Posts in Ask the Rabbi

My colleague crossed the ‘acceptable behavior’ line at a company party.

May 21st, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

Last weekend I went for my company’s trip. As part of the agenda, there were dinner, dance and drinks. So a colleague of mine (we are not close, just working level) who is of an opposite sex started dancing with me on the dance floor and then pulled me aside and danced solo with me. Once he pulled me to one side, he started confessing to say that he has been “checking me out without me knowing”; he treasured the one time lunch we went out together (it was a working lunch discussion) 2 years ago and he always finds me pretty. Immediately felt very uncomfortable and I pulled him back to rejoin the group for dancing.

Not long after, the function hall started turning off the lights and shutting down the AV. So a group of us adjourned to a nearby bar to join our other colleagues who were there earlier. Upon arrival at the bar, he started holding my shoulders and hands and once we reached the table where our other colleagues were, he tried holding my butt. I was so shocked I don’t know how to react  and didn’t want to make a scene, my immediate reaction was to flight. So I immediately left the scene and hid in the toilet of the bar. My friend noticed my disappearance and called me to ask where I was. I said I am in the toilet and will come shortly. We left the scene right after I came out from the toilet.

My question is, should I report this sexual harassment to the the company through the appropriate channel? My intention is not to humiliate/embarrass him,  but I don’t want other to fall as victim.

I didn’t tell anyone in the company yet because I don’t want this to spread as a mere gossip. At the same time, I felt obligated to report this incident and  share this other girls who closely work with him.  Help, I need wisdom. Thank you in advance.

Serene

Dear Serene,

It is a little jarring that the incident you describe is in opposition to your lovely namethat certainly wasn’t a serene encounter you underwent. What an unpleasant experience that must have been.

We need to preface our answer by saying that we are neither lawyers nor human resource experts. We did run our answer by someone who heads H.R. for a large company, but the words you are reading are ours, not hers. We are quite sure that you would get a very different answer if you asked this same question in a different venue.  And while we are not going to blame you for the incident, we would like to empower you in the future. Let’s start there.

If you are going to be at parties where liquor is flowing, we strongly advise you to practice extricating yourself from awkward situations. You say that this man, “started dancing with me on the dance floor and then pulled me aside and danced solo with me.” In front of a mirror or role-playing with a girlfriend, practice not letting yourself be passively led into this situation. As soon as you start feeling uncomfortable, you can forcefully say something along the lines of, “Excuse me. I’m going to sit down now,” and walk off the dance floor to join a friend. If he said something that makes you uneasy, tell him on the spot. The minute someone touches you, be it on the shoulder, elbow or anywhere else and you don’t want them to, you should feel perfectly comfortable saying, “Please don’t touch me again.”

As a side note, women often do need practice in being both pleasant and assertive. This is a skill that will stand you in good stead in many areas of your life, both personal and career-wise. At work, in particular, learning to set boundaries is necessary. If you don’t do so, others will take advantage of you, leaving you overworked and as such less efficient.

You may have decided for career reasons that you should be at parties with your co-workers, but if you are going to do so then we recommend you dress and act in a way that places an invisible shield of respectability and distance around you. We know feminists will shriek that women have no responsibility to do this, but quite frankly, there will need to be a new and different creation of humanity for that to be true.  You will be better off living in the real world.

You show great character by understanding the damage that gossip can do as well as by your concern for other women down the line. We also think that you are seeking the high road by not wanting to turn this into a potentially career-ending move for this man. We would like to encourage you to deal with this privately.

We recommend approaching this man in a public place (maybe the lobby of work) and saying something along these lines: “You may not remember because everyone was drinking, but at the party in XXX, you spoke to and touched me in an unacceptable way. I don’t want to ruin your career, but I do want you to know that this is not all right. I have documented it and should I see you behaving in a similar manner to any other woman in the company I will have no choice but to report this to HR. I’m sure it was an aberration and won’t happen again and I’d like to put this behind us with this conversation.” Then smile and walk away.

You should, meanwhile, document what happened so that if you need it in the future, you will have it. There is no question that this man acted badly, but if you can change his behavior rather than having him potentially fired for an act that occurred when he had been drinking, you will be operating on a higher plane and giving him a chance to self-correct. He may very well have misread your signals when you didn’t react and say something at the early stage of the encounter and not be a bad guy in general.

If it is at all possible, we suggest that if others agree with you, you might recommend to the office that rather than dancing parties with drinking, alternate entertainments can be safer and more fun. The situation as is, is an invitation for problems.

Wishing you serenity,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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How Far Does Faith Go?

May 14th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

I was raised as a preacher’s daughter with strict Christian values and believing in faith and that God answers prayer.

I raised my daughter the same way.  I just wasn’t as strict as my father. 

My daughter wants to start her own Ice Cream/Bakery business. She has prepared her business plan and she even took a position in the same business learning everything she needed to know so when she is in place she has all the tools.

“We have a situation”…. she believes GOD is going to miraculously bring her the money she needs to open her business she has a lot of faith…and she is just praying and waiting for God to come and bring her everything she needs because right now she does not have it. All she has is faith…. What do I say to her when I raised her to believe God can do anything … and God answers prayers. 

