April 21st, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

I admit to not following the Bill O’Reilly/Fox News story carefully. One of the lovely plusses of a holiday like Passover is five days with no communication from the outside world (the first two and last two days of Passover and the Sabbath in the middle.) However, if a comment about there being a lot of blondes at Fox is seen as proof of sexual harassment, then perhaps it’s time to ban women from the workplace. People make bad jokes all the time; people make stupid jokes all the time. Having everybody walk on eggshells or refrain from talking because, “everything you say can and will be used against you,” does not make for a healthy workplace. There is plenty of real harassment of all kinds that goes on. In my opinion, that comment doesn’t make the cut.

Faith in America: A CBS Propaganda Documentary

April 20th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 25 comments

I just finished watching a well done piece of propaganda, produced by CBS News. As I write these words it is Easter Sunday which, this year, falls in the middle of the Passover holiday.  It seemed appropriate to click on a video entitled “Faith in America: a History,” which I was sure would be a celebration of America’s tolerance and religious diversity. Traditionally, this is a time of year when secular networks tap into the holiday season by showing movies like The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur. A documentary on America’s various religious communities seemed to fit that tradition.

Of course, in a historical narrative it would be only honest and fair to mention the sad times when discrimination peppered our history. These would legitimately include, among other examples, early anti-Quakerism, the antagonism the Mormon Church faced, anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism. However, I assumed that the thrust of the show would express pride and gratitude for our amazing country.

In all fairness, the site that linked me to the video didn’t include the subtitle, A history of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim intolerance in America, which, despite some grammatical awkwardness, might have warned me of the show’s slant.  But I never saw the subtitle.

By the end of the documentary I was shocked breathless. Here is my summary of what I saw: Evil Republicans, especially Donald Trump and anyone who supports him, are channeling anti Catholic biases of earlier years in America along with Nazi sentiments in Europe to promote baseless, superstitious fear of and harm to Muslims.  End of story.

I must sadly acknowledge that the show was extremely well done. As a homeschooling mother I wanted to watch it with my children, get their feedback and then watch a second time, pausing every few minutes to point out or send them searching for rebuttals to the half-truths, false associations, misleading language and blatant disregard for history that made up the bulk of this shameful anti-American propaganda. While not on the level of a Leni Riefenstahl documentary, it was most impressive. (Did you see how I manipulated you there? Leni Riefenstahl was Hitler’s favorite director. Her 1930s movie Triumph of the Will was an effective, ground-changing work that helped Hitler solidify power. By making an analogy to Ms. Riefenstahl, I encouraged you to compare the CBS documentary to her work, leading you to associate the CBS film I’m discussing with a Nazi production, ergo CBS is like Hitler. That is one of the types of manipulative propaganda for which you should be alert should you choose to watch the CBS film.)

I would strongly encourage anyone who saw this piece to take the time to factually refute it and consciously address the tools of disinformation it employs. Too often, we have an underlying gut feeling that something is wrong but don’t bother to intellectually enumerate the problems. CBS is relying on Americans’ notorious lack of historical knowledge coupled with ignorance of current world affairs to encourage viewers to adopt a highly subjective and partisan attitude.

My homeschooling students are grown and I trust that I taught them well enough that they can dissect this program themselves should they choose to see it. My days of running history seminars for children are over for now. However, in closing, I’d like to offer one story from my childhood that in a very personal way exemplifies religion in America to me.

As Easter always falls on or near Passover, this time of the year in Catholic parts of Europe was often a period of fear and bloodshed in the Jewish community. Catholic services too frequently ended with mob violence against the Jewish community, resulting in horrendous pogroms.

In contrast, I grew up in a mixed Italian-Catholic and Jewish community in New York. In days when mothers didn’t view themselves as their children’s social directors, neighborhood children grouped into de facto play groups. My two best friends growing up each lived down the block. I attended a religious Jewish school; Beth, whose family belonged to the Conservative movement of Judaism went to public school; and JoAnn and her siblings were stalwarts of the local Catholic school.

One year, on Passover, Beth’s grandfather, who also lived on our block, died. The funeral took place on the holiday and JoAnn’s mother offered to watch one toddler grandson at her house during the ceremony. My parents thought I was too young to go to the funeral but old enough to stay home alone while they attended. About an hour after they left, JoAnn came running over to say that her mother needed me to come and bring food with me. Her mother’s young charge was crying and she wanted to give him something to eat. In grief and shock at the sudden loss of her father (the burial was less than 24 hours after the death) Beth’s aunt had not sent any food with her son.Yet JoAnn’s mother knew how careful we were with kosher food on Passover and didn’t want to offer the very young child anything, not even a fruit, that might show any disrespect for our religion. To me, that, rather than the agenda-driven, political cudgel CBS produced, represents faith in America.

