PORTFOLIO – COBBLES

A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table

Samsa was a travelling salesman.

TODAYS PAPER

In a world where everything is changing, find comfort in wisdom that is timeless.

Today’s Paper is a daily collection of current events with commentary from Rabbi Daniel Lapin.

Why I Leave the Cheese off that Burger

Two of the most common misperceptions about Judaism are that kosher food means food that has been blessed by a rabbi and that Judaism does not believe in an afterlife.

One of the reasons so many Jews mistakenly assume that their faith ignores existence after death is because the Hebrew Bible, known as the TaNaCH, contains so few references to what happens after death.

Indeed, throughout the Torah God promises those who live by the Covenant a good life in this world rather than rewards in the world to come. In spite of its importance, there is a reason for this paucity of information on the afterlife.

The reason is simply that the great mystery of death can easily overwhelm our lives, utterly robbing us of passion and spontaneity. Death, the shocking gateway to the unknown can easily infect our very essence, coloring our souls with a compelling but subconscious negativity. In some faiths, allowing death to become an obsession makes people contemptuous of life and diminishes the value of their own lives as well as the lives of others.

Thus Jews are urged to avoid all unnecessary contact with death. Séances or other gatherings intended to ‘raise the dead’ are prohibited. In no way does Scripture suggest that communicating with the dead is impossible, just that it’s a really bad idea.

Obviously people do die and we mourn. However, the mourning is not for the departed. Safe in the arms of our Father in Heaven, they are fine. It is we who are impacted by the death and it is for our loss that we mourn. One purpose of mourning is to go through a formal process that helps banish the aura of death, allowing us to return to our normal exuberant love of life.

Being subconsciously but overwhelmingly aware of death inhibits us from rapturously embracing life. It interferes with staying happy and diminishes our ability to plan our lives and live our plans. Though we know it is there, focusing on the afterlife is just counterproductive.

The seductiveness of death is clear to anyone who has slowly driven past an accident scene, peering at someone lying on the ground. It is equally clear to anyone who has sat in a darkened room watching a movie displaying people getting killed. Death exerts a fatal fascination while, at the same time, it subtly disrupts life in ways we don’t always recognize.

In an effort to separate our day-to-day lives from the oppressive and paralyzing impact of death, the Torah commands Jews to separate ‘death food’ and ‘life food.” Meat is viewed as a perfectly legitimate food for humans but we have to realize that an animal yielded its life to provide that hamburger. On the other hand, milk is the food of life. No animal died in order to provide it and furthermore, milk is the first nourishment all baby mammals encounter.

Both meat and dairy products are recommended foods in Judaism and indeed both have important ritual roles. However, as part of the laws of kosher food, meat and dairy are kept quite separate in Jewish cooking.

Ancient Jewish wisdom shows how the three-time duplication of the following verse lifts it from its literal meaning.

Do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21)

Scripture doesn’t waste our time with arcane commandments. Who would have thought of cooking a goat in its mother’s milk? Instead this passage reveals the cosmic truth that there is a deep gulf between meat and milk, which is to say, between life and death.

As humans we experience both but we need to keep them separate. Allowing the spirit of death to intrude can rob our lives of their full potential. While Jews should avoid eating meat and dairy foods together, all who wish to enhance their lives can choose to block obtrusive images of death in entertainment or the news and recognize them as a form of spiritual pollution.

On Sale:

Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt
Are life’s burdens sapping your freedom and vitality? In this practical and inspiring presentation, Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt, Rabbi Lapin decodes three lessons from the Exodus story that will inspire and guide you to escape your troubles and build a better life. Available on CD or Instant Download

Live Broadcasts

We welcome you to join us Live for a time for a special time of impartation and questions and answers with Rabbi Daniel and Susan, Tuesday, March 9th 5:00 PM PST/ 8:00 PM EST. The starting topic will deal with Passover and how this observance helps build family unity and purpose. To find out more and how to be a part of these monthly events visit us at www.wehappywarriors.com.

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The Holistic Juggler

As a student (and co-author) of The Holistic You, I try to balance the various important sections of my life, my personal 5Fs: faith, family, finances, friendships and fitness. Of course, that doesn’t mean dividing my day, week, month, or year into five equal sections. It means keeping a mental diary and making sure that each area is receiving enough attention.

