Posts in Ask the Rabbi

Why is this word capitalized in the Bible?

December 12th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments

In Psalms 42:7… “in this land of Jordan and Hermon, in Mount Mizar, where deep calls to deep in the roar of Your cataracts”…..  “Your” is capitalized.

Are the scriptures simply referring to waterfalls that belong to Hashem… or is there a deeper truth?

Gilbert M.

Dear Gilbert,

We agree with you that the editors of the English translation you are reading capitalized the word ‘Your’ to emphasize that the pronoun refers to God. We also agree that there is deeper meaning in every word in Scripture. However, there is no deeper meaning in the capitalization of ‘Your’ or any other word in Scripture because the original Hebrew text, from Genesis to Chronicles has no capitals!

The Hebrew language possesses no capital letters. Each letter looks the same whether it starts the first word in a sentence or a paragraph or whether it starts the name of a person or of an object. (There are five special letters that take a different form when they appear at the end of a word, but that is another and much longer story.)

To make things even more complex, a Torah scroll, consisting of the five books of Moses, in all its nearly 80,000 words, contains no periods, commas, exclamation marks or question marks either. There aren’t even any vowels.  There are however paragraphs.

Each word, column and page is written following a precise formula passed down in ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning to read from a Torah scroll is the work of many hours and much effort. Not only does an English translation lose much of the treasure in the scroll, but even a printed copy of the text in Hebrew misses out on many important messages.

Today, we can understand this more easily if we compare it to computer coding. When we see words on a page, thousands of lines of code are unseen and beneath the surface. The “code” in the Bible is the Oral Transmission, what we call ancient Jewish wisdom. Not only does this make Torah study the work of a lifetime, it will always be an unfinished work for any one human being. There is always another layer to uncover.  Many of these layers only reveal themselves according to the depth of understanding and level of wisdom of the reader.  Our books, audio CDs and DVDs are our attempt to give, at least, a glimpse into the richness of Scripture.

We hope this explains somewhat why translators and editors have reasons for what they write and how they format.  We need to be both aware of the limitations of translations and wary of their occasional agendas.

Perpetual students,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Burial and Second Marriages

December 6th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

Burial question: My wife died after 30 years of marriage. We raised 2 children and have a large extended family. At the time I bought a double plot (vertical) for her and myself, and next to that, a double for her parents. Her Mom is next to her now. After 5 years I remarried. My new wife would like to square away our burial needs. I’m sure the kids would like me near their Mother and Grandparents, but that’s rather awkward for my new wife and her family. Do you have any advice?

Dear Mark,

God puts us all on this planet in an imperfect state.  It would be fairy-tale-awesome if every man and woman lived in a long enduring and happy marriage and both return to their Creator at the same time.  However, that is not how the world REALLY works!  You know this, and you’ve heard all the platitudes about how sensitive this situation is and how everyone involved should try to be understanding, and that there’s no easy solution, and so on.  Let’s deal with reality.

First, we want to express our delight that you seem to have found happiness again after a long marriage.  Many widowers don’t get this second shot, so accept our congratulations along with the wish that your second marriage brings you joy.

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Maybe, possibly you made a mistake?

November 28th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

I was watching Susan and yourself on TCT and you stated that the U.S.A. was the only country in the world to celebrate Thanksgiving. I was wondering if your neighbour to the north, Canada, celebrates Thanksgiving.

I enjoy your program immensely! Keep up the good work.

Respectfully,

Barry, Kingsville, Ontario, Canada

Dear Barry,

May we compliment you on your good manners? Rather than chiding us for being wrong, you gently asked a question. When we saw how you spelled ‘neighbour’ we began to suspect our mistake and when we saw that your signature included your location of Ontario, Canada, we knew we were in trouble.

Our television show on the TCT network, Ancient Jewish Wisdom, is not scripted. We sometimes surprise ourselves with what comes out of our mouths! Clearly, we spoke off-the-cuff and incorrectly here.

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What’s up with Jonah?

November 22nd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 16 comments

My question is about Jonah.

Why was he so angry with G-d that he would not go to Nineveh? Here is a man so stiff-necked that he would rather drown than obey G-d? Here is a man who kept himself in the belly of a sea giant for three days before he repented and agreed to do as G-d instructed him. After preaching in Nineveh, he sat down and again was angry.

Why?

Catherine G.

Dear Catherine,

Like you, we are fascinated by the book of Jonah. In fact, it has been the topic of at least four Thought Tools as well as one section of our audio CD, Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity. (Go here and type Jonah in the search box to find the relevant Thought Tools.)

This correctly suggests that the topic is too large for an Ask the Rabbi answer. However, we wanted to focus on one of your sentences. You write: “Here is a man so stiff-necked that he would rather drown than obey G-d.”

We would like to suggest that you can go to any mall, airport or university and find that the majority of people there fit that description as well. Sadly, you can go to many churches and synagogues and find the same. Obeying God is easier in theory than in actuality. We all tend to resist being told to do things we don’t want to do or to refrain from those things that we do want to do. We often rationalize and  intellectualize our refusal; sometimes we simply pretend that God has nothing to say about the issue at hand.

