Monthly Archives: May, 2018

Wife vs. Friend

May 24th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 11 comments

I’ve been married for 18 years and we have 3 beautiful kids.

I think we have a problem. My husband is helping a friend by letting him borrow his truck a for little more than 2 months now. Every Thursday my husband drives the 2 youngest ones to school in our two passenger van. I asked him to ask his friend to return our truck so he could drive the kids to school safely, but he said that he is helping the friend and can’t ask him that yet.

Help me understand if I’m being selfish when my concern is the safety of the kids? On top of that his friend has been using the truck for more than two months. I think this has been enough time to get on his way, since his is getting paid regularly.  I assume he’s doing okay because I heard that the friend even loaned money to someone.

Do you think I’m being mean to my husband and his friend? I also laid out my views and concerns for my husband, on the first day he let the friend use the truck. I was even concerned that we may be holding his friend back from moving forward and  getting the better things in life for himself. 

Thank you so much for everything that you and Susan do. I watch your show every day on TCT and I’m now reading one of your books. I have a much better idea of things now because of you.

Love,

Gina S.

Dear Gina,

We’re delighted that you find our shows and books helpful. That encourages us to keep taping and writing.

You are actually asking three different questions:

  1. Is your husband driving your children in an objectively unsafe way?
  2.   Is your husband giving his friend help in a way that keeps his friend from taking responsibility for his own life?
  3. What say do you have in how your husband helps his friend?

It is possible that your husband thinks that doubling up on seating is perfectly safe but you don’t. However, we have a suspicion that your concerns do not stem entirely from the safety issue or you wouldn’t have let your husband drive the children even once in an unsafe manner.

You might be right that it would be good for the friend to become more independent, however you can’t know that for sure. It is possible that your husband’s friend has shared confidences with him that you don’t know about or that other factors are in play.

The third question is really the pivotal one in terms of your marriage. We feel that your question is far more of a state-of-marriage question than it is a child-safety question or your concerns about the friend’s own situation.

When you are married there is no such thing as “your husband’s truck.” This might be different if you are very wealthy and the family has many vehicles and your husband used discretionary income that you both agreed was his alone to buy a truck, but that isn’t the situation for most typical families.  If the truck is your family vehicle, the two of you should have agreed whether it should be loaned to a friend and for how long.

It seems to us that you may be feeling hurt because your husband is putting friendship ahead of family and that he acted on this family-concerning matter without your agreement.  Maybe you are also feeling that your husband doesn’t appreciate how hard you work doing all the school driving except for this one trip that your work schedule doesn’t allow you to do. 

Or, perhaps, you think that you are both being taken advantage of by this friend. Is it possible that your husband also thinks that it is time for the arrangement to end but doesn’t know how to do that?  These are all legitimate questions and all should be discussed.  But they must be discussed in the right way in the right place in the right time.  Remember, the main concern here is not cars and trucks, or friends or even children, but the marriage. 

Whatever the case, you now have a bit of a sore point in your marriage that needs to be healed.  It is quite possible that from your husband’s perspective, this is just about the truck.  It would be quite typical and entirely understandable that he has no clue how this has started to impact your feelings about him and your marriage.   Try and be sensitive to this masculine world view. 

We encourage you to find a quiet and stress-free time to talk to – and listen to – your husband. Before you can do this, you need to make sure that you can speak without sounding angry or hurt. Ask questions. Acknowledge your husband’s kindness while asking if there is an end date in sight. Find out why he thinks this in no big deal or is the right thing to do. Analyze together whether there really is a safety issue (how far is the drive; is there a lot of traffic…). Is there another solution? Could your husband and you switch vehicles on Thursday so you drive the van and he uses the car you usually drive? Be open to the idea that this loan may continue for a while longer while, at the same time, helping your husband see your point of view.  Perhaps he, in turn, can try to remember that in future, these kinds of actions are joint husband/wife decisions. 

We see this as another of those wonderful opportunities that arise in the life of a couple to grow the marriage.  The process is first for each of you to see the entire matter from the other’s perspective.  Make frequent use of the phrase “Just to be sure I understand, are you saying that….?” 

