Monthly Archives: November, 2020

Taste the Difference?

November 30th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 3 comments

One of the signs of a COVID infection is a loss of smell and taste. Compared to other complications of disease this may be minor, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the impact. Possibly, only once we function without smell and taste, do we fully appreciate God’s blessing to us in providing us with food for our nutrition rather than a daily vitamin tablet. The variety, distinctions and diversity of our food add immeasurably to our pleasure in life.   

Being unable to see distinctions in more important areas than smell and taste makes unhealthy moral decisions more likely.

Jacob’s father-in-law, Lavan, initially seems to be an innocuous Biblical character, yet, during the annual Passover Seder, Jews label him as more wicked than Pharaoh.

What is Lavan’s background?  Abraham had two brothers, Nachor and Haran (Genesis 11:26).

Nachor had a son, Betuel (Genesis 22:22),  who had two children, Rebecca and Lavan (Genesis 28:5).

As we first meet Lavan, he is usurping his father’s role. When Abraham’s servant, Eliezer arrives at Betuel’s house after meeting Rebecca at the well, it is Lavan who takes charge. He steps forward rather than allowing his father the prerogative of welcoming a guest into his home (Genesis 24:29-33).

Once again blurring his relationship with his father, Lavan takes the lead in authorizing his sister’s marriage.

And Lavan and Betuel answered and they he said, “This matter is from God.”
(Genesis 24:50)

Ancient Jewish wisdom stresses that Lavan is mentioned before his father indicating that he obnoxiously preceded him.  Furthermore, the Hebrew word for “answered” is in the singular; VaYa’AN.  We would have expected the plural, VaYa’ANU, since both son and father responded*.  This grammatical hint informs us that Lavan rudely pushed his father aside and assumed full authority.

ויען    ויענו
and he answered  and they answered

            In a later verse, even Jacob identifies Lavan as the son of Nachor, his grandfather rather than his father Betuel.

“Do you know Lavan the son of Nachor?” They replied, “We know him.”
(Genesis 29:5)

It seems that it was universally known that Lavan identified himself as interchangeable with his father.

Lavan also treats his children as interchangeable.

After agreeing to allow his daughter Rachel to marry her cousin Jacob, Lavan ruthlessly replaced her with her sister, Leah (Genesis 29:23).

Lavan also regards the property of others as interchangeable with his own, keeping the entire flock under his control, though Jacob unquestionably deserved compensation. Later, he reluctantly agrees to the separation as an alternative to losing Jacob’s outstanding services.

Finally, so committed is Lavan to the utter blurring of everything that he even considers God to be interchangeable with false deities.

Let the God of Abraham and the gods of Nachor judge between us…
(Genesis 31:53)

With the stunning consistency that is the hallmark of God’s message to mankind, Lavan’s name perfectly captures his essential flaw.  The Hebrew word lavan means white whose essence is made up of a mixture of all colors. Just as raindrops split ordinary white sunlight into its constituent rainbow colors, the reverse is also true; all colors combine to form white.  Lavan suffers from moral color blindness.

Erasing the countless nuances of life can lead to great social peril and it is the foundation of Lavan’s wickedness.  When your God isn’t special, when family roles aren’t special, and when other people’s property is indistinguishable from yours, life goes wrong. On a large scale, this type of thinking leads to socialism with all its destructive pathologies and the dull, drab, grayness which socialism always produces.

Studying the Torah through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom trains us to notice the nuances, spot the subtleties and dig beneath the surface. Our library packs provide hours of stimulating study via books, audio CDs and DVDs. As a holiday bonus, get a copy of America’s Real War for free along with your library pack before we increase the price to reflect the addition. These packs make wonderful gifts at this time of year and also provide a stepping stone to making next year one of growth in all areas of your life.

*In Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s recommended Bible: p. 66, 2nd line from the bottom, 3rd word from the left.

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The Press Secretary vs. The Homemaker

November 27th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

Will you join me in a  thought experiment? Imagine that I proudly identify as an artist. (I did say that this was a thought experiment and so it does require imagination.) If at the end of my days, my art lives on, carrying my values into the future, I will consider myself as having lived a worthwhile life. I consider my art to be so important that I spend time on it even when I am not paid for my work. Perhaps there will be tangible rewards down the road, but there is no guarantee of that. I create art because it is my passion. I also share my art with my city and nation, convinced as I am that the presence of uplifting art leads to a happier and more prosperous populace.

