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Why not Israel?

I love puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, acrostics, Sudoku, logic puzzles…a book full of puzzles even keeps me somewhat content on a cross-country flight. I am telling you this to put into perspective my answer to a question that came to our Ask the Rabbi column.

Matt asked, “I’m always wondering why your family never moved to Israel?” 

While my husband and I always answer the Ask the Rabbi questions as a team, I’m going to make an exception for this one and let my husband answer in that venue while presenting my own answer here. You see, my husband and I received very different upbringings with regard to the modern State of Israel. While the land of Israel is unquestionably precious and special to all Jews and has been since the days of Abraham, how love for the land translates into action is a different matter.

I was brought up in a Zionist home and attended a Zionist school. We opened each day in elementary school saluting the American flag while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and we also faced the Israeli flag and sang HaTikva, the Israeli national anthem. Through high school we learned American and world history, math, literature and science in English for half the day and an equal amount of time was allotted to Jewish studies. Bible, Prophets, Hebrew literature and Jewish history and philosophy were taught completely in Hebrew with test, papers and classroom conversation taking place entirely in that language. (I was an adult before it dawned on me that my elementary school Hebrew studies teachers probably did understand and even -gasp- speak English.)

Had you asked me when I was in my teens where I would be living as an adult, I would have answered, Israel. That is exactly where about a third of my class now lives. Indeed, being able to get to Israel so easily and to live there in freedom is something that generations of my ancestors could only dream about. While, since the days of Joshua, there has always been a Jewish presence in the land, the community was often maltreated, impoverished and small. Today’s comfortable and thriving presence truly is a miracle.

What does this have to do with puzzles? The pleasure I get from puzzles is directly tied to the challenge. I would have little enjoyment doing the book of crossword puzzles that delights my six-year-old granddaughter, nor would I appreciate a book of puzzles that endlessly frustrated me because it was too hard. That is a metaphor for life. Attempting to live in accordance with God’s wishes is challenging. It isn’t easy, any more than being married, raising children, being a good friend, building a business, acquiring knowledge, staying fit or developing any skill is easy. Invigorating, inspiring, joyous, yes; easy, no.

While an evening of relaxation is wonderful, anyone who finds their entire life easy isn’t living it to the fullest. Each time we achieve a measure of growth we need to look for the next level. To do otherwise would be to stick with the easily solved Sudoku level; it would quickly become boring and demoralizing.

This week, Jews are in the middle of a period of mourning that culminates on Sunday. While our synagogues are usually centers of social activity, (although chatter ideally stops during prayers) this Saturday night and Sunday we will gather but not greet each other.  Lights will be dimmed and we will sit low to the floor, exactly as a mourner does during the week following the funeral of an immediate family member. For that is what we are – mourners recounting the loss of the Temple and Jerusalem along with our exile from the land of Israel. That exile entailed losing a certain level of closeness with the Almighty that was only reachable when the Temple stood.

The establishment of the modern state of Israel changes nothing about this annual period of mourning. It is observed in Jerusalem just as it is in Brazil or Boston. As wondrous a gift as the State of Israel is, we are still in the period following the destruction over 2,000 years ago. Although current attacks on the state of Israel by left-wing media, organizations and universities are a barely disguised form of hatred against the entire Jewish people, there is a core truth that the the modern State of Israel is not equivalent with the Jewish people.

While living in the land of Israel is generally accepted as one of the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, obligatory on Jews, it is one of 613. No single Jew has 613 obligations; some laws fall only on men, others only on women; some only on those from the tribe of Levi, others only on those who are not Levites; some only when the Temple is standing, others only when there is a Jewish king ruling the land. Suffice it to say that there are enough challenges in any place and time to keep any Jew thriving spiritually. Not infrequently, in real life, two commandments conflict with one another. Very real issues that people grapple with, for example, include whether honoring elderly parents by living and taking care of them outside the land of Israel takes precedence over living in the land. What if one wants to move to Israel and one’s spouse refuses? Is it a greater affront to God to be non-Sabbath observant in Israel than in any other country? If you are struggling with a terrible habit of gossiping is it better to stay in another country until you get it under control rather than gossiping in Israel where God observes you more closely? As you can see, living in Israel is a tremendous privilege that is amazingly doable in our days, but that still entails a personal assessment.