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Sneak sale preview!

 Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Real-life Ask the Rabbi Questions is
going on sale next week.

I’m initiating the sale early to give Musings readers a head start on getting the book.
It’s a great conversation starter around the dining room table as well as a fun read.

Separate vacations for married couples?

April 19th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 21 comments

I am thinking about taking a 7 day bicycle/camping trip. However my wife cannot go for many reasons ( mostly because she dislikes biking). We have never been apart this length of time.

What does ancient Jewish wisdom have to say about being apart, by choice? 

I have read all of your books ( except the Thought Tools I am currently reading) and listened to all your CDs -some many times and watched your DVD’s. I must say this has help me very much in business and relationships. Thank you! I look forward to more.

Thank you, 

Jerry R.

Answer: 

Dear Jerry,

First of all, we appreciate hearing that our resources are helping you. It truly encourages us.

Your question is a great one and we compliment you and your wife for thinking this through. While husbands and wives can certainly have different interests, using the limited vacation time most of us have to follow those interests separately has the potential of becoming problematic.

Ancient Jewish wisdom specifically speaks about reserving the first year of marriage for building the marital relationship and we would suggest hesitating if you are newly married. It also insists that at any time in the marriage a husband cannot change his field of work to one that requires more time away from home without his wife’s agreement. So, separation is treated seriously.

When you think about it, one’s parents, children and siblings stay one’s parents, children or siblings even if they go for long periods without seeing each other. A marriage is different. The relationship is one that can end, and being apart too much or for too long raises questions as to whether there really is a marriage. We understand you are asking about a relatively short trip, but we want to emphasize that your question is very valid.

Other than that first year, we would ask whether this is a one time event – maybe a 25th reunion of your Army buddies – or unique in some other way. Has this been a long time dream of yours or has this opportunity fallen in your lap and sounds interesting? Is your marriage very strong or could either of you suspect an undercurrent of wanting to get away for a while? One very important question is whether this is a coed trip or all male. All these factors need to be discussed.

Perhaps there is a way that you can combine bike riding with a vacation your wife would enjoy. Seven days is a long time. Could you instead head for a week somewhere that interests her and do a two day bike trip within that time frame while she enjoys other activities? If you do decide to do the bike ride, can she meet up with you along the way at some points?

We can’t tell you what to decide. We know happily married people who, whether for work, hobbies or other pursuits, regularly spend time apart. However, those relationships do need strong counter balances to ensure that they are thriving. It is also important that both spouses are on the same page.

We have a feeling that you will get some words of wisdom from Ask the Rabbi readers as well.

We’d love to hear what you and your wife decide to do,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Where Did I Hear That?

April 18th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

“When we were young, we were taught again and again that we shouldn’t get pregnant. Now we can’t!”

That plaintive wail from a childless 43 year-old woman caught my attention. Holly Finn describes the mortification and expense of countless in-vitro-fertilization procedures she endured. A little cashmere baby sweater goes everywhere with her; she bought it years earlier for the baby she hoped she’d one day have. Now Holly weeps about having the sweater but not the child. Her most excruciating experiences are being in the company of other women chattering happily about their children, or with men, most of whom simply don’t get how she feels.

Holly’s sad situation echoes the Biblical account of Rachel. When Leah repeatedly gives birth, the childless Rachel cries out in agony to her husband:

…give me children otherwise I’m as good as dead.
(Genesis 30:1)

Jacob responds truthfully, but with little emotional sensitivity:

…am I in place of God…
(Genesis 30:2)

From this and other Biblical examples we learn that men find it almost impossible to relate to the pain of childless women.

Interestingly, the phrase, “Am I in place of God?” only appears on two occasions in all Tanach (Hebrew Scriptures). The first appears above when Jacob seems to shrug off responsibility for his wife, Rachel’s, grief.

The second instance comes after Jacob dies in Egypt. Ten of his sons fear retribution from their brother Joseph for having cruelly sold him into slavery so many years earlier. They concoct a story of their late father begging Joseph to forgive them. In response, Joseph explains that though they meant to harm him, God planned it to work out for the best. His opening words are:

…don’t be frightened, am I in place of God?
(Genesis 50:19)

A permanent principle of ancient Jewish wisdom is that we must scrutinize all occurrences of rare Biblical phrases to discover hidden message that link the separate instances.

Clearly Jacob’s hurtful response to Rachel when he basically said, “What do you want me to do about it, I’m not God,” must be linked to Joseph. The son of that very Rachel uses that very phrase, “I’m not God,” to the other sons of that very Jacob.

