Posts in Ask the Rabbi

Why doesn’t “Do Not Kill” apply to war and law?

September 23rd, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

In the 10 commandments, it says, “Thou shalt not kill.”  So if a police officer shoots a burglar breaking into your home, is God happy or displeased?  What about the military whose job it is to kill people?  Is God happy or angry?  Does it make a difference which army you are in?  Is a German soldier in WW2 treated the same as a soldier in the Israeli army?

Peter H.

Dear Peter,

Your question is one that we have received from many people so we are delighted to answer. Actually, though, your question is based on a mistaken premise.  This is because the sixth commandment does not state, “Thou shall not kill.” It says in Hebrew, לא תרצח, for which ‘thou shall not kill’ is a poor translation.   

Every legal system differentiates between varied aspects of killing.   These different words for killing carry different connotations and, when appropriate, different legal penalties. There are major differences between execution, killing, murder, manslaughter, assassination, as well as degrees such as 2nd-degree manslaughter. In the Hebrew language and Biblical culture, there are also different ways in which a life can be taken.   

God’s law requires that we punish some transgressions with the death penalty handed down and carried out by a legally constituted court. The laws surrounding the court and such a verdict are extremely tightly drawn, but the idea that a person can forfeit his life through certain actions is an important one. War is also part of God’s picture and, once again, while a soldier’s behavior is tightly regulated, killing one’s enemy on the battlefield is a reality.

When it comes to war, there are extremely complex issues. Is your country asking you to do something in opposition to God’s will? This issue can come up, not only in war but in other ways as well. To our disgrace and dismay, it is not far-fetched to imagine these days that a nurse might be ordered to participate in killing a perfectly viable newborn baby, whether through an action or through neglect. The bottom line is, that while respect for country and civil law is a Biblical value, respect for God’s law trumps that. This isn’t a “do what you want” card; it is a serious commitment of faith for which one is willing to sacrifice one’s own life.

When it comes to war, once the war itself is moral, there is still behavior within that war that must be followed. However, killing is an inevitable part of war and while we have great admiration for communities like the Quakers who shun violence no matter the cost, ancient Jewish wisdom posits that refusal to use violence will cause more bloodshed and evil in the long term. War and killing are sometimes necessary.

Similarly, the Bible stresses the need for a safe and stable society and the establishment of law and justice. Police, judges and legislators have an authority that can extend to killing within the parameters of a just legal system. Questions may arise about how the system works but not on whether killing is ever allowed. On that, there is no question.

You ask about a police officer killing a burglar breaking into your home. It doesn’t have to be a police officer. If you have reason to believe that the burglar might use force against you or your family, you shouldn’t wait for law enforcement to arrive.  You should prevent the intruder from inflicting bodily harm by whatever means necessary, including killing him.

A better translation of the sixth commandment would be, “Thou shalt not murder.” (And that is the translation our recommended Bible uses*.) Even so, there is nothing simplistic about this sentence just as there is nothing simplistic about any law or command given in the Five Books of Moses.

We hope this gives you the beginning of a path to understanding,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*In our recommended Bible:

Page 226, top line, middle two words: Thou Shalt Not Murder לא תרצח

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Languages of Love

September 16th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

My husband and I have a very good relationship with the exception of food.  I want to make dinner for him.  He says I am a good cook and he enjoys my cooking, he just doesn’t happen to be “in the mood” for whatever I happen to have prepared that day. 

I have begged him for menu suggestions, he says “Anything is fine,” so I give three or four suggestions none of which interest him.  I’ll ask him what he wants and stand there for an hour until he notices I’m still there and asks me if I’ve figured out dinner yet.  It has gotten to the point where he says, “Thoughts on dinner?” and I respond, “No.  I have no thoughts,” because I am so tired of being shot down. 

Last night I made a special soup that I haven’t made in a while.  He wanders into the kitchen and says, “That sounds really good, maybe with a sandwich.  Maybe a grilled cheese?”  I was excited that he actually made a suggestion, but then I discovered that the kids had finished off the bread so I brought him his soup and asked if a quesadilla would be an acceptable substitute for grilled cheese (I would have been happy to make the bread if I had discovered it was gone earlier).  He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich.  Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and he went to bed without even tasting the soup.  He wasn’t mad or anything, just acted like it didn’t matter. 

I cried for an hour.  I don’t want to play this game anymore.  What do I do?

Andrea

Dear Andrea,

How awful you must feel as meal after meal is rejected. You are hurt and frustrated. If we are going to be of help to you, we encourage you to read our answer when you are alone, not pressed for time, and when you are in a calm and reflective mood. You see, we would like to suggest that you might be missing the forest for the trees and encourage you to reframe the situation. This will not be simple and for these reasons we urge you not to read further until our previously named conditions are met.

Welcome back! We are going to take you at your word that you and your husband have a very good relationship. If this wasn’t so, our answer would be coming from a different place.

