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Were You Pranked?

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin,

Were you ever pranked by your children?

Sincerely,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Dear Happy Warriors,

Yesterday morning, we arose from seven days of sitting shiva for our beloved daughter, Rena. Being surrounded for the week by five of our children as well as Rena’s husband and children was a huge consolation. (One of our daughters lives in Israel and is expecting a baby shortly. She was not able to come to the States and be with us, but we were in constant contact and she, too, was surrounded by relatives and friends.)

Another of our daughters hastily compiled a photo book from the sibling camp that all seven of our children celebrated just over a year ago, while Rena was still strong. Unknown to us, while together at a B and B for three days, they pranked us by composing an Ask the Rabbi question that they were sure we would immediately identify as coming from them. We did not.

The laughter and love of that shared experience is immeasurable. We are reprinting their mischievous letter and our serious answer.

Dear Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin,

As an avid reader and listener of your books, podcasts, TCT shows, and audio products, I feel that I have gained much from my exposure to ancient Jewish wisdom and am blessed to have come across you. I am currently facing a dilemma involving my family.

My siblings (all grown with families) have invited me to spend several days together with them reliving our childhood and enjoying one another’s company. As you can imagine, I would love to be there and to spend time with siblings I rarely get to see and can’t imagine what joy this would bring our parents to see us together. But I’m hesitant to leave my husband and our five children.

My spouse and I do everything together, avoid being apart whenever possible, and have prioritized our marriage and family above all. In addition, our children are home with us and not in GICs, and they would miss out on several days of education.

While my husband is supportive of the idea, I’m concerned that this may be harder on him than he expects. I feel that this decision pits two important values against each other and am unsure which should take priority in this situation.

Eager and grateful for your advice, God bless,

Arianna

Dear Arianna,

If this was a court case and we were judges, we would have to recuse ourselves. We just came back from one night’s dinner at our grown-up children’s sibling camp, and we are flying high. Our seven children, without their own spouses or children (an exception was made for a two-week-old newborn) got together from Sunday to Wednesday. Pulling this together for all seven siblings involved extensive travel, both domestic and international. It meant, for some, missing out on their children’s end-of-year school events, not accompanying children on the first day of day camp or to the buses for sleep-away camp, missing work, and leaving spouses as solo parents while juggling their own jobs. It was so difficult to make it work that the first attempt to hold ‘sibling camp’ failed this winter leading to a last-minute cancellation. Fortunately, this one worked.

This getaway at a rental house on the water was an exception. While we have been fortunate to get together for most of our children’s weddings and for one or two other family celebrations, our family does not live close enough to each other to easily pull everyone together. When it happens because of a special occasion, spouses and children are there as well, making for a different experience. At this sibling camp, everyone could sit around the table for hours, hike and kayak together, reminisce, and laugh. They could concentrate on each other. We treasured our invite for one night’s dinner, but the focus was on siblings. This never happened before, and it might not ever be repeated — but cementing that family identity was incredibly meaningful. Yes, everyone’s main priority is to their own spouse and children. Yet, having these siblings in their lives and standing with them is a vital part of who they are.

So, we are not objective, Arianna, not in the slightest. Nonetheless, we will try. Let’s look at your stated concerns.

  1. “[the children] would miss out on several days of education.” As past homeschoolers ourselves, we would like to rephrase this. Your children will miss out on a few days of routine education. Yet, being able to go beyond the routine is one of the reasons we, and perhaps you, homeschool. Teaching about the value of siblings to your five children? That is a worthwhile lesson. We are sure that you can leave many activities and ideas for your children. They will have time to do things that might get lost in your usual schedule. We doubt that they will be sitting on the couch watching TV while you are gone.

2) “While my husband is supportive of the idea, I’m concerned that this may be harder on him than he expects.” Arianna, when I (Susan) accompanied a friend when she was giving birth, my husband’s lunch offering to our children was potato chips and soda. Not my standard fare. They survived. If he had been in charge for a longer period, he would have worked out better choices.

It is wonderful that you and your husband do so much together. It is also valuable for your children to have time with each of you separately. It also would be valuable for you to give your husband this vote of confidence as well as allow him (and the children) to give you this gift of time.

You are correct that your own family and your birth family are two competing pulls on you. If this was a monthly, or even an annual event, our answer would be different. It sounds to us, though, that just as in our own family, the stars are lining up for a unique and special opportunity. We don’t think you will regret grabbing it.

Send pics!

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Ask the Rabbi & Susan post.
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A Mother Gives Life

I would like to share a story with you from a friend (with her permission), a mother in Jerusalem. I have added translations for Hebrew terms and some other clarifying information in brackets. 

