The Joy of Sadness

March 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

Ancient Jewish wisdom draws a connection between two months of the Jewish year that at first glance seem to stand in opposition to each other. We are told:  Just as when [the month of] Av enters, our joy is diminished, so too, when [the month of] Adar enters, our joy increases.

A connection and equality of sorts is made between the sadness of the month of Av, when both Temples were destroyed, and the joy of Adar, when the redemption of Purim took place.  Why?  I would like to share with you a thought I had on this.  Please know that I did not see a source for learning this lesson and I am not saying that this is what ancient Jewish wisdom is trying to teach us, simply, this is what came to my mind when thinking of this saying.

In the last month I have heard from several administrators in different schools that the line they hear most frequently from parents of their students is, “I just want my child to be happy.”  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Of course they want their children to be happy!  They’re not evil people!  But the truth is, if a parent’s goal is for his or her child to be happy, now, in their childhood, they’re  really not doing their best to align their child up for a lifetime of happiness.  In order to feel joy, we also need another part of our calendar cycle to instill in us the feelings of grief and sadness.  We can’t just experience happiness. To feel joy we also have to be open to feeling all the other emotions that are part of the human experience.

It isn’t easy to parent a child who is feeling grief, anxiety, fear, shame, or any other negative emotion, but it is important to let our children experience those feelings, to let them fall and fail but be there with them to help them get up again and process their feelings.  A child who is allowed to struggle and feel negative feelings, will be truly capable of feeling positive feelings of accomplishment, pride and joy.  Adar can’t exist without Av.  They’re related. We need to be capable of feeling each emotion at the right time, and we need to allow our children to experience all those emotions too, with our loving support.  It doesn’t work to say, “I just want my child to be happy!”

We also need to acknowledge how challenging it is on us as parents to help a child work through difficult feelings.  It can take a lot out of us and that’s normal and okay.  The important thing is not to dodge that responsibility because it is too hard or painful but to get ourselves the support we need while we parent unhappy children.  When a child of mine is going through something difficult, that may be when I need to make my life simpler, cut things out of my schedule, and ask for help because the reality is that parenting a child who is suffering is time-consuming, draining, and challenging.  But it is still necessary and valuable.  We have to help ourselves be able to help our children in their good times and their bad times, in the Adar of their lives and in the Av of their lives because we learn to live with joy by also feeling pain.

Memories or Remembrances

March 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Fine restaurants pay as much attention to the way the food looks on the plate as they do to how it tastes. When you’re charging a lot for a meal, every aspect matters. At home, while I don’t glop food onto a plate in an unsightly mess, neither do I spend time creating radish spirals or decorating our supper plates with blackberry coulis.  We will be quite happy if the taste is fantastic.

On the other hand, you know those pictures of food in magazines that make you drool? The sight of melted chocolate dripping down the side of the cake tickles your salivary glands and the spoon caressing the whipped cream makes you want to dig right in? When it comes to food photography, you actually don’t want to taste the product. That frothy cappuccino may actually be composed of foaming hand soap and the rich syrup  on those pancakes might be made from motor oil. What you see isn’t what you want.

That lesson is incredibly relevant to parenting. Surprisingly often, we have to choose between a meaningful experience versus one that looks great but lacks substance. As a preschool teacher, my friend Hannah’s students’ projects never looked as good as those of other classes. That’s because her four-year-olds actually did the work themselves. She didn’t guide their hands as they glued and she didn’t touch up their drawings. If the owl’s beak ended up where its eye was intended to go, so be it. The finished projects meant for parents’ refrigerators may not have won awards, but the kids in her class loved being there and by the end of the year they had acquired important skills.

As we all have cameras and video machines readily available in our phones, school performances have lost much of their charm. Little children looking at the rows of parents perched at the back of the room don’t see their proud mothers’ smiles or their fathers’ loving gazes. Instead their parents’ faces are covered by machinery. And those machines are largely focused on them, sending the incorrect message that the other children with whom they’ve been practicing are unimportant and irrelevant. The fun of presenting the show is diminished for the sake of being able to show how wonderful it was.