Don’t you know people who are drowning in unhappiness rather than obey God’s vision for family and society? There are pieces of Jonah in all of us. Studying him should encourage us to look in the mirror.

Wishing all of us Bible study that makes us uncomfortable,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

  *    *    *   *

We hope you had a chance to read our annual AAJC letter.
If you missed it, you can see it HERE
.

 

As a single mom, should I be thinking about marriage?

November 15th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 4 comments

What’s the biblical instruction for a single mother who met the Lord during pregnancy? I feel I’m not called to be single, but have not dated for over 11 years, as I was dedicated to mothering.

From a biblical perspective, should I seek marriage or seek singleness?

Thank you!

Mka

Dear Mka,

There’s a phrase, Kol HaKavod, used in Israel when someone has done something exceptional. It literally means “all the honor [to you],” and is a way of acknowledging actions that go above and beyond the norm. We say to you: Kol HaKavod.

Firstly, you changed the path of your life, and that of your child, by findng the Lord during your pregnancy. Since then, you devoted yourself to being a mother and, we assume, making a fulfilling life for yourself. By not dating, you focused on the relationship already in your life, with your child. When a single mother dates it frequently introduces emotional, psychological and often physical, instability into a child’s life.

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What’s up with women not helping each other?

November 8th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 7 comments

Dear Rabbi & Susan, 

I enjoy your podcast discussions about relationships between men and women. I wonder if you have any thoughts you may like to share regarding women who discriminate against other women? Sadly, I don’t feel women are very supportive of other women and wonder why this is? 

Thanks and God bless you.

Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth,

Your question has vast implications.  These include political, social, business, and family as well as others.  Though we are working on a book about the interface of money and male-female relationships, we’ll try and respond to your question a lot more briefly.

The Bible describes several examples of difficult relationships between women including: Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16), Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29) and Penina and Hannah (I Samuel: 1).

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I’m in an awful work situation

October 31st, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 10 comments

I work within a team in a government organization directly managing 8 people on a project. Within the immediate team there is a man who is accountable for the whole project.

I have recently noted that this man I speak about has  exhibited a lot of narcissistic traits—tells lies and denies it later, undermines my authority to the contractor, will not speak to me but decides to sends emails warranting a reaction (which I must confess I have fallen victim to). He has also frequently insulted me by questioning my competence and is now verbally abusing other team members.

I have raised this with senior management who have all taken a ‘sit-on-the-fence’ attitude because they don’t want to deal with the situation. I have asked to see HR. When I finally got a chance after this was arranged, HR did not even read the email copies I took as evidence. She said, “These are normal things that happen in a team”. I used to work for a major private company  and this behaviour from the man would not be tolerated and he would have been dismissed.

I work 12-hr shifts (mostly doing this man’s job as well as mine) whilst he sits there doing nothing. I really want to leave, just for my sanity. Yet people say God may be using this to train you and also since you are a Christian you may be the one to get him saved.

I don’t believe you can change a narcissist. What do I do?

Abena

Dear Abena,

It sounds like you’re in a terrible work situation. In our experience, government is much slower to remove ineffective employees than the private sector.

You aren’t asking us whether leaving is a good career move but rather whether you have an obligation to stay as a Christian in order to help your superior. If there is a theological dimension, we can’t comment on that, but here is our take.

Firstly, we think that, in general, it’s a good idea to leave psychological diagnoses to those trained in that area. It’s very easy to for all of us to find that annoying people in our orbits are narcissists, obsessive-compulsive, neurotic and bearers of a host of other syndromes. Whether this man has a personality disorder or not isn’t the issue. What matters is that you are miserable at work and putting in unreasonable hours. You tried working within the system and it didn’t work. Perhaps there are things you can do or maybe you’ve exhausted your options; that wasn’t your question to us.

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Who were the Nephilim?

October 25th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

Genesis 6:2-4 talks about the sons of God taking the daughters of men in marriage. If I am understanding the passage correctly it would seem that the Nephilim were the progeny of these relationships, and that they were the “heroes of old, men of renown.” 

I have heard various interpretations of these passages. Recently a friend of mine brought up these passages to support the theory that there were extra terrestrial or heavenly beings on the earth during this time. 

What is the most widely accepted interpretation of this passage?

Nathan S.

Dear Nathan,

Funnily enough, I (Rabbi, not Susan) spoke about this very section as the guest rabbi in a synagogue in Montreal this past Shabbat. I was given insufficient time to address that teaching fully and, here too, we have limited space in our Ask the Rabbi section. All we can do is give the beginning of an approach.

Starting from the last point in your letter, we aren’t very interested in “the most widely accepted interpretation of this passage.” Biblical understanding isn’t a popularity contest. While we’re sure you mean “interpretation” by worthy people, there are so many depths to the Torah that what appear to be different approaches are actually complementary ways of viewing the Bible.  This is reminiscent of the fable of the blind men and the elephant. Each man feels a different part of the beast. So, one describes thick poles (the legs), another a rope (the tail) and yet another a trumpet (the trunk). They are all actually describing the same creature. Similarly, when there are many different pieces of ancient Jewish wisdom on one verse, as disparate as they seem, they each provide one window into the truth.

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Was my response to my son appropriate?

October 18th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 4 comments

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.

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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.

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