Posts tagged " egypt "

Of Hurricanes and Hatred

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

This week offers a view into two types of tragedy. Our news is filled with stories of people losing homes, businesses and even their lives due to hurricanes. Sixteen years ago this week, on September 11, 2001, the news was full of stories of many more people losing their lives (the loss of businesses existed but was overshadowed by the magnitude of loss of human life) due to an evil ideology full of hatred.

Scripture pulls no punches in warning us of tragedies that will overwhelm us should we abandon God’s guidance. Many of these are consequences that flow naturally rather than bolts of lightning from Heaven as people focus on the wrong things and stop seeing humanity as created in God’s image.

One section of the Torah, filled with horrifying descriptions of misery, begins with these words:

…if you do not listen to the voice of the Lord your God…
(Deuteronomy 28:15)

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Egypt Made Me Do It

August 21st, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 35 comments

It is perfectly natural to attribute one’s failures to things one’s parents did. It is perfectly normal to blame events or people in one’s past for present problems.  But winners living successful lives don’t do that.  Champions of achievement rarely do what is normal and what is natural.  They know that blaming yesterday’s pain for today’s folly assures tomorrows of more of the same.

Jen Bricker could easily have abandoned her dream to become a gymnast.  It would have been perfectly natural and perfectly normal for her to have blamed the genetic defect that caused her to be born without legs.  But she became a gymnast.

Jaime Escalante wanted to become a great teacher.  He could have blamed his South American accent for failing.  Or he could have blamed being assigned to a ‘class of losers’ in a hopeless high school in East Los Angeles.  But he turned those students of his into calculus stars and he himself became the star of the movie, “Stand and Deliver.”

Felix Zandman’s idyllic youth came to an end when as a teenager he was flung into a Polish ghetto.  From there he was moved to a German concentration camp where he watched  Nazi thugs murder his family.  After enduring unimaginable trauma, he was liberated and finally found his way to America.  He could have remained a victim, blaming the horrors to which he was subjected.  Instead he built up a business into one of the world’s largest electronic component manufacturers, Vishay Intertechnology.

Nothing would have been more normal than for the Jews to have blamed millennia of dysfunction on hundreds of years of Egyptian slavery.

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Is There Food in Your Purse?

April 4th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

As the rabbi of a large congregation, my father attended many weddings and bar-mitzvahs.  My mother usually accompanied him and on rare occasions I got to go as well.  I always assumed that when this happened, I was being rewarded for good behavior.  It wasn’t until years later that my mother confided that the times when I was taken along were when the babysitter positively refused to have me at home.

While attending one particular bar-mitzvah with my parents when I was about ten years-old, I clearly remember spotting a woman surreptitiously sweeping some cookies off the table and into her rather capacious purse.  I instantly realized that she was harboring a fugitive to whom she needed to get food.  My fevered mind needed to know whether her fugitive was a criminal or a hero.  Clearly the only way to find out more was to place her under my diligent surveillance for the rest of the afternoon.  I observed her sneaking some fish and fruit into her bag.  Sooner or later, I would surely catch her leaving  the hall and by following her I would determine the identity of the person she was hiding.

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No Rules for Radicals

December 16th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

We accept rules in cartoons. For instance, the late Chuck Jones, a prominent animator for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, established nine rules for the Wile E. Coyote cartoons. They included “No outside force can harm Coyote; only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products can hurt him,” “Coyote is more humiliated than harmed by his failures,” and “Gravity is Coyote’s greatest enemy.”

We accept rules in books. In J.R. Tolkien’s series Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books there are strict rules which govern which characters can do what. Readers quickly understand how these fictional worlds operate and accept the limitations that regulate the options. (more…)

Who are the ‘righteous women’?

May 14th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

Can you tell me more about how during the 400 year captivity the Hebrew wives didn’t let their husbands give up on God’s promises? (I’ve heard) something about the husbands wanted to stop producing children and refused to lay with their wives but the women found a way.

Thanks,

∼ Marjorie C.

