Posts by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Was my response to my son appropriate?

October 18th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Once again I need to pass on your wise words to one of my children. My 15-year-old shocked me last night when, after recounting how I had come up with a non-conventional (but not prohibited) method for building a card tower, and leading my teammates to win a “competition” ( done for fun at back-to-school night), my son said, ” You’re not going to like this, but at school they would call that, ‘a Jew move.’” He said this in earshot of a friend, who agreed. 

I was shocked. First, I asked him, ” Are you ‘dissing’ your heritage?” To which he said, “Umm, yes.” Then I asked him, “Or are you using a colloquial ‘diss’ that is actually a compliment, since it means you were smart enough to figure out a solution to the problem before anyone else?” His answer “Yes, that too.” I was still so upset, I told him I felt it was disrespectful to his heritage, and it bothered me so much I was leaving him to eat his dinner alone. And I left the room. 

How could I have handled this better? What should I have added? (I left the room before I told him that when another parent said, ” She’s folding the cards!” the teacher said, “Yes, you may need to fold the cards a bit.”)

Dear Mrs. M.,

Even if some time has passed since this event, it is still not too late to have a discussion about it. Actually, your emotional reaction had its own impact and there is value in that, but a calm and rational conversation is also necessary.

We think you should start by explaining how each of us is sensitive on certain topics based on our personal experiences. These can include our race, religion, gender, economic status, physical health and stature, history of mental issues, place of birth and an endless number of other factors. Just as poking a physical sore spot on our body elicits a stronger reaction than poking a healthy area of skin, we react more fiercely when someone pokes at an area where we are emotionally vulnerable. Your son ‘poked’ a sensitive area of yours.

We all have some area of vulnerability. Immature people react to this weak spot by lashing out at other people’s weak spots; a form of bullying. Mature people learn not to cause pain to others by extrapolating from their own feelings to others’ sensitivities. Assure your son that you know he didn’t mean any harm or offense. You know he and his friends might even have intended to be complimentary. Your reaction can teach him a lesson of how language can be hurtful even when not intended to be. In general, statements that use words which categorize and define people or actions in a stereotyped and limited way are best to avoid.

We want to add a caveat. The ‘Politically Correct Police’ today have gone too far in the other direction. There are real cultural differences among groups and nationalities and it is puerile to pretend otherwise. Pulling every twelfth person out of an airport security line for extra screening while ignoring the nervous young man with the Middle Eastern passport who is number eight is ridiculous. He might very well be nervous about flying or about proposing to his girlfriend but the slogan, “If you see something, say something,” is meaningless if we have to pretend that crime and terrorism are randomly distributed.  If you’re interested in more truth on this topic, you might look at some of the great Thomas Sowell’s work, such as his essay, Cultural Diversity. However, we can be careful about gratuitous use of stereotyping while still living in reality. Like so much else in life, there is a delicate balance.

Finally, you could engage in a serious discussion with your son on the very real question of whether indeed, Jews are disproportionately successful or whether that is an anti-Semitic canard.  Furthermore, if they are really more successful (as they in fact are!) is this due to skullduggery or genes or rather to reasons that are replicable by people of all backgrounds.  For an in-depth and truthful analysis of this, we would be remiss if we didn’t recommend our book Thou Shall Prosper.

Wishing you much joy from your children,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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How can I support Israel?

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 3 comments

Hi Rabbi! I have been listening to your teachings for about 5 years and they are incredibly valuable! Thank you for your willingness to state the truth, even though it can be difficult for people to hear and is counter-culture. I have two questions totally unrelated to one another but both important:

1) Do you have an opinion on (name of ministry)?

2) Is there a recommended method for an individual to support Israel from US soil?

Thank you so much!

Carissa G.

Thanks for being a long-time listener, Carissa. We are very blessed with a wonderful large audience who is eager for the truth of how the world REALLY works even when the information causes cognitive dissonance.

You asked our opinion of a ministry. We aren’t comfortable answering that because it isn’t someone we know personally and, as such, we probably have less knowledge of the pastor than you do. The world is a very large place.

As for supporting Israel, at this time in history, supporting Israel has a lot in common with supporting America. Both countries are under assault and we all must refuse to be cowed and silenced by bullies. We need to speak up because what people around the world say about both Israel and America tells us more about them then it does about either Israel or America. That means that is is well worth making the effort to becoming educated and articulate on the topics. Make sure that the information you get is honest and fair.

