Posts in Thought Tools

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.

ע     פ

PEH    AYIN

There is no parallel in English since there is no generally accepted way of spelling a letter’s name.  The sixteenth letter, P, is just P rather than PEE (or PEIGH if you attended a prep school). The next letter is just Q and not QUEUE.  But in Hebrew, every letter has a name that is spelled in a specific way and has a meaning.

In the Hebrew alphabet, adjacent letters are spiritually connected. For instance, the first two letters, ALEF and BET spell out the Hebrew word for father. This reveals that fathers lead to the rest of the alphabet, in other words, literacy and communication is (perhaps counterintuitively) at risk if we eliminate fathers from society.

Similarly, AYIN (eye) and PEH (mouth) are linked by their adjacent positions in the alphabet.  What is more, since AYIN precedes PEH, we get the idea that eyes are vital to communication.  This is to say that we are being advised to look before we speak.

Of course, pausing and assessing a situation before speaking is important, but there’s an even more useful message.  We should look at the other person’s eyes even before he or she starts speaking.  Eyes telegraph a hint about the emotional flavor of the message the mouth is about to deliver.  In honest communication, the eyes and mouth deliver the same message.  But if the eyes hint callous ruthlessness and the mouth delivers friendly warmth, or the other way around, our emotional alarm bells start jangling.

This is one of the reasons that  in-person communication has not been obliterated by technology. Even Skype has a fatal flaw in that the two parties don’t look into each other’s eyes.  You see, the little camera lens is off to the side in the bezel surrounding the screen.  Yet, we all gaze at the picture of the person we’re talking to.  That means our Skype or FaceTime friends never see into our eyes and of course neither do we see into theirs.   Whether for business, friendship or romance, talking face-to-face adds a dimension to the relationship because of being able to look into eyes.

It turns out that even from a young age, our babies get this and though their eyes are normally attracted toward movement, in the case of communication, they know that the eyes come first.  They are listening to what your mouth says, but their little eyes are fixated upon your eyes.  It is from your eyes that they will know what you’re really feeling.   I don’t know who first coined the phrase, the eyes are the window into the soul, but it is pretty accurate.

In all interpersonal relations, whether in romance or business, what their mouth says is always important, but first notice what their eyes say.  

I invite you to uncover more practical life insights that spring from the Hebrew language. Letter names not only have meaning, but they also have numerical values, specific shapes and much more. God gifted us with a language that reveals truth. Whether you are fluent in Hebrew or can’t read a word, deliberately unwrapping that gift yields valuables. For a few more days, our best-selling attempt to do just that is on sale. Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language will amaze you and allow you to explore 29 fundamental ideas such as love, money, laughter and family through God’s eyes.

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.

Within the last few days, from his nuthouse chair in a U.S. Senate Committee Room, he blasted a fine man named Russell Vought. Mr. Vought had been nominated by another fine man, Donald Trump, President of the United States, to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. That’s an extremely hard job. I worked with those brilliant people forty some years ago, especially with the mega genius, Paul O’Neil, on a bill to provide universal health care to all Americans. I guess it would have been called Nixon-Care if it had passed.

Mr. Vought was tormented and lectured to by Bernie Sanders because he had written some time earlier that he was a Christian and he felt as if all men and women who were not Christian “stood condemned” before God. Sanders said this statement was “Islamophobic,” a favorite phrase of trouble makers. He said it also offended Jews. And as he yelled at Mr. Vought, Mr. Vought simply stood his ground and said, basically, “I am a Christian and I am not going to walk away from Christ.”

This left Bernie sputtering with impotent rage.

But I am a lot more of a Jew than Bernie Sanders (my family never changed our names and I unabashedly support Israel). And I am HUMILIATED that a fellow Jew took it on himself to mock and belittle those who trust and believe in Christ, Jesus. We live in a country that is a free country as far as the worship of God is concerned. We Jews have been taken in and loved and cared for by the great majority of Americans who are Christian. This is a free country but it is also a Christian country, to be honest. And the Christians here have been saintly to us Jews. A large example—Go to the U.S. cemetery at Normandy and look at the endless rows of gravestones for those who were killed by the tough as nails Nazis in Normandy. Those gravestones are overwhelmingly crosses.

The men under those crosses were not Jews. Yet they freely gave their lives to save the world — and Jews in particular — from the Nazis’ genocide against us Jews. I feel an on-my-knees gratitude to the men buried there and all over the world who died young to protect us from the race killers.

And now cometh Bernie Sanders, a Jew, to mock the way of the cross and say it offends Muslims. Guess what, Bernie: It wasn’t Muslims who saved America. It wasn’t Muslims who saved us Jews. It was the American Christian who believed that those who do not follow Christ will be judged harshly for it on Judgment Day.