However, being an artist doesn’t consume me. There are other areas of my personality that vie for my time. I am also trained and employed as a lawyer. I certainly have material benefits from that job. Not only I am well paid, but I have good health benefits and a retirement account. There are also non-material benefits. I get to meet interesting people and stretch my talents and abilities by overcoming difficult challenges. I enjoy the intellectual atmosphere of the office. As with my art, I feel that my work is valuable and leads to a healthier and safer life for those in my community and city. Nonetheless, in the final analysis, I am proudest of being an artist.

There is one more part to our thought experiment. The government applauds my art and wishes to help me be successful in that arena. They value artists and agree that the city is a better place when artists feel supported and validated. To do so, the government will spend tax money to provide me with art assistants, whom I can direct to carry out my artistic vision. In this way, they predict, I will be less torn about leaving my art studio and spending more time in my legal office. In addition, they will require all businesses, including my employer, to give artists paid time off to work on our craft. What a wonderful perk of my job!

These assistants and the time off will be paid by increasing taxes on everyone (including my fellow artists).  Regulating businesses to pay for my time off will, of course, add a cost to business, but they have the option to raise the cost of all goods (including art supplies). The important thing is that I should feel comfortable working for a company that values my art.

Wait?  That doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? If the government deems that art is truly important, then why instigate policies that will raise prices and force artists to work longer hours in other occupations, leaving them less time to create art? Will an art assistant truly be able to fulfill my personal artistic vision? What if I want to do my own art? Wouldn’t it be better to form an environment with lower taxes and less regulation so that I can choose to work less at my non-artistic job? Then it would be my choice to give up the positives of my law career and focus on my art or to spend less time on art but keep my legal career alive.

Replace artist with mother and lawyer with press secretary and you will understand why I was confused by a small part of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ memoir. Overall, I enjoyed the book recounting her years as President Trump’s press secretary. In that role, she was strong, articulate, and classy. Despite being treated despicably by many in the press, she stayed on target, didn’t cower and remained a southern lady.

Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom and the Fight of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House is a wonderful reminder of many of the successes of the Trump presidency as well as an inside look at the author’s childhood as the daughter of the Governor of Arkansas and her experiences serving in various political campaigns. All in all, it was an enjoyable and illuminating read.

There was only one place, a few sentences in all, that baffled me. That is the subject of my thought experiment. Since I respect the author and our views converge on so many issues, I truly would like to understand her thinking.

More than once, Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks about the conflict between being a loving mother and also having such a high-tension, high profile job—one that often necessitated last-minute changes of plan as well as travel. One chapter in particular, focuses on that dilemma. She speaks of her personal challenge worrying that she was either short-changing her job or short-changing her children. I understand that and, as a United States citizen, I am grateful for how she served our country, recognizing the sacrifices she and her family made. I also understand when she says that her most important title is ‘mother.’ What I don’t understand is her conclusion:

“…I was so proud of the Trump administration for leading the fight to double the child tax credit and champion paid family leave. Four years ago Republicans were hardly talking about paid family leave at all, but thanks to the leadership of Ivanka Trump, also a working mom of three, there was now broad bipartisan support for it. “

I am not a fan of that bipartisan support. I think that government-directed paid family leave is a terrible mistake that will lead to fewer options for women while damaging the economy and family life. As in my example, if we truly value motherhood, then policies such as lower taxation and less regulation, allowing companies to keep costs down, seem to be the way to go. If couples could once again live on one salary, then they can choose for themselves who and how much to devote to a paid career. Mrs. Sanders seems to have a husband who valued her position with the president and, together, they made the decision that she should accept a grueling government position. Together, I presume, they then made the decision that she should step back in order to be more available to their family. Why should the government make that choice for us using economic incentives to promote one vision?

At the same time as I read Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ account, my daughter shared a book published in 1924 with me. The Homemaker, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, is a surprising book for its time. (Totally off-topic: If you have not read her book, Understood Betsy, as a read-aloud with your 8-11-year-olds, do that immediately.) While the book has been described as a “feminist novel,” it is actually a ‘protection of children’ novel—those very little people whose needs are often ignored when the importance of women in the workforce is promoted.

The protagonists of the book are Lester and Eva Knapp, both of whom are miserable and causing great misery to their children. In order to get married to Eva, Lester took the first job available. Years later, he despises his work, and is, not surprisingly, quite bad at it. Life is a burden. Meanwhile, the ambitious and business-minded Eva immerses herself in a hated life of cleaning, cooking, and child-rearing. She does those with technical competence and frighteningly resentful vigor. The three children suffer emotionally as one would expect, and the entire family has physical ailments directly connected to stress and unhappiness.