My husband’s life-mission, which became mine when we married, is making ancient Jewish wisdom accessible to everyone. Whether that was through classes in the synagogue community he founded in California or whether it is teaching both Jews and Christians as he does today, for a variety of reasons it is work best accomplished by living in America. That is one of many reasons that we remain in the United States though we do feel a tug at our hearts every time we return to Israel. Is that calculation correct or is God shaking His head at our not taking advantage of the opportunity we have been given to move back to His land? We can only do the puzzles we are given to the best of our abilities.

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Whether to follow Nimrod or Abraham is a challenge faced in and out of Israel.
If you don’t understand it, you may not realize how real it is.
Nine verses from Genesis that will change how you look at the news.

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Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel Tower of Babel: Decoding the Secrets of Babel MP3

Meeting my girlfriend’s children

I first became aware of your work after having seen a talk that you gave on a program with Pastor John Hagee.  I subsequently purchased Thou Shall Prosper, and I think that it’s a fantastic book, and one that I often return to, not merely because of how eloquently it’s written.  

Recently, I fell in love with my friend’s wife. When we first met twelve years ago, I developed feelings of infatuation for her.  But in wanting to do the right thing, I talked myself out of them.  At the time, I thought to myself that it wasn’t appropriate for me to think such things about the woman of another man.  

Many years passed, and gradually I lost touch with my friend as our relationship began to dissipate.  I found that I remained in touch with her every now and then and would sometimes help her with assignments for her work. She eventually informed me that she hadn’t been close to her husband for a number of years, and I was shocked to hear such news.

Suffice it to say, our feelings grew for one another, and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about her.  We’re together now as a couple, and I feel like destiny has made it so.  I have felt moments of guilt for this, despite her having reassured me that they no longer loved one another.  It nevertheless is a difficult predicament to find oneself in. 

We have been talking recently about how we should introduce me to her children.  She has two beautiful children from her previous marriage, ages 10 and 5.  She has stated that she would prefer to introduce me to the children gradually and as a friend, so as to not cause trauma to them, after having been through so much with the divorce.  I do respect this, and in my heart I want so much to have a good relationship with them, and for them to like me very much.  As much as I want to respect her wishes and make her happy, I feel that it would be more honest in the long run to be open with the children and tell them about our relationship, as it would engender trust. 

Instinctively I feel that I am right about this somehow, but I feel in our current society time-honoured wisdom is eschewed in favour of theories and new models for parenting.  I would be so grateful if you have any insights that you might be able to share that relate to our situation.  

Kind regards,

Karl

 P.S – I really admire the work that you do that goes towards creating understanding between Jews and Christians, I derive a great deal personally from such works, and have found that I’ve learned about Judaism in the process.

Dear Karl,

We appreciate your kind words about our work, though we suspect that you may not be as happy with how we respond to your question here. You were absolutely correct years ago when you recognized that it is completely inappropriate to fantasize about someone else’s wife. That is even a prohibition that ranks as the tenth of the Ten Commandments!

After acknowledging that you behaved correctly many years ago, we must say that we noticed too much focus on feelings in your letter. We think that it is important anytime one must make important life decisions,  for the brain, mind and objective morality to dominate feelings.

We did not understand whether you were saying that this woman and your former-friend are the divorced parents of her two children or if she had a previous marriage (with two children) and is not yet divorced from your friend.

If the latter is correct, then – we know of no way to say this gently – you still have no business being involved with a married woman. The fact that she is unhappy in her marriage is irrelevant. No good can come of this.

However, if what you meant was that she was once married to your ex-friend and is  now divorced with two children, and her divorce had nothing to do with you, then we don’t understand why you should have any guilt feelings. Hence, our confusion.

Nonetheless, you must recognize that, no matter how strongly either of you feel for one another, her primary obligation is to her children. As a mature adult, you should also put their welfare ahead of your own. Depending on the details of the divorce and how long ago the divorce was, it might be wrong for you to meet her children at all at this point. (In fact, it might be wrong for her to be in any romantic relationship, though you didn’t ask us about that.)

As to your specific question. Children are not stupid. We doubt very much if you can be introduced as a friend without her ten-year-old asking her pointed questions. We would recommend that until she is entirely free to remarry, her children and she have adjusted well to their changed circumstances, and you are willing to assume a lifetime commitment to her and complete responsibility for the children’s well-being, you stay away from her family unit.