Sometimes, of course, one part of our life needs almost our full focus and other parts need to take second—or fifth—place. We may be overflowing with prayers of gratitude after the birth of a baby, but those prayers will be uttered by an exhausted mom between feedings and diaper changes. Starting a new job may require missing a close friend’s celebration, while we may need to turn down a career opportunity in order to nurture our marriage. We can face conflict even within each of the five categories. How many of us are tugged between the needs of our children and our parents, or among the demands of individual children and the whole family’s well-being? Our lives become juggling acts and some of the spinning plates on sticks can start wobbling alarmingly and unexpectedly.

I am at such a point now. One of our daughters is facing a health crisis. My role as her mother and my identity as grandmother to her children is my focus. In clearing my days to be available for these duties. I will be taking a hiatus from this column for the next few weeks. I don’t do this lightly. I have written my Musings for over ten years and rarely missed a week. I love sharing my thoughts with you and so many of you reply with your own ideas in the comment section or when we (used to) meet in public.

If time and energy allow, I may post sporadically or our wonderful team may rerun some previous years’ Musings.  I didn’t want to ‘disappear’ without letting you know what’s going on. We have seen “hugs” from God already and we are confident that He is in control and guiding our family through this challenge.

Thank you for your prayers and warm wishes.

On Sale:

Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt
Available on CD or Instant Download
Whether for you or for someone needing a fresh perspective, this resource is indispensable. Rabbi Lapin delves into three lessons from the Exodus story that will inspire and guide you to escape your troubles and build a better life. 


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Life Isn’t Fair

Why are we all made so uneven? Some are born into affluence and some into poverty. Some are born into health some into misery. Some are born in America, with all its advantages, some into primitive tribes.

Well you get the idea. Some people believe this unevenness can be blamed on some evil thing the infant does. This doesn’t seem right to me. Some believe this can be blamed on what some ancestor did. This doesn’t seem right either. How can all this be the result of a benevolent and omnipotent Creator?

William D.

Dear William,

Your questions plagues most thinking people at one point or another as they mature and recognize that, “Life isn’t fair.” It is not a new question, yet each era brings its own challenges, and one of the trials of our particular time is the difficulty we have in acknowledging that we cannot understand God’s ways. Humility comes hard to us.

It is difficult for our human minds to reconcile, “Life isn’t fair,” with the idea of a benevolent and omnipotent Creator. That is one of the challenges of faith. From our limited perspective, life certainly isn’t fair, but there actually isn’t a word for ‘fair’ in Hebrew, which implies that the concept doesn’t exist. The word ‘just’ however, can be frequently found – TSeDeK. God is a God of justice and one of our tasks is to work on bringing justice to His world.

According to ancient Jewish wisdom, babies are born with pure souls and we can only sin once we are capable of making choices. A baby cannot, by definition, sin. Nonetheless, the reality is that some babies are born ill or into awful families or situations. It needs to be enough for us that God understands the reasons for this even when we do not.

One analogy related in Jewish tradition is the way that the underside of a needlepoint tapestry looks. It is a messy mixture of colored threads with no discernible pattern. Yet, when you turn the needlepoint over, a beautiful picture emerges. Our perspective comes from the vantage of the underside. God sees the magnificent final picture.

We are not enormous fans of John Rawls, a famous American political philosopher, but he did come up with an interesting idea: Suppose a genie came to you twenty four hours before you were born and offered you the opportunity to design the political, cultural, and economic system into which you would be born. The only snag is that you have no idea whether you’ll be born to a rich family or a poor one, or whether you’ll be born male or female, black or white, super smart or below average. Now you would want to choose some system that would give the best shot to the most people for the longest time.

What is helpful about this little thought experiment is the context of your question—how lucky to be born in America rather than to a primitive tribe in New Guinea. However, God’s point is that nobody, yes, nobody needed to be born to primitive tribes or into repressive and horrible regimes. He gave us a blueprint for the best societal living called the Bible. Those countries that came closest to following it developed medicine, science, extended life, travel and exploration, and affluence. As some of those cultures traveled the world promoting a Biblical vision, the standard of living in many countries rose. However, so called ‘colonization’ became politically demonized, and so many countries were plunged back into barbarism. Many other countries have yet to see the light and make it out.

Ample evidence already exists to make the case that what separates successful countries from dismal failures is not geography, race, or weather. It is nothing but culture—another word for the transcendent idea people gain for their existence from whomever they worship.

