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Savings vs. Tithing

I finished my medical training in 2016, this on top of my training as a pharmacist. I have a plan in place to pay off my student loans in 5 more years. My wife is an engineer but is currently staying at home with our three children. She is planning on going back to school to get a teaching certificate when our children start school so that we can get a nice tuition discount at our parish school.

We live below our means, I contribute the max to our 401k and and we drive inexpensive cars. I have read your book (Thou Shall Prosper-loved it) and I tithe around 10% of our net income to our church and various charities.

It has come to my attention that we need to contribute around 11,000.00 a year more to “retirement” accounts than we are currently doing. I would like to contribute to a backdoor Roth IRA account automatically from my paycheck every pay period , which means my net income would go down, and I would tithe less.

So I am struggling with whether or not it is ok to tithe less but contribute to retirement more, or if I should forgo investing more in retirement until I make more money.

Thank you so much,

DoctorSquared

Dear DoctorSquared,

We were ready to take a nap by the time we had finished reading of all your personal and professional accomplishments! You and your wife sound like thoughtful, caring and disciplined people.

Please allow us to try and rephrase the question you are asking. We think it is one that applies in many different situations. Are we under any obligation  to manage our finances in order to maximize tithing?

We have been asked similar questions from people inquiring whether they should tithe on pre or post-tax income. As always, we encourage people to ask someone in their own faith family, but we can only say that from the perspective of ancient Jewish wisdom, you tithe on the money you actually receive and that is available for your needs and desires. If taxes reduce what you get to take home, then you do not tithe on the amount that went to the government and that you never received.

In a not entirely different parallel, if someone is held up on his way home from picking up his weekly pay envelope and all his money is confiscated, he naturally does not pay a tithe on the money that was stolen.

If poor people glean and gather wheat from the edges of your field before you harvest, you wouldn’t pay a tithe on that wheat which you never harvested. (Leviticus 23:22)

In your case, the same reasoning applies, but with a twist. If prudence dictates that you put money away for the future, then you are not getting that money and don’t need to tithe on it. You certainly don’t have to ignore what you understand to be the best for you and your family in order to have more to tithe. However, down the road, whenever you do access that money you will then need to tithe on it. In other words, when it is yours to use, you owe tithe.

We should iterate 10% is a minimum and one can always choose to give more to charity. While ancient Jewish wisdom doesn’t suggest giving too much no one needs to meticulously take care not to go an iota over 10%.

We’re delighted that you benefitted from Thou Shall Prosper and wish you continued family and financial success.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

P.S. With three young ones, be sure to send your wife over to my (Susan’s) Practical Parenting page.

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Don’t Build a House; Build a Boat

I’ve noticed that when someone in a group casually says, “Oh, I live on my boat down in the harbor” everyone hearing him perks up with interest.  Eager questions quickly follow.  But when someone says, “I live in my car behind the supermarket,” people go quiet and someone changes the subject.

There are, of course, many differences between living in a car and on a boat, but I enjoy this observation by an author, Arthur Ransome, who plays a big role in my family’s reading.  “The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage.  The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.” 

Someone living in his car is, well, living in his car.  (Living in a fully-equipped RV is quite different.) But someone living on a boat is on a journey. At any point he could cast off the mooring lines and head to Haifa, Honolulu, or Hong Kong.

Feeling settled is very seductive but feeling unsettled is more productive.  To their parents’ dismay, God arranged things so that when approaching those teenage years, children start feeling unsettled.  Other than when with their friends undergoing the same stage, young people approaching adulthood often feel they don’t really belong anywhere.  The last time they felt comfortably ‘at-home’ was as children cocooned in the security of parents and family.  The next time they are going to feel ‘at-home’ will be once they’re in their own homes. 

Without that God-given incentive, young people would likely want to remain as children in their parents’ homes forever.  That symptom of teenagerhood, the vague indefinable anxiety of not belonging anywhere, eventually helps trigger the quest to find a home by building one’s own. 

