Posts by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein 1952-2019

February 14th, 2019 Posted by AAJC Happenings No Comment yet

On February 6, 2019, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews passed away suddenly from a heart attack.  Rabbi Daniel Lapin was asked to write a eulogy for The Jewish Press, which describes itself as, “America’s Largest Independent Jewish Weekly.” Here are some excerpts from that eulogy.

It is neither pleasant nor easy to say goodbye to an old friend. My world became a lot lonelier last Wednesday afternoon when Yechiel Eckstein departed this world for his heavenly reward. Reflecting on the loss is most of what I have been doing since then.

…Do you know how cyclists achieve speed records? They ride behind a high-speed truck fitted with a huge wind deflector. Using the full power of its thundering engine, the truck speeds just ahead of the bicycle. Shielded from the wind and fury, the rider pedals away in a tranquil wind shadow.

Yechiel was my wind shield. We Jews, like other people, often succumb to the seduction of driving with our eyes glued to the rear-view mirror. We diligently dodge the dangers of yesterday while blithely ignoring the threats of tomorrow. It’s true that Christian theology spilled much Jewish blood over many centuries. But today Jewish blood is being spilled by murderous Muslims encouraged by a radical secularism that is hostile to people of faith and the State of Israel. Today, Christians are the victims, not the oppressors. Yechiel saw all this over 30 years ago.

Unaware that Yechiel had preceded me by eight years, I formed an alliance of Jews and Christians in 1991. Contradicting centuries of conventional wisdom that insisted Christians were our implacable foes, my work was not without controversy. However, as painful as the assaults I endured from my fellow Jews were, they were as sprinklings of confetti compared to what was inflicted upon Yechiel…

He absorbed much of the fire and fury aimed by those who were determined to see Christians as the enemy. By the time I came along and insisted that the problem we Jews faced was not Christians but, in fact, a secularism that was seducing our youth and emboldening radical Islam, I was able to operate in a relative wind shadow. Yechiel was my wind shield…

He conducted himself with love and concern toward all he came into contact with. Jew and Christian, employee, associate, donor, or beneficiary – all felt that Yechiel was genuinely interested in them and really cared about them…

Yechiel was a courageous man. The default condition for human beings is cowardice, not courage. That’s why Moses, Joshua and Solomon were adjured to be courageous. It doesn’t come naturally. Friendship towards evangelical Christians was not a popular posture in the Jewish community prior to 9/11. Despite possessing the intellect as well as the cultural adroitness to speak out of both sides of his mouth, he never did. Eckstein never ducked the issues. He was exactly who he was with no apologies and was always willing to engage in discussion or debate.

He was devoted to truth and suffered real pain at the skullduggery practiced by many he considered friends. I don’t think he ever understood how people were able to turn their backs on years of friendship for the sake of political expediency. He was a courageous man so he never could understand cowards.

History has long proved Yechiel Eckstein correct. That Jews and the State of Israel have mortal enemies is without doubt. That for the most part, Christians are philo-Semitic and stand with Israel is equally certain. It is indisputable that the warmth felt towards Jews and Israel by millions of gentle Christians – for the first time in two millennia – owes much to Yechiel Eckstein.

How Do I Encourage My Wife to Dress Better?

February 12th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

Hi Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

I need some advice and assistance regarding my wife and her appearance.

When we first dated and were married, she cared much more about looking nice around me. In the past few years or so, she seems to care little about her appearance. She many times hasn’t showered in the morning, doesn’t fix her hair, and wears clothes that are too big, too old, or clashing prints, frumpy, etc.

However, when she has an appointment, church, work (part-time), or we go out to eat, she will take more care for her appearance. It is night and day. I usually look presentable and my clothes fit and coordinate.  I take care of myself, exercise, and strive to keep attractive to her.

The other day she mentioned that she would like if I would compliment her more on her appearance, or tell her she’s beautiful, and inside I was perplexed – it appears she doesn’t want to do the work and just wants to look, well, literally like a slob or college roommate.

I sense she also may have features of depression. I feel like she doesn’t like her own self, and is not driven to improve herself. We are both in our 40’s and have a child in elementary school.

