Monthly Archives: April, 2018

Only the Few

April 30th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 32 comments

Most teachers follow the rule that if one student asks a question, more than one student is thinking the same question. So when I repeatedly get asked one question, I know that it is time to rephrase the answer I have been giving and try to explain it more fully.

The question I get concerns our teaching that only about 20% of the Israelites left Egypt. I understand that this isn’t part of general Sunday School lessons, but that is because it is a message for adults with enormous implications.

In fact, the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, is credited with popularizing this eighty-twenty principle although I have no idea if he knew that it is found in  the Bible. There are plenty of examples of this rule that will set your head nodding.

If you enjoy cooking or baking, you probably use about 20% of your recipes 80% of the time.  You probably wear about 20% of your clothing 80% of the time.  Perhaps about 80% of your social connectivity comes from interactions with only 20% of your friends. Those in sales know that about 80% of their sales revenue comes from 20% of your customers. 

It is less a rule and more an observation that most of our important results come from a small part of our effort.  Another variation is that about 20% of the people in any society or community are exceptional and stand out.  Perhaps 80% of the good work and charitable endeavors in your town are performed by 20% of the citizens. Likewise, another 20% of the citizens perpetrate about 80% of the crime and destructiveness. 

I first learned of this rule when I was nine years old.  It was a few weeks before Passover and my father, the late Rabbi A.H. Lapin, was teaching me Exodus 13:18. English translations widely differ on translating one Hebrew word in that verse. Here are three variations.

…and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt. (21st Century King James Version)

…and the children of Israel went up by five in a rank out of the land of Egypt.” (King James Version)

…and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt. (American Standard Version)

The Hebrew word being translated is CHaMuShiM. If you have already gained a glimpse into the majesty and mystery of the Lord’s language in my book Buried Treasure, you know that Biblical Hebrew words possess several layers of meaning, each one adding to a complete understanding.

This word “CHaMuSHiM” has as its root letters CH, M, and SH (Hebrew reads right to left).

ח  מ  ש

SH   M   CH

These letters form the word for the number five in Hebrew. Aha! Things are beginning to make more sense.

It isn’t shocking that five can be associated with being armed as that word is based on having one’s hands prepared to be used for action, whether as a fist or to hold a weapon.

In Genesis 41:34, Joseph advises Pharaoh to take a fifth of the land of Egypt (20% taxation, in other words) to prepare (be armed) for the coming seven years of scarcity. Do you recognize one of the words?

…וחמש את-ארץ מצרים, בשבע שני השבע…

And he (Pharaoh) should ‘fifth’ the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty…

Returning to our verse from Exodus, we understand why ancient Jewish wisdom translates it as:

…and the children of Israel went up ‘fifthed’  (1/5) out of the land of Egypt.

In other words, five is a number associated with being prepared and equipped for necessary action.  Considering that the Egyptian army was the world’s top military force, there is little in the natural world with which the Israelites could realistically properly arm themselves. However, they could prepare themselves spiritually by being ready to change their servitude from Pharaoh to God. Given this opportunity, the use of the word חמשים, CHaMuSHim, tells us that only 1/5 or 20% of the nation chose to do so.  Only 1/5 of the people were prepared for a new reality. Astounding!

Life in Egypt certainly wasn’t pleasant for the Israelites yet eighty percent of them chose to align with that country.  The truth is that like the Israelites, most of us eventually become accustomed to our existence no matter how painful, and we prefer to endure it rather than risk the fear of the unknown.  Heading off into the desert with Moses was just plain scary.  Eighty percent of the Israelites dismissed him as a dangerous crank.

Now, as well, times are challenging.  80% of people resignedly adjust to living permanently in their predicaments, but we can choose to be among the 20% who reject an unacceptable reality and boldly build a bridge to better times.  It does require considering steps that most people would reject.  It does require facing down our fears. To do so, we need to overcome our inertia to stay just as we are. 

If the idea of becoming familiar with Hebrew and the tips that allow you to extract more from the Bible through knowing that language intrigue you, we will continue our theme and reduce Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language and the Aleph-Bet book by 20%. Be among the 20% (or gift someone so they can join your ranks) and get armed to gain a better understanding of how the world really works!

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Be Still My Heart

April 26th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 43 comments

“I vote with my heart,” says a supporter of Cynthia Nixon, the Sex in the City actress who is running against Andrew Cuomo for the governorship of New York State, “and Ms. Nixon won my heart.”

I assume that the above quote, appearing at it does in the April 16, 2018 edition of New York magazine, a sanctimonious liberal publication, is not meant to discredit Ms. Nixon’s supporters, but to represent the depth of their commitment to her. I am not at all a supporter of the current governor, but I find this quote cringe-worthy.

After decades of women insisting that they could be as rational as men, increasingly, scores of females happily confirm that one reason for the early 1900 reluctance to grant women the vote (because they would vote emotionally), was substantive. A school textbook from the 1980s says, “…These reasons may seem ludicrous to us, but at the time were taken seriously by a wide cross-section of women as well as men.” The assumption that the reasons were ludicrous is today being challenged daily.

President Trump’s election, cited by Ms. Nixon as the main impetus that spurred her to run for office, has laid bare many illusions. Among them are the idea that liberal-leaning voters are in favor of free speech, equal justice for all and an unbiased press. Traditional and principled liberals are increasingly appalled by the hate-filled, anti-democracy vitriol coming from those with whom they thought they were allied.

