Daily dose of wisdom, Shabbat 132: circumcision as a sign

Today the Talmud discusses the source for circumcision overriding Sabbath law (which includes prohibitions on wounding).  Our sages note that circumcision not just called covenant but is also called a “sign”, meaning something that shows others significance.  The same word in other contexts can mean a banner or flag, which displays your status.  Circumcision is compared to tefillin (phylacteries) and Shabbat, which are also called signs by the Bible.

Oddly, these three signs are not all the same.  It is obvious when a man wears his tefillin, you can see part of them on his head.  When a man keeps Shabbat, there is a blend: it is obvious when he makes lavish meals, sings, prays, and recites Kiddush in honor of Shabbat.  But when he avoids forbidden work, an onlooker may think that he simply has not work to perform or is taking time off from his phone.
The sign of circumcision by contrast is private.  A (normal) man does not show off his private parts.  So how is this a “sign”?  When a man is aware of the power of his sexuality and has it under control, he carries himself differently from men who are slaves to their lusts.  He doesn’t need to stare at women, or slavishly fall over himself to try to attract women.  He knows he can succeed with women, so he has “bread in his basket” as our sages say, meaning confidence and composure.  The covenant of circumcision is a reminder to get our sexual energy under control and channel it for constructive ends, not to be a slave to it.

Daily dose of wisdom, Shabbat 131: scheduling

Today the Talmud continues exploring Rabbi Eliezer’s fantastic tradition that not only the actual circumcision but even the preparations for it override Sabbath restrictions.  The Gemara notes that Rabbi Eliezer teaches than preparations for many but not all Biblical commandments override the Sabbath.  Our sages discuss which commandments are included, and based on various statements of Rabbi Eliezer they work out that when a commandment has to be done on that specific day, then even the preparations for it override Shabbat.  But when a command could be done any day, it cannot.

The lesson for us is that if we have things we need to accomplish without a specific time limit, we should get them out of the way.  That way, when there are tasks that need to be done now, we don’t have other items taking our time and attention away from where we need to focus.

Daily dose of wisdom, Shabbat 130: balance pride and danger

Today we begin the famous chapter of Rabbi Elizer d’Milah, which discusses performing a circumcision on Shabbat.  Although cutting would be forbidden on Shabbat, the Bible commands us to perform circumcision on the eighth day, even if it falls on Shabbat.  But carrying items in the public thoroughfare is also forbidden on Shabbat.  So what about bringing the scalpel through the public domain?  The Mishnah teaches:

Rabbi Eliezer says: If he did not bring an implement for circumcising the child on Shabbat eve, he brings it on Shabbat itself uncovered (so that it will be clear to all that he is bringing a circumcision scalpel).  But in times of danger, when decrees of persecution prohibit Jews from circumcising their children, one covers it in the presence of witnesses, who can testify that he transported the scalpel for circumcision.

Some times in life you should show that you are proud and do what you do without worry of what others think.  You show that you love your life, your hobbies, whatever you are into.  Being proud of yourself and your accomplishments is a great way to make friends and gain positive attention.  However, sometimes there is a danger in this.  When one man is very successful, other men may become jealous and try to pull him down.  We discussed this concept regarding how to find good friends:

I will give you another indicator of upstanding men you want around you.  Good men are interested in building up themselves and others.  Evil men undermine others.  The Bible hints to this in Balak’s message to Bilaam:  “So now, please come and curse this people for me, for they are too powerful for me. Perhaps I will be able to wage war against them and drive them out of the land, for I know that whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed” (22:6).  Balak knew Bilaam had the power to bestow effective blessings, but hired him to curse.  Imagine if Balak had asked for blessing for Moav instead of a curse on the Jews!  But his focus was on harming the rival rather than improving his own kingdom.  If the men around you are spending their time and energy tearing other people down, they are not worth keeping around.

An accomplished man is happy with his life (and if not, rebuilds his life to make himself happy) and shows it.  But he should have the wisdom not to flaunt it and bring danger to himself.

