Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Vital Values

May 23rd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 3 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?

In true rabbinical fashion, I will answer the question by asking three others.

What words can the pacifist professor of philosophy utter to engage the vicious predator with cold eyes and no conscience who has just put a gun to the professor’s head?

What meaningful dialogue can possibly flow from a meeting between the president of Planned Parenthood and the Pope?

Wouldn’t it waste your time to eavesdrop as a Bible believer debates a militant atheist?

All these encounters are between people who don’t speak the same language.  Because they share no matrix of meaning there is little basis for communication. While the feathers may fly and the fireworks might be sensational, nothing of true consequence is likely to emerge.

It’s no coincidence that Samuel Morse’s breakthrough communication technology debuted on the very day upon which God presented His ultimate system of values to the world. The message is clear. To put it starkly: There cannot be lasting creative communication and collaboration between people who do not share values.

Marriage with a very attractive individual, but one with whom no ultimate values are shared, enjoys very little probability of long term success.

Diversity of values is no asset in a business, particularly in a smaller entrepreneurial endeavor.  The effective business professional will hire associates who possess the necessary skills and drive. However, just as importantly, they must also share the company’s value system, set by the founder.

Families should not expect their children to receive the education they anticipate at schools and colleges that do not share the family’s value system.

Values must precede all else. For this reason, Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt to its own geographic and spiritual destiny in Jerusalem has a date at Sinai as its pivotal point. The quest for independence and development can only succeed when the people are fortified and fashioned by their common value system, the Torah. The Exodus would be pointless were it not followed by receiving that explanation of reality.

The upcoming shared anniversary of both the telegraph and the Torah reminds us to communicate our value system effectively to our families and our social and business organizations.  It is far more productive and far less stressful to live with and direct a group of people who share common values and vision.

While I used the phrase the Ten Commandments above, in reality that is a mistranslation. To understand why these ten statements are vitally important to your life, you need to look at them through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom. Our office and store will be closed from sunset Tuesday, May 30th through nightfall on June 1st, in obedience to God’s command for Shavuot. We are making our audio CD, The Ten Commandments: How Two Tablets Can Transform Your Life, available on sale until we close. Save even more by getting The Ten Commandments as part of the Biblical Blueprint Set and get an additional four life-altering CDs at one very discounted price.

Adapted from Thought Tools, May 23, 2012


All CDs are available by mail or as instant downloads

In with the Old; In with the New

May 15th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 28 comments

I’ve never met my friend in San Francisco. Hanna was a regular caller to my three-hour show on the Bay Area’s KSFO.  In the radio business we discourage regular callers and most shows have a rule about how frequently they will accept calls from any one listener.  With Hanna, the rule went out the window.  She was so passionate, her voice quivered with emotion.  She always had an original take on the topic. Much of my fan mail mentioned Hanna admiringly.  One of my ongoing conceits on the show was my general assumption that every male listener to my radio show was handsome and virile and every female, young and nubile.  Nonetheless, I suspected that Hanna had seen a few years.  Her voice and accent suggested she immigrated in response to World War 2.

One day during an on-air conversation, I discovered she was without a computer and determined to humorously influence her to acquire a laptop or tablet.  She resisted with great resolve, irritating me by insisting she was too old to learn new technology.  During the ensuing few months I begged, cajoled and beseeched.  I began to feel my credibility was on the line so I threatened to start a fund among listeners to buy her one. She finally agreed to visit a store.  End of the story:  She bought a tablet.  She fell in love with it and it changed her life.  She often called the show  explicitly to thank me for encouraging her to leap forward into the email age.  I just got another welcome email from her last week.

Technology is from God. Each of us should be making as much use of it as is applicable to our lives and aspirations.

