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Would a Chimpanzee Understand?

Most human activities can be located along an imaginary line anchored at one end by “Spiritual” and at the other by “Physical.” We’d put praying near the spiritual end; reading and music would be its neighbors. As the source of both sensual pleasure and new life, sex might be mid-spectrum, while eating and other bodily functions belong near the physical end. Where do commercial transactions fit? Is exchanging money for something we’d rather have a spiritual or physical action?

Scripture teaches us to ask this question. Genesis opens telling us that God made the firmament ‘…and called it heaven’ in Genesis 1:7-8 and that God decreed ‘dry land’ and ‘called it earth’ in Genesis 1:9-10. In that case, what do the words …God created heaven and earth’ in verse 1 tell us that we wouldn’t have understood from subsequent verses?

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that in the Torah’s opening verse ‘heaven’ means all things spiritual and ‘earth’ alludes to everything physical. The idea is that to understand how the world really works, we must know that God created all things physical and all things spiritual and we need to appreciate both.

One way of identifying a spiritual act is by determining whether a chimpanzee would understand it. When I return home and slump into an armchair, my pet primate undoubtedly sympathizes. When I eat he certainly gets it. However, when I hold a newspaper motionless before my face for twenty minutes he becomes quite confused. Reading tends spiritual.

We’re always slightly uneasy about pursuits with no spiritual overtones at all. We subconsciously superimpose spirituality to avoid being exclusively physical and thus animal-like. For instance, we apply ceremony to virtually all activities performed by both people and animals.

Only people read a book or listen to music, hence these activities require no associated ritual. On the other hand, most animals eat, engage in sexual activity, give birth and die. If we do not confer a uniquely human ritual upon these functions, we reduce the distinction between ourselves and the animal kingdom.

Therefore, we celebrate the birth of a child often by a naming ceremony; no animal does that. Even if our hands are clean, we wash them before eating. We serve food in dishes on a tablecloth rather than straight out of the can, although the physical, nutritional qualities have not been enhanced. We even say a blessing. This is a human, spiritual way to eat; dogs are quite content to gobble food off the floor.

After encountering an attractive potential partner, wise people do not proceed directly to physical intimacy. An engagement announcement followed by a marriage ceremony serves to accentuate that all-important distinction; no animal announces its intention to mate and then defers gratification for three months.

The more physical the activity, the more awkwardness and subconscious embarrassment surround it. Nudism is practiced with a certain bravado in order to conceal the underlying tension. Famous photographer Richard Avedon shattered a barrier by capturing images of people as they ate. Frozen in the act of chewing, humans resemble apes rather than angels. Similarly, we express a normal and healthy reticence about bathroom activities. On the other hand, as purely spiritual occupations, reading and art evoke no discomfort.

Where on the spectrum do business transactions fall? A chimpanzee would not have the slightest idea of what is transpiring between proprietor and customer in a store. Economic exchange takes place only after two thinking human beings will it. The process must be spiritual. If we truly believe that, we should have no discomfort with buying and selling, whether our skills, services or products. Economic activity is another way in which we satisfyingly distance ourselves from the animal kingdom and draw closer to God.

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Should We Care About Bill & Melinda Gates’ Divorce

The announcement was concise and respectful. It included language such as “we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple” and, ”After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage.” In that way, Bill and Melinda Gates protected their privacy as well as acknowledging that their high visibility meant that a public statement was necessary.

Given the choice of a surgically unemotional statement versus tear and vitriol-filled videos, I certainly opt for the former. It is none of my business, or that of millions of others who recognize the Gates’ name, exactly what led to this decision. However, it would be hard to deny that this divorce affects more than the couple and their children.

A few years back, one of our young daughters was in a bookstore when she noticed a display table featuring Audrey Hepburn videos. She commented to her friend, “Oh, I love Roman Holiday,” at which point an older woman near her said, “You know Roman Holiday? You’ve given me hope for the future.”

Roman Holiday (1953), along with movies like Casablanca (1942), were among the limited titles we shared with our children. This message in both those movies was that there are responsibilities in life that are more important than the pursuit of personal happiness. Love does not eclipse everything.

In the days before no-fault-divorce there was something tawdry about hiring private detectives to catch one’s spouse in an affair, sometimes even faking such an event so that a divorce would be justified. It is distasteful when drunkenness, abuse and intimate details are plastered on the front page. But, there is something unsettling, too, about treating the dissolution of a marriage as an almost prosaic matter.

Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and even Spiderman made statements along the lines of, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Like other high-profile couples including Al and Tipper Gore who divorced over a decade ago, Bill and Melinda Gates’ actions inevitably reinforce the idea that marriage is a losing game. When famous people celebrate 40th and 50th and 60th anniversaries, it might receive a nice, small write-up on the social page. Divorce, especially those of celebrities whose marriages featured in their fame, makes the headlines. And too many young people, many of whom have no role models of successful marriage add one more brick to the wall of cynicism and negativity which surrounds their view of wedlock.

