Granite Men; Marshmallow Boys

February 15th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

Imagine a woman in the mid 1800s crossing North America by wagon train. Now imagine her amazement if she was to travel a  similar distance today by jet. Multiple blessings of gratitude would spill from her lips. I tried to keep this in mind recently when I was cramped into a small seat, grazing shoulders with my neighbor, not quite sure where to place my legs and basically confined to that place for six hours.

Still, the trip was long. I was not disciplined enough to focus on work or even to concentrate on the current book I am enjoying reading. American Airlines, aware that a benumbed clientele makes for a successful flight, provided each passenger with a personal entertainment device that had more movies available than I have ever seen on an international flight  let alone a domestic one.

My flight was long enough for me to watch a personally constructed double feature. My first choice was a relatively recent movie that a friend had recommended, The Intern, starring Robert de Niro and Anne Hathaway. After that, when there were still a few hours left to the trip, I pulled up the classic from 1942, Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. My interest in Casablanca, which I last saw many years ago, was sparked by references to it in a wonderful book I just read, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The book highlighted certain details from the movie. (I include this completely irrelevant information only because I know many of you are voracious readers and I do recommend this book.)

Seeing the two movies one after the other inevitably led to comparison. I particularly want to focus on the male leading men. I don’t know how old Rick, Humphrey Bogart’s character is supposed to be, but my guess is that if you showed the movie to college students today, most of them would guess that he is older than the audience thought him to be in 1942. His face is mature; his bearing solid.

The Intern reiterates that Robert de Niro is playing a seventy-year-old character. His face, too, is mature and his bearing solid. To the amazement of his younger male colleagues, he not only wears a suit and tie to work, but—prepare to be shocked—he shaves each and every day including on weekends.

The contrast to the younger men in the movie could not be greater. They are soft and cuddly looking. Not only are most of them not clean-shaven but their hair is not even groomed. They probably don’t know how to fasten a tie and might not even own one. While not the main point of the movie during the course of events, as they grow to respect and admire Mr. de Niro’s character, some of them begin to model his physical appearance. Nevertheless, before that happens, they represent the desired look for their generation. With the exception of military men, the rugged, strong, manly look is not common. Neither, is the rugged, strong, dependable man. The popular phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ in and of itself suggests that being manly is problematic.

Casablanca was made at a time when the Allies’ success in World War II was uncertain. At its conclusion, Humphrey Bogart says, “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Stopping the Nazi threat to civilization took priority over personal ambition, love and emotion.

There are young men today, many in the military, who do live for noble ideals greater than their personal feelings and fulfillment. They are not the young men popularized today on Youtube, Netflix or in movies. Humphrey Bogart portrayed a flawed character, not a saint. In that way he honestly represented a generation of young men from the 1940s, warts and all, to whom we owe a great debt. The culture may not present that type of man as a role model, but as even one of today’s movie shows, that doesn’t mean that young men (and women) today don’t crave exactly those examples.

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Should my children read Harry Potter?

February 13th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 27 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

I’m an orthodox Jewish homeschool mom of five and I love your show! Our homeschool curriculum focuses heavily on reading good literature and my kids have just reached the age where Edward Eager’s tales of magic, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as many others in the fantasy genre are on many recommended reading lists.

I’m unsure of how to approach the element of magic in children’s stories. The Torah forbids witchcraft, so should stories that feature magic be anathema to my Torah-observant kids?

Thanks for the great materials you produce. I consider them part of my continuing education. 🙂

Jessie W.

Dear Jessie,

We’re delighted that you watch our show and that you are homeschooling. As you may know, we homeschooled for many years and a number of our grandchildren are now being homeschooled as well.

Some of our children were the intended audience age when the first Harry Potter book came out.  This book became a major topic of discussion among both the Jewish and Christian homeschoolers we knew. More than any other topic we can think of, the families we knew (and respected) were all over the map on this one.

