Posts by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

What’s Wrong with Prosecuting Hate Crimes?

July 15th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 4 comments

I’m an avid podcast listener from Australia,  love hearing your perspectives and also Ms. Lapin’s balancing views!

I’ve got much of your material and I’ve heard you say on the podcast several times about Hate Crime that a law based on the intent of the person is very flawed—it should be the person’s actions that are evaluated, not their presumed intentions.

Why is it then that the 10th commandment is about coveting your neighbour’s stuff – isn’t that about intentions rather than actions? After all the preceding commandments cover the actions – stealing, adultery etc. that could flow from coveting.

I have listened to your 10 Commandments CD set and loved them – really appreciate your insights and teachings,

God Bless,

Primod

Dear Primod,

We’re delighted that together with many, many other listeners you are listening from Oz. We have not visited there yet, but would love to do so. Two of our children worked there one summer (your winter). They loved the people they met and enjoyed an amazing time.

Your question is one that we have been asked numerous times at personal appearances and speeches, so thank you for giving us this opportunity to get the answer down in writing.

One important difference between hate crime legislation and Exodus 20:14 is that this nefarious legislation allows a corrupt government to prosecute “friends” and specially favored groups lightly, while reserving aggressive prosecution for “enemies”.  This program of different punishments for different people who have committed the same crime is done by assigning a hate motive to some.  Meanwhile, Exodus 20:14 allows for no human inflicted punishment since only God knows whether we covet in our hearts.

We want to make two more points critiquing the hate crime category:  The first is that unlike God, we humans are not all-knowing. It is difficult enough to build an honest and principled judicial system that citizens trust to establish whether or not an accused individual did commit the action. It is impossible to set up an honest and principled judicial system that will read people’s minds and tell us what the accused was thinking.

To preserve safety, a just society must punish someone who physically attacks another person (with limited exceptions for self-defense, etc.). Once we increase or diminish the severity of that punishment depending on the victim’s age, sex, race, preferred language or any other label, we open up a Pandora’s box of opportunity for government overreach, corruption and politically correct vindictiveness. An equitable legal system cannot claim to probe deep into a criminal’s mind—most of us don’t even know what is in our own mind, let alone someone else’s.

It goes without saying that there is a vast judicial distinction between someone who intended to murder then did so and someone else who committed accidental homicide. This is the limit to how far we go in delving into a person’s mind.

Our next point stems from ancient Jewish wisdom. As you heard in our Ten Commandments audio program, the phrase ‘ten commandments’ is not only inaccurate but within the Torah they are much more frequently  referred to as the “Two Tablets.” This emphasizes that they are actually five principles, each with two applications.

Number ten is the match to number five. What does honoring parents have to do with not coveting? Who among us has not, particularly when young, been convinced that our friends’ parents or some mythical set of parents would understand us better and offer us a better life than our own do? One of the first steps toward spiritual maturity is acknowledging that each of our life circumstances, including the family into which we were born, was chosen for us by God to equip and challenge us on a meaningful life journey.

You have probably already made the leap to, “Do not covet…” Even if we never say one unsuitable word to our neighbor’s wife and if we treat our neighbor’s property with care and respect, if we spend time wishing that we owned what someone else has, we are not accepting that God gives each of us exactly the circumstances and the challenges that we need in order to grow. Someone else’s wife is not meant for us. Dreaming that she is makes us dissatisfied with our own blessings and ungrateful for what God has given us.

No one—other than God—can ever know what we begrudge our neighbor. Yet our lives will be immeasurably improved if we focus on what we have rather than beam out jealousy and resentment for what belongs to others.

G’day mate,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Inheritance Conflict

July 7th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

Dear Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin,

This question pertains to executing my recently deceased mother’s will.  FYI, she was larger than life, the most humble person I have ever known, calm in any crisis and lived to 91 years old.  One of my sisters and I are the executors.  I have four living sisters as well as my deceased sister’s grown children to consider.  When my mom sold her house four years ago she deposited the proceeds ($115,000.00) into a credit union account that was managed by a different sister.  Mom moved into a senior apartment and this sister eventually took over all of mom’s finances when mom started to lose some cognitive abilities a couple years ago.

Long story short is my co-executor and I firmly believe there should be considerably more money in the account, upwards of $20K, as mom had monthly income that covered most of her rent. My question is this, should we do forensic accounting to look to see exactly what happened or just drop it completely.  I think of the proverb, kings will seek out a matter but God would conceal it.  If it were true I do not wish to see the blood drain from my sisters face.  I and my co-executor do not need the money, but others do including sisters and nephews.  It is difficult to see a good outcome if we research the matter.  If nothing is amiss we will have guilt for accusing falsely and if it’s true then there will be bad blood even if money is recouped.  I’m hoping you have another way to see this.

