Why wasn’t I born elsewhere?
Question of the week:
Have I been punished in any way by God by not having been born in the US?
I live in London in the United Kingdom and apart from being British am also a dual Swedish – Finnish citizen. There are 196 countries in the world and out of 7 billion people worldwide only 330 million of them live in the US. Did God in anyway punish me by making me a member of smaller nations and peoples instead?
I raise this question as a Jew because although it is a completely global faith, like this website and apart from Israel, it very much appears to be ‘US specific and US orientated’ in terms of leading Rabbis, resources and synagogues.
In other words, why did God specifically make some people US citizens and US passport holders yet me a UK, Swedish and Finnish citizen instead?
With kindest regards
We find it a bit odd to be answering your question when so many Americans today are wondering if the United States is in a state of unstoppable decline or whether there is still hope for this country. Fifty years ago, many more people would have shared your sentiments about America; today, fewer do.
We wouldn’t be a bit surprised if another reader soon writes to us asking whether God was punishing him by having him live in the USA at this time. And we would tell that reader that like every country, the US has both blessings and problems. Countless people have built incredible lives in America and many have failed. The citizens of this country can direct the country on a virtuous and victorious path or on one of destruction. Just like in every other country.
We also note that we are answering your question during the period of the Ten Days of Repentance in the Jewish calendar. So many of the prayers emphasize that during this period God decrees the fate of both nations and individuals for the coming year. In other words, we believe in a God who is active in our lives and who chooses exactly into what family and nation each of us would be born.
Yet, rather than pursue a theological track, we would like to discuss your question from a practical side. What do we mean? In our best-selling book, America’s Real War, we looked at the question of life arriving by means of unaided materialistic evolution. We explored this purely from a pragmatic view. (We obviously have religious beliefs about this topic, but we were providing thought experiments for those who may not share our views.) Does believing that we are special beings touched by the finger of God produce a different type of child and adult than believing that we evolved from apes? In other words, given that there are two possible beliefs, we ask which one produces healthier human beings?
Back to your question. Even if one doesn’t believe in God, what is healthier for a human being: to believe that his life circumstances are random or to believe that his life circumstances were chosen to give him the greatest opportunity to fulfill a mission? As we see it, the first option leads to resentment, jealousy and paralysis in terms of improving one’s situation. If only…I had different parents; if only I was born in a different time or place; if only I was taller, prettier…The second option doesn’t eliminate acknowledging that our path may be more difficult than others in specific ways, but it suggests that God has faith that we can do amazing things with the tools He gave us.
Your question Andre is exactly as meaningful as asking whether God punished you by not making you tall, or by not having you born into a wealthy family, or by not having you born with superpowers. God provides each person with exactly the right environment for maximum personal growth.
Some years back, I (Susan) wrote a Musing regarding the autobiography of a brilliant historian (Will Durant, 1885-1981) who was a noted atheist before it was chic to be one. I quoted his wife saying, “…[If] religion continued to fade, would Western civilization lapse into a chaos of sexual laxity, political corruption, mutual violence, and a common, consuming despair? Could it be that all that enthusiastic slaughter of irrational creeds had undermined the secret foundations of civilization itself? Will repeatedly broached these problems to me…”
While Mr. Durant, at one time a seminary student, didn’t change his convictions as to whether there was a God, he questioned whether a world where people believe in the God of Judaism and Christianity was a better place to live. We recently heard a podcast with two courageous modern atheists making a very similar—and to them troubling—point. (Ayaan Hirsi Ali podcast with Dave Rubin, April 14, 2021)
Andre, we think your life will be happier and more productive if you look at the toolbox God lovingly provided for you and ask yourself what you can do with those tools, rather than wondering why you weren’t as “lucky” as some others. By the way, one of the most articulate rabbis and teachers of the Jewish world in the past few decades was a British rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.
You live in the beautiful Thames River valley only a short drive from one of the great cities of the world. You enjoy citizenship in not one but two other desirable countries. You haven’t told us much else about your life circumstances but we can tell you that hundreds reading your letter would gladly switch places with you without hesitation.
Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion.(ancient Jewish wisdom)
Make it a blessed New Year 5782,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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17 thoughts on “Why Am I So Unlucky?”
Wondering if bad luck or poor understanding is the cause of some problems.
