Posts in Ask the Rabbi

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.

We have no doubt that both these individuals were deeply troubled. In fact reading between the lines of the news story suggest a history of bizarre behavior on the part of both players in this tragedy. However, your next question, “Is social media distorting our mores and morals?” intrigues us. Some individuals are born more susceptible to emotional and mental problems than other people. We think that there is no question that trends in our times, including the prevalence of time spent online and bullying social messaging, can exacerbate certain unhealthy tendencies. Today’s media can certainly cause problems for some who might have been perfectly emotionally healthy under different circumstances. From an emotional point of view, the support and balance one gets from a relationship with a real flesh-and-blood friend is not at all replicated by a so-called friend on social media.   We wish they’d have come up with another term than ‘friend’ for the slender digital connection made online. At the same time, the online community is a tremendous gift for some who, for whatever reason, would be less connected in any way to people without the Internet.   With all its shortcomings, for these people, a frail electronic connection might be better than they’d have done in pre-Internet days.

In other words, we humans managed to “distort our mores and morals” before the Internet, before typewriters, and before ball point pens. It is something we have always been rather good at.

That doesn’t mean that we can be sanguine. The greater the technology available to us, the greater potential it has to be used for both good and for bad. Just as we demand more maturity and practice before we let a child drive a car than we do before we let him roller skate, we do need to pay more attention to our children as technology and communication expand. Just as you wouldn’t hand your sixteen-year-old your car keys with no limitations or rules, parents have the obligation to provide rules and restrictions, alternatives and supervision rather than allowing social media to take over their children’s lives, basically replacing parents as the prime instillers of values. We would suggest that in today’s times, children, teens and young adults need more time with their parents (and parents acting more wisely and  thoughtfully) than they did in some other generations.

The many basic messages of Scripture (such as valuing all life)  that provide for healthy living are timeless. It’s up to us to figure out how to apply those messages in appropriate ways for our times.

Make sure you have both quality and quantity time with your children,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*  *  *

Shem, Ham and Jafeth may not have texted,
but they were also subject to their generation’s immorality.
How did Noah keep them on the right path? Find out in:

 

The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah

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How far does the 5th Commandment go?

August 9th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 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.

Another issue you raise has to do with the understanding of what ‘honoring parents’ entails. One of the reasons that Torah observant Jews have a rabbi who is familiar with their personal situation is because that very general statement needs to be translated into specifics. While certain principles apply in all cases, such as addressing parents in a respectful manner, other concepts such as defining required financial support will vary according to the individual circumstances.

The Torah does not accept the idea of entitlements but rather works on the principle of obligation. Not even your parents can demand that they are entitled to your money; the question is what your obligation is. This may seem to be a semantic difference, but it removes emotional blackmail from the picture. You must shoulder whatever obligations you have, but those obligations are not based on the desires of either your parents or relatives. In fact, the majority of what ancient Jewish wisdom sees as the financial laws of honoring parents makes use of the parents’ financial resources, not the child’s.

You sound like a lovely and strong person with a keen sense of responsibility. You might want to discuss your particular situation with your spiritual leader, but our bird’s-eye-view answer is that you are not obligated to provide the support that is being demanded from you.

We hope that you find a group of Christian-minded friends and  a spouse who can fill in the emotional gaps from your childhood.

Wishing you all the best,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*  *  *

It’s hard to pass values from generation to generation.

What really happened in the ten generation between Adam and Noah?
What did Noah do that made his sons worthy of surviving along with him?
Do today’s cultural issues mirror Genesis?

The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah

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Too Many Gifts?

August 2nd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

A small coffee shop recently opened in my town and I visit them every day for coffee and sometimes a pastry. Because I enjoy the food and I appreciate being able to have a friendly conversation with the owner, and occasionally get a free refill on coffee, I like to leave a tip in the jar. Sometimes I’m even given free pastries, which are wonderful fresh-baked creations by the owner’s wife, typically sold for a few dollars. I’ve even been given whole loaves of bread for free. 

Here is where my dilemma comes in. I don’t like to go around looking for hand-outs or expecting gifts; I prefer to pay for whatever I receive. However, I understand and respect that people like to give gifts without expecting anything in return. I’m the same way.

I understand that the coffee shop owner and his wife are likely allowing me their extra goods because it creates customer loyalty and it is also a sign of their appreciation for my patronage. I tend to feel guilty for receiving as much as I do from them because I feel like I’m not doing anything to really deserve it. I’m not sure how to adequately express my genuine thanks in return. 

I want to give them more tips, but is that not being respectful of their act of giving a gift? What might be the best way to show my thanks, in addition to continuing to purchase my usual coffee and treats? 

Thank you very much for your time and consideration!

Elsa S.

Dear Elsa,

While you may very well live downtown in a major metropolis, in our minds we’re conjuring up a rural small-town atmosphere. Either way, your dilemma is a wonderful one to have.

We want to be clear that had you told us that a friend of yours worked for a cafe and kept on giving you freebies, that would be a completely different question. However, in your case, the owners are the ones giving you gifts. We think you are right to recognize their appreciation of your patronage as well as their desire to foster customer loyalty.