My Deepest Respect,

Lou

Dear Lou,

Is it any wonder that inheritance conflicts appear early in the book of Genesis and continue through the book of Kings? (Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, the children of King David among others) Whether we are talking about inheriting a blessing, a royal succession, or if there is strife over objects and money, anger and enmity too frequently follow the death of a parent.

The most important reason that we chose this question of yours to answer in our ‘Ask the Rabbi’ column is to try and help other families in the future. Ideally, a sibling who either bears the bulk of the physical care for a parent or who monitors finances should be financially compensated. Specifically as it relates to finances, it is a time-consuming job to keep track of expenditures and document money transactions. The person doing so should receive a salary so that the effort taken to keep an accounting record is compensated.  That way, the financial care-taker can—and should be expected to—diligently keep all siblings aware of all that is happening.

However, hindsight is 20-20. You accurately note that you and your co-executor are in a lose/lose situation. Even approaching your sister in a non-confrontational way basically says that you doubt her honesty. Not approaching her leaves the two of you, and possibly your other siblings as well, potentially feeling resentful and mistrusting.   It looks as if this is a minimize-your-losses situation.  We agree with you when you say, “It is difficult to see a good outcome if we research the matter. If nothing is amiss we will have guilt for accusing falsely and if it’s true then there will be bad blood even if money is recouped.”

In our experience, we have sometimes seen the uncompensated, care-taking sibling tell himself that he is entitled to cover some of his own expenses incurred in taking care of mom or dad’s finances. That is actually a valid point but needs to be discussed openly. At worst, one thing leads to another. In this kind of situation, accusation and perhaps even confirmation usually lead to the recovery of exactly zero. And relationships have been irretrievably ruined.

Your challenge becomes how to manage your own emotions to allow you to walk away with no resentment and to help your co-executor come to feel the same way. It might help if you consider your own culpability in allowing this awkwardness to go on for the past couple of years. We understand that you felt grateful and relieved that one sibling was taking care of it all, but you neglected to set things up in a businesslike fashion. Thus you could see the present situation as almost just recompense for your negligence. Thinking about this might make it easier for you to say, “Lesson learned, and even though I might be paying a high tuition cost, I won’t do it again.”  This way you allow family relationships to survive. You might even decide along with another more affluent sibling or two, to help out those who might have been depending upon a slightly larger legacy.

Over a period of four years, $20,000 seems to be just over $400 a month. Are you aware of all the expenses excluding housing? Can the two of you imagine a scenario that accounts for that money? The more you can explain the missing money in your own mind, whether or not it is a correct explanation, the more peace of mind you will have. Here are three that we can concoct. Perhaps your mother, in her healthier days, made monthly charity contributions and your sister continued her wishes? Could there have been expenditures for special mattresses and other items that made your mother’s last years more comfortable? Were there any legal or medical fees of which you might be unaware?

You and your siblings seem to have been blessed by a special and wonderful mother. Surely, the last thing she wishes as she observes you from Heaven is to see your family quarrel and separate. As much as some of your sisters and nieces and nephews might benefit from extra money, having a harmonious and loving family is even more important.

We should add that if truly life-transforming sums of money were involved, our answer might possibly (and only possibly) be different, but honestly, the numbers as we understand them are not life-changing.  Were you to rip the family apart over them, at the end of the day you’d probably tell yourself how willingly you would have forfeited those few thousand dollars not to have endured the family breakup.

Your question doesn’t even touch on emotional issues such as dividing up treasured belongings. All parents should make as clear as possible how they want their estates handled. Surely, for all of us, our wish to leave behind a strong and united family that projects our values into the future is far more important than any physical object or bank account.

We are sorry for your loss and hope your family shares many joyous occasions.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Who is a “Happy Warrior”?

July 1st, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

I enjoy Rabbi Lapin’s podcast and Mrs. Lapin’s “Musings” very much. Can you explain what you mean by the phrase “happy warriors”?

Thank you, and may G-d bless your family.

From:

Kristyn H.

Hi Kristyn,

This is such a great question that in addition to answering it here, we will be putting it up on the FAQ section of our website.

First, to give credit where it’s due, at the start of the 19th century, the English poet William Wordsworth wrote a poem, The Character of The Happy Warrior.  The opening stanza goes like this:

Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?