This is challenging for me, as I do love her, but I definitely notice other women while at work, running errands, out to eat, at church, etc. – and I long for my own wife to care about herself (and me) to, well, look more feminine and attractive, to care about it.

I have casually mentioned / hinted at improving her appearance in the past, but it was met with denial, attack, criticism, etc.

All that to basically ask,

1) how do I communicate this to her, that perhaps when I am home can she look nice/care about her appearance for me (which would fan the flames of love and passion), and

2) I was thinking of asking her to find a ‘feminine life coach’, perhaps one or two neighbor women, to help her with her style, appearance, mannerisms, self-care, etc.

Please help, we are Christians, and we do love each other, it is just sort of flat in our relationship and I hardly notice her. I feel at some level that each of us is responsible to care for ourself and to do what we can to attract our mate. Thank you and God bless you, your family and ministry.

Thomas

Dear Thomas,

Thank you for asking your excruciating question with such candor.  An exquisite balance must exist in all marriages between continually courting one’s spouse on one hand and feeling at home, relaxed and comfortable with that spouse on the other. As you note, we’re all going to encounter those of the opposite sex who are dressed up and put together when they appear in public. It is important always to remember that, out there in public, we don’t see the exhausted, complaining, unprofessional, very human side of those very people.  Even 1950s television wife Donna Reed wasn’t always in pearls, makeup, and heels. 

We want to address one jarring note in your letter: You write that you think your wife might be depressed.  While not fans of amateur diagnoses especially in the mental health area, we urge you to encourage her to go for a complete physical.  Maybe this is something you both could/should do together.  Being run down or off-kilter physically can deplete the energy needed to care for oneself. A good physician should detect signs of depression as well. If there is any underlying spiritual/mental/emotional dimension to your wife’s behavior, you both need to know that.

Assuming that everything is okay and there is no serious complication, it certainly sounds like your wife is unhappy and doesn’t feel attractive.  She asked you to tell her she is beautiful, which sounds like she tried to open up a conversation but you kept your response internal instead of taking the opportunity to discuss the state of your marriage. That, along with hinting that she should improve her appearance was probably quite crushing to her.

As you can tell, we believe that the problem you describe has underlying causes.  It is clearly not that she just doesn’t know how to dress or that she forgot how to do her hair and makeup.  If the underlying cause is not medical, then it is likely the marriage.

You sound like a good guy, but we wonder if you are looking from too narrow a perspective.  How often do you and your wife share a fun activity? Do you laugh together frequently? Do you surprise her with little gifts or notes that let her know you think of her? Do you compliment her when she is dressed to go out? Do you let her know when she is wearing a hairstyle or outfit that you find particularly attractive? Or are your eyes too focused on only one negative area?

I (Susan) would be mortified if my husband recruited other women to talk to me about my appearance. Please drop that idea although making sure that your wife has the time to participate in a weekly activity with a healthy group of women is a great idea. You mention part-time work and a child. Does your wife know that you want her to have time to pursue her own interests and the financial means to purchase makeup and clothes?

I (Rabbi Daniel) query whether you are bearing the bulk of the income earning burden for the family?  Has your moral leadership of your family been compromised in any way?  Is your wife’s conduct a silent way of reproaching you for what she perceives as past or current pain? 

Could there be anything in either of your histories prior to your marriage that could be relevant to the challenges you’re now living through?  These are a few of the talking points that should arise if you and your wife went out for coffee and for what the diplomats call, “full and frank discussions.” Casually dropping hints isn’t what is needed. Thoughtful, loving, respectful and serious conversation is.

Women’s bodies change after having children and as they age. Your wife may have a whole scenario in her mind that brands her as unattractive to you. For example, maybe you went through a period where you were distracted at work and she interpreted it as a rejection of her. It sounds like she knows that you,“…hardly notice her,” and this pains her. She does dress up to go out. Oversized, frumpy clothing can be a defense mechanism against your disregard. This reinforces our sense that there is probably an underlying marriage and relationship issue.