Once all those criteria are met, we would agree with you that the children should meet you as someone who has a special place in their mother’s and their future. A sign that you are ready to be introduced would be this woman and you agreeing on what to do as you both put the good of these children ahead of your own desires. Despite the increased frequency of divorce and remarriage in our society it still can be a traumatic event for the children involved who are dealing with a personal situation, not statistics. Do not underestimate the hurdles you may face. It is very possible that you and this woman should get guidance from pastors or professionals experienced with assisting couples through this type of event before moving forward.

Karl, we have done you the honor of assuming that you wanted the truth and that is what we have given you.  And these principles are not just our feelings.

With tough love,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin 

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Would Nimrod be comfortable in today’s society? Would Abraham?

Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel

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Summer in The City

It was on a clear but cold winter afternoon that I landed at JFK Airport on my first visit to the United States.  After clearing customs and immigration and being granted a three week tourist visa, I climbed into a taxi on my way to my Manhattan hotel.  Half an hour later, as the sun was starting to set, the cab swept around a curve in the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and for the first time in my life my eyes fell upon a sight of which I have never tired.  The towering skyscrapers of lower Manhattan silhouetted against the still blue sky took my breath away.  I found myself silently mouthing these words, “How great are your works, Oh Lord!” (Psalms 92:5) as tears started up in my eyes.  It was then, only a couple of hours after first setting foot upon the continent of North America while driving up the East River towards the Brooklyn Bridge that I resolved to stay.  And, though no longer on a tourist visa, I’m still here.

Why did this sight move me so deeply?  Because the Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, and the giant redwood trees overlooking San Francisco Bay might all have conceivably come into being as the result of a lengthy process of random, unaided materialistic evolution.  Primeval winds and wild rivers might have shaped canyons and mountains while undisturbed saplings grew and grew.  But a colossal hub of millions of human beings all cooperating to build and maintain Manhattan with its buildings and bridges, its streets and subways and its unimaginably vast system of human enterprise could only have been built by creatures touched by the finger of God.  I was immeasurably moved realizing that I was gazing upon the proof of God’s goodness. 

Beavers build lodges and dams that are wonders of hydraulic engineering.  Bees build hives of energetic productivity and ants create huge invisible underground nests.  But none of these examples of animal instinct matches a city.  Every beaver, bee or ant habitation almost exactly matches every other, but each city that humans build looks different and each houses its own unique culture.  Every animal endeavor is predictable while cites collapse when their cultures fail as Jane Jacobs explains in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  While some cities become shining jewels gleaming with every facet of human creativity, others lose their central life force; they deteriorate and die, becoming garbage heaps and cesspools. 

Just as a culture builds a city, so a city grows and protects its culture.  And when the city dies, so does its culture.  For this reason, Germany concentrated its bombing blitz during eight months in 1940-1941 upon London and not upon the green fields of Devon which provided such agricultural abundance.  Likewise, the Royal Air Force bombed Berlin and Dresden and not German farmland.  To end the Pacific war, we bombed the great cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, utterly ignoring the rice paddies that fed 70 million Japanese. 

To fully grasp how cities are really an amazing manifestation of our Godly origin, we can glance at these Bible sections. 

In anticipation of inheriting the Land of Israel, the tribes of Reuben and Gad request the east bank of the Jordan.  After much nuanced-filled negotiation, Moses instructs them:

Build for yourselves cities for your small children and pens for your flocks…
(Numbers 32:24)

Then Moses instructed Israel to give the tribe of Levi 48 cities!  (Numbers chapter 35)

Did the small children of two tribes really need a few cities?  Wouldn’t a handful of childcare facilities suffice?  And did one tribe of Levites really need nearly 50 cities?

And, while we’re talking of unnecessary cities, why did Cain build a city for all of about half a dozen human beings on the planet?  (Genesis 4:17)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that whenever Scripture mentions a city it is teaching us that a new culture is being introduced.  This idea is not without modern precedent.  When the Australians began to see themselves as an independent nation early in the 20th century, they set about building their new capital city of Canberra where no city existed and where almost no people dwelled.   Fifty years later, Brazil did the same thing, building the capital city Brasilia, not in response to any growing local population but to attract a population.  Of course today both Canberra and Brasilia are large and thriving cities.