But just to make sure we cover your question in its entirety, let us note that universally, men seek from their wives, both food and physical companionship.  In the Lord’s language, one root word, comprising the letters zayin-nun, allude to both food and physical intimacy.  Many men find food served by their beloved wife to be a completely more exhilarating experience than food served by the finest restaurant.  On dinner dates, I have learned that when the waiter departs after bringing a dish from which the diners are to help themselves, most men hope their female date will do the pouring or the serving. It just heightens the delightful tension.   Interestingly enough, in traditional Japanese culture,  the Geisha, a sort of idealized ultimate super-woman would be seen as exemplifying the ultimate in both food and feminine companionship although the intimate dimension was seldom emphasized or even spoken of as that would be crude.

Why do we even raise this? Because your question is so food-centric, and since ancient Hebrew wisdom tells of how both appetites tend to go together,  we would be remiss in not mentioning it.  We were a little struck by this sentence you used, “He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich.  Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and he went to bed…”   You stayed behind crying. Needless to say, we’d have preferred to have read, “He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich.  Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and WE went to bed…”  Are there many nights when HE goes to bed rather than WE do?  We do hope not. That would suggest we need a wider discussion of what may be going on

But if your marriage is indeed strong, your relationship is loving and respectful, and this is the issue that is causing a problem, then we are going to question some of your language.

You see, Andrea, you wrote that after the soup/quesadilla debacle your husband, “wasn’t mad or anything, just acted like it didn’t matter,” and went to bed. What if he wasn’t ‘acting like it didn’t matter,’ but it actually didn’t matter! For many of us food provides physical, spiritual, emotional and sensual pleasure. We get pleasure from different textures, colors and flavors. (Can you tell where most Lapins fall in this debate?) It is hard for us to believe that there are people in the world for whom food is…well, just food. They can take it or leave it.

My (Susan’s) father was one of these people. He would have been happy to have spaghetti with ketchup (no cheese, no fancy sauce, no side-dish) every other night and a plain brisket on the alternate evening. That too would be covered in ketchup at the table. Had my mother spent hours in the kitchen whipping up a delectable concoction, he would have pushed it around his plate and waited for plain spaghetti the next night. (Hmmm – note to daughter #1 whose teenage son’s eating habits are monotonousmaybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) My mother was a decent cook but not an inspired one, so she made somewhat varied suppers for herself, my sister and me, but happily regularly reheated spaghetti or brisket for my father.

My husband on the other hand (Susan here again) truly appreciates my cooking. No matter how delicious a Shabbat bakery challah is, he rejoices in my homemade ones. He notices and savors the food I cook. Our daughters and I love trying new recipes and experimenting with flavors and, fortunately, many of our sons-in-law tend to the “foodie” side as well.

Your husband just may be more like my father. In Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages (if you haven’t read it, you should*) he says that people have different ways of seeking love and giving love. Sometimes, we try to give our loved ones what we want rather than what they need. For example, imagine that you love receiving flowers. They brighten up your day with their color, aroma and beauty. So, when your friend’s husband asks you what he can do to bring joy to his wife, you tell him, “Bring her flowers!” But your friend, while appreciative of the gesture, really wants her husband to put down his electronics and go for an evening walk with her. Time he spends with her is what she values. If he gives her flowers, he is unconsciously telling her that  he doesn’t really know her and what she craves. Your advice would be misguided and possibly harmful.

You are demanding that your husband make food his ‘love language.’ You want to cook for him and watch him appreciate the results. But that isn’t his area of satisfaction. Stop and think what he truly lights up about in your ‘very good relationship.’ Would he rather you spend less time in the kitchen and more time discussing the events of the day? Would he prefer that you express appreciation for the ways he helps around the house? What would make him happy? Food may be fuel for his body but no more than that. He truly doesn’t care what you make and will eat or not eat depending on his level of hunger, not the particular meal.

By all means, cook for your own pleasure and enjoy a varied menu with your children. But don’t go to bed (alone) crying because you are imagining that the man you married is rejecting and spurning you when he truly isn’t.

Happy explorations,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Should I go back to work?

September 9th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments

Hi Rabbi and Susan,

My husband and I have just finished the audiobook of Business Secrets from the Bible. We are Christians and your teaching has just expanded our minds so much we are so grateful – and my husband who is in management had already seen great “fruit” from applying your biblical teachings in just the past week.

My question surrounds women returning to the workforce after children. I have an honours degree but have been primarily a stay home mother for nearly 8 years. Can I please have your wisdom on what point I should consider returning to work—would you recommend full time /part-time. I have 2 boys 6 and 8 years old. I want to serve my family but I also want to make some money!

I have had my own business in the past but understand it requires much attention. I really don’t want to outsource parenting but want to work. I do understand your teaching around 6 days work (which my husband does – and I do too (within the home) but not for money!

Your wisdom would be greatly appreciated

Kindest regards,

Christie (Australia)

Dear Christie,

We are truly delighted your family has been blessed by Business Secrets from the Bible.  Delighted, but not really surprised, Christie, because whether in Australia or in Chile, whether in 2020 or in 1720, the Manufacturer’s Roadmap to reality always applies and is always effective.  A pat on the back to your husband for effectively following the principles in Business Secrets from the Bible.