The next step is that even if you still disagree, you each learn how to give the other the respect of acknowledging that their point of view can also be valid.  The final and most important step is for both to realize that when two people are married, they can each retain different ideas and the couple can function quite well.  However, once ideas have to become actions, the couple as one unified entity can only take one action. 

For instance, one of you might think London is an ideal vacation destination while the other prefers Miami.  This is no problem until you have to decide where to spend two weeks this summer.  Clearly a compromise that places you mid-Atlantic is no solution.  One way or the other, you have to decide whether to go to London or Miami in a way that does not leave anyone feeling beaten or resentful. 

This can best be achieved by discussion particularly in an atmosphere of love and appreciation for one another. 

In the case of some disagreements, it is enormously helpful to bring in an independent third party “arbitrator.”  As a matter of fact, we advise newly marrying couples to select such a person in advance.  (This is RDL now:  early in our marriage we both agreed on my father. To my astonishment, in about two thirds of the issues on which we consulted him, he sided with Susan. But we were both fine with his rulings and we both accepted them with no stress on our relationship.)

Take care of each other and safe driving,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Ditch the Doldrums

May 23rd, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

There are many life-metaphors to be found in the wonderful world of boats. Boats and people both embark on journeys and both can reach their destinations or sink.

When a boat is in the doldrums it is in that notorious windless zone near the equator. Old-time sailing vessels were often stuck there for weeks.  When a person is listless and despondent, he is also said to be in the doldrums.  But there is one major difference. While sailboats must await changing weather, humans have the miraculous capacity to bring about change in their lives themselves. 

Being marooned in stagnant circumstances is enough to make anyone miserable.  Change, growth, and progress are amazingly effective antidotes to depression. Most of us feel energized and optimistic when taking actions to improve our lives. Often, the changing calendar serves as a useful catalyst. But wait!  What’s the point?  We all know that most New Year resolutions fade away by spring.

One way to retain resolutions is to feel authentic, durable excitement in our souls about the spiritual magic of change.

Isn’t it rather strange how God introduced Himself to humanity on Sinai 3,330 years ago? 

I am the Lord your God who…
(Exodus 20:2)

Who did what?

Well, think of how 1980 presidential candidate Reagan might have introduced himself to voters.  Depending on the crowd, he would want to highlight his most prestigious achievement.  He might have said, “Hi, I’m Ronald Reagan who was the head of the Screen Actors Guild.”  Or he might have said, “I’m Ronald Reagan who was governor of California.”

Similarly, God could have said, “I’m the Lord your God who created heaven and earth.” Instead, he said:

I am the Lord your God who took you out of the Land of Egypt…
(Exodus 20:2)

God considered it more important to introduce Himself and His Commandments as God who took the Israelites out of Egypt rather than as God who created heaven and earth. Why?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the purpose of the Ten Commandments is not merely to lay before us ten little rules but to provide us with vital tools for life. These statements are intended to transform Israelite slaves into God-centric, independent people.  Remember that until relatively recently once a slave meant always a slave. For transformation to happen, the children of Israel needed to truly know that it was indeed POSSIBLE for change to occur. 

Today, we may not be physically enslaved, but we can enslave ourselves by not knowing, deep inside of us, that we are capable of change.  Making positive changes in our lives is terribly difficult.  Most of us find it almost impossible to overcome our own inertia. Rather than undertake the massive effort necessary today, we simply condemn tomorrow to be a repeat of yesterday.  Deeply internalizing the power of change is necessary to propel us to better times.

We’re all stuck in our own particular Egypt, whatever it is.  To successfully change behavior in the long term, we need to change our image of ourselves. God’s opening statement assures us that if the Israelites could escape Egypt then each one of us can also escape our own limitations and weaknesses.  Here are three tips to increase the probability of making a change permanent.

A.  Make the first step of change reasonable.  You can always upgrade later which will make you feel much better than downgrading.  (The total transformation of a nation took 40 years. An individual won’t need that long for most changes, but don’t expect instant success either.)