Thank you,

Alley J.

Dear Alley J.,

It’s not quite clear to us if you are asking a business question, a parenting question or a faith question. It sounds like your daughter is taking steps to prepare herself for starting a business by working on a business plan and getting an “inside look” at a similar enterprise. It does not sound like she is putting herself in debt or behaving irresponsibly in the belief that God will guarantee her success. That is all to the good.

From what you said we are guessing that your daughter is a teenager or young adult. You seem concerned that she is not looking for investors or perhaps seeking an SBA loan but merely sitting tight, confident in getting Divine help in securing funds. It seems you may be fretting as to what will happen to her faith if those funds don’t appear.

We certainly believe that God answers prayers. We also know that God’s answers do not always align with our hopes. Part of faith, in our eyes, is accepting that God knows better than we do and that His rulings are just and best even when we don’t understand or like them. This is true for all situations, not just economic ones. Anyone who has lived for a while knows that pious people are not exempt from tragedy. Not all sick people recuperate and the world is, sadly, full of tragic victims of crimes and accidents.

It sounds to us like this may be a natural opportunity for your daughter—and perhaps for you—to develop a more mature picture of faith. Your job as a parent isn’t to undermine her faith, but rather to support her in knowing that disappointment and obstacles should not sever her faith in God. Furthermore, while we cannot succeed without His help, our own efforts do not show a lack of faith but rather a shouldering of responsibility that is part of His plan for human success.

We have done a lot of teaching on our television show, Ancient Jewish Wisdom, and in our Thought Tools, of how God brings His miracles in response to our taking the first step. We’ve addressed how the Red Sea didn’t split until Israel first walked into the water. We’ve shown how the prophet Elisha helped the widow but only after she searched and came up with the seeds of her own redemption, a tiny bottle of oil. Similarly, your daughter will see that prayer in addition to effort is far more effective than sitting around doing little except prayer.

You can certainly encourage her to continue gaining a greater understanding of business and economics in general and her own interests in particular.

Signed by two fans of both bakeries and ice-cream,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My wife isn’t content with her life

May 7th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 7 comments

In reading a recent “Ask the Rabbi” you responded to a comment including the following statement “Sometimes, the wife wants to work out of the home not because the family needs the money but because she has been conditioned to believe that only such a job affirms her self-worth.”

Can you point me to information that will help me to better affirm my wife’s worth to the family regardless of her working/bringing in money. (We do well financially and our family does not want for anything.)

She stopped working shortly after we had our first child (Dec 2017) and has since mentioned in many tense discussions/arguments that she doesn’t feel to have “her own identity” since she no longer works. I feel that the conditioning, mentioned above, is the cause for her to believe she needs to work or that household responsibilities are somehow demeaning/waste of time.

I did search the “Ask the Rabbi” for similar questions but found it difficult to know keywords to search so I hope this is not a waste of your time. I really appreciate your words of wisdom on the podcast you do as well as the information you and Susan post here.

Thank you,

Nate M.

Dear Nate,

Thank you for picking up on the statement we made and giving us the opportunity to elaborate on it. We think that the question you are asking is an important one. As always in our answers to questions like these, we will try to give you and your wife a few avenues to explore. Since we don’t personally know you, we hope that at least one or two will resonate. (We are assuming that your wife is not one of those rare women who have a calling that is the equivalent of oxygen. In other words, almost everything else in life is secondary to that calling. Few men have a calling like that either.)

Just as one’s career should not completely subsume one, neither should the career of marriage and family. What are your wife’s interests and passions? Encourage her to take an art class one evening a week while you’re home with your son, attend a Bible study, volunteer with a literacy group, sign up for an adult-ed class in her area of expertise or interest—she should have the opportunity to cultivate her personality and talents for a few hours a week. She also can develop skills to use in the future or ones that can support and enhance your business.

Hopefully, the two of you have some back-up in the form of relatives or babysitters so that you are also spending time focused on growing your marriage separate from your role as parents. 

You don’t mention if your wife had a professional life before your son was born but there is a world of difference between making a conscious choice to stay home and subconsciously feeling like you had nothing else worthwhile to contribute. At this point, your son should be sleeping through the night and it is important that your wife is growing intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  Do the two of you discuss current events, share what you read with each other, learn Bible together and stay stimulated in other ways? There are thousands of online classes today that will allow her to pursue areas of interest. Most importantly, there is so much garbage out there about raising physically, spiritually and emotionally healthy children (and marriages) that she should tap into some authentic wisdom on those topics and develop a sense of a “business plan” for your family. Being the CEO of a family today requires active study, assessment, decision making and preparation.

Does your wife feel that she is an intrinsic part of your business? Do you seek and value her input? Do the two of you honestly feel that your income is being earned by you as a couple? Here is an example of how that works in the financial area. You need to work out a plan that makes clear that the income you earn is the result of both of you. In effect, as a team you are earning money and building a home. Your son is not your wife’s son whom she shares with you and your salary is not your salary that you share with her. You are dividing responsibilities so that you can run a thriving enterprise known as your life.