Women too have lost credibility. For years, the popular media view of supporting women has meant supporting only liberal women. Conservative women, just like conservative Blacks and Jews were rendered invisible. The 2016 election ramped up the bigotry and bias.

I too have a negative emotional reaction to the man Donald Trump. Bill  Clinton evoked similar feelings in me, for many of the same reasons. I want neither man as a friend or neighbor. That is almost completely irrelevant to my actions in the voting booth. While personality isn’t unimportant, it is a small consideration compared to policy and other factors. I am a stronger supporter of President Trump today than I was when I voted for him. Not because I find him a more attractive individual – I don’t – and not only because I appreciate much of what he’s done. Just as my disgust with  Hillary Clinton’s behavior in her political life is part of what propelled me to vote for President Trump, the hysterical reaction from so many women to his election confirms for me that he is just what this country needs. Repealing the Nineteenth Amendment may be far-fetched, but women voting as informed, reasonable and rational citizens shouldn’t be.

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My wife wants me to get a toupee

April 25th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 28 comments

Dear Rabbi & Susan,

You speak and write a lot about Biblical marriage and while sometimes it sounds a bit too good to be true,  my wife and I largely follow your teachings.  We’ve had many issues crop up and we have often found answers in your work. 

But we have looked throughout your work and your website for an answer to the question that is causing some stress in our relationship right now.  We have both agreed to be bound by your answer as we want the contention to end.  Here is our problem.  I am balding.  No, that does not fully describe the situation.  From the beautifully full head of hair I proudly sported when we got married, I have now progressed to the point where, frankly, I am as bald as a billiard ball.  There I’ve said it.  It happened surprisingly quickly; I am not happy about it of course but I have accepted it.  I’ve even come up with some humorous lines to respond to my ‘well-meaning’ friends teasing me. 

Here is the problem.  My darling wife wants me to wear a hairpiece or to undergo a major hair transplant.  As I said, I am not happy about my new look, but I would be even less happy about trying to hide it.  I would feel ridiculous resorting to either a wig or hair transplants.  I think I am explaining my wife’s position by saying she feels that our marriage makes us indivisible and how I look affects how she feels just as she knows that I appreciate how she looks and the trouble she takes to look that way.  I think she feels that appearing next to me in public makes her look older though she hasn’t said that. 

If I have to do what she wishes, I will do so in good grace and accept it as I have accepted being bald.  I think if you both say that I don’t have to change the appearance that God has given me, she will also accept it and come to get used to my shiny new look.

We love your television show and appreciate all the teaching you do.

Sincerely,

Fred

Dear Fred,

This has to rank as one of the most interesting questions we have ever received. As we worked our way through it, we wanted to make sure that we knew what you were not asking as much as what you are asking. You are not asking about a marriage in which one spouse feels that the other is letting him or herself go to “pot.”  This too is an important question but it’s just not yours. 

We also want to commend you both on agreeing to be bound by the answer of a third party—in this case, us.  We too set up this kind of problem-solving-dynamic early in our own marriage.  The idea is that when a disagreement occurs, its resolution does not involve a “He won” or “She won” scenario. Instead, for the benefit of the relationship, and by virtue of your earlier agreement to be bound, the relationship wins.

Balding is not under your control. We might compare it to a woman’s hair turning gray. However, that isn’t even a fair equivalent because coloring a woman’s hair today is incredibly common and acceptable. It is also less invasive physically and emotionally than a wig or implants.  Your options are a medical procedure (transplants) or a toupee which is still the barb of jokes. So, your wife’s request is a big deal.

On the other hand, her feelings are also a big deal. Making one’s wife happy is serious business.  We know from how God created the human being that few things make a man happier than bringing ecstasy to his wife.  (Deuteronomy 24:5) This applies in the living room and kitchen and in public as much as in the bedroom.

From your letter it sounds as if you and your wife enjoy a good marriage. You don’t mention how long you’ve been married though you do describe how your balding occurred in the proverbial blink of an eye.  Many moons ago, I (RDL) shaved my head and removed my beard in anticipation of a sailing trip we planned to take together. It never crossed my mind to mention my plans to Susan.  Needless to say, with more experience, I would never make that mistake today since I have a better understanding of the stake each partner has in the other.   She was extremely uncomfortable getting aboard a 37 foot sloop with someone who looked like a stranger.  Might your marital problem go away on its own with the passage of time as your dear wife becomes more accustomed to your sleek and polished new look?

Here are five questions we would ask your wife to answer honestly (to herself or to a wise counselor). Is her discomfort only in public or is she feeling less attracted to you in private? Is she concerned with how others see the two of you or only with how she sees you?  Sorry to have to ask this but Is a great deal of her self-worth tied up in externals? Is this truly an isolated discrete problem or is it indicative of an incipient difficulty in the marriage? Is she having trouble dealing with seeing herself getting older and your changed looks aren’t allowing her to live under the illusion that she is still twenty? It is possible that we making a mountain out of a molehill, but we can’t make that decision.