B.  At the outset, prepare a strategy to get you back onto your resolution’s plan after an unintended setback. (Atonement and forgiveness often occurred during the desert trip)

C.  Break your commitment into defined and manageable parts. (There were numerous way stations on the path from Egypt to Israel)

Overriding every strategy is the awareness that, “I am the Lord your God who took you out of Egypt…”  That statement serves as a constant reminder that God is eager to accompany us on our personal road out of the doldrums.

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Exposed

May 16th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 23 comments

Even as I wrote it, I was disturbed by my last week’s Musing. The Musing’s premise was that we shouldn’t be surprised by hypocrisy in our politicians. I think, sadly, that this is true.  When many citizens demand that elected officials sanctimoniously parrot standardized phrases and then vote on the basis of those politically correct formulations we shouldn’t be surprised that the words of those running for office don’t match their personal actions.

This is not confined to politicians, of course. Our society keeps on pushing people to say one thing and think, believe and do another. For example, for many years now students taking a variety of exams, have been forced to choose between marking what they know to be the officially correct answer or responding with the truth according to their beliefs and, often, according to science. Recently, the MCATs, taken by aspiring doctors, added ideological questions that compel religious Christians and Jews to make exactly that deeply disturbing choice.

However writing about Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after allegations of disturbing personal conduct were made, troubled me. This resignation follows a pattern in a continuing series of stories that fling private matters into the public realm.

Let me explain.  This Saturday night marks the 3,330th anniversary of God giving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. While the Five Books of Moses do feature many oft-cited rules about charity, food, justice and sexual behavior, a surprising number of them deal with speech.

Gossip as entertainment has become so deeply embedded in our society that it is easy to forget that the prohibition against it springs from the same source as the prohibition against theft and adultery. In the Bible, there are numerous subcategories of forbidden speech, known in Hebrew as onaat devarim, sheker, rechilut, lashon hara, avak lashon hara, motzi shem ra and more. These don’t have ready translations into English and each headlines an area that has many categories. They include truthful statements and lies, positive and negative words, discussions that are seemingly innocent and words meant to wound. However, although there are rare times when one is obligated to carefully share negative information or to sound harsh, the idea of casually talking about people and intruding into people’s lives is never seen as a desired behavior. Almost all words said in private conversation to friends and other people merit protection. Without that, one enters a Soviet style world where people are afraid to speak.

While I admit to picking up People magazine two weeks ago at the dentist’s office and enjoying the pictures of the new British prince, the idea of a magazine like that, which in itself is tame compared to other media out there, is unambiguously against God’s directives. Today, newspapers that like to think of themselves as sophisticated cover stories that used to be considered only tabloid fodder. Technology has increased the reach and power of peering into others’ lives in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Our society is awash in lascivious looks and prying peeks.

Even the sanctity of marriage is threatened by a society that salaciously pants for views into private relationships. No decent person thinks that marriage allows a man to physically assault a woman. This was the impetus behind laws that emerged from the 1970s on, declaring spousal rape a crime. But our cultural definition of rape and force is changing to the point that just about everyone is liable to be guilty.

There are things each of us do for other people. I put a smile on my face when I am in the supermarket because my having a difficult day doesn’t give me permission to bring down the mood of others around me. I dress in a certain way when going to a class to show respect for the other students and the teacher. I play a game of Candyland when my to-do list is overwhelming in order bring a smile to my granddaughter’s face.

And in a marriage, husbands and wives do things that they may not particularly care to do in order to please their spouse. All those things, but especially intimate ones, deserve the sanctity of privacy. Almost every word exchanged within a sacred relationship, like marriage and family, merits titanium protection. If at a future time the marriage sours, leaving animosity in place of affection, those things should not retroactively be labelled as forced. Details being flagrantly shared should make decent people recoil with disgust.   

Having intimate relationships outside of marriage is not encouraged by the Torah, but speaking about them compounds the wrong. If a man assaults a woman, that is a criminal act. But if a man and a woman engage in an activity, it is a dangerous thing to validate the notion that in hindsight one can declare oneself to have felt forced and gain instant sympathy status by blabbing about it. For years, society has mocked religious people by saying that what two people do in the privacy of the bedroom is no one else’s business. Now, that same society is promoting the idea that, retroactively, possibly scarred, scorned and rapacious women should be encouraged to make those actions everyone’s business. I worry that last week, I might have acquiesced in that idea.