The USA is a special place based on our freedoms and lack of class divisions. We have people from all walks of life and it is up to the individual to make the right or best choices available to them to improve their lives. Drive and determination have a lot to do with that and some people seem to have more of that than others. Everybody’s goal should be to do the best they can for themselves and their family and to pass that down to their heirs so each generation grows more prosperous. Success is generational.
Rabbi Lapin, that was indeed humorous. I have wondered why there are so many divorced people in America and why are there so many single men and women in America. Why are there so many people who just, well classified as working class. Wealth is too disproportioned in this country.
Deuteronomy – 12:12 ; 12:18; 16:11
One of Rabbi’s lesson on happiness
Not easy to do these days
It is odd to see a Brit longing to be an American when increasing amounts of Americans are ashamed of their home country. Perhaps we could work out a swap. We could deport Americans that loathe America and import people who respect America. A win-win situation. I would welcome new neighbors that would prefer to salute the American flag rather than spit on it.
As for the Brit who wrote the email, he makes me think of a quote from Marcus Cicero: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others”.
For those that are unwilling to look to the Torah or Bible for guidance, I have found Stoic writers such as Cicero, Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus to be insightful.
Baring any type of reading material to provide inspiration, perhaps the Brit could travel. Go to some impoverished countries and tell those people about your plight in London. If gratitude doesn’t come into the picture, perhaps perspective would.
Dear Rabbi Lapin,
That was a lengthy but beautiful answer to this question. I hope the young man (I believe), will not be lost in the rabbit trail you had to go to provide a holistic paradigm.
As at today, an average Afghan will not understand his delimma, neither is someone from Congo DRC see how a brit can be so unsatisfied with his citizenship.
Being from Nigeria, I have travelled to some African countries that hold Nigeria is high esteem and would do anything to be there but the reality is that many Nigerians are totally dissatisfied with their situation and won’t mind to trade places with our young brit.
I am not adding anything new Rabbi. You have beautifully answered the question.
Reading Andre’s letter reminded me of how fortunate I have been in my life. One example of how lucky I’ve been is the fact that when I was in my early twenties I was lucky enough to have been encouraged to read several books which have influenced my attitude. Two which come to mind are “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill and a little known little book called, “Your Greatest Power” by J. Martin Kohe. If I recall accurately, Hill had a chapter explaining that “Thoughts are Things.” While the premise that stuck with me from Kohe’s book is that we have the “power to choose our thoughts!” It is my wish that those who read this will not underestimate the value of choosing one’s thoughts.(Or of reading these two books). Hill’s book has several testimonies from those far more eloquent than I while Kohe’s little gem is not as well known. In my opinion, both books offer more value than all the books I read in my seven years in college studying Architecture! I’m encouraged that the Rabbi and Susan place a high priority on reading books!
This was a unique question and answer. I believe we all at some point ask Andre’s question. When family rejects us for not believing the same way they do….to neighbors who turn out to be self righteous or just plain selfish….to asking God again why the isolation, why the deep lonliness, why the abandonment by christian friends who seem more worldly than eagerly, anxiously, anticipating the “soon return of Christ Jesus”. Recently someone asked us have you heard…. about the news from Australia’s news network (Sky News-Andrew Bolt). Same friends remark have you heard about London and how it is for the people there…much suffering! …so my heart goes out to you Andre. If you can leave your situation and go to a better one I would encourage you to do so quickly. For those of us in the U.S. especially here in the Seattle region, we continue to trust God and also to pray, to beseech for Mercy. One thing God keeps taking me to is that He desires us to spend this time in prayer, in enjoying His Creation both nature, animals, as well as friends and family if you can. To intercede for others who either are deceived by those in the news media and or who are unaware of the treachery taking place in our government right now. then to put our trust in God more. To anticipate that He will intervene, either by rescuing us out directly or that the tide may change and we will actually see a “move of God” where He suddenly intervenes, brings judgment on those who are committing deceit, and or reveals the sorry character of those icons of the entertainment and news world. Again, in the meantime, we simply draw closer to God, we use the time to be in the scriptures and in song and praise even more so! Whatever happens to me I have told God I want to be sold out to you, I want to one who is like the missionaries of old who served you in thankless, heartless circumstances. Il close with have you watched the 1980s film The Mission lately? the film critic Ebert says it would be better to have seen a documentary. I don’t know but I am more impressed to think of the first missionary the one whose crucified body on a crude cross is sent over the falls in that remote part of the world…the haunting music of Gabriels Oboe… Maybe it was God who had me listening to the London Philharmonic today and then reading about your plight there in London…I am a prayer intercessor by trade! Il include you tonight in my prayers for God to strongly intervene on your behalf.
