Posts by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

My Job Makes Me Unpopular

April 1st, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Sir, I’m reading one of your books, “Business Secrets from the Bible.” You talk about making your customers happy.

The nature of my work now is to catch energy theft and fine/sanction them and at the end some are not happy with me.

I’m confused, please still explain more for me.

Thank you


Dear Jide,

In the spirit of full disclosure, we must tell you that we get pretty annoyed at letters that we regularly receive from our energy provider telling us that we use more energy than our neighbors.  The tone of voice they use suggests that they caught us stealing.  As if morality were about how little energy you use.  Absurd!   If they were to send a person to our house to fine us, we would not be pleased. But we do know that this is not what your job is.  You are employed to find those who are actually stealing electricity with surreptitious and unofficial wiring to the grid.

I am sure that many of the energy thieves whom you apprehend are, as you say, not happy with you.  A mistake you are making is thinking that those people are your customers.  They are not.  Your customer is your employer.  Allow us to explain.

For many very important reasons, for maximum success, we encourage almost everyone to think of themselves as being in business for themselves.  Consider a bus driver for example. He should stop thinking of himself as an employee of the bus company. Instead, he should view himself as an independent business professional in the transport sector. As of now, he has only one customer or client, namely the bus company who purchases his services. Naturally, there is nothing stopping him from finding other customers, for instance, a weekend job driving an Uber or Lyft car.  In your case, your customer is the energy company that employs you to locate theft.  And if you do your job effectively, your customer will probably be very happy with your performance. 

Think of someone working in a coffee shop.  She must think of herself as being in business for herself because nobody cares about her success as much as she does, so she must take charge rather than see herself as a passive employee.  Her customer is the coffee shop chain that employs her.  The people who come into the shop to buy coffee are the customers of the coffee shop company.  They are not her customers, they are her job.  In most circumstances, if she makes their customers happy, she will also be making her customer happy.

Yours is a slightly more complicated situation.  In your case, making your employer happy, which is to say making your customer happy, probably means making your employer’s customers unhappy. But the majority of the miscreants you bust are probably not actual customers of your employer.  They are trying to obtain the services that your employer provides without paying for them.

Your situation bears certain resemblances to a traffic policeman.   When we are stopped for speeding, we are not happy about paying a fine and suffering any other consequences.  However, we do appreciate the police and acknowledge that they caught us doing something that is against the interests of a safely functioning society. If we don’t like it we might want to lobby our local government to raise the speed limit on a certain stretch of road.  But until it is raised we recognize that the police who stop us are doing the right thing and we are grateful to those who join the force.

Contrast this with another scenario. Certain cities in the United States employ people to clandestinely sort through citizens’ garbage cans to make sure they are correctly separating recycled material. The homeowner will be fined if the inspector discovers, let’s say, a glass bottle in the regular trash. It is public knowledge that in many of those cities, the garbage and recycle containers are all mixed together and dumped into the same landfill as there is no economically viable method for dealing with the recyclables. There is no societal good being served by that inspection or that fine. The jobs are a waste of taxpayer money and a government overreach.

What would we say to a person who asked us if he should accept such a position? On one hand, supporting oneself is an important and worthy ambition. On the other hand, taking this job—which will be filled by someone else if he turns it down—means advancing bad policy, even if it is not in an area that clearly juts into a moral and ethical dilemma as one might have, for example, if offered a job in an abortion clinic. We would probably urge our job-seeker to make every effort to look for a job that will fill him with pride and the knowledge that he is helping others rather than taking advantage of them.

Sadly, in many countries, energy theft is a serious problem that impedes progress and ultimately harms everyone.  For this reason, we feel that though your job may not make you the most popular man in the neighborhood,  in the larger picture, what you do helps your fellow citizens. 

Here’s the line of inquiry that you should be exploring as CEO of your business which is providing energy theft abatement services to your customers of which, right now, you only have one.  Perhaps you can sell your employer/customer on the idea of not only catching the bad actors in the city but also rewarding and educating the good guys.  In other words, how about if you not only detected energy bandits but also distributed pamphlets to those paying their energy bills explaining how you are trying to lower their costs by catching the thieves whose activities raise everyone’s costs.  Perhaps you could meet with neighborhood groups for the same purpose.  Perhaps your employer would pay you more if you added public relations to your duties, thus bringing them additional value.