We also need to make sure that young people are inoculated against vicious disinformation before stepping foot on college campuses and, indeed, to keep track of what they are hearing in high schools and at even younger ages. Here is one organization that works on college campuses and provides information as to what is happening there:

http://www.standwithus.com

One Israeli charity that our family personally supports provides services for victims of terror and their families.

One Family: Overcoming Terror Together

Website: http://www.onefamilytogether.org

Of course, visiting Israel is a wonderful way to show support and give yourself a real treat at the same time.

We are sure that prayer is already in your arsenal,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Should we keep trying?

October 3rd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

My wife and I have had a pretty rough few years of marriage.  Issues like conflict between her and my family, and the two of us having different personalities are the main reasons for these problems.  I feel like some of my screw ups, (weak communication, insensitive at times) are part of  being a male, and not at all an intentional disrespect to her.  She feels that having 2 opposite personalities never lets us “click,” and she is ready to move on.  We have 2 kids, 6 & 8, and have been married for 14 years. 

 I don’t feel God would have  brought us together, only to give us a yearning for a “soul mate” after we have been blessed with so much.  Is the thought that there is someone who is more compatible, a legitimate reason for divorce?  Any resources you can point me to would be greatly appreciated.  I love your podcast and books.  

Thanks for your wisdom!

Matt M. 

Dear Matt,

It sounds like you and your wife have been on a downward spiral for a while. We do have a book recommendation based on your question, “Is the thought that there is someone who is more compatible, a legitimate reason for divorce?” The fact is that in our culture, one doesn’t need a “legitimate reason for divorce.” However, it sounds as if your wife is hesitating to move forward with ending the marriage perhaps because, even deep down, she believes that she made a covenant for life. Diane Medved’s readable and powerful book, Don’t Divorce: Powerful Arguments for Saving and Revitalizing Your Marriage, might give her reasons to rethink her picture of divorce in addition to whatever spiritual and religious views motivate her. Especially with two children in the picture, in our view, divorce should always be seen as the very last resort and only for the most extreme reasons.

There are many good books out there with wise advice for marriage. One we like that deals with having two opposite personalities is Chana Levitan’s, That’s Why I Married You: How to Dance with Personality Differences. However, books and other resources with great information don’t always translate easily into action.  We do think that the right marriage counselor  can be invaluable. The tricky part is finding the right one. Too many counselors end up facilitating the end of marriages rather than bringing couples together. Recommendations from people you trust are invaluable as well as doing your own research and asking a potential counselor some pointed questions.

It’s always painful to throw away a significant financial nest egg you’ve been accumulating for over a decade.  Not only does it hurt but knowing how hard it will be to make it up hurts even more.  Well, throwing away fourteen years of time that you’ve invested is far more painful.  What is more, unlike money, you can never recover time.  You’ve got shared memories and you have two children.  We feel it is well worth serious effort to resculpt your marriage.  It is very hard to break free of old habits and paradigms.  Even ways you address one another, let alone how you think of one another.  But all this needs to be done.  All this and more, can be done.

If your wife is willing to work with you, we strongly encourage the two of you to aim, not for settling for a mediocre life but for a renewal of love, affection and friendship.

Of course, the power of prayer mustn’t be ignored,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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I can’t stand religious hypocrites!

September 27th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 16 comments

I am very sensitive for various reasons to religious hypocrisy.

Though I am no longer a Christian, I grew up as one and remember hearing a sermon or lecture about how the sin of hypocrisy is not just about claiming to be of a particular faith and then not following “the rules”.  It’s much worse – if someone turns away from G’d because of someone’s hypocrisy, the hypocrite takes on the ultimate destination of the seeker.

If a Jew demands “righteousness” of other Jews and voices condemnation of other Jews for not being perfect Jews and then goes around committing the same sins, how is that seen in Judaism?  How is it handled?

Laura M.

Dear Laura,

While we did abbreviate your letter for practical reasons, your aversion to religious hypocrisy came across loud and clear. Yet, we think that hypocrisy might be one of those words that means different things to different people.

