The Birds, the Beasts and Me

October 17th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People appeared years before Mark Zuckerberg elevated the importance of acquiring friends on Facebook.  Yet, most healthy people realize that collecting “friends” only to further your own interests or in a fake world has nothing in common with establishing authentic relationships.

Let’s see if we can get an insight into real relationships through an unexpected Biblical connection:

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field
and 
every bird of the air and brought them to Adam
to see what he would call them…
(Genesis 2:19)

God brought Adam two categories of creatures (i) every beast of the field; (ii) every bird of the air.

Next verse:

And Adam called names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the air,
and to
every beast of the field
(Genesis 2:20)

Surprisingly, Adam named three categories (i) cattle, (ii) the birds of the air (iii) the beasts of the field.

We have a problem:  Not only does Adam reverse the order of birds and beasts, but he names an entirely new category—cattle.

As is so often true, the answers lie in the Lord’s language—Hebrew.

Here are the opening three words from Genesis 2:20.  I know you may not read Hebrew (yet) but gaze upon these words as graphic elements. (The middle word is Adam.)

ויקרא האדם שמות
And Adam called names

Now view the Hebrew names for the books of Exodus and Leviticus:

ויקרא           שמות
Exodus                  Leviticus

Do you see the similarities?  Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the answers to the mysteries of Genesis 2:20 can be found in the transition from Exodus to Leviticus.

The very end of Exodus describes how God cements his relationship with Israel by providing them with ever-present visible protection throughout all their journeys via Heavenly clouds and a pillar of fire. In response, Leviticus opens with Israel strengthening its relationship with God by bringing Him offerings. The Hebrew word used for offering or sacrifice is Korban which actually means ‘getting close’.

In other words, close and authentic relationships are brought about by giving to the other. Find ways to do favors for friends. (If you mistakenly think sacrifice has a negative connotation—as in, “Look how much I sacrificed for you,”—there is an entire chapter on the word Korban and the practical life applications of it in our book Buried Treasure.)

Giving a name is an intimate act of closeness.  When we address people by name, we initiate connection and acknowledge their individuality. Parents name newborns; lovers give one another pet names.  In naming the creatures, Adam is establishing a relationship between man and animals. Thus, he distinguishes between them, ordering them by degrees of closeness to humans. He first introduces a new category— cattle.  Cattle include those animals that work together with humans to the benefit of both.  Adam places birds next because birds bring music and color to our homes and gardens. Finally, he names beasts, those animals that avoid human habitation and with whom we have least relationship.

“Friending” people on Facebook is easy. Real relationships demands a ‘give and take’ relationship. We discover ways to do things of value for others  and are simultaneously willing to accept what they give to us.

Forging a special relationship with one individual in marriage is our most important bond. It is so critical, that God embedded directions for doing so in multiple verses at the beginning of Genesis. I explore these in depth of one of the four volumes of our Genesis Journeys Set. Each of these 2 CD audio volumes (8 CDs in total) go beneath the surface of Scripture, to provide practical guidance and life lessons to best understand and function in today’s complex world.

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No Tears for Hugh

October 11th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

While it is getting more difficult to find areas that unite people on opposite sides of the political spectrum, I think that neither liberal-leaning feminists nor conservative, traditionally minded women are shedding tears for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.  Before I proceed to destroy that Kumbaya moment, let’s take a minute to enjoy it.

Time’s up!

It is easy to focus scorn on the founder of movements you don’t like. I’m not a fan of Playboy magazine, Playboy Clubs or the Playboy philosophy that encouraged sexual liberation. However, the Hefner empire wasn’t built because the government forced men to purchase its products or forced women to participate in its businesses.  Men chose to buy magazines and become key-holders at the clubs; women chose to pose for the magazine and auditioned to work at the clubs. Many married women chose to either look the other way or chuckle when their husbands subscribed to Playboy and visited the clubs, sometimes even accompanying them. Lack of participation from either men or women could have derailed Hefner’s vision.