Now, these people — and I especially include my wife’s family, from beloved Arkansas — are saints to me. If they want to believe in Christ and that no man cometh to the Father but through the Son, I’m all for it. I’m all for anything they want to believe. And a belief in a merciful, loving God, is very far from something I want to question. I need all of the loving and forgiveness I can get. So does everyone I know, Jew or Gentile. I don’t believe that American Christians are filled with Judgment and I am quite sure that it is this forbearance that I will have to thank for every day I have above ground here on earth. I would happily go back on my horse and go to work for Russell Vought at OMB if I were younger and I don’t believe he would mistreat me. If he wants to believe I stand condemned because I was not baptized, he’s welcome to it and I pray that he’s wrong. But I know that here on earth, God’s work must surely be our own (in JFK’s words). And here on earth, the people who do the work of kindness and compassion are Christians. I am not the slightest bit worried about America’s Christians. I am terrified of the Muslims — not here, but all over the world in whatever hellhole they are planning their next attack. And, yes, I do believe the great majority of American Muslims are fine people. (Although I do wonder where the million man Muslim marches condemning Islamic terror are here in America or in London or in Manchester. What are they waiting for?)

So, Senator Sanders, I am not scared to death of Christ or of your Christophobia. Christianity, here in America, which has been such a great friend of us Jews, is far too powerful to be taken down by one angry Vermonter. But I am scared that as a nation, we among the political and media self-selected elite, so strongly blast “Islamophobia” but do not hear the onrushing sounds of Christophobia throughout the world and especially here at home.

Senator Sanders. This is a free country, as I keep saying. And it is also a Christian country. And this country has been unbelievably good to us Jews. I am ashamed of you and your fear and hatred of the religion that has, here in the glorious USA, made heaven on earth for us followers of the Old Book. But I am minded of something you should hear from the lips of the Fisherman. “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

*   *   *

Thank you, Ben Stein, for saying so eloquently what so badly needed to be said. We are grateful to you.

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If It’s Tuesday, I’ll Be In Texas

June 5th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

What is interesting about these cities:  Naples, Oslo, Paris, Quebec City, Rome, Stockholm, and Tokyo?  No, it’s not the alphabetic sequence; that’s just me messing with you.  Here’s a clue:  Jerusalem is probably the only city that doesn’t fit that pattern.  What other great city older than two hundred years is not built on either a river or the coast?

That so many cities were built on water is no surprise.  To this day, the majority of the world’s goods and commodities still travel by ship.  Cities grow and thrive where trade occurs, and rivers and oceans have always been the arteries of trade.  The mystery is how Jerusalem grew and thrived.  It was never on a trading route like other inland cities such as those on the old Silk Road.  Because of its elevation, trading caravans would have taken flatter routes to the Mediterranean.  Thus it never had the large markets or “shuks” of cities like Baghdad and Beirut.

Yet, after more than two thousand years, Jerusalem’s vitality and endurance continue undiminished.  On May 28, 1948, the Jordanian army expelled every Jew from Jerusalem’s original old city and destroyed their homes.  In order to ensure that Jews would never return to Jerusalem, the Jordanians destroyed every synagogue and violated the cemetery by building their army latrines over the ancient grave stones.  On June 7th, 1967,  the Jews recaptured Jerusalem.

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Do I Believe Or Do I Know?

May 30th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

The Beverly Hills tycoon was dismayed by his son’s decision to study in a yeshiva instead of joining the family business.  After several years the son returned home to his father’s sardonic question:  So what have you got to show for your years of study?  “I know that there is a God,” replied the young man.  Angrily the father leapt to his feet and pointed out the window at the gardener patiently mowing the vast lawns.  “He also knows there is a God,” shouted the older man.  “No father,” the boy quietly responded.  “He believes there is a God; I know.”

The challenge to the person of faith is to acquire so clear an understanding of how the world really works, that God’s role becomes obvious.  It’s not a matter of fervent proclamations of faith or moments of spiritual epiphany.  Instead, it takes disciplined devotion.  It’s not easy, but neither is body building.  In both cases, devotees consider the effort worthwhile; what is more, both provide highs along the way.

The path to knowing God, for me, is the Torah which I find to be a comprehensive blueprint of all reality.  I do not mean the book of stories that many view as nothing but mythology for children or, at best, for adults with childlike minds.  No, I mean the majestic and mysterious data stream of 304,805 Hebrew letters making up a Torah scroll and the ancient Jewish wisdom that accompanies them.

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Vital Values

May 23rd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 4 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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Crime Doesn’t Say

April 25th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 32 comments

On news broadcasts and interviews I have noticed something scary.  Boys involved in violent crime are largely illiterate.  This chilling correlation has been confirmed to me by friends in criminal justice and law enforcement.  You’d think that just by the laws of probability, at least some assailants and murderers when caught would have more to say than just meaningless gesticulations and obscenities.  I have been looking for just one carjacker who, upon being apprehended, told the policeman, “It’s challenging to understand, officer, I know, but while taking my afternoon constitutional, I was seized by an irresistible desire to inflict physical harm on an innocent citizen and to transfer his motor vehicle to my possession.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that the desire to communicate is present from birth and that parents who neglect this most crucial of their responsibilities may be complicit in their children’s later lack of socialization skills.

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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)

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