Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Lasting Lights

February 14th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Imagine a room full of shouting people; walls plastered with large sheets of paper covered with scrawls. What is it?  A kindergarten for children with poor social skills?  No, it is a typical brainstorming session.

Originated in the 1940s by advertising man Alex Osborn, brainstorming with its freewheeling tossing out of ideas and absence of criticism, is controversial. Some swear by its effectiveness while others dismiss it as nothing more than entertainment for executives.

I frequently facilitate corporate brainstorming sessions and I’ve also done some rewarding ones with my family. They can work well. However, a certain Torah principle must be followed.  Once ideas and solutions have emerged during the fun period, you’re only halfway through.  The tough process of analyzing, critiquing, and reconciling conflicting ideas must be tackled or the first part was a waste of time.  Expecting to achieve insight without hard work ignores reality. Let’s take a clue from Scripture.

The Torah is divided into 54 sections called Sedras, each with its unique name. A Sedra encompasses a number of Biblical chapters. The chapters as we know them are not part of ancient Jewish wisdom. They were put in place by Archbishop Langton during the 13th century. While the chapters are useful for locating verses in Scripture, they occasionally distort God’s intended divisions. Sometimes, Stephen Langton even presented one chapter as bridging two different Sedras, causing us to miss a shift in focus. Analyzing the original Sedra divisions and their names is a worthwhile endeavor. For instance, only six Sedras have names of people in their titles; 3 who were Jewish and 3 who were not.  In each group, two are righteous and 1 is wicked.  Sarah, Pinchas, and Korach comprise the first group while Noah, Yitro, and Balak make up the second.

Two other Sedras have very similar names.  Tetzaveh, the eighth Sedra of the Book of Exodus, means “You shall command.”  Tzav, the second Sedra of the Book of Leviticus, is the instruction “Command!” 

תצוה                  צו

TZaV                             TeTZaVeH

The similarity in name leads us to compare the two. We see that both mention a continuously burning flame (Exodus 27:20 & Leviticus 6:5). Exodus speaks of a continuous flame in the candelabrum, the menorah, while its Leviticus counterpart refers to perpetual flame upon the altar.

Well, which is it, menorah or altar?  Actually, both, but their appearance in similar sounding Sedras directs us to examine them together, revealing useful information. In Jewish thought, the menorah and its light always represent education and wisdom.  Even in English we use the word “enlightened” to mean educated.  When we say, “She’s a bright girl,” we mean that she is smart, not that she glows in the dark.  

The altar, on the other hand, represents sacrifice. The word has an undeservedly bad reputation. Instead of equating it with martyrdom and suffering, think of it as an offering one is fortunate to make.  Nothing of value can ever be achieved if nothing of value is invested. 

The light of the menorah isn’t about I.Q. The world is full of high I.Q. but incredibly foolish people. It instead reflects a deep comprehension of how the world really works. Gaining that wisdom, whether it is in relation to one’s marriage, children, society or business demands willingness to work hard, passing up ephemeral ‘quick fixes’ and sacrificing present relaxation and fun for future gain. 

The connection between the two eternal flames reveals that becoming wise always involves sacrifice.  Studying Mathematics, History, Accounting or Physics is much harder than studying Social Studies or Gender Studies. As too many recent graduates are discovering, it is also much more valuable.  Serious students of truly enlightening courses will have far less time for partying than fellow students coasting through fluffy, insubstantive programs.  If you’re not willing to sacrifice, you won’t gain a real education. The flames of the menorah and the altar are inseparable.

We’ve all read or heard advice that we recognize as true and that we know would benefit us. Too often, we leave off the hard work of implementing the advice. Don’t make that mistake with our audio CD, Boost Your Income: 3 Spiritual Steps to Success. Listen, and then monitor your thoughts and actions to see if they are in line with your newly acquired wisdom.  Isn’t your bottom line worth the effort?

Reprinted and updated from June 2012

Stop Lumping Us All Together

February 6th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 30 comments

Exactly 60 days before America’s historic presidential election of November 8th, 2016, while speaking to a group of supporters in New York City, Hillary Clinton made the following declaration: “…you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?”  Candidate Clinton was still at the podium when one of her closest advisors on the campaign texted a friend saying, “With that statement Hillary just lost the race!”  He was right.

How could a smart and ambitious woman say such a stupid thing?  True, she had abandoned the TelePrompter, gone off script and was speaking from her heart.  But still, it was political suicide.

Why did she say it?  Because the temptation to lump many into one is all but irresistible.  How often do you hear politicians bolstering their own positions by saying, “The American people…”  Nice sentiment, but there has never been one American people and there certainly isn’t one now.

One often hears the phrase, “the Black community”   There is no such thing.  There could hardly be a greater gulf than that between Al Sharpton and the late, great Pastor Ken Hutcherson who was an NFL linebacker before he began pastoring the successful Antioch Bible Church in Puget Sound.  There’s nothing those two would have agreed upon other than perhaps that both their skins were black.

