Where Should My Tithe Go?

December 11th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Is tithing still relevant today?  Is it solely giving to the church that we attend every week or we can give to other needs (needy relatives, needy pastors from poor countries…) If we apportion the 10% to our church + needy relative + needy pastors, are we sinning against God?

My husband gives to our parents instead of giving tithing because he feels that taking care of parents is a type of giving too. A relative has just lost her job and we thought of giving a part of the tithe to help tide her over.

I feel guilty if I don’t give my full 10% to God by giving only to my home church but my church is a mega church and it receives a lot of tithing and offerings.

Thanks for teaching us the real meaning of tithing based on your understanding of Hebrew and ancient Jewish wisdom.



Dear Julie,

The idea of being charitable is so common in both religious Jewish and Christian circles that we may not appreciate how amazing that is.  Many Americans chuckled at a series of PSAs – Public Service Announcements – that ran a few years ago, encouraing people to give 5% of their income to charity.  Millions of ordinary people routinely and without second thought, tithe – giving away a tenth of their earnings based on Biblical principles.  In fact, they don’t even see it as their money. The way we sometimes put it, is that we are glad to work for a Boss who gives us a 90% commission.

With that introduction, different religious groups encourage slightly different methods of giving. We cannot tell you what to do. Each person should affiliate with one spiritual approach and act accordingly. We can only describe what happens in Jewish circles.

In accordance with God’s commands, traditional Jews are not allowed to handle money on Saturdays, the Sabbath, or on holy days.  These are the very days that attract largest synagogue attendance.  Yet, there can be no offering or passing around of a basket for tithes.   Instead, most synagogues have a membership fee, though they encourage people to give beyond and above that. We pay some or all of that annual fee out of the tithe we owe but it would be most unusual for anyone’s entire tithe to go to their synagogue.

We would like to comment on your statement that your church doesn’t need your money because it is so big. If this is where you worship and the pastors there are serving you, then it would be spiritually unhealthy for you to be only a taker and not a giver. You are asking if your entire tithe needs to go there, which we cannot answer since we come from a different religious approach, but to give nothing would be inadvisable.

General charitable guidelines were recorded by Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) and they tend to be followed until this day. Among other things, these guidelines rank helping someone gain an independent livelihood as more praiseworthy than simply giving a hand-out. The guidelines also prioritize giving locally to one’s family and community before giving to strangers and distant communities. 

Sometimes, charities that are categorized under tax law are also valid for tithing, while other times they are not. Likewise, to use America as an example, while the IRS might not consider helping out a struggling neighbor to be deductible, the money would be considered as part of a tithe under a Jewish understanding.

In the Lord’s language, the word for tithe actually means one tenth.  Interestingly enough, the word also hints at wealth.  The implication is that by tithing, one not only helps others but also advances oneself towards greater wealth, not as a quid pro quo but in ways we describe in a chapter on the subject in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language.

Imagine what a world we would live in if everyone valued earning money and voluntarily and thoughtfully gave 10% or even a little more of what they made.

We hope this helps you and your husband give joyously,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Flames, Family and Finance

December 10th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

In which countries is it easiest to form a new business?  You’d think that with more than two-hundred years of entrepreneurial culture, the United States would rank fairly high.  And we did.  Until about 1962, starting a new business in the United States was quicker, cheaper, and easier than anywhere else.  Not surprisingly, the country enjoyed the highest rate of new business startups of anywhere in the world.

However, since then, America has been steadily slipping and sliding down the rankings until today the country ranks behind Poland, Lithuania, New Zealand, Singapore and about ten others.  Concurrently however, over the same fifty years, the number of U.S. government programs taxing money away from those who work for it and offering it to others has skyrocketed.   It is made available almost on request in the form of cash, free food, free cell phones, free housing certificates, and so on to almost everyone who applies. 

Not only has the number of give-away programs soared, but it has become ever easier to join the ranks of the receivers.  Why would a society of rational people make it harder for folks to start businesses and easier to become dependent upon one’s fellow citizens?