Daily dose of wisdom, Shabbat 129: warm her up

Today the gemara describes when we violate Sabbath law for a woman in labor or recovering from birth.  A novelty of this discussion is that we do so on her word even without consulting a doctor or midwife.  Tosafot (on 128) points out that a birthing woman can come to physical danger if she feels emotionally that things are not going well or she is not being taken care of.  If you have personally involved in childbirth you know that the psychological component is usually more important.

The wisdom here is that when your woman needs your help you get up and help her.  Women can be overpowered by their emotions and need someone to show them it will be okay.  Don’t become blown over by her emotional storm, someone has to keep the boat upright.

The Gemara notes that a woman who immersed in the mikvah after childbirth could catch serious chills.  While one could light a fire for her on Shabbat due to the danger, it was preferential to take her to her husband who would warm her body through intimacy.  We know that sexual intimacy is a powerful medicine itself.  Research associates with reduced mortality.


The Gemara continues into the topic of blood letting, which was performed as medicine then.  Our sages advise drinking red wine and eating red meat to restore your vitality.  Taking care of your bodily health is a necessity and prerequisite to intellectual and spiritual health.

Daily dose of wisdom, Shabbat 128: be royalty

Today the Talmud cites an opinion that certain foodstuffs are permitted to move on Shabbat even though they are only suitable for ravens or ostriches, which are not commonly kept.  In fact, only aristocrats would keep such rare birds.  However, based on the concept that “we are all sons of kings”, any items fit for royalty are fit for any man.

Our sages explain another example of this: a man owes a significant amount of money, and his only asset is an expensive suit.  One opinion states we make him sell the suit and wear simpler clothing to pay his debt.  But others say that since he can fairly consider himself as “son of kings” we cannot make him sell his expensive suit.

The wisdom here as that when you act in an elevated manner, as if you were a prince, then others see your dignity and treat you better.  Never treat yourself as lowly, it invites others to do the same.  Recognize your inherent human dignity as created in the image of the Divine.


Today the mishnah teaches that a mother can help her child to walk outside on Shabbat.  However she cannot drag the toddler along, this is like carrying and is forbidden.   What she can do is hold his arms up to support him from behind while he takes his own steps.

This hints to us that when we help a man get on his own two feet, we need to let him take his own steps while we support from the background.  A man needs to develop the sense that he is capable of success.  Many men need help to gain practical wisdom, but if you drag him into it he won’t realize he can grow into the master of his own self development.

Daily dose of wisdom, Shabbat 127: benefit of the doubt

Today the Talmud explains deep philosophical concepts including judging others:

One who judges another favorably is himself judged favorably.  And there was an incident of a certain person from the Upper Galilee and was hired to work for a wealthy certain homeowner in the South for three years.  On the eve of the Day of Atonement, he said to the homeowner: Give me my wages, and I will go and feed my wife and children. The homeowner said to him: I have no money. He said to him: In that case, give me my wages in the form of produce. He said to him: I have none. The worker said to him: Give me my wages in the form of land. The homeowner said to him: I have none. The worker said to him: Give me my wages in the form of animals. He said to him: I have none. The worker said to him: Give me cushions and blankets. He said to him: I have none. The worker slung his tools over his shoulder behind him and went to his home in anguish.

The worker did not protest or explode at his employer.  Then:

After the festival of Sukkot, the homeowner took the worker’s wages in his hand, along with a burden that required three donkeys, one laden with food, one laden with drink, and one laden with types of sweets, and went to the worker’s home. After they ate and drank, the homeowner gave him his wages.

