Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

The great author and playwright, Herman Wouk, today returned to the Lord, aged 104

May 17th, 2019 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind 2 comments

Herman Wouk spent time with Susan and me in our home in Los Angeles while his classic books, Winds of War and War and Remembrance were in television production.

His book that I tend to recommend more than any other is his depiction of Judaism entitled This Is My God.  It is named for the Bible verse   This is my God and I will beautify Him (Exodus 15:2) and I don’t think it has ever been improved on.  In that book Herman Wouk described what Shabbat meant to him.  This is part of what he wrote:

 

The Shabbat has cut most sharply athwart my own life when one of my plays has been in rehearsal or in tryout.

The crisis atmosphere of an attempt at Broadway is a legend of our time, and a true one; I have felt under less pressure going into battle at sea. Friday afternoon, during these rehearsals, inevitably seems to come when the project is tottering on the edge of ruin. I have sometimes felt guilty of treason, holding to the Shabbat in such a desperate situation. But then, experience has taught me that a theater enterprise almost always is in such a case. Sometimes it does totter to ruin, and sometimes it totters to great prosperity, but tottering is its normal gait, and cries of anguish are its normal tone of voice.

So I have reluctantly taken leave of my colleagues on Friday afternoon, and rejoined them on Saturday night. The play has never collapsed in the meantime. When I return I find it tottering as before, and the anguished cries as normally despairing as ever. My plays have encountered in the end both success and failure, but I cannot honestly ascribe either result to my observing the Shabbat.

Leaving the gloomy theater, the littered coffee cups, the jumbled scarred-up scripts, the haggard actors, the knuckle-gnawing producer, the clattering typewriter, and the dense, tobacco smoke has been a startling change, very like a brief return from the wars.

My wife and my boys, whose existence I have almost forgotten in the anxious shoring up of the tottering ruin, are waiting for me, dressed in holiday clothes, and looking to me marvelously attractive. We have sat down to a splendid dinner, at a table graced with flowers and the old Shabbat symbols: the burning candles, the twisted challah loaves, the stuffed fish, and my grandfather’s silver goblet brimming with wine. I have blessed my boys with the ancient blessings; we have sung the pleasantly syncopated Shabbat table hymns.

The talk has little to do with tottering ruins. My wife and I have caught up with our week’s conversation. The boys, knowing that Shabbat is the occasion for asking questions, have asked them. We talk of Judaism. For me it is a retreat into restorative magic.

Shabbat has passed much in the same manner. The boys are at home in the synagogue, and they like it. They like even more the assured presence of their parents. In the weekday press of schooling, household chores, and work — and especially in play producing time — it often happens that they see little of us. On Shabbat we are always there and they know it. They know too that I am not working and that my wife is at her ease. It is their day.

It is my day, too. The telephone is silent. I can think, read, study, walk or do nothing. It is an oasis of quiet. My producer one Saturday night said to me, “I don’t envy you your religion, but I envy you your Shabbat.”

Notre Dame Will Rise Again

April 16th, 2019 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

Landing an American on the moon and bringing him home again in 1969 was a multi-year project that involved all Americans. A few directly but most through willingly paying their taxes that underwrote the huge expense. Building Notre Dame Cathedral on its island, with its sandstone walls, its rib vaults and its flying buttresses took about a hundred years and must have also involved a large part of the population. For the 12th century, it was no less a technological miracle than was the moon landing in the 20th. So ahead of its time was Notre Dame that it retained its title as the tallest building in Paris for hundreds of years. Wars, riots and revolutions over the centuries inflicted severe damage on the cathedral but it was always restored and often improved. Again this time, many generous benefactors along with the French government promise repair. They do so because to many, the cathedral is no more than an irreplaceable artistic and cultural legacy; a national monument. The fervent Christian faith that inspired its creation and made it possible has faded into obscurity in modern day France. But in reality, it was the fuel of Christian fervor that hoisted those colossal oak beams two hundred feet up in the air to form the base for 200 tons of lead sheeting as the roof. Along with many massive stone blocks, all this was raised and placed into position with no electrical power, no steam power, and no hydraulic power. As has happened on many occasions during the past few hundred years, Notre Dame will again be restored but let’s not forget that regardless of the secularization of France today, that cathedral was built by the Christianity that shaped western civilization and for the best part of a millennium it has stood as a monument to the faith that built it and that was practiced within it. That won’t change.

First Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress is attacked by Jewish journalist quoting his rabbi

June 21st, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 5 comments

Pastor Robert Jeffress displays what I believe to be admirable courage in resisting the invidious idea that Judeo-Christian, Bible-based faith must to be stuffed out of sight where it can inflict no influence on American culture. He and his church, Dallas’ First Baptist erected a bill-board advertising the church’s commitment to faith and freedom and mentioned the name of Pastor Jeffress’ sermon for this coming Sunday-America is a Christian Nation.
This triggered macro-aggressions in Jewish journalist Robert Wilonsky who wrote an angry polemic slamming Pastor Jeffress in the Dallas News. Why do I mention the Jewish faith of this journalist? Only because he himself drew attention to it right near the beginning of his furious tirade against Pastor Jeffress. “My rabbi warned me there would be days like this.” Well, I have no idea of who his rabbi is, but I am deeply distressed that again, secularized Americans of Jewish ancestry should play conspicuous roles in the attempt to create a post-Christian America.
I have written extensively elsewhere and spoken many times explaining why Jews and other non-Christian minorities should be grateful that this is indeed a Christian nation so I won’t go into that again here. Politics is really nothing more than the practical application of our most deeply held values and the crusade to make sure that all values have a place at the political table other than Christian is dangerous. I support Pastor Jeffress’ work in bringing Judeo Christian Bible based values to greater relevance and prominence in the culture.
Whether one agrees with Pastor Robert Jeffress’ politics and theology or one does not, anyone passionate about freedom and open debate in America has to be troubled by the attempts to silence the good pastor which resulted in the removal of the billboard for which he paid. Even if it is only his opinion that America is a Christian nation, that opinion needs to be censored?
This rabbi finds that development deeply disturbing.

Mitt Romney Supremely Unqualified for Public Office

May 15th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 5 comments

One vital characteristic for leadership is knowing how the world REALLY works. By this sure standard, Mitt Romney is supremely unqualified for public office. He labeled the pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, Robert Jeffress a bigot for professing normative Christian doctrine. How shocking! A Christian leader believes in Christianity. Every morning I awaken grateful to be living among millions of devout Christians, many of whom aren’t sure whether I am destined for heaven or hell but who do absolutely nothing to hasten my arrival at either destination. America has been a place where we have traditionally accorded others the freedom of belief along with the freedom to speak what they believe. Now, Mitt Romney and the New York Times wish to abrogate those freedoms for Christians but grant them only to Moslems and atheists. Every group that stands for anything defines itself exclusively. That is how the world REALLY works.

Finding The Off Switch: Four Reasons I Observe Shabbat

April 10th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

This terrific piece by Peter Himmelman appeared in Forbes. Peter is a musician and businessman and also the son-in-law of Bob Dylan the musical icon of the 60s:

“With the pace of technology and its demand for our attention increasing month-to-month, comes the challenge of occasionally leaving it behind. I’ve found some answers in my over thirty-year observance of Shabbat, (the Jewish Sabbath), a time when the use of technology is prohibited. While I don’t believe that the strict tenets of this observance are appropriate for all people, I am strongly convinced that many of its ideas would be helpful if they were incorporated on some level.

Technically speaking, there are thirty-nine types of labor that are prohibited on Shabbat. They include things like using money, making fire, planting, carrying things from a public to a private domain, sewing, cooking, fastening two things together, and writing. Over time, each of the thirty-nine prohibitions was extrapolated on to prohibit the use of things that weren’t in existence at the time these laws were instituted. Some examples include driving a car, which runs on a combustion engine and is a violation of the prohibition against the use of fire; and using electronics of any sort, which demands a completed circuit and is a violation of the principle of joining two things together. This last prohibition effectively renders all cell phones, computers, and televisions completely off-limits during the twenty-five hours of Shabbat.