There’s another number that in the last 50 years has also climbed faster than a Blue Angel F-18 jet at a summer airshow.  That is the proportion of American children born to unmarried mothers.  We all know the basic rule that the more money you give for certain behavior, the more of that behavior you’re going to get.  Again the same question: why would rational people subsidize behavior that produces babies more likely to grow up in dire circumstances? 

The only possible answer is that it is not rational citizens making these tragic decisions but rather rational politicians who want votes and rational bureaucrats devoted to permanent tenure.  The only way for them to achieve these ends is to destroy families and limit financial independence.  Only a small minority of welfare recipients are people who live in intact families, using the word ‘family’ in its traditionally understood meaning. Harming both the finances and families of citizens is precisely what you do if you want to increase the size and power of government. 

As Chanukah recedes into the background for another year, let’s recall that nearly 2,200 years ago, in addition to outlawing certain religious practices, the Greeks attempted to destroy Israel’s families and their finances. (Maimonides, Laws of Chanukah)  To be independent means having family and finances so the Maccabees went to war against the Greeks to defend both. 

Before banishing Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden late in the third chapter of Genesis, God made sure that they had each other along with the ability to make bread. (Genesis 3:19)  In Torah nomenclature, the word bread can also mean money.  Still today, many people refer to money as ‘bread’ or ‘dough’.  Directly after leaving Eden, Adam and Eve started their family.  If you’re going to be independent and free, you need your family and your finances.

Uniquely among Jewish holy days, on Chanukah we continue making money by going to work while at the same time gathering each evening with family to light the menorah and share traditional songs and stories.  It is the festival that more than any other blends together money and family. The candles we lit for the past eight nights were timed so that they would shine, in the words of ancient Jewish wisdom, “while people were coming home from work,” while the obligation to light falls not on each individual but on, “a man and his family.”  It is the only holyday on which there is a tradition to give children gifts of money. 

All Greeks, whether those from thousands of years ago or their secular-fundamentalist counterparts of today, know that if they can break the ties that bound parents and children together as well as the ties between productivity and reward, they can destroy a culture.  Our response must be to double down, forming families and celebrating family togetherness while also working hard for economic gain.

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Censored Cilla

December 10th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 2 comments

Hoop skirts and petticoats went out of style before my time as did butter churns. Nonetheless, I am two generations closer to a time when those items were in general use than my grandchildren are. And while I love sharing classic books with the young ones in my life, I also look out for writing situated in current times.

With this in mind, I was delighted to meet the fictional protagonist Cilla Lee-Jenkins, a spunky and funny eight-year-old aspiring author. Like the author, Susan Tan, Cilla’s family is composed of both “white-bread” American and Chinese immigrant grandparents.  The first two books in what may well become a long-running series were almost entirely a pleasure to read. (There is a third book I have not yet read.) Aye, there’s the rub.

In the second book, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic, Cilla’s aunt gets married, providing a pleasurable peek into both Chinese and Korean wedding customs. The sour note comes as Cilla’s aunt’s friend, Jane, is introduced along with her own girlfriend and soon-to-be spouse, Lucy. Sigh.

No big deal is made of the relationship, which suggests to me an assumption that children growing up today should not question two men or two women getting married any more than they would question people from different states getting married. The norm has changed and the expectation is that only someone still in hoop skirts would even think that an explanation is necessary.

Reading books where single-sex relationships are treated as matter-of-fact, of course, promotes exactly that result. Yet, consigning children to only read books written decades or centuries earlier doesn’t seem to be a solution. I turned to my daughter with this dilemma to find out how she would handle it with her ten and eight-year-olds. She had an easy fix for this particular book, consisting of a black marker and a pen to write in an alternate fiancé’s name.  It does mean that my daughter would read the book on loan from the library and then, if she decides it is worth her daughters’ attention,  would need to purchase a copy that she could edit.