Because you are helping transform your neighborhood into a safer, more economically vibrant and better functioning place, you should feel good about doing your job even if miscreants get annoyed when you catch them. You can see things on a larger scale than the thief you are fining.

We hope this gives you some helpful guidance,


Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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How can (the world and) I cope with so much stress?

March 26th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 11 comments

Hi Rabbi Lapin and Susan,

I remember that you’ve talked about dealing with anxiety and stress in previous ‘Ask the Rabbi’ columns, but I’m wondering if you have any more advice for what we are going through in today’s COVID-19 crisis?


Pamela T.

Dear Pamela,

You are right that we have written about stress and anxiety previously and you are also correct that there are special circumstances now. 

A crisis grips the globe and reverberates in our own homes and in the homes of everyone else.  Our own work and that of others have been curtailed and the resulting financial stress casts its own pall.  People we know and love are suffering from health complications and health workers are stressed.  There is more than enough to keep us awake at night.

Ancient Jewish wisdom gifts us with three timeless truths for troubling times.

First, in normal times we train ourselves, and those we are privileged to raise, not to be focused on the present.  Some things, like giving away money to others with less than we have are uncomfortable to do, but we do them because our obligation to our past and the teachings of our parents compel us. Other things like exercising, eating wisely and saving money are burdensome but we do them because of our obligation to the future.  We do certain arduous things today so that you will be able to do other desirable things in five years’ time.

However, times are not normal and much of our thinking must focus on getting through today.  Asking oneself, “How will I possibly make it for another three weeks of this?” is a mistake. It can feel overwhelming and hopeless.  Instead, tell yourself, “I just have to get through today. Things are changing day by day and tomorrow I will deal with tomorrow.” We love this quote from Corrie ten Boom:  “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Upon being dispatched on his mission at the burning bush, Moses asked God what name shall he use for God when telling Israel of their forthcoming redemption.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God said, “Tell them I will be with them in future ordeals and oppressions as I am with them in this one in Egypt.”  Moses pleaded with God and explained that there is no benefit in telling them now of other trials and tribulations that lie ahead. In crisis times, it’s enough to deal with today. God accepted Moses’ request and replied, “Tell them just I will be who I will be.” (Exodus 3:13-14)

Right now, each day of making it is a triumph.  Pat yourself on the back, try and get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow will be tomorrow.

Second, it’s worth remembering that God created us for a reason. Just as we earthly parents love seeing our children follow in our footsteps, so does our Father in Heaven.  He loves seeing us, His children, mastering our emotions and behaving courageously and generously.  There is something deeply satisfying in accomplishing a challenging task.  Winning an athletic contest, even completing a jig-saw or crossword puzzle puts a glow on our souls. In crisis times we are in a brutal contest with our lower, more animal selves.  Acting with others in a Godly way will be strangely satisfying. There is strength in being able to give, even if it is something as simple as making a phone call to an older relative that reduces our feeling of helplessness.

Finally, start now to train yourself to become a generalist.  Understand that crisis times can seldom be fully comprehended by experts and specialists.  The infantry commander on the ground sends a message back to HQ, “The most important thing right now is more artillery.” Meanwhile, the naval commander communicates, “Nothing matters more than fuel for our ships.”  The bomber pilot radios back to base, “If we can’t overcome enemy anti-aircraft fire, all will be lost.”  It then falls to the commander-in-chief to determine how to allocate resources and where to focus effort.  Each of his warriors told him the truth, but it was the truth as he narrowly saw it.

In his book, The Psychology of Science, (Jewish) psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote: “…I remember seeing an elaborate and complicated automatic washing machine for automobiles that did a beautiful job of washing them. But it could do only that, and everything else that got into its clutches was treated as if it were an automobile to be washed. I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail…” 

Understandably, right now, doctors with a lifetime invested in their medical careers see one truth.  Economists see another truth.  Historians may see one more, and so on.  Newspapers, television, and other media are ravenous for content and will happily publish information be it from the infantry, the navy, or the air-force.  Your job, as commander in chief of yourself and your family, is to be a generalist and using data from experts and specialists try to integrate it and arrive at an accurate picture of the overall battlefield.  Then you are in a better position to determine strategy. For today.

