Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

The Birds, the Beasts and Me

October 17th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People appeared years before Mark Zuckerberg elevated the importance of acquiring friends on Facebook.  Yet, most healthy people realize that collecting “friends” only to further your own interests or in a fake world has nothing in common with establishing authentic relationships.

Let’s see if we can get an insight into real relationships through an unexpected Biblical connection:

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field
and 
every bird of the air and brought them to Adam
to see what he would call them…
(Genesis 2:19)

God brought Adam two categories of creatures (i) every beast of the field; (ii) every bird of the air.

Next verse:

And Adam called names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the air,
and to
every beast of the field
(Genesis 2:20)

Surprisingly, Adam named three categories (i) cattle, (ii) the birds of the air (iii) the beasts of the field.

We have a problem:  Not only does Adam reverse the order of birds and beasts, but he names an entirely new category—cattle.

As is so often true, the answers lie in the Lord’s language—Hebrew.

Here are the opening three words from Genesis 2:20.  I know you may not read Hebrew (yet) but gaze upon these words as graphic elements. (The middle word is Adam.)

ויקרא האדם שמות
And Adam called names

Now view the Hebrew names for the books of Exodus and Leviticus:

ויקרא           שמות
Exodus                  Leviticus

Do you see the similarities?  Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the answers to the mysteries of Genesis 2:20 can be found in the transition from Exodus to Leviticus.

The very end of Exodus describes how God cements his relationship with Israel by providing them with ever-present visible protection throughout all their journeys via Heavenly clouds and a pillar of fire. In response, Leviticus opens with Israel strengthening its relationship with God by bringing Him offerings. The Hebrew word used for offering or sacrifice is Korban which actually means ‘getting close’.

In other words, close and authentic relationships are brought about by giving to the other. Find ways to do favors for friends. (If you mistakenly think sacrifice has a negative connotation—as in, “Look how much I sacrificed for you,”—there is an entire chapter on the word Korban and the practical life applications of it in our book Buried Treasure.)

Giving a name is an intimate act of closeness.  When we address people by name, we initiate connection and acknowledge their individuality. Parents name newborns; lovers give one another pet names.  In naming the creatures, Adam is establishing a relationship between man and animals. Thus, he distinguishes between them, ordering them by degrees of closeness to humans. He first introduces a new category— cattle.  Cattle include those animals that work together with humans to the benefit of both.  Adam places birds next because birds bring music and color to our homes and gardens. Finally, he names beasts, those animals that avoid human habitation and with whom we have least relationship.

“Friending” people on Facebook is easy. Real relationships demands a ‘give and take’ relationship. We discover ways to do things of value for others  and are simultaneously willing to accept what they give to us.

Forging a special relationship with one individual in marriage is our most important bond. It is so critical, that God embedded directions for doing so in multiple verses at the beginning of Genesis. I explore these in depth of one of the four volumes of our Genesis Journeys Set. Each of these 2 CD audio volumes (8 CDs in total) go beneath the surface of Scripture, to provide practical guidance and life lessons to best understand and function in today’s complex world.

We had a wonderful month of holidays, but are also celebrating a return to full-time work with a deep discount on the Genesis Journeys Set. We hope you find them as powerful, entertaining and useful as we do.

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Good Gracious, You’re Pregnant!

October 9th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

“Just five more minutes,” “One more chapter,” “I guess I can stay a little longer.” The temptation to stretch out an enjoyable activity just a little bit more is one to which we can all relate.

After a month of reveling in God’s closeness, culminating with the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the Jewish people felt the same way. In response, God granted them an extra holy day, Simhat Torah, that begins as Sukkot ebbs away (starting this year Wednesday night, Oct. 11). Literally translated as “The Joy of the Torah,” it is on this day that we conclude and begin anew the annual cycle of reading the Five Books of Moses.

That makes this week a particularly apt time to highlight the idea that the first time in Genesis that a specific letter is used to start a word, that word provides a key to the inner meaning of that initial letter.

Consider the first usage of the word good in Scripture.

And God saw the light, that it was good
(Genesis 1:4)

In Hebrew, the word for good is TOV.  Its initial letter TET is the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, giving it a numerical value of nine. Since TOV is the first word in the Bible to start with a TET, the letter itself is linked to good. Elsewhere, ancient Jewish wisdom also links the number nine to pregnancy giving us the following equation.

