Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

The Four Sees

August 14th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

If you’re fortunate enough to have a new baby in your life you already know how he or she constantly brings moments of joyful discovery.  Here is one that recently startled me.  From about their first birthday, babies respond to eye cues more than head direction cues.  This is really quite amazing.  What this means is that when I direct my face towards the left but move my eyes to look right, the baby follows my eyes not my head!

Animals don’t do this.  They are very alert to the direction that the head of another animal is facing but seem oblivious to eye movement.  Most animals including baboons and chimpanzees will glance in the direction they see a human looking.  But if a person faces one direction and moves his eyes to another, the primate will follow the face not the eyes.  (A dog may be an exception here, but I’ll discuss that in the future.) In fact, we seldom see any animal looking in any direction it is not facing.

Of course, it is not only babies who seem to be cued significantly by people’s eyes.  We adults do that all the time.  Regardless of the direction a person’s head is facing, we watch the eyes.  A politician may be facing you and speaking to you, but watch his eyes glance over your shoulder to spot someone more important.  A flirtatious glance is revealed by the eyes.  Sometimes, people roll their eyes to reveal disdain.

But why are our eyes so much more revealing than those of animals?  It turns out that no creature on the planet has as much white of the eye as do we humans.  Thus, our eyes are uniquely equipped to reveal their movement.  Because God gave this special gift, the white of the eye known as the sclera, to His children, we are able to easily and quickly read another person.  A lot of exposed white suggests shock or fear.  Reduced white is a happy smile. Skilled artists make use of how much the white of the eyes reveals.

Yes, human eyes really are quite different from animal eyes. Perhaps this is why of over five hundred references to eyes in the Hebrew Scriptures, all apply to humans or to God.  When eyes are first mentioned, the word appears three times in three consecutive verses in Genesis chapter 3.

For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened,
and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

(Genesis 3:5)

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise,
she took of its fruit, and ate, and gave also to her husband with her;
and he ate.

(Genesis 3:6)

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;
and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

(Genesis 3:7)

Eyes have nothing to do with the biological process of sight in any of those three verses.  Eyes in verse 5 refers to the intellect.  Eyes in verse 6 refers to the emotions and eyes in verse 7 refers to the sensual.  In our relationships with others, we relate either intellectually (business partners, study partners, etc.) emotionally (friends, lovers, etc.) or sensually and physically.  Often a relationship involves more than one of these.

Similarly, in all the other many Scriptural instances in which eyes are mentioned, the deeper meaning always goes beyond the simple process of biological vision.  Before we communicate with someone else by speech, we are already communicating with our eyes.  We were created to Connect, to Communicate, to Collaborate, and to Create.  Indeed, the four Cs!  No wonder that tiny humans yet incapable of speech communicate via their—and our—eyes.

 *  *  *

The institutions of society that make our lives comfortable and secure, such as the economy, the military and so on, all depend upon human relationships. When one aspect of human relationships deteriorate, so do the others. If marriage collapses in a society, don’t expect its economy or its military to long survive. Is there a way for the average family to build its own ark in which to survive the turbulent storms swirling around its foundations? Find out by listening to our 2 audio CD program, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah, on sale this week.

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Frankly Electrifying

August 8th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

One of the great delights of sharing life with my wife is her voracious reading appetite.  She tells me about some books, she summarizes others and occasionally recommends one for me to read.  This she did recently with Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley in the early 19th century.

In her introduction, Shelley contemplates the ‘nature of the principle of life’ and suggests that ‘galvanism’ might reanimate a corpse.  About 30 years before Frankenstein was published, Luigi Galvani had discovered that electricity stimulated a muscle to contract.  In chapter five, Frankenstein, “…collected the instruments of life…” so that he might infuse “…a spark of being into the lifeless thing…”  In Boris Karloff’s 1931 movie classic, a bolt of lightning animated the creature.

While the Torah conceals the nature of the ‘breath of life’ that God breathed into Adam (Genesis 2:7), today we understand that our bodies function by means of electrical currents traveling through cellular protein ion channels.  The beating of our hearts; the warm sunlight we feel upon our arms; our ability to see; all this and everything else functions because of tiny electrical currents coursing through our bodies.

Walk across a carpet then touch a metal doorknob.  The resulting crackle and spark prove our body’s ability to convey electricity.

The Hebrew word used today to mean electricity is CHaSH-MaL found in Ezekiel 1:4 and 1:27 which ancient Jewish wisdom explains as a powerful force that God put into the world that can be activated or switched off.  Electricity’s power began to be understood in the mid-18th century with the invention of the Leyden Jar, a glass jar lined inside and out with tin foil. An electrical charge can be built up on the inside foil which eventually jumps to the outer foil with a crackle and a spark.

If you know that both gold and tin foil are excellent conductors of energy and that wood and glass are not, the Leyden jar sounds very much like this:

They shall make an ark of acacia wood…coat it with pure gold, inside and outside…
(Exodus 25:10-11)

In this Thought Tool I am not going to discuss why God wanted the Ark of the Covenant to possess these electrical properties. I do want to explain that electricity was not invented while God’s attention was distracted.  Electricity is part of God’s blueprint of creation and His plan for life.

Indeed, electricity can restore life.  In the medical emergency of a person’s heart ceasing to function effectively, a small electrical shock is administered by a defibrillator to stimulate the heart back to regular rhythm.

Scripture records two parallel events of a prophet restoring the dead son of his landlady back to life. In I Kings 17:21, Elijah prayed then stretched himself out over the boy three times, and Elisha prayed then lay upon the boy in II Kings 4:34.

The Bible conceals the miracles’ details and I am not claiming that the prophets’ bodies emulated the paddles of a portable defibrillator but I am emphasizing that the enormous wonders of human life depend upon a tiny invisible force called electricity that God put into His creation.

