TRENDING TODAY

What kind of role models are these!

My wife and I love listening to your podcast.

I have a question that no Rabbi has been able to answer to my satisfaction. (It could be that they have answered the question accurately but it never resonated with me.)

It’s about Jacob and his children. Jacob is revered by us and his children were given the privilege of having tribes named after them. What bothers me is that these were not nice children. Judah had a terrible mean streak and was known to hang out with women of ill repute. His brothers sold a brother into slavery. They lied to their parents, they wiped out entire cities for revenge. (If I was Jacob’s neighbor my kids would have been under strict instructions to avoid them at all cost!)

Where does the reverence for Jacob’s children come from and why do rabbis insist on calling them righteous?

Cliff

Dear Cliff,

We’re not sure we can answer this question to your satisfaction, but we are going to try and contribute perspective which we hope you will appreciate.

Recently, a book about a complicated woman, Dr. Anne Spoerry was published.  (In Full Flight by John Heminway)  She fought the Nazis while part of the French Resistance. She was betrayed and sent to a concentration camp where she collaborated with the Nazis in monstrous crimes against other captives.  To escape war crime prosecution, she fled to Kenya and spent the rest of her life saving the lives of thousands of Africans.

To the Africans whose lives she improved and saved while working devotedly on that continent she is a heroine. The concentration camp internees who saw her as a sadistic torturer viewed her very differently. A snapshot of her work for the Resistance before she was sent to a concentration camp would reveal another aspect of her personality. We haven’t read the book yet, but we surmise that Dr. Spoerry was an incredibly powerful and complex woman. We may never know the truth about her feelings, motivations and even her actions but her life does serve as a reminder that God created humans as amazingly complicated beings.

What does this have to do with Jacob’s sons? The Torah consistently presents complex pictures of human beings. It is not a history book, but a guide to life. If the people in it were one-dimensional saints or sinners it would not be useful to us because that is not how any of us really are. The Torah teaches that the greater a person is, the greater is his capacity both for good and for evil. In fact, ancient Jewish wisdom, based on the following verse, teaches that anyone who is great enough to accomplish exceptional things will, by definition, do some wrong things as well.   “There is no righteous man on earth who does only good and never sins at all.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

Jacob’s sons were establishing a movement that, to our day, exerts tremendous influence. They were powerful people given a powerful heritage. We disagree that Judah wasn’t a nice person. He failed to live up to his own standards and picked himself up and tried again. He candidly acknowledged his errors and demonstrated remarkable courage with Joseph in Egypt. In doing so he made it easier for the rest of us to follow suit.

It’s also worth remembering that Jacob and his family didn’t live in a small and wholesome LDS town in Utah or in a church-centric community in Oklahoma.  They lived in a world yet unimpacted by Judeo-Christian values.  Their neighbors behaved barbarically and inflicted cruelty upon one another.  There was no civilized alternative to Jacob’s sons wiping out the men of Shechem.  It wasn’t simply revenge for rape. It was a process of civilizing the world.

None of the other actions you mention such as the brothers selling Joseph or Judah’s visiting a woman he thought to be a prostitute can be fully explained in this response. They’d need more space and time.  Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to treat the narrative like a modern fiction story. There were elements of good and bad in all the actions. Often, the right thing to do inevitably has aspects that are damaging and those who do wrong often have good inside them as well.  Like us, the brothers had to deal with circumstances that are multi-faceted and complicated.

Through their successes and failures they maintained their allegiance to the God of their fathers and to His greater picture. They strove to improve and pass on to their children a call to become greater. They were men of a caliber that we can’t begin to comprehend but the emanations from them still lend strength to us.   These are some of the reasons their descendants were called ‘the Children of Israel” and why the word Jew is proudly derived directly from the name of the fourth son, Judah.

We hope that at least some of what we tell you here resonates. 

Cordially,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*   *   *   *
Explore this week’s specials

Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel
Boost Your Income: 3 Spiritual Steps to Success

Boost Your Income Download

Talk about a paradigm shift! This teaching really opened my eyes as to how to
tap into financial increase.
  June G.

 

Boats Float; Planes Fly; Couples & Businesses Crash

One of the most sensually satisfying things I’ve ever done was building a seventeen-foot sailing boat out of oak and spruce, plywood and glue, bronze screws and canvas.  If I close my eyes, I can still smell the aromatic sawdust.  After eight months of part-time, loving labor, launch day was almost an anticlimax.  It floated, I climbed aboard, hoisted sail, and glided off across the lake. 