A big pat on the back to you too for having been in the forward trenches of the home-front-lines these past 8 years and being able to focus on being a wife and mom.  Though I don’t underestimate the importance of our book in your husband’s success, it takes second place to your being present as his wife.  That usually contributes far more to the husband’s fiscal achievements than most couples realize. Wise and perceptive husbands know, acknowledge, and appreciate their wives’ contribution to their own economic performance.

Which leads naturally to the question you ask and the question we ask you in return.  Looking only at hard dollar numbers, how would you react to this set of equations:  (H -husband, W – wife, F – family)

NOW:    H100 + W0  =  F100

THEN:   H85  + W30  =  F115

Now, in the present,  your husband makes, shall we say $100 while, with you, the wife,  at home, although you contribute greatly to his fiscal effectiveness, you add $0 for a total family income of $100.

Then,  let’s imagine that with you away at work, your husband’s income were to drop to $85 (not uncommon) but you were to earn $30, for a total family income of $115.

What would you say?  For a 15% increase in family revenue, would you still go to work?  This is an important though hypothetical question because how you answer it to yourself will tell you the answer to another question.  Namely, is your motivation primarily monetary or are you looking for other things such as challenge, accomplishment and adult interaction?

We admire you for holding an honours degree, Christie, but you don’t tell us in what subject. Not to be frivolous, but if your degree is in 12th Century Byzantine Frescoes it has zero economic value to you right now, whereas if it is in actuarial science, working even part-time, you’d do rather well.

From your words, “but I also want to make some money!” rather than, “Our family could use some additional money,” we assume that while extra income would be helpful, your family is managing with what your husband earns. That gives you and your husband the luxury of choice, both in whether you return to paid work as well as what you do.

But make it a joint husband/wife decision.  As any Bible enthusiast knows, in this world, for every positive there is a corresponding negative.  Have a sober discussion about the marriage and family costs of a working wife and mom.  The two of you should discuss what would be best and for how long it should be lived before a reevaluation is scheduled.   The discussion will help lead you on the right path.

Is it possible that you are ready to branch out, but that this can occur without joining the paid workforce? We don’t know what your skills are, but you do mention having had your own business. Are you able to think of family and business as one unit rather than as competing entities? There is tremendous value in children growing up with a front-row seat in economics and real life. We assume that they are in school, but they (especially the eight-year-old) are not too young to pack boxes, answer phones professionally, check inventory, sweep up and do myriad other chores that running a small home business involves. Not only does it contribute valuable understanding about the real world of commerce, but it is tremendously valuable for every member of the family to recognize that he is part of a team and a greater enterprise.

On one hand, being an entrepreneur can consume many more hours than having a job, but it does leave you more in control of your time. Freelancing is another option that carries the negative of uncertainty but lets you scale back when needed. Today, with digital technology so prevalent and so accepted, there are hundreds of ways of serving other people from your home. We encourage you to explore these options. As you well know, family life can run smoothly but it can also dash up against rocky shores. Being able to adjust and step up with your sons when needed is terribly important.

Since we haven’t (yet) visited your wonderful country, we can’t speak about schools in Australia, but we do know that parents in the United States are quite wrong when they assume that their own values are being transmitted by the teachers who are spending most of every day with their children. This is, sadly, often true for private and religious schools as well as Government Indoctrination Camps. Technology, social media and other facets of our time also mean that this generation of children is in desperate need of parental attention. While your children don’t physically need you as they did when they were younger, they still greatly need for your husband and you to have a fantastic marriage (still one of the greatest gifts parents can bequeath their children) as well as a firm finger on the pulse of their lives.

We hope this gives both you and your husband some ideas to explore,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Why Aren’t the books of the Apocrypha part of the Bible?

September 1st, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 3 comments

Thank you Rabbi and Susan for your valuable information.  I am a born, raised and practicing Catholic. I find your Ancient Jewish Wisdom very helpful and insightful.

I thought you may be able to answer this question a bit better than the many Google searches I have done. The books (I believe there are seven) that are not included in the canonized Jewish teachings or Bible but are in the New Testament of the Bible that Catholics use, which I believe you may call the Apocrypha and Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books, are something I would like to learn more about from the Jewish aspect. From searches, I see that the Jewish Bible or teachings was canonized between 200 BC and or even up to 200 AD. Can you clarify when it was? Why were those seven books not canonized?

I have read several different reasons but would like to know what the Jewish teaching is. And before the canonization of Jewish teaching, were any of the works of those seven books taught or referred to when teaching the Jewish people? I read that the story inspiring Hanukkah is in one of those books, I believe Maccabees. Can you tell me if that is true and if so, why it is? I read many different things online and would love to know what Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches and find that you are a much more reliable source than Googling. Thank you so much!

Alicia

Dear Alicia,

We have to admit that we were not familiar with the term ‘Deuterocanonical books.’ However, while we cannot address the decisions of either the Catholic or Protestant church, we can explain the Jewish TaNaCH without resorting to any search engine.