Thomas, we want to make clear that we think it terribly important that husbands and wives make an effort to be attractive to each other. This includes hygiene and dress, basic courtesy, putting down electronics during conversation and meals, sharing enjoyable activities and many other details. We aren’t belittling your pain at your wife’s neglect of her appearance. However, we think it stems from a deeper source and that you and she need to recover the relationship you used to have. This will result in her dressing more carefully rather than mistakenly thinking that if only she would dress more carefully you would recover the relationship. The goal isn’t to “change her,” but rather to understand what you both need to do to recapture romance and affection.

Perhaps a weekend marriage seminar would be a good place to start.

Marriage is worth working for,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Jews Do Believe in Heaven

February 6th, 2019 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind 8 comments

Twitter is often the platform of ignorant blathering and best ignored. But when the tweet is by someone who is White House Correspondent for The New York Times and it concerns Judaism, we think it worthwhile to publicly refute it.

We understand that not everyone loved President Trump’s State of the Union speech as much as we did. Yet Annie Karni objected to the president’s words when he quoted a Holocaust survivor saying, “They came down from heaven,” about the American troops who liberated him from the Dachau concentration camp.

 

(Anni Karni: Trump just ad-libbed “they came down from heaven” when quoting a Holocaust survivor watching American soldiers liberate Dachau. Jews don’t believe in Heaven.)

Note to Ms. Karni. Judaism does teach of Heaven—rather extensively. Those Jews who are faithful descendants of our ancestors believe in an afterlife, Heaven, and judgement after death. We acknowledge that many Jews, tragically, often know little of the traditional, vibrant and enduring faith that is their heritage. So, we think you made an honest mistake, but as an intelligent woman we encourage you to expand your education. There’s a wonderful world of Judaism waiting for your exploration. Perhaps you will join us for a Shabbat dinner and we can talk further.

Are Sanctuary Cities the new Cities of Refuge?

February 5th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

During Biblical times there were cities of refuge. In America today there are sanctuary cities which have been based on the cities of refuge.

What were the ancient cities of refuge and what type of criminals were allowed to live there? Is our current system of sanctuary cities anything like those mentioned in the Bible?

Some cities and states favor sanctuary cities and others don’t, thus bringing division in America. What do you think about this?

Lynda M. 

Dear Lynda,

Basing today’s sanctuary cities in the United States on the Biblical cities of refuge is a bit like suggesting that the American and French revolutions in the 1700s were alike. It is a far and not very supportable stretch.

The Biblical cities of refuge (Deut. 4: 41-43) were not havens for criminals. They were specifically meant for the innocent person who had accidentally and unintentionally taken a life. The classic example given is a man chopping a tree when his axe-head flies off and hits another man a few feet away. He did not intend to murder his fellow worker, he wasn’t intentionally careless in fashioning his axe, but nonetheless, the result is a dead human being.

The city of refuge is an amazing concept. While the “murderer” wasn’t guilty of a crime, the Bible is revealing an awareness of two things. One, that it would be immensely painful for the family of the dead man to watch his killer walk around living a normal life while they were bereft. Secondly,  that in a time and place where God’s Hand was more evident and more visibly and immediately responsive than it is now, although the man wasn’t guilty of murder, for some reason he was chosen as the vehicle of death. For a reason only known to God and not actionable by a human court, he was not randomly put in the situation, rather deliberately placed there by an unfathomable Divine decree.

The city of refuge meant that he could live a full life in freedom, but in a certain type of exile. The move there shielded him from ill will from the dead person’s family, protected that family emotionally and also stirred things up in his life prodding him to reassess and improve his ways.

Scripture records two instances of fugitives seeking sanctuary by clutching the altar; Adoniahu (I Kings 1:50) and Joav (I Kings 2:28).  Both were removed forcefully from the sanctuary.  The Bible does not endorse providing refuge for wrong-doers. (This is not to say that all illegal immigrants are necessarily bad people. However, automatically shielding those who break a reasonable and moral law, in this case that a country is allowed to use law to control entry to her shores, has no Biblical precedent.)

In conclusion, there is no basis for building a Biblical case for today’s sanctuary cities on the concept of the cities of refuge.

And, finally, though you probably already know this, we’ll mention that the French revolution was intensely anti-religious and ushered in a long period of murderous tyranny.  The American revolution was fueled by Christian fervor preached from church pulpits and ushered in hundreds of years of freedom and prosperity the likes of which had never before been seen on this planet.