No surprise there; I had purchased plans from an accomplished New Zealand naval architect, Richard Hartley, and followed them diligently.  What is more surprising is that I later built another boat which also floated.  This one was nearly forty feet long and was constructed from steel and cement.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Its hull was a one-inch thick sandwich of steel and cement.  I was not at all surprised when, on launch day, it not only floated but floated exactly to its waterline which I had already painted in bright red on the hull. 

Why wasn’t I surprised?  Because I had purchased plans from a designer in Vancouver who was a recognized expert in ferro-cement boats and I had followed all details diligently.  What percentage of the boats and ships that are built by large shipyards or by serious amateurs float? Actually, about one hundred percent.

We have friends in Nevada who are constructing a small airplane in their garage.  They are among the thousands of ultra-light aircraft enthusiasts around America who have built their own small airplanes.  What percentage of these airplanes fly?  Actually, about the same as the percentage of airplanes built by Boeing that fly—one hundred percent. 

The same goes for houses and skyscrapers.  Just like boats and planes, one can construct a house or a skyscraper knowing that if directions are followed, the building will stand.  One hundred percent of buildings constructed according to currently understood engineering principles stand.  We’ve been constructing boats and buildings for a long time.  We know what works and why. 

However, although we have been getting married and building businesses for thousands of years, neither of these two enterprises offer anything near the same likelihood of success.  This is puzzling.  After all, there are countless books on starting a business and getting married just as there are entire libraries providing guidance on building boats, planes, and houses.  We ought to be able to absorb the necessary data and embark on life as an entrepreneur or as a spouse with as much chance of success as ship builders, airplane builders, and home builders.  Yet we all know that the percentage of new businesses and new marriages that succeed long term is well below the figure for ships, planes, and skyscrapers.  Why would that be?

As usual, ancient Jewish wisdom leads us to the Scriptural solution.  God directed Moses how to build the Ark of the Covenant and then told him to place inside it “…the testimony which I shall give you.” (Exodus 25:16)

God directed Moses to build the Table and then told him, “And you shall set the bread of display upon the table…(Exodus 25:30)

God directed Moses to build the Menorah and then told him, “…and they shall light its lamps…(Exodus 25:37)

However, when God directed Moses to build the altar (Exodus 27:1-8) the construction details were not followed by what to do with the altar as was the case with the Ark, the Table and the Menorah.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the entire purpose of building the Ark was to place inside it the Tablets; the Table, to place upon it the bread; and the Menorah to light it.  But building the altar had purpose and meaning in itself.

In our attempts to replicate the Tabernacle in our own homes by making them suitable dwelling places for God, the altar symbolizes the marital bedroom and also the source of sustenance.  In other words, the altar is linked to both marriage and our means of earning a living—our businesses. 

The Ark, the Table and the Menorah were physical objects and building them resembled building boats, planes, and homes.  However, the altar was a spiritual entity and building it was meaningful in itself.

A ship is built for the purpose of launching it; an airplane is built for the purpose of flying it; a building is constructed for the purpose of occupying it.


However, a marriage needs no other purpose to exist.  Its very existence provides meaning.  Certainly, it is the best place to raise children and adds to the health and income of the spouses, but even without those things it has meaning.  And a business, though obviously needing to provide goods and services and make a profit, often gives its owners and operators significant meaning and purpose in life even during the start-up years when it may well not yet be profitable.

If I spot someone erecting a building, I might well ask, “What’s it for?”  But if someone tells me they’re getting married, I wouldn’t ask, “What for?” 

Yes, there are libraries of information on how to build physical objects like boats, planes, and houses. And you will only fail by ignoring those physical directions.  Happily for successfully building spiritual entities like marriages and businesses, there is also information available but it is naturally spiritual information.  It is as reckless to start a marriage or launch a new money-making enterprise without consulting and following the spiritual blueprints.

  *   *   *   *

 CDs and Downloads on Sale 

Boost Your Income: 3 Spiritual Secrets for Success

Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel

Boost Your Income Download

Granite Men; Marshmallow Boys

Imagine a woman in the mid 1800s crossing North America by wagon train. Now imagine her amazement if she was to travel a  similar distance today by jet. Multiple blessings of gratitude would spill from her lips. I tried to keep this in mind recently when I was cramped into a small seat, grazing shoulders with my neighbor, not quite sure where to place my legs and basically confined to that place for six hours.

Still, the trip was long. I was not disciplined enough to focus on work or even to concentrate on the current book I am enjoying reading. American Airlines, aware that a benumbed clientele makes for a successful flight, provided each passenger with a personal entertainment device that had more movies available than I have ever seen on an international flight  let alone a domestic one.