Financial decisions, including individual spending money, charity allotments and budgeting should be considered by both of you in partnership as should major parenting and home decisions. While each of you has your area of expertise, think of yourself as two department heads with overlapping interests. You focus on one area and she focuses on another one, but neither of you can work unilaterally and simply inform the other of your decisions as they always affect the bigger project. Make sure that you sincerely express your appreciation  of her contribution to your life, both privately and publicly.

Here is possibly the most important thing we have to say. It is very hard to be out of step with your peer group. God created us as social animals and while there are times we simply have to resist the norms around us, for example, when the activity is immoral or illegal, it is never an easy thing to do so. How much more difficult it is when the trend is neither immoral or illegal, but simply out of style.

When one of our daughters was home full time with her first-born, she found it easy to be demoralized. If she took his stroller to the park, she was surrounded by babysitters and nannies, not other mothers. When she hosted a Friday night get-together for the young women in her building (she was new in town and took the initiative to meet her neighbors) they went around the room introducing themselves and each woman identified herself by her career. At that first gathering our daughter found herself embarrassed as she said, “I stay home with my son.”

Then a funny thing happened. As she got to know the other women better, many of them individually told her how many times they cried as they walked out every morning leaving  their babies and toddlers in the care of others. They told her of the pain they felt when a paid caregiver heard the baby’s first giggle and saw those first steps. They, in fact, had conflicting emotions. Yes, they were proud of their careers, but they were also jealous of her ability to be there for her son. The grass was not greener on the other side.

All this is to say that it makes a world of difference if your wife has friends who are making the same choice as she. This may mean cultivating a new group of friends. You can help her do so by trying a different church that has more families with compatible at-home moms and scanning local papers and the internet to find activities catering to these families. There are online sites where women support each other. At sixteen months, your son may be adorable, but he is not able to provide adult conversation and interaction, both of which would nurture your wife. You can help her not to draw her circle too narrowly and to recognize the absolute need for female companionship that applauds and values her choice.

Not being pulled in two directions (home and career) can be a tremendous gift. It allows one to cater not only to one’s family but to the neighborhood and community as well. Your wife’s life should be busy and overflowing. The trick is to overflow it with positive things that keep priorities straight. Society today rewards and recognizes the malcontent. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude for what we have rather than always assuming that something else is better is actually counter-cultural. Make sure that feeling permeates both your lives.

We hope at least some of these ideas hit the spot,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My vegan relative really gets to me!

April 30th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

How do I convince my relative that she is wrong to be so concerned with animal rights & veganism?  She is a good person but its seems that she is more concerned w/animal welfare than people welfare.  Where did this attitude come from?

Bernadette

Dear Bernadette,

We have a two-word answer for you: You don’t. In general, it is usually ineffective and often destructive to try to persuade anyone to abandon their convictions and sign on to our own beliefs.  Trying to change the religious, political or social beliefs of others generally achieves nothing but damaged relationships.

Arguing about facts is fine because the answer can easily be discovered.  We could insist that Mount Rainier is 14,400 feet high and thus some 2,000 feet higher than Japan’s Mount Fuji, to anyone who claimed the opposite.  But arguing about beliefs is quite different. We would nod smilingly at the person who expressed the view that Mount Fuji is the most beautiful mountain visible from a major city.  We believe that this distinction belongs to Mount Rainier near Seattle but why would we argue?  We have different beliefs.

Your relative’s views are part of her belief system and have nothing to do with facts.  That said, it is not impossible to influence the beliefs of others but seldom by direct face-on confrontation.  When we watch our Christian friends successfully evangelize, it is never the result of sophisticated arguments and persistent debates.  Instead, we have seen atheists being brought into the church by warm empathy, compassion, and hospitality.  When we invite secular Jews to join our Shabbat meals, we don’t initiate arguments about God and His Bible.  We focus on being good hosts, we gently answer questions, and hope that exposure to our family and God-fearing lifestyle might eventually have some impact.  But setting out to convince someone that your beliefs or values are better is seldom a good idea.

Now, if you don’t mind, we would like to turn your question around and ask why you feel the need to change your relative’s ideas?

We agree with you that, while animals may not be treated with cruelty or abused, people’s welfare takes priority. We also happen to be fans of eggs, steak and cheese. We think that pets can be wonderful and farm animals are a blessing, but animals are not children. All of these convictions are based on the idea that people are not merely highly evolved animals but an entirely unique creation made in God’s image.

For the past five decades the belief that we human beings are on this planet as a result of a lengthy process of unaided materialistic evolution has been hammered into the culture.  Politics, entertainment and education joined forces in this quest to secularize society.  The natural consequence of this indoctrination is that people start believing that, like animals, we function on instinct and therefore have no moral obligation to lift ourselves above nature.  Clearly, it isn’t polite to eat your cousin or wear his skin, so the relative whom you describe is really just being a good disciple of society’s moral message.

