When I slapped our son’s face

I don’t believe that corporal punishment works. It only demonstrates that I’m bigger and more powerful than our son or our grandchildren.

This one time that I hit our son, though, seemed to be the only way to reach him. His attitude was so arrogant.

He was in eighth grade, and we were sitting at our kitchen table. He was genuinely proud and showed mock innocence of how he and a friend had addressed their English teacher. They were convinced that it was perfectly acceptable to say “fothermucker” since they had exchanged two letters. Of course, both boys knew perfectly well how they had started with a disgusting word.

I wasn’t getting across to him that speaking in such a way was not innocent. His listeners knew perfectly well that he was behaving atrociously.

So I slapped his cheek. He was astounded because I had never hit him before. Besides this, the suddenness was shocking. With that slap, he promised that he would never speak that way ever again.

He may have behaved atrociously again in the next year or two. I reminded him of how I couldn’t reach him then, and I didn’t seem to be reaching him again. “Listen. I’m not going to hit you again. You’re older and wiser. Think about your audacity then and now. I expect you to behave better.” Then I walked away.

I really believe that his memory jolted him. I’m not aware that his behavior was other than “age appropriate.” He was a teenager and lapsed into the poorer behavior and attitude that teenagers sometimes exhibit. But teenage behavior during the teenage years wasn’t going to change much with chastisement. In addition, I had already taught him a life-long lesson.

She Who Deserves Her Privacy – SWDHP

I’ve been divorced for a while. I don’t like to say the expression ‘ex-wife’. I usually refer to her by name as I would any acquaintance. I do mention that she is my ‘ex-wife’, but only to establish our relationship.

In this blog I will call her She Who Deserves Her Privacy – SWDHP.

An idea for this comes from the British television series Rumpole of the Bailey that was broadcast on PBS. Horace Rumpole is a barrister who refers to his wife as “She who must be obeyed!”

If I had been Rumpole, I would have abbreviated this to SWMBO when writing. It’s one thing to give his wife a long title when speaking. It’s another for me to want to write out such a long phrase often.

Similarly, the woman who I was once married to and now am divorced from deserves a name that protects her privacy. But, as I wrote above, calling her my “ex-wife” leaves a distaste in my mouth. She is, after all, still our son’s mother. Note how I wrote “our son.” In certain contexts, he is certainly my son. However, he came to be born as “ours,” and he didn’t change when we got divorced. We both raised him together, under the same roof, for about thirteen years.

Actually, there is no full divorce when you have children. The children bring you together when they get married, when grandchildren are born, and so on. This is something to consider if you entertain the idea of getting divorced.

Hot Tea WITH Sugar

Zeide muses . . .

We sit along a well-used, white, oil-cloth covered table. The Ein Ya’akov books are open for today’s lines.

“From the rising sun until it sets . . .” — tea with sugar. WITH — the only English word here. I’m the only speaker of English sitting on the bench, but no matter. My great-grandfather hunches over my shoulder, whispering.

His whisper swirls through the mouth of the zogger — the one who says what’s written, and I hear.

“Someone who reads the Megillah backwards didn’t go out.” Go out? Where? Why read it backwards anyway? Spoiler alert!

The table sprouts glasses of sweet tea, too hot to drink. The sun is setting, but slowly. I dovvened  this morning, and then we sat down to drink hot tea with sugar quickly.

“I heard that you’re from Chicago. The Rebbe was in Chicago.” Perhaps my Zeide Segal saw him. (Now I’m Zeide Segal.) “Do you remember whose yohrtzeit is tomorrow?”

The Chicago connection fails me. The tea connection doesn’t. The Rebbe was escorted from a wintery train platform to a hotel where they surely served him — a glass of hot tea with sugar. A glozz tay.

“Every year I go up to the Mount of Olives to pay my respects. But this year . . . it’s dangerous. Reb Boruch Mordecai of Bobruisk is my ancestor.” The Great Luminary. The Spicy, Biting Sharp. Wise but Humble. He was summoned to the Yeshivah of Above, 14 Elul 5617.