You speak of a Jew—though you could be speaking of someone of any religion—who condemns others for not being perfect and then commits the same sins.  There is a world of difference between imperfection, inconsistency and hypocrisy.

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My Wife Wants to be Cremated

September 12th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 37 comments

My wife has stage 4 cervical cancer and is not healthy enough for the standard treatments. We are preparing for the worst but praying for the best. 

She has expressed a desire to be cremated.  It’s cheaper, and when I pass I will  be interned at Arlington as I am a veteran.  It sounded OK to me at first but I’m having reservations.

Your thoughts, should a Jew or a Christian consider cremation?

Robert H.

Dear Robert,

We are moved by your words, “We are preparing for the worst but praying for the best,” and pray that God responds favorably to your prayers.

While we love teaching what the Torah says we aren’t comfortable telling you as a Christian how to act. We recommend that you discuss this with a respected mentor and/or clergy from your own faith.

We can tell you that in Torah Judaism, proper treatment of the body after death is defined as burial, just as God told Adam toward the end of Genesis chapter 3. This is so important that, for faithful Jews, even if one’s parents expressed their wishes to be cremated, their children may not carry out those wishes. The idea is that after death, the parents will have entered a World of Truth and will be appalled that they ever wanted to do something counter to God’s law. As such, giving them a proper burial is actually following their final wishes.

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Am I too intimidating to get married?

September 5th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 22 comments

I have listened to your analysis of romantic relationships and am left wondering what your best advice is to a charming, active, healthy, financially well off, single woman who is over 50 who dearly misses the intimacies of married life?

I am called intimidating and “a tough act to follow”.

Janet

Dear  Janet,

As always, we start with the disclaimer that without knowing you personally we might be way off the mark in our advice. However, we hope we can at least encourage you in the right direction.

You certainly have a lot going for you. At the risk of sounding completely politically incorrect (all right, we enjoy being politically incorrect but it still is risky in our “gotcha” society) perhaps you have too much going for you?

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I disagree with what you said

August 29th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 32 comments

(We received this comment in response to a recent Thought Tool, Egypt Made Me Do It, discussing the Biblical message not to focus on past evils. We felt that it was a worthy question for this format.)

I respectfully do not at all understand your belief that Jews do not focus on the past problems but focus on the future.

I love Jewish people and study the Bible through your perspective but it seems Jewish people and suffering go together like a dog and his bone.

I see many movies and TV shows, there are holy days reminding us of your suffering, and it seems one cannot talk about Jewish issues without bringing up the Holocaust. 

I’m not criticizing this observation and I do not feel it’s wrong, but to say Jews look toward to the future and do not think of the horrors of the past is just not so. Anyway that’s my take. Love your instruction and guidance as you have opened my eyes to truth and understanding. 

Lee S.

Dear Lee,

We appreciate your response and imagine that it is shared by many who may be less willing than you to pose challenging questions to us. We based that Thought Tool, as we do all our teachings, on God’s wisdom. Sadly, we human beings, and certainly Jews, often fail to follow His wisdom.

Imagine a future archeologist reports that 60% of American Jews of the early 21st century were registered Democrats. Does this mean that being a Democrat is a Jewish value? Of course not. Just because many Jews do something means it is average but not normal or necessarily correct. Most of the Jews chose not to leave Egypt with Moses but it was the wrong decision.

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Government Jobs

August 22nd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

As you teach in your books and podcasts, to have money in my wallet is a sign that I pleased another human being, a sign of clear virtue. Since I work in private sector, I hold this to be self evident.

This clarity got severely shaken by a friend of mine. He has recently graduated, master in chemistry. Despite his little experience he cashes in extraordinary sums of money. How? Simple, he has 4 parallel jobs, all of them for the government funded university. These jobs are not demanding at all, while averagely paid. Since nearly NO results are required of him, he can manage 4 of them at the same time. Although averagely paid, four times average is still a great deal of money. And yes, it is legal.

What bothers me is, how does he know he pleased another human being? The university spends public money and cares not for the results as long as the money is spent. How should we look at the usefulness of government paid employees?

This example is from Europe, where about 50% of all the transactions are government related. There is a great deal of people who make their living this way.