In 1963, Gloria Steinem took advantage of her figure and looks to go undercover as a reporter and describe the experience of spending a short time as a Playboy Bunny. Her exposé presents a rather unflattering picture of the men patronizing the club, but the women working at the club didn’t come off well either. About a decade later, Ms. Steinem founded Ms. Magazine and helped popularize the phrase, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” promoting the idea that men were fine for sexual fun, but there was no need for marriage.

In 1992, Hugh Hefner told The New York TImes how proud he was, “That I changed attitudes toward sex. That nice people can live together now. That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction.” Ms. Magazine acolytes may have despised Mr. Hefner, but they similarly elevated those very goals. I think it unarguable that Gloria Steinem is a talented and hard-working woman who has had an outsized effect on popular culture. She chose where to apply her influence.

Daphne Jackson, about two and a half years younger than Ms. Steinem, became the first female physics professor in the United Kingdom. She wanted to encourage other women to advance in science and engineering careers while being married and having a family. Realizing that women often took breaks for family reasons and needed retraining to get back into the field at a high level, in 1985 she began a fellowship supporting those women as they re-entered the workplace.

Today, unfortunately, there are still women who, at the same time as they righteously demand respect, treat their looks and figures as their greatest commodity. Both Hugh Hefner and Gloria Steinem supported the sexual revolution that gave that market an aura of respectability. There are also women devoting themselves to advancing science and engineering. Gloria Steinem’s work enlarged both those groups while Judith Jackson only supported the second.

Two intelligent women, both of whom felt that women should and could contribute their abilities to society to a greater degree than they were. Had Ms. Steinem joined Professor Jackson in enabling women to expand their academic and business opportunities without at the same time popularizing a sexual revolution, Hugh Hefner’s obituaries might be obscure side notes of history.

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How can I support Israel?

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 3 comments

Hi Rabbi! I have been listening to your teachings for about 5 years and they are incredibly valuable! Thank you for your willingness to state the truth, even though it can be difficult for people to hear and is counter-culture. I have two questions totally unrelated to one another but both important:

1) Do you have an opinion on (name of ministry)?

2) Is there a recommended method for an individual to support Israel from US soil?

Thank you so much!

Carissa G.

Thanks for being a long-time listener, Carissa. We are very blessed with a wonderful large audience who is eager for the truth of how the world REALLY works even when the information causes cognitive dissonance.

You asked our opinion of a ministry. We aren’t comfortable answering that because it isn’t someone we know personally and, as such, we probably have less knowledge of the pastor than you do. The world is a very large place.

As for supporting Israel, at this time in history, supporting Israel has a lot in common with supporting America. Both countries are under assault and we all must refuse to be cowed and silenced by bullies. We need to speak up because what people around the world say about both Israel and America tells us more about them then it does about either Israel or America. That means that is is well worth making the effort to becoming educated and articulate on the topics. Make sure that the information you get is honest and fair.

We also need to make sure that young people are inoculated against vicious disinformation before stepping foot on college campuses and, indeed, to keep track of what they are hearing in high schools and at even younger ages. Here is one organization that works on college campuses and provides information as to what is happening there:

http://www.standwithus.com

One Israeli charity that our family personally supports provides services for victims of terror and their families.

One Family: Overcoming Terror Together

Website: http://www.onefamilytogether.org

Of course, visiting Israel is a wonderful way to show support and give yourself a real treat at the same time.

We are sure that prayer is already in your arsenal,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Good Gracious, You’re Pregnant!

October 9th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

“Just five more minutes,” “One more chapter,” “I guess I can stay a little longer.” The temptation to stretch out an enjoyable activity just a little bit more is one to which we can all relate.

After a month of reveling in God’s closeness, culminating with the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the Jewish people felt the same way. In response, God granted them an extra holy day, Simhat Torah, that begins as Sukkot ebbs away (starting this year Wednesday night, Oct. 11). Literally translated as “The Joy of the Torah,” it is on this day that we conclude and begin anew the annual cycle of reading the Five Books of Moses.

