Posts tagged " Reuben "

My Parents are Separating

May 15th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 7 comments

Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin,

First off, thank you for all that you both do and the wisdom you dispense through your podcasts, books and teachings. I find them all tremendously valuable and you have impacted my life for the better.

I have a question regarding my parents. Their marriage has been on the rocks for the past five years and they are now choosing to separate, but not divorce, because of their beliefs. Their issue is not due to infidelity but seems to be a communication and pride problem. They have been married for over forty years and have raised five children together, of which I am the youngest.

My question is what should our response be as their adult children? My instinct is to not get involved or share my opinions because it could be seen as taking sides and it doesn’t seem respectful.

As for background: we all live near our parents, there are many grandchildren in the family, we are all Christians, and we see each other often. I am struggling to identify what my responsibility is in this situation while still honoring my parents. My wife and I disagree with them not choosing to work harder on their marriage but we don’t know if it is our place to confront them on it.

One of my siblings suggested talking to them as a group, what do you think?

Any insights you could provide would be most welcome. Thank you tremendously.



Dear Sam,

Your sad situation reflects an important truth. No matter how old one’s children are, divorce is going to affect them. Of course, it also affects more distant relatives, friends, social circles and work groups. We are very sorry that you and your siblings and children are facing this situation.

Having said that, your instincts are spot on. In our audio CD on the Ten Commandments we explain why the Fifth Commandment about honoring parents is related to the Tenth Commandment, “Do not covet.” In short, recognizing one’s specific place in relationship to others is something that leads to happier interactions. We also explain why the Fifth Commandment is placed on the first tablet that otherwise deals with the interaction between people and God, while the second tablet deals with interactions between people and people. Honoring parents seems to be in the wrong place. Correctly understanding why there were two tablets clears up this confusion but even on a basic level it is clear that one’s parents occupy a position that no other people do.

Because of this, children have to be very careful about what is and isn’t appropriate in their communication with parents. Interference in the parental marital relationship is specifically an area that is largely off-limits. Your sibling’s suggestion of all the children going as a group would only raise the level of disrespect.

Considerable calumny is heaped on Jacob’s eldest son, Reuben for intruding on his father’s private life.

While Israel stayed in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah,
his father’s concubine; and Israel heard…
(Genesis 35:22)

Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that Reuben did not actually lay a hand on Bilhah, but that he moved Jacob’s bed from Bilhah’s room to that of Leah his mother.  The language of the Bible is especially harsh to teach that interfering in even the mildest way in his father’s marital life was a serious violation.

Of course, your parents separating after all these years is difficult for you all. Perhaps, even as youngest, you can lead your siblings towards an understanding that the proper role is non-interference.

You are absolutely correct that your obligation is to honor both your parents. They are now making this harder in many ways though we hope that they will not make it more uncomfortable than necessary. Nonetheless, you and your siblings can set an example for your own children in respecting your parents’ decision and coping with disappointment.

You, of course, don’t know the whole story and kudos to your parents for not asking you to take sides or sharing inappropriate confidences with you. Maybe some time apart will give them new perspective or perhaps someone other than your sibling group will approach your parents and help them, if possible, to recapture affection for each other. We would suggest you and your siblings get together to discuss how to share this with the grandchildren and how to explain it to them in an age-appropriate but nonetheless substantive way.

Whatever the future holds, you and your wife can use this unfortunate occurrence to commit more strongly to maintaining your own relationship and covenant of marriage.

Thank you for your kind words,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Why does the phrase “two tablets” appear many more times than ‘Ten Commandments’?
What does it actually say instead of ‘Ten Commandments’?
Why doesn’t giving charity make the list? 
What is beneath the surface of these verses?

Order this amazing audio CD before our store closes for the holyday of Shavuot on Friday evening. (Re-opening Monday night)








The Ten Commandments Download
The Ten Commandments:
How Two Tablets Can Transform Your Life
The Ten Commandments:
How Two Tablets Can Transform Your Life

Theopolis Americana

December 21st, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

I love this season.  I don’t celebrate Christmas but I respect it and enjoy its sights and sounds.  I enjoy the music in the malls. I enjoy the lavishly lit displays and colorfully decorated homes.  All this is far more noticeable in cities than in remote rural areas.

Cities are places where the highs are higher but the lows are lower.  In large cities, people can find friendship and connection no matter what their interests, but in large cities some citizens languish in excruciating loneliness.

Cities contain culture; music, art and dance.  But they are also where the degenerate sell the degrading to the depraved.

In cities fortunes can be made and affluence achieved but it is also in cities that drifters and derelicts exist.

Cities harbor strident secularists and ardent atheists.  But cities also accommodate multiple centers of worship from simple synagogues to towering cathedrals. Cities possess vast churches teeming with worshippers and countless other expressions of faith including entire neighborhoods of Christmas decorations.

History’s earliest mention of a city is the one built by Cain as part of his penance for homicide.

…and he became a city builder and named the city                                              after the name of his son, Enoch.
(Genesis 4:17)

Contributing to the lives of many was a way to atone for taking a life.

This observation of ancient Jewish wisdom is substantiated by the Torah’s most conspicuous cluster of cities—the six cities where accidental murderers sought refuge:

You shall designate cities for yourselves, cities of refuge shall they be for you, and a murder shall flee there—one who takes a life unintentionally.
(Numbers 35:11)

Rather than retreating into isolation, living in a city gives opportunity for connection with others.

Cities offer opportunity to flourish or fail.

And they (the men of Reuben and Gad) approached Moses and said, “Pens for our flocks we shall build here and cities for our children.
(Numbers 32:16)

Moses reversed the order when responding:

Build for yourselves cities for your children and pens for your flocks…
(Numbers 32:24)

Flocks represent wealth and pens represent the infrastructure for building wealth.  The tribes had the order wrong and Moses corrected them.  Go ahead and build cities but the priority is first family then wealth. Cities, in close contact with many other humans are places where you can best achieve your maximum potential.  But it is also terribly easy to mistake priorities in a city. Yes, there is risk and that is why you need God’s Guide for how the world really works.

Cities remind us that life is at its most thrilling when we strive for the highest highs despite being aware that the lowest lows are also possible.

I know someone who won’t get married because he fears perhaps facing one day the possible loss of someone he loves.  There are many who abandon dreams of building their own businesses because they fear the humiliation of failure.  Some renounce the joy of having children for fear of potential heartbreaks waiting down the road.

Yes, it is possible to live a bland life minimizing the lows by foregoing the highs, a life in which the green graph barely flutters above or below the base line of life.  But is such a life what God intended for us?  No! 

“Come hither, and I will show you an admirable spectacle!” said Rev. Cotton Mather in a speech entitled Theopolis Americana that he delivered to the General Assembly of Massachusetts in late 1709. He continued, “’Tis an heavenly city, descending out of Heaven, from God.”

This is a great time of the year to commit to a new year of living with passion and fullness and experiencing what the city represents in our lives.  Reach for the heights while following His word to avoid the depths or cope with them.