Sometimes, we just have to choose between creating real memories or building contrived remembrances. The picture snapped of the child we forced into what we thought was an adorable outfit even though he hated wearing it (yes, I have one of those pictures), the smile that came out only because we bribed our daughter with a candy if she pretended to be having fun, the precious moments we missed as we focused on freezing them for eternity may all look wonderful but in actuality be a breathtaking looking but completely inedible feast.

The Young, the Elite and the Ignorant

March 21st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

My father-in-law, of blessed memory, used to say that people aren’t balance sheets. You can’t tout up a subjective view of a person’s good and bad points, do a quick mathematical computation and emerge with a ranking. Say someone always shoveled his elderly neighbors’ drives (+3), gave 15% of his income to charity (+3) and was meticulously honest in business (+4) but had an explosive temper with his wife and children (-4) and indulged in an affair (-4).  Do the arithmetic: 3 + 3 + 4 – 4 -4 = 2.  This does not mean that you can say that he was a  +2 type of guy. God will make his own calculations, but we human beings can only say that he was a complicated person, doing both outstanding and horrible actions.

The lens of history reveals John Adams, second president of the United States, as a complicated man. Undoubtedly brilliant and deeply involved in the founding of this country, as president he also signed into legislation the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts and was unpopular enough not to earn a second term in office.

Among his greatest moments, in my opinion, was his defense of the British soldiers accused of murder in the misnamed Boston Massacre of 1770, one of the events that led to America’s declaring independence. Although Adams was already favoring breaking with England, he set a precedent that made America different from Europe by establishing that everyone, even those who are unpopular or hold unpopular views, deserve honest representation before the law. He famously said,  “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they can not alter the state of facts and evidence.” 

Though he was a graduate of Harvard, I think John Adams would be less horrified at the lies, bribes and schemes of parents wanting to get their children into supposedly superior universities than at a far greater scandal currently unfolding at his alma mater.

What would truly horrify him would be the call by Harvard students to punish one faculty dean, Ronald Sullivan, for joining Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. These supposedly ‘cream of the crop’ students have no understanding of the concept of a fair trial or the basics of America’s ethical and legal system. Whether of not Mr. Weinstein’s general lifetime behavior ranks him as a +1 or a -7, he is being accused of a legal violation. Lawyers defend horrible people all the time and the behavior of horrible people doesn’t always cross a legal line. If the court of public opinion mandated to the justice system that some people (perhaps those in the offense-of-the-month club) were not worthy of being defended, our legal system would collapse. Even worse, rather than rebuking and educating the students, the administration is treating their childish complaints seriously.

Adams had no illusions about the innate goodness of man, recognizing that humans are eminently corruptible. He understood the lure of lying, bribing and cheating to gain benefit. For that reason he saw the need not only for a Constitution but also for an underlying religious and moral system.

However, when Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people,” I don’t think he foresaw that the ignorant people he was referencing would be students at Harvard. Perhaps the true scandal in the admissions cheating matter is that any  parent would want their child in an elite university where ignorance and indoctrination have replaced a love of learning and a serious liberal arts education.

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Am I Destined to Be a Domestic Drudge?

March 20th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 33 comments

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

I’ve been married for 9  years to a pretty great guy.   We have two boys and a girl, also a dog.  I have a full time job and I also take care of most of the inside-the-house chores and organize all the activities for the kids and family. 

My husband and I have had several discussions and sometimes arguments about sharing the household workload. We make new agreements about duties that my husband can take on, but within a week these agreements have fizzled out. When I ask him to take on tasks with our children, such as bedtime or supervising homework, it generally devolves into screaming matches between him and the kids.

My resentment is starting to affect my sexual desire for him. I feel less like he’s my partner and more like he’s another child.  I go all day from the time I wake up at 5:45 a.m. until I collapse into bed at 10 p.m.

Is this simply the reality of being a working mother? Do I have to abandon my  dreams of sharing the child care and household duties?

Do I accept that my husband is doing his best and perhaps is limited by his parenting and organizational skills? Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?