Approaches ranged from an absolute ban on reading any sort of fantasy to those who couldn’t see any problem whatsoever with the genre. Our view was somewhere in the middle. We made a judgment call and will share some of our considerations, but we would like to emphasize that each child and his surroundings need to be taken into account. Unlike certain questions, such as whether a child should call a parent by his first name where the answer is clear cut (absolutely not!), this question has a lot of room for knowing an individual child, the specific book, subjectivity and praying for Godly wisdom.

When they were young, our children, like many others, delighted in books featuring talking animals who dressed and behaved like people. As parents we saw these books as imaginative, not sinister. Part of the developing toddler sense of humor was understanding that a moose would not go into a store to buy candy and a duck would not toss a salad for a dinner party.

We saw Edward Eager’s books like Half-Magic  or The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit as more sophisticated versions of the same idea. They are incredibly clever stories of things that can never happen; imaginative rather than sinister.

As children grow, it is important for them to understand what the Bible is warning about and forbidding one to dabble in. There are spiritual forces in the world that we cannot easily understand and that nonetheless can do great harm. For example, the focused wishing of evil on someone, for example via a voodoo doll, can have an effect. It is forbidden. In the same way, some people are capable of communing with the dead. This is possible – and forbidden. Statues coming to life under a full moon or finding a coin that allows you to move backwards in history are not real options, so we didn’t see reading about them as problematic.

Is Harry Potter, a brilliant book and not surprisingly a best-seller, different in a real way to the above books or even to the TV show Bewitched?  We don’t know. Many times cultural influences are incredibly subtle.Our second-hand understanding is that the Harry Potter books became darker as the series went along. (Our children were older at that point and I think their interest waned, but anyway they were then at an age to make their own decisions.) We know parents who explained to their children that while they allowed the early books into their homes, they would not let in the later ones.

Realistically, each family needs to decide where certain lines are drawn as well as knowing the point at which forbidding something makes it intensely desirable. There are only so many issues where one can take a stand unless one moves to a community with only like-minded people and shuts out the outside world. 

What we would strongly recommend is forging a relationship with your children that has them respecting and caring what you think. That means explaining your views and listening to theirs. It also means taking the time to read and watch the things to which they are being exposed and doing so with a keen eye. You and they need to develop the ability to see the message behind the message and hone an awareness of what is shaping morals and ideas. Dinnertime conversations are priceless.

We are sure you are already aware of this, but cultural messages are constantly being sent by all sorts of literature. You are raising only one area of concern but parent-child interactions, male-female relationships, views of America and attitudes to money are only four areas where values can be easily absorbed through reading.  For example, we rejected Berenstain Bear books for our children because the father was often portrayed as a genial buffoon whose wife and children were clearly smarter and more accomplished than he was. 

You need to be clear on what your family values are. While we appreciated C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series and most of our Christian friends loved the books, we personally chose not to share those with our children. Narnia is a Christian parable and as such, no matter how lovely a story, it wasn’t meant for our Jewish family. One of our friends, whose children grew up to be just as committed Jews as our children, made the decision to let her children read the Narnia series. Each parent should take the responsibility to make those decisions herself.

Our homeschooling was very literature based and we have wonderful memories of read-aloud sessions with teenagers perfectly capable of reading to themselves. We hope you create many wonderful memories of your own.

Enjoy these years,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Grab the Gold

February 13th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

Here’s a question for politicians:  Do you really want to fight poverty?  I mean do you really, really want to end poverty, or do you just want to get re-elected?

If you really mean it, I have some good news for you along with some bad news.

The good news is that you no longer need to impose confiscatory rates of taxation upon hard-working families in order to give some people the money that other people have earned. 

The bad news is that many of your constituents would rather deal with the disease than confront the cure.  The reason I say this is because the one sure way to defeat poverty in one generation is to enact policies that would ensure that most children will be raised by married parents in wholesome and intact marriages.  The problem is that many of your constituents are more committed to liberal social policies that undermine marriage than they are to ending poverty.

