Yearly Archives: 2021

A Party Divided

January 14th, 2021 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

We have never been a television family, but we used to have an old rabbit-ears-antenna TV set in a closet that we pulled out on rare and special occasions. That TV came out on September 11, 2001. As it stayed out for quite a few days, I noticed a TV tug of war unfolding. 

On one hand, the news was so overwhelming and the sorrow so great, that running a quiz show, or worse a comedy show, was unthinkable. The question was how long that reticence remained. Five days, five weeks, five months? Closer to five days later, things turned back to “normal,” though a distracting news stream ran across the bottom of the screen. 

What is going on in the United States right now cannot be compared to 2001 in terms of loss of life and suffering. However, history shows that the internal falling apart of a society is often even more dangerous than an attack by an external enemy. In the long run, I think our country is in more danger now than it was then. 

All this is to say that while I personally am focused on my own family, faith, finances, fitness and friendships, I still don’t feel ready to go “back to normal” and talk of those issues in this column. I have strong political views as do most of you. How those translate into practical action is an evolving question. 

In chess (a game I play so amateurishly that I consider it a success when I beat a six-year-old) one strategy is to fork your opponent. The idea is to present them with a lose/lose situation. If they save their rook, they will lose their bishop; to protect their queen, they must forfeit their knight.  There is no step they can take that is completely positive. 

That is the position of the GOP today. The GOP has jumped to impale itself on a fork meaning that it is now a badly splintered party. Those who support President Trump antagonize some conservatives; those who attack the president alienate others. Even if the divide was a 90%—10% split, we are talking about enough disenfranchised voters so that the party will have trouble winning anything more than local elections. In reality, I think the split is closer to 70%-30%. The divide may be more lopsided or less than I think—that is irrelevant in terms of a united front. There is a huge swelling of anger among many conservatives, especially including new, younger ones. While the destructive actions taken by a few last Wednesday do not represent the majority, the anger and frustration they expressed is widely felt and poised to grow, especially as free speech is assaulted. That anger, in turn, will repel the old guard.

On the other hand, perhaps the very split in the Republican Party will prove the beginning of the cure. I think many Americans still are naive about Leftism. If an emboldened Democrat majority moves towards Leftism and overplays its hand, the suffering that attends those kinds of actions will become impossible to ignore. That provides an opening to a meaningful conversation.

I have faith that America is still the exceptional  land dreamed of by our Founders, still populated by  people who see themselves “under God.” Tyranny and totalitarianism have always rightly recognized God as their ultimate enemy.  While the push to eradicate God and His laws is growing, after all these centuries He is still around. Betting against Him may lead to great suffering for many, but not to eventual triumph.

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Friends and Family Discounts

January 13th, 2021 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

I have read your book Thou Shall Prosper and am currently reading Business Secrets from the Bible. Which led me to wonder the following:

The question I have is about letting everyone know what you do to serve humanity and making friends with many people. If I make friends with someone, won’t I look like a greedy guy to ask full charge to a friend? What would you do, Sir? Would you give a discount for friends? 

I don’t think a lot of people understand the concept of making money being a good thing. So for that reason I ask you the question.

Thank you in advance.

Kind regards,

Oscar

Hi Oscar,

We’re delighted you are reading our books and, since some Ask the Rabbi readers may not have done so yet, we’d like to give a little preface to our answer. 

In the books, as in our other business resources, we encourage people to share their skills and professions with friends, acquaintances and those they meet. This is how you let people know the way in which you can serve them.  We note that many Jewish last names—a relatively recent phenomenon — stemmed from how people benefited  society. Wasserman was the water carrier while Silverman was the silversmith. The Cooperman family descends from barrel makers while the name Melamed means teacher in Hebrew. It was an early form of advertising, about which Winston Churchill said, “Advertising nourishes the consuming power of men. It sets up before a man the goal of a better home, better clothing, better food for himself and his family. It spurs individual exertion and greater production.”