TET = 9 = TOV = good = pregnancy

ט
TET

There is another place in the Torah where ancient Jewish wisdom focuses, not on the presence of the letter TET, but its absence. The thirteen verses containing the second appearance of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-18) contain at least one instance of every single letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Amazingly, the thirteen verses containing the first appearance of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-14) reveal one stunningly conspicuous exception.

The letter TET is completely absent from the first commandments!

Anything good endures forever, and Moses was destined to cast down and shatter the first two tablets of the Ten Commandments.  Had they contained the letter TET, representing the concept of good, they could not have been destroyed.  The thirteen verses comprising the second appearance of the Ten Commandments do contain the letter TET, because these tablets last forever.

What is going on?

The existence of the Ten Commandments and what they represent defines  a Biblical perspective of goodness. What good means to an ardent Islamic fanatic in Iraq is quite different from what good means to, say, a faithful Christian farmer and family man in Fresno. In reality, good comprises four categories of action.

  • Improving our relationship with God.
  • Advancing the interests of our families.
  • Advancing our financial interests.
  • Serving the interests of our friends and fellow citizens.

Time and energy invested in these four activities is good, carrying lasting impact, and is thus never wasted.

Pregnancy, and subsequent devotion to children, serves all four of these categories, making it in some ways the ultimate good. Through this medium we can

  • Become a partner in creation with God.
  • Promote family.
  • Have a worthwhile reason for gaining wealth.
  • Bless  society by increasing the number of well-raised and productive human beings.

In order to avoid a single wasted hour or a single wasted joule of our energy we need to strive to ensure that each waking hour is devoted to serving God, our families, our financial interests and God’s other children.

Simhat Torah, the festival of rejoicing in the Torah provides an incentive to begin looking at Scripture anew with deeper insights, more maturity and greater perception than last year’s study. If you would like to start afresh with understanding that flows from ancient Jewish wisdom, we recommend our money-saving and value-filled Complete Library Package and Library Pack PLUS. As an added bonus, when you purchase before our site closes for Simhat Torah this Wednesday evening (through Saturday night), we will automatically add at checkout a free copy of the new book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi so that even the enjoyable time you spend reading will further your knowledge of and connection to God.

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What Happened In Vegas Did Not Stay in Vegas

October 4th, 2017 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind 13 comments

What happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. Its pulsating shock waves raced out across the country, whiplashing into every American heart. The very thought of that merciless rain of hot lead thudding into the flesh of unknowing innocents just elicits sad gasps of incredulous agony.

It only took a few hours for the predictable flood of media and political responses. Many were the standard clichés mentioning prayers, thoughts, shock and horror. Others sought explanations for this massacre or explored the means to prevent similar events from ever happening again.

We human beings are created with both head and heart. This means we should always respond to circumstances both intellectually and emotionally, but never both at the same time and never confusing head and heart.

Allow me to offer an example or two: If I need a surgeon, I want a doctor to whom I relate and who relates to me. When we discuss my surgery, I want him to know of my physical and emotional state and I want him to know of my parents and of my children. I want a surgeon with heart. However, once I am on the table in the operating room, I don’t want him thinking of anything but the technical medical and anatomical problems beneath his skilled fingers. I want him to be all head. Yes, I do want both head and heart, but at different times. When I sit in his consulting room anxiously discussing my prognosis, I don’t want to hear just dispassionate clinical analysis; I need some warm sign of his caring. During the operation, I don’t want him distracted by any emotional considerations.

Similarly, any wise young woman contemplating marriage to a man should engage in both a head and a heart analysis. Is he someone stable, upright and responsible? But also, is she romantically attracted to him? Again, confusing these two important but separate analyses will cause possibly tragic error. If she dismisses concerns about his moral and financial habits because she can’t take her eyes off his pleasing looks, she’d be heading for trouble. If she feels physically revolted by his repugnant hygiene but finds herself drawn to the secure and moral atmosphere he radiates, she’d probably be making a serious marital mistake.

It is entirely proper that our first response upon hearing of the Vegas massacre should be via our hearts. We empathize with the pain of those who lost loved ones and those whose lives were forever changed during those hours of horror. We feel the hurt. We feel the fear. We feel burning hot anger towards the horrible human who caused all this suffering. We feel bewilderment at how it could have happened. And if we didn’t experience all these feelings and if we failed to feel for those who were there, we’d be monsters.

But if we analyze the event and propose public policy solutions whilst yet in the grip of those feelings we’d be fools.

I hope these words spark a dialogue. Please note that comments may not be posted or answered quickly as our office and store will be closed from sunset Wednesday night PT through Saturday evening in observance of the opening days of Sukkot.