The Brookings Institution, which is certainly no friend of traditional morality, through its Center on Children and Families is only one of many reputable organizations whose research has left little doubt that children do far better when they grow up in a traditionally strong family.  Many on the left ask, “But why should growing up with a married mother and father have anything to do with how well children do in their careers when they grow up?”

One answer is leadership.  For a family to thrive, effective parental leadership is vital.  For a business enterprise to thrive, effective leadership is just as essential.  Not surprisingly, a child growing up in a strong family absorbs the lessons of leadership from his parents and is thus equipped to deploy that leadership later on.

Here are three lessons of leadership crucially necessary for successfully managing a family as well as for running a business organization.

(i)  When leaders make mistakes or commit moral lapses, the entire enterprise, family or business, is imperiled.  Just think of Hollywood’s once prominent and prospering Weinstein entertainment colossus.  Or, just think of any of the families you know torn asunder by infidelity. Leadership means responsibility rather than privilege or license.

(ii)  Leaders know that when they do make mistakes, they, and only they carry the burden of repairing the consequences of those mistakes. 

(iii)  Leaders know that part of their job is ensuring that children, employees and associates retain strong moral anchors in accordance with the value system of the family or organization.  They must exercise constant vigilance because if subordinates lose their links to the central moral core, lapses in conduct are sure to follow.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us these three practical lessons in leadership from a fascinating sequence of events related in chapters 6-8 in Joshua. 

Here is a brief summary of the story.  Following God’s instructions to Joshua, Israel conquered the city of Jericho.   Though Joshua directed that all its treasures should be consecrated to God, one fellow named Achan helped himself to some choice items of plunder. 

Joshua’s military advisors indicated that Israel’s next target, the city of Ai, would require no more than a small force to gain a quick victory.  That small army was ignominiously defeated by the men of Ai, and Israel was thrown into doubt and fear.  God explained to Joshua that the calamity was caused by transgression; someone had stolen items from Jericho.  He assured Joshua that all would be well if the culprit was punished, and He instructed Joshua how to identify the perpetrator. 

The next morning Joshua paraded the people through a selection process, finally identifying Achan.

Achan confessed to having taken a garment from Shinar (many translations mistakenly say, ‘Babylonian garment’) along with a quantity of silver and gold.  After Achan was executed, Israel again attacked the city of Ai and this time they triumphed decisively.   

Among the questions we must ask:

(i) Why was all Israel punished with such a shocking defeat when only one man, Achan, committed the wrong?

(ii) Why did God not simply identify the miscreant Himself, rather than having Joshua conduct a mysterious identification process? 

(iii) We can understand why Achan took silver and gold but why a cloak from Shinar?

Ancient Jewish wisdom provides the answers:

(i)  The leader of Israel, Joshua, was just as culpable as Achan.  God never declared that Israel should not plunder Jericho. Joshua came up with this unnecessary prohibition on his own. (Joshua 6:18).  If only Joshua had not added his own restrictions to God’s direction, what Achan did would have been permitted.  Israel could have legitimately plundered Jericho just as God explicitly told them to do at Ai. (Joshua 8:2)  All of Israel was punished by a terribly defeat because the leader had erred.  He had promulgated a law that God had not directed.

(ii)  God didn’t identify Achan as the criminal because Achan didn’t violate God’s law; he violated Joshua’s law.  Thus the onus was upon Joshua to solve the crime.  God sometimes leaves us to climb out of holes that we ourselves dig.

(iii)  The Shinar garment is Scripture’s way of making us refer back to the Bible’s first mention of Shinar in Genesis 10:10. Along with three other references close-by, these allude to Nimrod’s war against God.  Achan did want the gold and silver.  However, because he mistakenly believed that God had prohibited that treasure, to get them he first had to break his relationship with God just as Nimrod had done.  After that he felt free to seize the gold and silver.