When I asked what she would say if her daughters questioned the edit, her response made me smile. Her children are used to edited versions of all sorts of material, including finding paper clothing pasted in her teenage son’s sports magazines. The general concept, that mommy and daddy believe that what you read and see shapes your character, has been present since birth and raises no questions.

I realize that “progressive” parents, teachers and librarians would most likely be aghast at this close censorship of reading materials. Yet, they too monitor media for children extremely carefully and write and read with goals in mind. That is precisely why homosexual relationships are  put into so many children’s books and shows these days. We aren’t differing in the concept of supervision as much as in what we are choosing to present.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

Pearl Harbor, Chanukah and the Greatest Generation

December 6th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. Because its date depends on the lunar rather than the solar calendar, in some years, Chanukah overlaps with Thanksgiving while on others it coincides with Christmas. This year, the fifth day of Chanukah lines up with the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In a special prayer we say each day of Chanukah we thank God for handing victory to a small, dedicated group who went to battle against the mightiest empire of the day. As part of that battle, they also faced internal opposition from the Hellenists, who were Jews who succumbed to the appeal of Greek culture.  These Hellenistic Jews wanted their faithful brethren also to abandon God.

An unusual rule surrounds the lights of Chanukah that are kindled each of the eight nights of the holiday. Before you can light the flames, there must already be light in the room. The Chanukah lights cannot be used for utilitarian purposes. The menorah beckons us to have vision, not to limit ourselves to what is within our sight. Before we can tap into the miracle of oil that burned beyond its physical ability, we have to prepare the room.

Winston Churchill recognized the tragedy at Pearl Harbor as the turning point in efforts to beat back a Nazi regime that was spreading darkness and evil across Europe. Like so many of their generation, President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, who came to honor him this week, answered the call to defend their country and its ideals. Comrades who did not survive the war were not granted the same opportunity for sterling careers, as well as children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Veterans likely felt the need to be worthy of the blessing of life so many of their peers were not granted.

Whether we think of the Maccabees 2,179 years ago or Americans joining the Allied forces seventy-seven years ago, war takes a devastating toll. Later generations reap the rewards of victory, frequently not only taking those rewards for granted but often despising them. This year Chanukah and December 7th overlap and our focus has been drawn by the funeral of President Bush to the ‘Greatest Generation’.  Let us resolve to provide whatever light we can in what often seems like a dark world, as we keep in mind the greater vision and ask God to redeem us once again.

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Is Airbnb anti-Semitic?

December 5th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

I’m currently an AirBnB host to earn extra money (I don’t need the extra income).  Recently AirBnB came out with a new policy not allowing Jews in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria to rent out their homes. 

To me this seems like anti-Semitism and would like your advice on what to do?  I’m debating about canceling all future reservations, so AirBnB doesn’t receive any income from my property.


Justin L.

Dear Justin,

We feel so privileged to have people like you reading our columns. You hold yourself to a high ethical standard and are willing to back up your convictions with action.

We’re not crazy about the term anti-Semitism because we don’t know how to define it, any more than we can define racism, misogynism or most other “isms.” Try defining these terms for yourself.  You’ll see, it is not easy.  It is far too easy to hurl labels and take refuge by claiming that you recognize it when you see it, as Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography in the 1964 Supreme Court Case. We are not fans of terms that change depending on the speaker, the day and whims and fancy.

However, what we can define is when one group is treated completely differently from all or most other groups. This is the standard that Airbnb (as well as the BDS movement, the United Nations and many others) meets. Israel is penalized for behavior that is excused, ignored or even lauded in others.

Israeli Jews living in Judea and Samaria may no longer rent out their homes and apartments on Airbnb. Yet Muslims, Christians, and citizens of the Palestinian Authority are free to continue doing so. The boycott targets only Jews. 

What is more, Airbnb has listings in many contested regions such as Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and Turkish-occupied Cyprus to name just two.

Many years ago, some of our children were in the audience at a business event whose speakers included Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream company. This was at a time when U.S. troops were deployed in Iraq. Our children came home and said that the ice-cream maker’s words were not only anti-American but actually wished our soldiers ill. That was the end of our purchasing Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream.