—It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:
Whose high endeavours are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright;

Who, with a natural instinct to discern
What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn;
Abides by this resolve, and stops not there,
But makes his moral being his prime care;

You get the idea.  We use the phrase ‘happy warrior’ to focus on the idea that we are as much soul as we are body.  To live productively, we have to fight—every day—against the force of entropy as represented both in the physical and spiritual realms.  From the time we awake until we put our heads upon our pillows for the night we struggle to overcome the invisible forces that constantly resist our efforts at self-improvement.   We fight to build and maintain our families, we fight to maintain our possessions and our money, we fight to maintain our bodies and our businesses, professions and careers. We fight to grow the Godly sparks within us.

It even takes money and sweat to keep the weeds out of our gardens, our roof shingles waterproof, and our house siding painted.  Keeping our weight down and our strength up demands relentless effort.

God created a world in which spiritual gravity is a reality tugging us downwards while chaos and disorder rule, as described in Gen 1:2 by the phrase ‘Tohu Bohu.’  Life is a struggle to conquer that chaos and disorder. That is a good thing…to stop fighting, seeking and striving is to die.  We use the phrase Happy Warriors because to throw yourself into the fight is one thing, but to do all that with a debonair smile on your face and a jaunty pace to your stride all while generating an irrepressible surge of happiness welling up in your soul—well, that means you are spiritually grounded in everything that is life-affirming. It means being devoted to your faith, your family, your finances and your friends. It means that you transform timidity to triumph and displace the divided counsels of doubt with the steady eyes and firm hearts of those who know where they are going and just how they are going to get there. Being a happy warrior means being a gentle giant with a huge and humble heart.

Here is the  Biblical basis for our phrase.

On Friday nights before the start of the meal, Jewish men often serenade their wives by singing Proverbs 31. This is often translated as “A Woman of Valor” and ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that it was Abraham’s eulogy for his wife, Sarah. Composed with prophecy, each line refers to another great Biblical woman.

The song begins with the Hebrew words Eshet Chayil, which can be translated as. “A woman of valor,”  and, that is how the section is best known. However, another way to translate those words is, “The wife of a valiant man.” In this way, both the husband and wife, man and woman with the traits that are described are celebrated.

Our “Happy Warrior” phrase combines this idea with the verse from Psalms 100, “Serve God with gladness, come before Him with joy.” When we recognize that each day and each challenge is an opportunity to serve God, we step forward to valiantly fight with a smile, knowing that we are fulfilling a purpose on His earth.

Like most important ideas, Kristyn, this isn’t an elevator statement that can be delivered in half a minute, but Happy Warriors welcome complex and sometimes even incompatible ideas that spur them to growth.

Keep fighting,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My turn to be a Matchmaker?

June 24th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 1 comment

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

Thank you so much for your words of wisdom.

Very dear friends of mine have a daughter in her mid 30’s. She is a modern orthodox Jew or at least Lubavitcher.  She lives in the Houston area, which doesn’t have a huge Orthodox population so there aren’t that many opportunities for her to meet suitable men.

How can I help her? She’s a beautiful gal with charm and wit. While she works, she doesn’t think of herself as a career gal.  She still lives with her parents whom she helps to support.

What would you recommend?

Blessings and thank you for all you do.

Sammy T.

Dear Sammy,

You are a very kind person and we think it is lovely that you are concerned about this young woman and want to help her.  While it can be mocked through the use of stereotypes as in the plays Hello Dolly! or Fiddler on the Roof, matchmaking at its best is a lovely sign of caring. It is simply wanting to assist others to find a life partner and establish a home and it is a time-treasured pastime among religious Jews.  In matchmaking, we are emulating the Almighty who Himself introduced the first couple to one another.

Like many other religious groups, many young Jews spurn the dating system for meeting a potential life partner. They seek not only shared interests but especially shared values. That is often facilitated best by a wise third party who knows both the man and the woman.  Considering the emotional roller-coaster ride that dating often inflicts, on women particularly, many couples feel profound gratitude to their matchmakers.  Matchmakers can be informal friends or relatives but often they are trained men and women who take their profession very seriously.  (We know of what we speak because as leaders of the synagogue we planted in Southern California a few years ago, we were privileged to serve as matchmakers for more than a hundred couples.)The task doesn’t end with the introduction—it has then just begun. The fledgling relationship needs to be nurtured and during those fifteen years of our lives, we were accustomed to many late-night after-date phone calls from excited or sometimes distraught men and women.

Within the religious  Jewish community, in addition to formal matchmakers, friends, and family, there are many online and offline resources that help in this search. Couples frequently meet each other using these paths. Before COVID, it was not at all unusual for a man or woman who lives in a smaller community to fly a few times a year into a larger one for a few days specifically to meet and date someone they either met online or whom a matchmaker suggested. If this woman is over 30, affiliated with the community and looking to marry, you can be quite sure that she is very familiar with most of these resources. 

