Monthly Archives: October, 2020

Pre-election Roundup

October 29th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 10 comments

By the time I post my next Musing, Election Day will be behind us. Whether or not the results are conclusive is another question. Whatever the tally shows, about half the country will believe that this was not a fair and just election. That is a serious problem.

But the election and the anti-Trump bias of the media has obscured or downplayed some great news. Even before dealing with her first Supreme Court case, Amy Coney Barrett is a gift to the nation. Her steadfastness in her religious beliefs, her example as a gracious, brilliant woman who values family and has enough love to bring more children into her home, and the contrast of her professionalism with the petty, mud-wrestling of Democrat Senators are true bright spots in this difficult time.

Undoubtedly, the unprecedented relationships that the president’s pragmatic approach has brought about in the Middle East would be hailed as miraculous had anyone other than President Trump been leading this country. The same would have been true for the surge in economic hope for Americans before COVID hit. To quote an old adage, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

I’d like to add a more personal positive note. Over the past few months, using an app, I have met a large group of women facing a specific challenge. The practical advice is helpful but even more so is the mutual support, friendship and warmth. Not one whiff of politics has marred this group. In today’s age, that is truly a blessing.

If I may add one plea:  Our friend, the great American historian David Barton, once shared with us the shocking statistics of how many people do not exercise the privilege of voting. He was speaking of those with strong enough views that they donate to or are members of organizations that promote values in which we believe. Yet, they don’t vote! Some are cynical about politics, many live in states where they feel their vote doesn’t matter, others are trying to stay off jury rolls. Whatever the reason, if you know such a person, please pick him or her up and take them with you to the polling place. As a saying in ancient Jewish wisdom states: Silence is acquiescence.

Stay strong and of good cheer!

No matter what happens next week, you need to understand America’s battle
America’s Real War: an Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values
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Burnt Out at Work and Still Single

October 27th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

How do I conduct myself properly at work while I’m single and waiting to get married someday? I’ve learned great work morals from my home, such as being dutiful and hard-working, etc. But, I work in the social and healthcare field and I’ve become quite cynical about trying to fix other people’s problems and overly care for them while they continue to live destructively, which seems to be the government-imposed mentality in every workplace of that field.

My skills and personal qualities such as conscientiousness and empathy would be valuable in raising a family but exhausting when I try to make a living out of them. I’m struggling daily not to quit my job because it feels so futile when I should and want to be raising a family with a husband. The strength of this desire scares me because I don’t want to become an irresponsible and impulsive person. Please, lend me some of your ancient Jewish wisdom on this matter.

Maria

Dear Maria,

We would like to separate two parts of your dilemma. We are hearing more and more from people in the healthcare field who are burning out. They entered the profession wanting to help people and too often are feeling used, abused and drained. This answer isn’t the place to list the flaws in the system, but everyone should be concerned when an increasing number of dedicated and hard-working doctors, nurses, and other medical and social-service providers are looking to get out of medicine. Many of these individuals spent numerous years training for their fields and instead of finding satisfaction in their work, they, like you, are becoming cynical and disheartened. (Obviously, this isn’t true for everyone, but it is a growing reality.)

At the same time, you are hoping to move forward in your personal life and establish a family with a good, loving man. It is quite frustrating, especially for goal-oriented, hard-working people, not to be able to control this area of life. We trust that God has your match in place and, while you do need to make your efforts, there is a limit to what you can do.

These two problems intersect as the more distrustful of people you become and the more your heart hardens, the less you have to offer the right man. You do not feel that your work is accomplishing anything, leaving you without energy and vigor. Your work is not nourishing your soul.

We are sure, Maria, that you have a great deal to offer. We are also sure that there are people who need and would be grateful for your skills. We would like to encourage you to look for a new job. There are so many areas of healthcare and social work and we are sure you can find one that fits you better. It is amazing how God made us each different. Some of us thrive in helping children, others in dealing with geriatric patients. Treating those with addictions is where some therapists flourish while others do best working with those with chronic illnesses. We know oncology nurses who wouldn’t want to work in any other specialty and social workers who blossom working in prisons. Others with similar training can’t imagine doing that type of work.

You asked for some ancient Jewish wisdom and here it comes: A change of location often brings other welcome changes as well. Abraham’s life didn’t really launch until he relocatedGenesis 12*. Jacob, likewise, found his mission and his family once he relocated – Genesis 28:10*.  Each of these relocations starts a new section in an accurate Hebrew Bible.  If you should be fortunate enough to find a good job in which you could be more fulfilled, the serenity you will radiate there would be highly attractive to a potential partner.