The homeowner said to him: When you said to me: Give me my wages, and I said: I have no money, of what did you suspect me? Why did you not suspect me of trying to avoid paying you? The worker answered, I said: Perhaps the opportunity to purchase merchandise [perakmatya] inexpensively presented itself, and you purchased it with the money that you owed me, and therefore you had no money available. The homeowner asked: And when you said to me: Give me animals, and I said: I have no animals, of what did you suspect me? The worker answered: I said: Perhaps the animals are hired to others. The homeowner asked: When you said to me: Give me land, and I said: I have no land, of what did you suspect me? The worker answered: I said: Perhaps the land is leased to others, and you cannot take the land from the lessees. The homeowner asked: And when you said to me: Give me produce, and I said: I have no produce, of what did you suspect me? The worker answered: I said: Perhaps they are not tithed, and that was why you could not give them to me. The homeowner asked: And when I said: I have no cushions or blankets, of what did you suspect me? The worker answered: I said: Perhaps he consecrated all his property to Heaven and therefore has nothing available at present.

The homeowner said to him: I swear by the Temple service that it was so. I had no money available at the time because I vowed and consecrated all my property on account of Hyrcanus, my son, who did not engage in Torah study. The homeowner sought to avoid leaving an inheritance for his son. And when I came to my fellow residents in the South, the Sages of that generation, they dissolved all my vows. At that point, the homeowner had immediately gone to pay his worker. Now the homeowner said: And you, just as you judged favorably, so may God judge you favorably.

The Gemara brings two more cases of a righteous man suspected of sexual impropriety by going behind closed doors with a woman.  There too the students of these men were able to judge favorably and assume nothing sinful had happened.  It is important to keep in mind that in all these cases, the man who could reasonably be suspected was known as an upstanding, righteous person.  When you know a man holds himself to strict standards, you can give him the benefit of the doubt.  Likewise, when you hold yourself to proper behavior, others will judge you favorably based on your past.  Your reputation is gold.  You need to guard it.

However, when dealing with new people you should exercise caution.  A man must prove himself through his deeds before you give him leeway.

Pinhas: zeal, debauchery, paternity, women’ work

This week Jews study the portion of the Bible called Pinhas, Numbers 25:10–30:1.  This section concludes the scandalous episode of the sexual attack by Moavite and Midianite women against the Jews.  This took place at the end of last week’s Bible study:

The Moavites and Midianites sent their best endowed women, including girls from the nobility, decked out like whores to seduce the Jews.  The Medrashim (backstories to the Bible passed down from the men who were there) and the Talmud explain that they set up trading posts and offered the Jews merchandise on sale, with an older woman outside a tent offering a higher price, and a younger woman inside the tent offering a lower price.  Jews do not pay retail, so they went inside to strike a deal and met a gorgeous woman dressed to kill and ready to please.  The Talmud details that they wore golden lingerie to emphasize their bodily assets.  In those days, a woman in any sort of revealing clothing was out of the ordinary, so to make the outfits from gold further added to the allure.

As thousands of Jewish men got seduced, the Midianite women also convinced them to engage in idolatry  (25:1-3).  God tells Moses to take the judges and sentence these men to death and execute them (25:4-5).  In response one of the princes of a Jewish tribe brought a Midianite princess back to the camp, and brought her before Moses, a public outrage (25:6).  He intended not only to engage in promiscuity with her, but to do this in front of the whole camp, giving an official imprimatur to this harlotry.  The Jewish leadership was paralyzed from the outrage.  Only one man, Pinhas (also spelled Phinehas) took action against the prince.  He was a grandson of Aaron the high priest.

Pinhas spears the Jewish man and the harlot through their reproductive organs, and carried them outside on his spear.  The camp witnessed his zealous vengeance on the prince and stopped pursuing the foreign women.  Unfortunately, 24,000 Jewish men perished in this debacle.


This week our portion opens:  Pinhas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal.  Therefore, say, “I hereby give him My covenant of peace.  It shall be for him and for his descendants after him an eternal covenant of priesthood, because he was zealous for his God and atoned for the children of Israel.” 25:10-13.  You may find it mind boggling that an act of violence earns a covenant of peace and priesthood.  All the contrary, sometimes a shocking act against a corrupt status quo is just what is needed to restore balance and peace.  This week also names the Jewish man as Zimri, Prince of Simon, and the woman as Cozbi daughter of Tzur, a royal princess of Midian.  This highlights the fact that the harlotry involved the highest levels of both nations.