Honestly, Sammy, you are so well-intentioned, but since you are not involved in that religious community yourself, the chances are high that you would be lost in a maze trying to actively help her unless God puts someone right in your path who seems appropriate. (It has been known to happen.)  Why do we say you are not involved in that community?  Because you wrote that she is  “modern Orthodox or Lubavitcher”.  You see, that is somewhat akin to saying that she is looking to live only in Miami or only in Montreal. Men and women who fit into one of those categories do not easily fit in the other one.  In fact, they are even more distinct than Miami is from Montreal.

What can you do? Foremost, you can pray. Whether you can do more than that is really a question of how close is your friendship with her parents. Doing more might be perceived as prying and poking your nose where it doesn’t belong and could be an awful idea. There certainly could be reasons she is still living at home and other family dynamics of which you are unaware. A very narrow line separates concern from intrusiveness.

If you are convinced that involving yourself would be welcome, you might tentatively see if your friends could encourage their daughter to spend time in a larger Jewish community on a regular basis. If you knew a warm family in Miami, Montreal, Baltimore, Los Angeles or New York who would be happy to host her and introduce her around, that might well be your most valuable contribution.  This may very well mean her spending Shabbat and holidays away from her parents. The more friendships she cultivates, the more people will be looking out for a good man for her.

You sound like many a frustrated parent who watches a child not move forward in his or her personal or career life. The reality is that by the time someone is in her mid-30s, she is the main actor in her destiny and the biggest steps need to come from her. 

Keep her in your prayers, and know that dancing at the wedding of a couple you introduced is a special joy.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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The Cure Is Hated More Than The Disease

June 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 38 comments

How do you like this allegory?  Once upon a time, there was a wonderful country filled with happy people. It wasn’t perfect, but there was hardly a citizen who’d rather be living somewhere else.  Then a wicked and ugly old witch whispered her evil curse over the land.  Little by little some children stopped getting educated and grew up illiterate.  Some children grew up sullen, surly, and unemployable. Many little girls, even before they grew up, fell victim to overgrown boys of poor character and many little boys grew up to become vicious thugs who enjoyed inflicting violence and pain on other people.  Because of these curses, many people suffered from poverty.

One day it happened that a beautiful good witch took pity on the once happy land and gave a priceless present to the people.  They gathered around to unwrap the gift. “What could it be?” they asked. Finally, the colorful wrapping was removed and the box was opened. Inside they found a big pot of magic paint.  “What do we do with it?” they asked.

The beautiful good witch stood up to explain and everyone listened silently and respectfully. “Paint a small patch of this magic paint upon the right ear of every newborn child,” she instructed. “All children with a small daub of this paint upon their ears will study diligently until they have acquired an excellent education. Every one of these children will be quickly hired by good employers or they will start their own businesses.  They will all grow up to be peaceful and law-abiding and they will marry before having children.  What is more, they will all prosper financially,” she pronounced.  Then, in a cloud of blue smoke, she vanished.

Upon hearing these words, the leaders of this once happy land immediately made it mandatory for every newborn to receive a daub of magic blue paint upon their right ears before leaving the hospital with their mothers. Like vaccinations, the blue patch as it became known, was declared a public health matter and complying was mandatory.  Well, it didn’t take much more than about twenty years and the country was again happy.  Once again the land was peaceful and filled with productive people.  The land returned to harmony, happiness, and prosperity.  The End.

Every allegory has a germ of truth in it; that is what makes it an allegory.  This one is no exception.  There truly is one simple thing that can be done for every newborn which will reduce its chances of poverty by over 85%.  That one thing will also increase the probability of the child getting a good education by 220%.  Furthermore, that one thing will almost eliminate the likelihood of the child getting into trouble with the law and reduce teenage pregnancy to almost the vanishing point.  The good news is that all these wonderful outcomes are almost inevitable if only one thing is done. It doesn’t even involve painting a blue patch on every child’s ear.

The bad news is that the one simple thing that can be done to bring about a wonderful life for every child is to make sure that it is born to a mother who is married to its father and that it is raised in a stable two-parent home.  Almost all else follows. Are there exceptions? Yes, sure, just as in any group of 320 million souls, there will be thousands of exceptions to the rule that people have five fingers on each hand.  That doesn’t change the truths that most people have ten fingers and that most children raised in stable two-married-heterosexual-parent homes do far better in life than those who weren’t.

For this happy outcome, it is necessary for parents to fulfill their obligations to their children and for children to fulfill their obligations to their parents, chiefly by respecting them in accordance with the fifth of the Ten Commandments. 