Ideally, as we age our views of ourselves and the people in our lives should hinge less on the physical and more on the spiritual which includes the long term relationships and friendships we have forged. (We cover some of this idea in our audio CD Festival of Lights.) When a dear friend was in her eighties she once mentioned that when her (similarly aged) husband walks in the room she still sees the handsome naval officer she first met sixty years earlier. However, the times we live in emphasize the physical and material making it harder for us to make that transition.

As you can hear, we are tending to the idea that your wife should make peace with your new looks. We would recommend her acting as if she is proud to be seen with you until that becomes internalized. Feelings follow actions. However, we also think it is worth your taking the time and trouble to look into hair transplants and toupees, even if for no other reason than to demonstrate that you are indeed taking your  wife’s concerns seriously. Perhaps there has been great progress in the field that neither you nor we are familiar with. We wouldn’t reject an idea that holds importance to your wife without doing some due diligence.   

As an interesting aside, we read your letter the day that Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Duchess Kate welcomed their third child. The press ran some pictures from previous years including one of the two of them at university graduation. It seems that Prince William and you have something in common! Perhaps if your wife begins to think of herself as Kate Middleton’s peer she will adjust more easily to your new look. 

Thank you for your kind words about our show and writings. We hope that something in our answer will be an asset to your marriage.

Best wishes,

The equally hair-follicle challenged Rabbi Daniel and his wife, Susan

PS: I (RDL) add, that it might be worth while mentioning to your wife that scientific studies reveal and experts confirm that bald men are smarter, stronger, more virile and have better eyesight than the hirsute!

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April 25th, 2018 Posted by AAJC Happenings 14 comments

Dear AAJC Friend,

Greetings to you as we rapidly approach the summer months of 2018.  It is our prayer that so far this has been a blessed, healthy and prosperous year for you and your loved ones.

I saw a recent editorial headline that read, “America is a more divided nation than ever before”  At first, I agreed wholeheartedly with that statement.  But then, I questioned myself.  After all, we were a pretty divided nation in the 1770s.  Some wanted to break with England while others did not.  We were a very divided nation in the 1850s.  That division even led to a bloody war.  We were divided in the 1930s.  Some wanted to participate in finishing off Nazi Germany while others wanted to leave the ‘Old World’ to fight its wars alone. 

But now really is different.  At the time of our founding, we were divided about declaring independence but we all agreed about the Judeo-Christian basis to our society.  During the Civil War both sides relied on the Bible for guidance.  Many Americans did not want the country in World War 2 but everyone agreed that the Nazi barbarians threatened the Judeo-Christian values that had built civilization.

But today, we are divided about those Judeo-Christian values.  Some believe them to be vital for our nation’s survival while others view them as primitive obstructions to progress.  Some regard the work of those wise Christian men over two hundred years ago, our Constitution, as vital for our nation’s survival while others see it as a primitive obstruction to progress.  Today, we really are divided about the fundamentals of our existence.  The kind of lives we shall live and the kind of country in which our children will grow up is up for grabs.  It could go either way.

It should be obvious to all that civilization as we know it and as we live it in comparative tranquility every day utterly depends upon Biblically based Judeo-Christian values being gently and lovingly implanted in every hearth.

This is a question I regularly ask when I am being interviewed on radio and television:  Right now, would the world be a better place or a worse place if a billion Moslems became Christians.  The long silence I usually get indicates that everyone knows the answer.

We’re living in a time Christians and Jews must stand up for  what we believe.   Only Judeo-Christian values can save the world from descending into decades of darkness.  That, in short, is our mission.

And in support of this mission we’ve been sending out Thought Tools free to over 40,000 subscribers every week now for ten years.   I hope you receive it and enjoy it.  More than that, I hope that you extract meaning from it and discover new spiritual strategies to apply in your life. 

(If are a new subscriber to Thought Tools and have yet to benefit from it or you do not share my views about the future of civilization and what we could be doing, I apologize.  Please ignore it and forgive me for troubling you.)

However, if you have been reading our Thought Tools for a while, you might have noticed that this weekly spiritual strategy is sent out by the not-for-profit American Alliance of Jews and Christians.  I would like to tell you a little about the AAJC.

The American Alliance of Jews and Christians grew from the deep conviction held by a group of Jewish and Christian friends, that despite theological differences, millions of Jews and Christians share a common vision of civilization and furthermore, definitely prefer civilization to its alternative—barbarism.

Civilization prefers tranquility to violence; it prefers men to treat women with respect and deference; it prefers freedom to centrally planned tyranny; it prefers people enjoying economic independence through their own efforts to socialism; it believes in charity by choice rather than in government redistribution by force; it believes that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman devoted to one another and to their children, and it believes that both the beginning and end of life should be in God’s hands alone.  Civilization engenders friendship, beauty, compassion, and courtesy rather than brutishness and vulgarity.  Like the American Founders, we prefer a Biblically inspired culture to the sordid stain of secularism and the socialistic society it tends to inspire.

In recent years, America’s Judeo-Christian principles have been increasingly under assault by the media, our universities, as well as the government.  The self-evident truths of 1776 that the Founders based so solidly on Scripture have been marginalized by the notion that no such truths exist.

Some insist that America must change by casting off the old and putting on the new.  But the change that we urgently need is not movement away from, but a return to our founding Judeo-Christian principles.  At this important time in our nation’s history, we must respond by retaking and resolutely defending the high ground of America’s founding principles.