Domestic Drudge

Dear D.D.,

We got lost between the, “I’ve been married for 9 years to a pretty great guy,” and the rest of your letter. If, as you say, your husband is a great guy, something is off-kilter. Exhaustion, resentment and anger are pretty awful things to drag around in a marriage so we do think this is urgent to deal with. It isn’t surprising that with so much negativity, the sexual and companionship side of your marriage is suffering.

If we told 1000 people that we received a letter that began with “I’ve been married for nine years to a pretty great guy” and concluded with “Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?” we doubt that even one would guess the content of the intervening eleven sentences. 

There’s another sentence in your letter that is setting off our alarm bells.  You asked, “Do I have to abandon my dreams of sharing the child care and household duties?”

Here’s how we would have expected that question to read: Do I have to abandon my dreams of a tranquil and loving home in which  my husband and I work together to build a joyous family?

Instead, your wording strongly suggests that you are trying to implement a social psychology professor’s view of egalitarian marriage; one in which all duties and responsibilities are shared equally and identically between both spouses. (We hope we’re wrong – as we said, we can only work with the information and vibes we get from your letter.) 

In other words, is your concern that those things get done or that it has to be your husband doing them?

We have ten more questions to ask.  Some of them may hit home and be useful while others may be way off the mark.

  1. Is your husband limited by poor parenting and organizational skills?
  2. Do the two of you agree on the answer to question #1?

If you both agree that your husband doesn’t know how to help the children with homework or put them to bed, then there is no point in making an agreement for him to do so. There are lots of books, videos and workshops that provide practical advice for working with children. Rather than ask him to do something at which he feels incompetent, we would suggest working through a program together and deciding on techniques that you can both apply.

We think it possible, however, that your husband doesn’t deal with the children the way you think he should and that you criticize him when he does help out. Do the children know that if they make a fuss, you will step in and take over? While screaming at kids is notoriously ineffective and setting a bad example to boot, is there anything in your behavior that sets up an antagonistic relationship between your husband and the kids? Does he disapprove of some of your methods? For example, if you allow the kids to have screen time before bed and he is opposed to that, the two of you need to get on the same page before you can take turns at bedtime.

3) Are you on the same page in terms of your work? Are you bringing in income that you both agree is needed? Would your husband prefer you work fewer hours but were able to deal with the home front with less exhaustion and more patience? Would you prefer that?

4) Do your jobs contribute financially equally or does one job bring in substantially more than the other? Does your economic plan need a shake-up?

5) Have you discussed the idea of hiring household help? Is your need truly for help or, as we queried above, are you more focused on the idea that specifically your husband must help? 

6)  Is your husband working long hours or doing other things that benefit the family or is he on the couch channel surfing while you are taking care of the kids and home? The answer to this question is terribly important.

7) Why are you working from 5:45 a.m. until 10 p.m. at night? Do you and your husband agree on what it takes to run the home? Is one of you insisting on home-cooked meals and a spotless house while the other would be fine with getting a pizza once a week and using disposable dishes?

8)  Is having a dog really what a tense family and a troubled marriage needs, or is it the straw that breaks the camel’s back?  (And I really like dogs—RDL)

9) Have you taken a moment to think of any things that you automatically expect your husband to do. This might include bill paying, lawn work, taking out the garbage, picking up the dry cleaning, driving the kids to sports or lots of other items. Is it at all possible that that you take for granted some of that which he reliably does do?

10) Are you possibly being influenced by friends’ posting on social media, by harmful articles in magazines or by other input that leads you to count your grievances rather than your blessings?  Perhaps it is time to review the social contacts that shape each of your lives as individuals as well as a couple.

It sounds to us like the two of you skipped a stage of sitting down and sharing a vision of what your home should look like. What worked in the early years of marriage and certainly before children doesn’t keep working as life happens. Before tackling the nitty-gritty of how and what each of you should be doing, we feel that you would benefit immensely from a rejuvenating weekend away at a marriage seminar which will facilitate communication between you. It will also provide enjoyable time together that you seem to badly need. It’s possible that one or both of  your views of marriage have substantially changed during the past decade.  If things you agreed upon when you got married are no longer part of your marriage road map, considerable conversation is necessary.

