Posts in Ask the Rabbi

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? 


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. 

Imagine that someone threatens to amputate his pinky unless you agree to date him. That places you under no moral obligation to comply.  This person showed up at your door and you interpreted his standing there as a  threat to cut off his pinky finger unless you invited him in.  Actually, he stood there long enough to tacitly inform you he’d be offended not to be invited in, but it’s the same idea, of course.  What you did not say was, “I wish I could invite you in, I really do, but while these corona circumstances exist, I am not going to, so have a good Shabbat and I look forward to talking with you on the phone tonight.”  Instead, you opened the door in a wide invitation and Mr. X naturally sauntered serenely into your house. You did it.

Here’s another point to consider. Why is the extent to which others ‘frown’ at Mr. X, relevant?  It is only his behavior and your reaction that matters. Your choices might be influenced by the concerns of the man you are dating or your other friends, but in the final analysis, you need to decide how you feel about social distancing, masks and everything else that is directing our lives today. You, Miss Concerned, need to take control of your own life.

It doesn’t matter whether accepting the lunch invitation was a mistake or whether you’ve just changed your mind about wanting to go. You simply notify Mr. X by phone or text that you regret the change in plans but you will, after all, not be able to join him for lunch.  Will Mr. X threaten to cut off another of his remaining fingers by choosing to be unhappy, offended,  hurt or angry by your change of mind?  He gets to choose his own reaction.  Incidentally, not respecting your decision and radiating offense and anger on an issue such as this is a no more legitimate reaction for a friend than cutting off a finger would be. If you want this ‘friendship’ to continue, you need to be a stronger partner in it.

There was and is no reason to report what happened to the person you are dating or to any of your other friends. God frowns on purposeless gossip and telling your friends this sad saga is purposeless gossip. What possible reason could you have for telling them other than hoping that somehow they’d infuse you with the necessary strength to do what your soul has already told you that you must do?  This is only between you and Mr. X.  You can solve it quite easily without the cheering reassurance and encouragement of your other friends.  Just do it.

We urge you to ask yourself if you slide into these predicaments in other areas of your life, such as business and family. Or is this destructive docility reserved for your social life or perhaps just for this specific individual? Gaining insight into yourself is most valuable. Each time you force yourself to act and react appropriately to these types of circumstances, you strengthen yourself into a better person and make it ever less likely that you’ll fail again.

So, pick up the phone and own the situation!

Best wishes,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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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,


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.

This calls for a new experience of soul-expansion. You cannot respond in kind, however, you can learn the skill of gracious acceptance. It actually is a skill that is probably in your repertoire already as you recognize all the blessings that God showers on you and that you have no way to “repay.”

Certainly, a heartfelt thank-you letter and remembering these friends in your prayers is something you can do. The harder thing is to allow them to give to you without letting the relationship be strained by awkwardness. Abandon the idea of reciprocity. These friends are using the gifts God granted them in a good and proper way and you are the vehicle through which they are doing so. In effect, they are doing a mitzva (fulfilling God’s commandment to care for His other children) by acting towards you with chesed (loving-kindness).

Sometimes, we simply must accept being in the position of accepting help. Often, we cannot “pay back” the help we received and we cannot pay it forward in exactly the same way. We can only use our own gifts and skills to give in whatever way we can at any given time. That may be as simple as offering a smile to the tired nurse taking care of us at the end of a long shift (actually, not a simple thing at all when we are worried and in pain). When, please God, you have come through this medical challenge, you will be able to expand your own giving to others with added sensitivity and empathy. You will not be keeping score expecting those you benefit to reciprocate; you will be grateful that you can be on the giving end.

Wishing you complete healing,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Obstacles in religious growth

May 13th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 60 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.



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. 

While we know that there is much value for all people in many of the commandments with which the Jewish people are obligated, such as the Sabbath or Passover observance, God does not require those who are not Jewish to  keep the details of these observances. The idea of having one day each week, a Sabbath, different from all the others and devoted to family, friends and God is one that everyone can benefit from and, indeed, was taken for granted until relatively recently in most Christian-founded countries. Jews have an added level that details what should, can and cannot be done by them on that day.