Before endeavoring to answer your question, Alicia, it is our duty to inform you that we place little stock in Academia’s view of the Bible. We’d as soon take detailed marital guidance from a lifelong celibate as accept information on God’s Message—the Bible—from a secular or atheistic university “Professor of Bible”.

That said, Jewish Scripture is known by the acronym TaNaCH, תנ“ך. The three Hebrew letters, reading right to left have the sound of T, N and CH. The T stands for Torah, which technically refers only to the five books of Moses. The N stands for Nevi’im – the prophets. These include the books starting with Joshua and going through Malachi. The CH has the sound of K when it is at the beginning of a word and stands for Ketuvim – the writings. These range from Psalms to Chronicles and include the books of Esther, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.

The three sections correspond to the decreasing level of prophecy with which the respective books were written. Moses had direct conversation with God and as such the Torah is the transmission of God’s dictation. It is for this reason that we explore each and every letter to discover the oral tradition that accompanied the dictation – what we term ancient Jewish wisdom.

No one after Moses had the same closeness with God. The prophets—whose levels of prophecy were not necessarily identical—had visions and revelations, but the language of the books is largely their own. We scrutinize these as well for ancient Jewish wisdom, and there is much there, but not to the same extent.

The Writings, Ketuvim, were authored by King David, King Solomon, some of the prophets such as Samuel and others. In some cases, they are expansions of ancient Jewish wisdom on a piece of the Torah, in others, they are songs and odes, but they are all holy writings. Even the book of Chronicles is not a history but connected to the Divine. As such, there is oral transmission, ancient Jewish wisdom, on these as well.

In contrast, the book of Maccabees you mention (that is the only piece of the Apocrypha of which we have any knowledge) is a historical account of a period of history. There is no Divine component. It can be supported or questioned as historians wish. Hanukkah, on the other hand, is referenced in the Torah (our audio CD Festival of Lights shows where) and was a pre-ordained festival. The historical events of the time turned the major concepts of the festival into an observance and are interesting, but the reasons for the eight days of celebration themselves trace back to the beginning of Genesis.

In summary, the books of the TaNaCH have the purpose of capturing the entirety of God’s Message for mankind delivered through Moses at Sinai.  For instance, the details in the Hebrew account of Samson and Delilah in Judges 16 clarify important and useful information in Genesis 28.  Psalms 81 resolves an otherwise baffling mystery in Genesis 41 and so forth.

After many years of requests to recommend a Hebrew/English Bible, we have settled on a beautiful edition with many fine features. For one thing, it shows the correct Biblical paragraph breaks in a way that most printed Bibles do not. You might enjoy taking a look at it.

Wishing you enlightenment from Genesis through Chronicles,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Finances: a sticky point in our marriage

August 18th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 4 comments

I love your program and rarely miss a podcast.  We have a bit of a conundrum in our marriage and would like to avoid pitfalls and are wondering what you recommend.

I’ve (Jennifer) worked in the business world for many years now and have worked my way up to management positions.  Years ago, I read your book Thou Shall Prosper and it has really helped me to keep my career on track.  I started out working from home when our children were small so that I could take care of them and so we could afford to buy groceries.

My husband is in law enforcement, a career that notoriously doesn’t pay very well.  He does well for where we live, but as the second-in-command of his office, he is at the top of what he can possibly earn, especially in this current political climate where departments are making cutbacks and now his department’s pay has been cut even more by our commissioners.  He’s got 4 more years until retirement and would like to stick it out that long so that he doesn’t lose his pension, which by law, 10% of his earnings go into.  He’s worked his way up to an administrative position and that has been a very welcome change for our family as far as his work schedule is concerned.  We both work full time and we homeschool (we have one child left at home), so him being more available has been a tremendous help.

Our conundrum is that I now out-earn him by a considerable amount. I have always handled the family finances, so it’s not something that he regularly worries about as this is not the “department” he deals with on a regular basis, however, when we do discuss finances, it’s clearly difficult for him to be in such a position.  It’s okay as long as it’s not really discussed.

How can we best keep this issue from becoming a problem?  We don’t have high expenses…we don’t have any debt besides our home and we live within our means.  We are finally at a place where buying groceries, having a vehicle in good running order, and buying fuel to get to work are not a concern.  We do live in a low-wage/high-cost-of-living area of the country.  My additional earnings have really lifted the financial burden for our family and now we make ends meet much more easily.   

Additionally, as a second career, my husband plans on earning his helicopter pilot’s license in his spare time over the next few years prior to retirement from law enforcement, an expensive venture. This will provide him with another career and far less stress once he leaves law enforcement.  My income will make the necessary education possible while he pursues this.  Getting this license and his first responder and search and rescue training will enable him to continue to provide a valuable service to the community in a different capacity.

