Oct 28, 2010

The Marshmallow Experiment

"A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush" is an idiom which means keep what you have and don't be greedy for more or it's better to have a small real advantage than the possibility of a greater one.

There is a well-known experiment which was conducted in the 1960's in which four year old children were offered a marshmallow and were told that they may eat it now.  But if they wait 15 minutes until the person returns, they can have two marshmallows.  Some ate the marshmallow right away while others waited and got two.  The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored significantly higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test years later.  This showed that early self-discipline boded well for the future.

You can watch a recent reenactment here:
It is very amusing!

If you were watching a child you loved being tested in this way, what would you want them to do?

Self-discipline is a vital trait indeed, but how about being content with what one has - is that not also a vital attitude in life, the source of happiness? Isn't waiting for two greedy? And maybe they don't like marshmallows enough to wait for a second one.  Though the girl who ate it and left didn't seem to even consider the matter and that did not bode well for her future.

I noticed that not a single child turned their back on the marshmallow to avoid temptation.  And they also listen and sit in the chair and don't get up!

What if they were allowed to do whatever they wanted in the room? What if there was a clock in the room and they were told she would be back when the big hand is on the 3 or if there was a timer they could watch.  She didn't tell them when she would be back!  And how informative is this test when they are told to sit inches away from it?

Comments anyone?

Oct 27, 2010

Magical Thinking

Magical thinking is a term that means the idea of "I can make things happen by wanting them." It is used to describe causal reasoning that looks for correlation between acts or utterances and certain events like the (non-Jewish) idea of wearing a "lucky shirt" when you go play ball. 

Those who study child development observe that in a young child's (preschooler's) view, it is very possible that it rains because the sky is sad. If your baby brother gets sick and goes to the hospital, it could be your fault if you were mad at him the day before and wished he would go away. If you want something very, very badly and it happens, then your wanting caused it to happen.

They are also examples of egocentric thinking--not that the young child is selfish. It's just that he cannot take anyone else's perspective, so that everything in the world revolves around him. When he's sad, he cries. So, it must be that the sky does, too.  And if he had a bad thought about his brother then that must be the reason he went to the hospital.

Okay.  So the questions are as follows: Can we make things happen by wanting them? Are there correlations between certain things we think or say or do and events that happen that are not as obviously connected as letting go of something and seeing it fall to the floor because of gravity? Do our thoughts affect anything outside of us? Does the world revolve around us?

The secular world would have us believe that the answer is the same to all these question: No.  But as religious Jews, don't we know we can make things happen by wanting them and praying for them? Haven't we read numerous stories in which the unlikely connection between events and a thought, utterance, or action that precipitated them was the point of the story? Isn't that what a segula is? Haven't we learned that thinking positively leads to positive outcomes? That "as waters reflect a face" - our attitudes about others affect their feelings towards us? That bringing someone to mind has the effect of arousing that person's innermost powers? That being jealous of someone or otherwise looking at them negatively with an ayin ra (evil eye), can make bad things happen? That bitachon, the feeling of trust in Hashem, can bring about what we desire? That "the world was created for my sake"?

I'm bringing this up because despite my disagreement with R' AJ Twerski on many important issues, I decided to read one of his books on relationships, a book written for the frum reader.  Early on in the book he refers to magical thinking and speaks about it in purely secular terms, i.e. that it's childish thinking.  And it stopped me short in my reading.  Whoa! One minute here! Surely he believes in prayer and bitachon and all the rest.  How does he reconcile the psychological/child developmental term with his religious beliefs?

I don't know, but it reinforced for me yet again that secularly educated frum people are confused.  Secularly well-read frum people are confused.  Ideas out in the world that are accepted as givens, do not necessarily reflect our Torah beliefs.  Beware - Be aware.

Oct 26, 2010

New Terminology

These are terms that we did not use thirty years ago, even twenty:

take it to the next level

paradigm shift


get in touch with

tap into

breaking the cycle

get with the program

give someone space

open lines of communication

to be on the same page

issues ("he has issues" instead of saying "problems")


self esteem

at the end of the day

let's not go there

I'm good (for I'm all right, doing fine)

be proactive

bottom line (as in the final result)

freak out


get over it

get a life

good to go

my bad

in your face

like (I was like, so happy)

chill (relax)

wicked (excellent)


hot (not in the sense of temperature)

24/7 (exaggerated way to refer to all the time)

he's the man

I googled it.

to put it out there

These aren't new but are used over and over and over ...

spiral downward or downward spiral

vicious circle/cycle (even when the thing they are talking about is not a circle or cycle)

Got any to add to either category? Any observations about these new ways of expressing oneself?

Oct 24, 2010

Three Places They Cannot Contest (but win anyway)

The Medrash says, "There are three places about which the nations of the world cannot taunt the Jews and say, 'You stole them.'  They are: Meoras Ha'Machpela, the site of the Beis Ha'Mikdash, and the burial place of Yosef in Sh'chem."

Avrohom paid Efron for the Cave of Machpela.  Dovid paid for the Har Ha'Bayis.  Yaakov paid for Sh'chem.

So what have we Jews done to ourselves?

We gave back the Temple Mt. to our enemies after we won it during the miraculous Six Day War. 

We handed over Sh'chem to the Palestinian Authority and the kever of Yosef Ha'Tzaddik became a target for violent protests by Arabs against the Israeli government. Several Israeli soldiers were killed at the site and in 2000 the complex was ransacked by an Arab mob. Subsequently, the glorified State of Israel prohibited Jewish visits to the site (!) and the site gradually fell into disrepair.  When Hillel Lieberman heard that the Arabs had trashed the kever, he went there to see if he could salvage the Sifrei Torah and siddurim and was murdered.

