Posts tagged " |Exodus| "

They’re Keeping You Down

May 6th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

Recently, I enjoyed the pleasure and privilege of leading a Passover Seder.  Around the room sat a most stimulating group of enthusiastic participants.  I began by explaining that rule number one at the Seder is that everything we do has contemporary significance.  For example, when a therapist talks a client back through her childhood, it is not to wallow in nostalgia.  No, it is for the purpose of revisiting the past to better understand the present in order to improve tomorrow.   In the same way, we are not commemorating the Exodus and deliverance from Egyptian slavery.  No, we are reliving that 3,330 year-old torment for the purpose of making changes in our lives today and thereby improving tomorrow.

This sounds obvious and easy however in real life it is anything but that.  Especially since the culture surrounding most of us emphasizes blaming others for anything we dislike about our own lives.  The most obvious ways in which Marxism has influenced secular liberalism, the semi-official state religion of America and most of Europe, is that we have been indoctrinated to assume that problems in our lives are entirely due to race, gender or class.  We suffer harassment, injustice, or outright oppression because of the color of our skin, our gender, or the fact that we see ourselves as a ‘disadvantaged class’. 

Perhaps the most searing pain comes when we are forced to face the excruciating truth—most of our problems are caused by the person whose name and picture is upon our driving license.  Confronting this truth causes such agony that our culture goes to great lengths in order to protect people from it.  Saying things that penetrate people’s protective facades, revealing that it’s not wicked ‘others’ causing their problems but they themselves, is condemned as ‘politically incorrect.’  Currently popular ideas like ‘triggering’ and ‘safe space’ all point to our tacit agreement never to remind one another of our own faults. 

Any suggestion that a woman should not have entered a man’s hotel room is greeted with howls of indignation because it suggests that she bears some small blame for what next happened.  Any suggestion that poor people might need, not other people’s money but some life-values that enabled other people to create the money in the first place provokes screams of outrage.  Again, this is because it suggests that poor people might bear some small blame for their own condition.  Modern society has come to reject this timeless wisdom of the past—most of our troubles are caused by us ourselves.

Most people, including I think it fair to say many Jews, mistakenly assume that Passover is all about those wicked Egyptians enslaving the poor innocent Hebrews.  Yet an honest observance of the Seder leads to startlingly opposite and painful conclusions.

One would expect that the first twelve chapters of the Book of Exodus, dealing as they do with the experience of the Israelites in Egypt up until their deliverance, would contain the word avadim—slaves—many times.  Remarkably the word doesn’t appear even once.  While the text clearly refers to tax collectors and task-masters nowhere does it as much as suggest that the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. 

For the one and only indication of the Jews becoming avadim—slaves, we must go back to the end of the book of Genesis.

Following the death of their father, Jacob, Joseph’s brothers speak to him saying:

…we present ourselves before you as your slaves. 
(Genesis 50:18)

We might have expected Joseph to firmly reject the offer and remind them that they are free and independent men in servitude only to God Almighty. 

Yet his response was the subtle seduction that has always invited people to discard their freedom in exchange for the promise of security.

…fear not. I will sustain you and your children.  Thus he reassured them,
speaking kindly to them. 
(Genesis 50:21)

Clearly, on behalf of the Egyptian administration whom he represented, Joseph accepted their voluntary subjugation. 

Thus we see that the Israelites did become slaves, but at their own initiative.  Later, in the Ten Commandments we read:

I the am the Lord, your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
the house of slaves – avadim.
(Exodus 20:2)

From this emerges one of the agonizing therapies of the Seder experience; acknowledging that though we did suffer as slaves in Egypt, it was we Hebrews who put ourselves in that unenviable situation.  What happened to the group is a lesson about what happens to the individual. Or in other words, the unwelcome but powerful lesson of the Seder experience is that much of what we suffer from today is the result of the bad decisions we made yesterday. 

Our willingness to exchange our freedom albeit with all its risks, for the illusory security offered by a government of venal politicians eager to expand their power, is not new. As early as only 23 years after America gained independence from Britain, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Thomas Lomax, a member of the Virginia Senate.  It contained these words:

“The body of the American people is substantially republican. But their virtuous feelings have been played on by some facts with more fiction; they have been the dupes of artful maneuvers, and made for a moment to be willing instruments in forging chains for themselves.”
(Thomas Jefferson, March 12, 1799)

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Harvey and Montgomery

October 29th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

If you’ve never seen the delightful 1950 movie in which Jimmy Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd whose friend is a six-foot invisible rabbit eponymously named Harvey, you might enjoy it.  I too have an invisible friend, though I don’t know how tall he is because he is, well, invisible!  He happens to be a highly intelligent Martian named Montgomery, who is entirely and utterly unfamiliar with everything on earth.  I find it ever so useful to be able to solicit his opinion about, or his reaction to, various earthly events.  Some people dismiss my friend, and insist that all I am really doing is conducting thought experiments but to each his own.

Let me give you an example.  I introduced Montgomery the Martian to two very different families.  The first, residing in Beverly Hills, California, presents their children with the keys to a new BMW car on their sixteenth birthdays and engages a small army of housekeepers and gardeners to free each child from any onerous household chores.  The children address their parents by their first names and receive lavish allowances with very little supervision and few rules.