What is the link?

Nothing we ever do or even say vanishes. Its impact endures forever in one form or another. When you light a candle and let it burn down, you might think you’ve made the candle vanish. In reality you converted it into light, heat, and various gases released into the atmosphere. Joseph was attempting to reassure his brothers, yet his words must have reminded them that while he might forgive them, they still need to answer to God for their actions. Jacob’s lack of sensitivity impacted the world in a way that endured, resurfacing and causing pain in the next generation.

I once witnessed high spirited bantering about corporate downsizing at a business lunch; only I knew that one of us at the table had received his pink slip that morning. Did his heart break?

How often have I been insensitive to the inner pain of others? The Biblical repetition of words reminds us that as we work on improving our tennis game or losing another three pounds, we should also embrace the exciting challenge of increasing our sensitivity to the hidden pain felt by others.

                                                                                                 Reprinted from July 26, 2011 

Thank you to those of you who sent us Passover wishes. Immersed in the holiday as we were, we neglected to note that the final day of our Passover sale fell on Easter Sunday. We hope many of you were busy with faith and family rather than being online. 

However, we don’t want you to miss out on this rare opportunity to get the Library Pack or Library Pack PLUS at 15% off by using the promo code PASSOVER at checkout. Now that we are open again after Passover, we are extending the sale for an additional day, through Wednesday.

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Have a wonderful day

April 16th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Wishing all our Christian friends a wonderful Easter.

Recite, Repeat, Rejuvenate

April 14th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Very early in the Passover Seder we ask a question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” followed by four examples of unusual behavior. This section is often inaccurately called “The Four Questions.” From there, we annually follow the same program, reading, singing and/or chanting the same words, eating the same foods and doing the same actions as our ancestors. Yet, if that is all that you do, there is every chance that your Seder can become an uninspiring chore. It may foster warm family feeling, but do little for one’s relationship with God.

The test of a truly successful Seder, is one that indeed is exactly like every previous one in its details, but that is breathtakingly groundbreaking in terms of the discussion, questions, debate and insights. What a wonderful model for any family, group or country that wants to survive and thrive over the long term. If you break away from the core requirements, you lose your connection to the past,  becoming something new rather than a continuation of your past. If you cling so narrowly to the past that you can’t explore new avenues and see things with fresh eyes, you become a fossil.

May we all have the wisdom to know when to cling tenaciously to the past and when to fearlessly forge the future.

 

How could Jethro be so honored?

April 13th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 8 comments

Hello, as always I would like to start by saying thank you for sharing your knowledge. And thank you for the time you give in answering our questions.

 I have so many questions when reading the Bible and there are so many of them that I have often said to myself or anyone around me, “I will ask the Rabbi “. But here is just one:

In Exodus 18 we read that Moses’s father in law Jethro came and gave Moses a good advice and Moses followed it. My question is, since Jethro was not an Israelite, was this advice part of God’s will/plan? Having the 70 rulers helping Moses, was it God’s plan?

Halle

Answer: 

Dear Halle,

Not only was Jethro’s advice accepted, but the entire section of the Torah that includes the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai is known by his name (Exodus 18:1–20:23). He is honored and respected in Jewish tradition.

Moslem countries and secular-left activists constantly call for a boycott of Israeli products (such as the BDS movement) or disparage Jews worldwide. It is worth noting that while they virulently insult Jews and Israel,  they do not follow through by actually purging their countries and lives of medical, technological and other inventions that were created by Jews or developed in Israel. Somehow, they still use the polio vaccine, drip irrigation, Estee Lauder cosmetics and  Waze. They even play Rummikub and Mastermind. Speaking and advocating hatred is easier than living by their principles which reject Jews and Christians as unworthy of respect.

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From Stress to Salvation: A Passover Story

April 12th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

To the dismay of my parents and the bewilderment of my wife Susan’s parents, some years back we sailed our family from Los Angeles to Honolulu on our small sailboat. We spent nearly a year in preparation. Susan planned the meals for the entire voyage and wrote down where each item of food was stored, while I strengthened the vessel and polished my celestial navigation skills. We departed on the fourth of July and by mid-month we were about a thousand miles from the West Coast and the same distance from Hawaii.

That night, as usual, I measured our water supply and in an exhausted state from too many hours on watch mistakenly determined that we had only one more day’s water left. In a terrible panic, all I could think about was how would I keep my family alive till we reached Hawaii. In my mind that became the only problem.

(more…)

Congratulations!