My flight was long enough for me to watch a personally constructed double feature. My first choice was a relatively recent movie that a friend had recommended, The Intern, starring Robert de Niro and Anne Hathaway. After that, when there were still a few hours left to the trip, I pulled up the classic from 1942, Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. My interest in Casablanca, which I last saw many years ago, was sparked by references to it in a wonderful book I just read, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The book highlighted certain details from the movie. (I include this completely irrelevant information only because I know many of you are voracious readers and I do recommend this book.)

Seeing the two movies one after the other inevitably led to comparison. I particularly want to focus on the male leading men. I don’t know how old Rick, Humphrey Bogart’s character is supposed to be, but my guess is that if you showed the movie to college students today, most of them would guess that he is older than the audience thought him to be in 1942. His face is mature; his bearing solid.

The Intern reiterates that Robert de Niro is playing a seventy-year-old character. His face, too, is mature and his bearing solid. To the amazement of his younger male colleagues, he not only wears a suit and tie to work, but—prepare to be shocked—he shaves each and every day including on weekends.

The contrast to the younger men in the movie could not be greater. They are soft and cuddly looking. Not only are most of them not clean-shaven but their hair is not even groomed. They probably don’t know how to fasten a tie and might not even own one. While not the main point of the movie during the course of events, as they grow to respect and admire Mr. de Niro’s character, some of them begin to model his physical appearance. Nevertheless, before that happens, they represent the desired look for their generation. With the exception of military men, the rugged, strong, manly look is not common. Neither, is the rugged, strong, dependable man. The popular phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ in and of itself suggests that being manly is problematic.

Casablanca was made at a time when the Allies’ success in World War II was uncertain. At its conclusion, Humphrey Bogart says, “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Stopping the Nazi threat to civilization took priority over personal ambition, love and emotion.

There are young men today, many in the military, who do live for noble ideals greater than their personal feelings and fulfillment. They are not the young men popularized today on Youtube, Netflix or in movies. Humphrey Bogart portrayed a flawed character, not a saint. In that way he honestly represented a generation of young men from the 1940s, warts and all, to whom we owe a great debt. The culture may not present that type of man as a role model, but as even one of today’s movie shows, that doesn’t mean that young men (and women) today don’t crave exactly those examples.

 *   *   *   *

Would you rather live in an Abraham world or a Nimrod world?
The choice is still being made today.

ON SALE
Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel

Should my children read Harry Potter?

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

I’m an orthodox Jewish homeschool mom of five and I love your show! Our homeschool curriculum focuses heavily on reading good literature and my kids have just reached the age where Edward Eager’s tales of magic, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as many others in the fantasy genre are on many recommended reading lists.

I’m unsure of how to approach the element of magic in children’s stories. The Torah forbids witchcraft, so should stories that feature magic be anathema to my Torah-observant kids?

Thanks for the great materials you produce. I consider them part of my continuing education. 🙂

Jessie W.

Dear Jessie,

We’re delighted that you watch our show and that you are homeschooling. As you may know, we homeschooled for many years and a number of our grandchildren are now being homeschooled as well.

Some of our children were the intended audience age when the first Harry Potter book came out.  This book became a major topic of discussion among both the Jewish and Christian homeschoolers we knew. More than any other topic we can think of, the families we knew (and respected) were all over the map on this one.

Approaches ranged from an absolute ban on reading any sort of fantasy to those who couldn’t see any problem whatsoever with the genre. Our view was somewhere in the middle. We made a judgment call and will share some of our considerations, but we would like to emphasize that each child and his surroundings need to be taken into account. Unlike certain questions, such as whether a child should call a parent by his first name where the answer is clear cut (absolutely not!), this question has a lot of room for knowing an individual child, the specific book, subjectivity and praying for Godly wisdom.

When they were young, our children, like many others, delighted in books featuring talking animals who dressed and behaved like people. As parents we saw these books as imaginative, not sinister. Part of the developing toddler sense of humor was understanding that a moose would not go into a store to buy candy and a duck would not toss a salad for a dinner party.

We saw Edward Eager’s books like Half-Magic  or The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit as more sophisticated versions of the same idea. They are incredibly clever stories of things that can never happen; imaginative rather than sinister.

As children grow, it is important for them to understand what the Bible is warning about and forbidding one to dabble in. There are spiritual forces in the world that we cannot easily understand and that nonetheless can do great harm. For example, the focused wishing of evil on someone, for example via a voodoo doll, can have an effect. It is forbidden. In the same way, some people are capable of communing with the dead. This is possible – and forbidden. Statues coming to life under a full moon or finding a coin that allows you to move backwards in history are not real options, so we didn’t see reading about them as problematic.

