All posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapen

Go For It

Encountering a stranger who knows more about your life than he should is eerie.  Well, I don’t mean to startle you, but I do know a private fact about you.  I know that you are weighing up a decision in your life.

To be sure, I do not know any details.  I have no idea whether you are considering a geographic move, a job change, an investment, or whether you are considering a family or medical decision, but there is certainly some fork in the road that you are confronting.  And because I am quite ignorant of your particular situation, I am unable to advise any specifics.

However, I can help you focus some ancient Jewish wisdom onto your predicament.  This will help illuminate your direction just as focusing a flashlight in a dark forest at night reveals previously unseen paths. Continue reading

Retreat to Advance

Have you ever experienced intense frustration trying to recall something? 

Perhaps it is the name of someone you want to call.  Sometimes it is a tune that is dancing around your mind just out of memory’s reach.  There was an item that my wife asked me to pick up at the store.  “Write it down so you’ll remember,” she said.  “Not necessary,” I replied.  And there I was wandering the aisles hoping I would see something that might jog my memory.

You scrunch up your brow; rub your temples with your fists, and contort your face into a bizarre mask of concentration.  None of this helps.  Finally, a disconnected thought pops into your mind or you run into an acquaintance and stop to chat.  A few minutes later you remember whatever it was that was tormenting you.

Isn’t it amazing?  All that sweating and stressing to remember and—nothing!  Then three minutes of doing something else, and bingo! Continue reading

The Pilgrims and Rosh HaShana

Rosh HaShana, the start of the Jewish year 5770, begins on Friday night. There could hardly be a more appropriate week to discuss the Pilgrims.

Those who sailed on the Mayflower were deeply religious and Biblically knowledgeable Christians. So it is astounding that in setting up the Plymouth Plantation, they agreed to an arrangement with their merchant sponsors that contradicted a vital Bible principle.

According to the terms of their agreement, the land and whatever the settlers built or produced belonged to the group in common, not to individuals. That idea was a miserable failure. Hard working members resented working to benefit the lazy. Why put in greater effort for no greater gain? Once they switched to private ownership and enterprise was rewarded, the colony began to flourish. Continue reading

Feeling Lucky, Punk? Thought Tools

I misquote.  In his 1971 classic, Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood actually said,

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk’?”

How about you? When things seem to be going your way, from finding a new job to meeting a potential mate do you marvel at your luck? When you lose a job or friend, do you rail at it instead?

Let’s look at three seemingly lucky men and one unlucky one, from the Bible.

1) Abraham’s servant Eliezer is sent on a mission to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. Entrusted with this momentous errand, Eliezer devises a strategy. He will ask for a drink of water at the well, and if the girl offers water not only to him, but also to his camels, he will know that she is Isaac’s future wife. How lucky for posterity that Rebecca fit the bill. (Genesis 24) Continue reading

Life Happens—Not

In malls from San Antonio to Santa Monica expensive retailers like Neiman Marcus, Tiffany, and Bloomingdale’s are opening new stores.  That suggests many customers with money to spend, yet we all know legions of debt-strapped people struggling to keep their noses above water.

Looking at the economy, it is easy to see that some people are better off than others.  However, inequality can be found in other areas too.  Studying health, for instance, would reveal that some people enjoy healthier lives than others.

Now if we analyzed marriage and family trends, we would discover that some people have more successful marriages and better functioning families than others.

Some people even win what I call ‘the ovarian lottery’ with genes from their parents that bequeath them good looks.

Life would seem extremely unfair if all rich people were good looking, enjoyed great health and had fantastic families. Continue reading

Star Struck

I bumped into Maria Shriver—literally.  I was entering the office of a New York publisher just as she was leaving.  I apologized, we wisecracked for about ninety seconds and she was gone.  I told quite a few people about it.  Then a sobering thought struck me. I’m certain she did not mention our encounter to a single soul.  That would be because she is a star and I’m as obscure as a grain of sand.

Ancient Jewish wisdom contrasts a star to a grain of sand or speck of dust.  Stars are inexhaustible sources of light and energy; sand and dust only find their significance when they cling to many other tiny particles and become, say, a mighty dam. Continue reading

He Knew Her – Or Did He?

My parents were classical music enthusiasts so I grew up familiar with the works of many of the great composers. Had you asked me, I would have said that I knew Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral. Then, a few years back, my son-in-law Max directed me to an audio program in which a wonderful music teacher discussed the piece. 

This led me to an “Aha!” moment.  I certainly recognized the Pastoral and thought I was familiar with it.  But after hearing the discussion I realized that I never really did know it until then.  Since then, I hear the music with greater appreciation, admiration and humility. 

One of the things I love about studying the Bible is that there are continual “Aha!” moments.  No matter how many times I study a passage, each reading reveals new and deeper insights.  Usually it is the original Hebrew that points me to more profound meaning. Continue reading

DEATH BY LONELINESS

Twelve women shot in a fitness center

by a man the New York Times called

“…tortured by loneliness.

Thirty-two victims shot at Virginia Tech

by a man the New York Times described as

“…consumed by a troubling silence.

Thirteen people killed in a Binghamton social center

by a gunman the same newspaper labeled

“…an introvert who was secretive in the extreme.

Murder is an extreme and thankfully rare response to excruciating loneliness.  Nonetheless, while most of us do not react violently to the pain of disconnectedness, we still suffer.

We might have hundreds of friends; belong to clubs, churches or synagogues, and be at a different social engagement every night.  We might even be married and still overwhelmed by the anguish of loneliness.  It is not the quantity of people you know; it is the quality of the connections with them. Continue reading

Angel On A Motorcycle

Have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself calling on your guardian angel?  If you’ve seen active military service, I probably know your answer. Most who have experienced danger answer in the affirmative.  This is hardly surprising.

A 2008 Baylor University study showed that more than half of all Americans claim to have been protected from harm by an angel on at least one occasion.  They could have attributed their happy escapes to luck or coincidence, but they didn’t.  They told researchers that they were helped by angels.

But what exactly is an angel? Continue reading

Do You Remember?

Memory is among those easily overlooked gifts for which we ought to offer up daily gratitude to God.

Without memory, one is isolated from others.  But even worse, one is isolated from oneself.  Without memory, life is a disconnected sequence of thinly sliced moments of time.  It is memory that stitches together those instants, compiling them into our identity.

The word “re-member” means to join together just as the word “dis-member” means to separate. Continue reading