But it’s not dangerous here in Jerusalem of Above. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll go pay respects.

“Absolutely not. It’s dangerous. I take no responsibility.”

This was worn into the pavement of Mazkeret Moshe Street near Congregation Yismach Moshe. I wore my hiking boots then, and then again when a Yerushalmi bochur accompanied me to the Mount of Olives Cemetery. “Aim for the resting place of the holy Ohr HaChaim, but swerve south about ten meters before you reach his tziyun.” Believe me, I toiled and I found.

Congregation Knesseth Israel is hosting me for this evening’s hot tea and Ein Ya’akov lines. “From the rising sun until it sets . . .” — tea with sugar.

  • Ein Ya’akov
  • “From the rising sun until it sets . . .” – Psalms 113:
  • the only English word here – Tea has probably entered the English language from Ancient Chinese after several hand-offs over time. Sugar has probably entered the English language from Sanskrit after a number of hand-offs over time.
  • “Someone who reads the Megillah backwards” – Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah, 17a.
  • didn’t go out – I’m having fun with the Hebrew term that means “didn’t fulfill the mitzvah.”
  • The Rebbe was in Chicago – His Holiness, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, visited Chicago in 1942.

Noah’s Ark landed where?

Why do so many people believe that Noah’s ark landed on a mountain in or near today’s Armenia.

Typically, the answer is, “The name of the mountain is Ararat, and the Bible teaches us that the ark landed on Mount Ararat.

A fallacy here is that no location on the face of the Earth has an essential name. People give names to geographical locations, and people change names as it suits them.

Who knows who named this mountain “Ararat”? It’s not unlikely that people who heard about the Bible wanted their famous mountain to bear the name of Noah’s mountain. So, who knows that this mountain was named Ararat in Noah’s time?

This is a topic for investigation, to find evidence. I’m fond of suggesting topics for post-graduate dissertations, and this is a topic.

Currently, scientists believe that the earliest community of our ancestors lived near the horn of Africa, around the location of today’s Ethiopia. It’s as likely that Noah’s ark landed in Ethiopia as it is that it landed in Armenia.

Noah and Na’amah had three sons and three daughters-in-law, who themselves had children and grandchildren. There is no saying which family or clan succeeded in heading north leaving Africa and entering southwest Asia. Who knows whether another family followed the pioneers. We don’t even know whether some of these early people backtracked to where Noah and Na’amah had settled.

We don’t know how fast some people moved across Asia. General experience is that people follow water-level routes. Sea coasts tend to be level, generally unblocked by mountains that jut into the ocean.

Sea coasts abound with sea food. Berries, nuts, and fruits are as abundant near coasts as they are inland. It’s not especially difficult to find fresh water nearby. “All waters flow to the sea.”

What about shelter? It seems to me that erosion from wave action creates caves and projecting overhangs. Early humans were as intelligent as we are. Will someone tell me that a family or clan didn’t send a scout ahead to find, among other things, the next location of shelter? Perhaps these people were reluctant to backtrack to the previous shelter, but can you tell me that they didn’t when they urgently needed protection?

Experts believe that evidence of human life along sea shores readily wash into the ocean or are buried by rising sea levels. What I’ve written is speculation — one of my history professors would likely call these musings “idle speculation.”

No matter. Archaeologists are actively exploring sea coasts along the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia.

If you’ve heard of people experimenting to find out how practical sea level journeys are using primitive strategies, or even safe compromises with contemporary equipment, please tell me. Thanks.

A single or divorced man making do with only a little kosher body contact

Empiric evidence strongly correlates a baby’s failure to thrive with not being held. Also a lack of eye contact.  An anti-Torah stance of scientists doesn’t seem to skew the studies of failure to thrive.

My leap here is to see body contact as essential for our entire lives. My evidence is anecdotal. I’ve done no research. As I often suggest, here’s a thesis for post-grad research.