Let us elaborate on what exactly Pinhas accomplished with his zeal and spear.  First, the women of Moav and Midian began to seduce Jewish men and get them to engage in idolatry (25:1-3).  God tells Moses to take the judges and sentence these men to death and execute them (25:4-5).  The Jews begin judging the sinners.  Men from the tribe of Simon complain to their prince that they were being sentenced to death and ask for protection.  The prince responds by bringing a Midianite princess in front of Moses and the entire camp (25:6).  Our sages teach that he was making a legal argument against Moses:  if you Moses were allowed to marry a Midianite woman, then why can’t we now? (Sanhedrin 82).  Moses married before the Divine revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah, and obviously Moses had converted her to Judaism.  However, the gall of this prince, chutzpah as we say in Yiddish, shocked the Jews and they were not able to respond.  Perhaps the leadership was trying to argue against the prince that these women could not be converted since they were steeped in idolatry and corrupting the men.  Zimri took the girl to his royal tent to seal the deal.  Only Pinhas had the peace of mind to remember that there is a law that if a Jew cohabits with an Aramean (idolatrous) woman, zealots can strike him down.  However, this zealotry is extra-judicial and the sinning man is allowed to defend himself with deadly force.


Pinhas put himself into danger, but employed wisdom and received Divine assistance.  Our ancient sources explain that Pinhas hid the tip of his spear in his clothing and approached the prince’s guarded tent with just his walking stick, which was really his spear shaft.  He asked for a turn with the Midianite girl, and the guards let him in, thinking it would be even better for their position to have a man related to the high priest ratify their harlotry.  Once inside, Pinhas rebuilt his spear and stabbed Zimri and Cozbi through their reproductive organs, and carried them outside on his spear.  This proved to the Jews that the zealous killing was legal as Zimri was actually sinning at the time.  The camp witnessed his vengeance on the prince and stopped pursuing the foreign women.  The guards from the tribe Simon were so shocked at the assassination of their leader that Pinhas was able to escape.


It is hard to translate the term to English, commonly we see it as zeal and zealot.  The same letters also connote jealousy.  Pinhas acted out of jealousy in a certain sense, but not his own jealousy of Zimri.  It wasn’t anything personal to Pinhas, he had no grudge against Zimri.  It was outrage that Jewish men would go after foreign women and their idols, and a prince would endorse and protect that behavior.  Pinhas was acting out of God’s jealousy.  Understand, God does not have human emotions.  God never actually gets jealous, the Bible uses such terminology so humans can understand the message and draw lessons on proper behavior. Pinhas understood that the rampant promiscuity was an affront to God, and to the honor of the Jewish people.  He was jealously avenging the honor of others, not himself.

Pinhas was concerned with fulfilling God’s mission in this physical world, which requires the Jewish people to maintain their personal purity.  He identified himself as an agent for God’s objectives, and made His goal into a personal mission.  This allows a high level of leadership.  When a leader takes things personally, holds himself as more important than the mission, then he cannot be fully devoted to the mission.  Others can drive a wedge between him and his goals by attacking him personally.  He pays close attention to public opinion of his performance, instead of his actual job.

When you put your mission over your own pride, you can become more effective, because your actions are not about you.  You have a greater cause in life, something you can be zealous and jealous for.  Something you can put first, above other people and your own laziness.  You don’t have to make excuses, since your mission demands certain actions, not yourself.  Again, it’s not your ego that drives you, but your mission.  When someone gets in your way, you don’t take it personally, you work on removing the impediments to your mission.  Nothing personal.



How low can we go?

When the Midianite women seduced a Jewish man, they would ask him to join her in idol worship.  The idol that the Midianite women brought to the Jews was the infamous Baal Peor, the lord of excrement (25:3).  This idol was worshipped by defecating in front of it; the offering was the man’s excrement.  The most pious Baal Peor fanatics would use an idol to wipe. This sounds incredible.  How could the holy Jews, the living banner of monotheism, be lured after the most vile idol?

