-R-CH, the Hebrew word for trouble or burden.

He burdens the thick cloud with an overflow…
(Job 37:11)

This verse uses the word T-R-CH**.


ט ר ח

Thus, scientists are those who reverse or do away with the troubles and burdens of living.  They find ways to help us more easily feed ourselves; they discover medical treatments, and they make machines to help us accomplish our work.

These magicians/scientists only appear in the context of helping Pharaoh retain Egypt’s Hebrew slaves.  This comes to teach us that scientists will and do serve many masters.

On the eve of the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940 when a few young Royal Airforce pilots held off the might of the Nazi Luftwaffe and on which the future of civilization depended; prime minister Winston Churchill addressed parliament.

As he drew to the end of his speech that  stiffened the spine of a frightened land, he spoke these words:

“…But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties…”

They could hardly be more true today.  The “lights of perverted science” indeed. Yes, science doesn’t lie but some scientists do. It is also true that the Bible doesn’t lie—but some clergymen do.  We must and do rely on those who know more than we do on certain subjects. However, we each need to cultivate our own relationship with Truth through the lens of God so that we can make our own judgments as to who is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.

*Find these words in the Recommended Hebrew/English Bible (read more about this Bible here)

Remember, Hebrew reads from right to left

*Genesis 41:8 – Page 124, 7 lines from the bottom, 7th word (from the right): (magicians of)  חרטמי

**Job 37:11  Page 2084, bottom line, 1st word: (He burdens) יטריח

Extra credit: Now that you know what letters to look for, find all the other references mentioned in the Thought Tool!

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Prayers for the New Year

September 18th, 2020 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

As we welcome in the year 5781, we pray that the coming year should bring health, prosperity, joy and blessing to each of you and to the world.

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Biden, Bullies and Bahrain

September 17th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 19 comments

These days, it’s pretty difficult to tell what is satire vs. what is news. So, when I read advice in a major publication that anyone interested in law and order should vote for Joe Biden because otherwise the streets would be torn apart by riots, my first response was to chuckle. Then, when I saw the author, I realized that he was serious. In other words, “You’d better vote like I want you to or I will rampage through the streets.”

Obviously, this is the advice we give kids all the time when faced with a bully. “Give in.” Everyone in the class should hand over his allowance to the bully because, if not, he will make your life miserable. Is a co-worker sabotaging your work? Hey—just let him do better than you or he might threaten you even more. (Yes, that is my tongue bulging out my cheek.)

This is the policy that until now most American presidents took with the Palestinians as well. You raise your children to blow themselves up as long as they take others with them? We’ll grovel so that maybe you’ll blow up fewer of us. It worked exactly as it works with the schoolyard bully, leading to a stronger and more implacable enemy.

This week, President Trump’s unconventional leadership resulted in an unprecedented breakthrough with peace agreements between Israel and Bahrain and Israel and the United Arab Emirates. More treaties are expected. Had something like this happened under any other president there would be universal acclaim. Instead, petty minds carp about not enough people wearing masks during the ceremony marking the occasion.

For decades, Palestinians have been used by the countries around them. Rather than being given a helping hand by “cousins” who amassed untold wealth, they were condemned to poverty and told that they could never succeed because of Jews, Zionists, the American Satan and Israel. Complicit in their victimhood, they elected corrupt government after corrupt government, where leaders lived like kings while too many of the ruled huddled in hovels seething in hatred.

Now, some of these “cousins” are recognizing that the world has moved on and that the tactics of the past no longer work. That is a huge step forward, even if it is unfair to those in whom they bred hopelessness. However, it does finally provide an opportunity for the Palestinians to assert their own willingness to aim for a better future rather than drowning in the failed past to which their corrupt leaders condemned them.

Perhaps most incredible, as the Arab world takes steps forward, rising leaders in the Democrat Party right here in the United States are supporting similar policies to those that have subjugated the Palestinians. These policies breed resentment, jealousy and violence.  Like a spiritual dark cloud, the worst of human nature moves from one area of the world to another. Vote for Biden or I’ll tear your neighborhood apart? One can only pray and work hard to ensure that there are enough Americans willing to stand up to bullies.

You may not be able to control world politics,
but you can harness your own thoughts and actions.

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Languages of Love

September 16th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

My husband and I have a very good relationship with the exception of food.  I want to make dinner for him.  He says I am a good cook and he enjoys my cooking, he just doesn’t happen to be “in the mood” for whatever I happen to have prepared that day. 

I have begged him for menu suggestions, he says “Anything is fine,” so I give three or four suggestions none of which interest him.  I’ll ask him what he wants and stand there for an hour until he notices I’m still there and asks me if I’ve figured out dinner yet.  It has gotten to the point where he says, “Thoughts on dinner?” and I respond, “No.  I have no thoughts,” because I am so tired of being shot down. 

