Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

In Front of the Eight Ball

November 29th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

“Rabbi Lapin, please stop talking and writing about money; all you’re doing is perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes!”  This was the phone call I received a while ago from the head of one of the Jewish organizations concerned with anti-Semitism.  Knowing it was futile, I still recommended that he worry more about Moslems than about me.

“Rabbi Lapin, I love your weekly email messages but I get really turned off by the commercial message. I know you have to advertise, but it detracts from the spiritual high you give me.”  This was an email I received from a long-time reader of our work.  I responded by explaining how making money can be as much a way of serving God as worship is. I suggested that her attitude really placed her ‘behind the eight ball’ financially.  Hoping she wouldn’t be too put-off by another advertisement, I recommended she read Thou Shall Prosper for the full explanation

Then I assured her that I would write more on the topic. Here it is.

Compare these two verses and see if you can spot the subtle but significant distinction.

Abram took his wife, Sarai, and Lot, his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired…
(Genesis 12:5)

Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he possessed—and Lot was with him…
(Genesis 13:1)

Both journeys involved three people: Abraham; his wife Sarah; and his nephew Lot.  Both trips also involve Abraham’s wealth.  The main difference is that on the first journey Lot was wholeheartedly with his relatives, Abraham and Sarah.  By the second journey, the text indicates that Lot was more attracted to the wealth than to his uncle and aunt.  Looking at the arrangements of words in that verse, one could say that the possessions came between Abraham and Lot.

We are not shocked when five verses later we read of growing disagreement between the establishments of Abraham and Lot.

And the land did not bear them to dwell together, for their possessions were many, and they could not dwell together.
(Genesis 13:6)

The Hebrew root word for substantial possessions, ReCHuSH, appears exactly eight times throughout the Abraham story.

ר  כ  ש
SH   CH  R

Before we examine the meaning of the number eight, let’s identify one other phrase that appears eight times in the Abraham account.

And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba…And Abraham arose from before his dead, 
and he spoke to the sons of Het
(Genesis 23:2-3)

And the sons of Het answered Abraham…
(Genesis 23:5)

And Abraham arose and prostrated himself…to the sons of Het
(Genesis 23:7)

During the account of Abraham’s negotiation with the sons of Het for a burial plot, they are referenced eight times.  It is clearly deliberate since some of the mentions could have been replaced with a pronoun or omitted.

Mentioning sons of Het eight times is interesting because the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the letter named Het, whose assigned numerical value is, yes, eight.

ח

So, Abraham’s wealth and his largest expenditure are both referenced eight times. Furthermore, he hands over a substantial slice of his assets to people named, “Sons of Eight.”

We need to know what the number eight signifies in Biblical thought.  An important Biblical tool is knowing that the first mention of something in Scripture is a good place to search for that thing’s essential meaning.

And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.
(Genesis 21:4)

In ancient Jewish wisdom, circumcision represents humans partnering with God to build His world. God created man, but we humans improve man by removing his foreskin.You won’t be surprised that the Hebrew word for oil, SHeMeN, spells out the number eight.  God creates oil, but it is valueless until man extracts its energy by burning it.

Abraham was the first human to accumulate wealth and the first person to invest some of that wealth in real estate.  By being mentioned exactly eight times, both activities hint at a partnership with God. Like so many other important Biblical insights, this is counterintuitive.  Left to our own, we tend to think of making and investing money as somehow unGodly, unBiblical, or at the very least, decidedly unspiritual. In reality, money is one avenue in which we partner with God to improve His world.

This is an appropriate time to discuss the number eight as we approach the holiday of Chanuka – the only festival designated for eight days. The implications of this holiday for our modern lives are mind-boggling and largely revolve around the numbers eight and twenty-five. If you’d like to hear more, listen to our audio CD Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence Into a 25/8 Life. This isn’t ancient history; it is living revelation and the CD is available now at a holiday sale price.

Festival of Lights_white bg

The Most Protected Minority In The United States

November 29th, 2016 Posted by On Our Mind 8 comments

The late unlamented Abdul Razak Ali Artan was one of the over 75,000 Somali Moslems resettled in America by President Obama.  He chose to repay his new country’s hospitality and graciousness by trying to kill as many of his fellow Ohio residents as possible. Predictably, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are utterly clueless as to what his motive may have been.   Oddly enough, no such reticence seems to have afflicted law enforcement in the hours following Dylann Roof’s shooting spree in Charleston. Then they knew instantly that his racist hatred of African Americans was responsible. Why were authorities comfortable attributing the Charleston event to an evil ideology but they are obviously very uncomfortable attributing the Columbus event to an equally evil ideology?   Well, you all know the answer don’t you?  Why?

Bouncing Back from Failure

November 22nd, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

One of the big reasons that some people flourish while others just remain frustrated by their painful circumstances is shame.  Shame about failing or about having failed.  The mortification is painful enough to prevent any further attempts.

Of the hundreds of world cultures identified and studied by the great social anthropologist, Joseph Daniel Unwin, by far the majority associate failure with shame.  Feeling embarrassment and shame after failure is common precisely because it is the normal and natural reaction to failure.  Normal and natural it may be but that doesn’t mean that we should regard it as acceptable.  Many things are normal and natural yet we correctly confine them to the private.  Similarly, a private sense of humiliation upon failure is certainly normal and natural.  But rising above those feelings is our human challenge.