Something is broken in your relationship and you are not only suffering yourself but you are also harming your children. They deserve a mother who doesn’t carry herself like a martyr and a responsible and loving father. They need to see affection and respect between the two of you rather than the resentment they now see you beaming at their father.  We know you are far too smart not to know that they are seeing this. We’re not seeing your facial expressions or body language but feel resentment oozing from you just from the label ‘domestic drudge.”

We’d throw out all three of your suggested choices—swallowing anger, fighting for more or walking away.  None of them sounds like someone who appreciates the great guy she’s been married to for nine years. 

Swallowing anger doesn’t work. Fighting for more? Fighting? Really?  This is a marriage not an adversarial corporate merger. Fighting will only intensify the antagonism.  And finally, your “Do I just walk away?”  From whom? That great guy you’ve been married to for nine years?  In order to get the extra time and tranquility that divorced single moms are so envied for?   

We would recommend reminding yourself of your husband’s great qualities, analyzing your own strengths and weaknesses and finding a way to remind both of you that you are on the same team. Make the effort to improve what you have with this pretty great guy and see it as your priority.

Finally, you ask if you must accept your husband’s limitations.  We don’t doubt that like all human beings he has his limitations.  But we advise you, in the quiet of nighttime solitude, to look deeply into your own limitations and the efforts you might make to transcend them. You and your husband can certainly both grow and learn to function better as a team. But thinking of  changing anyone is usually unproductive. You’d be amazed, though, at how changing yourself will lead others to change themselves too.

Establishing a loving marriage and providing a loving home for children is a battle worth fighting.  We look forward to hearing that soon you both feel enormous gratitude for the gift of your spouse. 

Each with our own loving limitations,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Are You a Pious Pushover?

March 19th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

Anyone who spends any time in neighborhoods populated by Bible-believing, religiously inclined people, knows that, for the most part, such people are kinder, gentler, more empathetic and more compassionate than the general population.  Sometimes, however, unselfish behavior can morph into unwarranted meekness and timidity.

Here are five questions that might help determine if you have allowed your own goodness to be exploited by others less restrained than you.

  • Do you always deflect adversarial encounters?
  • Is being liked more important than standing your ground?
  • Do you often tell yourself, “I’m just too tired to argue”?
  • Do you frequently resent how “pushy people” seem to get their way and pride yourself on not being pushy?
  • Do you sometimes feel embarrassed after standing firm and ‘winning’?

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of those questions, what’s to be done?  As usual, ancient Jewish wisdom points to the Bible for help.  Remember that we learn as much from the flaws of Biblical personalities as we do from their greatness.

My wife, Susan, attends a weekly Bible class she greatly values. In one class, the rabbi  described the patriarch Jacob using the phrase ‘conflict-averse.’  Seeking peace, the rabbi explained, is be a wonderful thing to do most of the time but taken to an extreme, it can lead us down the wrong path. This was a failing of Jacob’s. I would like to impart some of what Susan learned along with some additional truths from ancient Jewish wisdom.

Looking at Jacob in Genesis 32 as he prepares to meet Esau, Jacob has sent messengers and gifts to the brother whom he worries is coming towards him with animosity.  Then he settles down for the night.

On that night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions.  And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. 
(Genesis 32:23-25)

Mystery #1:  After the camp settles down for the night, why does he wake everyone up?

Mystery #2:  Why did God send an adversarial angel to detain Jacob in struggle all the night? (Genesis 32:25-30)

Mystery #3:  When he does meet with Esau, why is there only one camp when earlier Jacob thought of dividing his camp in two so that, if attacked, at least one camp might survive? (Genesis 32:8)

It seems that, at the last minute, Jacob changed his plans. Rather than facing Esau, he contemplated avoiding him. To that end, he has everyone retreat across the river.  In the last minute disorganization, he is temporarily alone and God sends an angel to struggle with him.

By the time dawn comes and Jacob disengages from the angel,  Esau unexpectedly materializes right in Jacob’s path. (Genesis 33:1) God defeated Jacob’s plan to evade the confrontation by keeping him busy through the night and speeding up Esau’s travel.