Answer:

Dear Marjorie,

We believe that you are actually combining two different accounts. When Pharaoh decreed that baby boys would be thrown in the Nile, Ancient Jewish wisdom relates that Amram, Moses’ father, separated from his wife, not wishing to risk bringing a boy into the world who was condemned to death. At that time, he and his wife, Yocheved, already had two children, Aaron and Miriam. Miriam is given great praise for making the case to her father that Pharaoh decreed an end to males while, by rejecting all pregnancies, Amram was decreeing the end of females as well. Amram accepted Miriam’s words and began to again live with his wife who became pregnant with Moses.

Separately, when the yoke of Egypt became overly burdensome, the Israelite men lost their libido. (Still today, not being able to take care of your family and being crushed by burdens depresses male sexual drive.) The women are credited with beautifying themselves, despite their own suffering,  and going out to greet their husbands and seduce them. This allowed family life to continue. For this, ancient Jewish wisdom gives this generation of women the accolade of ‘righteous,” and declares that it was in the merit of righteous women that the children of Israel were taken out of Egypt.
Sincerely,

 

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Wind in Your Sails

January 1st, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

There are many life-metaphors to be found in the wonderful world of boats. Boats and people both embark on journeys and both can reach their destinations or sink.

When a boat is in the doldrums it is in that notorious windless zone near the equator. Old-time sailing vessels were often stuck there for weeks. When a person is listless and despondent, he is also said to be in the doldrums. But there is one major difference. While sailboats must await changing weather, humans have the miraculous capacity to bring about change in their lives themselves.
Being marooned in stagnant circumstances is enough to make anyone miserable. Change, growth, and progress are amazingly effective antidotes to depression. This is why New Year’s resolutions are such a good idea. Most of us feel energized and optimistic when taking actions to improve our lives and the changing calendar serves as a useful catalyst. But wait! What’s the point? We all know that most New Year resolutions fade away by spring.

One way to retain resolutions is to feel authentic, durable excitement in our souls about the spiritual magic of change.

See how God introduced Himself to humanity on Sinai 3,323 years ago.

I am the Lord your God who…
(Exodus 20:2)

Who did what?

Well, think of how 1980 presidential candidate Reagan might have introduced himself to voters. Depending on the crowd he could have said, “Hi, I’m Ronald Reagan; I used to be head of the Screen Actors Guild.” Or he could have said, Hi, I’m Ronald Reagan; I used to be governor of California.”
Similarly, God could have said, “I’m the Lord your God who created heaven and earth,” rather than what He did say which was:
I am the Lord your God who took you out of the Land of Egypt…
(Exodus 20:2)

God considered it more important to introduce Himself and His Commandments as God who took the Israelites out of Egypt rather than as God who created heaven and earth. Why?
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the purpose of the Ten Commandments is not to tell us history but to provide us with tools for life. These statements will help transform Israelite slaves into God-centric, independent people. Remember that until relatively recently once a slave meant always a slave. For transformation to happen, the children of Israel needed to truly know that it was indeed POSSIBLE for change to occur.

Today, we may not be physically enslaved, but we can enslave ourselves by not knowing, deep inside of us, that we are capable of change. Making positive changes in our lives is terribly difficult. Most of us find it almost impossible to overcome our own inertia and rather than undertake the massive effort necessary today, we simply condemn tomorrow to be a repeat of yesterday. Really internalizing the power of change can propel us to better times.

We’re all stuck in our own particular Egypt, whatever it is. While we need to change behavior, we first need to change our image of ourselves. God’s opening statement assures us that if the Israelites could escape Egypt then each one of us can also escape our own Egypt. A New Year resolution is a good way to start. Here are three tips to increase the probability of making the change permanent.

  • A. Make the first resolution reasonable. You can always upgrade later which will make you feel much better than downgrading. (The total transformation of a nation took 40 years. An individual won’t need that long for most changes, but don’t expect instant success either.)
  • B. At the outset, prepare a strategy to get you back onto your resolution’s plan after an unintended setback. (Atonement and forgiveness often occurred during the desert trip)
  • C. Break your resolution into defined and manageable parts. (There were numerous way stations on the path from Egypt to Israel)

The Biblical Exodus equips us with tools for personal change. I encourage you to get out of your own doldrums with the help of three additional strategies which I teach in my audio CD, Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt. Wishing you a growth-filled 2011.

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