Regardless of how bad they may be, current circumstances possess inertia that is reflected in idioms like “Better the devil you know…”. A Jewish woman whose children live nearby us survived several years in Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen concentration camps.  She bore the number A-8603 tattooed on her arm.  She used to say, “Being in the camps was gehenom (hell) but emerging from the camps after liberation in 1945 was almost as bad!”  While the concentration camps and slave labor were absolutely horrific, and life was always in jeopardy, at least there was an infrastructure. Freedom was frightening; there was no structure at all.

Whether you are a single person vaguely contemplating matrimony, a harried mother wishing she could get her household under control, or a business professional struggling to build a profitable enterprise, just continuing to do the familiar exerts a powerful appeal, even when the familiar is unpleasant and unsatisfying.

Desiring tranquility is chasing an illusion.  It contradicts the reality of life which is not meant to be a relaxing snooze on a sunny beach.  Wanting to be settled in that way is a little like someone feeling so secure that he unlocks his door, turns off his intruder alarm, and goes to sleep.  Nobody is surprised to hear that uninvited nocturnal visitors inflicted losses upon him.  Ancient Jewish wisdom is quite specific about the negative effects of seeking tranquility. 

Jacob settled in the land where his father had sojourned…
(Genesis 37:1)

The Hebrew word for “settled” is VaYeSHeV and it hints at seeking tranquility.  Ancient Jewish wisdom points out that after Jacob ‘settled down’ the disagreements between his sons, between Joseph and his brothers, escalated to tragedy.  In other words, turning off and tuning out (as the Hippies used to say) is not an option for live people living life passionately.  If you decide to withdraw from the ever-fresh opportunities and challenges of life, God sends something your way in order to get your attention.

Let’s see another instance of where Scripture uses that word ‘settled’,  VaYeSHeV: י-ש-ב

And Israel settled in Shittim whereupon the people began to [behave immorally]
with the daughters of Moab.
(Numbers 25:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that on their lengthy journey through the desert, Israel usually ‘encamped’.  They didn’t usually settle.  Encamped suggests an awareness of the temporary nature of one’s condition and a heightened state of alertness.  By contrast, settling hints at complacency which can invite problems.  Sure enough, settling in Shittim brought Israel a whole heap of problems.

The opening verse of the Book of Psalms:

Happy is the man who didn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked and didn’t stand in the ways
of sinners and didn’t settle in the company of scoffers.
(Psalms 1:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that if life forces you into proximity with less than ideal people, keep on walking.  If you have no choice but to talk with them, don’t sit down, remain standing in order to remind yourself that you’re not joining them. Finally, whatever you do, never settle down with those people.  Of course, the Hebrew word for settle is again that same word we’ve seen before; the word that suggests throwing in the towel and giving up the fight.

It goes without saying that we all need our anchors in life.  As I repeatedly remind listeners to my podcast, the more that things change, the more we must depend upon those things that never change.  It is only by knowing exactly what anchors in our lives never change that we are liberated to embrace change.  It is what allows us to escape the tyranny of our current condition.  Having those anchors allow us to cast off the mooring lines that tie us to yesterday and thrill to the fight and challenge that is tomorrow’s journey.

 

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Making Money

The Tuttle Twins – book recommendation

When the Bible and Vladimir Lenin agree, it’s time to pay attention. One of Scripture’s recurring themes is teaching and shaping the next generation’s views and beliefs. As for Lenin, he said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

If you are shocked by the way college students are embracing socialism, you haven’t been paying attention for a few decades. Of course, this is a result of many factors, but one that is less frequently discussed is that few of us focus on economic education even when taking responsibility for our own children’s education. After all, when was the last time you discussed inflation with your seven-year-old? Talked about competition and market regulation with your pre-teen?

Fortunately, the Tuttle twins have stepped into this void.  A series of entertaining books featuring the fictional twins present complex ideas with clarity and simplicity. Whether the twins are running a lemonade stand, enjoying themselves at camp or hanging out with neighbors and classmates, basic societal and economic principles intertwine with their lives.