This was only one example of Jacob’s tendency to avoid conflict. 

Earlier, Jacob who had legitimately purchased the birthright from his older brother Esau, doesn’t question his mother’s decision to trick his father, Isaac, into believing that he was Esau.  While Rebecca acted with prophecy, Jacob was quick to acquiesce in order to avoid confrontation and conflict.

He did the same thing when instead of confronting his deceitful father-in-law, Lavan, and telling him he was leaving, Jacob snuck away.  (Genesis 31:8)

We see the pattern again when Jacob’s daughter Dina is raped.  Rather than plan the necessary retribution, Jacob doesn’t even castigate the perpetrator but merely waits for his sons to return home.  (Genesis 34:5)

Later on, we will see this tendency again. When Joseph recounts his disturbing dreams provoking jealous fury among his brothers, instead of settling things with his sons then and there, Jacob avoided conflict and merely put the thought away in his memory.  (Genesis 37:11)

Similarly, although he knows something is wrong when the brothers show him Joseph’s bloody coat, as we see by the fact that he stays in an active state of bereavement for years, he doesn’t push his sons to tell him the truth. (Genesis 37:34)

From examining each of Jacob’s experiences we see that it is the emotion of fear that underlies his all-too-human tendency to avoid conflict. In fact, Genesis 32:8  states that Jacob was afraid. He wasn’t a coward; his fear was for his family and also fear of harming his brother should a fight ensue. Both concerns were praiseworthy, but giving in to them was not. Throughout his life, had Jacob faced his fears, we could see each event turn out more satisfactorily than it did. 

Sometimes, rather than face the fact that we are unworthily yielding to fear, we deliberately mislead ourselves into believing that we are avoiding conflict on account of our virtue.  While there are certainly occasions on which to yield in the name of peace, we must be on guard not to yield on account of our own fears of conflict.  Most times, avoiding today’s conflict almost guarantees worse and unavoidable strife tomorrow. In fact, ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Jacob was unnecessarily subservient to Esau when they did meet again, causing his descendants problems.

The best antidote to becoming a pious pushover is to remember that it nearly always results in bigger problems.  Nowhere is this clearer than contemporary news headlines concerning Israel and Islam.  Each time Israel yields in the hope of generating goodwill the problems mount.  Whenever Israel displays firm resolve, the situation improves or at least does not deteriorate. 

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No Results Guaranteed

March 17th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

A “Your Mother’s Guidance” post by Rebecca Masinter

The book of Exodus ends with the completion and assembly of the Tabernacle.  The description of assembling the materials, building the vessels, and sewing the tapestries and clothing for the Priests are in the active tense, “and he made,” “and he placed,” with one exception.  Verse 40:17 says,  “And it was in the first month of the second year on the first of the month that the Tabernacle was erected.”  The actual assembly of the Tabernacle is said in a passive voice, “was erected.”

Why? Ancient Jewish wisdom describes that after the children of Israel brought all the components of the Tabernacle to Moses it was time to assemble it.  God wanted to give Moses the honor of actually assembling the Tabernacle but the planks and pieces were so huge and heavy that Moses knew it was impossible for a human being to lift them and put them in place.

As ancient Jewish wisdom beautifully states, Moses said before God, “How can it be erected by a human being?” 

God said to him, “You do your part—make an attempt so it looks as if you’re doing it, and it will rise and be assembled by itself.”

And that is why the verse says, “…the Tabernacle was erected” in a passive voice. It assembled itself.

Wow!  I’m going to share with you an idea that I would have rejected as a mother of young children, but has become very dear to me as they have grown older.  We put in our effort.  We make an enormous effort to parent well, to be good mothers.  And that is our responsibility. We have to make our attempts. To the rest of the world it may look as if we are raising our children!  But the truth is that just as it appeared as if Moses was lifting the Tabernacle and it was really happening independently of him, the development of our children is really independent of us.  The outcome of how our children turn out, what type of person they become—that is up to God. 

