The Ignored, Honorable Majority

June 3rd, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 20 comments

Lord Acton’s words, “All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” are often quoted. The sentences that precede that one are less known. Here they are:

“And remember, where you have a concentration of power in few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that.”

Since Lord Acton lived from 1834 to 1902, much has occurred since then, a great deal of which validates his warning.

As threats seem to surround us from every direction, gangsters are very much in evidence. Whether they are those in the Chinese government who chose to allow a deadly virus to spread, rogue policemen who misuse their positions, news reporters who sift, choose and outright lie to promote their agenda, or politicians who sit in their luxurious, protected castles looking scornfully down at lives their policies are ruining, gangsters abound.

Every decent human is revolted by the death of George Floyd. Every decent human being is revolted at how that death has been used to excuse looting, violence and anarchy. I think that actually describes most of us. Decent human beings, unfortunately, are not being given attention. If we consider ourselves in that camp, we must struggle against being manipulated by those who aren’t.

In the now-defunct Soviet Union, people knew that the official newspaper, Pravda, was full of lies. We do not have an official newspaper or news organization in the United States, but we are certainly being fed lies every day. The anger industry serves no productive purpose. The evidence of our eyes that shows us hard-working, good Americans of all backgrounds working and living together in harmony is nowhere to be found in the fractured and hostile picture painted by the elite.

Ancient Jewish wisdom equates acting while one is angry with idol worship. You are allowing an alien entity to control you. Since anger breeds on itself, one of the steps towards maturity is learning to respond to difficulties and even to injustice with a reaction other than anger. Even if we agree with someone’s position, the minute fury enters the conversation, everyone involved has lost. When anger is justifiably felt—and abuse of power is a justifiable cause—it should be accompanied by an internal warning that action is needed, but nothing should be said or done until one’s rational mind is once again in control.

For a protest to be productive, there must be a finite and reachable end goal. Desegregating schools; giving women the vote; and demanding that a foreign policy acknowledges humanitarian aims are all protests that brought results. Yet, much that is objected to today is amorphous. The war on poverty, the war on drugs, and yes, war on income inequality or war on racism do not fit the parameters of having measurable outcomes. That leaves the good intentions behind those wars ready for manipulation by gangsters.

The policeman who, allegedly (let’s remember that in the American system he too must be considered innocent until proven guilty, no matter how overwhelming the evidence) murdered George Floyd has been arrested and will be tried for his crime. Because he was a policeman, his sentence should be greater than that of a civilian who murders, and his partners must be held to account for not stopping him. Police policies need to be continually reassessed. Yet, there are many unanswered questions none of which will be addressed by anger. We do not even know if there is any reason to assume that this policeman’s behavior was racially motivated. Heartbroken people marching peacefully in the streets will not answer the question of why a reprobate cop was still on the beat. Targeting all police for attack only ensures that honorable people are discouraged from joining a police force and evidence shows how reducing police presence has real and deadly consequences. Probing questions about abuse of power, misguided union policies, flaws in psychologically evaluating public servants, corruption and lack of oversight won’t be tackled by shouting slogans and certainly not by destroying neighborhoods.

There have been demands in the past that honest and intelligent individuals must recognize have not led to any improvement. There are many more Black mayors, police chiefs, DAs, principals and teachers and lawyers than there were a few decades ago. With great optimism, the American people elected Barack Obama, largely because of his color rather than in spite of it.  The thinking that this would be a path towards viewing every citizen as an American rather than an individual defined by his or her color seems to have been completely wrong. At the close of his presidency, there was more divide in America, not less. As promoted and defined by the elite and the troublemakers, the racial divide in this country is getting worse, not better. Strangely, their pronouncements and edicts are at odds with the camaraderie and friendship that takes place in businesses, churches and neighborhoods all over the land. There is a disconnect between what we are being incessantly told and lectured about and what many decent people of all backgrounds experience.

I cannot imagine any of my Black friends wanting me to excuse violent and immoral behavior by their children any more than I would want them to excuse such behavior in my children. If there are two looters, one white and one black, it would be the epitome of racism to say that because of the color of his skin, one looter’s behavior is acceptable while the other one’s behavior is criminal.  There is absolutely no excuse for viciously attacking innocent people or their property. Only very confused individuals think that tolerating, allowing and condoning thuggish behavior will lead to greater amity between human beings.