Now the Lord God took the man, and He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.
(Genesis 2:15)

God expects each of us to wrest our living from an often reluctant earth.  It seems a formidable challenge.  However, He gave us tools: the ability to work and the ability to use our souls to innovate.  Many animals use ‘tools,’ but they always use the same tools. Only  mankind, touched by the finger of God, rubbed two sticks together to make fire. Later humans developed matches and then BIC lighters and then electricity and nuclear power. Only people innovate to help us bend the earth to our will.

God said to them, be fruitful and multiply
and fill the earth and subdue it…
(Genesis 1:28)

God didn’t say destroy or despoil the earth; He said, ‘subdue’ it. Find ways to turn deserts into orchards and swamps into vineyards.  Make that earth feed you.  Find ways to defeat disease and protect yourself from the ravages of fire, earthquakes storms and tsunamis. The earth is not going to care for you.  Indeed, it will imperil your very existence if you do not subdue it.

It is our God-given soul that grants us visions of what could be.  It is also our soul that discourages today’s lethargy and admonishes us to continually strive to make our tomorrows better than our yesterdays.

Ancient Jewish wisdom does not teach us to be “content” with what we have.  It teaches us to be “happy” with our portion.  A cow in a grassy meadow on a warm day is likely content.  A human should never be content.  Happy yes, but not content.  Contentment suggests that we have no compelling urge to move forward and improve our lives and those of our loved ones around us.  Happiness not only suggests, but demands that we are always striving. We should always be seeking for ways to shatter the obstacles to our growth and development in every facet of our lives.

And to Zebulun [Moses]  said: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your departures… [you] will be nourished by the abundance of the seas, and by the treasures hidden in the sand.”
(Deuteronomy 33:18-19)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains Zebulun’s blessing as an important  key to making a living—always be engaged in a ‘departure’ (from whatever economic situation you’re in) and rejoice in your ability to innovate change. If you’re using a wooden plough, make one of iron.  If you pull the plow with an ox, build a tractor.  If you heat your house with wood, try coal and then oil, gas and electricity.  If you have figured out how to mine and cast iron, don’t be content.  It’s a very inadequate material.  Try making steel.  Have someone work a bellows and blow air through the molten iron in a puddling furnace.  When you’ve got that down, don’t be content. Destroy all your puddling furnaces and replace them with Bessemer blast furnaces.  You will get more steel and better quality steel.  This is what the great 20th century economist Joseph Schumpeter  meant when he coined the term, ‘Creative Destruction.’  It means constantly exiting from today’s paradigm and finding a better and more efficient way.  This is exactly what Scripture is telling us to do in the verses in Genesis and Deuteronomy above.

Today we call it technology–a new word for an old idea: using our God given ability and desire to innovate and find a better way for today so that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.

Any person reluctant to use a smart phone is no different from someone in the 1900s insisting on undergoing dentistry without anesthesia or a traveler in the  1800s insisting on riding a horse rather than a railway. Each was a technology of its day.

I am not advocating being an early adopter.  I do not recommend acquiring new technology as soon as it appears.  I prefer for the manufacturer to get the glitches out first.  Buying the first iteration of a new product risks you ending up owning something unsupported and obsolete.  Wait to make sure it is viable and  catches on, then dive in and toss out the old.  Rejoice in your departures.  Provided of course that the innovation will help you work your Garden better than you could yesterday.

What of the dangers of technology? New things are valuable as long as we remain safely anchored by correct old ideas.  Some people like new ideas (Save the environment by not having children–Bill Nye, 2017) and old things (antiques).  As for me I prefer new furniture, new cars, and new technology but I love old ideas, specifically those with a seal of approval from the Bible.

Socialism is one of the oldest ideas that the Bible condemns. It keeps reappearing throughout human history usually presented as something new and exciting. We are seeing a strong reemergence of that seductive message now. The problem—and the antidote—appear in Genesis in nine incredibly packed verses. If you want to understand what’s going on in Europe and America, as well as how to fight this dangerous trend, please listen to our audio CD set, Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel. You will be amazed, entertained and enlightened. Both download and mail versions on sale this week.