Whenever parents understand and absorb these three lessons they are better able to build a strong and effective family.  These three lessons also help business leaders build strong and effective organizations.  Yes, successful marriages and happy families not only give their children a ladder from poverty to prosperity but they also give their children a head start in becoming excellent organizational leaders themselves.  That would be good for them and for their society.  But are politicians willing to declare what almost everyone knows? Namely, that stable marriages are the finest environment for children and society.  I don’t know.

Nimrod’s rejection of God serves as a prototype for rejecting God to our very day. If this intrigues you, delve deeper into the verses describing Nimrod’s building project, the tower of Babel. Learn not only what his name means in Hebrew but also the tactics he used that are effectively still being used to sever people from a relationship with God and His teachings. Our audio CD set, Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel is currently on sale.

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Body and Soul

February 12th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

While preparing Gila Manolson’s book, Hands Off: This May Be Love for a second printing, I took the opportunity to look through it again. The following quote jumped out at me:

“God created our bodies and souls to work together as one, with the soul defining one’s identity and the body expressing it. Our dress, speech, and behavior should all reflect who we really are, deep within our innermost being. Only then can we be fully ourselves.”

Gila Manolson; Hands Off: This May Be Love

Please Tell Me It’s Satire

February 9th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

A few times this past week while reading my daily paper I found myself checking whether I was actually following the Onion, a news satire organization. Each page had one or more articles that made me think, “This can’t be real.” Listening to the radio compounded the problem.

There was the opinion piece explaining to men that they should double down on mentoring women despite the fact that they might be falsely accused of sexual harassment. After all, mentoring women is such an important ideal that they should willingly risk their reputation, family and livelihood to do so.

To my astonishment, another article spoke of cities considering instituting rent-control policies. In the two cities in which I have lived that had strong rent-control policies in place, wealthy people paid ludicrously small sums to stay put while less wealthy areas turned into boarded up slums since landlords couldn’t survive on the low rents they were forced to charge. Rent control was far from a rousing success.

Then there was the newspaper piece lauding couples who were refraining from having children in order to lessen their environmental impact on the world. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this show before, where young people piously explain how childlessness is a virtuous act.  I think there is an All in the Family episode from the 1970s where Mike and Gloria make the same proclamation.

In the constant background chatter I constantly hear ‘experts’ extolling the virtues of marijuana. Didn’t we just spend decades decrying the ill effects of smoking? Aren’t we in the midst of an opioid crisis? Is all this irrelevant because somehow we can’t figure out how to give a cancer patient palliative care without celebrating weed for all?

Every one of these paragraphs might have turned into a Musing. Alas, my computer needed repair and I have just gotten it back. There is only time to jot down these thoughts and wish you a blessed weekend.

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Dating during divorce process

February 7th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 26 comments

I am a 29 year old woman and I am currently going through a divorce. I did not initiate the divorce and I did my best to be a faithful and good wife to my husband despite his unfaithfulness, lack of financial provision and other issues. 

The one thing I want most out of life is to be a wife and mother. My question is: is it ok to date while the divorce is still pending? I was living in the US with my husband but since the divorce I have moved back to my home country (the United Kingdom). 

I am a Christian but would be interested to hear your point of view on this.

Hannah

Dear Hannah,

It sounds like you have been through a number of very difficult and disappointing years. We pray that the future holds much happiness and fulfillment for you as a wife and mother.  If you handle things correctly from here on and God blesses you, there is every chance of the good life awaiting you up ahead.

For people of faith, marriage is entered into by engaging in two separate processes.  One is obtaining a civil marriage, according to the laws of one’s country. The other is spiritual; more of a covenant that includes God in the new relationship.  We usually think of it as the religious ceremony  in contrast to the civil contract.