I have a friend who went to speak to a Torah scholar about one of her children who was born with innate behavioral challenges. Despite years of various efforts and therapies, my friend was still very concerned about what would be with this child in adulthood.  The Torah sage told her, “That’s not your concern.  You put in your effort to be a good mother.  You make an effort to research doctors, providers, and treatments within reason, and that is all!  What will be with him and who he will become is not dependent on your actions.  That is up to God.” 

Our children’s successes are not due to us, and our children’s struggles and failures are not ours either.  Our job as mothers is about effort;  the outcome is independent of us and dependent on God (and the child’s own input).

This is really a mind-blowing idea and it may not resonate with each of you, and that’s okay.  For me, it resonates.  We put in our best efforts, do our best and have faith in God who can bring about the results without our help, in the same way as the Tabernacle was assembled.

Twinkling Talent

March 14th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

Please don’t tell the budding musicians in my family but, while I go to their first concerts out of love for them, the music isn’t all that great. Hot Cross Buns and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star grow old rather quickly, especially when played by novice violinists and violists.

This past Sunday, I went to a cello concert, once again motivated by love. This time, the performers, who only a few years ago debuted with the songs mentioned above, provided the audience with a rewarding musical experience. We heard the music of JS Bach and Saint-Saens, Bruch (my grandson’s piece) and Paganini. While not yet quite concert-level performers, these young teenagers’ playing revealed the hours of disciplined practice they have invested. It was a delightful ninety minutes.

There was much to admire. The teachers and parents’ dedication and the youths’ hard work and love for music all obviously deserve praise. But something else jumped out at me as well. The five young men and two young women who performed came from different ethnic, religious, economic and racial groups. In addition to their perseverance and talent, they shared something else in common, something that used to be taken for granted but no longer is. Looking around the audience of relatives and friends (and one woman I spoke to who came because she loves music), I saw mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. And I realized that many teenagers today don’t have that extended family network to cheer them on.

There are the teens whose mothers decided to have a child on their own, depriving their offspring not only of a father but of one set of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins as well. There are the teens who had one parent walk out of their life when a marriage ended—and those whose parents never married to begin with—where one parent didn’t want the responsibility of a child. Certainly, there are fortunate teens whose extended families widen to include step-parents and additional loved ones, but they are outnumbered by those who have fewer adult figures in their lives than biology would suggest. In most cases, the missing figures are men.

There are more than a few foolish women who argue that men aren’t necessary in a child’s life. The entire (false) concept that pregnancy is an issue of “a woman’s body–a woman’s choice”  has been drilled into the culture suggesting that anything other than a man’s biological contribution is superfluous. The idea that any and every variation of family is equivalent is so widespread, that I rejoiced not only in the euphonious music but also in the web of love and support that surrounded these young musicians.

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Can pork ever be kosher?

March 12th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 24 comments

Jews can’t eat pig because it’s a scavenger and eats the dead therefore unclean. If the pig is farm raised it doesn’t eat the dead so would it be clean to eat?

Miguel

Dear Miguel,

We are choosing to answer your question because you are in not alone in your misconception about kosher food. The mistake you make is quite common, but it is based on a completely incorrect basic premise.

Not eating pig has nothing to do with it being a scavenger. The prohibition is based on Leviticus 11:7 where God specifically forbids it with no reason given. That animal is singled out and mentioned by name because it has one of the two signs that mark an animal as kosher.  Pigs have split hooves but do not chew the cud.

This prohibition is, for example, different from the injunction not to harvest the produce of the land of Israel during the Shmittah cycle every seven years (Exodus 23:11). In that case, Israel has developed a healthy industry in hydroponics growing crops in glass houses and in large trays of water. Carrots, as one example, aren’t the problem; the problem is only carrots grown in the earth during that special seventh year. Not so with the pig —regardless of how it is raised, the animal is forbidden, end of discussion.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explores the difference between God’s laws that a rational society might eventually understand on its own and those laws that human beings would never intuit. Laws against stealing or murder seem to make sense to us, while committees could meet for years and not come up with not mixing wool and flax (Leviticus 19:19). The important thing to understand is that, whether or not we understand or can think of benefits of these laws, we follow them because they are God’s laws.