Netanyahu turned over 80 percent of Hebron in 1997 to the Palestinian Authority.

Yeshaya 49:17 "your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you" - what we do to ourselves is even more painful than what others do to us.

If you've got a positive note to end on - please share it with us!

                                                             Cave of Machpela

Oct 22, 2010

Wisdom of Our Fathers

I am reading a heartwarming book called Wisdom of Our Fathers - lessons and letters from daughters and sons by Tim Russert.

The author had written a best-selling book about his father and received thousands of responses from people who wanted to tell him about their own fathers, most of whom were people you've never heard of, ordinary people, but who in their special way made a profound positive difference in their children's lives.  The book I'm reading now is a compilation of these letters.  It's really special!

Oct 21, 2010

Proud to be an American

The Gemara says that a person's place of residence "finds favor" in his eyes, even if the area is not salubrious or otherwise wonderful.  Even as Jews who daven for Moshiach and a return to Eretz Yisrael, our places of residence while in galus appeal to us.

I welcome those from other countries to tell us what you find special about your country.  As for me, I am an American.  Americans are known for various traits, some more positive than others.  What makes me proud to be an American are two aspects that have been pointed out by various rabbis.  One is that America is a "malchus shel chesed," a nation of kindness.  America has provided enormous sums of aid to countries around the world and it is not necessarily done to receive some benefit in return.  Americans are a generous bunch.  Americans also do "chesed b'gufo" such as the Peace Corps volunteers who offer their help in areas such as education and health.

A second wonderful thing is that Americans are a deeply religious bunch.  58% believe that the strength of American society is predicated on the religious faith of its people.  6 out of 10 Americans say that their faith is involved in every aspect of their lives.  Americans pray a lot, on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  45% of Americans believe that G-d created human beings in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years.  82% of Americans say that G-d is very important to them.  And so on.

Chesed and Emuna - reasons to be proud indeed!

Oct 20, 2010

How do they know?

I've read and heard statements like:

Sholom, Jonathan, and Gilad are in jail for our sins, not for theirs.

They are our korbon.

and I wonder, how do the people who say this know this? What's their source?

If G-d didn't personally tell them, by what right do they make these pronouncements?

Oct 19, 2010

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

I am close to finishing a remarkable book called "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge.  I will quote from a description of the book:

It demonstrates the various ways the plasticity of the brain can produce significant recovery of patients suffering from the most debilitating ailments, including paralysis from stroke, and autism. Prior to the acceptance of the idea that the human brain is surprisingly flexible and adaptable (plastic), most neuroscientists were of the belief that different sections of the brain specialized in specific tasks (localization), and these specialized areas became rigid and solidified early on in life in such a way that sufficient damage to each section would forever deprive the victim of its functionality.

There is a chapter on the remarkable recovery of a stroke victim, the amazing development of the Arrowsmith program and much more.

One caveat - there is one chapter that is X-rated in which he explains how people get addicted to pornography which you can skip.

Oct 18, 2010

The Contrast

It seems to me that although there were always fragile people, still and all, people who are older than 65, especially those who were born in Europe (perhaps North Africa as well), handle losses with far greater resilience than younger people.  When you read about the Holocaust and think about how people who witnessed the worst and lost everything or close to it, went on to establish families and in many if not most cases they raised normal children, as well adjusted as anybody else, it's nothing but remarkable. 

In contrast, today's young people don't seem able to cope with adversities far less traumatic than seeing one's family betrayed, wasting away and murdered.  We are inundated with articles in the frum press about people amongst us who are suffering from a multitude of problems and who are not coping with them.  The numbers of frum people on medication to help mitigate anxieties and other such ills is staggering, so it is said.  And anxieties (aka lack of bitachon) are of our own making (I am as guilty as the next one).

As I observed an elderly person the other day, who recently loss her spouse, I thought about this and what I came up with is that the seniors amongst us did not grow up with a feeling of entitlement.  Their parents worked hard and they expected to work hard.  Life wasn't easy and that was life.  Young people in Europe did not negotiate allowances, they didn't expect to be entertained by their parents on Chol Ha'Moed or any other time.  Fun wasn't their supreme value.  They were children and their parents were parents, not their pals.  Americans  too, used to know their place when they were children.  They helped work in the family business and sometimes pitched in to support their families.

It's hard though, to recreate the mentality of yesteryear when our lives, in so many ways, are simply not the same.  Mental health professionals, including religious ones in our communities, are doing their best to inculcate us with the belief that we are suffering from one "disorder" or "syndrome" or another if not outright "illness," and frum publications vie to "undo the stigma". 

I look forward to the swing of the pendulum when we will leave the psychobabble behind and focus on core values once again.

Oct 17, 2010

Here Today, There Tomorrow

The Baal Shem Tov taught: everything we see or hear is a lesson to us in our service of Hashem.  What lesson is there in the miraculous extrication of the miners from their living grave?

I was reading a brief Holocaust account in which a woman, incarcerated in a concentration camp, describes the day she was liberated.  She writes: the day began as every other day.

The day began with the same misery she had been experiencing for the longest time.  Cold, hunger, terror.  It had been that way the month before, the week before, the day before, and that day too.  And then ... and then the Allied forces entered the camp and they were liberated.

As I read this I thought - that's how the Geula will happen.  It will start as a day like any other day.  Like yesterday, last week, last month, last year.  But then Moshiach will come.  Just like that.  Yeshuas Hashem k'heref ayin - the salvation of Hashem is like the blink of an eye.