Adams, Revere and…Trump?

May 18th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 19 comments

One of my lovely daughters just treated me to three glorious days in Boston. Tamara and I immersed ourselves in 18th and 19th century history, wending our way along Boston’s Freedom Trail. I left my computer at home, didn’t access email, and our eyes and ears were tuned to the past rather than the present.

We respectfully stood at the graves of Sam Adams, Paul Revere and Increase Mather. We visualized life aboard the USS Constitution, the battleship nicknamed Old Ironsides, as it faced the British Navy in the War of 1812 and we saw too many names on too many memorials for boys who died fighting America’s wars.

We peered up at murals in the Boston Public Library by artist John Singer Sargent and at the same location smiled at Robert McCloskey’s sketches for his charming book, Make Way for Ducklings.

As we stood at the site of the Boston Massacre and at the location where thousands gathered before the Boston Tea Party, we discussed whether we would have sided with the Loyalists and King George or the rebellious Patriots had we been alive in those tumultuous times. We never came to a conclusion. Would we have wanted to be associated with aristocratic snobs who looked down at us or conversely with those who looted and tarred and feathered their adversaries?

Waiting for my flight home, after three days immersed in the noble, and sometimes ignoble, founding of our country, it was initially somewhat jarring to be surrounded by hysterical and shrill voices projecting from the airport TV screen. Although I wasn’t looking at the monitor, for the hour I sat there waiting for my delayed flight I couldn’t avoid hearing the President’s name repeatedly linked to the words impeachment and obstruction. Partisan people with predetermined conclusions were passionately pontificating about uncertain events.

Generations after a Boston silversmith named Paul Revere copied a propaganda drawing misrepresenting the shooting of colonists at the hands of British soldiers, personalities continue to inflame emotion and incite fervor by bending the truth. Generations after average citizens rose up in anger at an elitist, taxing, ruling class, their descendants continue to demand a more representative government. Generations after families, including that of Ben Franklin, were split apart as members supported different factions, people are finding politics imperiling their most intimate relationships. We can only pray that generations after a group of men with uncommon abilities, principles and courage gathered to form a nation, we don’t seek in vain for their worthy successors.

If you haven’t heard this 2 audio CD set and shared it with everyone of voting age, you should. The promises being made today aren’t new, nor are the dangers facing us. Look to Genesis to reveal the past, present and future.




I’m trying to cut expenses, but my wife won’t get on board

May 16th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

I have been listening to your podcasts for about a year now and find them very insightful. I was raised a Baptist and am now a confirmed Roman Catholic. I find that every week your subject matter always seems to address something that is going on at that moment. 

I have had a lot of changes in my life recently, some by choice, others by necessity. At 38 I have realized that my wife and I need to start being good stewards of our money and to stop living beyond our means.

 I now have a career that requires that I have good credit but is a decent paying job. My problem is that I am having trouble getting my wife onboard with the idea. I realize that we need to tighten our belts for the time being. 

Do you have any advice on how to convince her of this?

Thank you for your time and God bless you.


Frank G.


Dear Frank,

Congratulations on the new job as well as on entering the world of economic adulthood. Living beyond your means isn’t a good idea at any time, but recognizing that in your late thirties rather than later hopefully gives you time to turn things around.

You don’t mention how long you’ve been married, but it sounds like you are unilaterally changing the rules of the marriage. If until now, you and your wife have been spending indiscriminately and somehow making do, it shouldn’t be a surprise that you can’t just come home and announce a new way of living. You may have had an epiphany but your wife hasn’t.

The language you used in your letter suggests that your marriage and your finances both need work.  Note how you use the first person singular-I. “At 38 I have realized that my wife and I need to start being good stewards…”  One spouse might decide that a conversation is necessary or that he/she wants to discuss something but on important issues, we would have preferred seeing you say, “My wife and I have realized…”

We very much want you to stick to your new resolution. We would strongly recommend that you sign up for one of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace courses along with your wife. However, you need to invest the time in building the partnership and then give her time to arrive at the same conclusion that you have. Independently decreeing  a new regime just won’t cut it.

For the sake of your marriage, you may initially need to make the greater sacrifice, cutting out more of your pleasures rather than asking your wife to cut out hers. If she is the good woman we assume she is, then when she sees you taking finances seriously as well as when she processes the information from the class, we think she will get on board.