For that to work, there has to be both a mother and a father.  It goes against the grain for most women to insist on honor, even from their children.  If men insist on honor from their children, they look like bullying buffoons.  There is only one way children can learn to honor their mothers and their fathers: Mom teaches them to respect dad, and he, in turn, demands that they respect and obey their mother.  That is why this additional verse emphasizes not just the abstract ‘parents’ but explicitly ‘mother’ and ‘father’.

Each person should revere his mother and his father, and keep my sabbaths,
I, the Lord, am your God. 
(Leviticus 19:3)

This verse is not only about honoring our parents. It is also about the 7th day, the Sabbath.  In fact, the really interesting thing about this verse is that it actually encapsulates 3 of the Ten Commandments.

Commandment number 5, “Honor your father and your mother…” (Deuteronomy 5:16)

Commandment number 4,  “Keep the sabbath day…”   (Deuteronomy 5:12)

Commandment number 1,  “I am the Lord your God…”   (Deuteronomy 5:6)

If you’re lucky enough to receive a beautiful bouquet of flowers you anxiously search for a card that will tell you who sent it to you, its source. If we were merely materialistic beings, all that would matter are the tangible things–the flowers. But as spiritual beings, we recognize the flowers as symbolic of an abstract relationship. We want to know the source.

One of the important ways we retain our cosmic balance in a big and confusing world is by remaining linked to sources. “Who said that?” you ask the person to who spoke a beguiling quote. Does it matter? Yes, sources and origins do matter. “I got this recipe from my mother-in-law.”  “You see this hammer? I inherited it from my grandfather.”  Genealogy is a growing Internet theme.  We all want to know where we came from. One of the terrible curses of that wicked old witch is the large number of Americans who don’t know the name or the whereabouts of their fathers. 

Leviticus 19:3 says to revere your mother and your father. Apart from all the good they have done you, they are your source.  They are your connection to yesterday.  And remember the Sabbath because it too is a reminder to an origin. In six days God created heaven and earth and on the seventh day, He rested. Look around you. Everything you see had an origin and a source. The ultimate origin of all is of course God Himself hence the final phrase of Leviticus 19:3.

But it all starts with having a mother and a father to revere.  And making sure that every born child has his and her rightful legacy of a mother and a father is surely the business of anyone who claims to care about people.

It is not about protests, it is about parents. If you care about people suffering from poverty, make sure every child is born to a married mother and father. If you care about violent crime, do everything you can to ensure that every child is born to a married mom and dad. If you care about educational failure and want to stop multi-generational dysfunction, end the curse of children growing up without fathers.

It is shockingly hypocritical for elected lawmakers and officials, community leaders and activists (What are they? Who pays you to become a community activist?) to blame loudly for society’s problems everything imaginable except the one major cause; the cataclysmic failure of marriage and family.

We don’t need blue paint patches. What we need are influential people courageous enough to stigmatize publicly women, no matter how rich and famous,  who have child after child without being married. We need brave voices to condemn and marginalize men who impregnate women and then walk away.  America learned to stop smoking and it learned not to drink and drive. In a frighteningly short three months, America learned to distance and wear masks. Why can’t it learn that letting a helpless child tumble into the world without a mother and a father is terrible for the child, terrible for society, and just plain wrong? 

Promoting culture and government policies that destroy the traditional family has not led to greater happiness and prosperity. We have become afraid to proclaim that success is grounded in the Source, our Creator. Our mission is to share the Bible and ancient Jewish wisdom, the blueprint that lays out what leads a society to thrive or to shrivel. Our costs have increased, and on July 1, most of our prices will rise. This week is a great chance to stock up before that takes effect.

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Am I Having a Mid-life Crisis?

June 16th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

I am a 35-year-old male who is sole supporter for a household of 7 and I feel like I am at or near a mid-life crisis. I admit this probably isn’t the middle of my life, but from what I read and others tell me all indications suggest this is what I am experiencing.

Are ‘mid-life’ crises normal and if so what are some strategies for managing through them? Or are they a sign that I am not living right?

W.

Dear W.,

We, too, hope that thirty-five isn’t the middle of your life, but your question stands, and we would like to approach this from four different angles.

Labels are both potentially useful and potentially harmful.  We knew someone who used to go through a full-fledged “mid-life-crisis” every two or three years of his life.   Recognizing that two-year-olds have abilities and desires that babies did not, allows parents to change the way they speak to and act towards newly independent toddlers. However, if parents chalk up every problem to “terrible twos” or, even worse, dread that period, the label will make those years less fun and more difficult. (We, personally, loved that age and if we generalized at all it was by calling it the “terrific twos.”)