“On the other side of my wall, there is a shiva [week of mourning] taking place for my 84-year-old neighbor, Yosef, [Josef] who passed away last week.

When we moved into our home 4 years ago, Yosef’s wife of almost 60 years was already very ill, and within a few months she had passed away. She died from a foot infection, a common and often fatal complication of diabetes.

Yosef grieved terribly after his wife died. But he was still sharp as a tack. Whenever I’d run into him I would ask which of his four awe-inspiringly dedicated children he would be spending (or, depending on the day of the week, had spent) Shabbat with. And whenever he told me that he was going to his daughter,  I would say, “In Maaleh Adumim?” And Yosef, who had spent most of his life teaching grammar, would correct me: “Maaleh EDumim! EDumim, not ADumim!” [Think – you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to, but where only one is correct. It’s a grammatical rather than an accent thing.]

Within a year after his wife died, Yosef’s condition had visibly declined. He stopped correcting my Hebrew grammar, but not because my Hebrew was suddenly grammatically correct. One day, on my way out to run errands, I saw Yosef waiting by the sidewalk. His son was coming to pick him up, he told me. But when I got back home an hour later, Yosef was still waiting there. It turned out Yosef had gotten the day wrong.


Two years ago, on the way out to the light rail, I thought I heard a soft voice. I looked around and saw Yosef sitting on the ground by his house. Yosef told me that he had been on his way to the corner store, but had fallen and hadn’t been able to get up. He had been calling out for help for a long time, he said, but nobody had heard him. Yosef’s voice, which for decades had commanded a class of 35 Israeli high-school students, had become so weak that it was nearly inaudible.

People who knew Yosef when his wife was healthy told me how things had once been. What a lovely, lively person she had been, always ready to lend a helping hand when a neighbor or family member was in need. But now, Yosef’s wife was gone. And, in a way, Yosef was too.

Around a year and a half ago, a caretaker moved in to take care of Yosef. Yosef could no longer walk or remember much about his life.

Last week, Yosef and his children marked his late wife’s 4th yahrzeit [anniversary of death], and two days later Yosef passed away as well. From a diabetic foot infection, just like his wife had.

Before I left for my trip last week [the author – and mother of a large family – went to visit one of her daughters in India], I made a detailed schedule so that everything and everyone would be taken care of. And, more or less (or maybe less or more) things functioned as usual while I was away.

But the day after I came home, and took [my son] to gan [kindergarten] for the first time, his teacher told me, “Good you are back! [He] just wasn’t the same when you were away!””

When a mother is in the home, I was reminded, she doesn’t just provide food, clean clothing, and reminders about tomorrow’s swimming class and zippering up coats. A mother, more than anything or anybody else, has the ability to transform a 4-walled structure from a house into a home. She doesn’t just nurture her family, the shiva [mourning] next door has reminded me, she gives life.

This Musing was originally published in Susan’s Practical Parenting column in 2020.


What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Susan’s Musings post.
We Happy Warrior members can both read and write comments HERE.

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Do I Believe?

The Beverly Hills tycoon was dismayed by his son’s decision to study in a yeshiva instead of joining the family business. After several years the son returned home to his father’s sardonic question: So what have you got to show for your years of study? “I know that there is a God,” replied the young man. Angrily the father leapt to his feet and pointed out the window at the gardener patiently mowing the vast lawns. “He also knows there is a God,” shouted the older man. “No father,” the boy quietly responded. “He believes there is a God; I know.”

The challenge to the person of faith is to acquire so clear an understanding of how the world really works, that God’s role becomes obvious. It’s not a matter of fervent proclamations of faith or moments of spiritual epiphany. Instead, it takes disciplined devotion. It’s not easy, but neither is body building. In both cases, devotees consider the effort worthwhile; what is more, both provide highs along the way.

The path to knowing God, for me, is the Torah which I find to be a comprehensive blueprint of all reality. I do not mean the book of stories that many view as nothing but mythology for children or, at best, for adults with childlike minds. No, I mean the majestic and mysterious data stream of 304,805 Hebrew letters making up a Torah scroll and the ancient Jewish wisdom that accompanies them.

Think of the fifty million or so lines of software code that make up a computer operating system such as Windows 10. These lines of code are written using the conventional alpha-numeric characters found on any typewriter keyboard. The lines contain many easily recognizable words like “and,” “go to,” and “stop.” It is not hard to imagine that with a little ingenuity and effort the characters, words, and numbers could be cunningly arranged to read as a piece of prose. Thus one might encounter the core code of a modern computer operating system and mistakenly assume that it just a lengthy, but badly written, poem whilst remaining oblivious to its higher software purpose. We would endlessly debate the veracity of the saga and the identity of the author without ever realizing the inestimable value the document possesses when used as an operating system rather than as an improbable narrative. The Torah is planet earth’s operating system thinly disguised as a piece of literature.