Going through a difficult time with others focuses our attention on the fact that our lives are interconnected with others and we need to cry out to the Lord not only for our own needs but also for His other children.

In one of our previous answers to a question about stress and anxiety we wrote:

Have you ever tried to open a door using the wrong key? No matter how much you jiggle the key or how irritated you get, the door won’t open. You need to try another key.

Our culture suggests that life should be stress-free. We think in terms of entitlements. We expect life to be easy and enjoyable with a fillip of excitement added on demand through side activities we choose to indulge in. That is the wrong key for life.

Life is actually a challenge. While we are on this earth, we are challenged to constantly make choices, each one of which forms our character. One of the constant choices we have is whether to face life’s difficulties courageously or fearfully. Do we feel victimized and helpless every time something goes wrong or do we ask God’s help to meet our challenges? Is our default emotion dissatisfaction unless something makes us happy or is our default emotion happiness?

We aren’t ignoring that there are real and terrible trials in life…Our first suggestion would be to ‘get a new key.’

We also wrote: …one of the most powerful portals to happiness and optimism is gratitude.

Make the first words out of your mouth as you wake up, “I am grateful before you, Living and everlasting Lord, for returning my soul to me with graciousness; your faith (in me) is great.” This prayer from ancient Jewish wisdom, which in Hebrew starts with the words, “Modeh Ani,” opens the door to greet each day with gratitude and a recognition that God is on your side cheering you on to make correct choices throughout your day. Stress and anxiety have less room to roam when you have such a Partner at your side and you look forward to a day of responsibilities, challenges and commitments that you can fulfill rather than entitlements that you should receive.

We aren’t minimizing the health and economic concerns we are facing. These are compounded by not being able to get together with those we love and, for those dealing with children, with needing to be endlessly energetic, creative and loving. Yet, being grateful is still our primary advice.

Please limit your news-watching.  Don’t let yourself be seduced into the universe of the Cassandras out there telling you the world is coming to an end. Keep up an exercise regimen and healthy eating.  At one and the same time, there are tremendous technological opportunities for growth such as virtual museum tours, classes and lectures, but don’t spend your day looking at a screen. Keep your sense of humor front and center along with your Bible and your prayers.

May the Lord guard you from all harm; He will guard your life  (Ps 121:7)

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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How Do I Stop My Customers from Hoarding?

March 18th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 30 comments

Dear Rabbi & Susan,

I run the general store in our small town and the coronavirus has impacted supplies of many things that people want. I recently got in a load of bathroom tissue from my wholesaler and three of my customers came in and between them cleaned me out. They bought it all. I know they are just hoarding it in their basements; it is far more than they usually purchase. I tried to argue with them and I explained that they please should not buy more than they need. When I said that I would limit it to one package per customer, one of them laughed in my face and said he’d just come back with all his cousins. (He has a huge family) This crisis is turning my neighbors into people I can barely recognize. And it’s not only toilet paper. 

Here’s my question. Can I raise prices to encourage people to buy only what they actually need and to stop hoarding? I’m frightened they’ll slander me as a price gouger. My supplier doesn’t know when my next shipment will arrive, and even worse, my supplier says that they don’t yet know what my price will be. So at the moment, I am selling merchandise for possibly less than I will need to pay to replace my inventory. 

Can I raise my prices?

Yours sincerely,

Joe F.

Dear Joe,

We sympathize with your predicament. There is little question that right now, greater suffering is being inflicted by fear, panic, and hysteria than by the virus itself. We do want to point out that while you have unfortunately seen some bad behavior, that is not universal. Our synagogue, along with many other groups in America, has organized phone trees to make sure that the elderly and those who live alone receive daily phone calls and have people shopping for and helping them. Even in supermarkets, we have seen examples of people helping each other. Unnerving times like this tend to exaggerate character traits and serve as a litmus test for all of us.

Let us examine your question through the lens of God’s word alone and try to ignore the cultural implications. There are harsh words in English that have been used for centuries to hurl slurs against business professionals. These include price gouger, slumlord, and profiteer. Occasionally they are legitimate charges leveled at people who are practicing business in styles not intended by God in His plan for human economic interaction. Other times they are used by sickly envious people imbued with socialistic thinking who flail about their own lack of industry by using these words to attack the more successful whom they envy.