Anyway, how shall we best handle this?  Avoiding discussing finances isn’t a good option.  It doesn’t seem reasonable for me to quit and go to a lower paying job when I’d be investing the same amount of time away from my family.  After I got my last raise, I dreaded going home and telling him about it…in fact, it took me several weeks to mention it because I don’t want him to feel insufficient.  I don’t bring my earnings to light, but he does.  I feel like my contribution is no greater than his…we’re both just working to take care of our family.  How do we avoid this becoming a serious issue?

Blessings,

Jennifer F.

Dear Jennifer,

Double congratulations to you; first for writing so lucidly on a sensitive topic and second for being so competent at your business that you have merited promotions and raises.  And, no, you absolutely should not even think about quitting your work and taking a lower-paying job or doing something way below your level of performance. Let us also tell you at the outset of what will necessarily be a bit of a gloomy letter, that we have reasons for believing that you are going to succeed in making your marriage continue to work well and perhaps even improve it.

But the problem you raise is a very real one. Unlike for women’s sense of femininity, a  man’s sense of masculine identity is closely tied to his earning. It is not tied just to an objective figure but it is comparative. In other words, how is he earning compared to others?  When he compares his earnings to other men, the resulting spur to ambition is usually quite healthy.  When he compares his earnings to his wife’s we have an entirely different and less positive dynamic.  What is more, a marriage suffers significantly higher stress when the wife out-earns the husband and the likelihood of divorce rises meteorically. We are very familiar with the literature on this subject, such as the three-year-old study done by Organization Science and widely discussed at Harvard. Seven years earlier, Forbes magazine picked up on the business implications of the work done by the Journal of Family Issues relating divorce to higher-earning wives. Recently, the American Economic Association probed the Stockholm University study trying to understand why marriages are imperiled when the wife wins raises and promotions but not when the husband does.

Nonetheless, we emphasize that our own knowledge and understanding of this matter comes not from countless studies but chiefly from Scripture and ancient Jewish wisdom. We smile reading the numerous articles and we note that though they have correctly identified the phenomenon, their varied prescriptions are way off. They range from, “Well, hubby just has to get more ‘woke’ and be happy that the ‘wage-gap’ is now on the other foot,” to, “Perhaps if he helps more with the laundry, the income difference will be less obvious.”  In other words, none of the studies with which we are familiar (and that is most of them) have the slightest idea of what to do about the problem.

And unfortunately, we’re not a whole lot better.  We feel a bit like the doctor whose sedentary and self-indulgent patient insists on living a lifestyle of gourmand gluttony, but complains when he puts on weight and demands that his doctor does something about it.  Society insists on creating tax and other incentives that lead to the end of traditional marriage and promotes ideas that compromise women by making them want to emulate men and emasculate men, yet citizens are shocked, yes shocked, to discover that their choices threaten the viability of marriage and imperil its durability.

It’s a mistake to believe that the passage of time will help people adapt to new enlightened ways of equality or that, “men must become more feminized” or, “women must become more assertive ” and then it will be fine as we all live happily ever after. No, long before that, our sick society will stagger its way to terminal decline while we struggle to cope with the consequences of collapsed families. Every attempt to revolutionize patterns of human life has failed.

As in most games, in the ‘game of life,’ it is better to know the rules than to shake a defiant fist at the umpire.  It is better to understand that the way God created us (or how unaided materialistic evolution evolved us if you prefer) most women will lose respect, sometimes even without being aware of it, for a man not pulling his financial weight.

We apologize if you feel we’re reading too much into your letter but we get to read, study, and scrutinize a whole heap of great letters like yours every month.  We note that your letter is remarkably devoid of any words of personal praise for your husband. Is he a great father? A warm and attentive husband?  A really good man?  We don’t know. Forgive us, we can’t help asking ourselves if perhaps you have started losing just a little respect for your man. After all, in a six hundred word letter, there’s nary a word of warmth or appreciation for the guy with whom you built a family.  Your letter really could have been written about a roommate and it would read much the same.

What is more, we didn’t read of pride in his occupation. If the two of you tremendously value dedicating oneself to promote the welfare of the community, as both law enforcement and rescue workers do, then the money might be secondary to the feeling that the two of you are dedicated to a joint ideal. Instead, and of course, we could be misreading, but this sounds like your husband’s career decisions are his alone.

We credit your wifely wisdom in first spotting the potential problem and for being so sensitive to it.  We’re sure it was hard and a bit sad, not to be able to jointly celebrate your last raise.  We wish it had been your husband writing to ask us about what you rightly describe as your conundrum. If he had, one of the first things we’d have recommended is that he decline your gracious willingness to underwrite the tuition at helicopter flight school out of your income.  Being fully aware of the slightly added cost of interest, we nonetheless would strongly recommend that he takes out a loan to be repaid entirely from his earnings as a SAR pilot.  Accredited flight schools may be eligible for federal low-interest student loans. If that doesn’t work, Sallie Mae (Student Loan Marketing Association) has been making loans to students enrolled in flight school. In any event, whatever it takes, we are sure this avenue would be an excellent investment in your marriage. This would encourage him to deal with the economic reality of his job choice.