While we know some Christians who are trying to recover the connection to Judaism that they feel was  lost over the years, we urge you not to make that your  overriding path. Why do we say so? For the same reason, when a Jewish person who has been ignorant of the Torah approaches us wanting  to learn and connect more with God’s word, we make sure that he does so in a slow and limited way that does not turn his marriage and family world upside down. Your movement towards a closer relationship with God and Scripture should bring joy and peace to everyone in your family and circle, not just you. Certainly, there will be difficulties and bumps along the way, but the overall feeling should be one of gaining what in Hebrew is called ‘shleimut’ – completion as all the different and separate  parts of one’s life blend together under the Scriptural umbrella. (‘Shleimut’ comes from the same root word as ‘shalom,’ one of the 29 words we analyze in depth in our book Buried Treasure.)

You, as a wife and mother, should not act only as an individual. That’s not how our Boss in Heaven sees you and you shouldn’t see yourself that way either. You cannot be upset at your husband or children for not being in exactly the same place you are.  That path wasn’t laid out to your husband when you married and your children were not provided with this road map during their formative years.  Any spiritual or behavioral changes you make for yourself and certainly any you impose on your family, should be very slow and deliberate.  Each change should allow ample time for everyone to understand, adapt and come on board. If there is resistance, that is a sure sign that you are asking too much or going too fast.

Please stop trying to force your family into your own spiritual vision of what you think they ought to be doing. We understand that you are trying your hardest to distance yourself from earlier mistakes but you are already doing that by being the best wife and mother you can be.

Jessica, we urge you to relax and enjoy your husband, children and church. We are humans and we all make some good decisions and we hope not too many bad ones. Obsessing about trying to act perfectly is not healthy or productive.

One thing we want to clarify is that although, of course, your children benefit from those good decisions and actions you and your husband take, and yes, they do suffer from what we hope are only a few bad ones, it is never a case of blame or recrimination.   You are not the conduit of a curse from Adam down to your children. They, like you, are human with all that entails and they, like you, will need to take responsibility for their own choices. There is no cloud of doom over you or them.

You’ve just started to read the Bible? Great!  Read your way through it all without feeling that you are called to act in accordance with whatever you read. That would lead to huge misunderstanding.  Does that make sense? After all, we wouldn’t want you to start building an Ark or killing some Amalekites. Just reading it all for now will bring you deep understanding and spiritual tranquility. You will reach a point where you realize that there are very, very few ridiculous questions and that you should be proud of yourself for asking deep and meaningful ones.

Allow yourself to enjoy your voyage through life,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin 

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Is there a Biblical view of contraception?

May 6th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

I am a Bible-believing Christian & I am very keen to understand God’s blueprint for mankind. I have been listening to your podcasts & CD downloads.  In Genesis,  God instructed Adam to be fruitful & multiply & to subdue the earth… is that instruction for Adam & Eve only? If not, what does the Bible teach about contraception & birth control?

Yours sincerely, 


P.S. I asked this question before… I am not sure whether that was a wrong platform but this is a burning question for me so I am trying again.  Thank you.

Dear Cathy,

You are certainly right that reproduction and all its implications is one of the questions we’d expect to find answered in God’s Biblical blueprint. There we won’t find information on whether to vacation at the beach or the mountains, but we will find guidance concerning mankind’s desire to travel.  We won’t find directions on whether we should wear dresses of wool or suits of polyester but we will find much guidance on clothing in general and its contributions to our modesty and dignity.  In other words, the Bible provides indispensable teaching on questions that would have been asked hundreds of years ago as much as they are asked today.  Among those questions, few are more basic and important than those concerning man-woman physical intimacy and reproduction.

Not unexpectedly, it is one of the areas of maximum disagreement between ancient Jewish Biblical wisdom and today’s aggressively secular culture.  Most of what we shall now impart as our answer to your question is diametrically opposed to the cultural propaganda beamed into your life.  We don’t engage anyone in fights or debates on this. What we say is, “You have your approach derived from the latest television pundit or the pages of the newest acclaimed blog or from self-anointed experts, while we have ours derived from what we see as the Manufacturer’s Instruction Manual. Look around you impartially and decide whether people seem better off following one than the other and make your own decision.”

In our Biblical approach, newly born babies are not a threat to the environment or the climate.  They are a blessing.  They are not merely another mouth to feed, they are fountains of future creativity the likes of which lies beyond our imagination. They bring meaning, love, and immortality into their parents’ lives.  Thus we welcome them and don’t see contraception as the default. However, we do see contraception as something that God gave us the ability to do, and when appropriate, we do employ it.