(more…)

S.O.S. – Save Our Souls

November 17th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

When I was a teenager, my parents sent me to study Torah in Israel with my great-uncle, Rabbi Elya Lopian.  Watching and listening to a man who was a giant of ancient Jewish wisdom opened my eyes to spiritual reality.

Large numbers of young men from around the world flocked to study with him at his yeshiva, Knesset Hezekiah. A student, on one occasion, sought permission from my great-uncle to miss yeshiva while he returned home for a family wedding. Reb Elya inquired whether there would be young women dressed immodestly at the wedding.  My friend responded honestly that there was every possibility of this. However, he assured our teacher that his spiritual level was so high that he would be immune to whatever exposed feminine charms he might encounter.  He barely noticed attractive women, he concluded.

(more…)

Nothing Trumps Your History

November 9th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

When democracies vote, citizens hope to elect leaders whose values align with their own.  The problem is, how do you know?  One clue is to pay far more attention to what they have done over the years than to what they say.  Interestingly, in America’s recent election, the news media along with their attendant opinion-generators focused exclusively on the candidates’ words.  In one case to ignore prior misdeeds, and in the other to ignore prior accomplishments.  What is wonderful about raising children is that they pretty much ignore what parents say but derive their sense of values entirely from what parents actually do.  A man I know understands this well: here is his story.

(more…)

Fat of the Land

November 2nd, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 5 comments

During the past year or so, despite difficult economic conditions, some companies have reported excellent earnings.  Upon reading their reports it becomes clear that many of them achieved this without increasing sales revenues.  Instead, rigid cost discipline allowed these firms to post profits.  Many families have followed a similar culture of frugality.  They are enduring a depressed economy by ruthlessly cutting their expenses.

We hope that things will improve and tough times will eventually fade away, though for many of us painful memories will linger.  But maybe that is not all that will linger.  While reaching for the stars, an awareness of restraint is healthy.  It is good to balance the belief that we can do anything and have everything with an appreciation of limitations.

(more…)

Silence the Silly Sentiments We Get From Professional Politicians

November 1st, 2016 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

The difference between a sentiment and a policy is the difference between a daydream and a plan.  My sentiment is that it would be nice if we could pay everyone’s medical bills, raise social security and welfare, maintain NATO, and bring manufacturing jobs back to America–without raising taxes any higher than the confiscatory rates they already are.  But I waste little time on sentiments and daydreams.  The simple reality is that if you feel it is important for America to maintain a military umbrella for most of Europe and much of Asia then you must favor  greatly increased military spending, and just as importantly, the willingness to project military  power rather than the flowery phrases we’ve become used to hearing from our leaders. Want to bring manufacturing jobs back to America? Sure, then you will have to let market forces set pay.  That would be a policy.  An unpopular and thus an unlikely one for any professional politician to promote. But if you’re not willing to do that, the least you can do is respect our intelligence and shut up.  Force pro-pols to convert their pretty sentiments into tough-minded, true and practical policies. We’re all adults; at least those of us outside the Washington DC beltway.

Is This Why American Airlines and Fedex Lost Aircraft This Past Friday?

October 30th, 2016 Posted by On Our Mind 9 comments

An American Airlines airplane aborted a take-off from Chicago’s O’Hare,  just in time, thank God, when one of its engines exploded and caught fire this past Friday.  A few hours later, a Fedex-owned aircraft caught fire at Fort Lauderdale Airport in Florida.  Were these both cases of negligence by maintenance crew?  With modern airplanes equipped with the latest jet engines, this is the most likely explanation. The precipitous decline in America’s morality naturally does mean more people lackadaisical about their jobs and indifferent to their responsibilities. This means more mail deliverers dumping their mail, more vendors supplying sub-standard products, and more maintenance personnel who don’t care about the airplane on which they work. Is it also possible that maintenance is being placed in the hands of people who hate America?  When a society’s morality plummets, it is time to get scared. Very scared.

Strike Them Down

October 25th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 34 comments

There we were, Mrs. Lapin and I, breakfasting with friends on a rooftop patio overlooking the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  One of our breakfast companions is well connected with Israel’s high tech community and I immediately resolved to share with you what he disclosed to me. But first, by way of introduction, I must ask you a serious question.  Ideally, you’d want to wait to read this until you can quietly contemplate the implications of this enigma.

Imagine that you’re walking alongside a train track when you suddenly realize that a runaway train is rapidly bearing down. To your horror, you realize that in the next few seconds the train will hit five workmen on the track, all oblivious to their impending doom.

However, if you quickly pulled the track-switch lever right next to you, you could divert the onrushing train onto a siding where only one workman will be killed.  Would you be acting morally and ethically by doing so?  Some surveys show that a large majority of respondents believe the greater moral good will be served if they pull the switch to save five people by sacrificing one.

(more…)

What’s in a Name?

October 19th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

In an act of unprecedented ostentatiousness, Gerald Guterman chartered the famous ocean liner, the QE2, along with its one thousand crew members to celebrate his son’s bar-mitzvah in 1986.

Our son’s bar-mitzvah was solemnized in a small synagogue built on the Los Angeles ocean front in the 1940s.  Guterman was trying to add meaning to his family celebration by means of an extraordinary location.  We were blessed to add meaning to a picturesque old house of worship by having it house our act of religious significance.

(more…)