Many people share your concern. We are certainly not suggesting a cynical and self-serving approach to winning new friends.  We recommend an organic and authentic expansion of your circle of friends.  And we agree that befriending someone to ‘trick’ them into using your services or products is reprehensible. However, that is entirely different from what we are encouraging. 

The first basic principle is that you should be doing something that makes you proud. If you are peddling shoddy merchandise or you are an incompetent tradesman, you certainly should not share your profession with anyone. In fact, you either need to improve or get out of that field. However, let’s say you are a talented and principled locksmith. By sharing that information, you are giving me the option to turn to someone I know, like and trust when I need the locks in my house changed rather than needing to select the services of a stranger. You aren’t making a heavy pitch or trying to scare me into using your services; you are simply sharing an important part of your life and letting me turn to you if I do need help.  What is more, I have friends who often ask me for recommendations so little by little, the word spreads that you are a reliable and courteous provider of the goods or services required.

The second principle you raise is whether you need to offer a discount to friends and relatives. This is where your own attitude makes all the difference. If you sound apologetic and embarrassed about presenting your fee, your friend will also feel uncomfortable. If you are matter-of-fact, your friend will follow suit. 

We were once out of town when one of us (Susan) began feeling not well. We turned for help to an acquaintance who was a doctor. Because of our relationship, she saw us right away. When she presented her bill, we were glad to pay it. Could one offer a “friends and family” discount? In some ways that might cause more trouble as you need to define what those terms mean? Second cousin twice removed? The woman with whom you share carpool? It is actually neater not to get into that discussion and to simply confidently and politely present your bill. 

Certainly, we each have some people to whom we may want to provide free or discounted services. These may be especially close friends or relatives. But that is a free and voluntary decision and should not be expected or demanded. 

Oscar, we suggest practicing naming your price until you do it casually and with self-assurance. If you are uncomfortable, reach inside yourself and ask whether you believe that you are providing a good service for a fair price. If you are, accept payment with a clear conscience.

You forgot to tell us what you do!

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Afraid? Who, Me?

January 12th, 2021 Posted by Thought Tools 35 comments

Unexpected political developments can be scary.  Over the past year, Americans have been barraged by disturbing events and images on an almost daily basis. 

It was really scary for people living comfortably and securely in England when they awoke on Wednesday morning, December 5th, 1914. A nation that hadn’t seen rationing or military conscription in living memory was at war with Germany.  Many people stayed home that day in sheer panic about what was to come.

It was soon after lunch on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, that Americans in New York and Washington discovered that their Pacific naval base in Hawaii had been bombed by Japanese aircraft.  People were rightly frightened by the unknown terrors that lay ahead.  For almost an entire day, most people just sat at their radios.

On Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001 Americans were glued to their television sets in uncomprehending numbness as they watched the Twin Towers fall.  Like most frightened people, they remained passively watching the attacks again and again as news outlets replayed the frightening footage.

Well, of course once you allow fear to grip you (which is exactly what it does – hence the figure of speech, “he was gripped by fear”) you discover that there is no short- age of things to feel frightened about. Your health, your finances, your children, earthquakes, spiders – I’d better stop right there! I certainly don’t mean to get you started now. But what is one to do when feeling utterly demoralized by fear? 

To find a clue, I high tailed it to the Bible and found this verse: 

Be not afraid of sudden fear. 
(Proverbs 3:25) 

In Hebrew, the word “fear”, PaCHaD, is made up of three letters and looks like this (remember: Hebrew reads right to left): 

פ ח ד
D CH P 

In Hebrew, many important words read forwards and backwards with opposite meanings in each direction.

Thus, looking at PaCHaD backwards is important – and we find the word DaCHaF. 

No, you haven’t caught me in a mistake. In Hebrew the letters P and F are the same and as languages evolved this left its stamp as you can see by looking at the word “fish”, which derives from the same word as the astrological sign “Pisces.” Just change the P of Pisces into an F, and you’ll see how this works. 