That makes this week a particularly apt time to highlight the idea that the first time in Genesis that a specific letter is used to start a word, that word provides a key to the inner meaning of that initial letter.

Consider the first usage of the word good in Scripture.

And God saw the light, that it was good
(Genesis 1:4)

In Hebrew, the word for good is TOV.  Its initial letter TET is the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, giving it a numerical value of nine. Since TOV is the first word in the Bible to start with a TET, the letter itself is linked to good. Elsewhere, ancient Jewish wisdom also links the number nine to pregnancy giving us the following equation.

TET = 9 = TOV = good = pregnancy

ט
TET

There is another place in the Torah where ancient Jewish wisdom focuses, not on the presence of the letter TET, but its absence. The thirteen verses containing the second appearance of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-18) contain at least one instance of every single letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Amazingly, the thirteen verses containing the first appearance of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-14) reveal one stunningly conspicuous exception.

The letter TET is completely absent from the first commandments!

Anything good endures forever, and Moses was destined to cast down and shatter the first two tablets of the Ten Commandments.  Had they contained the letter TET, representing the concept of good, they could not have been destroyed.  The thirteen verses comprising the second appearance of the Ten Commandments do contain the letter TET, because these tablets last forever.

What is going on?

The existence of the Ten Commandments and what they represent defines  a Biblical perspective of goodness. What good means to an ardent Islamic fanatic in Iraq is quite different from what good means to, say, a faithful Christian farmer and family man in Fresno. In reality, good comprises four categories of action.

  • Improving our relationship with God.
  • Advancing the interests of our families.
  • Advancing our financial interests.
  • Serving the interests of our friends and fellow citizens.

Time and energy invested in these four activities is good, carrying lasting impact, and is thus never wasted.

Pregnancy, and subsequent devotion to children, serves all four of these categories, making it in some ways the ultimate good. Through this medium we can

  • Become a partner in creation with God.
  • Promote family.
  • Have a worthwhile reason for gaining wealth.
  • Bless  society by increasing the number of well-raised and productive human beings.

In order to avoid a single wasted hour or a single wasted joule of our energy we need to strive to ensure that each waking hour is devoted to serving God, our families, our financial interests and God’s other children.

Simhat Torah, the festival of rejoicing in the Torah provides an incentive to begin looking at Scripture anew with deeper insights, more maturity and greater perception than last year’s study. If you would like to start afresh with understanding that flows from ancient Jewish wisdom, we recommend our money-saving and value-filled Complete Library Package and Library Pack PLUS. As an added bonus, when you purchase before our site closes for Simhat Torah this Wednesday evening (through Saturday night), we will automatically add at checkout a free copy of the new book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi so that even the enjoyable time you spend reading will further your knowledge of and connection to God.

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What Happened In Vegas Did Not Stay in Vegas

October 4th, 2017 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind 13 comments

What happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. Its pulsating shock waves raced out across the country, whiplashing into every American heart. The very thought of that merciless rain of hot lead thudding into the flesh of unknowing innocents just elicits sad gasps of incredulous agony.

It only took a few hours for the predictable flood of media and political responses. Many were the standard clichés mentioning prayers, thoughts, shock and horror. Others sought explanations for this massacre or explored the means to prevent similar events from ever happening again.

We human beings are created with both head and heart. This means we should always respond to circumstances both intellectually and emotionally, but never both at the same time and never confusing head and heart.

Allow me to offer an example or two: If I need a surgeon, I want a doctor to whom I relate and who relates to me. When we discuss my surgery, I want him to know of my physical and emotional state and I want him to know of my parents and of my children. I want a surgeon with heart. However, once I am on the table in the operating room, I don’t want him thinking of anything but the technical medical and anatomical problems beneath his skilled fingers. I want him to be all head. Yes, I do want both head and heart, but at different times. When I sit in his consulting room anxiously discussing my prognosis, I don’t want to hear just dispassionate clinical analysis; I need some warm sign of his caring. During the operation, I don’t want him distracted by any emotional considerations.