Thanks for being a questioning and educated citizen,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Does God use art to reveal spiritual lessons?

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 11 comments

Hi. I’ve just seen your TV show about music complementing scripture and how it is used to help understand God’s intent in his words.

What about art being used in this way? (a picture says a thousand words)

Are there examples in scripture where God uses art to help people in their understanding?

Thanks,

John

Dear John,

We think you’re referring to one of our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV shows where we discussed that, when read correctly in synagogue, the Five Books of Moses are chanted in very specific ways handed down from Sinai. In addition, the service of the Levites in the Temple featured music and instruments. Music adds to the understanding of the Bible’s words and verses and touches our souls in ways that can bring us closer to God.

Visual arts, too, are part of God’s revelation. You have surely noticed how much detail is provided about the construction of each piece of the Tabernacle. The materials used, the dimensions and every other detail of construction is specified. This obviously isn’t in order to get featured in an article in House Beautiful magazine. Rather, each detail carries a spiritual message. For one example, see this Thought Tool: Vision – Mission – Vision.

An over all take-away for us is that God has gifted us with a wondrous world. We are constantly balancing the spiritual and the physical to best live in that world. Those of us with a connection to God try to be aware of the overwhelming consumerism and misplaced focus on materialism in developed countries today. However, condemning materialism too strenuously can lead to wrongly rejecting the physical part of life entirely.

One message of Biblical music and visual arts is that the physical part of life can and should become a vehicle for enhancing our lives. While cleanliness may not actually be next to Godliness, making our living spaces attractive and  appreciating the colors, textures and variety of foods and clothing brings us closer to God and His word.

The Lord is my strength and might; He has become my deliverance. This is my God and I will surround Him with beauty; The God of my father, and I will exalt Him.
(Exodus 15:2)

We are supposed to see God and beauty in parallel. In fact, a reliable way to judge both music and art as well as physical objects in general, is to ask whether they distance us from God or bring us closer to Him. When Bach wrote “Soli Deo gloria” at the top of his musical compositions it was to express, “The glory goes to God alone.”  This was  worlds away from the intent of shockingly vulgar lyrics of some of today’s songs.  Similarly, painting and sculpture can elevate our soul or degrade it.  One need only contemplate the hideously ugly monstrosities that are regularly passed off as sculpture by the diseased souls of maudlin and narcissistic artists.

To sum up, each item of the High Priest’s vestments, each component of the Tabernacle and every physical description in Scripture of a person or thing is deliberate and holds an uplifting and God-pointing message for the ages.

Seek out beauty,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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How much help is too much help?

January 23rd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

Huge fan here – Thou Shall Prosper has changed my life, and I continue to be inspired by Ask the Rabbi and Susan’s Musings.

My question is, as a follower of God, am I a hypocrite for not wanting to help someone in need? I’ve recently become acquainted with a woman who has severe emotional problems related to anxiety and trauma. She refuses to get professional help but simultaneously expects other people to take care of her many needs.

The lady she is staying with has a weekly prayer meeting at her home on Sundays, and she is afraid to be in the house during that time because of her fear of crowds and people. Last Sunday I took her with me to a part-time job, but this week I really felt I needed my Sunday free as it is my only day off. The homeowner told me she is putting the woman up in a hotel since I’m not available to take her.

How much help is too much? Having been treated for anxiety myself, I understand that someone can be extremely fearful of everyday circumstances, but if she can’t ride the bus to a coffee shop for a few hours or take a walk in the park while the prayer meeting is going on, how much can another person do for her? Should I be expected to give up my one day off every week to babysit a grown woman, and should my friend be expected to use her own money to put her in a hotel?

I’m torn between feeling anger and judgment toward this lady as well as feeling like a hypocrite both because I know what it is like to suffer from anxiety and because people also opened their homes up to me through house sitting jobs when I was first new in town. I can’t help thinking that but for the grace of God, I could be in her shoes, so I feel incredibly guilty for thinking she needs to “woman up” and take care of herself.