Now how about the termination of a marriage?  Not surprisingly, two processes are helpful here as well.  One needs a legal divorce that conforms to the civil laws of the land in which you live.  But there also needs to be a severing of the spiritual bond  A marriage contract is between only two parties but a marriage covenant is between husband, wife, and God. We see this when Ezra tells the Jews simply  to separate themselves from the foreign wives they had taken.  (Ezra 10:10-11)  No spiritual ceremony of divorce was needed because no spiritual bond was formed in the first place between the Hebrew men and the pagan women.

When both husband and wife have a relationship with God, the marriage sadly still might need to end.  And when this happens, God weeps.  (Malachi chapter 2) And when this happens, the marriage should best be ended by both a civil, legal divorce which is what you are now going through, as well as a spiritual conclusion to the marriage.

If your former husband will be willing to cooperate (which is not always the case in an acrimonious divorce), the best thing (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)  would be for him to write a short note in front of two members of his faith community saying, “I, ______ do hereby divorce my wife ____________ as of this date at this location___________ in the presence of two witnesses whose names appear below,” and for him to convey that note to you.  Once you receive it, you will write upon it that you hereby retain no further connection to this man in the eyes of God and are entirely free to marry anew.  You sign and date it also and put the document away with your other important papers.

If involving your husband is not possible, we would recommend that you sign a slightly reworded document in the presence of two people who share your faith. Doing this acknowledges that the marriage was not only a state matter, but also a religious one. We would encourage you not to date  until the divorce is final in both these ways.

The spiritual side might require more creativity on your part. Perhaps the assistance of wise friends or a pastor can be enlisted.  We are certain that once both these processes are complete, you will truly feel that you have broken the emotional bonds of your marriage.You will then feel able to wholeheartedly give of yourself to another man.

We hope you have had some counseling to examine what led you to choose your (soon-to-be-ex) spouse and what patterns of your own behavior you should be aware of before remarrying. We sympathize with your strong desire to be a mother and recognize the realities of biology, but we urge you to enter into a new relationship with skills and awareness so that it may be one that flourishes and nurtures a life-long commitment.

Looking forward to hearing good news soon,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Never Marry Your Grandmother

February 5th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

“My boyfriend is driving me crazy! Does he want to get married or not?”

“My husband and I were both thrilled when I became pregnant. But when I mention the baby, he sometimes gets this terrified look on his face. Is he happy about our baby nor not?”

The answer is…drum roll please…Both! The author of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote,

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold

two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time,

and still retain the ability to function.”

People are complicated and since most of the joy in life as well as most of the problems come from dealing with others, it is helpful to gain greater understanding into human relationships, particularly between men and women.

Take a look at Scripture’s list of prohibited sexual relationships. It starts with close relatives and ends with bestiality. (Leviticus 18:6-23)

Pretty straightforward. Except, we are perplexed to discover that one and a half chapters later the entire list is repeated. This time, however, it starts with adultery and ends with close relatives. (Leviticus 20:10-21) Is it repeated to help folks with short memories?

No. The purpose of the Torah is to teach us how the world REALLY works and that includes understanding sexual relationships. Relationships between men and woman are complicated because they are driven by complex and often conflicting forces.

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals relationship secrets while resolving the problem of the two lists in two almost adjacent Biblical chapters. It turns out that the lists are similar but not identical. They list the prohibited sexual relationships in different sequences, thus hinting at the two chief forces driving sexual attraction.

The first list in Leviticus 18, encapsulates our innate drive for reproduction. It is not just women who experience ‘baby-hunger.’ While women tend to experience it earlier (playing with dolls offers a clue) men also eventually yearn for the immortality that a child can confer. Most men want their children to be like them. The first list starts off with the relationships that would theoretically most appeal when reproduction is at the forefront of men’s minds.