Similarly, any wise young woman contemplating marriage to a man should engage in both a head and a heart analysis. Is he someone stable, upright and responsible? But also, is she romantically attracted to him? Again, confusing these two important but separate analyses will cause possibly tragic error. If she dismisses concerns about his moral and financial habits because she can’t take her eyes off his pleasing looks, she’d be heading for trouble. If she feels physically revolted by his repugnant hygiene but finds herself drawn to the secure and moral atmosphere he radiates, she’d probably be making a serious marital mistake.

It is entirely proper that our first response upon hearing of the Vegas massacre should be via our hearts. We empathize with the pain of those who lost loved ones and those whose lives were forever changed during those hours of horror. We feel the hurt. We feel the fear. We feel burning hot anger towards the horrible human who caused all this suffering. We feel bewilderment at how it could have happened. And if we didn’t experience all these feelings and if we failed to feel for those who were there, we’d be monsters.

But if we analyze the event and propose public policy solutions whilst yet in the grip of those feelings we’d be fools.

I hope these words spark a dialogue. Please note that comments may not be posted or answered quickly as our office and store will be closed from sunset Wednesday night PT through Saturday evening in observance of the opening days of Sukkot.

Vegas Afterthoughts

October 4th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 63 comments

This week’s carnage in Vegas was shocking and horrifying. I put aside my previously written Musing because it seemed wrong to write about anything other than what had happened. But, I didn’t think I had anything unique to say that would be of value to most of the people who read what I write. Then, I was browsing one of the liberal-leaning sites I like to visit and saw that the equally shocked and horrified women there mostly saw what happened in Las Vegas as a reason to double down on calls for gun control. I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and leave a comment on that forum. Here is what I wrote:

It is never comfortable expressing a view in a forum in which yours is a minority opinion. Let me lay it on the table: I am an NRA member and have been for years. I am also a mother of seven and grandmother of many more. I consider myself, and think others would consider me, a loving, kind and giving person.

I did not grow up in a home with guns or where guns were discussed. In the Jewish enclave in which I grew up no one hunted. Guns belonged in cowboy movies and on signs and billboards found around the large city where I lived that said, “Use a gun, go to jail.” Those signs had no relevance to anyone I knew.

After studying both sides of the issue and after some first-hand life experience, I became a Second Amendment supporter. If I may say, very few people who agitate for gun control take the time to meet, talk to and understand those of us who are wary of it. There are corrupt politicians on both sides of the issue who see this topic as an avenue to power; there are opportunities for money on both sides of the issue. There are perverted ideologues on both sides of the issue such as the fired attorney for CBS who said that the she had no sympathy for the people who died in Las Vegas because they were probably “Republican gun-toters.”  I’m sure you can find her mirror image on the other side. But when it comes to real people, everyone shudders and mourns not only when mass shootings take place but when smaller numbers are affected. Everyone decent wants all types of carnage to stop.

The art of conversation and debate is dying in our society. There is a lot of shouting and very little listening. The bias of most media outlets is growing more propagandist and each side on many issues only sees data that has been manipulated and studies that have been picked to support its already established views. Sometimes a token “opposing view” is thrown in which is either so wishy-washy or so ridiculous that it just confirms previous biases. That isn’t healthy.

The NRA is not a “thing.” It is made up of many Americans, and increasingly women, who see gun ownership as the only way they can protect themselves and those they love from attack rape, and/or murder. They include women who have been told by police that the police cannot come in time to help them so that they need to be ready to defend themselves. One NRA magazine has a column called The Armed Citizen that gathers reports from newspapers around the country about people, male and female, old and young, handicapped and able-bodied defending themselves. These reports don’t make national news outlets.