Tower of Power

SALE:  Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel

Escape from Lithuania

May 8th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 49 comments

It was still dark that morning, but my father was first in a growing line outside a government office in a small Lithuanian town.  It was September 2nd, 1939 and Hitler had invaded Poland the previous morning.  Possessing a neutral South African passport, my father hoped to cross Poland and Germany and reach sanctuary in Switzerland.  While nobody knew when South Africa would join the Allies, my father knew it was a matter of days or perhaps hours, at which point escape from Lithuania would be impossible. As it turned out, South Africa declared war against Germany on September 4th.

When the office opened, my father anxiously placed his passport, literally a magic carpet to safety, on to the counter and took a seat to wait.  Every subsequent Jewish person, equally desperate to escape Lithuania, placed his passport upon my father’s and sat down in the waiting room.  When the official finally arrived to grant exit visas, he started with the top passport and called out the name of the applicant.  With a sinking heart, my father realized that the official would never reach his passport way down at the bottom.

Suddenly the official stood up.  Placing one of his hands beneath the tall pile and the other at the top, he crossed his arms and inverted the pile. Reaching for what was now the top document, he called my father’s name.


How the Smartest Man Failed

May 3rd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

Since pencils were invented about five hundred years ago they have needed regular sharpening.  For most of this period, sharpening was accomplished by a person wielding a knife and whittling away the wood to uncover more of the graphite core.  Finally, in the 19th century, people began trying to build a mechanical pencil sharpener that would require no skill to operate and that would deliver consistently sharp pencil points.

The earliest were clumsy contraptions attempting to mimic the reciprocal movement of a hand holding a blade.  It finally dawned on inventors that they were not trying to build a duplicate of a human sharpening a pencil; they were trying to build a better way of sharpening a pencil. And they did. What they came up with was the now-familiar device into which you insert your pencil and which contains two or three helical cylindrical cutters that rotate about the pencil when the handle is turned.

The first versions of many inventions like the tractor, sewing machine, and airplane all failed because their inventors remained locked into the old way of doing things. Subsequent versions succeeded as innovators discarded the old visions opening their minds to solving the problem rather than merely improving the old system.

We’re all susceptible to the trap of not being open to entirely new and revolutionary ways of solving problems.  Do I really need a full-time secretary and an office in which to house her or could I use a virtual assistant? Do I really need a car or could I make do with Uber?  Let’s see how even the smartest man in the world, King Solomon, slipped up by clinging to an old model.


Where Did I Hear That?

April 18th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

“When we were young, we were taught again and again that we shouldn’t get pregnant. Now we can’t!”

That plaintive wail from a childless 43 year-old woman caught my attention. Holly Finn describes the mortification and expense of countless in-vitro-fertilization procedures she endured. A little cashmere baby sweater goes everywhere with her; she bought it years earlier for the baby she hoped she’d one day have. Now Holly weeps about having the sweater but not the child. Her most excruciating experiences are being in the company of other women chattering happily about their children, or with men, most of whom simply don’t get how she feels.

Holly’s sad situation echoes the Biblical account of Rachel. When Leah repeatedly gives birth, the childless Rachel cries out in agony to her husband:

…give me children otherwise I’m as good as dead.
(Genesis 30:1)


From Stress to Salvation: A Passover Story

April 12th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

To the dismay of my parents and the bewilderment of my wife Susan’s parents, some years back we sailed our family from Los Angeles to Honolulu on our small sailboat. We spent nearly a year in preparation. Susan planned the meals for the entire voyage and wrote down where each item of food was stored, while I strengthened the vessel and polished my celestial navigation skills. We departed on the fourth of July and by mid-month we were about a thousand miles from the West Coast and the same distance from Hawaii.

That night, as usual, I measured our water supply and in an exhausted state from too many hours on watch mistakenly determined that we had only one more day’s water left. In a terrible panic, all I could think about was how would I keep my family alive till we reached Hawaii. In my mind that became the only problem.