I have frequently undertaken the job of warning you to beware of books that might undermine your family values. Often, the agenda in the books is hidden. If you don’t pre-read them, you will probably never know about the message on p. 63. In contrast, these books openly have an agenda: a defense of what my husband calls ethical capitalism. The author, Connor Boyack and illustrator, Elijah Stanfield, take concepts from thinkers, economists and authors such as Henry Hazlitt, Ayn Rand and Frederic Bastiat, and turn them into appealing and informative stories.

Judging by my test panel’s response, ranging in age from eight to fourteen, children will enjoy reading these books, which would be a worthwhile result in itself.  Even better would be if parents and older children read them as well, sparking an opportunity for family conversation and for more advanced reading for the older group. As parents, we ideally have more than four years to inoculate our children against the harmful ideas and mistaken beliefs that will bombard them. I heartily recommend that you add this series to your tool kit.

The Tuttle Twins

Free Will and my Children

A Your Mother’s Guidance post by Rebecca Masinter.

An age-old question asks how God can punish Pharaoh with further plagues when God is the one hardening his heart so as not to let the Jewish people go? How can he be punished when he had no choice?  This is a classic question and we’ve all heard various answers.  I’d like to consider one basic answer Maimonides teaches us and its ramifications for mothers.

Maimonides says that in the beginning, of course Pharaoh had free will. In fact, during the first five plagues the Torah doesn’t say Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  Pharaoh hardened his own heart.  It’s only after multiple hardening of his own heart that he moved far enough into evil that God took over the job and began hardening his heart for him.  Pharaoh began with free will, but through his actions evolved into someone who lost his power of choice.

How is this relevant to us? 

Well, on a much smaller scale than Pharaoh, I know that there are actions I  take, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, that can lead me into situations where I have less control over the way I act.  For example, after a sleepless night, after skipping a healthy meal, I sometimes don’t have the wherewithal to respond to tough situations the way I would ideally choose to do so.

If that is how I feel sometimes, how much closer are my children to that state of no free will.  Sometimes when I go to the store late at night and see mothers dragging a screaming toddler around at 10:30 PM, I feel pity for the child who truly has no control over her behavior at that time.  It’s just too late and she’s too tired. She’s lost her free will. 

With some thought we can identify for each of our children what are the factors that lead up to them losing their free will.  I don’t think it’s the same for each person, and certainly some children get to that point of loss of control much more easily than others.  Once we’ve identified what stressors contribute to our children reaching the point of no self-control, we can try to limit those and when they’re unavoidable, build in ways for our child to rest or recoup as early as possible.

One last point that I have found helpful to remember: when a child has lost control, you cannot reason with them, consequences or punishments will often have no effect, and no parenting can effectively take place at that time.  What we can do is provide stability, unwavering love, support, and calmness, while we try to give them time and space to get back in control of themselves.

THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Don’t Build a House; Build a Boat January 15, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin- I’ve noticed that when someone in a group casually says, “Oh, I live on my boat down in the harbor” everyone hearing him perks up with interest.  Eager questions quickly follow.  But when someone says, “I live in my car behind the supermarket,” people go quiet and someone changes the subject. There are, of course,… Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • Savings vs. Tithing January 15, 2019 by Susan Lapin- I finished my medical training in 2016, this on top of my training as a pharmacist. I have a plan in place to pay off my student loans in 5 more years. My wife is an engineer but is currently staying at home with our three children. She is planning on going back to school… Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Heartbreak – an Unintended Consequence January 10, 2019 by Susan Lapin- When I was nine or ten, my friend’s mother delivered a stillborn child. I remember the shock and the discomfort of not being sure what to say. Over the next decade, as the risks of smoking during pregnancy received a lot of attention, I wondered what this woman, who often had a cigarette in hand,… Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • Welcome to the White House January 7, 2019 by Susan Lapin- Please watch this amazing video posted on our American Alliance of Jews and Christians facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/AmericanAllianceJewsChristians/ Read More

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About Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, popular international speaker and best-selling author. He hosts the Rabbi Daniel Lapin podcast as well as co-hosting the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show on the TCT network with his wife, Susan. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner, thus improving peoples’ finances, family and community life  has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.

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