The Gates’ Foundation’s policies or the couple’s political views are immaterial to this Musing. I simply wanted to note how in the real world, marriage—or the dissolution or avoidance of it—is never a truly individual matter.


Every day is Mother’s Day.

But, if you are looking for something unique for this coming Sunday, we have a suggestion. Present the special woman in your life with a We Happy Warriors Special Access membership and she will become a part of a like-minded, growth-oriented group who appreciate ancient Jewish wisdom and its relationship to her daily life.

Enter the coupon code MOTHERS10 at checkout and this week only, save 10% on your membership for life. (And while we’re sure your motivation is selfless, memberships may be shared with members of the same household, so you might get to use it too!).

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Our Daughter Isn’t on the Right Path

Question:

My husband and I watch your show all the time.

This question is for Susan, I have a question regarding our 30-year-old daughter. She was brought up in a Christian home, attended Christian school, graduated, and went off to college. She is an Occupational Therapist.

She is not living a Christian life at all, she is involved with a 31-year-old man that is not a Christian. How can my husband and I speak into her life about the life she is leading?

I believe we need to search scripture and show her God’s love and reintroduce her to Jesus again. From a woman and mother’s perspective, how would handle this?

I appreciate any insight you have.

Blessing,
Donna

Dear Donna,

My heart is really aching for you. But now I have to adopt plural language because every answer provided to an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ question involves the two of us collaborating. We always answer these questions together.

We can well imagine that you and your husband might be finding fault with yourselves and wondering where you went wrong. But raising children isn’t like baking a cake or building a bridge. If a cake or a bridge doesn’t come out properly, chances are you missed a step or measured something incorrectly; whatever it was, you made a mistake. Children are not projects where we follow the latest recommended list of instructions and expect perfect results.  Our children have their own souls imparted by God and each is unique.  Furthermore, each possesses God’s great gift of free choice. Our job as parents is to raise our children to the best of our abilities. (And, being human, we will make mistakes.) Our children are each unique individuals with their own paths in life to follow. They must choose to have a relationship with God; it can never be an inherited choice.

Your daughter is an adult. While we don’t think that we ever stop being a mother or father, your job is no longer to directly teach her unless she requests that.  We feel that “preaching” Scripture to her would be disastrous.  We urge you to dismiss the idea that you have the power to “show her God’s love.” She knows that she is not living up to the standards of your family but she has made her choice–for the time being! We are sure that deep inside her, all the lessons you inculcated in her as she was growing up are still there even if temporarily covered up.

Donna, your daughter is feeling pain and anxiety at reaching what she undoubtedly feels is the significant age of 30 without marriage and family. Your disapproval of the man she is choosing will likely drive deep wedges into your relationship with her. We are hoping that your years of Christian upbringing has caused her to choose a good man, if not a religious one.  (Given her current lifestyle, a religious man would not have worked.)  But if he is a good man, the door is open for them to grow together. Or, the door is open for this relationship to end. Either one will probably happen more easily within your welcoming embrace. 

We think that you will do best by consciously and diligently putting aside your concerns and warmly welcome her and her man into your home. If you’ve been less than hospitable to her lately, your change in outlook will baffle her but it will still make her happy. We consider it important to have her and her man around your family while you continue modeling a loving marriage and relationship with God. Please avoid all preaching and teaching. You don’t have to express approval of her choices, but don’t let that disapproval get in the way of your relationship. Make yourself express love and obviously keep praying. Keep an open hand, an open door, and an open heart. We know that this strategy will give you the very best chances of a happy outcome.

Feeling a mother’s pain,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


Every day is Mother’s Day.

But, if you are looking for something unique for this coming Sunday, we have a suggestion. Present the special woman in your life with a We Happy Warriors Special Access membership and she will become a part of a like-minded, growth-oriented group who appreciate ancient Jewish wisdom and its relationship to her daily life.

Enter the coupon code MOTHERS10 at checkout and this week only, save 10% on your membership for life. (And while we’re sure your motivation is selfless, memberships may be shared with members of the same household, so you might get to use it too!).

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Do You Believe in a Prosperity Gospel?

Question:

I have been sharing episodes from your podcasts with a friend (Catholic). He likes some of the ideas, but says much of the financial material sounds like the “prosperity gospels”. This being defined as “look how wealthy I am, I must be favored by God”.

His counter example being an aunt that was a pillar of the community, was always helping everyone, always front and center when it came to supporting others. But she was never wealthy. It seems to him that with your focus on wealth you are downplaying someone like his aunt.

I am curious as to what your response would be to this? Thank you for all your wisdom.

~ Daniel C.

Dear Daniel,

We very much appreciate you sharing our podcasts with friends and also for taking the trouble to tell us of your friend’s concerns. Not only does the doctrine of Prosperity Gospel suggest that wealth is evidence that one is favored by God, but also that one can achieve wealth chiefly by means of prayer and tithing.