Similarly, there are constantly things to be aware of as we move year-by-year through life. Many of us ignore yearly check-ups when we are young and feel invulnerable, but it is always a good idea to discover if there might be a physical cause behind emotional difficulties. Barring any physical reason, being able to label feelings as a mid-life crisis can lead to finding resources and ideas that help, but it is far more likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most people today have little patience for going through a plateau or even a darkish period.  Experiencing a down few days or even weeks is perfectly natural and perfectly normal.  It really doesn’t need a label; just know that, “This too shall pass.”

Secondly, while what we wrote to you above is true, that is not to suggest that you ignore the real obligation to probe into yourself for some explanations for how you feel.  You termed yourself as the sole supporter of your family. Unless you are a single father or your wife is completely incapacitated, your perception is false. Even if you are the sole “bringing in income from an outside source” partner, you are not the sole financial support, let alone the sole physical and emotional support. You and your wife are one team and should be seeing yourselves that way.

The team does many wonderful things; it brings in income, raises a family, nurtures a marriage and runs a home. If you and your wife see yourselves more as independent contractors in a joint venture, then both of you will get less fulfillment from what you are doing. For instance, you need to internalize the reality that the income you earn is actually as much your wife’s achievement as yours. Getting nutritious and appealing meals on the table is your accomplishment as well, even if your wife does the shopping and cooking. If either of you fails to appreciate the contributions of the other, life is less rewarding. Your feelings could well be alerting you that your marriage needs more attention.

Likewise, if you view yourself as an outsider to the decidedly noisy and hectic activities of a house full of children, then you will not derive the pride, pleasure, and satisfaction you should from that family. If you only see your children as mouths to feed, then you certainly need to reassess your family goals, structure,  practices and above all, values.

Thirdly, human beings who are not growing do not stay at the same level, they deteriorate and they stagnate. Sometimes, we grow at a tremendous rate in one area of our life, but stagnate in others. Medical and law students are notorious for sometimes being rather boring. They are so focused on the one area of their challenging studies that other areas stagnate. For this reason, we talk of regularly needing to assess the five Fs in your life: Faith, Family, Fitness, Fortune and Friendships. A “mid-life crisis” whether one is 25, 35 or 65 might alert you to an imbalance.

As our fourth suggestion, we strongly recommend that you try this experiment. Obtain for yourself a notebook (or use the journal we have prepared) and each evening before you retire for the night, seclude yourself for ten minutes and discipline yourself to write down at least 3 things for which you’re grateful. It might be something that happened at work, something you realized for the first time, the smile one of your children gave you, how well your car runs, or your wife’s calm demeanor at the children’s bedtime. Don’t do this on a computer or other digital device. The full benefit of this activity is derived best by doing this on paper because it stimulates different cognitive processes.

We feel confident that these four points and your reactions to them will help you and perhaps also give you other ideas to consider. Bouncing these ideas off a carefully gathered group of male friends and mentors can yield much support as well.

Wishing you many fulfilling years ahead,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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I’m being asked to contribute to ‘Black Lives Matter’

June 10th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 52 comments

I have listened and read your postings for quite some time and I am extremely grateful to G-d for the wisdom. I volunteer at the [name of organization removed to protect the writer] and received a troubling communication about the [organization] supporting Black Lives Matter, and asking all employees and volunteers to participate.

This goes against what the [organization] is supposed to stand for. That group is racist and violent. My moral compass says that I need to distance myself from the [organization] because I will be like a salmon swimming upstream against the current leftist mob mentality there and in too many places. 

What is your take on this?

Respectfully,

Dan C.

Dear Dan,

Your question, in one form or another, is one that many people are facing today.  Following ancient Jewish wisdom’s guidance on this, we believe that ideally, it is far too early to discuss these matters.  Emotions are running high and people are feeling pain.  And although everyone knows that facts stand irrespective of feelings, not everyone realizes with what finality feelings banish facts.  In other words, thoughts and ideas I might possibly embrace in a calm and contemplative mood I will likely angrily reject if they are placed before me at a time of emotional turmoil.

The problem is that we can’t easily postpone every analysis until a time when emotions have subsided.  Some matters demand a decision now.   A few days ago, I (Susan) received an email from a company whose products I very much appreciate. They proudly told me that they stand against racism and will be donating to Black Lives Matter. Rather than just deleting the email, I wrote back explaining that I appreciate their motives but that I wish they would re-examine their choice of where to donate as my research shows that Black Lives Matter increases hatred and violence rather than promoting humanitarian goals. I have no illusions that my email will change things, but I felt the responsibility not to stay quiet. If hundreds of other customers do the same, there actually might be an effect.