While we oppose any government regulations equating people and animals and object to PETA’s violent tactics, when it comes to individuals we don’t feel a need to eradicate the personal beliefs of those who think differently. Why is this relative getting under your skin? Is it possible she makes you feel guilty or insecure?

Occasionally we have been asked by a friend or relative to donate to a cause that is not a priority for us. If the cause is not important to us but it is innocuous, we might give a token amount. If, for whatever reason, we object to the charity we might even explain that while we value the relationship, we aren’t comfortable attending that dinner or making a contribution. While we might hope that our friend or relative’s eyes get opened and perhaps that we have the opportunity to offer a counter-point, we can be firm in our own convictions even if others disagree with us.

We encourage you to focus on those areas where you and your relative agree rather than being hyper-sensitive to areas of disagreement.

May you be wise as an owl, (but don’t eat one),

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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What do you eat at a Passover feast?

April 23rd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 8 comments

As a chef, I have a question pertaining to the traditional Passover meal. The traditional Seder dinner typically includes gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, brisket or roast chicken, potato kugel and carrot and prune tzimmes. Now, we know that none of these foods originated in ancient Israel – they’re from a later period in Jewish history during the diaspora and after the destruction of the Temple.

But my question is, what would have been a traditional Passover meal in ancient Israel? What would have been the traditional Passover meal for people living at the time of King Solomon or the Prophet Isaiah? What would have been the traditional Passover meal for people living in the time of Herod’s Temple?

Thank you,

Joshua F.

Dear Joshua,

Are you trying to start an international incident? A religious war? The foods you cite—gefilte fish, potato kugel, carrot and prune tzimmes and the other foods you mention are traditional foods only for Jews whose ancestors lived in eastern Europe. But, we Jews have been around for a long time and we have lived everywhere from China to Morocco, from Johannesburg to Gibraltar. Some of these communities lasted for a short time, others for thousands of years. Jews were expelled from Egypt, Libya and other Islamic countries during the second half of the twentieth century but a few still live in Iran and many other countries that would surprise you. A traditional Syrian or Yemenite Passover meal would have none of the foods you mentioned.

Even the ceremonial foods that are required as part of the Passover Seder will look different in different communities. For example, a vegetable from the ground is needed, but our own family uses potatoes while other families use leeks. The matzah itself, the centerpiece of the meal, looks quite different if baked by those from Arab countries vs. European ones.

Having said that, you ask what the meal would have looked like in the land of Israel when the 2nd Temple was standing. There would have been wine, roasted lamb (which we deliberately do not have at the Seder today) matzah and a vegetable. The spices and methods of cooking would have been those of the place and time. There certainly would not have been the plethora of kosher for Passover items that fill grocery stores today.

If you’re looking to recreate a historical meal, we would suggest looking in cookbooks from the Yemenite community, which dates back to the days of King Solomon. You might also look at the Roman Jewish community that pre-dates the destruction of the Temple.

The bottom line is that “Jewish” cooking is any cooking that follows the laws of kashrut, the basics of which are shared by all these communities. Other than that, each community adapted to what was available and popular in its own country. So, please, in the pursuit of peace, stop talking about traditional Jewish cooking!

Hearty appetite,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My daughter has ‘come out’!

April 16th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 31 comments

My 47 year old daughter now says she’s lesbian. She has always been heterosexual. Please use your wisdom and experience to help me. I’ve never known anything like this close to me.

I pray for you and Susan, Rabbi. Please pray for me just once – I know your busy life.

Thank you.

Shocked Mom

Dear Shocked Mom,

Your poignant letter reached out and touched our hearts. We certainly pray for you and for all parents who are blind-sided when a grown child shocks them.

First of all, and we don’t mean this at all in a frivolous way—stop and take a few deep breaths. When news slaps us in the face, we need to give ourselves time to assimilate it. Ask God to support and guide you and be on the lookout for small ‘hugs’ from Him.

Second, and our reaction here may surprise you, we would like to encourage you not to overreact.  You don’t tell us anything about your relationship with your daughter, but separating her and the interaction between the two of you from her behavior is terribly important. Is this one more grenade she is hurling at you or have you always been close and she is worried that you are going to reject her? Are a husband and/or grandchildren involved? Whatever the answer to those questions, she is your daughter and that is not a relationship you want to sever.

If I (Susan) can give a piece of advice from personal experience, get a hold of Barbara Johnson’s book When Your Child Breaks Your Heart: Help for Hurting Moms (I believe it might have been published originally as Where Does a Mother Go to Resign?). While none of us wish trouble on other people, it does help to know that our situation isn’t unique and that others have trod the road we are on, even if the details differ. When I was going through a tough time as a Jewish mother, I found the Christian Mrs. Johnson’s faith-driven words helpful in a way that secular books were not. 

We are going to venture a guess that your daughter is hurting. We want to let you know that Biblically speaking, women with women is in no way comparable to men with men. Lesbianism today is presented as simply an alternative choice, but very often women “discover” this predilection in themselves after having been badly hurt by life, often in situations involving a man or men. Your daughter may very well be seeking love, companionship and affection in a society that confuses that, and much else, with sex.  You are absolutely justified in feeling that this may be a poor choice and one that goes against your beliefs and values, but at the same time you are most likely facing a wounded child.