Thank you Rabbi for this opportunity to hear what others are experiencing right now. I agree with much of what you teach here and at same time I am aware of good friends who..somehow foreseeing the violence and change of Portland Oregon last covid summer had already had the sense to move…far away! where they have Peace.
While I would never want to surrender my US citizenship I wouldn’t mind having a closer tie to my ancestral lands. Being an American (which I do consider to be a blessing) and having had DNA testing done I have found my ancestors were spread out from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia and all points in between. I’ve often envied those who have a strong tie to fewer places. The only unique ethnic dish I recall from childhood was Danish Aebleskivers that my adoptive mom would make, the other meals were a hodgepodge from various sources. So relish your heredity Andre, you have a more unique background than I. I’m just 1 in 350 million.
Yes you are being punished you done messed up bad. cheers from USA. That was mean allow me to make it up to you. In about a year or two I will be more then happy to switch places. 😉
I could be wrong but saying that ”God provides each person with exactly the right environment for maximum personal growth” can destroy faith in that God. Many are born into abusive homes, impoverished countries, and handicapped bodies. Such suffering isn’t necessarily God’s handiwork or will. If it was, then it might be time to seek a new God. Thanks for addressing a difficult but important question.
Mike Harris, Orem, Utah
We understand the anguish implicit in your question, and you’re right in that many are born into miserable circumstances. Many key Divine warnings in the Five Books of Moses are written in the plural to explain that we don’t interact with God only as individuals but as members of families and societies as well. God gives us a role in the decisions that shape our lives, and far more agonizingly, He gives us a role in the decisions that shape the lives of our children. For example, Jane has children out of marriage to men with whom she has no healthy relationship. She then enjoys an active social life. Little Jeff and Jenny basically raise themselves with Jeff stepping off the law-abiding straight and narrow and Jenny becoming the sexual prey of her brother’s older friends. Neither child asked for these things to happen in their lives but this same sad story has been told millions of times. God is not to blame for the hopeless environment in which these children find themselves. You see, He created a world with rules. One is gravity. Another is that if you don’t nurture and maintain a marriage your children will suffer. Nonetheless, nothing is inevitable and there have been very many Jeffs and Jennys who have overcome the rotten cards they were dealt and would claim that the environment in which they found themselves gave them the courage and will to fight for themselves and later for others, becoming who they became because of the tragedy of their earlier lives. Facing the challenge of making the best of the circumstances beyond our control rather than lapsing into self-pity is often the difference between a joyous or sad life.
I agree. Afflictions can be consecrated for our gain. And self-pity and a victim mentality prove useless. Yet, I wrestle with ascribing all human suffering to God’s will or His plan. As always, thank you for your wisdom.
Mike, the anguish of your words was expressed by King David, by Job and many others. Why do the good and innocent suffer? That is a valid question that is too deep for an Ask the Rabbi. I don’t think that was Andre’s question. For him and the rest of us I do think that recognizing that a loving God put us where we can best grow leads to a more meaningful and joyous life.
Dear Mrs. Lapin,
Still, I’m uncomfortable with the theology of stating that “A loving God put us where we can best grow.” If someone is put in an abusive home, should that be imputed to a loving God? Thanks for the discussion.
In my humble opinion, it is not God’s responsibility to answer why we were born into such and such, it is ours.
My answer helped me grow into a man, a husband and father.
That was a great question and answer! I am sure all of us have wondered why a lot of things have happened in our lives. I completely agree that many Americans wonder why they were born to live during this very tough time. Being in my 60s I have watched America steadily decline and often wished I had lived in my Grandparents time when life was simpler, people worked hard, Church Attendance was high and people were grateful for what they had. The fact that you asked this question shows you really care and have a lot to offer multiple countries. God has a Big Plan for you and all of us!
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