The Biblical origin of our sense of morality when it comes to pricing goods is this verse: 

When you sell merchandise to your neighbor or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. (Leviticus 25:14)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this very brief Divine dictum means that God forbids us from overcharging or underpaying for a commodity when the other party is unaware of the value. For example, every store in town is selling TP for $1.25 a roll but your store is, let’s say, near a hospital so you count on people being stressed and rushed and you charge $2:50 even though your own operating costs are no higher than the store ten blocks away. You’ve just violated Leviticus 25:14. 

This principle does not apply to real estate or to rare items like antiques or collectibles. This is because there is no ‘market’ in those things; they are each unique. This Biblical rule does apply, as we said earlier when other stores are all selling the commodity for about $1 and you try to get a less knowledgeable or more harried customer to give you $3. That is a swindle and is prohibited. Obviously, this does not apply if your store is subject to considerable “shrinkage” (a euphemism for extensive shoplifting) so that vandalism and theft have raised your insurance costs, or if your store is in a higher-priced rental location or your jurisdiction mandates a high minimum wage. In other words, there may well be reasons that you have to charge a higher price and that is valid. 

However, in today’s coronavirus circumstances where other stores do not have the merchandise, there is no established ‘normal’ price, and therefore no Biblical rules about your prices. This means that you may raise your prices. However, there is more to your question.

If you do raise your prices in order to be able to replace your inventory and also in order to discourage customers from buying your products and either hoarding or reselling them out of the back of their cars at inflated prices, you may come in for vile criticism and really unpleasant ostracism for you and your family. You did say you live in a small town. People you think of as friends might accuse you of gaining from the hardships of others.

On the other hand, if you don’t raise prices you may be encouraging hoarding and scalping while also harming your own ability to remain profitable when you have to replace inventory at new, but currently unknown prices. You are also depriving some of your fellow citizens of bathroom tissue, to use that example. They might be people who’d happily have rather paid $2:50 a roll than have none. Meanwhile, cartons are sitting unused in the basements of three homes.

As far as people accusing you of gaining from the hardships of others, that is another odious example of cunningly using language to stigmatize. When I sell a pair of new shoes to my customer, I make a profit because my customer suffered the hardship of having his old shoes wear out. When I summon a plumber to ease my hardship of a leaking pipe damaging my parquet floor, he indeed does gain. My lawyer gains from my hardship of needing a contract reviewed. When my wife hands over money to our local grocer, it is because we are suffering the hardship of an empty pantry. And so on.

So what are you to do? We think you might consider taking the following three steps:

1) Raise your prices to cover your best guess at the cost of inventory replacement.

2) Place signs in your store indicating that you have had to raise prices because your costs have gone up but that you kept it to an absolute minimum. Let regular customers know that if they are experiencing hardship you will do your best to alleviate their stress.

3) Restrict quantities of purchases and explain that until this crisis has passed you are limiting customers to one item per person or whatever number you choose.

We think that most people will be understanding and sympathetic.

Wishing you good health and the ability to continue serving your community with your best ability and judgment.


Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Teenage Depression

March 10th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

I have been a regular listener of your podcast for quite some time now.  I first found the podcast after returning from Israel, where I had the pleasure of staying with Jewish friends and getting to know a little more of their faith and culture.  When I came home I started searching for ways to continue learning from that worldview because I greatly admire the Jewish perspective. 

Not long ago you did an episode where you  spoke of depression and you said something that resonated with me then, and continues to stay on my mind.  To paraphrase, you said, “Happiness is not the opposite of depression, the opposite of depression is purpose.” 

I have a teenage daughter who struggles with depression; she has every symptom.  We have her seeing a counselor who was the first to mention to us that she is very likely clinically depressed.  This brings me to my twofold question; I hope you can provide information that will help us.

How does a depressed person find purpose, and how does a parent guide a depressed teen toward their purpose?

Thank you for any wisdom you have to share.


Matthew M.