It goes without saying that if economic circumstances are such that switching jobs is potentially harmful, then clearly now is not the time to do so.

In the meantime, keep a journal noting the patients (even if they are not the majority of those you meet), whom you felt privileged to help. Know that even when you are not aware, your smile and caring may mean a huge deal to someone. You may never know the value of any act you do at work. Cultivate areas outside of work so that you grow spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Perhaps try and find a worship environment that seems to attract happily married young couples. Associate there and befriend a few couples.  They know single friends and will help you immerse yourself into a new life filled with potential.  Just remember you are interested in meeting only men, not boys.

Wishing you a beautiful future home,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*References in our recommended Hebrew/English Bible

Genesis 12-  p. 30, nine lines from the bottom
Genesis 28:10 – p. 82, five lines from the top

Does it matter if husbands and wives vote alike?
If you vote based on principles, it does.
What are the two sides dividing America (and the world)?

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Faith Creates the Future

October 26th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

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

I have a beautiful idea to share with you today.  We know that Noach spent 120 years building the Ark in preparation for the Flood, but when the time came to actually enter the ark, he delayed.  Genesis 7:7 says:

“And Noach went in, and his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him,
into the Ark, because of the waters of the Flood.”

He waited to enter the Ark until the floodwaters forced him to delay no longer.  Ancient Jewish wisdom says here that Noach was, “miktanei emunah” – “among the small believers,” because he only entered at the very last moment when the flood had already started.  How can it be that Noach didn’t have full faith?  He spent 120 years preparing for the flood; surely he believed that it was coming?

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, a great 20th century Torah teacher, teaches here a magnificent lesson about Faith.  Faith isn’t just believing in God’s promises, but Faith is itself a creative force that has the power to actualize promises and bring potential into reality.  Rabbi Schwab points out that the root of the Hebrew word for faith is O-M-N, caring for a child, like the words in the Scroll of Esther, “Vayehi OMeiN es Hadasa” “and he [Mordechai] raised Hadassah (Esther 2:7).  An OMeiN is someone who raises a child, one who works to bring out a child’s full potential.  An OMeiN doesn’t just have faith in the future reality of a child, he works actively to actualize the promise.

Faith, it seems, isn’t only believing that something will happen, but the nature of faith is that by having faith, we actually help fulfill that future.  Faith is an active, creative force, not a passive, ‘sit back and wait to see what will happen’.  Having true faith in a future contributes to that future arriving.  When ancient Jewish wisdom says that Noach was among the small believers, it is telling us that Noach didn’t want to be part of bringing the flood to the world.  He didn’t want to be active in bringing forth the destruction.  He hoped that if he didn’t intensify his faith, perhaps he could delay or prevent the Flood.  He withheld his faith power so as not to engage it as a creative force.  And it turns out, that was the wrong thing to do.  His job, like all of ours, was to do what God commanded him to do with full energy and vigor, and let God take care of His department, so to speak.

As we’ve discussed before, faith and motherhood are deeply intertwined.  Raising a child is an act of faith, but today’s message is that having faith is also part of raising a child.  Our faith in our children’s wonderful futures helps those futures become reality.  When we look past today’s challenges and have a clear vision of our child as a successful adult, when we refuse to get bogged down in today’s messes because we have faith that our child will grow out of this stage and into maturity, we are actively influencing that future. A child who has a mother who sees him, now, not as a  Terrible Two, or a cranky teenager, or today’s ordeal, but sees him clearly as a future source of delight and joy, is fortunate.  That very faith contributes to its actualization.

This is a powerful message both in how we see and raise our children and in our own lives.  Too often we accept our limited reality instead of opening ourselves up to an expansive Faith.  Rabbi Schwab’s point to us is just as true in our own lives as in our children.  Let’s have faith—a clear vision of hope—because that faith doesn’t just expect the future, it also brings it closer.

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Do You Believe the Election is Really Trump vs. Biden?

October 22nd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 28 comments

My morning interaction with my newspaper consists of many groans, occasional smiles and avoidance tactics. Since I am the only active player in this relationship, all three of these responses come from me.

Working backward, avoidance takes the form of turning to the crossword puzzle and not even looking at the rest of the paper. When I do venture further, the smiles come from a particularly well-written piece, from reading a point of view or information that enhances my understanding of the world, or from being reminded that wonderful people populate this country and world. Such a reminder came this week in a story of two neighbors whose yard signs support opposing presidential candidates, but who also have a second sign that says, “We (heart) them,” and shows an arrow pointing to their friend’s home.