It is difficult in an increasingly immoral society to cling to morality without withdrawing from that society. Withdrawal, however, means giving up and abandoning the idea of positive change or helping even a few people learn that there is an alternate, better, way of life. Like so many of you, I struggle to keep a moral compass without putting on blinders, a Herculean task.

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  • Why the 10 Commandments HAD to be on 2 tablets
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My Parents are Separating

May 15th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 7 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin,

First off, thank you for all that you both do and the wisdom you dispense through your podcasts, books and teachings. I find them all tremendously valuable and you have impacted my life for the better.

I have a question regarding my parents. Their marriage has been on the rocks for the past five years and they are now choosing to separate, but not divorce, because of their beliefs. Their issue is not due to infidelity but seems to be a communication and pride problem. They have been married for over forty years and have raised five children together, of which I am the youngest.

My question is what should our response be as their adult children? My instinct is to not get involved or share my opinions because it could be seen as taking sides and it doesn’t seem respectful.

As for background: we all live near our parents, there are many grandchildren in the family, we are all Christians, and we see each other often. I am struggling to identify what my responsibility is in this situation while still honoring my parents. My wife and I disagree with them not choosing to work harder on their marriage but we don’t know if it is our place to confront them on it.

One of my siblings suggested talking to them as a group, what do you think?

Any insights you could provide would be most welcome. Thank you tremendously.

Blessings,

Sam

Dear Sam,

Your sad situation reflects an important truth. No matter how old one’s children are, divorce is going to affect them. Of course, it also affects more distant relatives, friends, social circles and work groups. We are very sorry that you and your siblings and children are facing this situation.

Having said that, your instincts are spot on. In our audio CD on the Ten Commandments we explain why the Fifth Commandment about honoring parents is related to the Tenth Commandment, “Do not covet.” In short, recognizing one’s specific place in relationship to others is something that leads to happier interactions. We also explain why the Fifth Commandment is placed on the first tablet that otherwise deals with the interaction between people and God, while the second tablet deals with interactions between people and people. Honoring parents seems to be in the wrong place. Correctly understanding why there were two tablets clears up this confusion but even on a basic level it is clear that one’s parents occupy a position that no other people do.

Because of this, children have to be very careful about what is and isn’t appropriate in their communication with parents. Interference in the parental marital relationship is specifically an area that is largely off-limits. Your sibling’s suggestion of all the children going as a group would only raise the level of disrespect.

Considerable calumny is heaped on Jacob’s eldest son, Reuben for intruding on his father’s private life.

While Israel stayed in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah,
his father’s concubine; and Israel heard…
(Genesis 35:22)

Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that Reuben did not actually lay a hand on Bilhah, but that he moved Jacob’s bed from Bilhah’s room to that of Leah his mother.  The language of the Bible is especially harsh to teach that interfering in even the mildest way in his father’s marital life was a serious violation.

Of course, your parents separating after all these years is difficult for you all. Perhaps, even as youngest, you can lead your siblings towards an understanding that the proper role is non-interference.

You are absolutely correct that your obligation is to honor both your parents. They are now making this harder in many ways though we hope that they will not make it more uncomfortable than necessary. Nonetheless, you and your siblings can set an example for your own children in respecting your parents’ decision and coping with disappointment.

You, of course, don’t know the whole story and kudos to your parents for not asking you to take sides or sharing inappropriate confidences with you. Maybe some time apart will give them new perspective or perhaps someone other than your sibling group will approach your parents and help them, if possible, to recapture affection for each other. We would suggest you and your siblings get together to discuss how to share this with the grandchildren and how to explain it to them in an age-appropriate but nonetheless substantive way.

Whatever the future holds, you and your wife can use this unfortunate occurrence to commit more strongly to maintaining your own relationship and covenant of marriage.