There are tough and uncomfortable questions that need to be asked and discussed. These include policing and justice, dead-end schools and the parents who want a better future for their children yet continue voting for politicians who crush options to the status quo, the removal of God from society and how that’s working for us, outside agitators and disparate treatment of citizens. None of us have a complete picture; we need each other’s input. Humility, openness to the opinions of others and astute, logical thinking are required to produce any sort of useful answers. Posturing, over-generalizing, uncontrolled anger and self-interest are all impediments. There is much wrong in this country and around the world but there is also much right. Giving control to gangsters, whether through laziness, cowardice or virtue-signaling and allowing them to set an agenda only leads to more suffering and hatred. This is true whether those gangsters are masked or wearing suits or uniforms, tossing bricks at windows or sitting in the halls of academia and power.

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Devotion on Steroids

June 3rd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

Numbers 7:1 says, “And it was on the day that Moses finished erecting the Tabernacle…” Ancient Jewish wisdom asks why Moses is credited with the Tabernacle when we know that Betzalel, Ahaliav, and a team of others actually did the work.  The answer is that Moses is credited with the Tabernacle because he dedicated himself to it with devotion. The Hebrew phrase is mesirus nefesh, which implies devotion and dedication on steroids.  Even though others actually did the work, Moses was completely dedicated to making sure each piece was made according to the dimensions and descriptions Hashem had given him.  Because of his devotion for the Tabernacle, he gets the credit.  Similarly, even though King David’s son Solomon built the Temple, it is called “House of David” because of his mesirus nefesh for it. 

Apparently, when someone has mesirus nefesh for something, even if they don’t actually do the job completely themselves, the job becomes entwined with their essence and it becomes their own.  Do you know when else we see this?  A high school teacher of mine years ago pointed out to us that often in the Book of Kings, kings are identified as the sons of their mothers.  This isn’t what you expect—kingship passes from father to son, so why does the prophet tell us their mothers’ names?  For the very same reason as above.  Mothers were moser nefesh to raise children who became kings, so of course they have to be credited.

There is a lot of mesirus nefesh going on in all of our homes these days.  Every time we push ourselves to answer one more request, to read one more story, to speak calmly one more time, to bite our tongues from criticizing just this once, we are showing our devotion and dedication to our families and raising our children.  The problem is that sometimes we downplay our mesirus nefesh.  Maybe we get upset with ourselves when we don’t live up to our hopes, yet we don’t credit ourselves for all the times that we do.  We don’t even notice when we do a good job, but we notice when we fall short of what we expect.  Mesirus Nefesh doesn’t mean doing a perfect job or finishing the job completely.  It means staying dedicated, staying devoted.

Moses kept checking with the artisans: “Are you making it the right size, the right way?”  He stayed with it from beginning to end. He didn’t hand it over to Betzalel and walk away to something else. 

We do that too.  Day after day we try to be present, patient, calm, consistent, and that counts for a lot.  The question of whether we attain our goals all the time is not relevant when it comes to mesirus nefesh. What matters is that we keep coming back and trying again.  It is the dedication mothers show by working on themselves and their parenting day after day that translates as mesirus nefesh. And that counts.

Three Wise Men

June 2nd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

What if I told you that you could change how intelligent you are – or your children will be? Perhaps you’re saying, “That’s ridiculous. IQ is immutable and unlikely to be altered by one’s behavior. Or maybe you’re saying, “I don’t know, but if it’s true sign me up!”

However you may have reacted, I hope you’re intrigued enough by this proposition of ancient Jewish wisdom to try it on for size.  I think you’ll be surprised at how precisely it accounts for your experiences in the real world. 

We read of three Bible characters whose wisdom was admired and whose guidance and leadership was sought: Joseph, Daniel, and Mordechai.  Each withstood alluring attempts to get them to abandon restraint.

Watch Joseph as his employer’s wife, by all accounts a most attractive woman, tries to seduce him.

…after these things, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, lie with me.  But he refused… ‘[saying] because you are his wife, how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’  And she spoke to Joseph day by day but he did not listen to her to lie with her or be with her.
(Genesis 39:7-10)

Soon after, we find that Joseph’s wisdom and leadership qualities become evident to all.

And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find anyone like this man in whom the spirit of God is’?  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘In as much as God has shown you all this, there is none so smart and wise as you are you shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled.’
(Genesis 41:38-40)

We encounter Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.  The Babylonian King, intending to entice them into the Babylonian aristocracy, arranged for them to be fed his royal, but unkosher, food. 