Honestly, these days the groans are my most plentiful response. A Wall Street Journal editorial that included these words, “Joe Biden has an obligation to answer questions about his son’s influence-peddling and his own financial dealings—notably regarding China,” elicited a huge groan.

I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist. For the record, I believe that U.S. astronauts landed on the moon and I don’t think that Elvis Presley’s death was faked. However, I am increasingly cynical when it comes to the government and know that powerful interests continually do mendacious things of which we average citizens are completely unaware.

Should Joe Biden win the election (honestly or dishonestly) I do not give his chances of a four-year term of office more than 50%. I think I am being overly generous by suggesting odds that high. Whether he will “choose” to resign or whether he will be forced to resign by his own party, is irrelevant. The point is that it will be relatively easy to attack his mental capacity and/or bring forth serious allegations of abuse of power. He will be in office only on the sufferance of the Left. Their goal is to place in the Oval Office a redistributive Leftist willing to trash America’s founding values. She is waiting on the sidelines.

Of course, I could be wrong, but I groan at that editorial I mentioned above because I think it misses the point. Socialism thrives on a system whose rigorous rules and regulations cast such a wide net that every citizen, without exception, can easily be criminalized, even by falling foul of retroactive legislation. Every person is a potential criminal or easily threatened with or subject to blackmail. Anyone, no matter who, is in danger of being targeted. In addition, society’s rules change so rapidly that what was acceptable yesterday is unacceptable today—as we frequently see happening now. Things that the media is ignoring about Joe Biden today, can be front-page news tomorrow. I fear that Joe Biden’s very weaknesses that are being ignored today are what make him desirable to those scrambling for power.

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America’s Real War

October 22nd, 2020 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Yes, times are different, but the principles haven’t changed. We are delighted to announce the reprint (available as an ebook or a paperback) of America’s Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values are Vital for our Nation’s Survival. This book produced shock waves among both Jews and Christians. Find out why.

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I Won’t Stand for It

October 20th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment
  1. “The boy stood on the burning deck
    Whence all but he had fled;
    The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
    Shone round him o’er the dead…”

                                                            (Casabianca, Dorothea Hemans, 1826)

2. “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing…”

                                                       (The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845)

3. Stood there and watched you walk away…”

                                                     (Haunted, Taylor Swift, 2010)

4. “How to Handle Getting Stood Up on a Date”

                                                       (Glamour Magazine, 2014, 2011, 2004, 1998)

The French captain’s son stood resolutely on the burning deck until he was finally consumed in the furious flames.  Though Edgar Allan Poe claims he stood there for a long while, I suspect that in reality he soon returned to his bed.  Taylor Swift stood there as her lover walked away but one assumes that she managed to replace him quite quickly.  The readers of Glamour who keep getting stood up, well, enough said.

There really ought to be different words in English for stood.  One can scarcely compare my different examples of standing.  One shouldn’t.  I won’t stand for it.

In the Lord’s language, there are indeed words to describe two different ways of standing.  One can stand firm like the boy on the burning deck; one might say, stand like a pillar.  Or one can stand there sadly like Taylor Swift, ready to be quickly distracted by someone else.

Let’s see a Biblical example of each kind of standing.

You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God.…
that thou shouldst enter into the covenant of the Lord thy God and into His oath…
(Deuteronomy 29:9-11*)

And it came to pass at the end of two years that Par’o dreamed;
and behold, he stood on the river.
(Genesis 41:1*)

When the Israelites stood before God to establish a special covenant, it was for all time.  In fact, the Bible makes clear that this covenant is being established not only with those Israelites who were standing there but also with all the future generations not yet born. (Deuteronomy 29:13-14*).  In other words, a permanent standing.  The Hebrew root used for standing is YaTZaV.

י   צ  ב

However, when Pharaoh dreamed that he stood on the Nile, not only did he not remain there for long, but it was a dream.  The Hebrew root used for stand is the far more common OMeD.

ע  מ  ד

The root OMeD is also used here, implying a lack of firmness:

And the magicians were unable to stand before Moses…
(Exodus 11:9*)

When the standing is more that of standing like a rock until one’s task is complete, the Torah uses the word YaTZaV. The use of this word in an unexpected place can give us deeper insight into a person’s actions.