When an accident confines Lester to bed, Eva goes out to work. The family soon discovers that Lester is a loving homemaker and father while Eva thrives at her job. Everyone is happier and their economic situation is vastly improved. At the end of the book, a crisis unfolds as there is a chance for Lester to recuperate and both adults worry that the expectations of society will force him back to the workforce and her back to the home.

However, the primary theme through the book is society’s neglect of the importance of a loving, dedicated figure in children’s lives, one who delights in their growth and makes a true home for the family. Lester and Eva need to make the best choice for their individual family, but caring for that family means that someone has to be devoting his or her intelligence, time, creativity, and talents to the children.

For a few decades now, we have been telling people with disastrous results that raising children is a boring, unfulfilling, and tedious job. We hold up the mirage that if only it didn’t cost so much, parents could find that magical being who will love their child as much as they do and guide them exactly as they would. Then they could do the rewarding and important work of earning money. The person raising their children will be earning money as well. That is, after all, what really matters! Or is it? Mrs. Sanders didn’t accept her job because of the salary and she didn’t quit her job because she couldn’t afford help. She accepted the press secretary position for well thought out reasons and she left because she made a well thought out decision that her family needed more of her presence.

Insisting that companies have a certain proportion of women in their workforce reduces opportunities for men, taking the choice away from husbands and wives as to which one of them will work out of the home. If my husband can’t get a position, while the company is begging me to come to work so that they can show how “woke” they are, then we are less free to run our own lives. If the government provides paid leave so that I won’t step away from my career, they are declaring that the career is more important than my family. They want me to think that having a family won’t interfere with my work, but work is what they are truly holding up as the highest value. If we look to Europe as a role model, we see that there is a serious danger of below replacement population growth. There is generous family leave time—and there are fewer and fewer children. When family and children are not valued, people do not establish families and have children. America is already seeing the result of attitudes that remove the concept of marriage and children as a blessing and vital part of life. As I see it, family leave will be one more nail in the coffin.

Few women or men get similar professional or business opportunities to those that Ivanka Trump or Sarah Huckabee Sanders did. Many, many women work because of economic need rather than for fulfillment. Given a choice, they would rather have more children and take care of them. Perhaps they would homeschool or volunteer in their children’s schools and in their communities, activities that tended to coincide with healthier neighborhoods. Policies that increase the cost of living or constrict the economic choices of husbands and wives, such as paid family leave or quotas for female workers, diminish these options. I know that forcing women into the workforce is a dream of the Left, presented as allowing women to reach their full potential and contribute to society. What I do not understand is why women who recognize the importance of motherhood are pushing conservatives to jump on the bandwagon. The government never works with a light touch; it tends to function with an increasingly heavy fist that leads to all sorts of unintended consequences.

I may not work in pastels or oil paint, but for years I was privileged to use my creativity and intellect, my passion and talents, in raising my children in partnership with my husband. Other women made different choices. I would like for my daughters to have the same options that we did.

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Scarcity or Abundance?

November 24th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

This is going to be a “different” Thanksgiving where our immediate family replaces our usual extended family group. I know we can still focus on the things for which we must be grateful, but it seems to me that we are in a period of less rather than abundance. There are fewer opportunities to work on relationships as we huddle apart from each other, fewer small businesses are staying afloat, there is less freedom as the government flexes its heavy hand, and seemingly a less grand future for most people.

How do I use the principles of The Holistic You to move upward and forward?

Jerry

Dear Jerry,

Even before answering your question, we’re going to challenge some of the assumptions, if that’s okay with you, Jerry.  You fear the end of abundance.   We checked up on the bushel per acre wheat production figures for 2020 around the United States.  Absolutely nobody needs to anticipate going without their bread or even cake. Looking at dairy production, everyone can even add butter to their toast and it won’t chip into our dairy excess. The same for fish and beef this year as well as a few other vital commodities. We can assure you, abundance is still the operative word.

Fewer opportunities to develop relationships?  Yes, I suppose if you cower and huddle alone, but are you really doing that, Jerry?  Somehow I doubt it. Yes, we have to put in more effort than we used to in order to stay in contact with friends or to meet new neighbors, but if we make the effort we can do so.   What is more, I know we’re not alone in meeting new people through Zoom and other new technologies. You see,  many smaller organizations that would never have thought of bringing us in for speeches and teaching, now think nothing of setting up a Zoom or other audio-video link.  We’ve actually met and made many new friends not in spite of, but because of heavy-handed government regulation.