Dear Matthew,

Thank you for your kind words;  we are terribly sorry to hear of your daughter’s struggles. You are clearly a loving father and doing whatever you can including working with a counselor. We are sure you understand that anything we say is intended as general advice since we neither know your daughter’s specific situation nor do we have special expertise with teenage girls (other than having raised quite a few of our own) or with clinical depression.

Before we touch on your question about purpose, we would like to suggest that you become familiar with two resources. The first is Dr. Leonard Saks’ book, Girls on the Edge, which Susan recommended in her Practical Parenting column. Dr. Saks, a pediatrician, shares fascinating research on teenage girls. From our perspective, one of the most interesting is his conclusion as to the importance of faith in keeping girls emotionally healthy, but his book will give you much insight. We also recommend becoming familiar with the folks who made Screenagers, a movie that focuses on the effects of technology on our teens. They note that social media seems to be affecting girls, in particular, in an emotionally harmful way.

As the above resources will help clarify,  your daughter’s depression is part of a trend. You could say that in some ways our society has been behaving in ways that promote depression and anxiety in youngsters. For example, for many years we have been a “panic” culture and the GICs are epicenters of hysteria.  Not surprisingly, it has impacted the children.  Another culprit is the media which constantly warns us in deathly tones of the newest threat to our survival. Many schools and teachers exacerbate this to the point of assigning students to write letters to politicians and newspapers pleading for them to “act now” to keep the world or the environment or our democracy safe. The threat changes with political winds, but the common theme is that danger constantly lurks.

We mention these things to emphasize that your daughter may be surrounded by people opposing her interests and a culture working against your goal of her being mentally and spiritually healthy. While you will make your own efforts, as long as a teenager is in that environment parents are running up the down escalator. It takes extra and sometimes extreme effort to combat those influences.

Let us get to your question about purpose. Being a person of faith helps a great deal with this. If we humans are the result of no more than a long process of unaided materialistic evolution, then our existence is random.  Everything about our lives is just random happenstance.  Our lives have no real meaning. However, if on the other hand,  a good and loving God created us and put us each on this planet, then He did so for a reason. Our life quest is to discover and fulfill that unique purpose for which He created us. His world was not complete without us!

While we are on that search (many of us are on that search for most or all of our lives), we are meant to be givers. In direct opposition to today’s selfie culture of entitlement, we need to create an ‘elsie’ culture of obligation and responsibility. Something as small as smiling at and greeting people you pass on the street or who are behind the counter in a store yields great internal rewards. Depending on a teen’s interests, he or she can find purpose tutoring at a Boys and Girls Club, visiting or entertaining at a senior center or making dinner for local families who have newborns or ill children. At first, this might mean taking on one of these activities as a family. Giving to others is one of the best ways to make ourselves feel better. If each day a teen has something on her calendar that makes someone else’s life better, then getting up in the morning is imbued with purpose.

One of the best ways to formalize this important life element is with a job.  We’d encourage you and other parents to explore the possibility of your children having a real ‘for-pay’ job.  They might absorb one of the principles in our book, Thou Shall Prosper, that customer service is akin to worship service.  Having a job means taking care of another person’s needs and taking care of the needs and desires of another of God’s children makes our Creator smile. More importantly, it provides our lives with purpose.

Another area to explore is for teenagers to acquire and assume responsibility for a pet such as a dog or a cat. (Or a llama.  A goldfish doesn’t really help very much!)

We’d like to issue a caveat. Help teens wisely pick an activity. Take care to avoid getting involved in fighting climate change, advocating for gun control or any other political hot potato designed to make them feel hopeless and ineffective.

We pray that you and your daughter find ways to overcome this hurdle and that she moves forward to a bright and optimistic future.


Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin.

Genesis – Judges – Esther – today’s newspaper headlines.
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Esther and Sarah vs. Viruses and Villains

March 9th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

In our  constant struggle to build successful lives, it is all too easy to be pulled down by hardship, dark recollections, terrifying fears, and sad thoughts. Dealing with the hysteria, as well as the reality, surrounding the coronavirus is only one example of the negativity that abounds. Nonetheless, we can confidently focus on moving forward by treating each day as its own opportunity to achieve success and happiness.

