Posts by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

How do I learn Kabbalah?

January 18th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 41 comments

Question:

I am studying kabbalah.  Last year my kabbalah mentor suggested I buy the Zohar book at close to $400 which I couldn’t afford.  Now, it is selling for $72. They say it is translated in English.  My question is if it will have the same effect of spiritual benefits if it is not in its original language.  Will I be spending my money for nothing.  Thank you!

John R.

Answer: 

Dear John,

We’re going to try to answer this delicately because we are  aware that our answer may dismay you. But you did ask, right? 

Imagine if someone offered you a high-priced pill to solve a physical problem you were having, let’s say high blood pressure, and your blood pressure went down. Did the pill work? It is indeed possible that the pill worked in accordance with well established medical and pharmacological principles.  However it is also possible that the pill  was really a  placebo made from innocuous ingredients.  It was your miraculous human mind and its belief in the efficacy of the pill that was responsible for the health improvement you experienced.   To the chagrin of many, and to the amazement of some doctors, that can and does happen. 

Kabbalah (also known as caballa, kabala, kabbala, Qabala, etc….) is an authentic part of ancient Jewish wisdom. However, we can assure you with no doubt whatsoever  that people who publicly teach it or claim to be teaching it to students who have no solid background in Hebrew, Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud, and Halachah, may be teaching some interesting things but they are not teaching Kabbalah.  

Imagine someone claiming to be teaching nuclear physics to students who have no background in algebra, physics, chemistry, calculus, let alone thermodynamics.  It’s laughable really, right?  Kabbalah is exactly the same. It is quite  impossible to understand the real Kabbalah without many years of study and mastery of the underlying basics. It usually isn’t available on the open market, but rather passed privately from a very limited number of teachers to very specifically chosen students. 

Your teacher may indeed have valuable information to impart, but the term Kabbalah is perhaps being used in a generic way. There is no way that we can judge if what you are learning is equivalent to buying a Rolex watch on a Manhattan street corner for $20 or if your teacher is providing value and using the name ‘kabbalah’ just to suggest a tie to ancient spiritual secrets.  

Would a copy of the Zohar help you? If you believe that reading it has spiritual powers then it might, akin to that placebo pill we mentioned earlier. We would, however, suggest that you find a less expensive way to attain your goal. We would also suggest judging anything you are learning based on measurable improvements in your life not on assuming that it is spiritual magic and certainly not based on being told that spending some more money will allow you to see amazing and wondrous things. 

Sadly, there is no shortcut to authentic wisdom any more than there is to authentic physical health and vitality.  It takes time and work.  Seldom is a $400 or even a $70 book necessary.  

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

Are my academic studies a mistake?

January 11th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

Question:

I was wondering what are your thoughts on why modern Universities tend  to support “progressive ideals” and go left. As a conservative on a University completing a postgraduate degree , it seems that  this left leaning culture seems to be increasingly and overtly celebrated on campus. 

Secondly, what is your opinion on the role of a University professor/Academic as a vocation  and how it fits in with the idea that we ought to be obsessively pre-occupied with serving God’s fellow creation? The reason for asking is that the science field I am involved in is largely knowledge/theoretical based rather than service based.

Ken

Answer: 

Dear Ken,

Many excellent books and articles have been written explaining why campuses overwhelmingly tilt Left. They make fascinating reading and we do suggest that if your life is heavily campus-based, you delve into this subject.

In brief, however, as I often explain on my podcast ( https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show ) there are basically only two lenses to reality. One is God-centric and humble while the other is arrogant and secular-materialistic. The former says we’re on this lonely planet because God put us here while the latter takes the position that we’re here by a random accident that makes us nothing more than super-sophisticated chimpanzees.

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Once Again

January 9th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Chana Beri lost her son Meir during the Yom Kippur war.

She lost her grandson Moshe during the Lebanon War.

Now, she lost her great-grandson Erez Orbach in a terror attack in Jerusalem.

May his memory, and that of his fellow murdered soldiers, be for a blessing and may we merit to live in peace. Amen.

Am I depriving someone of a job

January 4th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 10 comments

Question:

I read an article in the newspaper which mentioned that older workers need to retire at 55 so that young people can get jobs. Am I depriving youngsters from getting jobs?

Siti

Answer: 

Dear Siti,

The short and simple answer is NO. The article you read ignores the fact that God created each and every one of us as unique individuals with unique contributions to make to society. Your job is to continue working and adding value to the life of others.

God didn’t put Adam in The Garden to work it only until a younger person who needed a job came along. A growing garden means jobs for all who wish to work. What is more, it is a common fallacy to think that a person with years of experience behind him can be replaced by a young first-time-job-seeker. Not true.

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Should I get life insurance?

December 28th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

Question:

I am contemplating obtaining life insurance for our family. It is very confusing all together. Is it worth it or are we wasting our money? Overall what is your view? 

Thank you

Maria L.

Answer: 

Dear Maria, 

There are really two questions we think we hear you asking.  (1) Is it okay to make yourself, well, sort of redundant?  One might say, now that I am so necessary to my family, God will take care of me. But if I buy life insurance, I am making myself less necessary so perhaps God says, well, I can take you because your  family will be fine.  (2)  Is it financially a good decision?