As you say, many businesses are finding it impossible to remain afloat. A tragedy that afflicts people every bit as seriously as does a virus; perhaps even more so.  But, there are many new businesses that have found a foothold and are growing in industry sectors that barely existed in 2019. In addition to online communication, there are many new companies competing in the food delivery sector, and so on.

We don’t dispute your point that we are living in challenging times right now, but we implore you to reconsider your overall view of unrequited pessimism.  We confess that we harbor a sneaking suspicion that you might have arrived at your gloomy feelings from overconsumption of mainstream and social media.  Please ease up on obtaining your sense of how things really are out there from those sources.  Even in bad times, some people thrive and they do so by deploying the principles of what we describe in our free ebook, The Holistic You.  Now to your question:

This is a particularly appropriate question for us to answer right now with the festival of Chanukah coming soon.

Chanukah celebrates going above the natural. While in the natural world, we live a 24/7 existence, Chanukah sends the message that we can do better than that. It is the only Jewish holiday to fall on the 25th of the (Jewish) month and to last for eight days, hence the title of our audio CD on the subject, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. On this holiday, a small band of scholars triumphed over the might of the Greek army and a vial with only enough oil for one day lasted for eight. In the natural order of things, neither of these events should have been possible; yet they happened.

The key thing is, as Winston Churchill once told an audience of schoolboys, “Never, never, never, never give up!”  As long as you keep the flame burning, unexpected salvation can arrive.  About 400 years after the Maccabees conquered the Greek Army in Israel the Roman army under Marcus Aurelius was being besieged by Germanic savages. After weeks of blazing heat without water, they still held out knowing that all was doomed. Unexpectedly, the heavens opened and with the welcome downpour, the Romans rallied.  There were unexpected and, same said, miraculous events experienced in many wars including by the Allied forces in World War 2 and by Israel in both 1967 and 1973.

What is more, unexpected salvation can come not just to nations and armies but also to individuals.  It does demand never ever giving up, prayer, and of course action.

That is why we want you to understand that, as with all Jewish festivals, we miss the point if we only commemorate historical occurrences. Each holiday has a current message that is helpful in improving all aspects of our lives. Chanukah reminds us not to focus on limitations and scarcity but rather that by partnering with God and taking advantage of His gifts, we can break through boundaries and exceed our wildest dreams.

You might be interested to know that Chanukah features two calls to action. One is to praise God and the other is to thank Him. To our ears, that sounds very much like the original Thanksgiving.

You are right that we are facing challenges right now, among them realistic health concerns but also an overbearing political overreaction that sows fear and failure. Fortunately, we do not have to succumb to despair. Take the opportunity provided by Thanksgiving to feel and express gratitude and then come out determined that with hard work and ingenuity, and with God’s blessing, you can thrive and triumph.

Once you know and believe that can be done, you are on the road to achieving it.

Keep the flame burning,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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A COVID Plus for Thanksgiving

November 24th, 2020 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

The COVID virus and the response to the COVID virus have both resulted in much sorrow and difficulty. But, they have also led to some positive responses. For years, we have been dismayed as more and more stores open on Thanksgiving, switching the focus of the day to shopping.  While people will still be shopping online (we assume) a return to seeing Thanksgiving as a day for family, prayer, and gratitude is something for which we can be grateful. Perhaps over-reaching governors insisting that we may not see family and friends will be the impetus to our valuing those relationships more.

A Holiday for Optimists

November 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

In pre-COVID days when I spoke to large audiences, I enjoyed asking groups to raise their hands if they were sales professionals.  Usually, only a few hands went up.  I then asked, “How many of you are justices of the United States Supreme Court?”  After the chuckles subsided, I asked, “How many of you are tenured university professors?”  Finally, I would say, “Look, if you’re not a judge appointed for life, and you’re not a professor hired for life, you are probably in sales.

At the very least, you must constantly sell your employer on the idea that you are worth keeping on the payroll.

Selling means helping others see things from a new perspective. Whether you are a dentist or a lawyer, whether you are a bookkeeper, a bartender, or a ballerina, you are in sales.  To a large extent, your success is as dependent upon your selling ability as it is upon your basic skill.  If you have a job or are looking for a job, you are in sales.  If you are a teacher, a pastor or a preacher, you are in sales.  And if you are seeking a spouse you are in sales. In other words, in any number of areas of our lives we are all in sales—perhaps even that Supreme Court Justice is.