When people reject holiness, they don’t just go to neutral, they go to the opposite extreme.  We also see another element of human psychology at play here:  When men think they are fallen they throw themselves deeper into the pit.  The Jewish men who were seduced by the Midianite girls felt that since they were giving in to their urges by sinning, they might as well give in to join them in idolatry too.  After all, they were already sinners in their own eyes.


This self concept is actually against ancient Jewish wisdom.  Our sages teach that however low a man falls, he can stop and turn his life around.  A man can change his life in a moment of repentance and strong resolve to change.  Our sages bring stories of men steeped in hedonism and harlotry who turned their lives around in an instant of resisting temptation, even though they had given in to that temptation before.  This is a powerful idea that you can use.  No matter where you are in life now, you can change it.

However, when many men are sinning together, it becomes harder to stop and turn around.  There can be positive peer pressure and God forbid negative too.  Pinhas was not affected by the other men straying.  His zeal was stronger than peer pressure, he saw this debauchery and was outraged at the affront to God’s honor.  God sent a plague to kill out the men who had sinned with foreign women and idols.  The Bible makes clear that it was a minority of Jews engaging in harlotry, since a 24,000 died from this encounter, out of over 600,000 men aged 20 through 60.  But for that many holy men to give in to a sexual attack and lower themselves from their spiritual was shocking.  Keep in mind this likely includes men who had seen miracles and God’s revelation at Sinai.

Pinhas realized this was an extreme change in the sexual-spiritual level of the Jewish men and took direct action.  When mores change slowly most people don’t notice.  When things get really bad quickly, people start to realize something is wrong.  In mainstream society, the level of promiscuity and licentiousness has definitely been increasing.  For some it probably seems like a slow inevitable march.  When I was a kid, it was practically unheard of for a woman to have a tattoo.  In college, it was still rare and a girl with a ink was considered trashy by most people.  Now, if you are around young secular people, you will see women with multiple tats, wearing clothing to show them off.  The stigma has largely evaporated.  In fact, there is a race to the bottom: if one girl has one tat, eventually that becomes normal and boring, so the next girl wants two tats plus a body piercing and more revealing clothing so she can get more attention.  There is such a pull to the extreme, to be more novel, more excited, more noticed by men, that soon what was outrageous seems pretty tame and normal.


When changes are moving slowly they get brushed off.  In modern America, changes to popular morality are purposefully introduced slowly, like slowly raising the heat to boil a lobster alive.  If you are old enough you remember that there was a time when there was zero mention of homosexuals in the media.  The media, by design, slowly added references and characters until it became normal and expected to have them on most mainstream programs.

It takes a massive dose of debauchery to shock this generation, at least in secular circles.  And it’s hard to find such things today since we are being desensitized to it.  Some of us religious fanatics still get worked up if a girl’s skirt it too short for her school uniform and her knee is showing.  In mainstream culture I have to wonder if there is still the capacity for real outrage.  Compounding this is backlash to any expressions of outrage.  If religious people refuse to decorate a cake for a certain “wedding”, they can be dragged through the mud and lose their business and reputation.  It’s actually dangerous for religious people to express traditional religious ideas in public.


Proving Paternity

After the debacle of the girls from Moav and Midian sexually attacking the Jews, the Bible lists the families of the Jewish tribes, tracing the lineage back to the sons of Jacob (Numbers Chapter 26).  Rashi (26:5) explains why this list is here:  Since the nations were denigrating them and saying, “How can the Jews trace their lineage by their tribes?  Do they think that the Egyptians did not exploit their mothers?  If they mastered their bodies as slaves, all the more so [did they exercise authority over] their wives.  Therefore, the Holy One, blessed is he, appended His Name to them, the [letter] ‘hey’ to one side and the ‘yud’ to the other side, as if to say: I bear witness for them, that these are the sons of their fathers.

The names of the tribes, in the grammatical form in Numbers 26 add a letter Yod to the end and a letter Heh to the beginning.  These letters form a name of God.  [The Torah is always referring to the same God even using different names.  Human kings can also be called royal highness or exalted or majesty.  The various appellation for God convey specific hidden meanings as well].  This was the ancient equivalent of a paternity test, with God himself testifying that the sons were from the fathers.