The question is when is it appropriate and how to do it.  Marital intimacy is tremendously important in and of itself as marriage-glue,  regardless of whether a child is conceived or even whether it is even possible for conception to occur. We rejoice when an older widow and widower marry even when the couple is beyond child-bearing age. Jewish communities work diligently to help infertile individuals get married. Companionship, both emotional and physical, is an important foundation of marriage.

The conventional translation of Genesis 1:28 is ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and is directed at all humanity for all time.  However, the two Hebrew words employed in the original are not synonyms.  They are two separate words. One implication of these two words addresses the act of intimacy as its own commandment while the other addresses the act of reproduction.   One can hardly imagine a more appropriate way for new life to enter the world than as a consequence of that shared joy and closeness between a man and woman together.  For this reason, the Lord’s language has no word for a parent in the singular. The concept exists as HoRiM—parents.  There is a mother and there is a father, but there are parents. God wants to see husbands and wives enjoy ecstasy with one another and for them to welcome any and all offspring if and when they naturally result.

However, as we all know, real life is complex and two desirable ends can sometimes conflict with one another. For example, honoring parents is an important Biblical command, but having one’s own children allows less time to be with parents. Nonetheless, the idea of one daughter remaining unmarried in order to care for parents (as seen in Jane Austen’s Emma or L.M. Montgomery’s books) is anathema to the Jewish soul. Similarly, sometimes there is a conflict between the needs of the marriage and those of the already-born-children in the family and bringing another new life into the world.  Another baby at the present time might impose almost unendurable stress upon the parents and their marriage and substantially diminish their capacity to adequately care for their existing children. There are many potential reasons for this including physical, emotional and economic ones.  In such a case, contraception might be warranted. We say “might be” because each situation is unique and each of us is capable of seeing a situation as we desire. For this reason, we encourage a frank consultation with a respected faith leader in your spiritual tradition to help you evaluate whether the prospect of a child now is indeed a serious question for your marriage and family. It might be that you are simply suffering from perfectly natural and normal jitters or being more influenced by the secular culture than you think.

We stress that our answer is not intended as a full and definitive treatment of the topic for your marriage.  We hope to do little more than expose you to the Biblical approach through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom as a starting point for the decisions that only you and your husband can make. 

Talking of husbands, we assume that if it is a “burning question” for you, you do have a spouse.  So we were a little struck by  the phrase you employed in your PS: “…a burning question for me…”   We’d have preferred to see, “…a burning question for us…”  or “…a burning question for my husband and me…”  Clearly these kinds of decisions should not be made unilaterally by only one spouse.

A brief word to you, Cathy, on the question of the type of birth control that is best to use.  Again, only in general terms, the least desirable is any procedure that leaves the individual permanently infertile such as tubal ligation or a vasectomy.  (Yes, we know they are theoretically reversible but we’ve had too much experience with regretful men and women to feel very confident about it.)  Further down the scale of undesirable are devices that obstruct skin-to-skin contact.  Finally, ancient Jewish wisdom recommends that a ‘sunset clause’ be included at any time that birth control is deemed necessary.  In other words, the couple should commit to reexamine the imperatives that drove them to birth control within a certain time period, say, perhaps between six and eighteen months, in order to discover if they still hold true.

Because the concern that one might be violating the religious teachings of one’s tradition can erode closeness in a marriage, we advise you to make sure that whatever decision you and your husband reach together is also discussed with your own respected religious authority. 

Wishing you a large, happy, and harmonious family,

Rabbi Daniel & Susan Lapin

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My Unemployed Husband is No Help to Me

April 29th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

Your shows are so impacting.  They help me to adjust my thinking, but I am having some challenges letting my new thought pattern influence and change my situation.

In short, I am employed and my husband is not. He lost his job because he did not meet the company’s new requirements and qualifications. While at home, he sleeps for several hours and watches TV.  I am still left to care for the children and the house after a 10-hour day.

When we talk about work, he says that he is entitled to rest from work because he has worked for many years.  He goes on to say that there was a time when I was at home (with the kids) and he brought in all the money (which was not much).

This is exhausting. I feel like a single parent with a lazy bear in my house.  It’s ok that I taught myself not to depend on him for anything, but it would be good to have some support.  What should I do?


Dear Rheon,

As we repeat from time to time, we are not offering personal and comprehensive advice since we only know you through your short letter.  We will try to raise questions and make points that we hope may be applicable to your unique situation.