Fortunately, ancient Jewish wisdom can help hone your selling ability. Not only can it help, but the prescription doesn’t include spending tens of thousands of dollars on tuition or demand that you have relatives or friends to pave your way. As the famous MetLife study brilliantly conducted by Martin Seligman and many other subsequent studies strongly suggest,  optimism is a prerequisite to being successful in sales.  But how do you become a more optimistic person?

To answer that question, let’s look at a perplexing piece of Scripture. We first meet Moses as a baby, then we follow him as he matures and seeks out his suffering brethren. We track his escape to the land of Midian where he rescues Jethro’s daughters and becomes a shepherd. We delight as God appears to him and sets him on his life-mission.

Surely Moses must have been confused when, at the very beginning of the plagues that will culminate in the Israelites leaving Egypt,  God instructs him to take a back seat and instruct Aaron to turn the Nile River into blood.  (Exodus 7:19)

Isn’t Moses to be God’s messenger to Pharaoh? Why does God assign Aaron to bring the plague of blood?

“Gratitude,” answers  ancient Jewish wisdom.  The Nile carried Moses to safety as an infant.  It would show ingratitude to turn that life-saving  water into a lifeless stream of blood.

Excuse me? This is a river we’re talking about. Can a river feel shunned? No. That is the entire point!  Expressing gratitude does allow those who helped us to feel our appreciation. But it benefits the speaker as much—or more— than the recipient.  Among other things, expressing gratitude dramatically increases one’s optimism level.

An article published this year in a National Institute of Health journal noting the correlation between optimism and gratitude stated, “Thus, optimistic people experience more gratitude, which could give more sense to their lives and, in turn, enhance life satisfaction.”

The researchers have the equation back to front. It is not that optimistic people experience more gratitude, it is that grateful people experience more optimism. Working on “being optimistic” is difficult to pin down. But it is simple and clear-cut to work on “being grateful.” Whether you start a gratitude journal or challenge yourself to express gratitude aloud, to God, to each person with whom you interact, or to your nation on a daily basis, there is no more effective way to induce the happy sensation of optimism and hope in our souls than finding opportunities to say, “Thank you!”

Rather than focusing on the deprivation and great losses of the preceding year, the early Pilgrims counted their blessings and gave thanks. Not surprisingly, they embedded in America a sense of boundless optimism. It is no surprise that as their descendants become ungrateful “it’s owed to me” citizens, they are increasingly pessimistic and unhappy.

Wishing all of us a Thanksgiving of first principles, where we remind ourselves multiple times a day of the many things in our lives for which we are grateful.

Did you know that Chanuka is a holiday for “praise and gratitude”?
Its timeless messages are for all humanity.
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What’s the Question?

November 23rd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

There are two fascinating parallel stories about Abraham, one in Genesis 12 and one in Genesis 20.  In each of them, Abraham travels to a foreign land for a temporary stay, once in Egypt and once in Grar.  In each of them, Abraham says that Sarah is his sister instead of his wife. In both stories the king takes Sarah and God intervenes to let both Pharaoh of Egypt and Avimelech of Grar know that Sarah is really Abraham’s wife.  However, there is an interesting difference.

In Chapter 12, Pharaoh calls Abraham and he says:

“What have you done to me?  Why did you not tell me that she is your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ even when I took her as my wife?  Well, here is your wife. Take her and go.”

Abraham says nothing in response—he doesn’t answer Pharaoh’s question; he just gets up and leaves the country.

In Genesis 20 Avimelech asks Abraham, “What did you see that you did this thing?”

This time, Abraham responds with a full, complete answer—it actually is 3 verses long.

Why the difference?  Both kings ask him for an explanation of his behavior, but Abraham ignores Pharaoh’s question and answers Avimelech.  Why?

Rabbeinu Bachye, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, notes that Pharaoh’s question wasn’t a real question.  It was a rant. The proof is that his final line is “take her and go.” Pharaoh was letting off steam with all his questioning but he wasn’t truly interested in a dialogue.  He just wanted the situation over.  And so, the polite, respectful thing for Abraham to do was to get up and leave quickly and quietly.

Avimelech on the other hand asked a meaningful question and waited for an answer, which Abraham respectfully gave him.  Isn’t that a beautiful distinction?

This balance of knowing when a question should be answered and when the situation should just be remedied without discussion is one that all mothers work on. There are many times that our children ask us something and they truly want to hear our perspective. There are other times when they ask us something but they are only letting off steam.  They don’t want our explanations; what they really want is the situation to change.  We have to work at knowing the difference, knowing when to answer a question right away, when to defer an answer until a later time when the child will be more receptive, and knowing when to not answer at all.