Thank you for your kind words,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Why does the phrase “two tablets” appear many more times than ‘Ten Commandments’?
What does it actually say instead of ‘Ten Commandments’?
Why doesn’t giving charity make the list? 
What is beneath the surface of these verses?

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Mitt Romney Supremely Unqualified for Public Office

May 15th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 5 comments

One vital characteristic for leadership is knowing how the world REALLY works. By this sure standard, Mitt Romney is supremely unqualified for public office. He labeled the pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, Robert Jeffress a bigot for professing normative Christian doctrine. How shocking! A Christian leader believes in Christianity. Every morning I awaken grateful to be living among millions of devout Christians, many of whom aren’t sure whether I am destined for heaven or hell but who do absolutely nothing to hasten my arrival at either destination. America has been a place where we have traditionally accorded others the freedom of belief along with the freedom to speak what they believe. Now, Mitt Romney and the New York Times wish to abrogate those freedoms for Christians but grant them only to Moslems and atheists. Every group that stands for anything defines itself exclusively. That is how the world REALLY works.

Shhh! It’s a Holy Day

May 15th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

This coming Saturday night will see immense numbers of Jews studying Scripture until sunrise.  They will be observing the sixth of the month of Sivan, Shavuot 5778, the 3,330th anniversary of the events described in Exodus 19, when God handed over His book to Moses.

What happened on Shavuot plays a crucial role in the daily lives of Jews.  For instance, every circumcision of a Jewish male infant commemorates God’s gift of the Torah. Without that Scriptural commandment, it is extremely unlikely that this minor operation would have been so consistently performed on every Jewish male. 

Every time a Jew declines bacon with his morning eggs, he is recognizing that most important event of Jewish history which took place on Shavuot.  Jewish marriages are properly solemnized,  “…according to the laws of Moses and Israel,” once again with a firm foundation in what took place on Shavuot. 

It is therefore puzzling that Shavuot, the day on which God presented the Bible, gets trumped in popularity by other festivals that wouldn’t even be celebrated at all were it not for that Bible.  For example, many more American Jews celebrate Passover than celebrate Shavuot.  Many more Jews celebrate Chanukah than celebrate Shavuot.  It is hard to think of a holiday bearing greater religious significance than Shavuot; it is also hard to think of a Jewish holiday that gets less attention.  Just try asking a non-observant Jewish acquaintance about Shavuot—you’re likely to get a puzzled look in return.  Why are so many Jews indifferent to Shavuot?

A clue to the obscurity of Shavuot is that the festivals that are most popular are those that lend themselves to secularization, which is to say, they can be observed with neither mentioning nor thinking about God.

For instance, Passover allows a secular observance.  For many American Jews it has become little more than a family reunion; the dinner table distinguished chiefly by a symbolic box of matzo and a little more wine than usual.  Any discussion, if it takes place at all, tends to focus on the universal aspects of freedom.  Moses against Pharaoh in Egypt is just another Fidel against Batista in Cuba.  Entirely ignored is the Almighty’s role in redemption.   Evidently, keeping it secular keeps it comfortable; and popular. 

Chanukah is equally comfortable since it too allows a secular expression.  Bring light into the world by the symbolic candle lighting, exchange gifts and celebrate the unusual Jewish military victory against the Greeks.  This way, nobody need be disconcerted by divisive ideas about the spiritual tension between secular Athens and holy Jerusalem.  The religious nature of the Macabee’s struggle can be ignored because there are safe symbols to preoccupy us.  It is such bad form to bring God into everything, isn’t it?

Shavuot however, is awkward.  There is simply no secular rationale for celebrating it.  Getting together for Shavuot observance is a tacit confession that one believes in God and in His Message to mankind delivered through Moses on Sinai.  There is no option but to celebrate it as the day that God asserted His authority over us.  What fun!

The problem is that the self-indulgent credo of a secular society is “reject authority.”  Eventually much of a population becomes indoctrinated to the absurd notion that doing anything that you don’t really want to do is somehow a betrayal of your true self.  Without God, a secular society gradually loses its sense that there is greatness in service to others. 