Despite the popularity of the dessert in our home, we don’t imagine that the company noticed our lack of support. It was less a statement to them than a statement to ourselves, though if enough people would do the same thing, the company’s bottom line would be affected.  We simply could no longer enjoy that ice-cream. We are impacted by the things we say and do, even if nobody else is.  For this reason, acting on principle has value even if nobody else will ever know.  The point is, we know.  And the action strengthens us.

On the other hand, we have problems with the political positions of so many companies and we have not treated them all similarly. We would just about have to homestead on a self-sufficient farm to do so. We do try to react when a company’s behavior is egregious rather than simply wrong and harmful. We may very well be inconsistent. But inconsistency is not hypocrisy.

Justin, we think that this is a call you have to make for yourself. If you are asking whether we think that Airbnb is singling out Jews and Israel in a way that they do not treat others, the answer is yes. If you will sleep better at night knowing that you are not partnering with them, then we salute you.

Live with conviction,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Giving Tuesday Winner

December 4th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

We’re delighted to announce that Carola from Tacoma, WA was the winner of an Income Abundance Set in our Giving Tuesday raffle. We thank everyone who donated on that day (of course, we appreciate donations all year round!) for helping us to continue putting out Thought Tools, Ask the Rabbi, Susan’s Musings, podcasts, and our TV show as well as sponsoring appearances and speeches. You can find out more about the American Alliance of Jews and  Christians here.

Fat is Fine

December 4th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

John Steinbeck’s 1937 short novel, Of Mice and Men, always brings a lump to my throat.  It tells the story of two migrant farm workers, George and Lennie, during the Depression.  Attempting to summarize it here would be futile.  It would also be a crime against great writing.  If you’ve never read it, I recommend you do so soon. For now, I quote a brief exchange that occurs in chapter three:

“Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers.  “George?”


“George, how long’s it gonna’ be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the land, an’ rabbits?”

You’ll have to read it to find out about the rabbits, but George and Lennie sustain themselves with their dream of their own little farm where they’ll live in comparative luxury.  Living on the fat of the land is an expression used widely in English literature and is correctly attributed to Pharaoh’s speech to Joseph in the Bible.

…and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you will eat of the fat of the land. (Genesis 45:18)

But this is not the first time in the Bible that the phrase ‘fat of the land’ is used.  Many chapters earlier, Isaac evokes it when he blesses his two sons, Jacob and Esau.

And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fat of the land
and an abundance of grain and wine.
(Genesis 27:28)

and here:

…behold your dwelling shall be by the fat of the land and
of the dew of the heaven from above. 
(Genesis 27:39) 

What is odd, however, is that in Genesis 45, the Hebrew word for fat is CHeLeV whereas the two usages in Genesis 27 employ the Hebrew word SHeMeN. 

חלב               שמן

fat- SHeMeN                  fat- CHeLeV

Most English translations translate all three instances as ‘fat of the land’ and they are not wrong.  But there are no random uses of words in Scripture so we ought to try understand the difference between CHeLeV and SHeMeN, these two separate words for fat or oil. 

CHeLeV, while meaning fat is obviously linked to the word CHaLaV meaning milk. SHeMeN means either fat or more commonly, oil as in this verse.

… bring you pure beaten olive oil for the light, for the lamp to burn always.
(Exodus 27:20)

The most important difference between oil and milk is that milk is ready and available for instant use.  The baby is presented with this marvelous substance called milk.  No preparation needed.  It is ready for use.  Drink it and be nourished.

Oil, however, is only useful once I ignite it.  Until I light the oil in a lamp or heater, it will not cast its warm glow.  Unlike milk, I can only benefit from oil once I do my part to make its energy useful to me.

