Posts in Thought Tools

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.

Henry Wallingford proposed to his girlfriend one night in an empty football stadium which he rented for the occasion.  The loudspeakers blared romantic tunes while the giant scoreboard flashed out, “Gillian will you marry me?”  As soon as the astonished girl said, “yes,” waiters trotted out with two chairs and a table bearing a white tablecloth and a large bouquet of flowers.  The couple was then treated to a catered gourmet meal on the fifty yard line.  Henry was trying to add meaning to his proposal by means of an extraordinary location.

My sailboat on which the future Mrs. Lapin graciously said “yes” to my anxiously blurted out proposal will always be dear to my heart.  The power of our commitment to God and to one another bestowed special significance on that old boat.

Our dining room table was built to have food served upon it. Nonetheless, years of Lapin family meals around it have imbued that table with such emotional resonance that sometimes, to my eyes, it seems to emit a warm glow.  Meaningful human activities impart spiritual significance to objects and places.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches this by depicting a scene that begs a question:

And Jacob journeyed to Sukot… therefore he called the name of the place Sukot.
(Genesis 33:17)


Here’s the question: How could Jacob have journeyed to Sukot when it only acquired its name after he got there?  I would have written that verse, “And Jacob journeyed to a place and named the place Sukot…”

Well it turns out that the first time the word “Sukot” appears in that verse it is spelled ordinarily. The last time it appears it acquires an extra Hebrew letter vav connoting an additional dose of spiritual significance.

In other words, the place may well have been called Sukot.  However, because of the powerful human act of construction, the place was changed. The name acquired the extra vav reflecting that something significant had taken place there.

In case you feel any inclination to dismiss this as a coincidence, Scripture repeats this pattern.

And they came to the valley of Eshkol …they called that place the valley of Eshkol…
(Numbers 13:23-24)


Do you see the same question?  If it was called valley of Eshkol because of something they did after they got there, it should have just been an anonymous place when they arrived.

It turns out that the pattern is identical.  The first word Eshkol is spelled without the Hebrew letter vav but the vav is added when they call the place by that name. This connotes the spiritual significance of what the Israelite spies did there.

Our actions do impact the world around us.  When you show up regularly at synagogue or church for services, you are not only satisfying your own spiritual needs.  You are making that place more spiritually significant for all the other worshippers.

When you perform an action in a certain place, you change the cosmic reality of that place. Gettysburg, Normandy and the sites of many other battles were different places because of the actions which humans performed there.

While we easily understand that we can physically pollute or clean up an area, we must know that we can also spiritually contaminate or sanctify locations. As humans formed in God’s image, we participate in the world’s creation as we interact with it.

We are now in the midst of the week of the festival of Sukot, a time of great rejoicing. Once again, our office and store are opening and closing on certain days. We are extending our amazing sale on our Library Pack and Library Pack PLUS with gratitude for your patience.

Reprinted from June 22, 2011 

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Escape Yesterday

October 12th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

God spare us from these things, but have you ever wondered how someone who apparently had everything to live for, took his or her own life?  A young woman recently qualified as a physician, with grueling years of training behind her and on the threshold of a promising career, throws herself off her hospital roof.  A father parks his car on the George Washington Bridge, races to the guardrail and leaps over it to drop two hundred feet into the Hudson River. It took three days to recover his body.

Neither of these two sad victims had exhibited any mental instability.  It goes without saying that both were dealing with what must have appeared to be insurmountable problems. As a result, each made a perfectly calm and rational decision to end it. Permanently.  These are just two of the cases that came across my radar screen recently.  Both these tragedies involved individuals who felt that their predicaments were beyond help.


Fishing for Life

October 6th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

What a blessings it is to be on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low or miserable is having a purpose and passionately propelling oneself towards it.

As an ardent boating enthusiast, I find the behavior of the Bible’s most famous mariner, Jonah, to be quite baffling.  At the height of a furious storm that threatened the survival of their ship, the terrified sailors cast their cargo overboard to lighten the vessel.  Obviously, during such a tempest the safest location is high up on the struggling vessel from where escape might at least be possible.  That is why lifeboats on every ship are found on the upper deck.  Nobody in his right mind would voluntarily remain far down in the belly of the boat.

“But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep.”
(Jonah 1:5)

Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world.  But don’t envy him.  Only the dead have no worries.  That’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.


You’ll Pardon Me, I Hope

September 22nd, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

You’ll pardon me, but in just the last few days, I have heard the word ‘crap’ used in public as a synonym for feces by the host of a popular television show, by an official of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and by a CNN news anchor, to name just three.  I am not going to squander your time bemoaning the coarsening of the culture; we all know it is happening.  Many of us understand why.