Others who support the Second Amendment do so because of a study of history and what happened to societies that imposed gun control. Other supporters have different reasons. America is a huge country and what is true and necessary for one area is often the opposite of what is true and necessary for another region.

As I see it, based on many examples, the political debate is not about “common sense gun laws.” The political debate is about more extremist positions where any concessions of second amendment rights will become a step in the road to a very bad final stage. There is an agenda and it is different from the agenda of most Americans who want to do something that will actually be effective rather than to “just do something” or to take advantage of a crisis situation.

Real people, however, can meet in the middle. We share the bottom line, “What can we do to make things better.” The first step is acknowledging that those on the other side of the issue are good, sincere and intelligent people who might have something to teach you. This website skews towards one group of women. Other websites skew differently. Imagine how much more good we could actually achieve if we respected each other, shared our views and stopped seeing those who disagree with us as evil, warped or stupid.

I very much want to hear your comments and hope you will write. Please note, however, that our offices (and store) will be closed from sunset Wednesday night PT (Oct. 4) through Saturday evening, so many comments will not be approved or answered until later. 

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Should we keep trying?

October 3rd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

My wife and I have had a pretty rough few years of marriage.  Issues like conflict between her and my family, and the two of us having different personalities are the main reasons for these problems.  I feel like some of my screw ups, (weak communication, insensitive at times) are part of  being a male, and not at all an intentional disrespect to her.  She feels that having 2 opposite personalities never lets us “click,” and she is ready to move on.  We have 2 kids, 6 & 8, and have been married for 14 years. 

 I don’t feel God would have  brought us together, only to give us a yearning for a “soul mate” after we have been blessed with so much.  Is the thought that there is someone who is more compatible, a legitimate reason for divorce?  Any resources you can point me to would be greatly appreciated.  I love your podcast and books.  

Thanks for your wisdom!

Matt M. 

Dear Matt,

It sounds like you and your wife have been on a downward spiral for a while. We do have a book recommendation based on your question, “Is the thought that there is someone who is more compatible, a legitimate reason for divorce?” The fact is that in our culture, one doesn’t need a “legitimate reason for divorce.” However, it sounds as if your wife is hesitating to move forward with ending the marriage perhaps because, even deep down, she believes that she made a covenant for life. Diane Medved’s readable and powerful book, Don’t Divorce: Powerful Arguments for Saving and Revitalizing Your Marriage, might give her reasons to rethink her picture of divorce in addition to whatever spiritual and religious views motivate her. Especially with two children in the picture, in our view, divorce should always be seen as the very last resort and only for the most extreme reasons.

There are many good books out there with wise advice for marriage. One we like that deals with having two opposite personalities is Chana Levitan’s, That’s Why I Married You: How to Dance with Personality Differences. However, books and other resources with great information don’t always translate easily into action.  We do think that the right marriage counselor  can be invaluable. The tricky part is finding the right one. Too many counselors end up facilitating the end of marriages rather than bringing couples together. Recommendations from people you trust are invaluable as well as doing your own research and asking a potential counselor some pointed questions.

It’s always painful to throw away a significant financial nest egg you’ve been accumulating for over a decade.  Not only does it hurt but knowing how hard it will be to make it up hurts even more.  Well, throwing away fourteen years of time that you’ve invested is far more painful.  What is more, unlike money, you can never recover time.  You’ve got shared memories and you have two children.  We feel it is well worth serious effort to resculpt your marriage.  It is very hard to break free of old habits and paradigms.  Even ways you address one another, let alone how you think of one another.  But all this needs to be done.  All this and more, can be done.

If your wife is willing to work with you, we strongly encourage the two of you to aim, not for settling for a mediocre life but for a renewal of love, affection and friendship.

Of course, the power of prayer mustn’t be ignored,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Silence

October 3rd, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

What does one say about the carnage in Las Vegas? Sometimes, silence, along with prayer, is the best response.