Is Harry Potter, a brilliant book and not surprisingly a best-seller, different in a real way to the above books or even to the TV show Bewitched?  We don’t know. Many times cultural influences are incredibly subtle.Our second-hand understanding is that the Harry Potter books became darker as the series went along. (Our children were older at that point and I think their interest waned, but anyway they were then at an age to make their own decisions.) We know parents who explained to their children that while they allowed the early books into their homes, they would not let in the later ones.

Realistically, each family needs to decide where certain lines are drawn as well as knowing the point at which forbidding something makes it intensely desirable. There are only so many issues where one can take a stand unless one moves to a community with only like-minded people and shuts out the outside world. 

What we would strongly recommend is forging a relationship with your children that has them respecting and caring what you think. That means explaining your views and listening to theirs. It also means taking the time to read and watch the things to which they are being exposed and doing so with a keen eye. You and they need to develop the ability to see the message behind the message and hone an awareness of what is shaping morals and ideas. Dinnertime conversations are priceless.

We are sure you are already aware of this, but cultural messages are constantly being sent by all sorts of literature. You are raising only one area of concern but parent-child interactions, male-female relationships, views of America and attitudes to money are only four areas where values can be easily absorbed through reading.  For example, we rejected Berenstain Bear books for our children because the father was often portrayed as a genial buffoon whose wife and children were clearly smarter and more accomplished than he was. 

You need to be clear on what your family values are. While we appreciated C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series and most of our Christian friends loved the books, we personally chose not to share those with our children. Narnia is a Christian parable and as such, no matter how lovely a story, it wasn’t meant for our Jewish family. One of our friends, whose children grew up to be just as committed Jews as our children, made the decision to let her children read the Narnia series. Each parent should take the responsibility to make those decisions herself.

Our homeschooling was very literature based and we have wonderful memories of read-aloud sessions with teenagers perfectly capable of reading to themselves. We hope you create many wonderful memories of your own.

Enjoy these years,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

  *    *    *    *

Is your image of the Tower of Babel based on VeggiTales for children? 

Are you ready for the grown-up version? 

Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel

ON SALE

THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Boats Float; Planes Fly; Couples & Businesses Crash February 20, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - One of the most sensually satisfying things I’ve ever done was building a seventeen-foot sailing boat out of oak and spruce, plywood and glue, bronze screws and canvas.  If I close my eyes, I can still smell the aromatic sawdust.  After eight months of part-time, loving labor, launch day was almost an anticlimax.  It floated, Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • What kind of role models are these! February 21, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - My wife and I love listening to your podcast. I have a question that no Rabbi has been able to answer to my satisfaction. (It could be that they have answered the question accurately but it never resonated with me.) It's about Jacob and his children. Jacob is revered by us and his children were Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Granite Men; Marshmallow Boys February 15, 2018 by Susan Lapin - Imagine a woman in the mid 1800s crossing North America by wagon train. Now imagine her amazement if she was to travel a  similar distance today by jet. Multiple blessings of gratitude would spill from her lips. I tried to keep this in mind recently when I was cramped into a small seat, grazing shoulders Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • Body and Soul February 12, 2018 by Susan Lapin - While preparing Gila Manolson's book, Hands Off: This May Be Love for a second printing, I took the opportunity to look through it again. The following quote jumped out at me: "God created our bodies and souls to work together as one, with the soul defining one’s identity and the body expressing it. Our dress, Read More

PODCAST

Listen to our podcast on the go or wherever you are!
Uncover how Ancient Jewish Wisdom can positively impact every aspect of your life.

Listen Now   

TV SHOW

We teach. We laugh. We even argue.
Scripture comes to life, guiding us all towards more happiness and success.

Watch Now   
Join the over 42,000+ people who have chosen to receive FREE weekly teachings from Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin revealing ancient Jewish wisdom for their lives.
Send Me Thought Tools   

Videos

Enjoy an assortment of video messages from Rabbi Daniel Lapin!

  • Homepage Video 1
  • Homepage video 2
  • Homepage video 3
  • Homepage video 4
  • Homepage video 5
  • Homepage video 7
  • Homepage video 8
  • Homepage video 10

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.

Speaker

Author

Rabbi

GET IN TOUCH

Do you have a question you’d like to discuss or simply want to stay in touch?

Send us an email at: admin@rabbidaniellapin.com or use the contact form below.

X