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Purim on which we read the Book of Esther. Like all “stories” in the Bible that we first meet as children, we often neglect to elevate our study of Esther to a more mature level. The book opens:

And it was in the days of Ahasuerosh, he was Ahasuerosh who reigned from Hodu to Kush, one hundred and twenty-seven provinces.
(Esther 1:1)

The number 127 occurs only one other time in all of Scripture—at the end of Sarah’s life.

And Sarah was a hundred and twenty-seven years old…
(Genesis 23:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom links the two occurrences. In Scripture, numbers have great meaning. If a number only appears twice, we need to note the connection between the two occasions.

Imagine seven pennies lined up in a row upon a table. You spin each penny until they are all laying either heads or tails.

After the first spin, the arrangement of coins on the table might look like this (H=heads; T=tails):


After the second spin, the line of coins will probably look different. Some will fall the same way as the first time, while others will fall differently.

How many different ways can the seven coins fall?

Each coin can fall in one of two possibilities, heads or tails. The total number of possible arrangements is:

2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 = 128

Now, let’s forget coins and instead think of the seven days of the week.  Each 24-hour day comprises night and day, which represent darkness and light.

You will surely agree that seven coins each of which is made up of two parts, heads and tails, is the same, mathematically speaking, as seven days each made up of two parts, night and day.

So the first possible arrangement of seven days would be:

night night night night night night night

and the 128th arrangement would be:

day day day day day day day

Based on Biblical language, darkness or night is almost universally recognized as a metaphor for tough times while the bright light of day depicts brightness and optimism.  This means that there are 128 ways for my week to turn out.  Number 1 is seven dark and dismal days in a row and number 128 is a rapturous sequence of seven wonderful days.

We omit number one because any sequence of seven days must include a Sabbath.  Any week that includes a Sabbath cannot, by definition, be entirely bad.  This leaves us with 127 potential ways for a week to turn out.

Ancient Jewish wisdom links Sarah and Esther through the number 127.  Both women’s lives contained intense disappointment, pain and fear, yet both stayed hopeful. Both women were captive in an alien king’s palace and both had one son who played a major role in the future of the Jewish people. Both remained true to their destiny.

The secret we learn is that every day offers us a choice to liberate ourselves from negative emotional anchors of yesterday. Like Sarah and Esther, we will have painful and difficult times, yet we must choose not to see those times as the only model for our future. Each week gives us 127 new opportunities for optimism, joy and the fulfillment of our life mission.  We take whatever available steps we can to deflect tomorrow’s possible dangers or to protect ourselves from them as best we can.  Thereafter, we live today with gratitude and optimism.

On occasion, God lifts the curtain of history (His story) and gives us thrilling instances where the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies play out. Starting in Genesis and moving through the book of Judges and the Scroll of Esther, our generation has seen prophecies come to life that our ancestors could only accept on faith. In honor of Purim, we invite you to dig deeply into Clash of Destiny: Decoding the Secrets of Israel and Islam that explores these amazing verses and delves into paths of history that are continuing today as Persia (Iran) and others once again threaten to wipe out the children of Sarah and Esther. Be sure to check out the special offer on this astounding CD teaching.

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Is Right right and is Left wrong?

March 4th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 17 comments

Could you please explain Ecclesiastes 10, especially verse 2?  (The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.)

As you have taught me, this can’t be a coincidence to today’s political description of the two parties.  What is the Biblical explanation for left and right in this context? 

Thanks in advance.


Dear Brad,

Your question gives us an opportunity to point out how much influence Biblical language has had throughout centuries and throughout the world.

So many of the words for left such as sinister in Latin and gauche in French have negative connotations. In contrast, droit means right in French. You don’t want to be called maladroit or ‘not right’ as that suggests clumsiness. Right carries the implication of correct while left has overtones of left out, left behind and leftovers.

These linguistic customs stem from the verse in Ecclesiastes that you quoted. Misinterpretation of this verse combined with superstition led to the practice of punishing children who primarily used their left hands. (Susan Lapin is a Lefty!)

We also see these words in the final verse in the book of Jonah talking of 20,000 people who don’t know right from wrong, or as the verse puts it, “Right from left”. 