May the lord bless you,

Martin

Dear Martin,

I (Rabbi Daniel Lapin) frequently speak in public about money. I sometimes ask everyone to take out a dollar bill and hold it in the air. I then ask anyone who got that dollar by mugging a little old lady on the way to my talk to put it away. I then ask those who got the dollar by robbing a convenience store to put it away as well. The rest of the people, I say, can know that they got the money by pleasing another person.

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Can I keep my children safe?

August 15th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments

Michelle Carter was just sentenced in the text message case [where she was found to encourage a young man to commit suicide and didn’t call for help when he did so]. Is there a moral equivalent in the Bible by which one could instruct their children so that they do not go down the path of either of the participants in this event? 

Is it possible that both were equally mentally disturbed and this is only an anomaly? Is social media distorting our mores and morals?

 How would a parent use scripture to keep their children on the correct path when young people are so absorbed in social media to the point it takes over their life, personality, and time?

Michael G. 

 

Dear Michael,

You actually asked four interesting questions tucked inside your letter. In the case you reference, a young woman was sentenced for encouraging her boyfriend’s suicide. It got attention because there was a trail of text messages detailing her words. Yet, from a moral perspective (rather than a legal one because of proof) there is no difference between this case and one that might have taken place decades ago with conversation substituting for texts. Urging someone to take his life, whether by letter, speech, texts or skywriting is wrong. The message is the problem, not the medium.

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How far does the 5th Commandment go?

August 9th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

Does the 5th commandment also apply to relatives who had a major role in my life?

I am very new to the Jewish teachings. Pastor Larry Huch talked about you and said you were good friends so I looked you up on the internet and have been listening to you since. In all my 13 years in church, I have never heard anyone teach what you teach. I appreciate the materials you make available to all.

Here is a matter that I need to lay to rest.

I was born and raised in the Ivory Coast, a country with too many ethnic divisions. My mom told me in the tradition of their ethnic heritage the aunt (the mother’s sister) is really my mother. That’s what they have been believing for years. So that’s how in 1998, my aunt and her husband who had 3 sons, paid my way to come and live with them in the U.S. b/c “she doesn’t have any daughter” my mom told me. I was 15 and left my parents, siblings and friends back in the Ivory Coast.

My relatives paid my way through high school and college. At a price. I was the one doing all the household chores out of duty. Cooking, cleaning up after them, doing dishes on Christian holidays while her husband and sons play video games and surf the internet. In all honesty, I spent 10 miserable years living with them and do not remember a happy day. I don’t like their personalities and being around them. There was always the “you owe us” attitude.

Fast forward today, I live alone and The Good Lord has given me a job. I still have my mother in the Ivory Coast that I take care of on a regular basis. My dad is 73 and retired. They are divorced and both of them do not have any financial savings. So their financial help falls on me b/c my 2 siblings are not helping at all. The younger, 30 years old, has cut contact with the family and the older, 36 years old only cares about her.

I feel a financial obligation only toward my relatives (even though, I did not live with them for free) b/c they paid my way through school, along with food, housing, clothes, medical bills etc… so I send them some money, when I can on an irregular basis but according to them, it is not enough. My aunt doesn’t want to work so she stays home all day and her husband makes a six figure salary, more than me. Their 3 sons are living their own lives. My mom tells me I need to do what they are supposed to do and I refuse to shoulder their responsibilities toward their own parents.

I don’t have enough finances to take care of 2 sets of parents and build a life of my own. I don’t feel a “5th commandment” mandate toward my aunt and my uncle. They consider themselves as my parents but I do not. My mind has never accepted them as my mother and father according to their ethnic tradition. The 5th commandment only applies to my mother in the Ivory Coast and my 73 year old retired father.

What does the Torah and ancient Jewish wisdom have to say about this kind of situation? 

Thank you for helping.

Neal

Dear Neal,

We tend to shy away from letters as long as yours, but we found your story so riveting that we made an exception. We are also tremendously fond of Pastors Larry and Tiz Huch, and appreciate that you found us through them.

One of the issues you raise is the challenges that come up when someone replaces one cultural or religious tradition with another one. This is a common theme that plays out when a child immigrates to a new country with its own way of life. The pattern and understanding that an aunt is like your mother, isn’t one that you accept. While this may be painful for your family to hear, the “rules” they are holding over your head don’t apply to you.

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