Having said that, our hearts really do go out to you. Loneliness within a marriage is a cruel form of misery. While your husband’s being out of work sounds unrelated to COVID-19, many couples today are grappling with unemployment.  The emotional and intimate aspects are often more severe than the economic, though of course they are related. 

Our impression, Rheon, is that your marital problems go way back further than your husband losing his job. Mutual disrespect leaps out from your words. You minimize the income he brought in when he was working and his words, which you quote, disparage your contribution in running a home and raising a family. Disrespect, whether through hostile words, sarcasm, “humor”, or facial expression is a machete that hacks away at a marriage. It is incredibly hard to change the way spouses talk to and about each other, but it is vital to do so for a marriage to succeed.

Your last paragraph is right on point. You feel like a single mom with an underperforming son.  And, unfortunately, you can be quite sure, that to your husband, you are sounding like a mother. The problem is that he needs a wife and you need a real husband, not a ‘lazy bear’. What is more, you are the one person in the whole world who cannot talk him into shape.  He definitely needs assistance in getting out of the bad place he currently occupies but you can’t provide that assistance.

Which raises the question of who can? 

First, we must suggest a medical check-up. He may possibly be suffering from illness or depression and if so, professional guidance is needed.

If that can be ruled out, your job might be to find someone, preferably male, whom your husband trusts and who is a wise, compassionate and successful person.  Even if that person cannot speak to your husband, perhaps he can approach someone for you. This might be a pastor from your church; a business professional your husband has worked with or for;  even a relative. These are some of the first tier of people for you to consider.  Your approaching them must come from a place of love and concern, not anger or, God forbid, a desire to see your husband reprimanded and  “taken down a notch.”

We know a woman who used to be in a very similar situation to yours. She carefully made a full list of all her friends and their husbands.  She homed in on a lady who played tennis with her occasionally, and whose husband owned one of the car dealerships in town.  Now here it gets very complicated because a husband can easily resent his wife talking about him to anyone else.  But this woman judged her marriage to be in such a crisis that she decided to take the risk.   With her friend’s permission, she approached her friend’s husband and told him a little about the situation.  He turned out to be a very fine gentleman and immediately offered to help. He and his wife invited our acquaintance and her husband as their guests to a social event. From there, one thing led to another and not only did the two men become friends, but the car dealer successfully inspired our acquaintance’s husband to return to being a happy warrior.  What is more, the two men later became business associates as well. Note, simply having a friendship with another male played a valuable role. This new acquaintance did not lecture or preach.    

We mention this incident to encourage you. Although you can’t change your husband directly, that doesn’t mean there is nothing for you to do.  In the final analysis, you can control only your own behavior, not his. Let’s start with how overworked you feel. Can you examine your schedule and cut out anything extraneous? Perhaps your meals need to become simpler and house cleaning less rigorous? Can your children do more than you currently expect from them? Giving yourself some private time each day (even if it is minimal) to drink a cup of tea, take a bath, or go for a walk should be high on the list of essentials.

While you are extremely disappointed with your husband, we would like to encourage you to do two things.  First, accustom yourself to see your husband as a man who has sustained a serious injury.  Second, search for and find something positive about him even now in his ‘injured’ condition. You write that you taught yourself not to depend on your husband which we totally understand. We recognize that you did that out of desperation as a coping mechanism. However, at the same time, that increased your husband’s feelings of being useless and effectively castrated him. His workplace likewise proved to him that he was unnecessary. His wounds (like yours) go deep.

Does your husband speak kindly to the children, read them a story, put his clothing in the hamper instead of on the floor, thank you for a meal? Does he say, “Good morning.” to you? Tell him that smile in the morning helps you start your day. Dig down to find the slightest things that he is doing well. Start with thanking him for those actions and letting him know how valuable and helpful they are. Graciously ask him for specific and limited help.

“Can you please set the table with the children so I can finish the salad?”

We know that you might prefer to grit your teeth and scream, “Why should I speak so nicely to him? How dare he not help me!” Our suggestion will yield better results. You might be shocked to find out how many men have no idea how to go about helping in the home. (And, please, don’t criticize or correct the placement if the knife goes on the wrong side of the plate.)

What traits can you discover of the man you chose to marry? Cling even to the remnants of those traits. Let him hear you speak respectfully and kindly to your children about him.