We find it interesting that today there is even controversy over those laws that civilized people once upon a time accepted.  As our society moves further from the Biblical vision we find much discord about abortion, euthanasia,  capital punishment and increasingly vocally about redistributing property.  We don’t all intuitively know and agree on the correct paths.

The bottom line is that we try, to the best of our abilities and to the extent that we can control our weaknesses, to follow God’s word. Part of that word tells us that no matter how healthy, clean, tasty or economical pork is, it is not going to be part of our diet.

Hoping that, like us, you get to enjoy all the wonderful and tasty food permitted,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Family and Work or Work and Family?

March 12th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

As so often happens in life, I had two starkly different experiences within close proximity of each other. Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a wonderful woman who passed away at 93 years young. I was fortunate to sit near her in synagogue and at a weekly Torah class for the past few years and sharing a greeting and a few comments with her always gave me a lift.

As he eulogized his mother, her son provided some context for those who, like me, knew his mother as a vital, active, loving senior but who hadn’t known her in her younger years. He spoke of his mother going to work as a secretary in order for his parents to afford a private Jewish education for him. When she was directed to post an ad for a regional sales manager, she told her boss that she could do the job. Although in those years a woman sales manager was highly unusual, he gave her the chance to prove herself, which she proceeded to do. Yet, as her son pointed out, while she certainly took satisfaction in her work, the goal of working was to build her family and its future. Family and faith were always the priority. Yesterday, about sixty of her descendants paid loving tribute to that choice. 

Today, wanting to get a feel for what the general culture is offering, I tuned into a podcast aimed at young mothers. The hosts of the show were interviewing a successful writer who has two children, an infant and a toddler. The guest made the point that it is vital to get as much help as one can during the fleeting years that one has small children, so that one can retain focus on one’s career. After all, she said, (and I’m paraphrasing), your career is going to be the entire rest of your life.

Being able to choose to hire childcare so that one can focus on work is, of course, a privileged woman’s option. Mothers who are working so that there will be food on the table and a roof over their family’s head do not have that choice. But, the bottom line is, that while working for money and family may need to co-exist for many mothers, there is a subtle and not-so-subtle difference in how one lives based on which is the priority. Do we take time off from work in order to have children or do we take time away from our children in order to work?

Leadership and Levitation

March 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

A friend once invited me to join him and several other guests on a day sail off the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.  After his rhapsodic description of the classic sailboat and his praise of the captain whom I was going to be fortunate enough to meet, I could hardly accept quickly enough.  My enthusiasm ran high as we gently glided out of Cape Town harbor and beyond the sheltering mass of famous Table Mountain.

They only renamed the Cape of Good Hope because its original name, the Cape of Storms, terrified early sailors discouraging them from signing on to crew the ships of the Dutch East Indian Company.  That afternoon it lived up to its original name.  The winds howled, the waves tossed around our seventy-foot masterpiece of teak wood and canvas and we all struggled mightily to reduce the sail and bring the powerful vessel under control.

Strangely enough, the captain who had been resplendent in his smart blazer and cap during the calm first hour while offering drinks and regaling us with his adventures, was nowhere to be seen.  We were all too busy (and frightened) to wonder where he was.  In his absence, we did our best trying to learn one another’s strengths and skills as we exerted our last ounces of energy defeating the wind and water.  Once we were finally through the storm and calmly ghosting back into the harbor our captain reappeared in full regalia and blusteringly explained to our exhausted little group everything we had done wrong.  I whispered to my friend that I had just gained an unforgettable lesson in what leadership was not.

Leadership means being there with your people during the storms and wars of life.

Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelites.  Moses began his career when God appeared to him at the Burning Bush (Exodus chapter 3) and Joshua started his when Moses appointed him in accordance with God’s directive. (Numbers chapter 27) 

A notable difference between the launch of these two careers is that Moses is instructed to remove his shoes at the very start of his conversation with God.

… Remove your sandals from your feet,
for the place on which you stand is holy ground. 
(Exodus 3:5)

Joshua isn’t told to remove his shoes until five chapters into the Book named for him.