And for a real laugh, listen to people referring to “the Jewish community.”  The only thing  that all of America’s 4 million Jews would agree upon is that Hitler was a very bad man.  Yet most of us find ourselves saying things that lump the many into the one.

Why do all my children always pick a busy morning to act up?  All the available men out there are emotionally needy adolescents.  None of my employees appreciate how much I do for them. 

This is not to say that generalities have no value.  Of course, there is some truth to generalities.  In general, teenage boys drive more recklessly than teenage girls.  In general, customers in that zip code look more to quality than price.  By using the phrase “in general” we acknowledge that not everyone is included.

Why do we feel drawn to lumping the many into the one?

Reason 1:  It is emotionally satisfying to strip the individuality of those annoying us and see them all as sharing one common negative trait.  Those Moslems are all the same.  All TSA agents are recruited from a special pool of the dimwitted.

Reason 2:  We are subconsciously enchanted by the unity of monotheism.  Everything is created by and controlled by one God.  I may not fully understand that, but I believe it and love living in a world explained by that simple reality.  One is appealing.

Just think which of these feature articles you’d be most likely to read.  (a) The Number One Reason Women Wear Makeup.  (b)  Twelve Reasons Women Wear Makeup.  (a) Seven Really Fast Cars Below $70,000.  (b) The Fastest Car You Can Buy for Under $70,000.

When he died, Albert Einstein was trying to discover what he called The Unified Field Theory.  We already had four perfectly solid theories that explained the behavior of different forces like gravity, magnetism, and nuclear.  But Einstein wanted one simple theory that did it all.  Lumping the many into the one is nothing more than asserting a unified field theory for the many different things or people on our minds.

Lumping the many into the one misleads us.  Often in casual conversation, the damage is minor and short-lived.  However, when we start habitually thinking in terms of lumping the many into the one it accustoms us to an incorrect way of judging reality.  We lose our ability to observe subtle distinctions.

Consider the first chapter of the Bible.  Quick now…what did God create on Day One?  That’s right, heaven, earth, and light.  Day Three? Dry land and vegetation. Day Four? Sun, moon and stars.  Day Five? Sea life and birds.  Day Six?  Animals and humans.  That’s basically the story of Creation.  But wait!  I left out Day Two.

What did God create on Day Two?

And God said let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters and let it divide water from water.
(Genesis 1:6)

Do you know what a firmament is?  The only definition I can confidently share with you is that firmament is the word the translators of the King James Bible in the 17th century came up with for the Hebrew word RaKiaH.

And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament, and it was so.
(Genesis 1:7)

Back to my question, what did God create on Day Two?  Apparently some inexplicable and unnamed thing that divides between one set of waters and another.  Distinguishing between two or more humans is usually quite easy.  One should easily be able to avoid the temptation of saying, “All my customers try to irritate me.”  Distinguishing between different makes of cars is quite simple.  But the one thing that is hard to distinguish is one cup of water from another.  Or for that matter, can one really tell the difference between water from one ocean and water from another? Where do the waters of the Indian and the Atlantic oceans really meet?  Cape Town’s tourist bureau insists that this occurs right in the shadow of Table Mountain, but the truth is that nobody can know.  It’s impossible to separate one water from another.  Yet that is exactly what God does on Day Two.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that on Day Two God created distinction and separation. Day Two is the only one of the six days on which we don’t hear God saying, “it was good.”  Separation, distinction, and division are absolutely necessary, but they have the potential to drive humans apart and we must know how ‘not good’ that can be. Our challenge is to make distinctions while respecting each other.

At the moment, our society feels an almost irresistible temptation to lump the two genders into one group of humans utterly indistinguishable from one another by any fixed sexual reality.  The sixth and seventh verses of the first chapter in Genesis teach the importance of making distinctions, appreciating those distinctions and recognizing their value.

The magical but highly improbable living arrangement we call ‘marriage’ functions precisely because it is between two different kinds of humans, men and women.

Like any specialized skill, forming and maintaining a healthy, durable and passionate marriage takes know-how. You may or may not be ordering roses and buying perfume for Valentine’s Day. Either way, you should be focusing on what makes relationships work. Get 20% off resources that can help you do just that.

Madam, I’m Adam:

Decoding the
Marriage Secrets of Eden

SAVE 20%

Hands Off! This May Be Love

 

SAVE 20%

I Only Want to Get Married Once

SAVE 20%

The Gorilla, the Girl and the Snake

February 1st, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

Every September at the Puyallup fairgrounds about 40 miles south of Seattle, occurs one of the Lapin family’s favorite fairs. On one special day each September, we would head to the Washington State Fair. We’d arrive early morning, soon after opening and leave only when the lights started going out late that night.  We love that fair.

One attraction, popular at almost every fair in the country for the last seventy-five years, is the girl-into-gorilla illusion.  The audience is shepherded into a dark tent. When the curtain opens, a girl is seen in a cage and before everyone’s astonished eyes she begins to sprout hair. Her features go from girlish to gorilla.  Her delicate arms gradually turn into huge hairy appendages dangling from enormous shoulders. Then, just as the transformation seems complete, the “gorilla” breaks open the cage. Everyone flees in terror, their frantic screams helping to attract the audience for the next show.