And the king appointed them a daily portion of the king’s food, and of the wine which he drank; and to bring them up during three years, that at its end they might stand before the king.  Among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
(Daniel 1:5-6)

Refusing to surrender their Hebrew identity, the four heroes requested a purely vegetarian diet (which is by definition kosher).  The king’s steward, nervous about disobeying the king and being held responsible for the four Jews’ not looking well-fed, hesitated.  Daniel made this suggestion:

‘…test your servants, I beg you, ten days; and let them give us only vegetables to eat, and water to drink then let our faces be looked upon before you, against the faces of the other young people that eat of the portion of the king’s food; and according to what you see, deal with your servants’.  So he consented to them in this matter, and tested them ten days and at the end of ten days their faces appeared better in appearance…
(Daniel 1:11-15)

After resisting the appeal of the king’s food, Daniel and his colleagues became recognized for wisdom:

And the king talked with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah…in all matters of wisdom and understanding that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.
(Daniel 1:19-20)

Finally, we meet Mordechai who refused to bow to the wicked Haman. Each day, courtiers tried to persuade Mordechai to submit.

It came to pass as they spoke daily to him and he did not listen to them, that they told Haman…And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow, nor did him obeisance, then was Haman full of wrath.
(Esther 3:4-5)

Though it would have been so much easier to submit to Haman, Mordechai stood firm, loyal to his spiritual identity.  Not surprisingly, as the book ends, we read:

And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordechai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?..Mordechai the Jew was next to King Ahasuerus…
(Esther 10:1-2)

What phenomenon is playing out in all these cases? Leviticus 11:43 sheds light.

וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם

…nor shall you make yourselves impure with them [forbidden non-kosher foods] that you should become impure by them.

The underlined Hebrew root (in blue) for impure is  טמ, pronounced TaM

Ancient Jewish wisdom asks what the repetition of the root word TaM adds to the verse. The word has a second meaning—foolish. The response explains a cause and an effect.  If you take the action that makes you impure, then you will inevitably become a lessened person.  The effect is not temporary. 

The message is that yielding to bodily appetites reduces the chances of a happy and fulfilled life.  Submitting to our hedonistic urges gradually reduces our life effectiveness.  If practiced multi-generationally, it eventually produces less self-disciplined and less wise people.  The process of exercising self-restraint and saying ‘no’ to ourselves makes us more suited to leadership.

In other words, adhering to Biblical faith, its rituals of restraint and its principles is a key to wisdom, leadership and success. Tragically, we see examples of too many people in the streets today who have been raised without God and utterly devoid of Biblical principles. They are destroying civilization as they reject any idea of “Thou Shall Not” let alone loving one’s neighbor.

Listening to God’s word not only makes you a better person, but also a wiser one. It forces us to confront ultimate issues and to face ideas that really matter.  To make the exercise as easy and enjoyable as possible we have produced a set of over 150 Thought Tools collected into three volumes and they are now on sale. This is literally a marathon run for your mind and a super stretch session for your soul.

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My friend rejects social distancing – I don’t want to offend him

May 27th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

Dear Rabbi & Susan,

I am caught between a rock and a hard spot.  There is a member of our community who does not believe in social distancing or abiding by any of the government-mandated precautions against COVID-19.   While my father was in the hospital, I was very firm with him about not visiting my home.  To gain access to the hospital after Shabbat, I would need to pass the hospital regimen and wanted to take no risks.

Secondly, the fellow who I am dating takes social distancing seriously.   Finally, others of my friends are frowning upon this person’s disregard for following guidelines and testing everyone and the protocols in place.

This person showed up at my house, on Shabbat, with no warning.  I answered the door and I was shocked to find him there. The person just stood there until I would allow him in so I ushered him to the deck.   He then invited me for an upcoming holiday lunch and I told him that I would attend if we were outside.  Now, I think I have made a mistake in accepting the invitation.   

The situation has upset the person who I am dating and I am afraid to tell any of my other friends. This person will be angry if I back out of the invitation. 

What should I do? 


Dear Confused,

Despite the risk of sounding harsh, we must tell you that you are not caught between a rock and a hard spot. You yourself actively crawled down into a hard spot and then you carefully and diligently reached for a rock and pulled it down against you making sure to wedge it firmly into place.  Rocks and hard spots are not malign machines that autonomously track you down.  Own it!  You created this awkward situation.  Right?  Right!

So the real question is not how to get out of this one; it’s how to stop seeking out rocks and hard spots to wiggle into.

Regardless of what this person, let’s call him Mr. X, believes about corona, and regardless of the extent to which others ‘frown’ at Mr. X, as you put it,  it is only his behavior and your response that matters.  So the relevant portion of your letter starts with him showing up unexpectedly on your doorstep on Shabbat. 