That is why we began this important work over twenty years ago which led to our establishing the  American Alliance of Jews & Christians.  Since that time we have been directly impacting our world by promoting better understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews who care about God’s Biblical blueprint.

Our mission is to equip today’s thought-leaders and opinion-makers with the Bible’s ancient solutions to  cutting-edge problems that come directly from the sacred principles found in ancient Jewish wisdom. 

I am asking for your help and support today.  I am telling you this right now so that if you are unable to help at this time or simply do not wish to do so, you don’t have to continue reading. And that is just fine.  I value your time and I appreciate you and the many other ways you help defend all that is good.

But if you’re still reading, you might like to know more about our work and perhaps help our work continue by means of an appropriate gesture of financial support.  Let me tell you a little more about the idea behind the AAJC and its goals and dreams.

We have not done this work alone.  Countless people have given of their time and financial support to help us make a positive difference in America and around the world.   AAJC is a not-for-profit organization.  It is the support from people like you that allows us to continue broadcasting Bible teachings from ancient Jewish wisdom worldwide via radio, TV, books, the Internet, newsletters, personal appearances, speaking engagements and much more.

We have been honored to work alongside many wonderful organizations that share a similar conviction of restoring Biblical principles into the American culture.  Although the American Alliance of Jews and Christians   has made tremendous progress and it continues to expand its  calling, there is still much to be done.  We need your help more than ever. The threat of Muslim terror and political influence continues to rise.  Not only in the United States, but also directly against Israel.

How can we stop this onslaught against our culture?  Who has the knowledge and the ability to help fight this battle?  With your help, the AAJC has become a leader in this courageous fight.

The sacred mission of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians is to provide the ammunition for keeping the culture attached to its Judeo-Christian spiritual roots enabling it to continue as healthy and successful. 

Our weekly Thought Tools as well as the books and audio CDs we help make available, our daily TV show on TCT Television Network and our podcast now heard around the world are all part of how we provide the intellectual ammunition for good men and women around the world to deploy in the struggle to defend civilization and protect the culture we love. 

This year, AAJC continues to increase our effectiveness through new publications, programs, speaking engagements in the US and Internationally, and we look forward to soon announcing a national conference.

If these values are important to you and your family, I would like to ask you to join with us.  We have a responsibility to our children to do what we can to fight for a return to Judeo-Christian values.

I would never suggest how much you should or can give. This is an intensely personal decision; however, I will tell you that for our programmed activities during 2018-2019, we have planned a program requiring a budget of $900,000.  We are grateful for those few of you who give in the tens of thousands of dollars.  We are equally grateful to the many of you who give in the hundreds and tens. It is up to you and up to me and if you give us the tools, we’ll do the job. 

Whatever support you can give to our work will be very much appreciated. You can make your tax-deductible gift HERE or by mailing in your gift to: 

AAJC
P.O. Box 58
Mercer Island, WA 98040 

May God bless you and protect you and may we all be privileged to do our part in protecting the legacy He entrusted to humanity on Mount Sinai over three thousand years ago. 

Rabbi Daniel Lapin

President

American Alliance of Jews and Christians 

PS:  Just as ancient Israel arrived in the Promised Land with nothing but a set of Biblically-based ideas and proceeded to carve a civilization out of a wilderness, those great early Americans did the same thing.  They crossed an ocean bearing little more than those timeless truths of the Bible and they too carved a great civilization out of a great wilderness.

Now plucking a flower from its roots and bringing it indoors to enjoy might seem like a good idea but pretty soon we discover that anything severed from its roots dies mighty quickly.  Similarly, the great ideas of western civilization have roots too.  Those roots are enshrined in the page of Scripture. And trying to disconnect civilization from its roots assures it of a rapid demise.

Therein lays the sacred mission of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians.  Keeping civilization attached to its Judeo-Christian spiritual roots to maintain it as a fresh, strong, and influential force.

I want to support the  AAJC

The Atheist and the Rebbetzin Should Be Friends

April 20th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma, features a song that allows for a rollicking dance sequence even if it doesn’t do much for the plot. The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends  is a social commentary on the tension between ranchers and farmers in the early 1900s in Oklahoma Territory. The closing lines (after Aunt Eller stops the fighting by brandishing her gun), are:

“I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else,
But I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!”

I think it safe to say that well-known atheist Sam Harris and I (Rebbetzin means Rabbi’s wife) disagree on whether traditional Judeo-Christian morals and values are good for society or not. I think we agree, however, on allowing those with whom we disagree to present their case and the need to recognize that holding an opposing opinion does not automatically make one evil. In fact, having rational and respectful conversation is a wonderful way to refine one’s arguments, recognize flaws in one’s logic and potentially sway opinions. If you believe that your ideas have merit, there is no reason to fear such an exchange.

I know that Mr. Harris holds these views because my husband and I were in the car for an extended time this week giving us the opportunity to listen to a fascinating podcast. As a guest on the podcast Harris expresses serious concern about a society that is quick to marginalize and demonize ideas that don’t match the reigning ideology even when those ideas are based in science and fact. For that matter, in the desperate desire to shut them down, opposing ideas aren’t even necessarily presented accurately. He is one in a growing line of thoughtful liberals, including Professor Alan Dershowitz, who are waking up to discover that the ‘new and improved’ world they participated in creating, is dangerously retrogressive.