May your marriage and work be blessed and bear fruit,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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In with the Old; In with the New

May 15th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 28 comments

I’ve never met my friend in San Francisco. Hanna was a regular caller to my three-hour show on the Bay Area’s KSFO.  In the radio business we discourage regular callers and most shows have a rule about how frequently they will accept calls from any one listener.  With Hanna, the rule went out the window.  She was so passionate, her voice quivered with emotion.  She always had an original take on the topic. Much of my fan mail mentioned Hanna admiringly.  One of my ongoing conceits on the show was my general assumption that every male listener to my radio show was handsome and virile and every female, young and nubile.  Nonetheless, I suspected that Hanna had seen a few years.  Her voice and accent suggested she immigrated in response to World War 2.

One day during an on-air conversation, I discovered she was without a computer and determined to humorously influence her to acquire a laptop or tablet.  She resisted with great resolve, irritating me by insisting she was too old to learn new technology.  During the ensuing few months I begged, cajoled and beseeched.  I began to feel my credibility was on the line so I threatened to start a fund among listeners to buy her one. She finally agreed to visit a store.  End of the story:  She bought a tablet.  She fell in love with it and it changed her life.  She often called the show  explicitly to thank me for encouraging her to leap forward into the email age.  I just got another welcome email from her last week.

Technology is from God. Each of us should be making as much use of it as is applicable to our lives and aspirations.

Now the Lord God took the man, and He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.
(Genesis 2:15)

God expects each of us to wrest our living from an often reluctant earth.  It seems a formidable challenge.  However, He gave us tools: the ability to work and the ability to use our souls to innovate.  Many animals use ‘tools,’ but they always use the same tools. Only  mankind, touched by the finger of God, rubbed two sticks together to make fire. Later humans developed matches and then BIC lighters and then electricity and nuclear power. Only people innovate to help us bend the earth to our will.

God said to them, be fruitful and multiply
and fill the earth and subdue it…
(Genesis 1:28)

God didn’t say destroy or despoil the earth; He said, ‘subdue’ it. Find ways to turn deserts into orchards and swamps into vineyards.  Make that earth feed you.  Find ways to defeat disease and protect yourself from the ravages of fire, earthquakes storms and tsunamis. The earth is not going to care for you.  Indeed, it will imperil your very existence if you do not subdue it.

It is our God-given soul that grants us visions of what could be.  It is also our soul that discourages today’s lethargy and admonishes us to continually strive to make our tomorrows better than our yesterdays.

Ancient Jewish wisdom does not teach us to be “content” with what we have.  It teaches us to be “happy” with our portion.  A cow in a grassy meadow on a warm day is likely content.  A human should never be content.  Happy yes, but not content.  Contentment suggests that we have no compelling urge to move forward and improve our lives and those of our loved ones around us.  Happiness not only suggests, but demands that we are always striving. We should always be seeking for ways to shatter the obstacles to our growth and development in every facet of our lives.

And to Zebulun [Moses]  said: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your departures… [you] will be nourished by the abundance of the seas, and by the treasures hidden in the sand.”
(Deuteronomy 33:18-19)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains Zebulun’s blessing as an important  key to making a living—always be engaged in a ‘departure’ (from whatever economic situation you’re in) and rejoice in your ability to innovate change. If you’re using a wooden plough, make one of iron.  If you pull the plow with an ox, build a tractor.  If you heat your house with wood, try coal and then oil, gas and electricity.  If you have figured out how to mine and cast iron, don’t be content.  It’s a very inadequate material.  Try making steel.  Have someone work a bellows and blow air through the molten iron in a puddling furnace.  When you’ve got that down, don’t be content. Destroy all your puddling furnaces and replace them with Bessemer blast furnaces.  You will get more steel and better quality steel.  This is what the great 20th century economist Joseph Schumpeter  meant when he coined the term, ‘Creative Destruction.’  It means constantly exiting from today’s paradigm and finding a better and more efficient way.  This is exactly what Scripture is telling us to do in the verses in Genesis and Deuteronomy above.

Today we call it technology–a new word for an old idea: using our God given ability and desire to innovate and find a better way for today so that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.

Any person reluctant to use a smart phone is no different from someone in the 1900s insisting on undergoing dentistry without anesthesia or a traveler in the  1800s insisting on riding a horse rather than a railway. Each was a technology of its day.

I am not advocating being an early adopter.  I do not recommend acquiring new technology as soon as it appears.  I prefer for the manufacturer to get the glitches out first.  Buying the first iteration of a new product risks you ending up owning something unsupported and obsolete.  Wait to make sure it is viable and  catches on, then dive in and toss out the old.  Rejoice in your departures.  Provided of course that the innovation will help you work your Garden better than you could yesterday.

