Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

How Much Is Too Much?

July 25th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 22 comments

Policies that contradict timeless truths expressed in the Bible simply don’t work.  Confiscatory rates of taxation and punitive inheritance taxes fly in the face of wisdom contained in ancient texts revered by tens of millions of Jews and Christians.

These texts are relevant today because ideologies which the Bible frowns upon inevitably turn out to be poor public policy.  For example, when the Good Book labels promiscuity as a sin, believers understand that God is not only indicating His displeasure at this behavior, He is assuring us that no societal good will come of it.  The Bible offers insights into destructive taxation policies that prove equally true.

The first Biblical mention of taxation comes in Genesis 41.  Bewildered by disturbing dreams, Pharaoh unsuccessfully seeks explanations from his courtiers.  Finally his butler, newly released from jail, remembers his cell-mate, the Hebrew  lad, Joseph.  Joseph interprets the king’s dreams to be God’s forewarning of seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine.  In verse 34, Joseph recommends applying a tax upon the Egyptian economy.

Let Pharaoh appoint officers over the land and collect up a fifth part
during the seven years of plenty.
(Genesis 41:34)

 He very specifically suggests a figure of one-fifth —or 20%—as the total tax on the country’s gross domestic product.

Although he was an outsider to Pharaoh’s court, brought out from jail, his counsel was acceptable not only to Pharaoh, but even more surprisingly:  “…the thing was good in the eyes of all his servants”  (verse 37).  That a Jewish outsider’s recommendation to tax an entire country should please the monarch stretches credibility.  That his subjects also found the recommendation pleasing can mean only one thing:  The tax rate they were anticipating, reports Talmudic tradition, was considerably higher than Joseph’s twenty percent.  Not only were they relieved, but the thought of being able to retain eighty percent of the fruits of their labors threw them into their work with renewed enthusiasm and energy.  This tax plan invigorated the Egyptians and, as one would expect, their economy thrived.  Verse 47 confirms that, “The earth brought forth by heaps.”

This Biblical perspective conforms almost precisely to the famous Crandall-Pierce “High Rates, Low Rates—Same Yield” graph which shows that Americans are willing to yield up to twenty percent of their aggregate labors for the common good.  Few plead for zero taxation, but neither do they welcome thirty, forty or fifty percent rates either.  Certain things seem instinctually built into us.

George Bernard Shaw once observed that even generous men are unwilling to share their wives.  That has not changed since Shaw wrote that over a hundred years ago.  Similarly the fact that even generous men are unwilling to share more than twenty percent of their income is no stain on their characters.  The Crandall-Pierce graph confirms that the human soul rebels at taxation above twenty percent.  On tax rates, as on so many other issues, Scripture does not proscribe as much as it describes the immutable laws of human affairs.

Jewish law derives the limits of the king’s right to tax from the prophet Samuel’s dire warning of what will befall Israel should they persist in their perverse desire for a king.

And he (this king you want) will take one-tenth of your seed and of your vineyards….he will take a tenth of your sheep and you will become his servants…and you shall cry out on that day because of the king that you have chosen—and the Lord will not hear you.
(I Samuel 8)

Evidently, even Samuel could not envision a legitimate king claiming more than ten percent of his own people’s produce.

The death tax, the inheritance tax so beloved of politicians, also inflicts damage on our economic productivity.  It demonizes every penny a son receives from his late father’s estate.

The children of Israel shall enjoy, each man,
the inheritance of his fathers.
(Numbers 36:8) 

The death tax contradicts the enduring importance of linking together consecutive generations.  Much of what is achieved by our system of ethical capitalism depends on entrepreneurs continuing to build upon the foundations constructed by their parents.  It is also true that people will invent, labor and create tirelessly if they know that in so doing, they are bettering the lives of their children and their grandchildren.  Men and women legitimately seek immortality through their children, which is why the Bible devotes so much space to the complexities of inheritance law.

Thou shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them.
(Numbers 27:7)
 

This is to stress that nobody other than a man’s heirs are entitled to his possessions after his death.  The notion that  a king or a government should become the heir to all men is quite at odds with the Biblical vision and weakens the economic link between parents and children.  This contributes to social as well as fiscal havoc in our society.

The final word on taxation in the Hebrew Scriptures is found in the book of Proverbs 12:24 which declares that:

The hands of the diligent shall produce wealth
but the lazy will be subject to taxation.
 

 Ancient Jewish wisdom explains these words as a warning that excessive taxation only comes to pass through the laziness and indifference of productive citizens who decline to resist the oppression.  As the prophet Samuel warned, if we fail to exert the necessary vigilance and energy to resist the government’s instinct to tax, we shall only have ourselves to blame for the sad consequences.