I hesitate to recommend listening to the interview which was episode #1107 on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast only because the host seems to have a limited vocabulary that repetitively features one vulgarity. The good news is that he allows his guests, Sam Harris and  Maajid Nawaz to do most of the talking. They are articulate men with fascinating experiences and while I know there are many areas where we disagree, we share a deep concern for the dogmatic silencing of dialogue taking place in the Western world today. An alliance between conservatives and the increasingly rare traditionally open-minded and thoughtful liberal is a friendship worth cultivating.

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Are men serious when they say this?

April 17th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 25 comments

I am a 56 year-old woman who has never been married. I have recently decided that I would like to find a man and get married even in this later time of life. This surprises me because it was never really one of my goals to get married, but I have realized that I do not want to be alone for the rest of my life.

My question is this: I have signed up for a couple of dating websites. I also go on dates with people that I am introduced to from other people but I find this same issue that I am emailing you about.

What I have noticed with a lot of men around my age is they say they are looking for and still have not found “the one.”  I am surprised that I am running into this as these are men that should know by now that there is really no “one person” for another. I will acknowledge there are instances where someone finds their so-called “soulmate,” but I believe these instances are few and far between. But these men seem to think that they will find the one even this late in life and expect fireworks, etc. when they meet someone and life will be just all hunky-dory when they meet this special person.

In my opinion, they are acting like teenage girls.  What are your thoughts on this whole finding “the one” to marry? And how do I reconcile this in my head?  Do I just not even consider getting to know men who have this notion because truthfully I doubt if I would be “the one?”

Sincerely,

Julie G.

P.S. I realize now that I should not have waited so long to find a mate.

Dear Julie,

Your sentence, “In my opinion, they are acting like teenage girls,” gave us a chuckle though we realize that this isn’t a laughing matter. You are, of course, correct in recognizing that waiting for “the one” is a good recipe for staying single.

However, we would take a man’s statement about “the one” to be an opening comment rather than considering it a closing argument.  For instance, instead of dismissing the man who claims to be ‘waiting for the One’ perhaps instead keep the conversation going by saying, “I also used to think marriages are made by waiting for the one, but I have since learned that time is better spent trying to become the One.” 

If this waiting for the One is not coming up in conversation, but instead it crops up on an online questionnaire or in the first few minutes of meeting someone, we think it just might be an easy quip that could precede a deeper conversation.  (If it’s online, it could also be the easiest and best box to check even if it doesn’t actually describe someone’s thoughts.) We agree that spending a lot of time with a man who is waiting for fireworks and a symphony orchestra is a waste of time, but we would at least give time for a cup of coffee before deciding that this truly describes that particular individual’s  worldview.

In your lovely letter, you disclosed why you are now contemplating marriage; you don’t want to be alone for the rest of your life.  And presumably, you seek a man who also doesn’t want to be alone.  While the desire to avoid loneliness is a necessary precondition for marriage—even God said, “Not good for man to be alone”—it is not sufficient. 

Not being alone because you have a husband solves your need but in a very passive way.  Similarly, you solve his need but just by being.  Our question to you is what are you eager to do actively for someone else other than just being there.  In other words, we think your goal of changing your marital status could be more quickly achieved by contemplating what else would you be committed to adding to a man’s life.  Focusing on what you would give rather than on what you would take often propels the courting process into overdrive.  Another way of looking at it is asking yourself why a great man would be incredibly fortunate to be married to you.

We would also like you to ask yourself whether you are a very results-oriented and driven individual which may be causing you to come across as using too much of a businesslike approach to dating. We are all in favor of dating seriously (we prefer the term courting) however meeting someone with whom to share a life should not be confused with a job interview. 

We would encourage you to have a balance between wariness that keeps you emotionally safe and being too quick to close yourself to options. By the time anyone is in his or her late 50s there is a great deal of history that has led to formation of character. It takes time to begin to reveal oneself.

We hope you would consider becoming a resource for younger women in helping them understand the value of marriage earlier than you did.  Perhaps offer some lectures or classes on the topic at your church or community center.  Quite possibly one of those younger women you help might introduce you to your future husband.  Our guidance here is based on the ancient Jewish principle that again and again we see that people who help others solve a certain problem find their own problems being resolved.

We are actually a bit surprised that only in your 50s are you thinking that marriage has something to recommend it and wonder what led to that way of thinking. We are sure we are not the only ones who would be fascinated to hear you speak on this topic while you reveal yourself and your thought processes in a personal and practical way.

We look forward to your sharing good news with us,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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The When and Where Matter

April 17th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

This evening, Tuesday April 17, Susan and I are doing a live TV show in Akron, OH before a studio audience.  Among other teaching, we will accept questions from people in the audience to which we shall respond by employing principles of ancient Jewish wisdom.  This is what we do with our Ask the Rabbi feature that appears on our website each week. Except that tomorrow evening, we shall see the people asking and get to meet them after the one-hour show is done.

Imagine someone in the audience asking, “Rabbi, I want to get a divorce, but my wife who is here with me is really hurt and wants us to work on our marriage; what should we do?”  There is, of course, no way to respond helpfully to all the pain oozing out of that question in the few minutes available in the show format.  I know that both Susan and I would view it as a really inappropriate question to ask in a public forum.