It also goes the other way when we question our children.  There are times we ask questions just to let off steam, “Who left the door wide open?”  or, “Why did you do that?”  Most of the time when those words come to my mouth, it isn’t because it really matters to me who or why, I’m just expressing that I’m upset.  And I work on trying to bite my tongue because I don’t want to ask my children questions that aren’t really questions.  I also don’t want to ask my children questions that they are incapable of answering such as,  “Why did you do that?”  Most kids and adults aren’t self-aware enough to answer that one without a lot of reflection.  Why ask something that they can’t answer?  We want to show our kids that when we ask them something, we are honestly engaging in dialogue. We want to hear from them, like Avimelech and unlike Pharaoh.

May God bless us with the wisdom and self-control to know when to answer our kids and when to be quiet, when and how to ask our children true questions and when to refrain.

The Traditional Biden Voter

November 19th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 29 comments

I expend an outsized amount of mental effort trying to understand the half of America that voted for the Biden/Harris team. I realize that those people don’t all fit into any one category, just as all the people who voted for Trump/Pence, can’t be described as having one monolithic mindset.  I understand the young who have been tragically misled to believe that socialism is a viable political option. I get those who make decisions without deep thought but simply listen to popular personalities or follow what those around them do or have done for generations. Even as they see no change or improvement when they re-elect the same types of people whose empty promises have yet to materialize, they continue to vote exactly as they always have. I even recognize the cognitive dissonance of those, often older voters, who cannot move past their decades-long conviction that Republicans are affluent, racist, anti-Semites. Some people, certainly, are one-issue voters who look only at one topic, say abortion, and ignore everything else.

The subgroup that interests me, however, are those people who I would classify as politically involved, intelligent, patriotic, and traditional-leaning.  They are appalled at rioting and looting, believe in free speech and freedom of religion, and proudly fly American flags outside their homes. Yet, they and I came to different conclusions about which of two extremely different paths the country should follow for the next four years.

Or perhaps, we didn’t. Maybe they are putting faith in Joe Biden to lead with the steel of Patton and the wisdom of Solomon. They trust him to stand up and save the Democrat Party from Leftism. They were horrified at President Trump’s manner and speech (based on the President’s admittedly unorthodox method of speaking and a great deal of deceitful reporting), but they were equally dismayed by the anti-Semitic, anti-religious Leftist tilt of the Gang of Four, the viciousness and blatant lying during the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, and the waste of taxpayer money on the Russian collusion hoax and the  groundless impeachment. Their visceral dislike of President Trump ran up against their memories of a more nuanced time when Ronald Reagan could work with Tip O’Neill or Bill Clinton could enact welfare reform with Newt Gingrich. They truly blame President Trump for the chasm dividing America. This pushed them to believe that a Biden presidency would return things to a state of more fraternal collegiality. After all, there were bad spots in the past like the appalling treatment inflicted on Judge Bork or on Justice-elect Clarence Thomas and things seemed to stabilize for a bit after that.

I do not know if the thoughts I am imagining these voters having are accurate. I do know that, should the election go forward as predicted by the media (not the topic of this writing), I see only two choices. Perhaps, my support for President Trump was not as crucial as I thought it was and these voters are correct that a Biden presidency will prove centrist and calming. Or, as I suspect, a Biden presidency will succumb to Leftist anti-American voices and betray these voters. If I was wrong, I would actually be quite relieved. I would love to see this country thrive and see Leftist violence and hatred stifled.

If, however, my fears are correct, then these individuals will bear the privilege and responsibility of loudly and forcefully speaking up. They will be the ones who will have to let the Democrat Party know that they will never be deceived again. And, I sleep at night only because I do believe that, whatever propelled them to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, they are at heart, good and noble people with a deep love for this country.

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PDAs – what about in front of our children?

November 17th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

Our question is about modesty of parents. How private should the affection be between parents? For instance, is it acceptable for a wife to greet her husband with a hug and a kiss on the cheek in front of their children when he returns home from work?

With warmth,

Renat & Vaida

Dear Renat and Vaida,

Our guess is that some readers are scratching their heads saying, “Why is this even a question?” We agree with you that the topic does deserve thought, but we’d like to start by explaining why we believe that to be so.