Back to DaCHaF – what does it mean? It means to propel or to push forward. We can see it used in the Bible here: 

And Haman was propelled into his house. 
(Esther 6:12) 

The word used for propelled is DaCHaF. Well, if DaCHaF means propelled, then not surprisingly, its reverse, PaCHaD which we know means fear, also must mean restrain, handicap, keep back.  So being paralyzed with fear is exactly what fear does and so it makes sense that the opposite of fear is advancing forward. 

Isn’t that precisely what fear does to us? Fear freezes us in place. Ever read anything like this? “He stood rooted to the spot with fear” or “paralyzed by panic.” It is therefore obvious that ancient Jewish wisdom’s advice when gripped by fear is: start moving! Overcome the tendency of fear to suppress action. Deliver yourself from the trance of passivity. 

Yes, but how? Again, a Biblical clue: In Exodus 14, the Israelites, just out of Egypt are transfixed by terror. The ocean stretches out in front of them and the mighty Egyptian army rapidly approaches from the rear. Trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, one might say: 

…they were utterly terrified and they cried out to God. 
(Exodus 14:10)

Their fear completely dominated them. 

God’s response was not to split the Red Sea as you might have thought. It was the momentous lesson you and I can learn from verse 15: 

And the Lord said to Moses, “What are calling to me for?
Direct the Israelites to march forward! 

What do you mean? Into the ocean? Yes! And it wasn’t until Israel marched forward into the water that God told Moses to initiate the miracle of splitting the Red Sea. Verse 22 soon confirms the sequence of events. The Israelites went into the midst of the sea, and only thereafter come the words: on dry land. 

They activated their own miracle and contributed to their own deliverance by conquering fear generated inertia. If you want your own Red Sea to split, you’d better “March Forward.” Do not retreat–in that direction lies your personal equivalent of the Egyptian army. But above all, don’t become paralyzed and passive. March Forward. 

Regardless of what geopolitical, epidemiological, or economic crisis is terrifying you, do not allow it to immobilize you.  March forward and take care of your essentials; your family, your finances, your faith, your fitness and your friendships. 

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Nothing to Say

January 7th, 2021 Posted by Susan's Musings 40 comments

There are weeks when an idea catches my attention and my Musing is written on Sunday, then edited and hopefully improved until it is time to publish on Thursday. Many of those Musings tend to write themselves—I’m passionate about something that I want to share with you.

Then there are more stressful weeks when I write and delete my writing, when I try a little of this and a little of that. On Thursday, panic sets in because I don’t like anything I have. Those Thursdays are not very enjoyable. 

So, I was feeling quite relaxed when, last week, a phrase in a book caught my eye and words spilled onto my page, sharing my response to those oft-spoken and oft-written words. Then, Wednesday, January 7, 2021, happened. And while I would still like to share my planned Musing with you, I don’t think that my mind or yours is actually interested in it right now. 

What took place in our nation’s capital yesterday was unprecedented in some ways and a continuation of history in others. I cannot share my thoughts with you because they are in a jumble. I do not know what I think. Not only do I not have clarity, but I don’t know where to turn for basic facts. I can read this new site’s agenda or that newspaper’s slant, this pundit’s ideas and that talking head’s points, but I do not know where the unembellished information is so that I can come to my own conclusions. 

I don’t watch the nightly news and I do not listen to the radio or internet continually through my day. Air time has to be filled and that means that people talk even when they have nothing to say. It doesn’t work for a reporter to suggest that you check back in a few hours when they may have more to report on a situation. Instead, they blather on. 

I don’t want to do the equivalent of that. I know that over breakfast, when I read yet another accolade to Richard Nixon for conceding an election in order not to “trigger a constitutional crisis” I was annoyed. Today that election in 1960 is generally acknowledged as having been fraudulently won by the Kennedy campaign, Had Mr. Nixon pushed back at that point, it is very possible that the country would have been spared both the assassination of President Kennedy as well as Watergate, two events that roiled the nation and set it on a different course. As I see it, whether the future president’s acceptance of the fraud helped or hurt the country is up for debate. 