In that case, I was one of thousands of customers. However, we also know of an instance of a young man occupying a high-level executive position with a large company. He, too, received a letter asking all employees to contribute to Black Lives Matter. He chose to risk his position and relationships and call his superiors. He shared with them details as to why he opposed Black Lives Matter and would not be able to participate. Make no mistake that this was a courageous step on his part. Many others have lost their jobs for similar opinions.  What was the result? They thanked him for sharing information they did not have (because the media filters what we are allowed to know) and redirected their charity to another organization.

To show that you are not merely reacting emotionally, it might help if you can be specific with your organization about your concerns.  Among our concerns is that BLM actively opposes the traditional marriage and family model that was accepted by most Americans of all colors prior to the turbulent 60s. In their own words, “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure…”  If there is anything that really does save lives, it is being born into and raised by a western-prescribed traditional nuclear family.

Another concern of ours is BLM’s position that racial discrimination they view as promoting ‘equality’ is good whereas discrimination contributing to inequity is racist.  But they see inequity as any difference in the average outcome of any group in any field of life or work.  We do not accept that scanty representation of Jews in the NFL is proof of discrimination against Jews in sports.  We do not accept that fewer than 50% of computer programmers being female is proof of discrimination. And we do not accept that a lack of a certain percentage of people with dark complexions in any field is automatically discrimination.  We feel sure that the country will suffer greatly by accepting the BLM notion that any racial difference in anything at all that doesn’t reflect the racial demographics of society is automatically racist. 

Your situation is that you are not one of thousands nor are you in an executive position. Rather than simply stopping to volunteer, we would recommend writing (and editing and rewriting and showing it to a friend and editing some more) a clear and thoughtful letter explaining that you value the organization and its work but worry that they are acting unwisely. Lay out factual points about Black Lives Matter and from those speaking on their behalf that lead you to see them as a movement propelling the country in the wrong direction.

Let the organization know that you share and appreciate their goal of increasing peace between people of all colors and backgrounds, but that you request that they be more careful in how they try to reach that goal.

Take it from there. If you are either ignored or rebuked, we do recommend that you take your time, effort and money and volunteer at another organization that has a firmer moral compass.

Right now emotions are pushing truth and logic out the door. Nonetheless, it is not the time for silence in the matter you raise.

With a mixture of fear and hope, along with our prayers,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

We can’t say it often enough.
We need to line up our values with God, not ask Him to change His values to ours.
Begin with studying His message to humanity. 

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My friend rejects social distancing – I don’t want to offend him

May 27th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

Dear Rabbi & Susan,

I am caught between a rock and a hard spot.  There is a member of our community who does not believe in social distancing or abiding by any of the government-mandated precautions against COVID-19.   While my father was in the hospital, I was very firm with him about not visiting my home.  To gain access to the hospital after Shabbat, I would need to pass the hospital regimen and wanted to take no risks.

Secondly, the fellow who I am dating takes social distancing seriously.   Finally, others of my friends are frowning upon this person’s disregard for following guidelines and testing everyone and the protocols in place.

This person showed up at my house, on Shabbat, with no warning.  I answered the door and I was shocked to find him there. The person just stood there until I would allow him in so I ushered him to the deck.   He then invited me for an upcoming holiday lunch and I told him that I would attend if we were outside.  Now, I think I have made a mistake in accepting the invitation.   

The situation has upset the person who I am dating and I am afraid to tell any of my other friends. This person will be angry if I back out of the invitation. 

What should I do? 

Confused

Dear Confused,

Despite the risk of sounding harsh, we must tell you that you are not caught between a rock and a hard spot. You yourself actively crawled down into a hard spot and then you carefully and diligently reached for a rock and pulled it down against you making sure to wedge it firmly into place.  Rocks and hard spots are not malign machines that autonomously track you down.  Own it!  You created this awkward situation.  Right?  Right!

So the real question is not how to get out of this one; it’s how to stop seeking out rocks and hard spots to wiggle into.

Regardless of what this person, let’s call him Mr. X, believes about corona, and regardless of the extent to which others ‘frown’ at Mr. X, as you put it,  it is only his behavior and your response that matters.  So the relevant portion of your letter starts with him showing up unexpectedly on your doorstep on Shabbat. 

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Being a recipient of kindness

May 20th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Friends of ours have blessed us with a huge mitzvah during a difficult health challenge.  How does one acknowledge something so abundant and beyond helpful?  We, at the moment, do not have the means to reciprocate.

Any direction would be greatly appreciated!