What of the dangers of technology? New things are valuable as long as we remain safely anchored by correct old ideas.  Some people like new ideas (Save the environment by not having children–Bill Nye, 2017) and old things (antiques).  As for me I prefer new furniture, new cars, and new technology but I love old ideas, specifically those with a seal of approval from the Bible.

Socialism is one of the oldest ideas that the Bible condemns. It keeps reappearing throughout human history usually presented as something new and exciting. We are seeing a strong reemergence of that seductive message now. The problem—and the antidote—appear in Genesis in nine incredibly packed verses. If you want to understand what’s going on in Europe and America, as well as how to fight this dangerous trend, please listen to our audio CD set, Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel. You will be amazed, entertained and enlightened. Both download and mail versions on sale this week.

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Too Sophisticated for Scandal

May 10th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 44 comments

When I was a teenager, I knew my friend Toby’s grandparents as gracious, attractive and generous pillars of the community. When Toby shared their story with me we both thought it highly romantic. It seems that Mrs. D. was engaged to a friend of Mr. D. At the engagement party, Mr. D. came to celebrate with his friend and meet the fiancée. Shortly thereafter my friend’s future grandmother called off her betrothal. In only a few weeks, she announced a new one—to Mr. D.

When one of their children repeated the story on the occasion of Mr. and Mrs. D.’s 50th anniversary, it was indeed a charming tale that brought smiles to their children and grandchildren’s faces. Only years later did I stop to think how upset and worried Mrs. D.’s parents must have been and how painful and embarrassing this was for the jilted groom and his family. The scandalous event probably animated neighborhood gossip for many months. Fifty years down the road revealed a happy end, but at the time it would have been perfectly plausible to see this as a catastrophic and immature infatuation.

What does this have to do with the recent French election?


What’s wrong with pride?

May 9th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 12 comments

What does ancient Jewish wisdom say on the topic of “pride”?

My whole life I’ve grown up in an Evangelical home, and between Sunday school and a Christian school I was constantly told that, “Pride cometh before a fall”. I remember at one point a teacher said Pride is one of the worst of sins because so many other sins are symptoms of Pride.

But in my own life, I think I could use more pride. It wasn’t because of obedience to God that I spent a couple hours cleaning my car last weekend or tidying up the lawn—it was that great sense of accomplishment I felt afterward which can only be described as pride! And I think it was the lack (or fear of) pride that kept me from cleaning my car for months or tidying up the lawn for weeks until it got too bad to ignore.

So it seems that pride is a very positive thing. We should have pride in our country, be proud of our kids, and proud of our accomplishments. And it seems what the Bible is talking about is not as much pride, as much as it is ego.

Are there two types of pride? I’m hoping ancient Jewish wisdom can help clarify the topic. 

Thank you,



Dear Sean,

Congratulations on having a clean car and tidy lawn and for bringing this question to our attention. We had never paid attention to the popular mistranslation of Proverbs 16:18 that you cite, “Pride cometh before a fall.” While no translation is perfect, arrogance would be a far better translation of the Hebrew.

What is the difference?


Childless By Choice Carries Consequences

May 8th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

On our Ask the Rabbi feature, we recently answered a very sad question from a lady who suffered greatly from being childless. Yet there are others who are not only childless by choice but proudly and defiantly so. I have written in the past about how babies give birth to fathers even more than men create babies. In other words, having a child changes a man or woman even more than marriage does. One of the most significant changes is that a person with a baby tends to think more seriously about the future. Friends who were into extreme sports all report having lost their enthusiasm for courting death upon becoming parents.
An influential 20th century economist was John Maynard Keynes. One of his destructive ideas was that the free market was a doomed idea and that what really worked well was large scale governmental spending with accompanying deficits. Of course this is a great idea–for the generation happily spending themselves into trillion dollar debts. For their children however, it is a really bad idea. But wait! John Maynard Keynes never had any children. See the connection?
Now let’s look at Europe: France’s new president Emanuel Macron has no children. (His wife is 64). Germany’s Angela Merkel has no children either. Neither does Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte. While we’re at it Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel is childless as is Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has no children and there are a number of others but you get the idea. This is one of the reasons that I have been predicting the early demise of the European Economic Union. Its leaders are all one generation thinkers. What say you?

Escape from Lithuania

May 8th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 49 comments

It was still dark that morning, but my father was first in a growing line outside a government office in a small Lithuanian town.  It was September 2nd, 1939 and Hitler had invaded Poland the previous morning.  Possessing a neutral South African passport, my father hoped to cross Poland and Germany and reach sanctuary in Switzerland.  While nobody knew when South Africa would join the Allies, my father knew it was a matter of days or perhaps hours, at which point escape from Lithuania would be impossible. As it turned out, South Africa declared war against Germany on September 4th.