The second family lives in a small town near Nashville, Tennessee.  Each child carries the responsibility for some aspect of the family’s smooth running.  Each child also has a job outside of school and is expected to say, “Yes, Sir” or “No, Ma’am” to his parents.  The family attends church each Sunday together and dinner times are also family occasions.  The children take turns mowing the lawn and tending to the flower garden.

My questions to Montgomery were this: Which set of parents is more likely to raise children with an enduring respect for parents and siblings? Which set of children are more likely to grow up into young adults who will endlessly complain to expensive therapists about how their parents ruined their lives?

Montgomery weighed it up and concluded that the parents who gave so much to their children, asking nothing in return, were surely the parents who would enjoy enduring gratitude and honor from their children.  As his earthly friend, it was my duty to inform the Martian that he was wrong.  In families where frugality is a fact of life and children are expected to behave like responsible family members and to carry their weight, family relationships are far stronger.

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Ditch the Doldrums

May 23rd, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

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. Most of us feel energized and optimistic when taking actions to improve our lives. Often, 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.

Isn’t it rather strange how God introduced Himself to humanity on Sinai 3,330 years ago? 

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

Who did what?

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How did Moses know he was an Israelite?

April 3rd, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 20 comments

Hello,

First I would like to say that I watch your show every morning and I absolutely love it. Thank you so much for what you are doing. I have learned so much!

Now for my question, how did Moses know he wasn’t Egyptian and that he was an Israelite? It’s driving me crazy. Am I missing it in scripture or is the answer found in ancient Jewish wisdom?  Thanks for reading.

Respectfully,

Cynthia A.
Boston, Virginia

Dear Cynthia,

We are delighted that you watch our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show on TCT. We are also delighted with your question! It is a wonderful question that shows a willingness to seek beyond the surface of Scripture and explore it with mature eyes.

We suggest you can find the beginning of an answer in Scripture, by looking in Exodus and in Chronicles, with ancient Jewish wisdom filling in the blanks. In Exodus 2:6 we see that Pharaoh’s daughter knew that the baby she drew from the water was a Hebrew. She even looked for a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby! In 1 Chronicles 4:18,  we find a woman named Bit-Ya, daughter of Pharaoh. The name Bit-Ya translates as “daughter of God,” and ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that God called her by that name saying, “You called Moses your son though he was not; I will call you my daughter though you are not.”

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Pressing Restart

January 1st, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

I have been known to say that Judaism is my way of life while boating is my religion. After all, some religious observances require a special litugical language, unique clothing and are practiced on certain days.  Check, check and check for boating. But even for those of you with other religions, 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. 

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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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The Gorilla, the Girl and the Snake

February 1st, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

Every September at the Puyallup fairgrounds about 40 miles south of Seattle, occurs one of the Lapin family’s favorite fairs. On one special day each September, we would head to the Washington State Fair. We’d arrive early morning, soon after opening and leave only when the lights started going out late that night.  We love that fair.

One attraction, popular at almost every fair in the country for the last seventy-five years, is the girl-into-gorilla illusion.  The audience is shepherded into a dark tent. When the curtain opens, a girl is seen in a cage and before everyone’s astonished eyes she begins to sprout hair. Her features go from girlish to gorilla.  Her delicate arms gradually turn into huge hairy appendages dangling from enormous shoulders. Then, just as the transformation seems complete, the “gorilla” breaks open the cage. Everyone flees in terror, their frantic screams helping to attract the audience for the next show.

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Nothing Trumps Your History

November 9th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

When democracies vote, citizens hope to elect leaders whose values align with their own.  The problem is, how do you know?  One clue is to pay far more attention to what they have done over the years than to what they say.  Interestingly, in America’s recent election, the news media along with their attendant opinion-generators focused exclusively on the candidates’ words.  In one case to ignore prior misdeeds, and in the other to ignore prior accomplishments.  What is wonderful about raising children is that they pretty much ignore what parents say but derive their sense of values entirely from what parents actually do.  A man I know understands this well: here is his story.

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Steps to Success or Ramps to Riches

May 18th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

This past week I’ve enjoyed speaking for three financial conferences, in Arizona, Tennessee, and Texas. (You can always see if I’m scheduled to speak in your neighborhood by looking here: SPEAKING PAGE

Funnily enough, there were two questions I was asked twice by two separate people at two separate conferences. They were both good questions; the first I declined to answer while the second I enjoyed answering. The first was “What is the secret of making a successful marriage?” I demurred to both individuals, explaining that there is not any one secret; though I was tempted to respond, “Simple. Marry Susan!” (more…)

Truth and Lies

May 10th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

What parent, at one time or another, hasn’t wished for an absolutely reliable, invisible lie-detector? What business professional interviewing a potential hire hasn’t wished for exactly the same thing? Now I know what you’re thinking. ‘Invisible’ is impossible. True, but so is ‘absolutely reliable lie-detector,’ so I saw no harm in adding ‘invisible’ to the wish list.

It is true that stress can cause various physiological responses like elevated blood pressure and sweating. It is also true that these can be measured by a polygraph but for good reason, most legal jurisdictions allow polygraph results only for investigatory purposes, not for gaining a conviction. Factors other than lying can cause the same physiological responses and too many people can lie without presenting these physical reactions. (more…)

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