Is There Food in Your Purse?

April 4th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

As the rabbi of a large congregation, my father attended many weddings and bar-mitzvahs.  My mother usually accompanied him and on rare occasions I got to go as well.  I always assumed that when this happened, I was being rewarded for good behavior.  It wasn’t until years later that my mother confided that the times when I was taken along were when the babysitter positively refused to have me at home.

While attending one particular bar-mitzvah with my parents when I was about ten years-old, I clearly remember spotting a woman surreptitiously sweeping some cookies off the table and into her rather capacious purse.  I instantly realized that she was harboring a fugitive to whom she needed to get food.  My fevered mind needed to know whether her fugitive was a criminal or a hero.  Clearly the only way to find out more was to place her under my diligent surveillance for the rest of the afternoon.  I observed her sneaking some fish and fruit into her bag.  Sooner or later, I would surely catch her leaving  the hall and by following her I would determine the identity of the person she was hiding.


Did I Really Peek Into Your Closet?

March 28th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

I don’t mean to startle you by revealing a secret of yours, but here goes.  I know that in your closet, you have items of clothing you haven’t worn in a very long time.  There! I told you.  You have garments that have been hanging there for years that you just can’t bring yourself to discard.  Even without skulking creepily around your closet, I know this to be true.

This is not the place to provide you with guidance on how to sort your wardrobe and decide what should stay and what should go.  But this is just the place for me to offer ancient Jewish wisdom’s explanation behind your reluctance to trash the old trousers.  The good news is that your sadness at slinging out that old suit reflects really well on you.

I am sure you are one of those well-organized souls whose home and work space are clean and neat.  You are quick to purge unneeded papers, books, tools, recipes, and kitschy family heirlooms.  You even threw out last Thursday’s perfectly delicious dinner leftovers with barely a twinge.  But you just cannot throw out clothing.  You’ll be relieved to know that there is a perfectly good reason.  Clothing is different.

Our clothing imparts identity and dignity to us and those are more important to us than even food.  We all remember stories of the down and out salesman who spent his last few dollars, not on a meal but on a new suit and a shoeshine, knowing they would buck him up for his next interview even more than hot food.


Say Little and Lead Much

March 21st, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Leaders enjoy many benefits.  People seen as leaders get promoted and opportunities come their way.  Parents whose children respect them as leaders have more functional families.   But how do you begin the process of getting others to see you as a leader?

We have all seen leadership in action.  Perhaps one participant at a meeting emerges as the clear leader of the group.  Or people listen more attentively to one person than to another.  Groups coalesce around the one individual who is regarded as more authoritative than anyone else.

I’m sure you’ve seen parents who enjoy such excellent rapport with their children that obedience is almost automatic.  It is clear that the children view the parents as leaders.  Authentic leadership skills that are effective in a work environment are also effective in a family or social environment.  We just need to know what these skills are.


Snow Day; Grow Day

March 14th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

A couple I knew, misunderstanding the meaning of being loving parents, raised their children with no rules and little restraint.  You won’t be shocked to hear that their two kids grew into demanding little monsters.

The parents blamed the children’s teachers for why their children were ‘difficult’.  They explained that their children ‘had issues’ because of preservatives in food. They blamed the tiny tyrants’ grandparents.  They never were able to see their poor parenting as the central problem.

It’s hard to live an effective life when you are blind to cause and effect.

Imagine someone waking up on a recent morning in Washington DC, to discover that forty inches of snow fell in the night.  Shivering with cold, he turns up the thermostat to no effect.  He tries to turn on the lights, but the electricity is out.

Listen to him saying, “I can’t believe this!  What bad luck!  On the same morning, no heat, no lights, and on top of that, there’s a load of snow all over my yard.”  He sees three separate, simultaneous but disconnected inconveniences, not comprehending that they are all linked.