On the first question first, God wants us all to be interdependent and mutually supportive of one another.  When society comprised few individuals and life was simpler, the small farming village knew that if Tom had an accident, Joe, Harry, and Ted would take care of his family.  It was an unofficial insurance company.  But with life as complex as it is now,  we can no longer leave it to informal arrangements so life insurance becomes the institutionalized form of helping one another.  And there is nothing wrong if Harry who organizes all the cooperation to help Tom’s family makes a living out of doing so. In other words, a life insurance company operating profitably while providing this service is a good thing.  We don’t think that having insurance is making yourself redundant or that it raises any moral or religious questions.  Obviously everyone’s circumstances are different but a conversation with a trusted financial advisor or experienced insurance person is definitely the way to go. Then analyze the available plans in terms of what might make sense to you.

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Thank you, Mr. Sowell

December 27th, 2016 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

Thomas Sowell, one of the nation’s finest economists and writers has just announced that he will no longer be writing his regular column. If you have not read his articles and books, you are impoverished. Change that. He has the rare talent of explaining complex ideas in palatable bites and the wisdom and insight to understand how the world really works. We hope he will keep writing, even if not on such a regular basis, and appreciate the opportunity to say thank you and God bless to a great American.

“Much of the social history of the Western world,
over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked
with what sounded good.”

Festive Weekend

December 22nd, 2016 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

We wish you a joyous Chanuka or Christmas with family, friends and community.

Did I Accelerate My Mother’s Death?

December 21st, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

Question:

My Mom passed away suddenly in April.  She had been having intestinal issues for a couple of months & I finally figured out it was from a prescription she was taking.  I had the doctor change it, but less than a week later, she died.  

I blame myself for not discovering sooner the medicine was causing it, and have blamed myself ever since, believing I let her down & am heartbroken.  She was my biggest inspiration.  As you can imagine, I miss her terribly.

 My husband says it is not my fault, and it was her time to go, but I feel I would still have her if I had figured it out sooner.  Do you think we each have a certain time we are appointed to die?

Becky

Answer: 

Dear Becky,

We are truly sorry for your great loss.  What a lovely tribute you give to your mother when you write, “She was my biggest inspiration.”

Blaming yourself is a natural reaction, but we agree with your husband that it is not a correct or productive one. Your letter makes clear (we edited for space; you provided more details) that you and your husband devotedly took care of your mother. If you could see into the future or if you were omniscient, you would have known that her medication was causing a problem; but those powers are not given to us. Her death may be completely unrelated to her treatment, as well. There is no reason to feel bad for being a human being. You did the best you could with the realities you saw.

We do believe that God appoints a time for each of us, however we also believe that human actions can accelerate or delay that time. Otherwise, there would be no reason to punish a murderer or to provide medical care or to pray for someone who is ill. Yet, we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that we are in charge.

Your loss is still fresh and your emotions are raw. Try not to divert yourself from the pain by focusing on self-flagellation.  You are still in the first year of mourning so rather than repeatedly reliving the medication issue in your mind, focus on all the good times you shared, all the gratitude you feel, and the wonderful example she set.

By sharing your mother’s story you are reminding us all to pay close attention to medicine interactions and of the need to monitor doctors. By sharing memories of her, you can encourage women to recognize their importance as mothers. The pain will never completely go away though it will lessen. The guilt should be abandoned right away.

Sending virtual hugs,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Teenage Thief

December 15th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 8 comments

Question:

 For 10 months I have employed a 13 year old boy to do yard work.  He is very bright, borrows my books which we discuss off work time.  Unfortunately it has just been confirmed that over time when he uses the bathroom he has been stealing from me.  When I started to suspect I set a trap. 

 When confronted he denied but later confessed claiming his parents take all the money he earns.  This may or may not be true and honestly I’m not sure about the parental situation. I do know if he was my 13 year old son I would have met his employer.  Of course restitution is a given but what other advice would you have to handle this properly and effectively.  Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Dave

Answer: 

Dear B.L.,

Dear Dave,

You are a good man. That’s our conclusion from the fact that you are concerned for this boy. Clearly, you aren’t happy with simply muttering, “What’s the world coming to.” If you are expecting restitution, than either you are meeting his parents or planning to have the boy work for you until he pays off his debt.

You know as well as we do that, “My parents take what I earn,” is not an excuse for stealing or for lying about stealing. It seems you see potential in this boy and perhaps realize that you can be a pivotal influence in his future life.

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What about retirement for women?

December 7th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

Question:

I have read and heard much of your teaching on the reasons for not retiring. I understand this for a man, however, as a woman who has worked full time in high stress employment most of my life but has never wanted anything except to be a traditional wife caring for my husband, children and home, is it wrong for me to desire retirement?

B.L.

Answer: 

 Dear B.L.,

Since not everyone reading this has heard or read our teachings on retirement, we’d like to give a super-short summary of one of the main points. Our entire understanding of ethical capitalism is that people do well financially when they find ways to serve God’s other children. Money is the by-product of being successful in this service. For this reason, retirement means stopping to serve others, which makes it a bad idea. (There is no way to cover the content of two books, many articles and a number of audio CDs in a few sentences. Please look around our website if you are interested in going deeper.)

Now, to your question.

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