For instance, “Behold I stand by the water well…” (Genesis 24:13*) said Eliezer as he prayed for success in finding the woman who’d become the second matriarch, the wife of Isaac. This resounds to Eliezer’s credit.

Knowing that there are two different ways of standing helps us translate our spirit into our posture.  When I stand in line at the check-out, I hope it’s not for long and so I don’t root myself to the ground.  However, when I stand up for principle, I want to be utterly immovable and, just as importantly, I want to appear to others as utterly immovable.

Deciding which principles one will stand up for unyieldingly is vital for successful living.  It allows one to know in advance which battles are worth fighting and which are better averted.

We are offering a sale this week on our Genesis Journeys Set as a powerful way to learn Biblical truths that Hebrew and ancient Jewish wisdom reveal. Each of the four audio CD sets (with a study guide) guides you to understand today’s personal and universal struggles and strengthen you as you take your stand.

Are you using our recommended Hebrew/English Bible?
*Deuteronomy 29:9-11 – p. 626 –  4 lines at the bottom נצבים
*Genesis 41:1 – p. 124 – 11th line from the top (after the paragraph break) עמד
*Exodus 11:9 – p. 188 – 13th line from the top, 2nd half of the line (reading right to left) לעמד
*Genesis 24:13 – p. 62 – last line. נצב

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You’re So Lucky – Really?

October 19th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

Scott Adams is the talented cartoonist who draws the Dilbert comic strip. Dilbert pokes fun at work-related issues, so it wasn’t surprising that Mr. Adams tackled business ZOOM calls in the days of COVID. The comic strip I saw featured a call interrupted as a father trades in his professional persona for that of a frustrated dad responding angrily to children rampaging noisily in the background.

This cartoon sparked quite a conversation among a few mothers in my community.  A number of them told how they could relate to this scenario, while a few ventured to say that their children understand the need to be quiet while Mommy is on a business call or conference. What intrigued me was the language some of the mothers in the latter group used. They spoke of how lucky they were.

I beg to differ. Children are not born with a “don’t-interrupt-mommy-when-she’s-on-an-important-call” gene. Until they are past babyhood, they cannot understand that their parents have lives apart from them. For those months and years, it is up to mothers and fathers to make plans that will allow them to conduct uninterrupted adult conversations. Once children have passed that point, not interrupting is a lesson that needs to be taught. Some children will accept guidance easily while others will need a slower and longer learning curve. However, unless there is a severe underlying condition, even older toddlers can be taught not to talk loudly, run around or interrupt parents for a reasonable amount of time. Wise parents understand that the length of time reasonable for a seven-year-old isn’t reasonable for a three-year-old, but the younger child certainly can and should be expected to begin regulating his behavior. Luck isn’t the operative word; the applicable words for parents to employ are patience, persistence and positive consequences.

Many years ago, my mother-in-law was chatting with a young mother whose four-year-old kept on interrupting their conversation. After continually shushing her daughter, the somewhat embarrassed mother said, “I can’t wait until my daughter outgrows this stage.” With more candor than tact, my mother-in-law replied, “Children outgrow shoes, they don’t outgrow bad manners.”

Can you have an adult conversation while your children are awake? My guess is that time, effort and loving guidance have more to do with that reality than does luck.

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The Not Restful Rest Stop

October 15th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

My husband and I recently found ourselves at one of those rest stations that dot highways on the East coast. What I saw disturbed me. Let me preface my statements by saying that I am not about to, nor do I want to, turn this into a debate on the advantages or disadvantages of face masks.

What I do want to note is the danger of turning Americans into terrified mindless robots. I sat in the parking lot for a good fifteen minutes. During that time a fair number of people left their cars and entered the building in which the food and bathrooms are located. Masks were required to enter that building. I completely understand that people put on masks as they came closer to the doorways and kept their masks on as they exited. So far, so good.

What troubled me was seeing people putting on the masks as they were leaving their cars and keeping them on until they were back inside their vehicles. Frequently, once they were ten feet or so away from the building, they were not within 60 feet of another person.

Why were they masked when they were not in the vicinity of another human being? Why do I frequently even see people driving alone in their cars with masks firmly in place? Some, perhaps, have become accustomed to wearing masks for hours on end and they barely feel them anymore. I have trouble believing that is true for most people.

Heeding the warnings that masks potentially protect others from you suggests that there are others around you to protect. Wearing the mask in the footsteps of those who placed a string of garlic heads around their necks to ward off vampires is not a healthy sign for the Republic. There is nothing magical or mystical about a mask. If there is science behind the proscription, then it is not meant to mimic avoiding walking under a ladder or refusing to sit in the thirteenth row.