However, rushing into a marriage or a second marriage has drawbacks that may outweigh the benefits. Granted that “a man who is not married lives an aggravated life.” (This is my really loose rendering of a Midrash.) However, an ill-advised, first marriage or a rushed second marriage are liable to be aggravating or to just plain falter without being resuscitated.

I rarely dovven Kaballat Shabbat anywhere but in a Chassidishe shul. I can’t imagine such a congregation without circling into dance after L’cha Dodi. My straightforward body contact is by putting my hands strongly on the shoulder of the guy in front of me. At the same, the guy behind me puts his hands on my shoulders. Kosher body contact for a single or divorced man.

For some men there’s an issue of homophobia. If I had it, I got over it. I’m an American “ba’al teshuvah” with plenty of the baggage that comes with growing up in what I’ll call, if I may, “Goyland.” I mean nothing disparaging about them or the use of the word ‘goy’. We have a culture that strongly overlaps with theirs, but we’re still distinct.

(Some sociologists call this “persistent ethnicity” for those of us who are not first-generation Americans. I’m fourth generation on both grandmothers’ sides and third on the side of both grandfathers.)

My son often wanted to get up on my shoulders during a dance. He saw this when he was really young, and I helped his confidence that he wasn’t going to fall. When he became too heavy for me, I stopped lifting him. More kosher body contact, both when I was married and after a divorce.

It wasn’t unusual for a forlorn boy to watch but not have a father in shul or to have a father who couldn’t handle this maneuver or this body contact. I often did the boy a favor by taking him up on my shoulders — not at the expense of my own son, though.

Then there are little, innocent girls who don’t sense that boys and girls are different in Halachah. I’m now going to speak only for myself. I have knowledge of only the Orach Chayim part of the Shulchan Arukh, so I can’t be a Rav (ordained Rabbi). At the same time, those in shul who are older and wiser than me never chastised me for doing what follows.

I now have a little granddaughter. (I don’t have a daughter.) I take her up on sitting on one shoulder. She doesn’t notice the difference. I shouldn’t have to explain to readers why I change how I carry her.

It gets a little dicey when a forlorn girl looks up at me with wide-open, expectant eyes. Sometimes I wipe my brow and tell her that I’m simply worn out. On the other hand, I’ll make an on-the-spot decision to include her. She’s up — sitting on one shoulder, of course — gets a couple dance bounces, and I put her down. I might then show her the face that reads, “Now I’m really pooped out.” Also, by this time, the dance may be over.

What about the issue of a slippery slope? We now have concerns even about men molesting boys and homosexual behavior between males, and in the frum community too.

“Ha’ayin ro’ah v’ halev chomed.” Note how Chazal use the singular — ‘the single eye’ but not ‘both eyes’. I hope that an element of a Day School and a yeshivah education conditions us to use only one eye casually — in a utilitarian way — and the other seriously focused Upward.

For those of us who find ourselves a bit too close to the slippery slope, we have to really pay attention to “fences around the Torah.” There is a safe Torah domain on one hand, and on the other hand, a domain that is clearly outside Torah observance. A well-known adage is, “Know yourself.”

Making do with only a little kosher body contact — sometimes “less is more and more is less.” Getting married but not being able to handle many of the responsibilities does begin with a lot of body contact, but may end with messing up several lives including one’s own. On the other hand, we can try to appreciate quality without large quantities.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches: “The entire world is a narrow bridge,” but primarily we need to take this in stride. My sincere apologies to Rebbe Nachman for not quite repeating what I heard. At the same time, Chazal teach that “m’sayimim b’tov.” Conclude on a positive note.

So you want to be normal

Where did you get the idea that only some people are normal?

“Normal is a setting on a washing machine,” says a Chicago-area counselor with a degree in Social Work.

Characteristics within a population vary from one extreme to another, and most people tend to fall near the middle, near the average or the mean. In the field of statistics, this distribution is called a bell curve.


It’s true that a bell curve is a form of a normal distribution of probabilities, but please note the technical term — a ‘normal distribution’. Only the distribution of likelihoods is normal.