Last night I made a special soup that I haven’t made in a while.  He wanders into the kitchen and says, “That sounds really good, maybe with a sandwich.  Maybe a grilled cheese?”  I was excited that he actually made a suggestion, but then I discovered that the kids had finished off the bread so I brought him his soup and asked if a quesadilla would be an acceptable substitute for grilled cheese (I would have been happy to make the bread if I had discovered it was gone earlier).  He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich.  Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and he went to bed without even tasting the soup.  He wasn’t mad or anything, just acted like it didn’t matter. 

I cried for an hour.  I don’t want to play this game anymore.  What do I do?

Andrea

Dear Andrea,

How awful you must feel as meal after meal is rejected. You are hurt and frustrated. If we are going to be of help to you, we encourage you to read our answer when you are alone, not pressed for time, and when you are in a calm and reflective mood. You see, we would like to suggest that you might be missing the forest for the trees and encourage you to reframe the situation. This will not be simple and for these reasons we urge you not to read further until our previously named conditions are met.

Welcome back! We are going to take you at your word that you and your husband have a very good relationship. If this wasn’t so, our answer would be coming from a different place.

But just to make sure we cover your question in its entirety, let us note that universally, men seek from their wives, both food and physical companionship.  In the Lord’s language, one root word, comprising the letters zayin-nun, allude to both food and physical intimacy.  Many men find food served by their beloved wife to be a completely more exhilarating experience than food served by the finest restaurant.  On dinner dates, I have learned that when the waiter departs after bringing a dish from which the diners are to help themselves, most men hope their female date will do the pouring or the serving. It just heightens the delightful tension.   Interestingly enough, in traditional Japanese culture,  the Geisha, a sort of idealized ultimate super-woman would be seen as exemplifying the ultimate in both food and feminine companionship although the intimate dimension was seldom emphasized or even spoken of as that would be crude.

Why do we even raise this? Because your question is so food-centric, and since ancient Hebrew wisdom tells of how both appetites tend to go together,  we would be remiss in not mentioning it.  We were a little struck by this sentence you used, “He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich.  Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and he went to bed…”   You stayed behind crying. Needless to say, we’d have preferred to have read, “He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich.  Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and WE went to bed…”  Are there many nights when HE goes to bed rather than WE do?  We do hope not. That would suggest we need a wider discussion of what may be going on

But if your marriage is indeed strong, your relationship is loving and respectful, and this is the issue that is causing a problem, then we are going to question some of your language.

You see, Andrea, you wrote that after the soup/quesadilla debacle your husband, “wasn’t mad or anything, just acted like it didn’t matter,” and went to bed. What if he wasn’t ‘acting like it didn’t matter,’ but it actually didn’t matter! For many of us food provides physical, spiritual, emotional and sensual pleasure. We get pleasure from different textures, colors and flavors. (Can you tell where most Lapins fall in this debate?) It is hard for us to believe that there are people in the world for whom food is…well, just food. They can take it or leave it.

My (Susan’s) father was one of these people. He would have been happy to have spaghetti with ketchup (no cheese, no fancy sauce, no side-dish) every other night and a plain brisket on the alternate evening. That too would be covered in ketchup at the table. Had my mother spent hours in the kitchen whipping up a delectable concoction, he would have pushed it around his plate and waited for plain spaghetti the next night. (Hmmm – note to daughter #1 whose teenage son’s eating habits are monotonousmaybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) My mother was a decent cook but not an inspired one, so she made somewhat varied suppers for herself, my sister and me, but happily regularly reheated spaghetti or brisket for my father.

My husband on the other hand (Susan here again) truly appreciates my cooking. No matter how delicious a Shabbat bakery challah is, he rejoices in my homemade ones. He notices and savors the food I cook. Our daughters and I love trying new recipes and experimenting with flavors and, fortunately, many of our sons-in-law tend to the “foodie” side as well.

Your husband just may be more like my father. In Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages (if you haven’t read it, you should*) he says that people have different ways of seeking love and giving love. Sometimes, we try to give our loved ones what we want rather than what they need. For example, imagine that you love receiving flowers. They brighten up your day with their color, aroma and beauty. So, when your friend’s husband asks you what he can do to bring joy to his wife, you tell him, “Bring her flowers!” But your friend, while appreciative of the gesture, really wants her husband to put down his electronics and go for an evening walk with her. Time he spends with her is what she values. If he gives her flowers, he is unconsciously telling her that  he doesn’t really know her and what she craves. Your advice would be misguided and possibly harmful.

You are demanding that your husband make food his ‘love language.’ You want to cook for him and watch him appreciate the results. But that isn’t his area of satisfaction. Stop and think what he truly lights up about in your ‘very good relationship.’ Would he rather you spend less time in the kitchen and more time discussing the events of the day? Would he prefer that you express appreciation for the ways he helps around the house? What would make him happy? Food may be fuel for his body but no more than that. He truly doesn’t care what you make and will eat or not eat depending on his level of hunger, not the particular meal.