I was recently involved in a creativity symposium in San Francisco. Among the speakers was a former senior editor at a well-known technology publication with whom I had a chance to speak about the idea of stepping back from technology, and how the rituals of Shabbat echoed a very important, if often missing, dimension of technology: our ability to shut it off. Not just to shut it off once a year, or for a few moments throughout a day, but by a regular, systematized means. He observed that the ritual of Shabbat seemed to point not to some ancient and irrelevant past, but to a decidedly postmodern view of our integration with technology.

When people talk about some thing or some idea they feel is outmoded I’ll frequently hear them say, “Seriously, it’s 2018…” (Or whatever year it happens to be.) It’s often assumed that we live in a “modern age” and that things that are not modern, such as a 3,300 year-old Jewish ritual like Shabbat observance, should be discarded, or worse, placed in the same hermetically sealed box one puts all things anachronistic; things worthy of occasional review as cultural curiosities, but certainly not as something to take seriously. Even as a kid I never could help feeling there was a flaw in this kind of thinking. Sure, technology has sped up the pace of our lives, but in terms of real change, there’s been no difference made at all in everyday human experience, in spite of all our so-called advances.

Take the delivery systems of music for example. First, there was the piano roll, then the clunky 78 played on the old Victrola, followed by the 33 and a third LP, the 45 single, the eight track, the cassette, the CD, the DAT, and most recently, digital streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. Interestingly, none of these music delivery systems, no matter how sophisticated, has changed the visceral effect of music on the human spirit. At no time did any technology ever feel old-fashioned either. We never laughed at the eight-track when it came out; it wasn’t quaint, it was cutting edge. The idea of having your own music in your car at the touch of a button was revolutionary.

People also felt they were living in the modern age in 1716, and in 1116, and also in 116 BCE. They felt this way because nothing has fundamentally changed. Fathers love their daughters the same today as they did in the past, the sun was bright back in 1916 too, and it burned your eyes if you stared at it too long. The touch of a loving hand on the skin of a person in 1416 felt identical to the way it feels on your skin in 2018. The worried face of the moon still looks the same, and a cold November wind on your neck feels just like it did since time immemorial.

To say that something as central as the regulated cessation of creative effort —which is in essence, what Shabbat is about—so that one can focus on what has already been achieved, is somehow old fashion, is to miss the point. Shabbat is by nature, timeless. It cuts to the essence of what so many of us lack: a regularly recurring time of reflection.

Any good composer or painter knows that as important as it is to be immersed in the sound of the symphony he or she is working on, or to be engrossed in the images he or she is setting down on canvas, it is equally important to step away from one’s creative work and to observe with clarity and renewed objectivity just what it is that has been created. Shabbat brings with it an opportunity to step away and better see life, not as a series of compartmentalized actions, but as a unified whole. Here are a few ways the tenants of Shabbat can help you in your life.

Improve creative thinking

It’s an axiom, of physics that two things cannot occupy the same space. And just as this applies to things, it also applies to ideas. To be at our creative best we need to make an empty space through the cessation of our creative endeavors. Only by stopping our constant output can new inspirations take hold.

Slow down life’s hectic pace

As we learn to breathe more slowly in the practice of meditation, adopting the rhythms of Shabbat-time into our lives has the same beneficial tendency. To many people the world feels chaotic, out of control. Too often it seems, we are guided by demands and situations, rather than by our own volition. Shabbat is the bedrock in time that cannot be moved aside for anything other than life-threatening situations.

Improve relationships

When I got my first recording contract in 1986, I decided I would work to protect my most valuable resource. It wasn’t artistic control over what songs to record, or the power to decide what my record jackets would look like —my most valuable resource was my time.