Pharaoh offered to take care of Joseph’s brothers fully, requiring nothing from them at all.  There is no surer way to lure people into slavery of the mind as well as body than by eliminating their incentive to work and providing for their every need.  For this reason, he used the word CHeLeV.   By contrast, Isaac promised his sons, Jacob and Esau, economic abundance, but of the SHeMeN kind, like oil.  Theirs would be the abundance that would flow from their own industry and effort.  This is a far higher category of blessing. 

Oil (SHeMeN) as a metaphor of financial survival appears in two other famous events.  Both the prophets Elijah (1 Kings 17:12-14) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:2-4) encounter a poverty-stricken widow.  Each has little but a small jar of oil (SHeMeN) and each is required to perform an action, thus participating in her own financial redemption.

The small jar of oil as the seed of redemption also finds expression in the eight-day festival of Chanukah which ends on Monday.  The tiny jar of uncontaminated oil found in the Temple after the rampaging Greeks departed miraculously burned for eight days. but only when the Maccabees lit the insufficient remnant rather than throwing their hands up in despair.

In ancient Jewish wisdom, the number eight always speaks to a God/People joint venture partnership. Not surprisingly, the Hebrew word for the number eight SHeMoNeH is almost identical to the word, SHeMeN, oil.  This means that when it comes to financial deliverance, God will help but only if we do our part also.  That is what living on the fat (oil) of the land, really means.

Part of the almost unbearable poignance of the book, “Of Mice and Men” is that Lennie and George don’t want to be taken care of.  All they dream of is a little land that they can work to take care of themselves.

“Lennie said quietly, “It ain’t no lie. We’re gonna do it.
Gonna get a little place an’ live on the fatta the lan’.”

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Differentiated What?

December 3rd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

When a friend of mine chose to homeschool her daughter, it greatly agitated her sister. This sibling didn’t raise the usual bugaboo about socialization. Rather, she was horrified at the idea that “just anyone” felt capable of teaching a little girl to read. 

Her consternation made more sense when my friend shared that this sister was a reading specialist, who had invested years and money in training. No wonder my friend’s confidence in her own abilities, despite a glaring lack of credentials, upset her sister.

I am full of admiration for teachers who can take a group of children with disparate interests, maturation and skill levels and coax each one to do his or her best. I deeply respect the skills and dedication of those who teach children who, for one reason or another, don’t respond to regular methods of instruction. However, I don’t appreciate spreading an aura of complexity around areas in which most caring and intelligent parents and teachers are already perfectly capable.

For this reason, I raised a skeptical eye when I saw an announcement for teacher training in differentiated instruction. One way to make parents feel inadequate and to prop up the idea that children need trained teachers is by introducing new and esoteric language. How can one possibly teach one’s own when you don’t even know what educational terminology means ?

I looked around a little and discovered that differentiated instruction is a convoluted way of describing the way that any good parent or teacher has always taught. Recognizing that children may respond to different techniques, constantly assessing a student’s strength and weaknesses, guiding children to understand broad concepts and knowing to vary individual instruction with group instruction are some of the not-very-groundbreaking notions of differentiated instruction. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun. Only a highly educated specialist who left common sense and mentorship at the door and mindlessly swallowed the latest educational textbook theories would have ignored any of these ideas previously.

If your child is thriving in school and has an excellent teacher, I hope you express your appreciation. If your child is doing little more than logging hours in school, I encourage you not to be intimidated by fancy words. We can rephrase Confucius’ words about life to refer to much of today’s educational theory: “Education is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”   

My Personal Rebellion

December 3rd, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 5 comments

I have a somewhat competitive nature. At those words, I hear my children guffawing and saying, “somewhat!!!.” Despite their convictions, I sometimes did manipulate the cards  to let them win Candyland. However, I do prefer winning to losing even when I’m only competing against myself.

Most mornings, during breakfast, I do the Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle. I derive satisfaction from seeing all the boxes filled in. This morning, I left the spaces for the first clue down blank. 

The clue reads “human’s cousin” – three letters. I know they want me to write a-p-e, and that would complete three other clues in the across section. I won’t do it. It may not be the equivalent of storming the Bastille or standing against the tanks in Tiananmen Square, and it may even be silly, but it is a fist in the air to myself.