A lawyer friend told me that, more times than he would have expected, he would be celebrating a family birthday at a restaurant when a client would approach him saying, “I know you’re in the middle of dinner, but…”  What would follow would be some technical issue that could have and should have been addressed in an office environment. 

As you roll down the track of life, with the exception of the very rare serendipitous incident, most positive events that improve your life occur only when you make them happen.  In almost all cases, that means interacting with another person and coming to some agreement.  It might mean a man persuading a woman to go out with him on a date.  It might mean two business professionals agreeing upon a mutually profitable transaction.  It might be a student getting a university admissions office to accept her application.  In most instances, one of the people is the ‘seller’, the ‘supplicant’ or the ‘proposer’ while the other agrees or declines.  Selecting the most propitious circumstances for the meeting is part of success strategy.   Choosing the right place and the right time to discuss something with someone is an imperative.  Yet so many seem oblivious. 

Take a lesson from Jacob who had a very sensitive discussion looming with his estranged brother Esau.  Jacob had received the blessing (Genesis 27:27) from Isaac which, he, Jacob, had purchased from Esau years earlier.  (Genesis 25:33).  Esau was furious and swore to murder his brother.  Jacob escaped into exile spending 20 years with his uncle Laban whose daughters he married. 

Now, returning home, Jacob dispatched messengers bearing gifts to his brother Esau.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau,
to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.
(Genesis 32:4)

The obvious question that we are expected to ask is why Jacob sent messengers to intercept Esau during one of the latter’s visits to Seir? After all, it wasn’t until much later (Genesis 36:6) that Esau left Canaan and relocated to Seir. At this point in the narrative, Jacob could still have arranged his encounter with Esau in Canaan where they both lived.

To answer this question we need to remember that one of Esau’s wives was Oholibama (Genesis 36:2) who was from Seir and whose father, Anah, was a prince of Seir (Genesis 36:20).   Now we understand; Esau was visiting Seir with his wife for a family get together.

Jacob carefully planned his rapprochement with his brother.  What he wanted to convey in this long-awaited meeting was, “Look, family matters. We are connected as brothers and we need to live that way.”  Jacob had two choices about the most propitious location in which to bring up this sensitive family matter.  He could approach Esau at his home base in Canaan which was exactly where the original trouble that split them took place.  Alternatively, he could approach Esau while he was far from his office, focusing on family in far-off Seir.  Clearly that was the better choice.  Since the meeting went as hoped and the enmity was put aside, we can see that Jacob strategized well. 

When and where we schedule important meetings matters.  The obvious may not always be the best choice.  It nearly always warrants some strategizing.

Practical lessons like this spring from the Torah, God’s blueprint for our life. We package five of our audio CDs that reveal many of these tips and techniques in what we call the Biblical Blueprint Set. It is on sale right now allowing you to spend a few enjoyable hours absorbing wisdom you can absorb and apply.

And if you’d like to join our studio audience tonight and ask your own appropriate question, we’d love to see you.  Just contact our office (crystol@rabbidaniellapin.com) now for free tickets. 

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Yet We Live

April 12th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 9 comments

As human beings, we struggle to know ourselves; no matter how close we are to someone it is impossible to completely know another person. This is particularly true for our parents.

When my friend, Naomi*, was sitting shiva (the Jewish week of mourning) for her mother, she discovered some flabbergasting news. Naomi’s father was her mother’s second husband. Not only had she been previously married, but she and her first husband had two children. That husband and those children were murdered by the Nazis.

Naomi had known that her mother was in a concentration camp, though her mother never spoke of those years. She knew that her parents met in a DP camp; she knew that she and her older siblings, named for slaughtered grandparents, were born after her parents reached America’s blessed shores. But she never imagined that her mother’s life had included a previous young family. This information explained so much. She now could see her mother’s hyper-vigilance combined with a certain emotional gruffness not as personality quirks but as the tortured expression of inestimable pain.

I was unusual among my classmates in having four living grandparents. In addition,  all four of my grandparents were in America from before World War I. My parents were born and grew up in New York City. My father even had grandparents and great-grandparents of his own living nearby. Since my grandparents never spoke of their murdered parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, I had infinitely less personal exposure to the Holocaust than my schoolmates who sometimes listened to their parents’ midnight screams as nightmares took them back to unbearable days.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want to share an uplifting, optimistic and soul-affecting video with you. Before I do, here is an introduction.

Last week, at the Passover Seder, many Jewish families like ours said the following words in Hebrew, “For in every generation they stand over us to annihilate us and the Holy One Blessed Be He, saves us from their hands.” This is often sung to an upbeat tune, which is rather odd when you think of the first part of the sentence. My friends’ parents also sang this, yet each one mourned way too many loved ones who weren’t saved. Why didn’t they reject this statement as untrue?

The verse refers to the Jewish people as a complete organism. As long as there is one Jew left to sing these words, it is a true testimony. And yes, as a people with a long history, there are many horrific examples of slaughter, yet by God’s grace we are still here.