A few hours after my breakfast, I watched unanticipated events unfold in Washington, DC. Until I know more, I have nothing to say. 

Many events are out of our control.
Let’s take charge of the parts of our life that we can affect.
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Wicked and Rich

January 6th, 2021 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 7 comments

I enjoy your podcast and have read your book Thou Shall Prosper

I was visiting with a group of friends talking about wealth and the purpose of it, and wound up with a question we started to dissect but didn’t come up with a great answer. I wonder what your thoughts are.

The question is:

Why does God bless both evil and Godly with wealth?

 Why do people who don’t know God have God’s blessing of wealth?

Some thoughts we had:

Following God’s principles for the world works for both Godly and wicked.

“Wealth” can be just money or could more—peace, prosperity, wealth, joy, eternal life.

What about REALLY wicked endeavors, people, industries who seem to be making lots of money and living lavishly?

Josiah

Dear Josiah,

Your question is a variation on, “Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people?” An offshoot of that question is, “Why is life not fair?”  (Presuming for the purpose of this Ask the Rabbi that there is such a concept.)

It is a question asked since Biblical times and repeated in every generation. You specify money, but we could substitute health or any number of other concepts and the idea would be the same. 

One of the answers you and your friends came up with hits home to the following truth. As you say, “Following God’s principles for the world works for both Godly and wicked.” For instance, if a saintly man and a wicked man both step off the roof of a twenty-floor building, both will plummet to their deaths.  It is quite possible that the saint will ask, “Lord, why didn’t you rescue me?”  And God will wearily explain that you were supposed to know not to step off tall buildings.

Similarly, just as you correctly observed, there are specific things to do in order to gain money and there are specific things to avoid.  This information is available to anyone, saint or sinner.  When the sinner learns how money works and prospers, many will ask, “How can such a rotten human be so blessed?”  The answer is that the question is really no question.

That this is the way that God built the world is an overarching truth. When it poses a crisis of faith, it is usually because it hits home emotionally, not because the principle was not evident in any reading of history or through awareness of the real world. The healthy eater and exerciser may die young while the person who smoked and indulged his physical appetites may live to be 100. The heir to a fortune may live an immoral life and his bank account will still be larger than the upright woman he abuses. The Empress Elizabeth of Russia died with 15,000 lavish dresses in her closet.  A peasant of her time may have died of starvation, even if she lived a blameless life.

When it comes to individuals, we have to balance between our own necessary efforts and the realization that we are not in complete control of the outcome of anything we do.

The ideas you and your friends threw out are all topics for interesting conversations, but the bottom line is that the question is rather irrelevant for any individual. Individually, we should look for God’s blessings in our lives; the more we seek them out, the more of them we will see. Individuals who live with integrity and according to God’s word will reap many rewards from doing so, some of which may not be readily evident. However, many of the promises that God makes are on the macro level. 

A society that follows God’s guidance will prosper more than a society that doesn’t do so. Statistically, more individuals in that society will do well than will thrive in other cultures. For example, when God promises rain in its proper time allowing crops to grow (Leviticus 26:4), we do not expect it to rain on our field but not our misbehaving neighbor’s or vice-versa. The blessing is for a community or nation. 

Pornography and damaging drugs are both billion dollar industries that prey on people’s weaknesses. If bad behavior and choices automatically led to poverty while righteousness led to wealth, there would be no element of free choice, would there? Our reactions would be Pavlovian, responding only for the consequences of our actions rather than making our own decisions of what to do. 

Josiah, we’d like to gently suggest that when you and your friends get together you keep your questions more to the practical than the philosophical. What can you learn together or what actions can you take together that will form you into greater people? While questions such as the one you asked have their place (especially for teenagers who see life in black and white), when they are focused on too much, they can sap willpower and lead to endless talking instead of doing. 