Imagine that someone threatens to amputate his pinky unless you agree to date him. That places you under no moral obligation to comply.  This person showed up at your door and you interpreted his standing there as a  threat to cut off his pinky finger unless you invited him in.  Actually, he stood there long enough to tacitly inform you he’d be offended not to be invited in, but it’s the same idea, of course.  What you did not say was, “I wish I could invite you in, I really do, but while these corona circumstances exist, I am not going to, so have a good Shabbat and I look forward to talking with you on the phone tonight.”  Instead, you opened the door in a wide invitation and Mr. X naturally sauntered serenely into your house. You did it.

Here’s another point to consider. Why is the extent to which others ‘frown’ at Mr. X, relevant?  It is only his behavior and your reaction that matters. Your choices might be influenced by the concerns of the man you are dating or your other friends, but in the final analysis, you need to decide how you feel about social distancing, masks and everything else that is directing our lives today. You, Miss Concerned, need to take control of your own life.

It doesn’t matter whether accepting the lunch invitation was a mistake or whether you’ve just changed your mind about wanting to go. You simply notify Mr. X by phone or text that you regret the change in plans but you will, after all, not be able to join him for lunch.  Will Mr. X threaten to cut off another of his remaining fingers by choosing to be unhappy, offended,  hurt or angry by your change of mind?  He gets to choose his own reaction.  Incidentally, not respecting your decision and radiating offense and anger on an issue such as this is a no more legitimate reaction for a friend than cutting off a finger would be. If you want this ‘friendship’ to continue, you need to be a stronger partner in it.

There was and is no reason to report what happened to the person you are dating or to any of your other friends. God frowns on purposeless gossip and telling your friends this sad saga is purposeless gossip. What possible reason could you have for telling them other than hoping that somehow they’d infuse you with the necessary strength to do what your soul has already told you that you must do?  This is only between you and Mr. X.  You can solve it quite easily without the cheering reassurance and encouragement of your other friends.  Just do it.

We urge you to ask yourself if you slide into these predicaments in other areas of your life, such as business and family. Or is this destructive docility reserved for your social life or perhaps just for this specific individual? Gaining insight into yourself is most valuable. Each time you force yourself to act and react appropriately to these types of circumstances, you strengthen yourself into a better person and make it ever less likely that you’ll fail again.

So, pick up the phone and own the situation!

Best wishes,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Owning your dating/courtship life is a great idea.
The two books will raise questions and provide guidance.

I Only Want to Get Married Once: Dating Secrets for Getting it Right the First TimeHands Off: This May Be Love!
God’s Gift for Establishing Enduring Relationships

The First Time You…

May 26th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

In the charming 1980 South African movie masterpiece, The Gods Must Be Crazy, the Kalahari bushman hero found an empty Coca Cola bottle dropped from his plane by a careless pilot.  No life experience or knowledge gained till now prepared Xi to understand the bottle’s purpose.  He couldn’t imagine its value other than as a magic talisman. 

In a similar way, no education or experience in the lives of many young men today prepares them to view a wife as anything other than an economic asset in an attractive package. They marry with a picture dancing in their minds of the larger house for whose mortgage they will now jointly qualify.  Understandably, they can’t imagine the magic of a marriage partnership in which each partner carries responsibility for a separate specialty just as in a successful business partnership.

Social media and occasional news articles reveal the existence of an informal association of women devoted to the homes and families of the husbands who happily support them.  These women, in the U.K., Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States gather beneath the banner of traditional wives and have assumed the hashtag #Tradwives.

Angry voices in mainstream media malign these women in terms so vituperative that you’d think traditional wives drank the blood of journalists.  You might have thought that feminism’s commitment to “choice” would praise these wives for making their own unconventional choice. Yet, they disparage these wives in the vilest ways going so far as to drum up today’s ultimate charge—racism.  Yes, these primitive and bigoted women are not only setting back women’s “progress” by decades, but they are obviously trying to have and raise more—that’s right—white children.

So shrill and incessant is the pervasive pounding of feminist propaganda that many men have been conditioned to barricade their brains against any traditional model of marriage.  To their detriment they have also been indoctrinated to the now common custom of eventually marrying the last of a long line of romantic entanglements.  What’s wrong with sowing your wild oats, as the saying goes?  What’s wrong with enjoying a sequence of sexual escapades and then marrying whomever is left standing when the music stops playing?