These overtones entered politics as well in the National Assembly during the period of the French Revolution. Those who supported the monarchy sat on the right of the parliamentary president while those looking to overthrow the king and start a new regime sat on the left. The terminology carried over to England in the late 1700s as defining political leanings.

Various words in the Bible carry nuance. To the dismay of the Amelia Bedelias among us (RDL doubts that many will catch this literary allusion) who expect every word to have a literal meaning, in the Torah, many words also convey a deeper meaning. A camel represents transportation while a horse represents military power. And yes, right represents the correct path while left represents going wrong. This does not mean that you cannot travel on a horse or that a horse cannot be a gentle companion.

In general, to the extent that the left in politics represents shattering of tradition, it often opposes respect for and fealty to God’s path. However, at various times and in various places both the right and left in politics veer away from the proper road. Today, we personally see those more towards the right side, seen as the conservative side in the United States, as more faithful to God’s word, however, were circumstances to change neither this verse or any similar ones in the Bible would require us to cling to a party that contradicts Biblical values because it identifies as the right.

Vote your values,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Is a bribe always a bribe?

February 26th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

My question is on Bribe and the Biblical application. It is a problem especially here in African countries. For example, I submit my Visa Application, and I’m all qualified and I give the official a gift. The immigration official did not do anything other than what his job prescribed; he just approved the visa faster than he might have otherwise done.

What does ancient Jewish wisdom say about this and how can we escape such in our day to day business?

Michael M.

What a fascinating question you ask, Michael. The Biblical prohibition on a judge accepting a bribe is extremely serious.  A judge is a person upon whom the entire system of justice depends; he strikes a fatal blow against his society and its vital institutions by accepting bribes.  The Bible is very clear on this. 

However, you describe not a judge but a public official.  Furthermore, your encounter might just as easily have occurred with a non-governmental official, say a loan officer at a bank or the representative of a building contractor.  In any of these interactions, a ‘gift’ might have been solicited in order to lubricate the process that the vendor is already being paid to facilitate.  The Bible does not prohibit you from giving any of these kinds of ‘gifts’ however it certainly does condemn the dishonesty of the employee who by soliciting and accepting your ‘gift’ just in order to do his job, is harming his employer.

Now back to the stern prohibition on judges accepting bribes (and also the equally stern prohibition upon us offering or paying a bribe to a judge).  This prohibition applies not only when a quid pro quo is clearly defined (I give you $1,000 and you declare me innocent) but, as the Bible verses indicate, judges are obliged to guard against any possible subconscious biases they may have. There is much discussion in ancient Jewish wisdom about how far-reaching this concern is, even citing an instance where a judge recused himself after an upcoming litigant extended a helping hand when the judge needed help alighting a vehicle.

The Bible is focused on helping us understand just how strongly gifts/bribes influence us.  At the same time, ancient Jewish wisdom recognizes that not all gifts are bribes.  As you well know, giving gifts to officials is the norm in some cultures. In the book, Little Soldiers: an American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve, the author discovers that her son will be penalized in school if she does not give an appropriate gift to his teacher. The other parents are shocked at her surprise.

While giving gifts to teachers is not formalized in the United States in the same way, in many schools it is customary to give holiday gifts to teachers. Do some parents do so out of fear that the teacher will, subconsciously or not, bear ill will to their child if they do not participate? Does a teacher, unwittingly or not, bestow a warmer countenance on a student whose parents gave him a much-appreciated gift? The more we thought and prayed about your question, Michael, the more we realized how subtle and nuanced the subject is.

While we would not advise you to do something illegal, if giving officials gifts is not illegal in your country and, what is more, it is even accepted procedure, then we do not think that you need to stack the deck against yourself out of fear of transgressing a Biblical law. As a business owner, you may need to give gifts in order to have a level playing field. However, when the situation is reversed, you can elevate your own behavior.  Make it clear to others that you will not accept gifts when you are looking to hire, give raises, or confer other benefits on those under your jurisdiction.

Thank you for an intriguing question,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

What does the Bible have to say about business?
Quite a lot!

Business Secrets from the Bible





Business Secrets audio

Immoral Advertising Tactics?

February 19th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

Hello Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin.

You’ve often spoken of the moral benefit of business and “ethical capitalism.” I’m an ardent capitalist and believe wholeheartedly in the good that business has done and will continue to do. I’ve spent my entire life in business, whether it be as a paperboy, dishwasher, or as a computer network engineer, and love it.