If serving others is menial then don’t be surprised by gradual deterioration of marriage and families.  After all, few men voluntarily wish to restrict their sexual options and still fewer wish to dedicate themselves to supporting a woman and her offspring emotionally, physically and financially.  Men gradually forget that overcoming the selfish instinct is the path to greatness. 

Furthermore, men who can no longer respond to an order with the words, “Yes sir!” are men on the road to poverty.  Sometimes the most important lesson of one’s first job is nothing more than learning how to obey the boss who hired you.  The road to greater responsibility is learning that one can only acquire authority by being able to accept it.

One of the main differences between a nation comfortable in its Judeo-Christian heritage and one struggling to reject it is how its people accept authority.  Do they manufacture bumper stickers that proclaim “question authority!” or do they train children to obey parents, students to venerate teachers, husbands to revere their wives, and soldiers to follow their commanders.  And do those authorities show that they’re worthy of respect and obedience by themselves accepting a ‘higher authority’?

Shavuot serves as an annual infusion of ‘authority medicine’.  The holiday possesses little else around which we can structure a symbolism and an escape from the uncomfortable reality of our Divine Boss.  The reality of the Bible itself helps us learn to subjugate our instincts and restrain our appetites.  It starts, for many, with banishing sleep for one entire night while poring over the pages of that book, God’s great gift to humanity and the foundation of civilization.

There are myriad benefits to growing up with a knowledge of the Bible. One drawback is that sometimes we don’t look at it with sophisticated eyes, instead keeping a childhood image. Take a new look at the Ten Commandments with our audio CD and discover God’s gift for successful living in these special verses.

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Can you list the 10 Commandments in order? 
Do you know that they aren’t really commandments? 
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I’m Shocked. Shocked!

May 10th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

One of cinema’s greatest moments is the scene in which Captain Renault closes down Rick’s Cafe in the 1942 movie Casablanca, saying,  “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”  Just then, an employee approaches and hands the Captain his winnings. The fact that it makes us smile does not mean that we also smile when our own politicians fling their hypocrisy in our faces.

Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after a number of women made allegations of disgusting behavior against him, may or may not be guilty of the charges. That doesn’t change the fact that a long list of pompous and self-righteous hypocrites who allied themselves with the Me Too! movement, make Donald Trump look like a particularly virtuous choir boy.

Piously and publicly proclaiming a cause while privately acting very differently is hardly a new phenomenon. While human failing is at the root of such actions, those shrilly touting their causes may have something to learn as well.

Back in the 1800s though the early 1900s, America had a serious alcohol problem. Women, in particular, suffered as men drank through their salaries and were often violent. The high rate of absenteeism, crime, and family misery led to the passage of the 18th Amendment.  Prohibition, enacted in 1920, was an attempt to respond to real suffering. While the policy was a failure and was eventually repealed (though not before creating some serious problems of its own) it was a genuine attempt to “promote the general welfare.”

Congressmen and Senators who voted in favor of Prohibition made emotional appeals on the subject. I’m sure some were sincere, but surely others saw it as a winning political stance. Women were on the verge of getting the vote and for many women this would be the single reason why they would support or oppose a legislator. Even without access to the ballot box, women vocally and physically made their preferences matter.

Not surprisingly, soon after Prohibition was enacted, Congress had its own, personal bootlegger who was even granted a storage area in the government building to house his supply. His name was George Cassiday.  He was a veteran attempting to earn a living, and was often busy from morning until night filling orders for Congressman of both parties and all districts. When, after a number of years he was shut down in the House of Representatives, he moved over to the Senate. Eventually, he wrote an expose that appeared in the Washington Post. Although he didn’t name names, Mr. Cassiday, who was referred to as ‘the man in the green hat,’ estimated that 80% of the Congress were drinkers. His writings exposing the legislators’ hypocrisy played a not insignificant role in the repeal of Prohibition. *

Being beaten by a drunken man is not funny. Sending your children to bed hungry because their father spends the evening after payday in a saloon is tragic. But banning the manufacture and transport of liquor allowed legislators to pacify females by pretending that this was going to be a panacea for human frailty.  They could speak one way to gullible women while continuing to act as they would.