Through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom, the Bible emphasizes the difference between humans and all other creatures on the planet.  The first two chapters of Genesis help to make this distinction clear.  One difference is that animals operate on instinct; let’s call it their operating system.  They are not making judgment calls with respect to the spiritual consequences of their action.  For humans, even the fundamental act of eating carries with it moral consequences that resonate down through the ages.

We discover the Bible using modest and refined terms when it comes to all physical activities that we share with animals.  Furthermore, it emphasizes how we distinguish ourselves from animals when we eat, excrete waste, and reproduce.

Above all, there is modesty involved.  Even in today’s diminished culture the concept still exists, though it is usually called manners.  We are taught to chew with our mouths closed in order to lessen our resemblance to animals. We are taught to relieve ourselves in private, unlike animals.  Likewise, we are taught to be reticent about acts of intimacy.

We are, of course,  each born into a certain time and place. When Prince William married, his wife Kate was widely admired for dressing in a classy and conservative style. Move Kate’s outfits to 16th century England, and she probably would have been arrested for indecent exposure. A woman’s exposed ankles do not cause men to blush today, but there was a time they did.

Similarly, today we are surrounded by public displays of affection.  So common is this that it has its own readily understood acronym: PDA. Couples, some of whom only met a few minutes earlier, embrace in public in a way that would have not been viewed as appropriate for women sending their husbands off to battle a century ago.

Your question is whether something that is extremely common in the 21st century, shows of physical affection between spouses in front of their children, is a trend that should be encouraged or not. What timeless Biblical wisdom sheds light on this matter?

God created physical contact between a man and a woman as a powerful force. There is non-sexual contact between close family members (mother and son or father and daughter for example) However, there is also a strong sexual urge that powerfully strikes men and women in slightly different ways and at somewhat different ages. The unique relationship called marriage combines both non-sexual and sexual aspects. We should relate with physical desire to our spouse and we must also relate with respect and affection that is not dependent on sexuality.

The sexual relationship between parents is an intimate one that belongs to them.  Many parents wisely keep their bedroom off-limits to the children.  A few years ago we published a Thought Tools in which we confessed our discomfort when friends, eager to display their new home, proudly walked us through the entire house including the master bedroom.  Battered as our children are with unhealthy relationship messages and with premature exposure to sexuality —even if it is not in the house but on a billboard or in a store—we prefer to let them see the sweetness of innocent affection between their moms and dads. Whether it is a welcome home kiss, holding hands while walking, or a tender brush of the cheek, in our day we think that it is important to be an advertisement for marriage in a way that wasn’t necessary a few decades ago. It’s been quite a few years since the Beatles song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” was flirtatious and, while holding fast to ideas of privacy and modesty, we do have to live in the world in which we find ourselves. There are so many harmful messages out there that modeling loving and innocent touch to our children becomes necessary.

Wishing you a loving marriage and wonderful children,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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A Prince and a Pauper

November 16th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

There is no such thing as a level playing field in the real world. Some of us win what I call the ovarian lottery when it comes to health, others when it comes to place of birth. Some of us have genes wired for height and attractiveness, while other babies might enter the world with outstanding artistic talent lurking in their chromosomes. Newborns do not choose their parents, yet our lives are tremendously influenced by those who conceived us.

The Bible usually provides meticulous detail about family. Twelve spies are sent to explore the land of Canaan—each is identified with his father’s name. (Numbers 11: 1-16) Betzalel is to be the Tabernacle’s craftsman? Not only are we told who his father is, but, in a way that is extremely common, also his grandfather. (Exodus 31:2)   

This makes it all the odder that when we first meet King Saul’s son Jonathan, we’re not told who he is.

Saul picked 3,000 Israelites, of whom 2,000 were with Saul in Michmas and in the hill country of Bethel,
and 1,000 with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin;
the rest of the troops he sent back to their homes.
(I Samuel 13:2)

Only after King Saul has disobeyed the prophet Samuel and imperiled his kingdom, does Scripture inform us that Jonathan is the son of King Saul.

Saul and his son Jonathan, and the troops who remained with them, stayed in Geba of Benjamin,
while the Philistines were encamped at Michmas.
(I Samuel 13:16)

Shortly after that, Jonathan performs an act of both wisdom and courage, leading to terror and confusion in the Philistine ranks.

Saul and the troops with him assembled and rushed into battle; they found [the Philistines] in very great confusion, every man’s sword turned against his fellow.*
(I Samuel 14:20)

This is one of only two instances in all of Scripture where the phrase, “every man’s sword against his fellow” is used.