Similarly, the amazing structures of our families and of systems that allow us to earn a living all depend on many tiny and invisible spiritual forces.  Just like electricity, these small spiritual forces need to be generated appropriately, conducted down correct channels and insulated from others.  They include forces like gratitude, faith, discipline, vision and communication.  Just like electricity they have disproportionate consequence.

God counted upon us to create textbooks and manuals teaching safe operation of electricity.  He gave us blueprints and directives for the safe operation of spiritual forces.  Our mission is to make them available to you as part of ancient Jewish wisdom. Contempt for in-utero life as well as a discussion of how moral and economic corruption intersect to destroy a society are found in Genesis along with guidance for dealing with those issues and transmitting correct values to children. We’d be honored and happy if you decided to listen to our 2 audio CD program, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah. Both download and mail formats of this mind-blowing and amazingly up-to-date resource are bargain-priced this week and, unlike Frankenstein, this information is true!

The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah

What does Noah’s name mean in Hebrew?
Who are the Nephilim in Genesis?
Why did Noah merit to save not only himself but also his family?

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The Night Is Dark

July 31st, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 62 comments

It is helpful to discover that the child who seems irrationally scared of dogs was once bitten by a snarling mongrel. Knowing that Moslem forces were defeated when their siege of Vienna was repulsed on September 11th, 1683, helps make sense of their September 11, 2001 attack on the United States.  The past should not provide an excuse but it does provide insight.

After inconceivably vast numbers of casualties, Europe’s first Thirty Years War (1618—1648) ended with the Peace of Westphalia, the foundation of a fierce and formidable nation, Germany.  After even more unimaginable horror, Europe’s second Thirty Years War (1914—1945) ended with a remarkable and enduring peace.

Along with many knowledgeable professional historians, I view World War Two (1939-1945) not as a stand-alone event, but as the continuation of World War One.  Presciently, the great French military leader Marshal Ferdinand Foch who was present at the signing of the peace Treaty of Versailles, called it not a peace but a temporary twenty year cease-fire.  World War Two broke out twenty years and two months later.

That 20th century Thirty Years War, which included the utter destruction of thousands of European Jewish communities, was launched when Germany declared war on Russia on August 1st, 1914.  Till then, the year 1914 had its typical share of regional conflicts with pompous politicians and aristocrats posturing for prestige.  As in the first Thirty Years War, Germany’s war making ability changed everything.  That date on which worldwide conflict became inevitable, August 1st 1914, corresponded on the Hebrew calendar, to the 9th day of Av, in the year 5674.

That adds one more tragic event to the long and lamentable catalog of crime committed against the Jewish people on that particular date of the Jewish calendar.  Instead of a random distribution throughout the 12 months of the year, as you’d expect any nation’s disasters to occur, virtually all of Israel’s calamities have happened on or within a few days of the ninth of Av.  These include England expelling all its Jews in 1290, France doing the same in 1306, and Spain expelling its Jews in 1492.  The Nazi’s “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem was officially implemented on this day in 1941.  And so it goes, defying statistical odds for over two thousand years.

That date’s link to destiny began soon after the Exodus from Egypt.  In preparation for their assault on the Promised Land, Israel dispatched spies to obtain military intelligence on the challenge that lay ahead.  The spies returned with a dispiriting report of defensive fortifications and fierce occupants.  Instead of trusting in God, the people became unnerved and demoralized.  They wept.

The entire people raised their voices and cried out,
and the people wept on that night.
(Numbers 14:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that this night was indeed the 9th of Av and it was set aside for Jewish tragedies for all generations.

There is a street in South Tel Aviv called “The 93 Street”.  It is named after 92 young Jewish girls and their teacher who lived and died in Poland during World War II.  Here is what the New York Times wrote:

“Ninety-three Jewish girls and young Jewish women, the pupils and the teacher of a Beth Jacob School of Warsaw, Poland, chose mass suicide to escape being forced into prostitution by German soldiers, according to a letter from the teacher made public yesterday by Rabbi Leo Jung of the Jewish Center of New York City.

Declaring ‘it is good to live for God but it is also good to die for Him,’ the writer said, ‘All of us have poison. When the soldiers come we shall drink it. We have no fear.’

The letter, dated, August 11, 1942 [a few days after the ninth of Av] was received Tuesday by an official of the American Beth Jacob Committee, 131 W Eighty Sixth Street.

In part it read, ‘..When this letter will come into your hands, I shall not live anymore…we were given hot baths and were told that German soldiers would come tonight to visit us.  We yesterday swore to ourselves that we shall die together…The Germans do not know that our last bath was our purification before death….Say Kaddish [the Jewish prayer for the dead] for us, your 93 children. Soon we shall be with Mother Sarah.”

Recent scholarship has cast doubts upon whether this event happened exactly as described.  But that is of little account since the number of similar acts of horrible brutality that are fully documented is so vast as to be mind-numbingly incomprehensible.

So, if we Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora find ourselves approaching the 9th of Av, starting tonight, Monday night July 31, 2017, with trepidation and even a little fear, there is good reason.  After all, the unfolding of history didn’t end with World War II.

Moslem terrorists killed nearly 100 Jews and injured hundreds of others on the 9th of Av 1994 when they destroyed the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires with a massive bomb.  In a traumatic episode of Jew against Jew, Israeli soldiers forcibly carried Jews out of their homes in Gush Katif, Gaza,  as this day ended in 2005, after the then Israeli government decided that returning all of Gaza to the Arabs would bring peace.  And so it goes…defying statistical odds.

What lies ahead? Nobody knows, but Jews everywhere will heave a sigh of relief as the stars come out this Tuesday evening.

How Much Is Too Much?

July 25th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 24 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.

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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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