But your husband hasn’t asked us and we are sure that it would be a very bad idea for you to be the one to suggest that he takes out a loan to prepare for his next career. (Remaining where he is until his pension vests is a good plan unless he unexpectedly receives another job offer paying twice what you earn.)  Jennifer, we sincerely hope that you have a very wise family friend, perhaps your pastor, or maybe an older relative whom your husband thinks well of. (Male, needless to say.)  If there is such a person, show him your letter and this, our response, and ask if he can approach your husband and make the loan suggestion in a compellingly persuasive way. Obviously, you would have to have complete trust in this person.

You ask “How shall we best handle this?”  The “we” part is a bit tough because seldom does a husband feel more alone than when he worries about money. In fact, we are sure that you are wrong when you say that the financial income disparity between you is, “not something that he regularly worries about.”  We are certain that he is constantly concerned about it.   However, there are some things you can do to help mitigate the reality you find yourselves in. It sounds as if your earnings are actually needed on a regular basis to help, “make ends meet much more easily.”  But apparently there would have been enough surplus also to cover helicopter flight school.  Typically, to get FAA commercially rated and gain enough flight hours, at least 200 hours on a rotary-wing aircraft, that is to say, a helicopter, can take an employed person, say, two years and cost maybe fifty thousand dollars. If flight instruction will be covered by a loan, close to that sum ought now to be available from your earnings for saving towards, or investment into, something you both care about. Sharing that joint project will be so much better for the marriage than for you to pay for your husband’s flight instruction.

What else can you do, Jennifer?  Of course, we don’t know you and we stand at a distance, but from our understanding of these marriages, of which we’ve seen more than a few, we’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that manifestations of physical affection are less than ideal in both quantity and quality.  That too is typically a casualty of what we call MIDS-marital income disparity syndrome. What makes it so problematic is that it causes the condition to cascade with each cycle of resentment and withdrawal feeding on the previous. As ancient Jewish wisdom puts it in Aramaic: “Dai lechacimah beremizah”–To the wise, just a hint is sufficient. Only you can mend this and the consequences of its repair will be wonderful and widespread.

We urge you to search your heart and find a group of women whose husbands uphold our communities through their work (military, police, firefighter wives etc.) and who take pride in that sacrifice. The families of these men often make sacrifices so that their husbands can serve and you are doing the same. You should feel pride in and respect for both you and your husband and that feeling should be conveyed to your children as well. We don’t suggest showing fake interest in what your husband faces, but we do encourage you to recognize his role in keeping society safe.

Finally, find opportunities to ask for his advice.  There will be those readers who bristle at the idea of a woman deliberately feeding her husband’s ego by asking for his advice. They are wrong.  All civilized interactions, whether personal, business or even diplomatic are lubricated by certain conventions.  We ask, “How are you?” not because we desire a detailed catalog of current diseases being endured but because we want the person to feel we care about them. A man might tell a woman, “I think you’re beautiful” and an ambassador might address the local despot by saying, “With all respect, your highness.” Like a woman seeking opportunities to elicit her husband’s advice, these are all effective conventions for smooth interactions.

These dear Jennifer are some of our recommendations for avoiding the pitfalls in your marriage.  We do feel confident that you will succeed in doing far more than merely avoiding the pitfalls. Because of our evaluation of the sort of woman you are, we anticipate you carefully putting into place each of the many golden bricks of marriage that will together knit themselves into an impregnable fortress of love, respect and tranquility.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Daniel & Susan Lapin

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I Need Some Chutzpah!

August 11th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Hello, I’m one of your grateful students. My name is Roman, want to say thank u for all your work and wisdom.

Can u explain notion of Chutzpah and some tips how to develop and improve it. Probably u know some books that have deep explanation of the notion.

Thank u a lot.

Roman

Dear Roman,

We must ask you to have a little patience as we begin our answer with words that seem to have little to do with your question.

In 1909, the first kibbutz was established in what is now the modern State of Israel. A kibbutz is a collective where all property is shared and the group takes precedence over individuals and individual families. In those days, many of those who immigrated to the land of Israel were Socialists from Russia and the kibbutz is a Socialist utopian dream. Today, few kibbutzim exist anymore and those that do are based much more on a capitalist and sometimes even a religious foundation.

Why do we tell you this? Because many people associate a kibbutz with Judaism because of the misguided, and often religiously alienated, founders of the modern State of Israel. Yet, were you to ask us to tell you tips about kibbutzim, the first thing we would have to say is that they are, at their basic level, in opposition to how God wishes us to live our lives. The Torah lauds both family integrity and private property.

What does this have to do with chutzpah, a word that has entered the English language with synonyms such as gall, audacity, effrontery and boldness? Well, rather than telling you how to develop and improve chutzpah, we have to tell you to run away from it! The word (and its root) does not appear in Scripture other than two references in the book of Daniel where it is based in Aramaic rather than Hebrew.

The classic illustration of chutzpah is a man who murders his mother and father and then pleads for mercy from the judge on the basis of his being an orphan. That is not something that makes God smile. We are not meant to be brazen and cheeky but rather humble and modest.