And it is not only the word ‘crap’.  There is another four letter synonym for excrement which is just as popular though the self-anointed cultural elites have ridiculously decreed that ‘crap’ can be used on America’s airwaves but not the alternative word for the same human byproduct.  Expect that to change soon.

Why this particular form of human waste?  Why don’t people say, “He needs the ear-wax beaten out of him”? Or, how about, “The breaching whale scared the saliva out of the kayaker”?  Or why not, “I’ve never heard anyone speaking such nasal mucus”?  I have never heard any driver say, “Oh urine! I took a wrong turn!”  Of all human body waste, why does only excrement enjoy such common usage in ordinary conversation today?


Cows or Corvettes?

September 14th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

In late 1964, after five years of construction, the Verrazano Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island opened to traffic.  It was made of steel and was then the longest suspension bridge in the world.  In order to prevent corrosion from the sea air, it is painted, using about 12,000 gallons of paint.  Since rust would quickly weaken and destroy the bridge, the paint is kept in good shape.

The default condition for iron and even steel is to rust and deteriorate unless steps are taken to inhibit the oxidation process.  The default condition for many foods such as meat is to deteriorate and go bad unless the process is inhibited by refrigeration.  The default condition for most animals is to flee humans unless cornered.

Humans have several troublesome defaults.  (more…)

Wonderful Wives – Lesser Husbands

September 7th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Wildly unpopular as the observation may be, the overwhelming majority of people who get into serious trouble with the police share certain important demographic similarities.  These three characteristics are the only ones that matter: these people are male, they are not married, and few were raised in a stable home environment by a mother and father married to one another.


Something for Nothing

August 31st, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Here is one way to give your employee a raise:  “You’ve been with us for a year now, Enid; that means that you are due for your first raise. Congratulations, your pay is going up 5%.”

There’s another way to do it.  “During the year you’ve been with us, Enid, you’ve really made a difference.  I asked our accountant to calculate how much extra revenue your innovations brought to the company and the answer was very impressive. The way you came up with improvements in operations and how you then implemented those ideas has been incredibly effective.  We’re happy to raise your pay 5%, you really deserve it.”

I think we all know that the second approach is a far better way.  Though child-rearing is not the same as managing employees, some principles are similar.  Sadly, I often see parents violating these rules.  Some parents bribe their children with candy or watching videos in order to try and obtain the desired behavior.  A bribe is quite different from a reward. One precedes performance while the other follows it.


City Lights – Enlightening Cities

August 11th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment
It was on a clear but cold winter afternoon that I landed at JFK Airport on my first visit to the United States.  After clearing customs and immigration and being granted a three week tourist visa, I climbed into a taxi on my way to my Manhattan hotel.  Half an hour later, as the sun was starting to set, the cab swept around a curve in the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and for the first time in my life my eyes fell upon a sight of which I have never tired.  The towering skyscrapers of lower Manhattan silhouetted against the still blue sky took my breath away.  I found myself silently mouthing these words, “How great are your works, Oh Lord!” (Psalms 92:5) as tears started up in my eyes.  It was then, only a couple of hours after first setting foot upon the continent of North America while driving up the East River towards the Brooklyn Bridge that I resolved to stay.  And, though no longer on a tourist visa, I’m still here.


Take Uber to the Temple

August 2nd, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet
While awaiting my Uber car in Minneapolis the other afternoon, I received a message saying Uber was initiating rush hour surge pricing.  Almost immediately, the driver who had committed to taking me to the airport cancelled – no doubt with the intention of replacing me with a higher ‘surge’ priced fare.  Needing to catch a flight, I tried again. This time all that was immediately available near my hotel was a far more expensive “Uber black car”.  The driver got me to the airport promptly and comfortably, though hardly economically.
The next day, my son to whom I’d related the incident, urged me to report it to Uber.  Using the app on my phone, literally within less than one minute, I registered my disappointment about the first driver’s cancellation. Less than six hours later, Christian at Uber contacted me, crediting me the difference between what I paid and what I would have paid had the first driver honored his commitment.


No Work This Monday

July 7th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Got a project that you’re proud of at work? Better hurry up and get it done because all work is soon coming to an end. Machines are taking over; it’s the end of work. Some greet the news with dismay, What will people do with all that leisure? Others eagerly anticipate a world of all play and no work. Some say humans will no longer have to work. Others say humans will no longer get to work. But all agree this major change is on the horizon.

For those of you eager to hear that you can sleep late this Monday morning, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that work is not coming to an end. The good news is the same. This provocative and puerile prediction has been a staple of everyone from foolish social scientists to bogus futurists for a long time. (more…)