If you are wearing a mask when it has no possible advantage only because of fear of social censure, that is an even worse sign for our civilization. Following the crowd because you fear the crowd has led to many of society’s sins. Americans used to delight in movies and plays such as Twelve Angry Men or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Rugged individualism did not mean being anti-social but rather being a person who was committed to thinking for himself and sticking to one’s principles. Crowd-think was a scary scenario, not the desired outcome.

This was not a restful rest stop.

Crowd-think in a previous age? How about the times of Nimrod?
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My Mother + COVID = Super Stress

October 14th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

First, let me briefly state that I admire your work and it has helped me throughout my life to make important decisions while understanding why. It is so refreshing to know there are people like me who think similarly. Sometimes you can feel otherwise when living in a secular and materialistic world. 

My situation could be more common than I think, but I’m struggling with finding the right solution on how to handle it.

Ever since the pandemic, my mother has been completely paranoid. The hysteria has taken over and she is unable (or unwilling) to have any rational talk. My mother has viewed the government as a savior. Admittedly, my mother is stirring up conflicts with strangers to enforce the “safety guidelines” when she can.

This response by her is predictable. However, it has skyrocketed and has become something increasingly more difficult to accept. She lives in New York. The constant state of fear and handling of this pandemic there has driven her nearly off the rails. She wouldn’t even kiss my brother when he visited, stood away from him and wouldn’t leave her home without permission from the state. (Yet she challenges me on everything!!) It almost feels as if this pandemic gave her a reason to live?

Now I live in another state with relaxed guidelines, and low cases. My husband and I decided to have 3 people over our house this weekend for our daughter’s 11th birthday.

My mother flipped. “Are your guest wearing masks Krystle? Will this birthday bash be outside? Temperature check?” I just wanted to scream into my pillow. This entire pandemic has already stolen part of my life. Now it is stealing my relationship with my mother.

After I speak with her, I always feel low of myself. This was always true due to her anxiety. Constant replay of the past (most that never occurred but it’s in her mind). Victimization. Then when I decide to distance myself– it isn’t helpful either. This newfound “life purpose” with Covid 19 she has, really tested me. I do love my mother.

How can I handle this more constructively?     

Thank you and God bless,

Krystle

Dear Krystle,

Thank you for your kind words. You mention how comforting it is to know that others feel like you and in this vein, we think many people will see themselves reflected in your question.

We think your question has two elements: One, behaving properly towards your mother in terms of the Fifth Commandment, and, two, managing your own emotions.

God expects us to honor our parents and to love Him, not the reverse. Honoring parents doesn’t mean keeping a vague warm feeling towards them in our minds. Among other things, it very specifically means not insulting them or being rude to them and it means not contradicting them.

The media-induced hysteria, along with politically expedient posturing, has caused rifts in families and friendships. It has certainly exacerbated difficulties that were already there, as seems to be in your case. You are caught between wanting to live a calm, joyous life and honoring your mother.

We suggest three strategies for you to deploy. When an issue arises, you can see which category fits best and then employ the appropriate response.

  1. Your mother refusing to hug and kiss your brother is what we would call a level 3 problem. Sympathize with your brother for a few minutes if he asks you to, but don’t play it over and over with him, increasing internal resentment for your mother in both his heart and yours. Certainly, don’t be drawn into a confrontation with your mother over this. Not only isn’t this your issue but in the scheme of things, it isn’t even a big deal. Dwelling on it invites unnecessary unrest into your mind and life. Let it go.
  2. Your mother’s reaction to your daughter’s birthday party might be a Level 2 incident. We don’t recommend not telling your mother about the party (though that is sometimes the best plan) because it puts your daughter in the position of having to hide an event in her life from her grandmother. We would recommend having a planned response, perhaps something like, “We are completely following health  guidelines.” Use this phrase, repeatedly if necessary, without expanding on your reply. Try to change the subject, but make those the only words you say on the subject, over and over if necessary.
  3. A Level 1 problem is one that affects you directly. You love your mother and you also recognize that, in your own life, you can improve on how she deals with difficulties in her life (victimization, constant replay, etc.). Your job isn’t to change your mother, but to be aware that all of us tend to repeat the patterns we saw growing up unless we make a deliberate effort to do differently. You react with some pain when you see your mother reacting in an extreme manner and being very credulous about media propaganda.   Is it possible that this is an area you can work on yourself to learn a different and calmer response? Your brother being upset doesn’t mean that you have to be upset. You can “dial back” your language. Instead of saying, “This entire pandemic has already stolen part of my life. Now it is stealing my relationship with my mother,” you might say, “This pandemic has been stressful and it has also caused added problems in my relationship with my mother.” Acquire the tools that will allow you to respond with a calmer attitude in all areas of your life.