You need to find the optimal place between the two incorrect extreme reactions of, “As long as you’re happy, everything you do is fine with me,” and “I never want to see you again.” You cannot control the actions of a 47-year-old and you need to acknowledge that her choices at this point in life are independent from you.

Obviously, if this revelation includes walking out on a marriage and affects the lives of grandchildren, your response is even more crucial. We want to reiterate our advice to breathe, pray, get support and think through the situation with as much empathy, clarity and wisdom that you can muster. The film of your daughter’s life is still rolling and we pray that it concludes in a positive way.

Blessings,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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What steps can I take towards marriage?

April 9th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 28 comments

I am a 38 year old young woman who has never been married and does not have any children. I was raised in a Christian home in NC. I’ve obtained a graduate degree and made a good amount of money in previous jobs. However, I can’t help feeling like a failure in the area of marriage and children.

I value marriage and leaving a legacy but it seems the men in my generation don’t appreciate my traditional values. Lots of men are meeting women using online dating and are perfectly content not choosing from the thousands of women available to them via their phone.  In addition, it’s creating more men who don’t know how to have a conversation unless they can “text” you.

I’ve started devaluing my career and education as I get older because a family of my own is what my heart desires. What advice does the Bible have for me and lots of other women in my situation?

Thanks,

Danielle A.

Dear Danielle,

What a painful period in your life this must be. We would like to offer four suggestions that we hope will be helpful, but before we do so we want to make a few comments about your letter.

Like a doctor telling his patient that he has put on too much weight and instructing him to lay off the French fries and ice cream, those able to help us occasionally have to tell us things we may prefer not to hear.  So, know that we write to you only with a deep desire to hear back from you soon with news of your happy marriage.

That said, we noticed that you describe yourself as a 38-year-old young woman.   Now 38 is not by any means old, of course.  But, neither is it young.  We think most 38 year-olds would have written, “I’m a 38 year-old woman”.  Taken together with your description of “the men in my generation…”  Danielle, we worry that you are perhaps ruling out men of a certain age.  You see, men of your generation, men of 38 are just not dating women of 38. They may be dating women of 24.  We feel that you may need to adjust your thinking here a bit.  You are probably looking for a slightly older man than you currently envisage.  He may even have a marriage behind him.  In fact, given a choice between a never-married 47-year-old man and the same man widowed or even divorced, we might even put the never-married at the back of the line.  Please don’t shoot us, Danielle.  We’re just the messengers bringing you accurate information about how the world really works.

Moving on, you wrote that you are devaluing your career and education. If we may say so, that is a mistake. You cannot undo the past years and the choices that you made.  Your accomplishments are what they are and an important positive part of you. If you start resenting them you will only add bitterness and negativity to your personality; something that is highly unattractive.

That doesn’t mean that you made the best choices when you were younger.  It sounds to us like you may have unfortunately prioritized education and career above marriage in your earlier years. All of us, when young, have trouble seeing down the road.

The fact that you are educated and accomplished gives you great credibility when you talk to younger women and share your story. Without preaching, you can provide a counterpoint to the message society gives them that professional achievement should precede marriage and family. Let them know how the same heart that desired certain things at 25 feels very differently at 35 and that opportunities for marriage and family aren’t the same at all ages.  Using your experience to help others is a gift you have to offer.

Now on to some recommendations for you:

  1. Become professional about finding a life partner. Make a comprehensive list of friends and community leaders and speak to them individually. Let them know your dreams and ask them to keep you in mind as they meet potential mates. Treat this with the seriousness that you would if you were searching for a job.
  2. It sounds trite but it is true that if you want something you’ve never had, you will need to do something you’ve never done before.  This may include dressing differently, participating in new groups, and actively expanding your social connectivity.
  3. Go outside your comfort zone. Attend a different church sometimes and make sure to introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Volunteer for a charity—and it won’t hurt if it’s one that attracts Christian men. While we are not big fans of electronic communication in male/female interactions, don’t be dogmatic about what you will and won’t do. Perhaps a Christian dating website might even be a good idea. Think outside your box.
  4. Finally, find another woman in the same situation and pray for each other rather than each of you praying for yourselves. As you pray for the other woman’s pain to be alleviated, in a wondrous way, your own situation can attain a higher status in the Divine scale.

Praying to hear wedding bells ring,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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I hope you’re wrong about population growth!

April 2nd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 24 comments

I enjoyed reading your book and continue to get value from your excellent podcast(s). Recently you discussed the biblical case for never-ending population growth, and that it requires over 3 new people to care for one older person.

Do you consider this an absolute that cannot be addressed through human ingenuity and technological advances? It would seem that never-ending exponential population growth would eventually become either unsustainable, or at least undesirable.

What would be wrong with a stable birth (replacement) rate and why couldn’t civilization sustain itself with a stable birthrate?