Conventional Judaism is very tribal.  Jews have been known as “the tribe”, though in fact they are 12 tribes from the 12 sons of Jacob.  In modern times, most Jews do not know with certainty their ancestral tribe, except the Leviim and Cohanim (priests), who are from the tribe of Levi.  So most men named Cohen or Katz (and a few other Cohanic names) descend from our ancient priests.   In fact, genetic testing of Cohanim has shown from common Y chromosome haplotypes that the overwhelming majority of present day Cohanim descend from a single man who lived 106 generations ago, about 3300 years ago.  This was Aaron, brother of Moses, the first Cohen.

“For more than 90 percent of the Cohens to share the same genetic markers after such a period of time is a testament to the devotion of the wives of the Cohens over the years. Even a low rate of infidelity would have dramatically lowered the percentage.”

Dr. David Goldstein of Oxford University, Science News, October 3, 1998

Further testing on Jews generally, not just Cohanim, revealed similar results.  Similarity testing was done on both Y-chromosome, passed from father to son, and mitochondrial DNA, which is passed to any child from mother (the mitochondria come with the egg cell).  The results indicate a low level of admixture (intermarriage, conversion, rape, etc.) into the gene pool of various Jewish communities around the globe.

“Despite their long-term residence in different countries and isolation from one another, most Jewish populations were not significantly different from one another at the genetic level. The results support the hypothesis that the paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population, and suggest that most Jewish communities have remained relatively isolated from neighboring non-Jewish communities during and after the Diaspora.”
(M.F. Hammer, Proc. Nat’l Academy of Science, May 9, 2000)

Of course there should be some degree of admixture, Jews do accept converts (slowly and carefully), though Jews do not encourage others to convert.  And of course, through history there have been instances of, heaven forbid, rape and seduction.  In Jewish law a child follows the status of the mother for religion, so the child of a Jewish mother is Jewish.  However, tribal status goes after the father, and tribe determined inheritance and priesthood, so paternity was also just as important.

The assumption that other nations made was that when one people subjugates another, the women from the weaker group are up for grabs.  Now, witnessing 24,000 Jewish men go after foreign women, the other nations assumed that the Jewish women also had engaged in extracurricular activities back in Egypt, when powerful Egyptian men would appear more attractive than enslaved Jews.  We learned in Exodus that this was not the case by the Jews in Egypt, and further discussed the sexual loyalty of our ancient women.  As we will explore, Jewish women took their job as caretaker of their family seriously.


Daughters no sons

The daughters of Tzelafhad approached Moses to ask for their father’s inheritance in the holy land (Numbers 27).  The Bible had instructed that the land would be divided among the men.  However, Tzelafhad had died during the 40 years in the wilderness without leaving any sons.  His family – the five girls – would be without an inheritance.  God instructs Moses that in the absence of sons a man’s inheritance goes to his daughters 27:7.  [It goes without saying that if a man leaves sons and daughters, the sons provide for the girls from his estate until they get married].

This is really interesting.  You see, 3300 years ago it was extremely rare for a woman to own land.  From Greek and Roman records it was almost totally unheard of.  In many ancient cultures it was outright illegal, only men could own property.  In Jewish culture, it was not illegal for a woman to own land, but it was uncommon, and we will see why.

It would have been easy for the daughters of Tzelafhad to marry men and get the fruits of the land through their husbands.  They would be attached to the holy land through their husbands.  That was totally normal and expected.  In addition, the ancient sources say that these women were all righteous and would be considered a good pick even without owning their own land.  So why their obsession to get an inheritance in Israel for their father?

These righteous girls obviously respected the memory of their father.  In conventional Jewish wisdom, a child is considered the legs of the parent: after a parent passes from this world, the actions of the children are still known and bring merit to their parents who are in the world of souls.  A parent can still take pride in deeds of their descendants in the physical world.  The daughters of Tzelafhad wanted to attach his name to a legacy in the holy land.  That would be a tremendous merit for their father.  Even after the five girls would marry and be a part of a new family, they wanted their father’s family name to continue on the land.  They wanted the name of their father to continue because they identified with their father.  He raised them and taught them, he was the most important man in their life.