We reject Prosperity Gospel first because there are many notoriously despicable people whose ill-gotten wealth cannot possibly indicate God’s approval and there are those without great financial resources who live wonderful, Godly lives. Money is one aspect of our lives; it is not the entire story. Second, because while prayer and charity are necessary actions, they are insufficient for material improvement.

Our teachings come from a very different vantage point. Through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom, the Bible is God’s instruction manual to humanity. It contains guidance on marriage, child raising, relating to God, structuring government, and on many other topics. It also contains guidance on making money. Much of this content concerns economic relationships between people, meaning financial and commercial transactions.

We prepared about ten hours of instruction in our popular resource The Financial Prosperity Collection in order to provide a comprehensive guide to the specific economic activities that the Bible teaches through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom so we won’t try and cover them in this short discussion. However, we will stipulate that the centerpiece of the Jewish financial outlook is that when God declared “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) He was doing far more than commenting on Adam’s matrimonial prospects. In fact, He teaches us that one important way of connecting with other people is by means of financial transactions. In light of this principle, we often recommend that people feeling loneliness look for a job or open a small business even if they have no need for the money.

Quite independently of our obligation to pray for others and give to charity, we know that God wants us to be obsessively preoccupied with trying to provide the needs and desires of His other children. If we do so, it shouldn’t surprise us that God’s system is set up so financial reward goes along with following His guidance. Rather than praying to God for, say, a Ferrari (although if He is so inclined, I (RDL) will just mention that an older model F430 would be fine!) we pray for Him to open our eyes to more of His children that we can serve.

Prayer and charity are obviously both valuable and important however, usefully serving God’s other children is an important part of the key. Imagine someone climbing into his car for a cross country drive. He knows that in addition to behaving in as Godly a way as he possibly can, he must also make sure that he knows how to drive competently, and he must remain alert while behind the wheel.

Similarly, a person setting out on the holy task of making a living, in addition to behaving in a Godly manner must also make sure that he knows what God teaches about making money by serving others and he must remain faithful to those principles.

God says, “Look, I put you in a world of rules and laws and I encouraged you to get to know them. One of them is gravity; you violate it at your own peril. Do not step off high roofs. Similarly, there are rules and laws having to do with human economic interaction. If you violate them, no matter how good and beloved a person you may be, you handicap your ability to make money.

To stress, we do not serve others in order to get money. We serve others because we take joy in serving His other children and because He asked us to love one another. The money is not the cause of our actions, it is a consequence of them. Sometimes it follows quickly and directly, other times faith and persistence are needed to stay the course.

We see our work to be encouraging people both to follow God’s plan for human financial interaction and also to put in the necessary work to become the very best person that God expects us to be. While it is certainly true that we see many financially successful people whom we do not regard as good people, many of them are politicians who magically became enriched in office or tycoons who rode a technological or social trend to staggering wealth Most entrepreneurs and small business professionals who own and operate millions of small businesses around the world are decent, upright people trying to deal honestly and generously with their customers, employees and vendors. Furthermore, while one can be a truly terrible person and be a wonderful musician, tennis player or politician, business generally rewards those of us who have many friends, that is to say many people who know us, like us and trust us. Yes, there are obviously exceptions, but to succeed as a business professional, an entrepreneur and at building a business, you generally cannot be a repugnant human being.

We are definitely not disparaging people like your friend’s aunt. Certainly not. What we are saying is that people who are making a few dollars deserve no disparagement either. Rather the reverse because by making a few dollars, in an open and transparent business, they must have provided value to God’s other children, otherwise known as their customers, because otherwise, nobody would voluntarily have handed over their hard-earned cash.

We hope this helps you to explain to your friend where we are coming from and what our approach is.

Wishing you an abundant storehouse,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Would a Chimpanzee Understand? May 10, 2021 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - Most human activities can be located along an imaginary line anchored at one end by “Spiritual” and at the other by “Physical.” We’d put praying near the spiritual end; reading and music would be its neighbors. As the source of both sensual pleasure and new life, sex might be mid-spectrum, while eating and other bodily… Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • Our Daughter Isn’t on the Right Path May 5, 2021 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - Question:My husband and I watch your show all the time.This question is for Susan, I have a question regarding our 30-year-old daughter. She was brought up in a Christian home, attended Christian school, graduated, and went off to college. She is an Occupational Therapist.She is not living a Christian life at all, she is involved… Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Should We Care About Bill & Melinda Gates’ Divorce May 6, 2021 by Susan Lapin - The announcement was concise and respectful. It included language such as "we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple” and, ”After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage.” In that way, Bill and Melinda Gates protected their… Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • On Our Night Stands April 27, 2021 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - Do you find that you absorb information in books differently when reading electronically vs. a paper copy? We're not ready to either recommend or comment on these books as we are still reading them, but our physical companions right now are (RDL) The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and (Susan) Boomers: The… Read More
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