This post-Passover time of year is associated with Rabbi Akiva, whose famous statement, “What is hateful to you do not do to others,” has become a universal credo. Rabbi Akiva was the premier teacher of his generation at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. He watched 24,000 of his students die in a plague. What did he do after such a devastating event? He chose five men and began teaching them so that the future would be assured.

As a child, I didn’t understand the greatness of those who suffered and saw their lives trampled and yet who picked themselves up and chose to have new children and new lives. Only a few survive today from that generation. Yet as this video (with English translation) shows, religious or not, learned or not, the overwhelming majority of the survivors followed in Rabbi Akiba’s footsteps. What an inspiring lesson this is for us.

*Naomi is not her real name. She is a composite of a number of my friends.

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Finding The Off Switch: Four Reasons I Observe Shabbat

April 10th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

This terrific piece by Peter Himmelman appeared in Forbes. Peter is a musician and businessman and also the son-in-law of Bob Dylan the musical icon of the 60s:

“With the pace of technology and its demand for our attention increasing month-to-month, comes the challenge of occasionally leaving it behind. I’ve found some answers in my over thirty-year observance of Shabbat, (the Jewish Sabbath), a time when the use of technology is prohibited. While I don’t believe that the strict tenets of this observance are appropriate for all people, I am strongly convinced that many of its ideas would be helpful if they were incorporated on some level.

Technically speaking, there are thirty-nine types of labor that are prohibited on Shabbat. They include things like using money, making fire, planting, carrying things from a public to a private domain, sewing, cooking, fastening two things together, and writing. Over time, each of the thirty-nine prohibitions was extrapolated on to prohibit the use of things that weren’t in existence at the time these laws were instituted. Some examples include driving a car, which runs on a combustion engine and is a violation of the prohibition against the use of fire; and using electronics of any sort, which demands a completed circuit and is a violation of the principle of joining two things together. This last prohibition effectively renders all cell phones, computers, and televisions completely off-limits during the twenty-five hours of Shabbat.

I was recently involved in a creativity symposium in San Francisco. Among the speakers was a former senior editor at a well-known technology publication with whom I had a chance to speak about the idea of stepping back from technology, and how the rituals of Shabbat echoed a very important, if often missing, dimension of technology: our ability to shut it off. Not just to shut it off once a year, or for a few moments throughout a day, but by a regular, systematized means. He observed that the ritual of Shabbat seemed to point not to some ancient and irrelevant past, but to a decidedly postmodern view of our integration with technology.

When people talk about some thing or some idea they feel is outmoded I’ll frequently hear them say, “Seriously, it’s 2018…” (Or whatever year it happens to be.) It’s often assumed that we live in a “modern age” and that things that are not modern, such as a 3,300 year-old Jewish ritual like Shabbat observance, should be discarded, or worse, placed in the same hermetically sealed box one puts all things anachronistic; things worthy of occasional review as cultural curiosities, but certainly not as something to take seriously. Even as a kid I never could help feeling there was a flaw in this kind of thinking. Sure, technology has sped up the pace of our lives, but in terms of real change, there’s been no difference made at all in everyday human experience, in spite of all our so-called advances.

Take the delivery systems of music for example. First, there was the piano roll, then the clunky 78 played on the old Victrola, followed by the 33 and a third LP, the 45 single, the eight track, the cassette, the CD, the DAT, and most recently, digital streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. Interestingly, none of these music delivery systems, no matter how sophisticated, has changed the visceral effect of music on the human spirit. At no time did any technology ever feel old-fashioned either. We never laughed at the eight-track when it came out; it wasn’t quaint, it was cutting edge. The idea of having your own music in your car at the touch of a button was revolutionary.

People also felt they were living in the modern age in 1716, and in 1116, and also in 116 BCE. They felt this way because nothing has fundamentally changed. Fathers love their daughters the same today as they did in the past, the sun was bright back in 1916 too, and it burned your eyes if you stared at it too long. The touch of a loving hand on the skin of a person in 1416 felt identical to the way it feels on your skin in 2018. The worried face of the moon still looks the same, and a cold November wind on your neck feels just like it did since time immemorial.

To say that something as central as the regulated cessation of creative effort —which is in essence, what Shabbat is about—so that one can focus on what has already been achieved, is somehow old fashion, is to miss the point. Shabbat is by nature, timeless. It cuts to the essence of what so many of us lack: a regularly recurring time of reflection.

Any good composer or painter knows that as important as it is to be immersed in the sound of the symphony he or she is working on, or to be engrossed in the images he or she is setting down on canvas, it is equally important to step away from one’s creative work and to observe with clarity and renewed objectivity just what it is that has been created. Shabbat brings with it an opportunity to step away and better see life, not as a series of compartmentalized actions, but as a unified whole. Here are a few ways the tenants of Shabbat can help you in your life.

Improve creative thinking

It’s an axiom, of physics that two things cannot occupy the same space. And just as this applies to things, it also applies to ideas. To be at our creative best we need to make an empty space through the cessation of our creative endeavors. Only by stopping our constant output can new inspirations take hold.

Slow down life’s hectic pace

As we learn to breathe more slowly in the practice of meditation, adopting the rhythms of Shabbat-time into our lives has the same beneficial tendency. To many people the world feels chaotic, out of control. Too often it seems, we are guided by demands and situations, rather than by our own volition. Shabbat is the bedrock in time that cannot be moved aside for anything other than life-threatening situations.

