True leaders and demagogues

When I saw the title of this piece, If Humble People Make the Best Leaders, Why Do We Fall for Charismatic Narcissists? I instantly thought of Moshe Rabbeinu, the paradigmatic leader of a people who was the humblest of men. The Torah also provides contrasts to him. We have the demagogue figure in Korach, whose attempted coup was self-serving rather than a true struggle for fairness. Another foil for Moshe is the greatest prophet ever for the world-at-large, namely Bilam, whose attributes include not humility but an egotistical desire for honor and riches.

The “romance of leadership” hypothesis suggests that we generally have a biased tendency to understand social events in terms of leadership and people tend to romanticize the figure of the leader.
My own research shows that our psychological states can also bias our perceptions of charismatic leaders. High levels of anxiety make us hungry for charisma. As a result, crises increase not only the search for charismatic leaders, but also …

Questions and Actions: Why we make this night different from all other nights

Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?
Who told you that?

That's an old joke that reflects our emphasis on asking questions, something that is fundamental to Torah study and to the transmission of the mesorah that we enact every Pesach.

The seder centers around the number four and the famous four questions. But four is the minimum, and further questions are encouraged by deliberately doing things that strike people as being out of the normal routine.

So here's a question: why go through all the question when we already know the answers?  We can simply tell the story, with all the drama built into the story of rags to rich of avdus to cheirus or of benighted ovdey avoda zara to enlightened people who witness Divine revelations in the geula.

Why the questions? I'm so glad you asked.

In the book  Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade Robert Cialdini  (p. 254) defend the underlying idea "Let me ask you a question for your information&qu…

Before there were clickbait articles

I  usually resist clickbait, but I did fall for this on One Thing Happy People Do Every Day (It Takes Less Than 1 Minute)  because I wanted to ascertain if it would relay the conventional wisdom of smiling to feel happier. It did. The only other thing it added was a suggestion for what it badly names going first. That makes it sound like cutting in line, but the writer really means is approaching the other person first, saying "hello," and the like.

 Clearly, Chris Heivly here considers this a huge chidush. But that's because he likely was never exposed to Pirkei Avos. Those 6 chapters of Mishna that we read in the weeks between Pesach and Shavuos contain a great deal of wisdom that applies to social and business interactions. Among them are two that cover his advice. One is the advice of Rabbi Masya ben Charash (4:20) " Be the first to greet every individual." And in the first chapter (15) the last part of Shammai three-part exhortation is: הוי מקביל את כל …

Pesach desserts

One other thing about the store-bought cakes: nearly all of them have a potato starch base. Consequently, take the blessing of shehakol rather than the mezonos that we usually say on cakes based on flour. For that reason, many shuls skip their usual kiddushes because they have no mezonos to set out.  However, if you do not have the custom of avoiding gebrokts, that is a mixture of matzah and water, you can make your own mezonos cakes based on cake meal, which is finely ground matzah meal. The first two recipes are based on that. The second two are gluten-free. 
Passover apple cake 1 c. sugar
1 c. cake meal
1/2 c.oil
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 tbsp. lemon juice
4 egg whites, beaten to stiff, glossy peaks
5 lg. apples, sliced
1/3 to 1/2 c. chopped nuts
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 8 inch square pan. Combine first 5 ingredients, stir until well blended. Fold in beaten egg whites; gently, but thoroughly. Pour 1/2 of batter into greased baking pan. Arrange s…

The cure for stagefright

I heard Shira Smiles speak this morning in Lawrence. (I'm sure the talk will be posted to Torah Anytime at some point if you want to find it). The theme was the connection of tefila to effect geula as in Pesach Mitzrayim. But she also veered a bit into a theme she addressed the last time I heard her speak there -- being in the moment. The story that applies to the latter them is the reason for the title of this blog post.

I'm not sure if the event was a siddur or chumash presentation event for children. She recounts that a child was very anxious about his upcoming role on stage until one morning he was completely calm about it. Asked what changed, he said he realized that the audience will be filled with moms who will be texting on their phones the whole time. As no one will really be watching him, there's no reason to be nervous!

Becoming Queen Esther

The eponymous heroine of Megillas Esther never sought attention for herself until she had to step up and act for the sake of her people. She certainly is one who had greatness thrust upon her, and she rose to the occasion. After preparing with fasting and prayer (5:3), she didn't merely don royal robes but royalty itself, when she came, unsummoned, to face the king. Her reward was adding a book to the canon of TaaNaCh named in her honor that is read twice every year. And we established the holiday of Purim. Thus the Jews established a celebration of a great woman's achievement 2,000 years before International Women's Day was a thing.

Purim posts from previous years:


It's All About the Fathers in Ancient Egyptian Thought

Today we popped into the Brooklyn Museum and made sure to stop into the new section set up in the Egyptian collection. It's called  A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt. The exhibit is really small, consisting of fewer than 30 objects that don't really do much to explicate the theory of what Egyptians believed about the condition for a woman's rebirth stated thus:
The ancient Egyptians believed that to make rebirth possible for a deceased woman, she briefly had to turn into a man. Guided by new research inspired in part by feminist scholarship, the exhibition A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt tells this remarkable story of gender transformation in the ancient world, exploring the differences between male and female access to the afterlife.
Egyptian medicine taught that a woman, once in her tomb, faced a biological barrier to rebirth. Because the ancient Egyptians believed that in human reproduction it was the man who created…