Live right and leave the rest to God,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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When Things Fall Apart

January 6th, 2021 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

After 210 years of enslavement, the Jewish people are finally about to be redeemed.  God gives Moses his mission to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”  What happens at the beginning of Exodus when Moses and Aaron approach the king of Egypt with their request? (Exodus 5)  Not only did Pharaoh famously say, “No, I will not let them go,” but he actually increased the servitude.  He made the Jews’ lives more intolerable than they had been before!  Forget about redemption, there was greater suffering!  Not surprisingly, the Jewish people were unhappy about Moses’s interference in their lives.  The Jewish taskmasters came to Moses and Aaron and spoke harshly, accusing them of antagonizing Pharaoh and making things worse.  

What happened next?  Moses turned to God and asked,” Why did you send me on this mission if it was going to make things worse?”  Listen to this amazing next verse, Exodus 6:1— “And God said to Moses: ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for by a strong hand he will let them go and by a strong hand will he drive them out of his land.’”

The first word  of that verse in Hebrew is  Atah,-now. Now you will see!  Rabbi S.R. Hirsch (1808-1888) says that God’s response is, “Finally!  This is the moment I was waiting for.” This is  the moment of utter desperation, when it is abundantly clear to everyone that Moses and Aaron as representatives of the people can do nothing.  Every intervention is futile.  They have tried and failed. Now no one can think that there is any natural way to redeem the nation.  Atah -now everyone can see that the redemption begins as the supernatural work of God.  It had to  be made abundantly clear first that even Moses and Aaron were nothing but the instruments of God.  Everyone had to feel the despair of knowing that nothing was working, no human, even the ones picked to be saviors, could save.  And from that moment of despair, “atah,” salvation was born.

Listen to this truth.  We think salvation begins when situations turn around and begin to improve, but the lesson here is that the beginning of redemption is actually when things deteriorate and seem to become hopeless.  The downward spiral wasn’t a prelude to redemption; it was step one to redemption.  It is only “atah,-“now!” that the second stage can move forward.

There are two parts to this message that resonate with mothers.  The first one is the realization that sometimes the beginning of solutions look messier than the problems.  Think of a mother trying to introduce a new routine for her family. Maybe the kids used to eat when and what they wanted, and now, mom is introducing three healthy meals a day, served and eaten all together.  The first week of this new routine will be painful.  You can just imagine the scene at each and every mealtime!  It will feel way worse and more unmanageable than it used to be.  But that is stage one of the solution.  By the second week, everyone will be used to it, and the benefits will begin to accumulate.  

This is true in so many areas.  When a baby learns to walk, he initially falls down and tumbles way more than he did when he was crawling.  He may have more tears and more black and blue marks than before!  But that is stage one of this huge development.  He needs to fall and tumble to be able to be a sturdy walker for the rest of his life.  It’s very important for mothers to have the awareness and perspective that the beginning of redemption involves a deterioration so that we don’t give up or give in when the going gets tough and so that we can encourage our children when they hit these inevitable setbacks that are part of the process of moving forwards. 

The second aspect I want to mention is that the first stage of redemption that brought increased desperation and suffering was for the purpose of making it abundantly clear that no human being held the solution in his hands.  We all had to clearly know, that Moses and Aaron were powerless; only God can redeem.  And once the Jewish people reached that point of acknowledging human futility, God stepped in and brought the Redemption.  Again, if there is one truth that mothers end up facing again and again, it is our own futility.  When we try to power through alone with our solutions and plans we often fail.  It is only when we recognize our powerlessness and ask God to take the lead in showing us how to parent, how to bring out the best in our children, that we are able to move forward.

It isn’t a coincidence that the early chapters of Exodus end with deeper enslavement than with what it began.  We all need to learn this message, that the first stage of dawn begins when the skies are at their darkest.  Despair isn’t the end, it is the beginning.