Signed,

Doesn’t Like Crowds 🙂

Dear D.L.C.,

Where to begin? Perhaps with appreciation for your kind words about our books and podcasts.  You already know that the motto we regularly use is, “How the world really works.” What we mean by this is that many ideas sound quite wonderful and many public policies sound like “any normal person” would want them implemented immediately if not sooner.  These include free health care for all, minimum wage laws and graduated taxation.   History (remember when they used to teach that at Government Indoctrination Camps formerly known as public schools?) reminds us that in spite of being revived every few decades and in spite of them being imposed in different countries, they never work quite as intended. Yet, so strong is the emotional commitment that many feel towards these ideas that even when people acknowledge that they failed before, they are confident that this time will be different.

Population control is one of those ideas. You mention that you don’t like crowds, a sentiment that you probably share with many others. Though it is interesting, isn’t it, that solitary confinement is not a reward for harried mothers or a benefit granted to overworked employees, it is actually a torture!  We venture to say that if you were forced to choose between living in populous Hong Kong or on Pitcairn Island (settled by the HMS Bounty mutineers in 1790) with its 56 individuals averaging only about 25 people per square mile, even you might choose Hong Kong with its density of about 20,000 for every square mile.

We realize of course that one can’t effectively argue something by pointing at the extremes.  Just because neither Pitcairn nor Hong Kong is ideal doesn’t argue against population control, so let’s see what the issues really are.

Just one little correction to something you said as we head into our answer:  What I said was that it takes at least three children to care for two parents.  Now we’re analyzing how the world really works. 

Some couples will say, “Hey, we aren’t going to have children and we don’t need to be supported by our children because we have retirement plans and investment portfolios.”  Again, it sounds good, but the theory collapses under economic scrutiny.  You see, whether your children support you directly as happens in less developed parts of the world or whether they support you indirectly, the numbers stay the same.  What is indirect support?  When grown children purchase the goods and services sold by the companies whose stock is held in the parents’ retirement plans and investment portfolios, they are making it possible for those stocks to pay the dividends upon which those parents depend.  There is just no getting away from this basic economic reality—you need more people in the coming generation in order for those in the previous generation to survive.

For everyone currently in their earning years to make a living, there must be a larger population of children coming up.  Whether you run a shoe store or whether you’re a plumber, teacher or dentist, this is an inescapable truth.  This is why almost without exception, every country with a shrinking population, depicted by an unstable upside-down pyramid, shows declining economic outlook.  By contrast, countries whose population figures resemble right-way-up pyramids tend to have vibrant and optimistic economies. 

The United States in 2018 had a population 16% bigger than it had in 2000 while Japan’s population shrunk by almost the same percentage in that period.  Not surprisingly, in spite of almost no unemployment, Japan’s Gross Domestic Product continues to diminish year by year.  They are being done in by demographics.  The same is true for Italy and several other developed countries.

Countries like France and Germany who, watching their declining population, saw the economic writing on the wall and recklessly decided to solve the problem by bringing in millions of immigrants have not fared well.  This is because the future is secured, not merely by a growing head-count but by an increasing population comprising like-minded individuals who share a common culture. 

While certainly not pointing a finger at any particular real-life couple, one could argue that those who choose to remain childless will have their lives subsidized by those who made the tough decision to have and raise children.

In 1968 Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich advised Americans to stop having children in his best-selling book, The Population Bomb which confidently predicted that before 2000, millions of Americans would be dying from starvation.  This did not happen.  Of course, the most common American food-related problem is obesity.  Nonetheless, Paul Ehrlich is still educating the children of those who didn’t take his advice and who feel such wisdom is worth $60K a year tuition. 

You ask whether this absolute necessity of a growing population can’t be addressed by technological advance.  This is a bit like asking, can humans’ need for food be solved by human ingenuity?  The answer is that our need for food and water cannot and will never be changed. All that technology can do is make it easier to obtain food and water.  Likewise, people who want to eat must live in a society with more population each generation.  All that technology can do is make more variety available but since human dreams and desires expand with availability, every two people are still going to need a minimum of three people beneath them. However, they will live in greater comfort and health than their grandparents who also needed three people below them for their own more limited lives. 

You correctly observe that eventually, exponential population growth must become unsustainable.  True; if world population grew to the extent that each person had, say, only a few square feet, the apocalypse would be near.  However, just as tackling a problem too late is a very bad idea, so is tackling a problem too early.  For instance, burning coal in London’s hearths did cause health problems in the 19th and 20th century.  But banning coal in the 17th century would have been premature and tragic.  Similarly, right now, were we to place every single American in a four-person household, and were we to give each such household its own detached home on a nice quarter-acre property, all of America’s population could be comfortably housed only in that part of California between Los Angeles and the Mexican border.  Thus, whether the world will or won’t reach unsustainable population levels is unknown but what we do know is that worrying about that now is unhealthily premature. 