As you note, while I’m sure any tips you leave are appreciated, attempting to ‘pay’ for your gifts in that way would be ungracious. They are making their own business/personal decision and you can pleasantly accept what they give you without feeling that it calls for a response. Indeed, as their clientele grows they may cut back on the gifts and it would be just as misplaced for you to resent that as to feel that you presently owe something in return.

However, you do want to support them and let them know how much you appreciate their business. One of the ways you can do that is by letting people know about them. This can include word-of-mouth as well as using social media such as leaving a review on Yelp or similar websites. (We would encourage you to talk about the pleasant surroundings and delicious coffee and food while staying quiet about the generosity. No need to set people up for disappointment when they have to pay for their pastries.) Let the proprietors know of your promotional efforts, not in a bragging way but because it will strengthen them as they cope with the inevitable difficulties that running a business entails.

You could also offer gift certificates to your friendly coffee shop when you want a way to thank someone local, for example a neighbor who takes in your mail while you’re away or as a ‘notice of appreciation’ to your mailman.

Some of us have more trouble giving than receiving while others of us lean in the opposite direction. Cultivating the ability to both give and to receive is desirable.

Enjoy a coffee for us,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

What would you do with more money in your wallet?

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Loans with no payback? The Shemitah Year

July 26th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

I’ve read a lot of your books, yet didn’t see you ever speak about this particular thing: 

Reading the Books of Law, I see quite a few mentions about helping out the poor. Not by giveaways, but by lending them what they need (Deut. 15:7-8). It would seem to be logical to give away, But Scripture says, “Lend,” and then, every seventh year you should forgive the debt if that is not paid. 

My questions is: I’d never think that the Bible would endorse free-rides or parasitism, but I can’t find the Bible speaking harshly to the borrower. It is quite demanding—you must give, if they don’t pay—you must forgive. Seems like license for a free-ride. I borrow, do not pay, they must forgive, and then, when I come to borrow again, they must give again… Can’t believe it to be what the Bible means to say. Could you, please share more light on that? Thank you.

Victor

 

Dear Victor,

How should a society deal with money? After thousands of years of human history, we are still trying to figure this out. Should it be, “From each according to his ability to each according to his need,” as Karl Marx wrote? Should we follow Ayn Rand’s vision where only those who produce survive and charity is a vulgar concept?

In our opinion, the closer countries get to the Biblical vision, which neither of the above mentioned authors did, the stronger the society will be. Yet, the Biblical vision is complex, and while it includes the verses you quote, that is not by any means the entire story.

The Shmitah year that takes place every seventh year in the land of Israel which you reference, functions above natural law and was intended to apply only in the Holy Land under Biblically-loyal administration.  There are several categories of people in need and they all receive different treatment, according to circumstance.

For instance, the Hebrew used for a person in financial need in those verses, an “evyon,” is one category. Throughout Scripture there are other Hebrew words such as “ani,” and “dal,” that all get translated in English as poor, ignoring the important legal distinctions and nuances.

The Biblical system deals with the reality that there are those who are needy because of their own choices or lack of work ethic, those who are battered by unfortunate circumstances out of their control, widows, orphans and ill people, etc. It has many pieces and variations including those that come into play at different times and places. These include both giving to the poor and lending.

You will remember from the book of Ruth that one element has the poor person gleaning from the leftovers in a field. If all one had to do was ask for a loan and then not repay it, why would anyone do that humbling and difficult work? There is a concept that gets poorly translated as slavery but whereby one indentures oneself or one’s children for up to six years labor, or is ordered to do so by the court. That is another idea that wouldn’t exist if all we legislated only by the verses you quote.

The system we follow to the best of our ability, is based on ancient Jewish wisdom, a combination of the written and oral transmission given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The oral transmission deals with exactly the type of question you ask—how do we implement and correctly understand verses that only tell part of a story, verses that contradict each other and verses that, if blindly followed, would have us sometimes doing precisely the wrong things.

To conclude, the Shmitah year with its forgiveness of some types of debts is one part of a grand and complex picture. Societies that simply encourage lack of responsibility and free-loading will not survive.

May your work prosper,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*  *  *

The blessing after a meal includes a request to not make us dependent
on gifts from people. We don’t ask God to drop money from the sky,
but for us to see results from our work and be able to
support ourselves without charity or personal loans.
If that blessing resonates with you,
make sure that you are doing everything that you can to earn more.
This includes rejecting anti-Biblical ideas about money and replacing them with correct ones.

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Are Pets Animals Too?

July 19th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

It says in the Bible that a good man cares for his “beast.” ‘Does this just mean animals that are “useful” such as cows that give meat and milk or does it mean all pets, such as dogs and cats.  

P.S. Like your show very much. We watch it every day when possible. There is so much knowledge and practical advice.

Titus R. 