… Remove your sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy.  And Joshua did so.
(Joshua 5:15)

Shoes (like pants) haven’t changed their function for thousands of years.  Neckties come and go; hats, scarves and jackets sometimes have nothing to do with keeping warm, but regardless of their appearance or style shoes have always served to keep people’s feet off the ground.

The concept is that God created humans not as another kind of animal and not as an angel, but as something in between.  He created us as creatures exquisitely suspended between earth and heaven, which is to say, between the spiritual and the material.  We are not supposed to be so spiritual that we reject the joys of life and disdain its pleasures.  Neither are we supposed to be so material that physical pleasure is all we seek.

Walking barefoot on the ground suggests being so attached to the earthly that the heavenly and spiritual are way beyond our grasp.  On the other hand, think of levitation.  Whether in Christianity, Hinduism or some Hassidic sects of Judaism, the idea that super-spiritual and saintly personalities could spontaneously hover above the earth was quite popular.  In reality, God says, don’t walk on the ground; you’re not animals.  But don’t levitate above the ground either; you’re not angels.  Instead find your equilibrium between heaven and earth by standing on a layer of leather or rubber which keeps you just above, but not too far above, the earth

Here are two times when shoes are removed:

1.   When God speaks to someone as He did with Moses at the Burning Bush and with Joshua outside the walls of Jericho, the incandescent Divine power can be too overwhelming.  It can sweep the mortal heavenwards leaving him ill-equipped to continue normal life and fulfill his mission.  The antidote is to anchor oneself firmly to earth by removing shoes.

2.   During the first week of mourning for a close family member, the grief and the weakening, but still palpable spiritual connection with the soul of the departed, can easily dislodge the mourner from his normal position of spiritual-material balance.  Again, the antidote is to eschew shoes during that week, allowing the mourner to engage in the process of returning to the normality of life on earth as a living person.

This leaves us with the question of why Moses’ overwhelming encounter with God came right at the beginning of his life work while Joshua doesn’t encounter God’s angel until just before the attack on Jericho.

In order to make sense of this, we should examine Moses’ entreaty to God to appoint his successor.  He specifically wants Israel’s new leader to be someone…

…who shall go out before them and come in before them,
and who shall take them out and bring them back in.
(Numbers 27:17)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this verse refers to military leadership. Moses wanted a leader capable of leading the nation through the many wars awaiting them as they conquered the Promised Land.

However, he did not want the future leader to be someone who sent Israel off to war from the comfort of his palace.  He insisted on a leader who would go with his people onto the battlefield and bring them safely home again. 

After being appointed in Numbers 27, Joshua’s first battle is the imminent attack on Jericho.  God now appears to assure him that if he follows instructions, the war will be won.  This precisely parallels God appearing to Moses at the Burning Bush and assuring him that he will successfully lead Israel out of Egypt. 

A real leader’s role is neither ceremonial nor symbolic; it is to be together with his people, helping them overcome and survive the frightening challenges that accompany all levels of achievement.  Each day, among our families and friends and in our business or professional lives, there are wars to be fought and won.  Every meaningful goal to which we aspire requires a hard fight.  It’s almost as if we can actually feel the universe resisting our efforts.  Being right there with those we lead is the task. Helping them vanquish the enemy and bringing them home safely again is what leadership means. 

I later discovered that our captain was far better known for telling tall tales around yacht club bars than for any real sailing prowess.  For really helpful leadership lessons, ignore the showy people in flashy clothing and study Biblical figures like Joshua.

The Scroll of Esther, read by Jews on next week’s holiday of Purim, is full of leadership lessons that are particularly appropriate as showy people spew hatred of Jews (and Christians) in Congress. Now is a great time to follow the fascinating trail linking Persia, Islam and Nazism that started in Genesis and continues through today. Clash of Destiny: Decoding the Secrets of Israel and Islam, on sale right now, will astound you with its timeless truths.

Purim Sale
Clash of Destiny: Decoding the Secrets of Israel and Islam

Go behind the scenes of Esther and see how the story continues today 

Rabbi Lapin Download

 

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