Thus when the Children of Israel were anticipating their arrival into their own land for the first time ever, building cities was an essential first step.  Reuben and Gad built cities, not for their existing small children but to provide a future-looking culture for those children.  The Levites didn’t possess the numbers to warrant 48 cities, but they were the guardians of a culture that placed worship of God at the center.  Naturally they needed cities to help implant that outlook.

Conversely when enemies attack, they have always known that if they destroy the cultural heart of the country by eradicating the city, the rural farmlands will also cease to exist. 

This Sunday, we observe the most mournful day of the Jewish calendar, known as Tisha B’Av.  This is the date around which almost every calamity inflicted upon the Jewish people throughout history is clustered.  We tend to heave a heartfelt sigh of relief when the day passes each year.  One of the calamities mourned is the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple some twenty-five hundred years ago.  On Sunday we shall read the book of Lamentations whose opening verse reads:

Oh how has the city [Jerusalem] that was once so populous become so lonely!
She has become like a widow…
(Lamentations 1:1)

We see that just as the happy new culture that would arise with the Jewish arrival in Israel needed cities built, so the tragic new culture heralded by the eviction of the Jews from Israel needed cities destroyed—starting with the capital city, Jerusalem.

The condition of American cities sheds considerable light on the health of the cultures of the states in which those cities are situated.  It is not hard to see that Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix and Charlotte are in better shape than Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco and New York.  The rural countryside can pretty much survive without a God-centric culture.  However, once cities go secular, there’s not much that can save them other than the fervent revival of the Biblical beliefs and values that built those cities in the first place.

I do enjoy the natural beauty to be found in the United States of America.  But I am spiritually inspired and emotionally moved far more by the good people to be found maintaining and growing those still-healthy cities that I am privileged to visit and in which I am often blessed to appear and speak.  I pray for that Biblical revival among America’s believers and the first sign of its success will be the return of our cities.

                                                                                                      Adapted and reprinted from Tisha B’Av teaching summer 2016

Why did the people of Shinar need to build a city long before
they laid out fields and established farms? (Genesis 11:4)
To understand today’s political climate and recognize
what is threatening your family and livelihood,
you need to answer that question.

We lay it out in our audio set,
Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel,
on sale this week. Don’t listen to the news without it!

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Wonderful news!

A few weeks ago, we asked you to pray for the infant grandson of dear friends of ours. We are thrilled to share that Lion Huch, son of Pastors Luke and Jennifer Huch and grandson of Pastors Larry and Tiz Huch has been discharged from the hospital and is cancer-free. Here is Pastor Luke’s announcement:

“INFANT LEUKEMIA SURVIVOR Baby Lion Update: Special announcement from Pastor @lukehuch! Thank you so much for your continued prayers! We have the victory!!! Lion is healed, Lion will live, and Lion will thrive! Repost and share with others so they can hear the good news!!!”

Please keep praying as Lion is scheduled for further treatment to ensure that the cancer doesn’t come back. This is truly a miracle and we are rejoicing.

THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Summer in The City July 16, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - It was on a clear but cold winter afternoon that I landed at JFK Airport on my first visit to the United States.  After clearing customs and immigration and being granted a three week tourist visa, I climbed into a taxi on my way to my Manhattan hotel.  Half an hour later, as the sun Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • Meeting my girlfriend’s children July 17, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - I first became aware of your work after having seen a talk that you gave on a program with Pastor John Hagee.  I subsequently purchased Thou Shall Prosper, and I think that it's a fantastic book, and one that I often return to, not merely because of how eloquently it's written.   Recently, I fell in Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Why not Israel? July 19, 2018 by Susan Lapin - I love puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, acrostics, Sudoku, logic puzzles...a book full of puzzles even keeps me somewhat content on a cross-country flight. I am telling you this to put into perspective my answer to a question that came to our Ask the Rabbi column. Matt asked, “I’m always wondering why your family never Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • Wonderful news! July 16, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - A few weeks ago, we asked you to pray for the infant grandson of dear friends of ours. We are thrilled to share that Lion Huch, son of Pastors Luke and Jennifer Huch and grandson of Pastors Larry and Tiz Huch has been discharged from the hospital and is cancer-free. Here is Pastor Luke's announcement: 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, best-selling author and host of the Rabbi Daniel Lapin Show on The Blaze Radio Network. 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 has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths. Newsweek magazine included him in its list of America’s fifty most influential rabbis.

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