You concluded your interesting and important question by expressing your distaste for crowds.  Ancient Jewish wisdom describes that although most of Israel’s population would mount a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year, there was never a shortage of space for everyone.  The explanation for this ‘miracle’ is that when you’re surrounded by selfish, noisy, pushy people, even three of them is an intolerable crowd.  But when you’re surrounded by people all of whom share high values, even a hundred thousand can be pleasant.  I (RDL) have been among fifty thousand British football hooligans and it was one of the most frightening and unpleasant experiences of my life.  I have also been among fifty thousand Christian men at a Promise Keepers convention.  It was a memorably pleasant and inspiring occasion. 

When a medical team responds to a life-threatening code, even if the patient was conscious, we don’t imagine him requesting a smaller team. Each medical professional there has a vital role in helping him. If we all live with the view that our presence is to enhance others’ lives, we would not be surrounded by crowds but by support teams.

No machine is ever going to be able to replace one human heart relating to another human heart.  We believe that God’s instruction to have children and to raise them properly (the ancient Jewish wisdom understanding of ‘be fruitful and multiply’) is what is best for the world. Rather than limiting the number of blessings we would prefer to work on ensuring that we raise them to honor God and their fellow inhabitants on Earth.

Sincerely and signed–

A.D.L.C.

(Also Don’t Like Crowds, but love large groups of like-minded people with good values)

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Supporting others includes not polluting their environment!
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Can success be too much of a good thing?

March 27th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

I truly believe that God wants all of us to succeed in what we do in life. But people I know (some family and friends) that succeeded in their professions seem to get more greedy. All they really talk about is how much money they made.

Deep down I feel I don’t know these people anymore. Can success be too much of good thing?

Greg

Dear Greg,

It can be extremely upsetting to grow apart from people with whom we used to feel close. We do hope you can find a way to retain these relationships.

Before we move on to the essence of your question, we want to raise a thought that may be completely off the wall or might possibly just be worth considering.

1. Is there any chance that the envy bug has affected you so that you are being hyper-sensitive and a bit self-righteous?

In different times and places society becomes prejudiced against the poor; at other times the prejudice targets the wealthy. Today, resentment, jealousy and disdain against those who have achieved some financial success is rampant. Frankly, it is hard not to be affected by the surrounding culture. Both halves of the equation in Leviticus 19:15 are meant to apply: “Do not make an unfair judgment: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.”

Now that we have asked you to peer carefully into your heart, let’s move on to the issue of balance.

We often stress the timeless truth that we human beings are neither angels nor apes.  We are physical beings with a yearning for God.  As such, we are finely tuned to blend the spiritual and physical. So, for example, abandoning human interaction and focusing only on prolonged, isolated meditation and prayer is just as much of a problem as is neglecting our relationship with God and being obsessed with our gym routine or social media.

Deuteronomy 31:15 speaks of the children of Israel ‘becoming fat’ and ‘kicking’ at God. It is describing the natural temptations and risks that arise when things are going well in our individual and/or national lives. Rather than being filled with gratitude and appreciation, after an amazingly short time, we ‘kick’ at the source of our blessings. This is true in our relationship to the ultimate Source, God, but it can also be true for the foundations of our country or our family.

It is easier to be aware of the struggles involved while we are going through tough times. We sometimes ignore the struggles involved when blessing pour down upon us. Hopefully, your family and friends will adjust to their new financial realities and remind themselves of the other important areas in their lives. And, we hope as well, that you are able to retain a loving heart to those who are doing well financially as well as to those who aren’t.

Use your blessings wisely,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Am I Destined to Be a Domestic Drudge?

March 20th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 35 comments

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

I’ve been married for 9  years to a pretty great guy.   We have two boys and a girl, also a dog.  I have a full time job and I also take care of most of the inside-the-house chores and organize all the activities for the kids and family. 

My husband and I have had several discussions and sometimes arguments about sharing the household workload. We make new agreements about duties that my husband can take on, but within a week these agreements have fizzled out. When I ask him to take on tasks with our children, such as bedtime or supervising homework, it generally devolves into screaming matches between him and the kids.

My resentment is starting to affect my sexual desire for him. I feel less like he’s my partner and more like he’s another child.  I go all day from the time I wake up at 5:45 a.m. until I collapse into bed at 10 p.m.

Is this simply the reality of being a working mother? Do I have to abandon my  dreams of sharing the child care and household duties?

Do I accept that my husband is doing his best and perhaps is limited by his parenting and organizational skills? Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?

Domestic Drudge

Dear D.D.,

We got lost between the, “I’ve been married for 9 years to a pretty great guy,” and the rest of your letter. If, as you say, your husband is a great guy, something is off-kilter. Exhaustion, resentment and anger are pretty awful things to drag around in a marriage so we do think this is urgent to deal with. It isn’t surprising that with so much negativity, the sexual and companionship side of your marriage is suffering.

If we told 1000 people that we received a letter that began with “I’ve been married for nine years to a pretty great guy” and concluded with “Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?” we doubt that even one would guess the content of the intervening eleven sentences. 

There’s another sentence in your letter that is setting off our alarm bells.  You asked, “Do I have to abandon my dreams of sharing the child care and household duties?”

Here’s how we would have expected that question to read: Do I have to abandon my dreams of a tranquil and loving home in which  my husband and I work together to build a joyous family?