Being hit upon in a vulgar fashion is not funny. For a woman to lose her job, or not get offered a job, because she won’t sleep with the boss is an egregious wrong. But the Me Too! movement, with its hysteria and emotionalism, encourages ego-driven politicians—of both genders—to tell gullible women exactly what they want to hear without demanding that the politician have even the slightest whit of common decency.

*My thanks to Lillian Cunningham and the Constitutional podcast for making me aware of this episode in history.

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Night and Day; Day and Night

May 9th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 17 comments

In Genesis there is written this phrase: “so there was evening, and there was morning.”

I was brought up in a Western country and learned to think in the way of: you live, learn and work in the daytime and than you rest from your labor the following night. So the pattern is: day-night. But in the Creation story the pattern laid down by God seems to be night-day. Is this how it works?

If yes, what is the benefit to think in the pattern night-day instead of day-night? I can think of a few advantages but I hope you will help me in this.

In the same line of thinking is my related question: If Jewish people fast, do they fast from 18.00 hours till 18.00 hours or like Westerners from 24.00 hours till 24 hours?

Wouter

Dear Wouter,

You are correct that,  based on the beginning of Genesis, the Jewish day starts in the evening and goes through the following evening. There are two days in our calendar where a fast starts with sunset and last for about 25 hours, ending an hour after sunset on the next day.

You can see traces of this pattern in the Western world where Christmas Eve ushers in the holiday. In colonial days in America, Sunday observances frequently began on Saturday night. Even up until the mid-1800s stores in Hartford, Connecticut were closed on Saturday nights as part of Sabbath observance. 

Before we comment on the benefits about which you ask, we want to make clear that our day starts in the evening because that is how God established it since Adam and Eve. It isn’t a case of making a pro and con list and then deciding which we think makes the stronger case.

However, ancient Jewish wisdom does comment on the way of thinking that this trains us to see. Darkness is associated with difficulty as even our language shows when we speak of ‘dark times.’  In contrast ‘the sun shining forth’ isn’t necessarily a meteorological report but a description of an optimistic frame of mind.

By establishing night first, God is giving us a message not to give up hope. Brighter times will follow. He is also advising us on how to tackle life by doing the hard work first and reaping the benefits later rather than the other way around. We imagine (so to speak) God being rather perplexed at a listing of which university is the best ‘party school.’

We hope this shed some daylight on this question,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*   *   *   *
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When Enough is Not Enough

May 8th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 55 comments

I invested a day last week advising the executive team of a Nashville-based business with branches in several southern states.  My job was to help them resolve several challenges caused by their rapid growth.  One question we explored concerned whether the company had grown enough and should henceforth do nothing but aim to maintain its current annual revenue level. 

Several of the executives expressed satisfaction with what they had achieved over the past few years, both in the business as well as in their personal lives.  They felt content and although they were fairly young men and women, they saw their hard-work-years as having ended.  They now saw themselves as treading water rather than trying to win any races.  “We don’t need any more money,” they told me.

During the same week, I received a letter from an individual whom I had been advising regarding his career.  One paragraph read:

“I am fascinated by how you teach people to learn to love the work they should do.  But how do I know what is the work that I should do?  Is it the work that would pay me the most?  If so, that doesn’t really work for me as I am definitely NOT money-motivated, (although my wife thinks I should be).  I don’t need to make more money, I just want to do meaningful work.  If all I was supposed to do in this world was make a lot of money (to have what to give away-not a bad thing), why did I waste so much of my adult life in education?”

It was another of those not uncommon instances of synchronicity. In one week I was asked the same question twice; once by an executive team and once by an unrelated individual.  The question:  Is it okay for someone to make much less than he could provided he is content with what he has? 

At first glance, you might think that all the people involved are indeed exemplary.  After all, money just isn’t that important to them.  They exhibit a contentment with life and are willing to step off the financial treadmill.  Surely they ought to be applauded?

A very difficult task now falls to your rabbi.  I must try to explain to you why they are wrong, just as I had to explain it to them last week. 

As the Shabbat ends each Saturday night, by the flickering light of the Havdalah candle Jews sing this verse signalling the start of a new week of work.