However, we assume that you meant chutzpah mistakenly thinking of it as acting with confidence and conviction. You are looking for the quality that allowed Moses to confront Pharaoh, which enabled Joseph to assume control of the Egyptian economy and that gave a spine of steel to the numerous Jews over centuries who accepted death rather than betray their God.

That quality is not chutzpah, but rather strength and integrity. When you know what is right and are able to distinguish meaningless stubbornness from principled stance, you do not allow yourself to be moved by anyone or anything. How best to develop those traits? That is an ongoing process that goes hand in hand with Bible study. Seeking and committing to a wise mentor and counselor is invaluable as well since we all can be blind to our own biases. Surrounding yourself with those who act the way you wish to act is also essential; just as cowardice is contagious, so is courage.

By asking the question, Roman, you are showing a desire to be a greater person. There are wonderful biographies of people that you can read which will inspire you, but in the final analysis, working on yourself each and every day is the only way forward.

Be strong and of good courage,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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‘O’ in the Bible

August 5th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 4 comments

While listening to your latest podcast I noticed something while you were reading scripture. In the past I have heard you state the importance of each word in a scripture passage. My question is about the word O. Something in me feels the importance of the word O, but intellectually I cannot see the need for that exclamation.  

I am not nit picking; I am seeking knowledge or an intellectual reason for my feeling. I hope I am not wasting your time, but I see you as an authority who would have the answer.  Thank you for your consideration.

Nona D.

Dear Nona,

When it comes to the Five Books of Moses, there are questions for which we may not have answers, but there is no such thing as nit-picking. Your question is quite a good one.

There are certain Hebrew words that are relatively common in Scripture that do not translate into English. One example is the Hebrew word, E-T. The first verse of Genesis is often translated as, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” For this purpose, we will accept that translation, but one Hebrew word, repeated twice is completely omitted.

The Hebrew says, “In the beginning, God created ET the heavens and ET the earth.” Leaving the word out does not change the surface meaning, yet it yields a deeper message that isn’t our topic today.

One word often translated as “O” or “Lo,” and frequently left out of translations altogether, is HiNeH. (You didn’t provide a verse so that we could make sure we are answering in the context of your question.) In our Bible classes, we translate it as “wow” because it tells you that something unexpected is happening. Often, what is taking place seems fairly commonplace to us. The word “HiNeH” tells us to look for the surprise.

Here is one example. The beginning of Genesis 18:2 can be translated as: “And he [Abraham] lifted his and he saw three men…” The Hebrew more accurately says, “And he lifted his eyes and WOW he saw three men…”

What is the unexpected surprise being conveyed to us? This event took place on the third day after Abraham’s circumcision. Knowing that Abraham excelled at searching for and taking care of those passing by his tent, God made it a particularly scorching day, the kind that discourages travel. The HiNeH prods us to discover this piece of ancient Jewish wisdom, telling us that there has to be something surprising about the commonplace occurrence of Abraham welcoming guests. It now makes sense to us that these guests actually were not human, but angels.

In other words, your instincts are spot on. Every word in the Torah has meaning.

Keep asking questions,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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How Do I Connect to God?

July 28th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 9 comments

Hi,

I was raised Christian and midway into my adult life, I questioned many things about my faith and reevaluated where I stand. I went through bouts of atheism and ended up more agnostic in my beliefs. I felt abandoned and always searching for God/Creator and what that really is.

I still enjoy the moral lessons in scripture and especially yours. But I still feel that sense of disconnection from God.

I would like your advice on what I should do to accomplish my quests to find the peace, connection, and love of God, while all the while, always questioning the existence and presence that I cannot see. I hope that you can offer advice.

Marcus

Dear Marcus,

By its very definition, having faith means trusting in something that cannot be proven beyond a doubt. Maimonides, a great sage who lived from 1138-1204 instructs us, not to believe that there is a God, but to “know that there is a God”.  Of course, that quest to know God is an ongoing one. We do not each day need to set out to “know” that we need to breathe oxygen or that our bodies require food. Other things that we “know” do need constant reinforcement such as knowing that we should be faithful (there’s that faith word again) to our spouses or that getting up with alacrity is better than lounging in bed.

You are clearly a thinking person and also one who feels deeply. It sounds like you have gone through a process and it is possible that you may even have confused accepting specific tenets of a specific religious path with being aware of a loving Father in heaven.

You now seek connection with God. Please know that being aware of a connection with God and of His love for you does lead to peace, but most of us feel that more at some times and less at others. The search for that connection does not always make us feel peaceful; it can actually be disturbing just as an emerging newborn is jostled, pushed and prodded by going through the birth canal.

Here are some practical tips we hope may help you.

1)        If you don’t feel the way you wished you felt, start acting the way you’d act if you already felt the way you’d like to feel.  You may need to read that sentence twice, but it boils down to talking and praying to God before you are sure He is there and listening.

2)        Try to designate a time and place for daily prayer when you won’t be disturbed or interrupted by the phone or by people. You certainly can and should talk to God “off the cuff” throughout the day, but a set time and place will serve to “prime the pump” so to speak.