Kind regards,

Stacy

Dear Stacy,

Our best wishes are with you as you go through this health challenge. Your question, however, is one that faces most well-adjusted people at various times. We say well-adjusted because, unfortunately, there are those who choose unhappiness by cultivating an attitude that they are entitled to the gifts of the world, as represented by their fellow citizens, community and family. They are ungrateful “takers” and do not recognize that living successfully requires us to be givers as well as takers. Above all, we need to express gratitude frequently and regularly. Takers miss out by being unaware of these ideas.. 

That does not describe you. Circumstances right now put you on the receiving end and, while you appreciate the help, you are uncomfortable being in that situation. If we may, we’d like to correct your misuse of the word “mitzvah.” A mitzvah is the Hebrew word meaning one of God’s commandments. What your friends blessed you with is a CHeSeD—an act of loving-kindness (and one of the oft-misunderstood words we explore in our book, Buried Treasure). 

It can be very hard for those of us who prefer being on the giving end to be recipients instead. Sometimes, we are comfortable doing so when we know that the tables will be turned such as when we gratefully accept a homemade meal when we have a newborn in the house. You certainly don’t hope for the tables to be turned in your case. In fact, there may never be a way for you to reciprocate on the level of the chesed that you received.

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Obstacles in religious growth

May 13th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 61 comments

Hi there!

I know this will seem a ridiculous question, and I feel ridiculous asking.

I was raised Pentecostal Christian.  I did drugs and was very lost. I was married at 18, and had my first child, then divorced after 1 year due to drug abuse and violence.  I then shacked up with my current husband and had six more kids before finally getting married to him.  He’s a good husband and father.  We’ve been attending a Baptist church for a few years now.

I am trying to figure out how to honor God, and not just assume that I can dismiss everything I am, or do wrong, as excused by grace.

I am no scholar, I have only just recently started reading the bible, and I don’t feel like I’m even doing that correctly… On top of that, my husband is totally disinterested in what I’m trying to do.  He thinks I’m trying to “be a Jew,” which isn’t true, I just want to honor, and obey God. 

What research I have done recently, has felt discouraging, people in the forums argue, and are all sure they know the real truth, but there can only be one real truth.

Last week, I convinced my family to do Sabbath with me.  Even though I tried, I still failed and didn’t have everything prepped.  My husband works odd hours, so we’re used to eating dinner fairly late.  So I was working serving dinner, when the sun had gone down.  I did succeed at taking everyone’s phones away, and keeping the tv off.  We didn’t even play music.  The next morning, Saturday, we slept in.  We ate toast and eggs, again I failed to prepare food for the day. Went hiking into our woods, started a fire, and hung out until it was almost dark.  Everyone said it was a good day, but in my heart I felt lacking.

I know you can’t hear my voice, or feel the depth of what I’m trying to say.  But I often weep over my inadequacies.  I feel incredibly overwhelmed, floating between the Law, and the Grace.  I’m a Christian, so I believe in Jesus, but He said that He came to fulfill the Law.  I don’t even really know the Law. 

I’m afraid that my children will suffer because of me.  Perhaps I am suffering because of my parents, and they from theirs…the blame can go all the way back to Adam and Eve.  What should I do?

I don’t want to insult the Lord with my pitiful attempts, but at the same time, I love the Lord.

Thank you for your time, and all you do.

Blessings,

Jessica

I love your podcasts.

Dear Jessica,

You sound like you have traveled far in your personal and emotional growth. Women, in particular, sometimes have a tendency not to give themselves credit for things they do and instead fixate on their flaws and what they must yet accomplish. Before we discuss your question we’d like you to take a moment to recognize the huge steps you’ve made. You got off drugs, left a violent marriage, and stayed with and married a man who, like you, is committed to the children you are raising. You are connected to a church and working hard to be the best wife, mother and Christian you can be. Whew! You have accomplished a lot.

What is more, we want you to know that if one had to choose between a life that started well but then went off the tracks and ended horribly or, one like yours that started with painful turbulence but ends in harmony and happiness, this is by far the preferred path.  It’s a big thing you’ve done in changing your trajectory and you are fortunate enough to have a “good husband and father” as a partner. Be grateful. 

At this point, you are a spiritual striver and trying best to understand God’s directions for your life. As Jews trying to follow ancient Jewish wisdom, we can explain that God assigns different roles, challenges and tasks to different people. These include  men and women; mothers and fathers, children and siblings, doctors and plumbers, those living in the land of Israel and those outside the land; those descended from Aaron the High Priest or the tribe of Levi and those descended from the other tribes. It is all about which religious responsibilities, restrictions, rules and regulations we adopt, not about being better or worse. In this scenario,  Jews are supposed to shoulder more responsibilities, restrictions and obligations than everyone else. 

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