L’Chaim: To Life – and Death

October 2nd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

“Death is very likely the single best invention of Life,” said Steve Jobs during his 2005 Stanford Commencement address.  This phrase aptly describes one of the themes underlying the most joyous Biblical festival, Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

Before beginning the Passover seder meal, which falls half a year distant from Sukkot, we extend an invitation to those who are hungry to join us.  However, before the Sukkot meal,  we invite seven dead people to join us; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.  Sounds a little like Halloween dinner at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion doesn’t it?

Yes, Sukkot, which is set by an exquisitely precise lunar calendar, always occurs close to Halloween.  That time of the year as the leaves die and the days get colder and shorter, can feel quite lifeless.  Hence Halloween’s frivolous mocking of death.  Sukkot’s association with death couldn’t be more different.

Actually, Sukkot has an additional name. It is called the Festival of the Gathering because of this verse:

Observe the Festival of Sukot for seven days
after you have gathered in your grain and your wine

(Deuteronomy 16:13)

               באספך
you have gathered

However, in Hebrew, that word ‘gather’ ASaF, also means dying, as we see in these examples:

Isaac expired, and died, and was gathered to his people…
(Genesis 35:29)

When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and expired, and was gathered unto his people.
(Genesis 49:33)

Die on the mountain where you go up, and be gathered to your people; as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people.
(Deuteronomy 32:50)

ויאסף
and he was gathered

As if to emphasize the connection between joyous life and death, Sukkot contains a celebration of life-giving water but is also the holyday on which we read the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) with its reminder that:

 …and the day of death (is better) than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than a house of feasting…”

Ecclesiastes 7:1-2

As Thought Tool enthusiasts already know, when any Hebrew word seems to mean two separate things or ideas, they are really closely related.  Thus the Festival of the Gathering also means the festival of death.  But why would the most joyful Biblical holyday carry even a hint of death?

For a clue, we need to examine an incident late in the life of Moses.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, avenge the people of Israel from the Midianites; afterwards shall you be gathered to your people.   And Moses spoke to the people, saying, arm yourselves for war and go against the Midianites to do the God’s vengeance in Midian.
(Numbers 31:1-3)

A lesser man hearing that this would be his final mission, might have dawdled in launching the war against the Midianites.  He might have rationalized the delay as necessary for adequate military preparation.  But ancient Jewish wisdom observes that though Moses clearly knew that after this mission he’d die, he nonetheless wasted no time in carrying it out.

This final opportunity for Moses to obey God carried a special quality that it wouldn’t have possessed if there’d be countless future such opportunities.  If great wine cost a dollar a bottle, it would soon lose its taste.  The value of any limitless commodity is zero.  Without death, there can ultimately be no joy.  A life lived forever is not a good deal and whether this is exactly what Steve Jobs meant in June 2005, we’ll never know. But the words he uttered are true.  This is why Sukkot, the greatest holyday of joy, must contain within it some small reminders of death.

In observance of Sukkot, our offices and store close this Wednesday at sunset through nighttime on Saturday. In appreciation of your tolerance of our sporadic holyday schedule, we want to offer you a gift. When you purchase the Library Package or Library Package PLUS, at checkout we will automatically add a copy of Judy Gruen’s new book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi. We trust that the ancient Jewish wisdom contained in these packages will add to your appreciation for and quality of life while Mrs. Gruen’s book (in which I am the rabbi in the title) will make you chuckle and tug at your heart as you join her in her journey to faith.


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Who Me?

September 25th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Which word connects these five sentences?

  • The world of baseball went wild in the spring of 1974 when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.
  • It was at the height of the hurricane when three men and a woman, crewing the Coast Guard Sikorsky Jayhawk helicopter, took off hoping to home in on the radio distress beacon that had been deployed by the stricken cargo ship.
  • There were no signs of trouble the day that newlyweds, Mary and Allen moved into their new home.
  • Almost everyone knows that in sports, the home team enjoys an advantage but nobody knows exactly why.
  • China prices its car exports far lower than they do at home.

In each sentence, the word “home” has a slightly different meaning but with a little thought one can see how these five different applications might be connected.  But there is little point in the exercise.

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It’s a Holy Day; Let’s Eat

September 19th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

A four-week window of Jewish holy days is approaching. I understand why we will spend more time in synagogue than usual. However, we will also spend more time at the dining room table. This isn’t a concession to human frailty; it is recognition of human greatness.