This Agenda May Be Harmful to Your Health

November 28th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 52 comments

I originally started writing this with the intention of posting it on our website as a Practical Parenting column, but then I realized that the problem I’m describing actually affects all of us. While the examples I mention have to do with children’s literature, every detail of the culture surrounding us impacts us, often in ways we don’t recognize.

Some years ago, a member of the California synagogue that my husband and I led worried that she was exhibiting tendencies of paranoia. She revealed that she had multiple locks on her apartment door, wouldn’t open the door to accept packages, and was constantly looking over her shoulder on the street. After a bit of discussion, it became clear to us that she lived in a high-crime neighborhood and rather than being paranoid, she was simply being realistic.

Whenever I see the news, women’s magazines, children’s books or many other media, I find myself hyper-sensitive to underlying agendas. In Stalinist Russia, young students were told to place their heads on their desks after praying to God for candy. Not surprisingly, when they lifted their heads their requests had gone unanswered. Then they were told to ask Stalin for candy and once again lay down their heads. Not surprisingly, candy seemed to rain down as their teachers distributed it while the children’s eyes were squeezed shut.

That approach may have lacked subtlety, but the message was clear. In some ways, more delicately delivered messages can be more dangerous. We don’t even realize that our minds are being directed and our beliefs formed.

One of our granddaughters attends a Jewish elementary school. She and her classmates were assigned a book report on a famous personality. The teacher distributed biographies and our eight-year-old brought home a book detailing the accomplishments of Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space.

Thankfully, our wonderful daughter, the young student’s mother, looked through the book, Who Was Sally Ride? by Megan Stine before her child did. She wasn’t surprised by the feminist emphasis as that was to be expected and relevant to the story. However, the final paragraphs made her send the book back to the teacher with a note explaining that this was not suitable for her daughter or, indeed, for anyone in the school.

Discussing Dr. Ride’s death from cancer in 2012, the author mentions the astronaut’s desire for privacy concerning her illness as well as about her relationship with her long-time friend, Tam O’Shaughnessy.  The penultimate paragraph cites the ubiquitous and anonymous “some” who were disappointed that Sally Ride was not open about being homosexual.  While the book could have sparked many conversations about science, space, physics and women’s liberation, our daughter did not want to be manipulated into a discussion of homosexuality.

To her distress, the teacher acknowledged (in what seems to me to be an admission of having fallen down on the job) not having read the book and replaced it with a biography of Marie Curie from the same series and by the same author. Alas, this was not necessarily an improvement. On page 84, the reader is introduced to Paul Langevin, the married student of Marie’s dead husband, Pierre. According to Ms. Stine, the scientist probably didn’t intend to fall in love with a married man, but she “followed her heart,” leading to great happiness (followed by difficulties).

Once again, our daughter would have been happy discussing many topics including radium, the Nobel prize, science, and women in science with her eight-year-old. She didn’t want to be led into a discussion of adultery and certainly didn’t appreciate the unstated message conveyed to young people that following one’s heart is just something we do. 

In 2002, The New York Times shattered a boundary when they began listing same-sex couples in the wedding section, changing the name of the section to Weddings/Celebrations as same-sex marriage was not yet legal. Today, to most people under a certain age, any hesitation to celebrate these unions seems ridiculous. There is no longer even an agreement that adultery is a reprehensible activity.

My personal moral system on some issues is out of step with today’s dominant culture as well as with a number of things our country has legalized.  I think this is true for many of you as well.  As a mother, I always monitored my children’s reading. However, I used to be on the lookout for things such as calling friends insulting names or rudeness to parents being presented as normative. The ground has shifted enormously today. Those concerns still matter, but only a few decades ago I was able to assume that biographies were relatively innocent. Parents and teachers today need to be even more vigilantly on guard. In fact, all of us would do well to ask ourselves after everything we read, listen to or watch, “Was there anything in here that tried to nudge me away from what I know is right towards accepting what I know is wrong?”

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