If the heights of people are measured, and all of us have been measured, we are all there in the pot of measurements. Some of us are likely to be taller than others, and some of us are shorter than others. We are all 100% likely to find our heights somewhere on the bell curve because the bell curve was created by accounting for all of us.

The way I hear it is that it is very typical for many adult American males to be close to 5 feet 10 inches tall — if I’m not mistaken. Fewer are likely to be around my height of 5 feet 5 inches tall.

Look at the ‘1 standard deviation’ section above. Sixty-eight percent of us males are not especially taller or shorter than the figure that I gave of 5 feet 10 inches tall. That might be a way of saying that sixty-eight percent of us are at least 5 feet 7 inches tall but not taller than 6 feet 1 inch.

This height range comes completely from my imagination. It may be that the range of height of sixty-eight percent of adult American males is between 5 feet eight inches and 6 feet tall.

Whatever this range of heights is, those of us who are taller or shorter are also “normal” — just rarer.

So, you want to be normal? Stand up and measure your height, and you are definitely normal.

“I makes up my mind and I lives with the consequences.” (Maybe you let someone else decide for you, but that’s you letting yourself live with the consequences.)

Critical Thinking

When I write about critical thinking in this blog, I would have liked to call this skill “having our heads screwed on straight.” That’s a wieldy phrase, so it’s not a tag for this blog. It’s also a metaphor, but in the industrial age, such a metaphor is understandable. Also, this a colloquial expression for English speakers.


When I used Google Translate, the phrase “would have liked to call this skill ‘having our heads screwed on straight’. That’s a wieldy phrase . . .” resulted in Modern Hebrew that made sense — “After our heads screwed straight.” I’m actually not surprised that Israelis sometimes use translations of English colloquialisms. However, Google Translate left the word ‘wieldy’ untranslated. Then I took the Hebrew wording and let Google translate it back to English, then back to Hebrew again. This time the translation read, “After our heads screwed up straight.” This Hebrew wording actually borders on the vulgar.

I used Google Translate for a Spanish translation and got, “que tiene la cabeza en recta” — “whose head [is] straight.” Back to English it became, “that has his head straight.” It reads as I intended. This translation utility completely messed up the full idea, though. In Spanish it became, “Esa es una frase manejable” – “that is a handy phrase.” If it’s a handy phrase, then why am I not using it? Back and forth again it became, “Esa es una frase muy útil.” To the extent that I read Spanish, this means, “that is a very useful phrase.” In a good English-Spanish dictionary, the adjective ‘wieldy’ doesn’t even appear.

While I’m having fun — a German translation came back into English as, “would like to have this ability to call ‘have screwed on just our heads’. This is a handy set, so it is not a day for this blog.” The translation utility confused the English word ‘tag’ with the German word ‘Tag’ which means ‘day’.

In French, we might not like “to have our heads attached to his head.”

Ten fingers

I look at my hands next to each other, palms up. I see ten fingers — when I consider thumbs as fingers — like two columns side by side. This reminds me of the Two Tablets of ten chapter headings that Moshe Rabbeinu brought down from Mount Sinai.

Wherever I go, I have Torah study material. I decide when and where to study.

— from my scratch pad of thoughts that keep me awake,
but based on a Holy Sefer

Fourteen is an incomplete number

I look at one of my hands, palm up.

I count the bone segments of my fingers. Two joints of the thumb and three joints of each finger, altogether fourteen on either hand. The Hebrew word for hand is yad, yud dalet. The Gematria sum of 10 (yud) plus four (dalet) is fourteen. There is no surprise here that the Hebrew word for hand is yad, fourteen joints.

But, how is a hand, fourteen, incomplete? Only by virtue of how we can raise this number to fifteen. “Shma Yisrael . . .” and one hand covering the eyes. We conclude with the last word echad. We have a higher, complete unity in the number fifteen.

— from my scratch pad of thoughts that keep me awake,
but based on a Holy Sefer