When the office opened, my father anxiously placed his passport, literally a magic carpet to safety, on to the counter and took a seat to wait.  Every subsequent Jewish person, equally desperate to escape Lithuania, placed his passport upon my father’s and sat down in the waiting room.  When the official finally arrived to grant exit visas, he started with the top passport and called out the name of the applicant.  With a sinking heart, my father realized that the official would never reach his passport way down at the bottom.

Suddenly the official stood up.  Placing one of his hands beneath the tall pile and the other at the top, he crossed his arms and inverted the pile. Reaching for what was now the top document, he called my father’s name.


Mutilation or Not?

May 4th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 50 comments

This is going to be an incomplete Musing because I am committing to paper thoughts that need to be sharpened and shaped. That, of course, is true of all my Musings.  New information or ideas always abound.   Sometimes a phrase occurs to me that I wish I had thought of earlier.  Yet, this Musing is different because the topic is both difficult and important and I have never seen it discussed elsewhere. So, I am advancing opening thoughts and hope that others will pick up the conversation or point me to articles I have missed on the subject.

The New York Times Health Editor recently suggested that journalists replace the term “female genital mutilation” with “genital cutting.” This seemingly small change strikes me as hugely significant. The New York Times feels that the word “mutilation” is “culturally loaded.” In other words, it implies a negative judgment of a practice that in some cultures is perfectly acceptable (left unstated is that the ‘other’ is Moslem).

Meanwhile, over the years some have urged that male circumcision be called “male genital mutilation” or that the Moslem practice be termed ‘female circumcision’.   The intention here is to insist that circumcision of males and females is identical. In both these cases language is a way to affect perception.


I feel isolated because I don’t have children

May 3rd, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

Thank you for your teachings. I am a Christian who grew up in a traditional Christian home and graduated from Christian school. Now, as an adult married 17 years to my Christian husband; however, I have no children due to an ongoing illness. 

I am now coping with the reality that I will likely never have children.  I am now in my forties. This has been a great disappointment for me. I have seen many childless women groups on the internet, but I am careful who I take advice from. I should add that my husband and I have a wonderful marriage, but I am wondering how I best serve the Lord though I am not a mother?  

What makes this most difficult is that I feel socially isolated. I have been reading my Bible and searching scripture for my new purpose. Are there any biblical scriptures you suggest? 

Thank you for taking the time to consider my question.



Dear Elizabeth,

You are, indeed, going through a difficult challenge.  The Bible leaves much unsaid about the emotional pain felt in many heart-breaking situations, but when it comes to childlessness it gives us numerous examples of women suffering devastating pain because they couldn’t conceive. We are sure that surrendering the dream of having children is almost unbearable.

We are going to assume that you and your husband have decided against adoption or you would have phrased your question differently. Perhaps you have also thought of foster parenting and rejected that idea for your own reasons. We do suggest that you find some way, whether within your own extended family or by reaching outside that group, to connect to the next generation. It is important for all of us to envision a future that lasts beyond ourselves.


How the Smartest Man Failed

May 3rd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

Since pencils were invented about five hundred years ago they have needed regular sharpening.  For most of this period, sharpening was accomplished by a person wielding a knife and whittling away the wood to uncover more of the graphite core.  Finally, in the 19th century, people began trying to build a mechanical pencil sharpener that would require no skill to operate and that would deliver consistently sharp pencil points.

The earliest were clumsy contraptions attempting to mimic the reciprocal movement of a hand holding a blade.  It finally dawned on inventors that they were not trying to build a duplicate of a human sharpening a pencil; they were trying to build a better way of sharpening a pencil. And they did. What they came up with was the now-familiar device into which you insert your pencil and which contains two or three helical cylindrical cutters that rotate about the pencil when the handle is turned.

The first versions of many inventions like the tractor, sewing machine, and airplane all failed because their inventors remained locked into the old way of doing things. Subsequent versions succeeded as innovators discarded the old visions opening their minds to solving the problem rather than merely improving the old system.

We’re all susceptible to the trap of not being open to entirely new and revolutionary ways of solving problems.  Do I really need a full-time secretary and an office in which to house her or could I use a virtual assistant? Do I really need a car or could I make do with Uber?  Let’s see how even the smartest man in the world, King Solomon, slipped up by clinging to an old model.