This is at odds with one of life’s realities. There is something indelibly memorable about firsts.  We don’t even need the innumerable books and studies attempting to explain why we humans remember so well our first car, date, foreign travel.  We know intuitively that we do remember the first of almost any significant experience far more strongly than any subsequent instance.  Many couples will, for years, commemorate the date they first met.  Indeed, a wedding anniversary is in reality, a commemoration of a first.

Though I tend to be skeptical about studies, one from the University of Sussex that recently caught my eye addressed how often people make themselves unhappy years down the road by comparing their marriages to their first loves.  One “expert” suggested that in order to avoid the problem of first love memories, people should avoid first loves and go straight to their second.  This is probably what author Jane Austen meant when in one of her little-known stories she has old Lady Williams advising young Alice, “Preserve yourself from a first love and you need not fear a second.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom offers a far more practical solution: marry your first love. This is not to suggest that you marry the first person you love. It is, instead, advising you to love for the first time the person you marry.  In other words, instead of indulging (emotionally and/or physically) in many short-lived intimate affairs, rather choose a careful courting that protects your heart and your soul.  That way, you can be married to your first love and live happily ever after without ghosts of former loves intruding.

Many people today fail to see the value of sharing your ‘first’ with your life partner because they often fail to understand the profound significance of firsts.  See how the Bible treats firsts.

The first of the first fruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God…
(Exodus 23:19)

And when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set some aside as a gift to the Lord. From the first of your dough you shall set aside a loaf as a gift…
(Numbers 15:19-20)

The first of your corn, wine, and oil, and the first fleece of your sheep you shall give to him [the priest]. 
(Deuteronomy 18:4)

To a farmer, how his family lives depends upon the arrival of the annual harvest.  When all the produce has been gathered everyone feels the blessing of joyful relief.  Thus, the first of each year’s bounty is so sacred that he uses it to bond with God by sharing it with Him.

In each verse, the Hebrew word translated as  “first” is: reishit

ר  א  ש  י  ת

T   i   SH   ie   R 

 which also means beginning.  In fact, it is the very first word of the Bible—B’REISHIT –in the beginning. 

ב   ר  א  ש  י  ת

T   i   SH   ie   R  B

The very first cause of all reality is God.

The Bible uses  that word REISHIT for both the first fruits and also for God starting off all reality for an important purpose.  It is to show us the source of that excitement we feel at the unforgettable firsts of our lives. That thrill we feet at a first flows from our subconscious realization that experiencing a first is another way of experiencing God.  Feeling a first is coming close to He the Founder of all Firsts.  How could anyone forget that?

Although I have piloted single engine aircraft for hundreds of hours in different countries, I have never forgotten the feeling of elation and disbelief that first time I lifted my PA-28 aircraft off the runway of a small South African airfield with nobody else aboard but me. I’d like to emphasize that I never threw a Coke bottle out of my airplane.

If the concept of arranging your love life along Biblical principles appeals to you (or you’d like to share the blessing with someone else) we recommend two books that are enjoyable, eye-opening and useful. I Only Want to Get Married Once: Getting it Right the First Time and Hands Off: This Might Be Love are on sale today. 

(Please note that we will be closed for the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) Thursday through Saturday evenings.)



We Shall Cower in Our Basements?

May 21st, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 45 comments

I just placed a library hold for a book reviewed in my morning paper. I have no idea when I will be able to pick it up. As in so many cities, our libraries are still closed. Why?

I understand that initially governments responded by closing down areas under their control. Yet, weeks have passed and libraries are still closed. What might have happened if libraries were privately run businesses that existed on yearly subscriptions? If they wanted me to renew my membership, they would realize that encouraging me to use only their download facilities might lead me to decide that my membership was no longer a worthwhile investment. 

Like many stores, private libraries might have organized pick-up appointments. Maybe it was time to resuscitate the idea of traveling librarians, who brought books (sometimes on horseback) to patrons who lived far from the library building.  Perhaps each returned book would be cleaned and put aside for 72 hours before recirculating. Owners and employees of a private business would be brainstorming to find ways to serve their customers. Yet, since the public library system and employees are on a government (read taxpayer) payroll, physical libraries, at least in my area, are simply closed.

I understand that those who are mourning the serious illnesses and deaths of loved ones are overwhelmed by this crisis. But, one of the saddest outcomes, in my opinion, has been the proliferation of fatalistic thinking, the very opposite of a traditional American can-do attitude.

Imagine if previous notable figures in American history were alive today and behaving as their modern counterparts are.  Instead of a General Washington who camped out at Valley Forge with his men during a brutal winter, we would have pictures of him feasting on venison at Mt. Vernon, similar to Nancy Pelosi’s tone-deaf shots of her ice cream selection.