Rheon, our impression is that the foundation of your marriage was built with cracks in it. Stressful times put pressure on those cracks. Reconstruction is slow (very, very slow) work, but we hope that you commit to it. Even if things do not improve, you will at least be providing a better model of how a married person should speak and act for your children. A house where spouses disrespect each other provides a poisonous atmosphere for children.

We pray that you soon see the slight reflection of rays of light.

Have strength,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Second chance marriage

April 21st, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

I’ve been listening to your videos on YouTube and I’m so grateful for the valuable information you share.

I am a religious Jewish woman and very family-oriented. I got married at 23 which was over 2 years ago. There has been too much unsureness & insecurity & we recently got divorced.

I don’t even believe in divorce – not that it’s a religion – but basically I think there’s always something that can be done or worked on. I’d never believe that I’d go through it, & with our 1 & 1/2-year-old, but I realized so much negativity can be too much.

I’d like to be with the right person G-d willing, but aside from having a good time dating & good company how can one ensure that the person is of high value & will be lovingly there for them in the long run?

Thanks a million.

Yvonne     (name changed for privacy)

Dear Yvonne,

How can one “ensure that the person is of high value & will be lovingly there for them in the long run?”  One can’t. However, we can up the odds of entering into a positive and long-lasting marriage.

The two separate components of doing so are first, finding the best person and then second, making the union work. In God’s Biblical blueprint, neither Adam nor Eve were given choices.  God didn’t parade a choice of women before Adam like an early MIss Eden contest.  Neither did He allow Eve the option of looking at Adam and saying, “Hmm….really? That’s it?  Could You maybe show me another one?”  The emphasis in the elemental model of marriage was on what happened after the wedding rather than on the process of choosing.

Nowadays, it is not so simple; partially because to some extent, we are all greatly influenced by a deteriorated culture around us, and indeed, some of us are damaged.  For that and other reasons, choosing wisely is now an increasingly important part of the process of building a lifelong marriage.

Unfortunately, we are aware of occasions when people have been rushed into marriage by a respected rabbi or by parents. You don’t have to obey anyone urging you into a marriage about which you may still harbor doubt.  Ancient Jewish wisdom reminds us that one of the very few instances when one is exempt from obeying even parental instruction is on whom to marry. 

As much as circumstances allow, get to meet his family and observe his interactions with them.  Get to meet his friends, especially those with whom he’s been friendly for a long time.  Is he the same person with you as he is when in the company of those friends? The words he speaks about the future need to be measured against what he has done so far and how he has acted in the past. Do they match?

If all of that checks out, and the physical attraction is there, and you both share a common vision of marriage and life including the spiritual, you’ve done all you can.  From there, the emphasis moves onto the correct behavior expected from each of you in building this special new thing called your marriage.  And that is far more complex and demanding than part one.

To be sure, we’re not suggesting that we can adequately steer your marital future in these few paragraphs. 

We have great respect for the way both Jewish and Christian young people we know court in contrast to the recreational dating or worse, hooking up, that goes on in much of secular society. However, as your letter points out, meeting and marrying “within the system” is not foolproof.

As you mention, you never expected to be in this position. You saw marriage as a lifetime commitment and probably expected to emulate wonderful marriages all around you. Instead, you faced terrible disappointment. We don’t know the particulars of your marriage, so we can only deal with the future rather than the past.

Our guess is that as a divorced single mother you are facing many challenges. We would like to encourage you to meet those head-on and focus on growing as a Jewish woman and mother. Your evolving maturity will allow you to examine what your own mistakes were, both in courting and in marriage. Again, without knowing you, we can only ask if you missed red flags or, perhaps, you didn’t have as many necessary skills as you needed to deal with the realities of living with a real human being rather than the picture in your dreams. We’re not trying to place blame—however, you need to examine your own opportunities for growth in this situation before moving on. Finding a trustworthy advisor and sounding board is most helpful. We do strongly recommend that you take a look at Chana Levitan’s book, I Only Want to Get Married Once along with the rest of our Lasting Love Set.

There are even some pitfalls that abound because of being part of a religious group that values marriage. Sometimes, those of us in religious circles rely too much on the opinions of others or are so eager to join the ranks of the married that we ignore the voice inside us that is hesitating. We may have been blessedly sheltered in a way that makes us somewhat naive about the darker corners of life.