When you eat of the labor of your hands, you will be happy
and all will be well with you.
(Psalms 128:2)

In this verse, King David reiterates the value of work, the same purpose for which God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:15)

Nowhere in Scripture is found any implication that we ought to work only until we have enough.  Neither is there any acknowledgement of the unhealthy practice of retirement which is really only another way of saying, “I’ll work only until have enough”.

I know this feels a bit awkward because we’ve been raised to believe the virtue of contentment.  “He who is contented is rich,” is only one of hundreds of proverbs and idioms all praising the person who says, “I have enough”. 

However, to have enough is not why we work.  That would be an incredibly selfish approach to work.  We work because God created us to serve other people and our work is how we do it.  For this reason, the Lord’s language, Hebrew uses the same word—OVeD—for worship as well as for doing our daily labor. 

We shall worship  the Lord
נעבד את ה…
(Joshua 24:15)

Six days you shall work
ששת ימים תעבד
(Exodus 20:9)

In the same way that there is no “enough” to our worship of God, there is also no “enough” to our daily work.  We don’t work for money; we work to serve others; our customers, clients, or associates.  The money follows almost automatically and confirms that we have really served.  There is no point at which I have cared for God’s other children enough.  It is a lifetime mission. 

Although it flies in the face of popular thinking, there is no virtue is thinking one has enough money.  One should certainly be happy with whatever one currently has, but never content.  The difference is that happiness does not kill ambition; contentment does. 

Obviously, God does not want us to sacrifice our lives, our faith, our families and our friendships to make more money.  However, as long as we work with integrity, in the specific time allotted for our daily work and with the energy dedicated to that purpose, the more we can make usually shows the more effectively we are serving God’s other children. It would be wrong to try to limit that.

Hebrew possesses a word a word for satisfied (SoVaH – שבע) which is as close as the language comes to contentment. The important point is that SoVaH is never used in the context of money and mostly appears in connection with food.

And you shall eat and be satisfied (SoVaH) and bless the Lord your God..;
(Deuteronomy 8:10) 

The good that one can do with money is proportional to how much is available. There is an old joke about the beggar accustomed to getting a dollar from one of his ‘regulars’ who passed by each day.  On one occasion the passerby dropped a quarter into the beggar’s cap.  “Hoy!” called the hobo. “Why only a quarter today?”

“I’m having a tough week in my business” answered the man. 

The panhandler’s response:

“Just because you’re having a bad week, I have to have one too?”

Just because you decide that you have enough money, do all those who depend upon you and those who might benefit from you also have to say enough? 

To the individual I was counseling, I added the observation that his marriage might well benefit from his increasing his revenue.  To the company I added that not only was it the right thing to grow the company (within the limits of managerial capability) and find ways to serve even more customers but there was also a strategic reason to continue growth.  In the real world, whether you’re looking at a beautiful flower or a profitable business, the same thing is true.  It is either growing or dying. Staying the same is not an option.

If you would appreciate more insights into work through the medium of the Hebrew language, now, when it is on sale, is a good time to get Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language. There is even an entire chapter entitled AVoDaH – work. Pair it with Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet and give your children a head start. These very popular books will both satisfy and spur you to want more. 

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A

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Where are the children?

May 7th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 3 comments

After I wrote a Susan’s Musing about China’s failure to undo its disastrous ‘one-child-only policy, I found out that Japanese attempts to increase that country’s birthrate are also failing. It turns out that when countries realize the economic and social disasters awaiting them from not having enough children, it isn’t so easy to turn things around. Amazingly, (and yes, my tongue is in my cheek) cash incentives and a government “go for it” aren’t enough to encourage people to have children.

While concerns about money do, indeed, cause people to hesitate to have children, giving money or benefits like free childcare as an incentive doesn’t lead responsible, married couples to have larger families. It seems that once you convince women that children are an impediment to achievement and detrimental to a fulfilling life rather than a blessing and gateway to a fulfilling life, it is hard to demand such a sacrifice from them.

Perhaps there should be a warning  label attached to social engineering: Unintended consequences may be hazardous to your health.

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