Instead of hearing from Franklin Delano Roosevelt as we faced tough times during the Depression that, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” we would hear, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” I may not agree that President Roosevelt’s solutions helped to end the Depression, but at least he projected confidence in a better future.

On the eve of D Day, General Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Pessimism never won any battle.”  Imagine what might have happened had he told his troops, “Now is the time to fear all that could go wrong.” 

In response to Russian achievements in space, John F. Kennedy said, “…this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Today’s leaders warn us that not only will we not have a vaccine soon, we may never be able to manufacture a reliable one. Life as we knew it, is over.

If you will cross the ocean with me for a moment, can you imagine that instead of Mr. Churchill declaring that “…we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…, he might say, “We must surrender our way of life, we will cower in our basements, we will hide in our homes, we will tremble in fear in the fields and in the streets.” 

Are we facing a challenge in our country and around the world? Certainly, we are. Yet, it is hard to find a time when victory was earned through fear, cowardice and pessimism, the guiding lights for far too many of today’s media voices and politicians.

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Children Raising Mothers

May 20th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

While discussing the role of the Levites, Numbers 3:4 mentions Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu who had previously died.  The verse says:

“Nadav and Avihu died before God when they offered an alien fire before God in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children…”

This verse makes it seem as if they died for two reasons; first, for bringing a sacrifice they shouldn’t have and second because they didn’t have children. What is that about? 

The Chassam Sofer, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, explains why their not having children contributed to their deaths.  Having and raising children is the ultimate path to self-development.  I have a friend who has a blog about her homeschooling family.  Her motto is “Homeschooling builds character….In the mother.”  She is so right, but it isn’t just homeschooling, it’s parenting.  Raising children forces us, their parents, to stretch and grow way beyond any measure we did before having children.  You thought you had cultivated the character trait of patience when you were in high school?  Wait until you’ve been kvetched (whined, complained) to all day long and then you get woken up right after you’ve fallen asleep.  That’s when you begin to learn about patience! 

Nadav and Avihu never had children and so they weren’t the best versions of themselves that they could be.  They weren’t as sensitive to appropriate and inappropriate behavior as they would have been had they been through the great character development program called having children.  And so, in a way, the fact that they didn’t have children was a key factor in the mistakes they made that caused their deaths.

And so, my friends, each time we feel challenged or stretched beyond our comfort zones by our children, each time we grow by being the adult in the room, by acting with greater wisdom and maturity than we thought we could, our children are the ones making that growth possible.  We thought we helped our children grow and develop, but the Chasam Sofer reminds us that our children also help us grow and develop.  It is their immaturity, their neediness, their constant watchful presence that spurs us higher and higher helping us become our greatest selves.

I wish you a beautiful day of love and joy with your children, a day where we and our kids will grow together higher and higher.

Susan’s note: While Rebecca’s words are spoken and written for mothers, I would like to add a few words in case these words spread beyond that group. God does not bless everyone with children, including those who yearn to raise a family. This piece of ancient Jewish wisdom does not condemn anyone who is childless to a life of stagnation or immaturity. It does highlight that, just as someone who is blind cultivates other senses to compensate for the lack of sight, someone without children must recognize that there is a lack of certain opportunities and find other means to achieve the goal of growth that having children most easily provides.

Being a recipient of kindness

May 20th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Friends of ours have blessed us with a huge mitzvah during a difficult health challenge.  How does one acknowledge something so abundant and beyond helpful?  We, at the moment, do not have the means to reciprocate.

Any direction would be greatly appreciated!

Kind regards,


Dear Stacy,

Our best wishes are with you as you go through this health challenge. Your question, however, is one that faces most well-adjusted people at various times. We say well-adjusted because, unfortunately, there are those who choose unhappiness by cultivating an attitude that they are entitled to the gifts of the world, as represented by their fellow citizens, community and family. They are ungrateful “takers” and do not recognize that living successfully requires us to be givers as well as takers. Above all, we need to express gratitude frequently and regularly. Takers miss out by being unaware of these ideas.. 

That does not describe you. Circumstances right now put you on the receiving end and, while you appreciate the help, you are uncomfortable being in that situation. If we may, we’d like to correct your misuse of the word “mitzvah.” A mitzvah is the Hebrew word meaning one of God’s commandments. What your friends blessed you with is a CHeSeD—an act of loving-kindness (and one of the oft-misunderstood words we explore in our book, Buried Treasure). 