Instead, your wording strongly suggests that you are trying to implement a social psychology professor’s view of egalitarian marriage; one in which all duties and responsibilities are shared equally and identically between both spouses. (We hope we’re wrong – as we said, we can only work with the information and vibes we get from your letter.) 

In other words, is your concern that those things get done or that it has to be your husband doing them?

We have ten more questions to ask.  Some of them may hit home and be useful while others may be way off the mark.

  1. Is your husband limited by poor parenting and organizational skills?
  2. Do the two of you agree on the answer to question #1?

If you both agree that your husband doesn’t know how to help the children with homework or put them to bed, then there is no point in making an agreement for him to do so. There are lots of books, videos and workshops that provide practical advice for working with children. Rather than ask him to do something at which he feels incompetent, we would suggest working through a program together and deciding on techniques that you can both apply.

We think it possible, however, that your husband doesn’t deal with the children the way you think he should and that you criticize him when he does help out. Do the children know that if they make a fuss, you will step in and take over? While screaming at kids is notoriously ineffective and setting a bad example to boot, is there anything in your behavior that sets up an antagonistic relationship between your husband and the kids? Does he disapprove of some of your methods? For example, if you allow the kids to have screen time before bed and he is opposed to that, the two of you need to get on the same page before you can take turns at bedtime.

3) Are you on the same page in terms of your work? Are you bringing in income that you both agree is needed? Would your husband prefer you work fewer hours but were able to deal with the home front with less exhaustion and more patience? Would you prefer that?

4) Do your jobs contribute financially equally or does one job bring in substantially more than the other? Does your economic plan need a shake-up?

5) Have you discussed the idea of hiring household help? Is your need truly for help or, as we queried above, are you more focused on the idea that specifically your husband must help? 

6)  Is your husband working long hours or doing other things that benefit the family or is he on the couch channel surfing while you are taking care of the kids and home? The answer to this question is terribly important.

7) Why are you working from 5:45 a.m. until 10 p.m. at night? Do you and your husband agree on what it takes to run the home? Is one of you insisting on home-cooked meals and a spotless house while the other would be fine with getting a pizza once a week and using disposable dishes?

8)  Is having a dog really what a tense family and a troubled marriage needs, or is it the straw that breaks the camel’s back?  (And I really like dogs—RDL)

9) Have you taken a moment to think of any things that you automatically expect your husband to do. This might include bill paying, lawn work, taking out the garbage, picking up the dry cleaning, driving the kids to sports or lots of other items. Is it at all possible that that you take for granted some of that which he reliably does do?

10) Are you possibly being influenced by friends’ posting on social media, by harmful articles in magazines or by other input that leads you to count your grievances rather than your blessings?  Perhaps it is time to review the social contacts that shape each of your lives as individuals as well as a couple.

It sounds to us like the two of you skipped a stage of sitting down and sharing a vision of what your home should look like. What worked in the early years of marriage and certainly before children doesn’t keep working as life happens. Before tackling the nitty-gritty of how and what each of you should be doing, we feel that you would benefit immensely from a rejuvenating weekend away at a marriage seminar which will facilitate communication between you. It will also provide enjoyable time together that you seem to badly need. It’s possible that one or both of  your views of marriage have substantially changed during the past decade.  If things you agreed upon when you got married are no longer part of your marriage road map, considerable conversation is necessary.

Something is broken in your relationship and you are not only suffering yourself but you are also harming your children. They deserve a mother who doesn’t carry herself like a martyr and a responsible and loving father. They need to see affection and respect between the two of you rather than the resentment they now see you beaming at their father.  We know you are far too smart not to know that they are seeing this. We’re not seeing your facial expressions or body language but feel resentment oozing from you just from the label ‘domestic drudge.”

We’d throw out all three of your suggested choices—swallowing anger, fighting for more or walking away.  None of them sounds like someone who appreciates the great guy she’s been married to for nine years. 

Swallowing anger doesn’t work. Fighting for more? Fighting? Really?  This is a marriage not an adversarial corporate merger. Fighting will only intensify the antagonism.  And finally, your “Do I just walk away?”  From whom? That great guy you’ve been married to for nine years?  In order to get the extra time and tranquility that divorced single moms are so envied for?   

We would recommend reminding yourself of your husband’s great qualities, analyzing your own strengths and weaknesses and finding a way to remind both of you that you are on the same team. Make the effort to improve what you have with this pretty great guy and see it as your priority.

Finally, you ask if you must accept your husband’s limitations.  We don’t doubt that like all human beings he has his limitations.  But we advise you, in the quiet of nighttime solitude, to look deeply into your own limitations and the efforts you might make to transcend them. You and your husband can certainly both grow and learn to function better as a team. But thinking of  changing anyone is usually unproductive. You’d be amazed, though, at how changing yourself will lead others to change themselves too.

Establishing a loving marriage and providing a loving home for children is a battle worth fighting.  We look forward to hearing that soon you both feel enormous gratitude for the gift of your spouse. 

Each with our own loving limitations,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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