The Good, the Bad and the Salty

When the hubbub of conversation around our Shabbat table occasionally lags, I sometimes delight my children with a ‘magic’ trick.  I am not a particularly talented prestidigitator but my family makes a gracious audience and besides, I do practice the illusions in private before presenting them to the table.

Here’s one that never fails to entertain.  Our Shabbat salt-shaker is made of glass with a silver screw-on cap.  Picking it up in my left hand and holding it close to my body, I gently shake it while announcing that our family is using too much salt. Unscrewing the cap with my right hand, I dramatically hand it to a child.   With everyone’s attention on the cap, I explain that I want that child to guard this very special cap, making sure that nobody can see it.  During this misdirection, I surreptitiously empty the salt-shaker with my left hand into my jacket pocket.

With my left fist clutched around the shaker so that none of the children can see that it is empty, I make a fist with my right hand and quickly pretend to pour all the salt from the shaker into the opening where my thumb curls around my index finger.  Now I flourish the empty salt shaker.

Next, I ask the child with the silver cap to blow on it and wave it over my fist.  Slowly and dramatically, I uncurl my thumb; open my index finger and all the other fingers in turn, revealing an empty hand.  The salt has vanished.

To the shipwreck survivor dying of thirst in a lifeboat, the ounce of salt dissolved in every quart of seawater around him is a curse.  To the happy diner enjoying fresh fries with his steak, salt is a blessing.

Those who travelled the Oregon Trail in the 19th century were grateful to eat meat that had been salted to preserve it for a few months without refrigeration.  But the conquered foes of Genghis Khan starved because he covered their farmlands with salt.  Salt-saturated land, like beach sand, cannot grow any food.

Some things possess enormous potential for both good and for bad. These are often though of as covenantal.  Thus, we speak of the holy covenant of marriage.  Among the things that God termed a covenant are: salt (Leviticus 2:13 & Numbers 18:19), circumcision (Genesis 17:10) and rainbow (Genesis 9:13).  As we see, salt can be good or bad; the male organ which circumcision defines can be employed very positively or very negatively.  Rain marked by a rainbow can be a gentle life-giving shower or a flood-producing drenching deluge.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches an interesting reason for why Lot’s wife was transformed into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). She had the potential to start a new life after escaping the sinful city of Sodom with her family, but she looked back longingly.  Torn between the good and bad, she turned into the substance that exemplifies tension between two moral poles.

As a stage magician uses misdirection to prevent his audience from observing certain things, the stark, obtrusive existence of bad often misdirects us from seeing the potential for good.

Sometimes we mistakenly assume that some badly behaving person cannot possibly possess a shred of human goodness.  Sometimes we evaluate a job opportunity incorrectly because we forget the polarity that exists in powerful phenomena. Sometimes we rush to embrace or alternatively shun technology because we focus on only one aspect.

Our culture today frequently condemns those who succeed financially. People often defend wealth because of its charity potential. Charity is wonderful and required by God, but we ignore the great gift of an economic system by acting as if charity alone makes wealth palatable. Here’s a major point in my book Thou Shall Prosper: The Ten Commandments for Making Money (on sale this week): if you cannot see that making money is inherently good, despite its potential for misuse, you probably won’t make much money. I devote an entire chapter to this idea. I’m delighted at how many people write to tell me how this vital point changed their lives.

As for me, I still find myself nostalgically extracting grains of salt from my jacket pockets.


This week’s Susan’s Musings: Losing It

My husband brought me two dozen miniature yellow roses this past Friday. I did not deserve them. I spent the day on the verge of hysteria, alternating between muttering and shrieking as I prepared our Shabbat meals. Things were so bad that one of our expected guests, dropping off a bottle of wine in advance, left it on the doorstep, positive that he was hearing a knockout, drag down fight between one of my daughters and me. Not quite…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

In the 5th commandment ….you shall honor your mother and father,…..o.k. got it, but what if mother or father are living a homosexual or lesbian lifestyle? What if children are 9 and 10 years old? How do we teach them to respect the parents without tarnishing the minds and soul or spirit? Can you understand what I’m gettting at?


Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s Answer

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