It can be very hard for those of us who prefer being on the giving end to be recipients instead. Sometimes, we are comfortable doing so when we know that the tables will be turned such as when we gratefully accept a homemade meal when we have a newborn in the house. You certainly don’t hope for the tables to be turned in your case. In fact, there may never be a way for you to reciprocate on the level of the chesed that you received.

This calls for a new experience of soul-expansion. You cannot respond in kind, however, you can learn the skill of gracious acceptance. It actually is a skill that is probably in your repertoire already as you recognize all the blessings that God showers on you and that you have no way to “repay.”

Certainly, a heartfelt thank-you letter and remembering these friends in your prayers is something you can do. The harder thing is to allow them to give to you without letting the relationship be strained by awkwardness. Abandon the idea of reciprocity. These friends are using the gifts God granted them in a good and proper way and you are the vehicle through which they are doing so. In effect, they are doing a mitzva (fulfilling God’s commandment to care for His other children) by acting towards you with chesed (loving-kindness).

Sometimes, we simply must accept being in the position of accepting help. Often, we cannot “pay back” the help we received and we cannot pay it forward in exactly the same way. We can only use our own gifts and skills to give in whatever way we can at any given time. That may be as simple as offering a smile to the tired nurse taking care of us at the end of a long shift (actually, not a simple thing at all when we are worried and in pain). When, please God, you have come through this medical challenge, you will be able to expand your own giving to others with added sensitivity and empathy. You will not be keeping score expecting those you benefit to reciprocate; you will be grateful that you can be on the giving end.

Wishing you complete healing,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Hebrew words powerfully unlock the essence of important ideas.
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Cave Grave

May 18th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

I love boating along coastal British Columbia. Occasionally, we spot First Nation burial apparatus, a box or platform, often a canoe, into which the departed is placed and which is then perched upon high stilts or wedged into tree forks.

The Choctaws buried their dead by leaving them atop a high scaffold. Eskimos placed their departed beneath piles of rocks.  In much of Asia, corpses were burned as a final rite and the popularity of cremation spread far and wide.  Egyptians placed their departed in pyramids while others preferred vast above-ground mausoleums.   

When Sarah, the wife of Abraham died, Abraham didn’t place her body in a tree or under a heap of rocks.  He certainly didn’t burn it.  Instead, he said to the locals:

…entreat for me to Ephron the son of Tzochar…that he give me the cave of MaCHPeLah…as a burying place…
(Genesis 23:8-9)

The first Scriptural account of a burial follows:

 …Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of MaCHPeLah…
(Genesis 23:19).

 Later we read about the burial of Abraham.

 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of MaCHPeLah, in the field of Ephron the son of Tzochar…
(Genesis 25:9)

 Subsequently, Isaac and his wife Rebecca were buried in that cave, as were Jacob and Leah.

When Abraham negotiated his purchase of the cave from Ephron the son of Tzochar, it was only the second mention of a cave in the Bible.  The first was the cave in which Lot and his two daughters sought refuge as Sodom was being destroyed.

 Lot went up out of Tzoar…and his two daughters…and he lived in a cave, he and his two daughters.
(Genesis 19:30)

Not only did Abraham choose to place his kin to rest in the same kind of location as the one in which Lot and his daughters took refuge but the name of the father of the seller of Abraham’s cave, TzoCHaR, strongly resembles the town from which Lot departed for the cave, TzoAR.

Tz-o-A-R and Tz-o-CH-a-R share their first and last letters, tzadi and reish, which respectively have the sounds of TZ and R.

צ   ר

   R   TZ 

In God’s language, where each letter and word has vast hidden meaning, words that start and end with these letters relate to the concept of narrowness, confinement, pain and restriction.

Lot and his daughters stopped in a place named for having the quality of TzAR as they escaped Sodom (Genesis 19:20-23), but leave it for the promise of a cave. Abraham acquired a cave from the possession of a man called TzochaR, expanding its quality from simply being a cave to becoming an eternal burial place. What is going on here?

Both caves served as temporary abodes while future events took shape.  In one cave, Lot and one of his daughters lay the foundations for the eventual birth of Ruth, ancestress of King David.  In the other cave, the founding fathers and mothers of Israel lie until the ultimate redemption when death is undone and eternal life is resumed.

Similar meaning of future promise attaches to all other Biblical caves such as that in which David did not kill Saul (I Samuel 24:6-7), in which Obadiah hid the prophets from Jezebel (I Kings 18:4) and in which Elijah hid (I Kings 19:9).  Not surprisingly, the root meaning of the Hebrew word cave, MeARah, is awaken!