The surest way to conceive children who resemble oneself would be to reproduce with a mate from one’s own family. While this sounds strange to our ears, focus on the concept rather than picturing it. So this list mentions prohibited family members first. It concludes with alternatives less tempting to someone focused on reproduction such as another man’s wife in which case the child would belong to someone else. Finally come homosexuality and bestiality where no offspring can possibly result.

The second list expresses men’s urge for sexual pleasure. It offers its own sequence in descending order of appeal. Most attractive is another man’s wife. Many men perversely find themselves attracted to married women whom they would totally ignore if the same ladies were single.

Forbidden fruit powerfully attracts so it constitutes the first prohibition in Leviticus 20:10. Continuing to look at the world through the eyes of a man who is only interested in a sexual relationship with no other component whatsoever (like reproduction or companionship and growth) we find the powerful sexual attraction of homosexuality and even of bestiality. These prohibitions are next in the list. (Leviticus 20:13-15) Finally, given that most men are not sexually titillated by close relatives, the list ends with those.

Now the two lists no longer suggest redundancy but, taken together, they reveal an exhilarating glimpse into reality. It isn’t surprising that relationships between the sexes frequently lead to heartbreak when not only do we not instinctively “get” each other, but we often don’t even “get” ourselves.

We only need to look at current headlines to see that male-female relationships are easy to mess up. Yet we still seek that one special someone and hope to share a lifetime of commitment. We are delighted to announce that we have gathered our three most helpful resources for choosing a spouse and sustaining a marriage. Get all three together in one budget-friendly package. You will find practical advice, amazing insights and an understanding of the first two chapters of Genesis that is unlike any you’ve learned. Check out our Lasting Love Set today!

That Which is Born

February 1st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

My husband and I celebrated two joyous events early this week. On Sunday, we were guests at a ninetieth birthday brunch and a day later we welcomed a young lady whose age we are now counting in days rather than years.

Rosie, may she live and be well, and my mother, may she rest in peace, began a friendship when they were five-year-old neighbors. When Rosie’s oldest sister married my mother’s uncle the ties grew stronger. On Sunday, her five children honored her at a birthday brunch where she was lovingly feted by over sixty children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends. A day later, our newest granddaughter made her appearance.

The juxtaposition of the events got me to thinking. There is a saying in ancient Jewish wisdom, “Who is wise? He who sees what is born.” Note that it doesn’t say, “He who sees the future.” We aren’t being told that one needs prophecy to be wise; one needs to be able to see that which is likely to happen if we expand our vision beyond the present.

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How can I make it to the top?

January 31st, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

I would like to know  how I can get God’s help in being successful in reaching top position in the area of finance when the competition is so high and there are people who are smarter than me and I have been encountering so many defeats  and humiliation while I am working towards my goal.

Kurian K.J.

Dear Kurian,

Based on your letter, we are assuming that English isn’t your native tongue, but we hope we understand your question correctly.

Sometimes, when addressing live audiences,  I (Rabbi Daniel Lapin) ask them if they think God wants us to be rich.  Some say ‘yes’ and some answer, ‘no’.  I then explain that God hasn’t shared His desire on this with me. However, I do know that a good and loving God, in the grand scheme of things, set up a system that rewards those of His children who devote their lives to helping His other children. In general, the more people you help and the more unique that help is, the better you will do financially.

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See My Words

January 29th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

It is so easy to become impatient when a toddler, colleague, client, customer, or patient go on and on when telling us a story. In turn, when we are the ones relaying information, we get frustrated when our listeners tune us out. Too often, instead of our employees, boss, spouse, children or students paying attention, they seem uninterested or distracted.

How do we become better at both giving and receiving information?

This verse can help:

Just watch out for yourself…lest you forget the words which your eyes saw,
… and you shall make them known to your children and your grandchildren.
(Deuteronomy 4:9)

Why does Deuteronomy 4:9 refer to words that are seen? We see things, not words. I sympathize with the plight of translators who often mistakenly write, “Just watch out for yourself…lest you forget the things which your eyes saw…”

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