Just as it is incumbent on people to recognize that resisting taxation can reflect a moral stand, similarly we must recognize that earning money reflects a moral position. Painting those who work hard and succeed as greedy and undeserving of their wealth is an unbiblical and unethical concept.  For good people, believing in the virtue and dignity of work is necessary for making money.  Counter the negative message that pervades our society by listening to Boost Your Income: 3 Spiritual Steps to Success. Would you like to have more money than you currently earn? This CD, on sale now, is a good way to start making that a reality.

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A Tale of Two Bees

July 18th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

There are many secrets to success in life, but here’s a good one:  Empower your wife and other vital women in your life to bring out the best in you.

This lesson emerges from a mystery posed by three verses, Genesis 24:58-60.

Verse A:

They called Rebecca and said to her, 

“Will you go with this man?”  And she said, “I will go.”

Verse B:

They blessed Rebecca and they said to her, “Our sister, may you become…

Verse C:

And they sent away their sister, Rebecca, and her nurse…

There’s nothing particularly odd about these three verses, is there?

There is, if you realize that I’ve switched their order around.

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The Silent Sneer

July 11th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

Have you ever been put down by a silent sneer? Have you ever sensed harsh criticism in nothing more than a raised eyebrow? Have you ever felt your value as a person, as a friend, or as a relative minimized by someone finding fault in you or dismissing an achievement of yours as insignificant?

We’ve all been hurt by insults and criticism. Now, how about the other way around? Do you find too much fault with others? Do your children fear telling you of their activities and their thoughts? Are you far more lavish with criticism than praise?

If so, though you may be unaware, your friends, family, and co-workers may subconsciously avoid spending more time with you than they absolutely must.

If so, you are dogged by invisible forces that impede your progress. These forces place barriers in your way and suck the joy out of your existence. When life is good, it is often because we are surrounded by individuals who like us and want things to go well for us. They place opportunities in our way, they introduce us to people, and they correct false impressions about us. All of this takes place outside our awareness.

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Ladies, Don’t Reach for Your Wallet

July 3rd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

When the waiter brings the bill, carefully placing it these days in the middle of the table, many women start slowly opening their purses, waiting for the man to insist on paying.  So common is this female feint for the wallet, that it even has a name.  It is called “The Reach.”  But it is just a gesture.  Even in these egalitarian days, by far most women expect the man to pay for the date.

According to several women’s magazines that I have perused, 77% of young women prefer the man to pay. Let me clarify that I do not for a moment believe that this is because these women are short of money or are trying to behave frugally at the expense of their dates.  I think they have a far better reason for preferring to be with men who graciously pay for the date.  Yet, if this is the case, why do so many women observe this ritual of “The Reach”?

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Did You Respond ‘Yes’?

June 27th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Here is a quick yes/no quiz which will reveal important information about your personality:

  • Do you occasionally make thoughtless remarks which you later regret?
  • Are you usually concerned about the need to protect your health?
  • Is it normally hard for you to own up and take the blame?
  • Do you sometimes resent the efforts of others to tell you what to do?
  • Do your past failures sometimes worry you?
  • Do you have a small circle of friends rather than a large number of acquaintances?
  • Do you sometimes find it difficult to express your emotions?
  • Would the idea of making a complete new start cause you any concern?
  • Do you find it challenging to ‘start the ball rolling’ at social gatherings?
  • Do you ever find yourself wondering if anyone really cares about you?
  • Are there any things about yourself on which you are a bit touchy?
  • Do you sometimes put off doing things and then discover it is too late?
  • Do you ever feel that your age is against you (too young or too old)?

Finished?  Now, how many times did you answer ‘yes’?  More than 3? More than 8? What! You answered ‘yes’ to more than 10 of the questions? Well, then you clearly need to purchase our special program for social stragglers available at a special price of only $10,000.  (Just joking)  The above questions came from a Scientology questionnaire but they resemble the questions often crafted by hucksters of all kinds trying to prey on our all too human weaknesses.

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Seeing Eye-to-Eye

June 20th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

Reading your rabbi’s observations about a baby’s behavior is probably going to be as incongruous as overhearing a cannibal enthusing about a veggie burger made of sweet potato, quinoa and black beans with a little creamy lime aioli drizzled on top. (Not sure what lime aioli is?  Me neither.)

Nonetheless, I must tell you of something I recently noticed in an extremely cute little one year-old.  While I was talking to him, his eyes were not on the only moving part of my face, my mouth.  Instead, he gazed into my eyes.  This made no sense to me because in general, babies’ eyes are drawn to movement.  Yet while I was talking to him, he watched my motionless eyes instead of my moving mouth.

I was so puzzled by this that I tested it on a few other pre-talking little toddlers and discovered they all had this disconcerting tendency.  I am obviously accustomed to adults looking into one another’s eyes. But babies?  It would make most sense to me if their eyes were drawn to the mouths of those talking to them. But if they are not going to be looking at the moving mouth, why are they looking at the eyes rather than the conspicuous nose or huge expanse of forehead?

Ancient Jewish wisdom might suggest an explanation.  In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the word for eye is AYIN while the word for mouth is PEH.  Those two words, AYIN and PEH are also the names of two consecutive letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the sixteenth and seventeenth letters, respectively.