April 7th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Thank you to Justice Gorsuch,  President Trump,  Senator McConnell and the Republican Congress for standing firmly by your principles and promises. Congratulations are due to you and to all Americans.

 

Harmful Hysteria

April 6th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 57 comments

I wasn’t planning to write about the Mike Pence non-story concerning his commitment to his wife because that is exactly how I saw it—as a non-story. To protect his marriage, he doesn’t dine alone with women other than his wife and, unless he is with his wife, Karen, he doesn’t attend parties where alcohol is served.  This very basic personal marital agreement was treated by feminist and liberal outlets with the same hysteria they would have accorded to the revelation that the Vice-president was actually Jack the Ripper.  Since hysteria on steroids has become the hourly response of many since November’s election, I decided to ignore the story.

I changed my mind and wrote the following because I remembered an encounter I had with a bright, conservative-leaning, religious young woman back in 2007. She explained why she was going to vote for Barack Obama and I was so taken aback that I was unable to respond. Later, I realized that her youth was leading her to believe campaign statements that sounded wonderful, without having the tools to judge them against history or reality.  Along with that recollection, I became aware that Karen and Mike Pence’s commitment had become a target of comedy shows. Laughter harnesses tremendous power that, if used negatively, is hard to combat and silence didn’t seem an option for me any longer.

Most of those mocking Mike Pence as someone who is liable to attack any woman across the dinner table if Karen isn’t there to serve as a brake, have an agenda.  That is the most charitable explanation for their idiotic statements. However, there actually could be people hearing them, especially young women, who are so inexperienced and naive in the way that the world really works that those statements sound plausible. They may not even be so young. In her book, Committed, author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) relates that she was well into her thirties before she realized that infidelity does not ‘just happen.’ Neither does it happen only to people of low character or to those swept away by uncontrollable forces. It was a revelation to her that one can actually set in place boundaries in a marriage that protect you from the seemingly harmless, tiny steps that lead on a path that can end in marriage betrayal.

Setting those boundaries in place is exactly what Mike and Karen Pence have done. While the particulars may differ, in concept they are in sync with ancient Jewish wisdom. Marriage, it says, is so valuable to both individuals and society that it must be protected just as you would protect a valuable, irreplaceable piece of art. Should you, let’s say, own such a masterpiece, you wouldn’t set up a system chiefly to deal with the aftermath of a theft. You would set up all sorts of protections in advance to make theft, or even damage to the piece, difficult in the first place. The fact that you don’t disable the system when a six-year-old girl comes to view the piece doesn’t mean that you suspect her of being a felon in disguise. The system stays in place regardless of who comes near.

I would ask anyone who even felt a shred of indignation or scorn at Vice-president Pence’s principles or who saw a funny lampooning of his marriage to read the following two accounts.

  1. Rabbi Aryeh Levin (1885 – 1969), was known as “the tzadik (righteous one) of Jerusalem,” for his tireless efforts to care for the poor, imprisoned and sick. Stories abound reflecting his caring, Godly nature. Yet, one of the most circulated stories of his life relates not to his public works, but instead, to his marriage. At a doctor’s appointment for pains his elderly wife was suffering, he explained their presence in the doctor’s office with the words, “Doctor, our foot is hurting us.”
  2. In 1990, Robert McQuilkin retired from the presidency of Columbia Bible College and Graduate School in order to stay at his wife’s side while she dealt with the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2005, my husband and I, along with over 6,000 other married couples, watched a video where he talked about his resignation, including these words:

The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health…till death do us part.” So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me–her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continuing distressing frustration. I do not have to care for her, I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.

If there was any woman in the crowd who didn’t choke up, I didn’t see her. I did see many women murmuring a silent prayer asking for a marriage as blessed as that one. Fewer men had tears rolling down their cheeks, but I saw quite a bit of nose blowing.

I absolutely believe that marriages such as those can and do still exist. What’s more, I believe that most women know that they crave such marriages.  At the same time, I think that today’s cultural milieu make these marriages less likely and harder to achieve. Late night comedy shows, partisan politics and foolishness about gender and sexuality masquerading as cutting-edge wisdom that is paraded not only in universities but also aimed at young children, imperil the chances of such enduring devotion and love. We can’t simply ignore or dismiss those things unless we are willing to fall under their spell as well as bequeathing them to our children. And so, I write.

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Passover starts next Monday night and in honor and observance of the holiday our office and store will be closed  two days next week (mostly Tuesday and Wednesday) and two days the week after (mostly Monday and Tuesday). To show our appreciation for your patience during this time, we are offering 15% off our library packs with the promo code PASSOVER. You can already take advantage of the offer now!

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