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Wonder Bread

January 4th, 2021 Posted by Thought Tools 5 comments

I am a fan of population growth. To survive and thrive, both societies and economies need children brought into the world and raised properly. Knowing this, you might expect me to sympathize with a request for advice that I received from an individual starting a non-profit educational organization created to encourage large families. While I do appreciate his goal, I found one striking omission in his message. Nowhere did he discuss the importance of earning a living and managing finances while raising these families.  

As regular Thought Tool readers have learned, the Five Books of Moses are divided into 54 portions or sedras, each with its own name and theme.  (In Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s Recommended Bible, the start and end of each sedra is clearly marked.)  Which one would you guess contains the most frequent usage of the word ‘bread’? (Yes, we are still discussing the same topic!)

Would it perhaps be Bo*, the third sedra in the Book of Exodus, containing extensive instructions about eating unleavened ‘bread’ or matzoh on Passover?  Wrong!

Okay, how about Beshalach*? The fourth sedra in Exodus does describe ‘bread from heaven’ or Manna. But you would be wrong again.

Terumah*, the seventh sedra of Exodus, mentions bread several times in the context of the Tabernacle table upon which the bread was displayed.  It too is not the correct guess.

It turns out that Emor*, the eighth sedra in the Book of Leviticus contains no fewer than fourteen mentions of bread, making it an easy winner.  Yet the theme of this sedra seems to have little to do with bread.  It is chiefly about developing and maintaining closeness to God; first by means of purity (Leviticus 21 & 22), then festivals (Leviticus 23), and finally by rule of law (Leviticus 24).

To understand why bread is so central to maintaining closeness to God, we need to remember what bread means in Scripture.

He who works his land will have enough bread*…
(Proverbs 12:11)

In Scripture “bread” means money just as it does in colloquial slang: “Got any bread?” “Can you lend me some dough?”

Similarly, ‘field’ means the work you do to obtain your bread.  To this day, when inquiring about professional activity, people ask one another, “What field are you in?”

Prepare externally your work, and make it fit for yourself in the field;
afterwards, build your house.
(Proverbs 24:27)

Acquire from outside yourself a means to earn a living.  In other words, find out what people around you need that you can supply. Once your field is producing, get married (build your house).

A lightweight who can afford servants is better
than one who honors himself but lacks bread
(Proverbs 12:9)

This is amazing! It’s better to have enough bread to pay for the services you need in life and be considered a lightweight by some, rather than thinking a great deal of yourself but being poor.

Again and again in the Bible, the word bread plugs us into reality.  Bread/money reminds us to keep our feet on the ground.  Unless you are in the fraud and robbery business or doing something immoral, making money means you are serving other people as well as helping yourself.

Regardless of what drives you, forgetting finances is sheer folly.  By repeatedly mentioning bread, Emor teaches that being deeply dedicated to getting close to God means being rooted in the reality He created. That is a world in which money allows us to live with dignity, follow His commandments and form positive relationships with many other people. It is what allows us to provide shelter, food, medical care and clothing for our families. Our children do not need luxuries and we do them a disservice by providing too many material goods, but we are responsible for supporting those we bring into this world.

Faith is not a justification for stressful poverty. Articles that discourage having children because “experts” reveal how much it costs to raise a child are usually foolish and biased. Ignoring the importance of establishing a livelihood that allows one to provide for a large family similarly presents only part of a picture. God does not want His children to make their love for Him, including His commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” a refuge from reality, but rather a part of the total vision.

References in our recommended Bible:

*Bo – p. 190, in the margin, 2 lines from the bottom (see English transliteration on p. 191, 3 lines from the bottom).

*Beshalach – p. 204, in the margin around ⅓ of the way down the page (see English transliteration on p. 205, spelled Beshallah.)

*Terumah – p. 238, in the margin around ⅔  of the way down the page (see English transliteration on p. 239, spelled Teruma).

*Emor – p. 368, in the margin around ¾ of the way down the page (see English transliteration on p. 369.)*bread = לחם, for example, p.1992, 8 lines from the bottom, last word on the line.

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