Feeling hypocritical and very un-Christlike,

Cindy

Dear Cindy,

We shortened your letter because of space restrictions, but you gave a number of examples of how difficult this woman is and how no matter what you or others do for her it is never enough. The problem you are facing is one that, we believe, most good people run into during their lives. As good, God-fearing people, how can we turn away from those in need?

Truly, only you can answer that question for yourself, perhaps with guidance from a religious leader or wise mentor, but we can make a few comments.

Have you ever worked with pie or pizza dough? You need to roll it or stretch it into shape, but if you yank too hard, you will make holes rather than produce a smooth, satiny surface. Gently tugging at different areas gives the desired result; forcing the dough doesn’t work.

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Should I apologize to my ex-wife?

January 8th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 44 comments

I got divorced 10 years ago and remarried 8 years ago. I find myself still grieving about my first marriage and it interferes with my current marriage emotionally.

Should I write a letter of apology to my ex-wife? I find myself living with a lot of regret to the point that I want to leave my current marriage, not to remarry my ex but I feel remorseful about my lack of love for her when we were married.

Steve K.

Dear Steve,

We are not prophets, but that doesn’t mean that in certain scenarios we don’t see the future very clearly. Here is our prediction about exactly what will happen if you continue living by doing what your heart is tugging you towards (which we sincerely hope you do not do). Our prediction is that you will end up writing a similar letter to your second wife and being filled with similar recriminations about ruining your second marriage after it, too, ends in divorce.

Since you took the trouble to write to us, we’re assuming you want the terrible truth rather than a warm butter massage. We will pay you the respect of telling you this truth. 

What can you do to change the disastrous direction of your life? There is no alternative.You must perform a major reset. We’re sorry to speak harshly, but you are not behaving like a man. You have been allowing your emotions to run your life. Your heart has been in charge instead of your head. You have been treating your feelings as if they are the captain of the ship of your life. With considerable confidence, we’d guess that your feelings-driven life path contributed to the demise of your first marriage.

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Help! I Don’t Have a Work Ethic.

January 1st, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

I am struggling with my work ethic. I have trouble keeping jobs as I easily give up when work becomes challenging or tedious, eventually leading to quitting or getting fired.

Pop culture is telling me that I haven’t found my passion, but that advice seems dubious. I’m sure I can trace this to my upbringing, but I’m more interested in what I can do today to break this cycle and instill a work ethic in myself.

Or do I just need to find work that is more “interesting” to me?

Thanks.

David

Dear David,

We must congratulate you on being honest with yourself. Many people would direct their energies towards complaining about unfair bosses or miserable work conditions. You show great character by recognizing that your repeated employment failures are attributable to a flaw in you.

We’re also impressed by your skepticism about the message you’ve been receiving from the culture around you.

Furthermore, you have made a clever decision to focus on breaking this cycle rather than spending time and energy tracing it back to your childhood. You recognize that waiting to discover your passion isn’t a feasible plan, in effect answering your own question.

Leaving aside luck, acts of God and genetics, 90% of everything that happens in your life is the result of things you have done or not done.  This is particularly true in our business and financial lives.  Now is a really good time to stop doing the wrong things and start doing the right ones.

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Resolutions, Humbug.

January 1st, 2019 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

That may be a bit harsh. Resolutions are fine, but take a lesson from ancient Jewish wisdom and link whatever New Year’s resolution you are making to an action. Anchor your hopes and ideas into reality by taking a step towards your goal. Don’t sleep on it, don’t keep it in your heart, but rather get moving on your path.

Wishing us all a 2019 filled with health, peace, joy and prosperity.

What is part of Scripture and what isn’t?

December 26th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

I heard you quote something (on the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show) from The Complete Works of Josephus but then it seemed like you were saying he was a rebel or something like that. So are his writing creditable?

And one last things that bugs me…the Catholic Bible includes the Apocrypha books (like The First Book of Esdras for example). Are these books part of the Jewish Holy scripture or not?

Kathy H.

Dear Kathy,

We think your question and confusion is shared by many. First, to clear up your question about Josephus. During the early years of the common era, Josephus headed the Jewish forces in their revolt against the Romans, who were led in northern Israel by general Vespasian. Josephus then betrayed his people and went to the Roman side. After Vespasian became emperor in 69 CD, Josephus was granted Roman citizenship.

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