(more…)

Push Me, Push You

January 17th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 70 comments

It’s always a bad idea when I spurn Susan Lapin’s advice.  No good has ever come of it.  In fact, I must confess to more than one painful memory of the consequences of doing so.  Nonetheless, here goes.  Susan says, “Go light on science topics; it won’t interest women as much as it interests men.”

I had three responses to her today.  First, I may inadvertently be escalating arrogance to new levels of obnoxiousness, but I think I can write about science engagingly for everyone.  Second, worst case scenario, I have a male friend in North Carolina, who’ll just love this!  Third, I have to speak science if I wish to teach this aspect of ancient Jewish wisdom.

So here goes and please be gentle with your comments. I don’t want to be subjected to a self-envisaged burden of, “I told you so!”

(more…)

Did You Make that Resolution?

January 11th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

Want to lose weight?  Me too.  And so did 84 female housekeepers in seven different hotels who typically clean fifteen rooms a day. They were measured for physiological health variables affected by exercise and then two Harvard University psychologists informed half the women (untruthfully) that their daily work alone constituted enough exercise to make them lose weight and keep healthy.

In 2007, Psychological Science reported that those in the informed group lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, and had significantly healthier body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio while the others had no changes.

What you believe can make your body do amazing things.

(more…)

Bzzz. Moo. A Recipe for Growth

January 3rd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 22 comments

A friend of mine recently celebrated the long-awaited arrival of his first child and almost overnight he became a different man.  He drove his car a bit more cautiously.  His facial expression looked a little more mature.  His approach to work seemed more focused.  While lovingly cradling his infant, he said to me, “Rabbi, I can’t believe what I created!”

I pretended not to hear him and cupping a hand about my ear, I asked, “What was that I heard?”  He repeated what he had just told me. “No, no,” I said.  “I heard you all right but I had to listen a bit more carefully to hear your son.”

“My son?” he asked, looking baffled.  “Yes, your son just said exactly the same thing.  He moved a tiny finger to point at you and he murmured, ‘Rabbi, I can’t believe what I created.’ “

I continued, “Yes, I think it true that more than a man creates a child, it is the child who creates a father.”

There are many life transforming experiences. Many have the potential to transform us into our higher selves while, of course, there are those experiences which will transform us into lesser beings.  Then there are experiences, like watching cat videos on the Internet, which do nothing at all.

(more…)

New Year – Old Year

December 26th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

When I was nine, I saved up every penny to fulfill my yearning for an electric train.  Finally, I ran to the hobby store. Arriving home, I set up the circular track.  My little engine, pulling two coaches and a caboose, circled endlessly, repeatedly passing the same wooden station and plastic trees I set up beside my track.

I dreamed of laying out one long straight run so that my train could explore new landscapes.  But one long track would quickly take the train out of my sight.  Neither straight line nor circle was ideal.

What a metaphor for life!  Making each year merely a dreary replica of last year is as dissatisfying as constantly seeking the new and novel.

(more…)

Do as I Do, Not as I Say

December 20th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 26 comments

Years ago, the little yeshiva in Skokie, Illinois, had a pathetic basketball team.  Just a bunch of slightly nerdy kids stumbling around the court.  Their star forward  dribbled like a drunk trying to stomp a cockroach.  They were so low in the Jewish schools’ league that they usually fell off the bottom of the page.

One day—wonders of wonders—the Chicago Bulls offered to coach them to basketball excellence.  This was going to be The Dirty Dozen all over again.  There is something deeply moving about watching hopeless losers rising to stardom.  King David’s words would resonate throughout Jewish Chicago, “The stone the builders despised has become the cornerstone.” (Psalms 118:22)

What a generous act of magnanimity.  Living legends of basketball like Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman unstintingly giving of themselves.  Through their concern, a motley collection of kids who had never known what it was to hear fans roaring approval, would ultimately achieve success in sports.

(more…)

Transmission Chain

December 14th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

A few days ago, we observed the 25th anniversary of the passing of my revered father, Rabbi A. H. Lapin, senior rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of South Africa, chief rabbi of the Gardens Synagogue founded in Cape Town in 1841, and founding rabbi of Congregation Am Echad, San Jose, California. But to me, his oldest son, all those distinctions are far less important than for me simply to say, “He was my teacher.”

On the day before he returned home to God, I had a terrible premonition and cancelled part of a trip in order to return home early. That evening I spent in his company in Los Angeles where he was teaching a Bible class in my community, and took him to the airport the following morning.  He died soon after he returned home to my mother in San Jose later that very morning.

(more…)

Murder Rate Higher Than Official Figures-You Heard It Here First!

December 10th, 2016 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

In last week’s podcast   I explained how skilled doctors get vicious murderers off with a simple assault plea.  Well, three days after that podcast posted last weekend, the Chicago Tribune posted an article  explaining how the murder rate was much higher than official figures suggested.

Here are the relevant sentences:

(more…)

X