Most of us have had our economic, social, and psychological lives affected by COVID-19. To the extent possible, let’s use this difficult period to hone our skills for dealing with whatever we may face in the future.

Enjoy your daughter’s birthday party and reread Proverbs 3:25, “Do not fear sudden dread…”

Wishing you physical and emotional health,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan

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The Harder They Fall

October 13th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

In 1956, Humphrey Bogart played sportswriter Eddie Willis in the last movie he made, The Harder They Fall.  After many ups and downs, Bogart’s character achieves greatness.  Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t want to try too hard because I don’t need to be wildly successful,” or, “I don’t want to rise too far because the tallest tree catches the wind”?  Many of us have impeded our own progress by warning ourselves that reaching for the sky can bring a great fall.

While there may be some good reasons not to clamber up the cliff, that old Humpty Dumpty rationale isn’t it. Impeding our progress by warning ourselves that reaching for the sky can bring a great fall leads to not reaching our potential, a crime against ourselves and our Creator. It is so easy to succumb to wrong-headed thinking and sabotage our own potential that Scripture projects a powerful message to deter us.

Whenever a specific phrase is found in more than one location in Scripture, we are intended to compare and contrast the instances in which it appears.

For instance, the phase:   הִנָּ֥ךְ הָרָ֖ה וְיֹלַ֣דְתְּ בֵּ֑ן

appears in two places in the Bible; once in connection with Abraham’s first son, Yishmael, and again in connection with Samson.

The phrase has two meanings:

Behold you have conceived and will give birth to a son
(Yishmael; Genesis 16:11)

and

Behold you shall conceive and will give birth to a son
(Samson; Judges 13:5)

Since the tense of the English translation varies, many people with no access to Hebrew (and no rabbi) remain oblivious to the fact that both verses contain the identical phrase.

In fact, these are the only two instances in the Tanach of an angel directly informing a woman that she will soon give birth.  But that is where the similarities end. Among many other differences, the two sons marry differently.

Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, finds her son a wife:

…and his mother took him a wife from Egypt
(Genesis 21:21)

Samson finds his own wife, despite his parents’ disapproval of her (but in concert with God’s plan):

…get her for me as a wife
(Judges 14:2)

Yishmael’s life follows a steady trajectory from his birth in Genesis 16 until his death in Genesis 25.

Samson’s life is clearly divided into two sections.

From his birth in Judges 13 until the end of Judges 15, we see the Lord is with him constantly.

The second part of Samson’s life begins with him consorting with a harlot (Judges 16:1) and concludes with his death (Judges 16:30). During this time the Lord appears to have abandoned him.

Contrast the two phrases which conclude the two parts of Samson’s life:

And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
  (Judges 15:20)

…and he judged Israel twenty years. 
(Judges 16:31)

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that during the first half of his life his purpose and mission was defeating the Philistines and protecting Israel from them.  During the second part of his life, he largely forgot his mission.

Yishmael, even though he and his progeny were promised blessing by God, lived a largely uneventful life.

Samson, the heroic Hebrew Judge, lived a turbulent life the beginning of which he lived in accordance with God’s wishes and enjoying His blessings.  Tragically the latter part of his life was lived without his mission, without God, and without His blessings.

The contrast is between two men both of whose births were heralded by an angel and both of whom were blessed.  One became an ordinary man who never achieved any great good and never did any great wrong. The other became a larger-than-life figure, a giant man with giant abilities and giant appetites.  He played a vital role in Israel’s history, achieving enormous triumphs but also sinking to tragic depths.

Samson remains a Hebrew hero; flawed but heroic.  His passion for life led him to heights and his weaknesses led to his downfall.  But it wasn’t inevitable and he serves as a far better model than Yishmael.

God created us with the potential for greatness.  We all possess the potential for doing great good, but also for failing disastrously.  Being great doesn’t mean never desiring to do wrong or never doing wrong.  It means developing our resistance to wrongdoing.  With the lesson of Samson fresh in our minds, we can throw ourselves into the struggle for greatness confident that we will reap its blessings and fight its dangers.

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