Yvonne, we hope and pray that you and your daughter become part of a thriving marriage and family that allows these difficult years to fade away. Sadly, this earthly world doesn’t supply absolute promises of success, whether in marriage, business or raising children. Along with asking for God’s help and guidance, you need to do your part to become a wise evaluator of character, a worthy mate for a wonderful man, and a woman with the fortitude to face the challenges that life will surely bring.

Looking forward to hearing good news in the future,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Where did the money go?

April 14th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 16 comments

With the current stock market losses can you explain where the loss in value goes?


Great question, Brad, 

May we try to put it into concrete terms?   Suppose you owned a stock in the Weem, Acheit & Sellate Widget Company for which you had paid $10.  Now you want to sell it but you can only get $6 for it.  You’re asking, where is the other $4?  The buyer who purchased your share for $6 doesn’t have your $4.  The broker you might have used to facilitate the transaction doesn’t have it and W.A. & S. Widget Company doesn’t have it.  So where did it go?  That’s what you’re asking, right?

This question reminds us of a helpful old riddle. Three men had lunch together and the total bill came to $25.  Each man handed the waiter a $10 bill. On his way back to the table with five $1 bills in change, the waiter had an idea. $5 change is hard to divide among the three diners, so the waiter pocketed $2 and gave each man $1.

With each man having handed over a $10 and got back $1 in change, each man ended up paying $9. Multiply by 3 as there were 3 men, so that comes to $27. Now remember the $2 in the waiter’s pocket and $27 + $2 = $29.  Where is the missing $1?  Did we start with $30, not $29?  Who has the missing $1?

The answer to this restaurant riddle is that there is nothing missing. Each man paid $9 for a total of $27, of which $25 paid for their meal and $2 was placed in his pocket by the waiter. The correct equation is $27 – $2 = $25.  You see, the presumption that what they paid PLUS the waiter’s $2 should equal $30 is flawed.

We really do hope you’ve read our book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money.  It has helped to transform the financial lives of so many readers.  You might remember how the 8th chapter, Know Your Money, begins:  Your money is a quantifiable analog for your life force–the aggregate of your time, skills, experience, persistence, and relationships. This is quite different from the dry definition that the professor gave you on day one of Econ 101 at your local kindergarten: Money is a medium of exchange.

The important thing to wrap your mind around is that money is spiritual not physical.  What do we mean by this? Things whose dimensions and characteristics can be measured in a laboratory are physical. This includes cucumbers, saxophones, thermometers, and bottles. On the other hand, honesty, perseverance, music, and reputation are spiritual.  So is money.  The weight of a $100 bill is the same as the weight of a $5 bill.  A $0.25 coin, a quarter, weighs more than the paper money but is worth less.  It is worth less by human agreement.

If everyone on earth vanished, physical objects will still remain.  However, spiritual things only exist in the context of human beings.  A visitor from another planet wouldn’t take long to discover the use of a cucumber or a saxophone. But if that same intelligent space tourist came to planet Earth and found a few metallic discs or some strips of colored paper with numbers on them, there is no way it would mean anything to him at all.  No amount of tampering with them would reveal their meaning.

If a physical object loses half of itself, we know someone took it. For example, if you have an apple and when you go to eat it, half is missing, then you know that someone came and ate half your apple and you’d find it in his stomach.  However, if someone’s reputation is diminished, it hasn’t gone anywhere.  Nobody took it.  It’s just gone.

That is the first part of the answer to your question. The second part is best explored by examining the opposite of your question.  Imagine you start up a company making lawnmowers.  You raise capital by selling 100 shares at $10 each and you issue yourself as founder, 100 shares also. You now have $1,000 to start making lawnmowers.  We bought one of those shares for $10 at your initial public offering. 

Unexpectedly, the Surgeon General of the United States announced that sitting on the grass for an hour a day produces immunity to several diseases and regrows hair on bald heads. Suddenly everyone is tearing up driveways, rock gardens and parking lots and planting grass. Lots of it. The market realizes that there is going to be a massive demand for lawnmowers. People realize that lawnmower manufacturers like you are going to have more orders than they ever dreamed of and profits are going to skyrocket.  Everyone wants a share of your company.

Not surprisingly, I get many offers for my one share in your company.  But because so many people are trying to obtain a share, they offer us far more than the $10 we paid. In fact, we sold our share for $30; we made a profit of $20. Many of the 99 other shareholders also sell at $30, while some hold out anticipating still higher prices.