3)        Spend twice as much time during your prayer session, in silent contemplation as you do speaking. So many times, we talk to God telling Him of our needs, desires and questions, but we run around the rest of the day, not allowing ourselves the quiet to listen for His responses to us.

4)        Get to know in person or listen to or read about people of deep and simple faith for an hour or two each week.  Reading about someone who trained for and ran a marathon or listening to them present a motivational speech makes it easier to follow in their footsteps. The same is true for faith. There are so many people and resources out there, some public figures and others less well-known. Find those who resonate with you.

5)        Start reading a book about how the world and the human body work. Understanding how complex and miraculous this universe and our human existence are evokes gratitude to God for each day we survive and each breath we take.

6)        You might want to go through the book of Psalms slowly, taking half a year or even a whole year to work your way through.

We are confident that 90 days or so into this regimen you will feel more secure and settled than you are today. Don’t expect a steady, consistent change. You will face challenges that make you take a step back and that seduce you to give up and quit your quest. Persistence, humility and courage will keep you on the right track.

Let us know how it goes,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Am I a Criminal?

July 22nd, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

I have followed and listened to you for a few years now and have done quite a bit to improve my character, think with my brain first, impress my employers as my customers, and build trust and display and teach my values to others.

Recently I have been ‘called out’ on something that I have been doing pretty mindlessly with my employer that, now that I am looking at it objectively, looks quite dishonest.

I am crushed as I don’t think I was doing it intentionally, but I don’t think my employer will see it this way.

I have had a great relationship with them for many years and this hurts me in ways I cannot describe. I am having a hard time sleeping, thinking about anything else, and wrapping my brain around how I could do this in the first place? To protect my wife I haven’t told her the extent, but she can tell something is bothering me.

I have worked hard on my reputation, and I cannot see how I couldn’t see this in myself?

Outside of that, how do I repair this with my employer, and myself? And how can I be sure I’m not doing this in other areas of my life? Being a hypocrite it’s a hard pill to swallow when you really aren’t trying to be.

Thank you,

B.

Dear B.,

Congratulations on reaching this advanced stage of discomfort; it is evidence of successful spiritual growth and positive soul-steps.   Our response cannot deal with your specific situation both because you didn’t include details and also because even had you been more forthcoming, we could not possibly know enough through a letter, but we hope we can help you plot a path forward.

If you are suddenly realizing that you have been doing something on a large scale, then you are in a tough place indeed. We are casting about here, but as an example, let’s say you were putting dinners with your wife down as a “business expense” and justifying it by saying that you discussed the office while you were out. If you are in retail, giving discounts or free items to friends would be another example. This would involve more than minor sums and also something that could come to light if there was an audit. But at the same time, we are having trouble seeing you taking such flagrantly problematic liberties without realizing it.

You say you were “called out.” Perhaps this was by a close friend unconnected to the business. Or, was it by someone at your place of work? If the latter, then you have no choice but to talk to your boss. It is better for you to raise the subject than wait to be called onto the carpet. You can make your best case to explain that you did something wrong, repent that action (which includes financial restitution if applicable) and have grown so that you commit to never do such an action again. They may accept your apology or they may fire you. That is the reality of consequences.

However, we’d like to emphasize the importance of what you are asking even if the sums are very minor and if there is no way that anyone would know what you did. One of the sins of Noah’s generation that caused the Flood, was theft. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that this theft consisted of taking things that were of such small value that the owner wouldn’t follow up legally. In today’s world that might be the equivalent of pocketing paper clips and other supplies from the office or using the office postal account to mail some personal letters. These are far from embezzlement but we are expected to be extremely sensitive to misuse of someone else’s property, whether this is a friend or an employer.

However, we think that if you were doing something unseemly on this relatively low level, we don’t necessarily think that you should bring this up with your boss. If you can replace the funds in some way, that would be a good idea, but in today’s climate, we worry about some of the overly punitive consequences of true confessions.

We just don’t know where on the ‘badness’ spectrum your actions lie. Do you need legal counsel? Is your job at risk? Are you inflating things in your mind so that something that is a good sensitivity for you personally to have but which is fairly common practice today, is weighing you down too much? Are you truly guilty of hypocrisy or only of “going with the crowd” rather than making timeless moral judgments?

We hope that this answer gives you enough food for thought so that, if needed, you talk to someone in person who can guide you. Take care not to damage your marriage by withholding from your wife things that she already senses herself, and that might in her mind, assume greater significance than is warranted. If you are truly facing a serious problem, then give her the chance to adjust and stand with you before it becomes a public issue.

Growth is wonderful but being bowed down by guilt is unproductive. Repair the situation in a proportionate manner and use this new insight into yourself to move forward but not to be consumed by the past.

We admire your determination to face yourself in the mirror. Most cannot do this.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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What’s Wrong with Prosecuting Hate Crimes?

July 15th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

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

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

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

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

God Bless,

Primod

Dear Primod,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G’day mate,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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