Not only ancient times, but even in recent generations, women found fulfilment in continuing their family legacy.  Women were taught that they were the crucial element in continuity. Women had the responsibility to take care of the home, and this was valued highly because the home is where the family comes together and educates the next generation.  Jewish women, compared to other groups, were typically more educated and more likely to be literate.  They were the mainstay of the house, having the most influence over the children and the mood in the house.  Women understood that their behavior and values set the tone for the home.  They don’t just make children, they make the house a home, and continue the family for generations.

In Jewish mystical tradition, women have the power of development and incubation. They can take a raw material and protect and nurture it and ensure it continues. This obviously refers to pregnancy and child rearing, but also to the family generally.  A man by contrast needs to go out of himself, strike off on his own, and make something of himself.  On a deeper level, remember the letters Yud and Hey we mentioned above, that are part of God’s name and were added to the family names as testimony of paternity.  The word for man contains a Yud and woman contains a Hey, hinting that only when man and woman are together they bring Godliness.  The other letters of both man and woman, without the Yud and Hey, are the letters for fire.  Without any higher goals in their life, man and woman burn out.

A woman’s work is to continue her family, both her father’s legacy, and her own family with her husband.  This is why our ancient women valued the land so highly.  When the Jews would enter the holy land, Israel, their family would be attached to the land.  The Jewish women identified as the pillars of their families, and a family on their ancestral land also works for continuity and legacy. They felt that their love for the land would reinforce the strength of their families on the promised land.

Nowadays a young women is told, indoctrinated rather, that they will only find real meaning outside of the house, by becoming something in the public sphere.  She needs to be a “Strong independent woman” and become a doctor or lawyer or politician and make her own personal impact on the world.  She is manipulated to believe that she will not find meaning inside her family, as the central figure of her own household and the one responsible for her legacy.  Of course, we see many women reject this conditioning and start families, but the messages from the media do have a serious impact.

However, many women in America avoid or delay marriage while they are buying into the feminist brainwashing, only to realize that they truly wanted a family when it is already quite late.  Many women don’t realize that they will find more meaning as a mother than as an employee until family is difficult or impossible to accomplish.  The conditioning impacts even traditional families, women in religious circles are much more likely to work outside the house than in prior generations.  Women are told (indoctrinated) that work and wealth will bring them meaning.  But they are often frustrated that their work takes them away from their homes and families, the very things that bring them a deeper, more lasting sense of well being and fulfilment.  I see a struggle in many a young woman between finding her value outside of the house, where modern society told her it will be, and also having the time and resources to build her own home, where she has immensely more value and impact.


There is another element at play among the daughters of Tzelafhad and their request for their father’s land.  Without their own family plot of land, these girls would get suitors who would rely on their land to make a match.  The suitors would know that these women had no land in their family, and would play up the advantage of marrying for land, for financial provisioning.  While in ancient times especially it was totally normal for the husband to provide for wife and family, the five daughters wanted future husbands who would not rely on their assets to prove their value as men.  I have a theory that the daughters of Tzelafhad knew that without family land, any man they would marry would have a subtle sense that some of their motivation was for economic security.  They wanted to marry the best suitor because he was the best man, not because he brought a valuable asset to the table.  With their own family land, the daughters of Tzelafhad could choose the best husbands on the basis of other factors, not for provisioning.

This ancient wisdom from five women helps us understand a recent change in modern culture.  Even 60 years ago it was rare for a woman to work outside the house, the husband was considered the main provider.  Nowadays women are not only working, but attaining more college degrees than men, and often making more money than men.  When economic troubles hit, men are more likely to lose their jobs.  Women with their own economic security are not impressed by a man’s ability to provision.  However, some men don’t understand that fact and still rely on wealth and assets to impress.  A man needs to work on himself in other areas and be a complete man, not a walking credit card.  Of course, a man with wealth will get more attention from women, but he needs to ask if that is due to him or the money.