Improve relationships

When I got my first recording contract in 1986, I decided I would work to protect my most valuable resource. It wasn’t artistic control over what songs to record, or the power to decide what my record jackets would look like —my most valuable resource was my time.

I made it known that I would not perform on Shabbat no matter what the reason. It wasn’t as if my convictions weren’t tested. There were slots on The Tonight Show that I turned down, opportunities to be the opening act for top artists like Sting, that I waived away —all because these prospects, while good for my career, would have violated my observance of Shabbat, and as a consequence my understanding of time as something precious, something that belonged to me (and later, to my family) alone.

Shabbat is time away from iPhones and computers and errands and shopping and every conceivable distraction. We humans hunger to be heard, to be seen, and to be known, but we suffer from a paucity of attention-giving and attention-getting. Just as it’s impossible to make music without an instrument, it is impossible to create thriving relationships without making space and time for them to flourish.

Gain a more mature life perspective

As children we couldn’t help but be burdened by our unfulfilled desires. We wanted the things we wanted —immediately. Waiting for any length of time just wouldn’t do. Our immature minds were not yet sophisticated enough to realize that staving off a momentary pleasure for a longer-term gain would, in the end, bring us far more pleasure. Shabbat is about honing our sense of gratitude.

Most of us work to make a living and strive to achieve the things we desire, but we also need to feel as if we’ve come home again, come back to some midpoint. By regularly postponing our manic ascent up an assumed ladder of success, we come to see life from a broader, richer perspective.

By first finding, and then being brave enough to use the “off-switch,” we gain the sweet, and all too rare sense, of having finally arrived at our destination.”

My husband is holding me back

April 10th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

We have an opportunity to increase our family income by double. We currently make about 40K a year between my husband and I.

I was accepted into a one year program that would give me the skills and connections to make between 50-80k a year myself excluding my husbands income. We would have to move about 500 miles away from our families and where we were both born but only for a year and then we could decide where to go after that.

My husband doesn’t want me to accept. He isn’t one for change and hates California, he doesn’t want to live there even for a year… I want to honor him and I understand that making more than him could cause some strain on our marriage… am I wrong for wanting this? I’m trying not to be bitter… but I’ve always been a bit ambitious and the idea of turning this opportunity down has caused me some internal struggle.

Cynthia S. 

Dear Cynthia,

You sound like a sincere and sensitive woman who is trying her hardest to cope with a difficult challenge.  Our usual disclaimer applies even more to you and your dilemma:  Since we don’t know any of our ‘Ask the Rabbi’ letter-writers personally we can hope only to raise discussion points that will be helpful along with perhaps a few considerations that you may not have yet contemplated.  We also have great confidence in our readers and know that they often contribute valuable comments.  We always read them with great interest.

You clearly recognize many of the valid concerns involved, including some that conflict with one another. You are aware of the need to respect your husband and of the potential threat to your marriage that earning more than he does can impose. You are also aware of the importance of every individual, man or woman, making the most of his or her talents, abilities and opportunities.

A number of things are unclear from your letter.  You mention that between you both, you earn $40K.  Is that half each?  Or is it mostly your husband’s earnings or mostly yours?  A joint income of $40,000 doesn’t go very far these days, yet you don’t suggest that you are struggling. Is your husband on a path to higher earnings or is he content with things as they are?  Do you feel that you are more ambitious than he is?

You don’t mention children. Are you young newlyweds, an older couple without children or in some other category? Is your husband’s reluctance to move related to family issues (perhaps an ill parent) or simply a matter of personal preference?

Was your husband aware of and supportive of you applying to this program in the first place, or does he feel blindsided by you having been accepted? Do you feel that his objection is based mostly on geography or do you feel that he is also reluctant to see your earnings increase?  What is the basis of your relationship and what attracted you to each other? All of these are important questions to explore.

One more matter to establish is the legitimacy of the program itself.  How much will this program cost you?  Are you really sure that it will trampoline you to earnings of between $50K and $80K a year?  We don’t want to sound negative but our antennae were set jangling a bit by the term you employed in describing the benefits of the program, “skills and connections.”  Let us urge you to be very certain about this program.  You see, Cynthia, we just don’t know any educational programs that in only one year can qualify you for a job paying quite so much.  If it is indeed on the up-and-up, it must have a very long waiting list of eager applicants; in which case you are indeed fortunate. But if it is not, then all the other questions raised are irrelevant. 

Once you have satisfied yourself and your husband that this is a truly viable course of action, you have to arrive at a decision.  Like so many other questions that arise in married life how you arrive at a decision is far more important than the decision you reach.  The process of discussion that brings you to a decision can either grow your marital relationship or harm it. There isn’t a global right or wrong answer, only one that will be right or wrong for the two of you at this time in your marriage. You would both need to have Solomonic wisdom to handle the necessary discussions between yourselves alone. This is one of those times that we would certainly advise you to consult wise counsel. The catch, of course, is that the person whom you consult needs not to have an agenda of his or her own. That is harder to find today but it is crucial.  You should seek someone who can help the two of you understand and value each other and your relationship to a greater degree as you move toward a mutually acceptable decision. 

We wish you a bright, fulfilling, and prosperous future,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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