I made it known that I would not perform on Shabbat no matter what the reason. It wasn’t as if my convictions weren’t tested. There were slots on The Tonight Show that I turned down, opportunities to be the opening act for top artists like Sting, that I waived away —all because these prospects, while good for my career, would have violated my observance of Shabbat, and as a consequence my understanding of time as something precious, something that belonged to me (and later, to my family) alone.

Shabbat is time away from iPhones and computers and errands and shopping and every conceivable distraction. We humans hunger to be heard, to be seen, and to be known, but we suffer from a paucity of attention-giving and attention-getting. Just as it’s impossible to make music without an instrument, it is impossible to create thriving relationships without making space and time for them to flourish.

Gain a more mature life perspective

As children we couldn’t help but be burdened by our unfulfilled desires. We wanted the things we wanted —immediately. Waiting for any length of time just wouldn’t do. Our immature minds were not yet sophisticated enough to realize that staving off a momentary pleasure for a longer-term gain would, in the end, bring us far more pleasure. Shabbat is about honing our sense of gratitude.

Most of us work to make a living and strive to achieve the things we desire, but we also need to feel as if we’ve come home again, come back to some midpoint. By regularly postponing our manic ascent up an assumed ladder of success, we come to see life from a broader, richer perspective.

By first finding, and then being brave enough to use the “off-switch,” we gain the sweet, and all too rare sense, of having finally arrived at our destination.”

March 12th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

Regular listeners to my podcast know that I’ve been explaining this to you for a long while already. Today, beautiful validation in a Wall Street Journal story you’ll enjoy.

Doomsday Climate Scenarios Are a Joke
One study says world GDP will drop 20% by 2100, but Iceland and Mongolia will be rich beyond imagining.
By Oren Cass

Debates over climate change are filled with dire estimates of its cost. This many trillions of dollars of damage, that large a share of gross domestic product destroyed, so-and-so many lives lost, etc. Where do such figures come from? Mostly from laughably bad economics.

This has nothing to do with the soundness of climate science. The games begin when economists get their hands on scientific projections and try…
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How the world REALLY works: What is money?

December 27th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 12 comments

Money is our oldest medium of systematic communication allowing stable communities of productive people to exchange information about trustworthiness, value, productivity, and even need. Money represents the promise of one party to deliver goods or services to another on demand. It is ultimately not a material but a spiritual matter. When trust collapses, so does money. –Rabbi Daniel Lapin, author of Thou Shall Prosper: The Ten Commandments for Making Money

Dreadful Weather

September 7th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

The powerful storms that we have watched battering cities, islands, farms, and every kind of human habitation have brought pain and suffering. They have also exposed human heroism and sadly also human venality and evil. The one thing they haven’t done is “prove” the evils of climate change, global warming, or the need for the so-called “Paris accords”. The callous cynicism exhibited by those environmental activists and professional agitators at this time is shameful.

Your Next Postcard = The Transcontinental Railroad of The 1860s

August 15th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

When the Golden Spike was driven in the spring of 1869 to join the railroad that came from the east to that which came from the west where they met in Utah, a new era of human productivity began. Anything that facilitates human connection brings positive results whether it was the telegraph in 1844 or the telephone, radio, television right up to the Internet in our time. Every time you pick up the phone to connect with someone, positive steps are set in place even though you may not know the eventual result. When you write someone a postcard and drop it in the mail, it might end up as significant as the first time it became possible to ride the rails across the continent. We never know what can grow from the seeds of human connection. Try it!

Forget Father’s Day & Dismiss Mother’s Day

July 17th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 6 comments

I know that neither of those two calendar highlights are close to us which makes this a good time to reconsider them in the cold light of clinical analysis.

Why does the culture make such a big deal about these two arbitrary days while nobody thinks of establishing a Husband’s Day and a Wife’s Day?

Reason 1: A culture fundamentally hostile to the traditional Biblical family model, is not keen on celebrating husbands and wives. Recognizing a mother or a father makes no comment about whether mom and dad were married when they conceived you or whether they invested years in raising you in the cocoon of their love and commitment.

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