A woman must carefully consider the messages being pushed on her from modern society.  For thousands of years, women developed the unique skills to be the central figure in the home.  Women were responsible and hard working and found fulfilment in family and building a legacy.  Today young women are being manipulated to devalue family.  They are told to find themselves and become something.  The reality is often this something is a cog working for someone else’s profit margin.  We should be blessed with the wisdom to understand the messages and act for our ourselves and the interests of our families.

Daily dose of wisdom, Shabbat 126: does it work in the real world?

The Talmud is discussing items that we can move on Shabbat, specifically window shutters, which in olden times were not always built in or attached.  The Gemara compares the discussion about shutters to door bolts, which too were not always attached.  An anonymous Mishnah supports moving both on Shabbat, so in theory both could have the same law, but there was also testimony that our ancient sages actually shuttered a window on Shabbat.  The actions observed in practice prove the law for the shutters, but not for the bolt.


We have a concept that if educated upright people are following a certain teaching, that gives it demonstrated validity.  It works in the real world.  The assumption in Jewish law is that if people were doing something forbidden, the local Rabbinical authorities would take them to task.

The wisdom for modern man is that you have to go out and see what works for your life.  Try some new things out, new hobbies, new hustles, new ways of communicating and meeting people.  Find out what works in the real world.  We have a related concept that practical learning is preferred over theoretical.  When you see men doing something that works, learn from them and explore if you can apply their methods to your personal situation.

Daily dose of wisdom, Shabbat 125: mind over matter

We are in the topic of “muktzeh” meaning items we do not move on Shabbat.  Our sages enacted these limits so we do not come to do forbidden work on Shabbat.  There are detailed rules and exceptions to muktzeh.  In general, if an item was not set aside for use on Shabbat we do not move it.  This raises a question of what is needed to set something aside.

Once Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi went to one place and found a course of building stones, and he said to his students:  Go out and think that you are designating these stones for Shabbat so that we may sit on them tomorrow on Shabbat, and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi did not require them to perform an action with those stones.

According to this opinion, intention was enough to ready the stones for Shabbat.  However:

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: That is not what happened. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi required them to perform an action to designate the stones.  The Gemara asks: What action did he say to them to perform?  Rabbi Ami said that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to them: Go out and arrange the stones.  Rabbi Asi said that he said to them: Go out and rub the mortar off of them.

However, a man is not a rock.  Once you decide to change your life you are already changing.  You have begun to become someone else.  Once you take steps in the direction of growth you effect more change, and it gets easier.  When you start seeing results, you can draw further inspiration for improvement.  In Jewish wisdom, a man can change himself in a moment of inspiration, even on his death bed.  Thought counts as the first step, but it is only the start.


Daily dose of wisdom, Shabbat 124: primary functions

Today’s learning continues the discussion of a critical area of Sabbath law called “Muktzeh” which means set aside. Items that cannot be used on Shabbat are set aside in the sense that we do not move them.

Our sages distinguish between a utensil with an allowed purpose, for example a plate used to eat from, and a utensil with a forbidden purpose, such as a hammer used to build with. Building is banned on Shabbat, so we do not normally move a hammer, but we can still move the hammer for a permitted use like cracking nuts.


There is a lesson here that a man should consider what his primary function is.  You can consider yourself as a tool with multiple uses.  A contemporary wise man said:  “Specialization is for insects; a human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.”


A man should be capable in many areas.  However, your primary function is where you put most of your time and energy. Step back and think about what that is. Are you giving yourself to help someone else make her dreams come true? For the bottom line of a massive corporation that sees you as a tiny cog? So other people like you and think you are nice?

For many men in modern America their primary function seems to be serving others. This is not necessarily bad, but make sure you are aware and your energy is expended on your own terms. Just as a hammer can accomplish many tasks, you have incredible potential. With careful thought, you can develop your unique goals and missions and start using your powers for your own priorities.