By all means, cook for your own pleasure and enjoy a varied menu with your children. But don’t go to bed (alone) crying because you are imagining that the man you married is rejecting and spurning you when he truly isn’t.

Happy explorations,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Not FaKING

September 15th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

Have you noticed how politicians in every country, even those only slightly influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx, tend to drive wedges between segments of the electorate?  They specialize in fanning the flames of resentment of the poor against the rich.  They encourage women to see men as their enemies.  And of course they increase hostility between people on the basis of the color of their skin.

Marx encouraged communist leaders to divide the population by class, race, and gender and to exacerbate grudges between them.  Secular fundamentalist seekers of political prestige do this almost instinctively.  They do it because it consolidates their power.  When your constituents are busy fighting each other, they have little time and less energy to oppose you. What is more, they all turn to you as referee, peacemaker, and allocator of rewards.

If you’ve noticed this in politics, you may also have encountered it in business.  Many so-called business leaders foment savage battles among those they lead.  Doing so makes them more difficult to topple in any boardroom battle.  They believe that making team members see one another as competitors is more effective than defeating real marketplace competitors.  It is not only for-profit businesses; some churches and synagogues are plagued with this kind of leadership. I have even seen parents who deliberately fuel ferocious fights among their children.  It makes them feel more loved by the children who, deprived of sibling support, vie for parental affection.  Increasingly we see, masquerading as leaders, men and women who specialize in splitting their followers into warring factions.  People are now accustomed to leaders who foster dissent, dispute and division.

A leader does not need to be maliciously intent on this mischief I have been describing.  Because squabbling is the default condition of humanity, a “Do-Nothing” leader will have exactly the same effect.  In his desperate desire to avoid conflict and escape decision making that will inevitably disappoint somebody, this kind of leader produces the same state of simmering tension in his organization.

Only the rare leader, possessing both a sense of security and a strong character builds unity in his organization as part of his mission.  Yet this is precisely what ancient Jewish wisdom expects from leadership.

Though Hebrew words such as ‘manhig’ meaning ‘leader’ have found modern usage in Israel, they don’t exist in Scripture.  This is because Scripture is more specific, preferring words for military leaders, religious leaders and so on, rather than a generic leader. The point is that just as a driver of a car is not necessarily able to drive a motorcycle, a jet plane, or a railway locomotive, a leader of one type of organization is not necessarily adept at leading other kinds of groups.

Nonetheless, the Scriptural word most relevant to our exploration of leadership is MeLeCH, translated as king.

As usual, when trying to probe the inner meaning of a word, we locate its first usage in the Torah.

And it came to pass in the days of Amrafel, king [MeLeCH] of Shinar,…
(Genesis 14:1)

That chapter continues to contain more than 25 usages of MeLeCH, king, which is fully one-third of all the usages of ‘king’ in the Torah.  No other Torah chapter contains more than five uses of ‘king’.

This non-uniform distribution of a word like king, tells us that Genesis 14 discloses important insights into king and leader.  Clearly, we are intended to study the contrast between the 9 kings engaged in the first world war of history, and the ultimate victor of the entire conflict, Abraham.

In reading Genesis 14 we learn that much of humanity then was locked into rebellion, subjugation and warfare.  Not only was each king incapable of maintaining unity among his own people, but he wasn’t even able to keep the peace with his fellow-kings.

By contrast, Abraham led only 318 men.  The Hebrew text alludes to them as those Abraham raised and educated.  (Genesis 14:14)  Isn’t that a wonderful way of viewing those you are responsible for leading?

The unity that Abraham engendered among his small band of followers was a main factor in the defeat he administered to the large military forces of the kings.

Not only does the Torah’s first usage of a word disclose secrets but also the last.  The final use of the word ‘king’ in the Torah is this:

And it was that when there was a king [MeLeCH]  in Yeshurun [Israel] the heads of the people were gathered together, the tribes of Israel were unified.
(Deuteronomy 33:5)

Which is to say that only when Israel had a real leader, a king worthy of being called a king, did unity reign among the people.  As a leader, it is very tempting to allow disagreement to fester among your people as it appears to make you indispensable.  However, this is a very short term strategy.  If your field of vision extends beyond the next election or the next annual report, you will want to lead Biblically and train others in your group to lead in the same way.

This coming Friday night begins the festival of Rosh HaShana, the head of the Jewish year and the time particularly suited for reemphasizing God’s kingship over us and our world. On these two holy days, through Sunday night, our store will be closed. Ten days later, we celebrate  Yom Kippur (this year falling on September 28th). Our audio CD exploring the benefits everyone can get from that Day of Atonement is on sale at this time.

Day For Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity
ON SALE NOW

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