מ  ע  ר  ה = cave
     ע  ר = awake

As a seed is placed in the ground only in anticipation of the green living plant that will eventually spring forth, so do people enter Biblical caves.  In ancient Jewish wisdom, a grave is no more than a personal private cave in which to await the ultimate deliverance.

It would be hard to overstate the depth of meaning that springs from Hebrew. In our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, we share powerful, practical and moving insights from dozens of Hebrew words along with tips on understanding the language itself. Give the young (and young at heart) ones in your life the added advantage of familiarity with the Hebrew alphabet with Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet. Take advantage of the sale on both these books to acquire them for yourself and those you wish to bless.





Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s LanguageAleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

Reprinted from 2013

A Room with a (Distorted?) View

May 14th, 2020 Posted by Susan's Musings 22 comments

With local libraries closed, my reading has branched in two directions. I am re-reading old favorites from our shelves and browsing available library downloads for fresh selections. Among the latter is E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, A Room with a View. Written just over a hundred years ago, it may not qualify as a new book by most definitions, but I have neither read it nor seen a movie of it, so it is quite new to me. 

As I tend to read in bed at night, my mind is far from fresh and I sometimes fall asleep in the middle of even the most interesting book. Nonetheless, I was jolted awake by these words at the beginning of chapter 4:

“Why were most big things unladylike?… It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves.”

These words described what young Lucy, the protagonist of the novel, was taught as a budding English lady in Edwardian England. In my experience, a number of people today who are antagonistic to those who choose to be traditional wives, homemakers and mothers think that these “old-fashioned females” share this 19th-century view of a lady’s ‘mission’. 

I found something off-putting about those first and third sentences (I have no problem with men and women being different), but only once I awoke the next morning did I realize what I didn’t like.

I realized that the troublesome word in the first sentence is “big” while the annoying word in the third sentence is “rather.” Not only do they suggest that inspiring others is the only thing women can do, but they also imply that inspiring others is a secondary achievement.

Over the course of many decades, my aunt was a popular science teacher. Incredibly, she continued teaching into her nineties. Accompanying her as she walked the streets of her town was slow going as so many people, young and old, stopped to greet her. Once, while in her eighties and in the hospital for some tests, an orderly settled her in a wheelchair and took her away from the hospital’s main corridors towards a suite of offices. Confused, she was soon joined by a doctor introducing himself as the hospital’s head of cardiology. Bringing her into his office, he pulled out a junior high yearbook, pointed to her picture, and said,

“I am here today because of this science teacher. I wanted to thank you.”

I don’t believe that in all her years of teaching, my aunt saw herself as inspiring others to achieve rather than achieving herself. Her achievement was being an excellent teacher. I see no reason that replacing the word “teacher” with “wife” or “mother” changes the equation any more than replacing it with “doctor” or “executive.” While I wouldn’t say that every woman must make being a wife or mother her priority, I think more women than it is politically correct to believe would find being an excellent wife and mother to be a big achievement in and of itself.

In early 20th century England, it may well have been unladylike (probably impossible or close to it) for a woman to become a barrister or surgeon. That is certainly not so today. However, many women today are not choosing to “achieve big things” through their jobs but are, instead, regretfully working to afford a high cost of living and high rates of taxation.

Some women are working long hours at an office because they and their husbands were indoctrinated to believe that only a Neanderthal man would want to support a family on his own. Along with their wives, these men assumed lifestyles dependent on two careers. Some women graduate college and professional school believing that a career is the best road to satisfaction and achievement only to find themselves unhappily missing other parts of life. They discover that they would love for their “big thing” to be focusing on their husbands, homes and families, yet society’s message taught them that doing so is unimportant and unfulfilling, perhaps even a betrayal of womanhood.  The prevailing cultural message of today may not be the one best suited to them just as Lucy’s wasn’t in her time.

For us mere mortals, trade-offs in life are inevitable. Along with that, most of us have moments or days or months where we dream of doing something other than what we are doing. The reality of our dreams is rarely part of a 24/7 actualization of said dream. I haven’t finished A Room with a View and at this point, I don’t even know if I like the book, but from what I have seen of Lucy, I am pretty sure that if she faced the hard work, sacrifice and obstacles of “big things,” she would be no less discontented. I do know that doing whatever we undertake with dedication and commitment is a “big thing.” If it is a worthwhile endeavor,  then whether it is in our own homes or outside of them, if we do it well we will have achieved a great deal.

Do the Hebrew words for man/woman, men/women have messages embedded in them? 
Make friends with God’s language



Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s LanguageAleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet
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