Here is the other:

For when the three hundred horns were sounded, the LORD turned every man’s sword against his fellow, throughout the camp, and the entire host fled as far as Beth-shittah and on to Zererah—
as far as the outskirts of Abel-meholah near Tabbath.*
(Judges 7:22)

When we are initially introduced to the hero of this incident, Gideon, we are told about his family. Yet the contrast to a royal prince could hardly be more striking. Gideon’s father is the most impoverished in his tribe and Gideon himself is the youngest of the sons.  (Judges 6:15)

Why are these two men, seemingly so different, united by a rare Biblical phrase?

In the 2nd act of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, his character, Malvolio, proclaims this memorable truth:  Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Gideon, plucked from obscurity by God, had no reason to expect to be great. Jonathan’s royal parentage is omitted from when we first encounter him to indicate that, although “born great,”  his distinction was not a result of being born the son of the king but was of his own doing.

Both these men stepped on the ladder of greatness by sowing internal discord in the ranks of their enemies. Although outnumbered and outflanked by their nation’s enemy, they both had complete faith in the rightness of their cause and their ability, with God’s help, to overcome their limitations. This moral spine of steel overwhelmed the opposition, leading the Midianites (Gideon) and Philistines (Jonathan) to turn upon and destroy themselves.

What a message to us! Each one of us must strive for greatness whether or not our backgrounds seem to predispose us to such or not. In our roles as parents, employers, citizens or friends, once we determine the right path, we should march ahead with steadfast determination. We mustn’t crumble or cower beneath opposition and we must never use the excuse of who our parents are to justify our being anything less than we can be.

A little boy whose seven siblings were each conceived by different men, none of whom was married to his mother, does not have the same chance in life as the eighth son of a couple whose long-term marriage is dedicated to raising their children.  Those two boys are not competing on a level playing field.  What is more,  not only is the lifestyle of one boy’s mother and father far more helpful to him than that of the other boy, it is also far more beneficial to society. Family does matter.  But your own actions matter even more.
_________

*If you would like to see the phrases in the Hebrew using Rabbi Lapin’s recommended Bible: חרב איש ברעהו

Judges 7:22 – p. 762. Words 8, 9, and 10 in verse 22.
I Samuel 14:20 – p. 860. Words 12, 13, and 14, in verse 20.

חרב = sword
איש = man
ברעהו = against his fellow

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Kindergarten Lessons for Teens

November 15th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Some book titles provide value even if you never read the book. (It’s quite possible that for some books, the title is the best part.) I never read All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum, but the title sticks in my mind as a clever one.

I don’t know if, “Reputation Matters,” is one of the lessons that Mr. Fulghum includes, but it  is certainly one of the crucially important messages we strive to teach our children. That lesson is front and center in politics today and worth discussing.

This message resonates on both sides of the political divide. Personally, I think that President Trump has been an outstanding president when judged in terms of policy results, both domestic and international. His unique personality and methods of communicating may not be my cup of tea but his bluntness and lack of polished political skill well may be the reasons he was elected. However, he knew that he faced a hostile press and many hate-filled enemies both in politics and the general media. For four years, the president’s persona was presented as a caricature, downplaying any speeches and events that contradicted that view. In my opinion, he made a big mistake when much of his re-election campaign, including the first debate, served to emphasize the negatives that these enemies presented as the whole picture. For too much of the past six months, he didn’t recognize the need to meticulously advance the more nuanced side of himself and to aggressively promote his many accomplishments that needed to be highlighted.

On the other side, newspapers, media outlets, and Democratic politicians were openly consumed with hatred for the past four years. When California Democrat, Maxine Waters, called on Americans to “tell them [those who work in the Trump administration] they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” and that was one of the milder displays of contempt, calling for unity in a contested election is futile. When you lie to the American people, publicizing debunked stories of Russian collusion and others with little chance of veracity while suppressing stories that are undoubtedly true, you don’t get to ask people to trust your judgment about whether or not the election was fraudulent.

We explain to our five-year-old that if she upsets a board game because she is losing, her friend may not want to play with her the next day. We tell our nine-year-old how important it is not to breach a friend’s trust. These are normal opportunities to talk about developing a reputation for fair play and trustworthiness. When it comes to our teens, the stakes get higher and our lectures get heard less.

We can take advantage of the real-life examples in front of us to spark discussion and spur thought among our young adults. No matter who you supported in the last election, reputations have been shredded and trust has been eviscerated. We may not be able to stop people from lying about us or control the words and actions of those with whom we generally agree, but that only means that we need to be more careful about developing and projecting a reputation we are proud to claim.

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