As such, its laws are every bit as binding as is, say, Sir Isaac Newton’s famous law of gravitation, published in 1666. Which is to say they do not proscribe as much as they describe. Torah laws do not inform us what we should do in the way that the highway code tells us to adhere to the speed limit. They describe the inevitability of cause and effect over time in human societies. It is mistaken to suppose that until the 17th century, Englishmen were free to float above the countryside like untethered helium balloons until Newton ruthlessly suppressed their freedoms with his oppressive new gravity law. Likewise, Torah laws are binding whether we wisely accept them as the rules of the game or whether we attempt to temporarily dismiss them with a defiant shake of the fist. It is the difference between living what seems to be an absurd and random existence and living in an ordered world of rules that are never easy but always consistent. This is a lot like the difference between a rioting hoodlum and a law-abiding patriot. One resents laws while the other is grateful for them.

Torah laws are designed to do far more than promote decency; they are intended to produce holiness. If a nation’s trendsetters are hedonistic, the people will become depraved. If the trendsetters are only decent, the people will be hedonistic. For the people to be decent, the trendsetters must be holy. This has always been God’s intended role for the Jew in every country. It also explains why those nations that played host to vital and faithful Jewish communities frequently enjoyed tranquility and prosperity.

We relive God’s giving the Torah to Moses on Sinai 3,329 years ago this Tuesday night, May 30th, during the festival of Pentecost or as we call it, Shavuoth. This was the entire goal of the deliverance from Egypt.

Without conviction in an ultimate Messianic deliverance, it would be hard for hope and optimism to exist. We would all wallow in the gloom and pessimism that now mostly pervades secular left progressivism. If the nukes don’t get you, global warming will. They are right. With no vision of a supernatural redemption down the road, we must take the only rational alternative. Overcrowding, a meteorite collision, food shortages, an unstoppable epidemic; these are only details. The one certainty is hopeless oblivion. And if the end is oblivion, well nothing much really matters in the interim. By eliminating the promise of that glorious day on which God will be one and His Name will be one, we gradually but inexorably introduce into society the nihilism of body piercings, public vulgarity, and cowardly leaders.

After a catastrophic crash, countless investigators gather to find out why the airplane fell out of the sky. I can provide an answer in only one word — gravity. The real question is why did it ever remain airborne? It remained airborne because it had engines that could convert chemical energy into thrust and wings that could convert thrust into lift. Remove any of these elements and the natural condition of gravity will predominate. I do not even have to believe in gravity for these events to unfold. The story of western civilization and America is the story of an airplane running out of fuel. What then transpires is entirely natural and predictable.

The good news is that if enough of us wish it, the fuel tanks can be replenished. Those of us who believe that America’s greatness is based on God’s protection and adherence to His codes of conduct need to acknowledge and respect theological differences while joining together to reclaim America’s moral and ethical Biblical foundation. America will once again draw nourishment, inspiration and direction from the Bible. Do I believe we can save our country by doing so? No, I know it.

This Thought Tool was previously published in 2017.


What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Thought Tools post.
We Happy Warrior members can both read and write comments HERE.

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In Sorrow and Loving Memory

July 7th, 2024 – Baltimore, MD

With sorrowful acceptance of God’s judgment, we sadly inform you of the passing of our beloved daughter, Rena Esther Baron. Rena returned to the Lord at the age of 41 after a four-year battle with cancer.

She leaves behind her grieving husband, Dr. Jonathan Baron and their seven young children, as well as her parents, six siblings, and numerous loving friends and relatives. Funeral services will be held in Baltimore on July 8th, after which the family will sit shiva together for a week. (Read more about Shiva in a Musing Susan wrote when her sister passed away in 2012 – Sitting Shiva)


If you wish to share your condolences with us, please write to us at PO Box 609, Owings Mills, MD 21117, or the office will forward emails that come to admin@rabbidaniellapin.com.

Jewish custom does not encourage the sending of flowers. For anyone moved to make a charitable donation in Rena’s memory, Jewish Caring Network of Baltimore has been there for Rena and the family since the beginning of this journey, supplying vast tangible support including food, paper goods, arts and crafts for the children, etc., along with constant emotional support.

May we all merit the ultimate redemption soon.

Daniel and Susan Lapin

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