Posts tagged " cheating "

Cheating thoughts vs. cheating actions

January 8th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 14 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

Is cheating in thoughts as bad as bad as cheating in reality? And how does one drive away those sinful thoughts?

Kind regards,


Dear Julia,

A piece of useful parenting information is to avoid phrases such as, “You’re such a good girl.” Obviously, it is a terrible mistake to tell a child that she is a bad girl even if she has just used your favorite lipstick to draw a mural on the wall. She did something naughty, but it does not touch the essence of who she is.  But what is wrong with the reverse?

Let’s imagine that you just watched a toddler snatch a toy from your five-year-old son. Your son gets another toy, distracts the baby with it and reclaims his prized possession. Why wouldn’t you admiringly tell him that he’s a good boy? (No, Julia, this is not mistakenly a Practical Parenting column. It is all relevant to your question.)

Your son did a good thing, maybe even a great thing. He withheld anger and did some effective problem-solving. However, inside he may have felt angry with a strong urge to punch the toddler. Telling your son that he is good contradicts his feelings and confuses him. Complimenting his action (and maybe even rewarding him) is a better idea. Our ultimate  goal for him down the road,  is for him not to even feel angry, but acting correctly is a vital first step.

Back to adults. God does instruct us to control our thoughts. Here are two examples: Leviticus 19:17 tells us not to hate our brother in our hearts and the Tenth Statement (Commandment) tells us not to covet in both Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21. Clearly God expects us to control our thoughts and feelings.  My (RDL) mother, one time, reacted with a long, forceful and unforgettable lesson when as a child, I retorted to one of her admonitions with, “Well, I can’t help how I feel!”   I have never uttered that phrase since. 

Indeed, entertaining wrong feelings or bad thoughts may well damage our relationship with an individual, like our spouse in your example.  It also reveals a crack in our relationship with God, but it doesn’t harm society in the same way that bad behavior or a wrong action does.   However, doing the wrong thing damages our relationship with individuals, with society and with God.  We must recognize that doing something wrong is far more egregious than thinking something wrong, as bad as that may be.   Desiring someone else, contemplating adultery or even fantasizing about it are certainly harmful but not nearly the same betrayal of our spouse that committing adultery is.

Sinning in action is certainly a greater problem than sinning in our hearts however  we are expected to direct our thoughts correctly.  Telling ourselves not to think about something specific doesn’t help. We’re sure you’ve heard that the best way to get someone to think of a pink elephant is to tell them, “Whatever you do, don’t think of a pink elephant!”

What we can do, however,  is redirect our thoughts. When we catch a forbidden thought or negative emotion entering our consciousness we need to take action. Thoughts don’t control thoughts, only actions do.  For those  on a high level, studying Bible may be enough to divert negative thinking. For the rest  of us, something that requires  our concentration like doing a puzzle or singing a song out loud or making a phone call may work better. Physically changing our posture by going for a walk or exercising can be helpful as well. Even if it’s nighttime, getting out of bed and washing a few dishes may be the ticket.

Beating ourselves up for having the wrong thought in the first place is not a good idea. If anything, like the pink elephant example, it will simply make us focus on exactly what we are trying to eradicate. Obviously, if our thoughts center on one person, we must do what we can to minimize contact with that person and avoid interaction. But the best way to get a thought out of our head is to engage in activity that  replaces that thought with another one. In the case you mention, another idea is to do loving things for our spouse. As often happens, our feelings will follow our actions, leading us to feel more affectionate and focused towards them.

Happy thoughts,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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The Young, the Elite and the Ignorant

March 21st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

My father-in-law, of blessed memory, used to say that people aren’t balance sheets. You can’t tout up a subjective view of a person’s good and bad points, do a quick mathematical computation and emerge with a ranking. Say someone always shoveled his elderly neighbors’ drives (+3), gave 15% of his income to charity (+3) and was meticulously honest in business (+4) but had an explosive temper with his wife and children (-4) and indulged in an affair (-4).  Do the arithmetic: 3 + 3 + 4 – 4 -4 = 2.  This does not mean that you can say that he was a  +2 type of guy. God will make his own calculations, but we human beings can only say that he was a complicated person, doing both outstanding and horrible actions.

The lens of history reveals John Adams, second president of the United States, as a complicated man. Undoubtedly brilliant and deeply involved in the founding of this country, as president he also signed into legislation the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts and was unpopular enough not to earn a second term in office.

Among his greatest moments, in my opinion, was his defense of the British soldiers accused of murder in the misnamed Boston Massacre of 1770, one of the events that led to America’s declaring independence. Although Adams was already favoring breaking with England, he set a precedent that made America different from Europe by establishing that everyone, even those who are unpopular or hold unpopular views, deserve honest representation before the law. He famously said,  “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they can not alter the state of facts and evidence.” 


Why is my cheating spouse doing great?

March 31st, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet


Why when one is faithful in a marriage and is betrayed it seems like they are punished by the break up of the family and losses. The cheater goes on and looks successful.
How to move forward?

∼ Karen


Dear Karen,

We are so sorry for what sounds like a tremendously difficult time you are going through. You are right that a sad feature of reality is that in this world the wrongdoer often seems to do better than the wronged. In Drivers Ed., they used to tell us that in a car crash caused by a drunken driver, the drunk is often less injured than his victims since his body doesn’t tense up at seeing the accident is imminent.


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