L’Chaim: To Life – and Death

October 2nd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

“Death is very likely the single best invention of Life,” said Steve Jobs during his 2005 Stanford Commencement address.  This phrase aptly describes one of the themes underlying the most joyous Biblical festival, Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

Before beginning the Passover seder meal, which falls half a year distant from Sukkot, we extend an invitation to those who are hungry to join us.  However, before the Sukkot meal,  we invite seven dead people to join us; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.  Sounds a little like Halloween dinner at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion doesn’t it?

Yes, Sukkot, which is set by an exquisitely precise lunar calendar, always occurs close to Halloween.  That time of the year as the leaves die and the days get colder and shorter, can feel quite lifeless.  Hence Halloween’s frivolous mocking of death.  Sukkot’s association with death couldn’t be more different.

Actually, Sukkot has an additional name. It is called the Festival of the Gathering because of this verse:

Observe the Festival of Sukot for seven days
after you have gathered in your grain and your wine

(Deuteronomy 16:13)

               באספך
you have gathered

However, in Hebrew, that word ‘gather’ ASaF, also means dying, as we see in these examples:

Isaac expired, and died, and was gathered to his people…
(Genesis 35:29)

When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and expired, and was gathered unto his people.
(Genesis 49:33)

Die on the mountain where you go up, and be gathered to your people; as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people.
(Deuteronomy 32:50)

ויאסף
and he was gathered

As if to emphasize the connection between joyous life and death, Sukkot contains a celebration of life-giving water but is also the holyday on which we read the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) with its reminder that:

 …and the day of death (is better) than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than a house of feasting…”

Ecclesiastes 7:1-2

As Thought Tool enthusiasts already know, when any Hebrew word seems to mean two separate things or ideas, they are really closely related.  Thus the Festival of the Gathering also means the festival of death.  But why would the most joyful Biblical holyday carry even a hint of death?

For a clue, we need to examine an incident late in the life of Moses.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, avenge the people of Israel from the Midianites; afterwards shall you be gathered to your people.   And Moses spoke to the people, saying, arm yourselves for war and go against the Midianites to do the God’s vengeance in Midian.
(Numbers 31:1-3)

A lesser man hearing that this would be his final mission, might have dawdled in launching the war against the Midianites.  He might have rationalized the delay as necessary for adequate military preparation.  But ancient Jewish wisdom observes that though Moses clearly knew that after this mission he’d die, he nonetheless wasted no time in carrying it out.

This final opportunity for Moses to obey God carried a special quality that it wouldn’t have possessed if there’d be countless future such opportunities.  If great wine cost a dollar a bottle, it would soon lose its taste.  The value of any limitless commodity is zero.  Without death, there can ultimately be no joy.  A life lived forever is not a good deal and whether this is exactly what Steve Jobs meant in June 2005, we’ll never know. But the words he uttered are true.  This is why Sukkot, the greatest holyday of joy, must contain within it some small reminders of death.

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You Should See the Other Guy

September 28th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 38 comments

We are now in the midst of the Ten Days of Repentance, that started with Rosh HaShanah (Head of the Year) and ends with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It’s a time for introspection, for evaluating one’s actions over the past year and committing to improvement should God bless us with more time.

I always find it disconcerting to discover that the character flaws that I examined last year—and the year before that and the year before that—are often the same ones I revisit this year.  Occasionally one gets to pat oneself  on the back for having made some change but, being human, there is always more to do.

I don’t know if this is my own personal failing or if other people grapple with this as well, but I sometimes find myself aiming for humble soul-searching at the same time as a script plays in my mind along the lines of, “Well, o.k., so I showed a lack of (fill in the blank) when I did (fill in the blank), but compared to (fill in the blank) I don’t think I’m doing that badly.” After all, in a world filled with some really bad people, I consider myself one of the good guys. In a world filled with lots of complacent people, at least I can say that I try.

(more…)

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