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Bernie Sanders’ Christophobia

June 13th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 77 comments

If you have been reading Thought Tools for a while or enjoyed any of our other ancient Jewish wisdom resources, you probably suspect, correctly, that you have a better Jewish education than most secular people of Jewish descent. You might even know that the entire Jewish nation take its name from Jacob’s fourth son, Judah.   Why is this so? Because the meaning of Judah, Yehuda in Hebrew, is gratitude, and ancient Jewish wisdom identifies the trait of gratitude as one of the most important defining characteristics of Jewish identity.

Although descended from Jewish bloodlines, Bernie Sanders probably doesn’t know the above information and as a declared atheist he has chosen to reject his ancestors’ faith. Nonetheless, in the eyes of America and the world he is a Jew. For this reason, I am sharing an important column written by our friend Ben Stein, which so effectively captures the view of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians. It was just published in The Spectator (www.Spectator.org) where his work regularly appears.  I am grateful for permission to share it with our Thought Tool subscribers.

Ben Stein’s Diary

I am a Jew. All of my ancestors have been Jews since Judaism was founded almost 6,000 years ago on the belief of a monotheistic God. I pray in Hebrew every morning and every night. And I am deeply, cruelly, painfully embarrassed at my fellow Jew, Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont.

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If It’s Tuesday, I’ll Be In Texas

June 5th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

What is interesting about these cities:  Naples, Oslo, Paris, Quebec City, Rome, Stockholm, and Tokyo?  No, it’s not the alphabetic sequence; that’s just me messing with you.  Here’s a clue:  Jerusalem is probably the only city that doesn’t fit that pattern.  What other great city older than two hundred years is not built on either a river or the coast?

That so many cities were built on water is no surprise.  To this day, the majority of the world’s goods and commodities still travel by ship.  Cities grow and thrive where trade occurs, and rivers and oceans have always been the arteries of trade.  The mystery is how Jerusalem grew and thrived.  It was never on a trading route like other inland cities such as those on the old Silk Road.  Because of its elevation, trading caravans would have taken flatter routes to the Mediterranean.  Thus it never had the large markets or “shuks” of cities like Baghdad and Beirut.

Yet, after more than two thousand years, Jerusalem’s vitality and endurance continue undiminished.  On May 28, 1948, the Jordanian army expelled every Jew from Jerusalem’s original old city and destroyed their homes.  In order to ensure that Jews would never return to Jerusalem, the Jordanians destroyed every synagogue and violated the cemetery by building their army latrines over the ancient grave stones.  On June 7th, 1967,  the Jews recaptured Jerusalem.

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Do I Believe Or Do I Know?

May 30th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

The Beverly Hills tycoon was dismayed by his son’s decision to study in a yeshiva instead of joining the family business.  After several years the son returned home to his father’s sardonic question:  So what have you got to show for your years of study?  “I know that there is a God,” replied the young man.  Angrily the father leapt to his feet and pointed out the window at the gardener patiently mowing the vast lawns.  “He also knows there is a God,” shouted the older man.  “No father,” the boy quietly responded.  “He believes there is a God; I know.”

The challenge to the person of faith is to acquire so clear an understanding of how the world really works, that God’s role becomes obvious.  It’s not a matter of fervent proclamations of faith or moments of spiritual epiphany.  Instead, it takes disciplined devotion.  It’s not easy, but neither is body building.  In both cases, devotees consider the effort worthwhile; what is more, both provide highs along the way.

The path to knowing God, for me, is the Torah which I find to be a comprehensive blueprint of all reality.  I do not mean the book of stories that many view as nothing but mythology for children or, at best, for adults with childlike minds.  No, I mean the majestic and mysterious data stream of 304,805 Hebrew letters making up a Torah scroll and the ancient Jewish wisdom that accompanies them.

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Vital Values

May 23rd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

On July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, two of the men most instrumental in its drafting died. Former presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died within a few hours of each other.

To me, it was God linking these two statesmen for all time.  I can just see them approaching the Throne of Glory, arms around one another’s shoulders in eternal bonds of brotherhood.

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse transmitted the words, “What hath God wrought,” (Numbers 23:23) from Washington to Baltimore using electrical pulses and his Morse Code.  That year, May 24 fell on the Bible holyday of Shavuot/Pentecost, which this year begins after sunset a week from tonight, on May 30th.

Serendipitously, Shavuot, the anniversary of the day upon which God gave His message to mankind through Moses on Mt Sinai, was the first time in the history of humanity that people thousands of miles apart could communicate almost instantaneously.  Of course, for those of us who believe that serendipity or coincidence are simply words that people use to mask God’s involvement in the world, the date of the telegraph’s launch is striking.

What lesson did the Lord intend when He guided Morse to give the world electronic communication precisely on the Festival commemorating His bestowing upon us the Ten Commandments?

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