You are busily turning out lawnmowers from morning to night but that evening you come home and catch your breath.  That’s when you realize that you own 100 shares in the company.  Those shares are now worth about $3,000.  That’s right, the market in its current state would be delighted to buy your block of founders stock and place in your hand $3,000 if you so choose.  Our question for you is who lost the money you now have?  The answer is nobody.  A crowd of individual investors started feeling super confident about the prospects of your company. They saw the potential of future profits and they wanted in. They priced the value of the share owned by Mrs. Lapin and me at about $30. They would happily offer to buy our share as well as your 100 shares which are worth more money than they were last week. You are richer than you were but nobody is any poorer.

Similarly, when the value of a share you own declines from, say, the $10 you paid all the way down to $6, nobody has the missing $4.  It’s just that a large number of individual human beings feel that because of poor performance on the part of the company that had issued the share, their desire for that share had declined and they would now pay only $6.

This dynamic could also have happened had you kept your $10 in cash and not purchased the share. For instance, the number of people in the world who want to own U.S. dollars could decline and the actual value of your $10 might drop to $8. (We are not considering inflation in this discussion, only currency exchange fluctuations.)

Thus, you can see that just like reputation or music, money is also not tangible.  It’s existence, and even its value, depend on the beliefs and interactions of large numbers of other people. If they all, in aggregate, decide that the house for which you paid $100,000 last year is now worth only $90,000, your net worth is down by $10,000 but there is nobody in the world who is saying to himself, “Oh great! Brad’s bad luck is my good luck. Because his house lost $10,000 of value, mine just went up by $10,000”. Your lost $10,000 of value never went anywhere in particular. It just vanished.  Just as with a sadly dissolving marriage, one might ask, “Where did all the love I saw on their honeymoon go?”  Love is also a spiritual phenomenon.  That means it can vanish. It doesn’t mean that the married couple next door suddenly have more love.  Just like the restaurant riddle, the presumption that the missing value of the share must be somewhere is flawed.

With earnest hopes that you will be more afflicted by unexplained gains than losses,


Rabbi Daniel & Susan Lapin

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How does isolation fit in a Biblical worldview?

April 7th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

I live in California. The governor just ordered a shelter in place because of the coronavirus. What does ancient Jewish wisdom say about what to do about sick people in society?

John M.

Dear John,

While this is not the right venue for us to answer your question comprehensively, we thought that you and others might find  this Biblical thought on illness interesting and perhaps useful

A great deal of the book of Leviticus speaks of illnesses that are often poorly translated into English as leprosy or some other contagion. The repair for these problems involves removing oneself from the camp and being isolated. Many of us can relate more to those verses today than we could just a few weeks ago.

These illnesses were not of a physical, but of a spiritual variety. In the days where the relationship between God and His people was on a heightened level, spiritual flaws drew quick physical responses.

The study of psychosomatic disorders which is when mental or spiritual distress presents as a physical phenomenon on the body is relatively recent but it helps us understand the close bond between our spiritual and our physical beings. The fascinating efficaciousness of placebos again reinforces how closely tied are our bodies and our souls. 

We no longer benefit from that same level of closeness and interaction between the physical and spiritual worlds. Yet, we are nonetheless very aware of holistic medicine which hints at how every part of the body impacts every other part. Today, we (correctly) would never suggest that individual A is ill because of personal sins or individual B is healthy because he is righteous. Yet we do understand that what and how we think does have an effect on our physical well-being.  Optimism and happiness undoubtedly contribute to physical health as well as to speedy recovery.  The Biblical worldview extension of that is that what and how we think and behave affects the health of the world around us as well.

Taking care of the ill and needy is a priority in a Biblical world. So is behaving in ways that protect and improve life for those among whom you live. It is unacceptable to be absorbed only in one’s own life. One of the effects of isolation as described in Leviticus was a renewed appreciation for being part of a community, with all the responsibilities and demands that go along with that privilege. We can hope that today’s virus is reminding us all how fortunate we are to live in a world where we are not alone.

Stay healthy,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My Job Makes Me Unpopular

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

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

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

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

Thank you


Dear Jide,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hope this gives you some helpful guidance,


Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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

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

Hi Rabbi Lapin and Susan,

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


Pamela T.

Dear Pamela,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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