I did want to get your thoughts about something that troubles me. Do you believe there is danger, or even immorality in some of the tactics used in advertising these days? For example, are marketers being deceitful when they push the “magic buttons” of our subconscious that make us want to buy, or at the very least stimulate our interest? Does the issue stop with advertising? Can salespeople also be walking this line?


Dear Dennis,

How wonderful it would be if more young people saw how the trajectory from paperboy to dishwasher to computer network engineer works. One of the reasons we believe that laws raising the minimum permissible wage are immoral is because they interfere with the freedom of two people to negotiate their own financial relationship, an important part of God’s plan for human economic interaction.  One of the reasons we believe that minimum wage laws are stupid is that they remove entry-level opportunities and keep young people or those without necessary skills from getting on the ladder to success. In the real world, employers hire people who can help them make a profit. If an employee causes them to lose money because his value is less than his salary, then the company will replace him with machinery or hire only employees who have more to offer.


How should I teach my kids about evolution?

February 12th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 11 comments

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

I am an evangelical Christian who enjoys your program immensely on the TCT network.  I have gained much insight through your program and it makes Bible reading quite enjoyable when you understand the actual meaning of the Hebrew words. 

I have two questions that I hope you can answer or point me in the direction of where I can find these answers on your website or what reading materials you have available on these subjects.

1) I love reading the Bible, and for years I have come across directions, such as North, South, East and West that doesn’t always seem that it is actually talking about the direction on the compass, perhaps I am mistaken, are there deeper meanings, poetic meanings, errors in translation? 

2) I have many friends who choose to homeschool or send their children to faith-based schooling rather than the (American) public school system.  I have found it curious that the main reason they chose this route was on one core topic, evolution.  I also chose a faith-based school for my daughter but that wasn’t my main reason.  She was not taught evolution, at the time I was grateful, I don’t believe in evolution and I didn’t want that taught to my daughter.  My question is, should we teach this “theory” as a part of learning and understanding our world even if it goes against our religious beliefs? Should we let them make that decision as adults to learn what their peers were learning in secular elementary school? 

I appreciate both of you, and I look forward to your expertise and opinions. 


Susan K.

Dear Susan,

We encourage people not to “slip in” more than one question, but since your first one is asking for a resource rather than an answer, we will make an exception. You are absolutely correct that directions mean more than they seem in Scripture. We give one amazing example in our audio CD set, Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel and another one, regarding the words up and down as used in directions, in our DVD, Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show Volume 3.  Both of these will give you enlightening keys for understanding and interpreting the insights that slide right by the casual and unknowledgeable reader.


Should men pursue women or the other way around?

February 5th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 16 comments

I have been taught all my life that a man is to pursue a woman to marry her. The only scripture that comes to my mind is proverbs 18:22, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.”

Yet, going back to Genesis, God brought Eve to Adam. Adam didn’t have to find her, also it doesn’t sound like Adam had to pursue her since she was the first and only woman on earth. Correct me if I am wrong.

Thank you!

Kenneth O.

Dear Kenneth,

As we discuss in some detail in our practical marriage guidance audio CD, Madam, I’m Adam: Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden, God could have chosen to begin populating the world in many ways. Among other choices, He could have created a number of people at one time, He could have created woman first and He could have created man and woman at the same time.

Kenneth,  the Bible is not a history book about what happened millennia ago, instead, it is really an instruction manual about how to live your life today. , It, therefore, makes sense that the Bible’s account of Adam’s and Eve’s creation is full of messages as to how the world really works. One of these lessons is that by creating Adam first, a protocol is being set that the world works best when a man invites a woman into his world rather than the other way around.

We also see the man choosing the woman in Deuteronomy 24:1, “When a man takes a wife…” The Torah never says, “When a man and woman decide to marry.”  It also never says, “When a woman or a man decides upon a mate.”  Written the way it is, serves to confirm your wording. Indeed, the best way is for a man to choose a woman.  (It is her prerogative to accept or reject him.) We see the world’s adoption of this ancient Biblical principle in the widely observed practice of a woman marrying and taking her husband’s name.


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