Posts in Ask the Rabbi

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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Inheritance Conflict

July 7th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

Dear Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin,

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

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

My Deepest Respect,

Lou

Dear Lou,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

The inheritance conflict between
Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau
continues to this day.
How much can you understand from the Biblical account?

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Who is a “Happy Warrior”?

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

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

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

From:

Kristyn H.

Hi Kristyn,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the  Biblical basis for our phrase.

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

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

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

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

Keep fighting,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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My turn to be a Matchmaker?

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

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

Thank you so much for your words of wisdom.

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

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

What would you recommend?

Blessings and thank you for all you do.

Sammy T.

Dear Sammy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Am I Having a Mid-life Crisis?

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

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

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

W.

Dear W.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you many fulfilling years ahead,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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