Ever since the start of our lives as babes suckling at our mothers’ breasts, eating provides us with not one, but two benefits.  They are (i) physical nourishment and sustenance, and (ii) spiritual and emotional sustenance.  The link between eating and emotion is well studied.  Many of us have ‘comfort foods.’  Gloom and uncertainty are often banished by a meal that fills our heart as well as our stomach.

Have you ever wondered why so many young people nowadays suffer from eating disorders that were virtually unknown a generation or two ago?  Surely the answer is the spiritual desert in which so many young people live.  Eating disorders are more often treated by a psychologist than by a nutritionist because there is a powerful spiritual component to eating. In other words, food and faith go together.

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Of Hurricanes and Hatred

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

This week offers a view into two types of tragedy. Our news is filled with stories of people losing homes, businesses and even their lives due to hurricanes. Sixteen years ago this week, on September 11, 2001, the news was full of stories of many more people losing their lives (the loss of businesses existed but was overshadowed by the magnitude of loss of human life) due to an evil ideology full of hatred.

Scripture pulls no punches in warning us of tragedies that will overwhelm us should we abandon God’s guidance. Many of these are consequences that flow naturally rather than bolts of lightning from Heaven as people focus on the wrong things and stop seeing humanity as created in God’s image.

One section of the Torah, filled with horrifying descriptions of misery, begins with these words:

…if you do not listen to the voice of the Lord your God…
(Deuteronomy 28:15)

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Ignore that STOP Sign

September 4th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

Don’t we all start out with optimistic plans? We are going to accomplish great things, be great spouses and parents, build our businesses and ever so much more.  Yet, somehow, we sometimes find ourselves still single, still yelling at our kids, still working at a dead-end job struggling to make ends meet. We haven’t made the impact we hoped to on our communities, family or friends. Perhaps a Hebrew word can move us back on track.

Just before Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh, God threatens Moses for neglecting to circumcise his son.  God would have terminated Moses’ career, had Moses’ wife, Tziporah, not intervened.  (Exodus 4:24-26) What is going on?

We get a clue from the language used in and around this event:

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Forests or Factories

August 29th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

A while back I visited an exhibition of photographs by the renowned photographer, Ansel Adams.  I still struggle to properly compose a photograph and learned much from observing how Adams composed his pictures.  I observed something else too:  In this exhibition, not one Adams photograph depicted any man-made object.  I later discovered that he had photographed a freeway interchange, an old adobe ruin, and a few other man-made objects but they were few and far between.  It was clearly noticeable that Ansel Adams preferred to photograph nature untouched by man.

I believe that if I could travel back in time and stroll into the Tabernacle that Moses and Israel built in the desert, I would have made exactly the opposite observation.  Most of what I could see would be man-made.  For instance, even the ark of the covenant, though constructed of wood was to be entirely overlaid with gold.  (Exodus 25:10-11)  The natural wood was quite invisible.  Though wood may be shaped, planed and polished, it still resembles the tree from which it came.  Gold, however, is never seen at all were it not for man’s industriousness in mining it, refining it and shaping it.  Wherever one looked in the Tabernacle as well as in its successor, Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the worshipper was surrounded by evidence of human creativity rather than nature.

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Egypt Made Me Do It

August 21st, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 35 comments

It is perfectly natural to attribute one’s failures to things one’s parents did. It is perfectly normal to blame events or people in one’s past for present problems.  But winners living successful lives don’t do that.  Champions of achievement rarely do what is normal and what is natural.  They know that blaming yesterday’s pain for today’s folly assures tomorrows of more of the same.

Jen Bricker could easily have abandoned her dream to become a gymnast.  It would have been perfectly natural and perfectly normal for her to have blamed the genetic defect that caused her to be born without legs.  But she became a gymnast.

Jaime Escalante wanted to become a great teacher.  He could have blamed his South American accent for failing.  Or he could have blamed being assigned to a ‘class of losers’ in a hopeless high school in East Los Angeles.  But he turned those students of his into calculus stars and he himself became the star of the movie, “Stand and Deliver.”

Felix Zandman’s idyllic youth came to an end when as a teenager he was flung into a Polish ghetto.  From there he was moved to a German concentration camp where he watched  Nazi thugs murder his family.  After enduring unimaginable trauma, he was liberated and finally found his way to America.  He could have remained a victim, blaming the horrors to which he was subjected.  Instead he built up a business into one of the world’s largest electronic component manufacturers, Vishay Intertechnology.

Nothing would have been more normal than for the Jews to have blamed millennia of dysfunction on hundreds of years of Egyptian slavery.

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