God is saying, “Look, I have given you proof and proof again that the Bible guides everyone to a better life. It is horrible that anyone has to be born into a cruel tribal life but it doesn’t have to be that way. I just need you all, Jews and Christians, to show the way to the light.”

Warmly,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

(This is a reprint of one of our most popular questions found in the Dear Rabbi and Susan book)

On Sale:

Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt
Available on CD or Instant Download
Whether for you or for someone needing a fresh perspective, this resource is indispensable. Rabbi Lapin delves into three lessons from the Exodus story that will inspire and guide you to escape your troubles and build a better life. 

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Defeating Despair

While serving the synagogue it was my privilege to establish in Southern California, my wife and I frequently sailed our forty-four foot cutter to Catalina Island.  On that 26 mile jaunt, we often saw dolphins, whales, and other beguiling sea life.

When fog set in, I’d think of Florence Chadwick, who in 1952 set out to swim from Catalina to the mainland.  When fog obscured her goal, she lost her drive and abandoned her attempt. Despair defeated Florence.

After the fog lifted she was horrified to see that she had quit only half a mile from the beach.  Two months later, with the coastline visible, she tried again and succeeded.

Let’s understand this principle from Moses, who in one Scriptural account responds to Israel’s provocation with steadfast leadership while elsewhere in the Bible he responds to similar provocation with exasperation, hopelessness, and even despair.

In Exodus 16:2-3, the children of Israel complain against Moses and Aaron, who had just liberated them from hundreds of years of horrific slavery.  The Israelites pretend ridiculously to recall desirable circumstances in Egypt where they claim to have lacked nothing.  Frustratingly, they express remorse at having been taken from that Egyptian paradise.

Without hesitation Moses sternly chastises them for grousing against God and assures them that they will soon see meat and bread. (Exodus 16:12) Through the remainder of chapter 16 Moses leads calmly and confidently.

A year later the Israelites again demanded meat. (Numbers 11:4) Hearing them grouching and kvetching, Moses was deeply distressed. (Numbers 11:10) Instead of admonishing them as he did in Exodus, he cries out to God:

Why have you afflicted your servant? Why haven’t I found favor in your eyes that you lay the burden of this entire people upon me?
(Numbers 11:11)

Moses renounces responsibility for the people and in hopeless anguish contemplates the impossibility of finding meat for them. (Numbers 11:12-13).  Sliding swiftly into utter despair, he confesses himself incapable of carrying the people any further and begs God to end his life. (Numbers 11:14-15).

Moses seems so utterly demoralized that even when God promises to bring meat for the people, Moses reacts incredulously asking God if enough animals exist for them.  (Numbers 11:22)

One clear distinction between the two instances is that in Exodus, the Hebrews had just left Egypt.  While certainly an oppressive regime, at least Egypt was a known evil.  Their future in the desert however, was terrifyingly unknown.  Moses ‘cut-them-some-slack’ because he felt their fear partially excused their impudence.

The story in the 11th chapter of Numbers is quite different.  A year has elapsed during which God has unfailingly provided for their every need and Israel’s ingratitude is incomprehensible to Moses.  Instead of confronting them as a steadfast leader, he avoids them and laments his circumstances to God.  The goal of a strong, faithful nation that would trust in God was obscured by fog.  Despair defeats Moses.

Had I now been teaching a Sunday school class, this is where I’d leave it.  But I think far too highly of my Thought Tool readers and thus must offer you another golden nugget of ancient Jewish wisdom.

God’s solution was for Moses to select seventy elders to stand with him.  They didn’t have to do anything other than just stand with him.  Their firm vision and complete confidence was contagious.  Moses caught some of that confidence and defeated his despair.

By associating with those who recognize that God’s plan is good, we also come to see that our despair is born of our mistaken assumption that there is no goal. With the help of wise friends, we realize that the goal is still there, even if hidden by fog.

Are life’s burdens sapping your freedom and vitality? Are money worries, illness, loneliness, addiction and other circumstances, both in and out of your control, making getting through each day an overwhelming challenge? This week, our audio program Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt is on sale. Whether for you or for someone needing a fresh perspective, this resource is indispensable. Rabbi Lapin delves into three lessons from the Exodus story that will inspire and guide you to escape your troubles and build a better life. 

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On Sale:

Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt

Available on CD or Instant Download

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