 

Dear Titus,

There are certain topics that are almost guaranteed to lead to controversy, including vaccinations, the 2016 election results, and abortion. We have tackled all of those in various settings. But if you really want to get people’s emotions roiled, talk about their pets!

You don’t mention what Bible verse you are referencing, but there are many Scriptural references to treating animals well, among them Deuteronomy 25:4 with its prohibition on muzzling an ox while it is treading grain and verses that include animals in the Sabbath day of rest.

(more…)

Politics from the Pulpit

July 12th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 21 comments

My question relates to something you used to say often and perhaps still do – that is, “politics are merely the implementation of sincerely held religious belief”. I have probably butchered your exact quote, but the notion to me (a faith-filled Christian) that among my peers and in discussions with my pastor and other spiritual mentors, I can talk about faith and spiritual growth, but if the topic approaches the political arena, in this increasingly polarized society, I shouldn’t rock the boat too much! 

I am seeing some deeper divisions ‘within the church’ between right and left political opinion, and feel that the only way to “right the ship” is if more Pastors spoke the truth boldly (but kindly) to their congregations, without fear of reprisals and controversy.

Perhaps you can encourage me (make me courageous) again, as you have done so often in the past.

James G.

 

Dear James,

Your memory of the quote is very accurate. The sentence we use is, “Politics is nothing more than the practical application of your most deeply held values.”

While for many years we served and led a synagogue in Southern California, we have both also attended many other synagogues. As part of our ministry, we have known many pastors and priests. Invariably, we prefer those who are courageous to those who are cowardly and those whose words change lives to those who prefer to have lofty theological discussions that make no difference in the beliefs or behaviors of those who listen.

We must point out that we do not necessarily agree with the conclusions of the leaders we like. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, they vote differently than we do. However, the values that are propelling all our votes are the same.

(more…)

What’s wrong with self-esteem?

July 5th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

I heard you briefly refer to self esteem and the idea of promoting self-esteem versus self-respect on your weekly Podcast. 

I grew up in the era of self esteem, however, my parents always spoke of respect. Please go into detail on your thoughts as to why promoting self-esteem degrades oneself.

Thank you,

 Lane (father of five)

 

Dear Lane,

Quite a lot has been written about the self-esteem movement that, from its beginnings in 1969, had a huge, and mostly negative, effect on educational and cultural trends. We urge you to do some research on this topic. There are so many articles on the subject, many of which acknowledge the damage done by this movement.

No matter how flawed the movement is, it has pervaded modern culture. Unfortunately, the results can be seen all around us.

(more…)

My Ambitious Husband

June 28th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 11 comments

My husband has a great deal of ambition and works long hours. I know that he is doing this for our future but I feel like we have no life to speak of at present. How do I deal with these feelings?

Karma

Dear Karma,

Without knowing you, your husband or more details, this is one of those questions where we can do no more than raise discussion points and questions.

First, we’d like to make a few general comments. You and your husband are both fortunate. In today’s day and age, many males have been emasculated leaving them with neither ambition nor persistence. It is wonderful that you are married to a man who wants to provide well for his family.

At the same time, cultural propaganda teaches women that everything that goes wrong is the fault of men. Unlike you, those women would not ask how to deal with their own feelings but instead they would immediately castigate their husbands.

The first step is for each of you to appreciate how you are both contributing to your marriage. Your husband is taking his role seriously and you are wise enough to recognize that what you see as his relentless focus on work could crack the foundation of your relationship. Getting on the same page now can yield immense results.

(more…)

Why the different childbirth rules?

June 21st, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 17 comments

In Leviticus 12 it talks about the purification of women after childbirth.

Why is the woman considered unclean for twice the amount of time if she gives birth to a female than if she gives birth to a male? (I understand being unclean from a medical perspective of healing, but I thought it took the same amount to heal regardless of gender) 

Elin

Dear Elin,

Our egos are struggling here! It seems that you have not read every Thought Tool or Ask the Rabbi that we have posted. (Disclaimer: we are smiling as we write this)

One of the absolutely worst translation mistakes in Scripture substitutes the word ‘unclean’ for the Hebrew word ‘TaMEI’. If we could, we would go through all English Bibles crossing that word out.

Please look at these two posts where we refute the bad translation and then come back so that we can deal with your specific question.

http://rabbidaniellapin.com/sabotaging-success/

http://rabbidaniellapin.com/what-do-the-words-abomination-and-unclean-mean/

Having, hopefully, expunged that terrible translation from your mind, we want to preface our answer by saying that we cannot do justice to this topic in the format available to us, but we do hope to give you a glimpse into reality.

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Our son just ‘came out.’

June 14th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 49 comments

How do I answer my son who has declared he is homosexual?  My beliefs are against this practice.

L.

Dear L.,

You must be in tremendous pain and we pray that you feel ‘hugs’ from God as you go through this time.

So many parents are undergoing this challenge in our days. The entire ethos surrounding us says that this is your problem not your son’s, and, yet, you are faithful to a tradition that existed for centuries before ‘modern’ thinking came into vogue and will still be around when the ‘modern’ becomes old-fashioned.

(more…)

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