Posts in Thought Tools

Push Me, Push You

January 17th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 69 comments

It’s always a bad idea when I spurn Susan Lapin’s advice.  No good has ever come of it.  In fact, I must confess to more than one painful memory of the consequences of doing so.  Nonetheless, here goes.  Susan says, “Go light on science topics; it won’t interest women as much as it interests men.”

I had three responses to her today.  First, I may inadvertently be escalating arrogance to new levels of obnoxiousness, but I think I can write about science engagingly for everyone.  Second, worst case scenario, I have a male friend in North Carolina, who’ll just love this!  Third, I have to speak science if I wish to teach this aspect of ancient Jewish wisdom.

So here goes and please be gentle with your comments. I don’t want to be subjected to a self-envisaged burden of, “I told you so!”

Imagine a shiny silvery sphere about the size of a ping pong ball.  Based on its size and upon your life experience, you expect to pick it up easily with your thumb and forefinger.  To your astonishment, you need your entire hand to lift it as it actually weighs well over a pound.  Turns out, it is not a hollow Christmas ornament. It’s a ball of uranium and is surprisingly heavy and dense.  (For this thought experiment, we’re using a type of uranium called Uranium 235)

Now imagine a uranium sphere the size of a bowling ball; it weighs well over one hundred pounds.  More importantly, it is enough uranium to constitute what is called critical mass.  Whereas the ping pong ball of uranium is almost inert and does nothing, the bowling ball of uranium contains enough of the radioactive material to start a spontaneous nuclear reaction, getting hotter and hotter.  (Don’t try this at home!)

The heat from that ball of uranium can boil water into steam which can drive a turbine and push an aircraft carrier across the Pacific Ocean.  The smaller ping pong ball of uranium produces no heat at all.

One of the truly fascinating permanent principles of ancient Jewish wisdom is that for every single physical law governing material phenomena, God set up a parallel spiritual law.

What is the matching spiritual equivalent to the idea of physical critical mass that we just discussed?  Have you ever noticed how the first few people at a party drift around aimlessly?  Nobody is having much fun until…yes, you’ve got it.  The party takes off when enough people have arrived for it to hit critical mass.

Here’s another example: If one or two people stop on a busy sidewalk and peer upwards, nothing much is likely to happen.  However, if ten or eleven people stop on that same sidewalk and gaze upwards, you can be sure others will join in.

Ladies, can we look at one more example or is Susan right when she says, “You’re pushing your luck!”?

In the 17th century, a deeply religious and Bible-believing English scientist, Isaac Newton, identified three laws of motion. The third one states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  For instance, when one fires a gun, the action is that a bullet goes flying out the barrel towards its target.  The reaction is that the gun recoils and pushes back against your hand or shoulder.  Another example is that if a billiard ball rolls across the velvet and strikes a second ball, both are affected by the impact.  The action is that the second ball starts moving.  The reaction is that the first ball bounces away in a new direction as a result of the impact.

The spiritual equivalent to Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion is that if you push another person away from you, you also start feeling distant.  In marriage, sometimes without even meaning to do so, a wife might rebuff her husband.  Naturally he feels banished and hurt.  However, what we now understand is that often without even knowing why, she too feels more alienated from him.  The action is her pushing him away.  The reaction is that she feels just as much pushed away in the opposite direction.

The same principle is often found in business relationships and works for positive as well as negative.  For instance, if a merchant does something really nice for a customer, the action is that the customer feels good towards the merchant.  The reaction is that the merchant starts feeling newfound sensations of appreciation towards his customer.

I know I spurned Susan’s advice in writing this Thought Tool on a scientific topic, but Newton’s First Law of Motion explains that without any outside force acting upon it, a body remains at rest.  This means that if you don’t engage the gear and press down on the accelerator, your car will remain stationary.

The spiritual equivalent of this law is that we humans tend towards lethargy unless stimulated to action.  Do you think it possible that with full knowledge of this spiritual law, my smart wife knew that in discouraging me from writing a scientific Thought Tool, she’d actually be goading me towards doing so?  That would be scary.

Ladies, now is your chance to support me by obtaining your own copy of The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah. This audio CD starts with another example of a physical and spiritual law and goes on to cover abortion, child raising, affluence  and so much more. It even explains why the boring ‘begat’ sections of Scripture aren’t boring! Please get it (on sale) right now.

What was Susan thinking? I’ll probably find out when I read the comments.

Did You Make that Resolution?

January 11th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

Want to lose weight?  Me too.  And so did 84 female housekeepers in seven different hotels who typically clean fifteen rooms a day. They were measured for physiological health variables affected by exercise and then two Harvard University psychologists informed half the women (untruthfully) that their daily work alone constituted enough exercise to make them lose weight and keep healthy.

In 2007, Psychological Science reported that those in the informed group lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, and had significantly healthier body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio while the others had no changes.

What you believe can make your body do amazing things.

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Bzzz. Moo. A Recipe for Growth

January 3rd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

A friend of mine recently celebrated the long-awaited arrival of his first child and almost overnight he became a different man.  He drove his car a bit more cautiously.  His facial expression looked a little more mature.  His approach to work seemed more focused.  While lovingly cradling his infant, he said to me, “Rabbi, I can’t believe what I created!”

I pretended not to hear him and cupping a hand about my ear, I asked, “What was that I heard?”  He repeated what he had just told me. “No, no,” I said.  “I heard you all right but I had to listen a bit more carefully to hear your son.”

“My son?” he asked, looking baffled.  “Yes, your son just said exactly the same thing.  He moved a tiny finger to point at you and he murmured, ‘Rabbi, I can’t believe what I created.’ “

I continued, “Yes, I think it true that more than a man creates a child, it is the child who creates a father.”

There are many life transforming experiences. Many have the potential to transform us into our higher selves while, of course, there are those experiences which will transform us into lesser beings.  Then there are experiences, like watching cat videos on the Internet, which do nothing at all.

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New Year – Old Year

December 26th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

When I was nine, I saved up every penny to fulfill my yearning for an electric train.  Finally, I ran to the hobby store. Arriving home, I set up the circular track.  My little engine, pulling two coaches and a caboose, circled endlessly, repeatedly passing the same wooden station and plastic trees I set up beside my track.

I dreamed of laying out one long straight run so that my train could explore new landscapes.  But one long track would quickly take the train out of my sight.  Neither straight line nor circle was ideal.

What a metaphor for life!  Making each year merely a dreary replica of last year is as dissatisfying as constantly seeking the new and novel.

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Do as I Do, Not as I Say

December 20th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 26 comments

Years ago, the little yeshiva in Skokie, Illinois, had a pathetic basketball team.  Just a bunch of slightly nerdy kids stumbling around the court.  Their star forward  dribbled like a drunk trying to stomp a cockroach.  They were so low in the Jewish schools’ league that they usually fell off the bottom of the page.

One day—wonders of wonders—the Chicago Bulls offered to coach them to basketball excellence.  This was going to be The Dirty Dozen all over again.  There is something deeply moving about watching hopeless losers rising to stardom.  King David’s words would resonate throughout Jewish Chicago, “The stone the builders despised has become the cornerstone.” (Psalms 118:22)

What a generous act of magnanimity.  Living legends of basketball like Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman unstintingly giving of themselves.  Through their concern, a motley collection of kids who had never known what it was to hear fans roaring approval, would ultimately achieve success in sports.

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Transmission Chain

December 14th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

A few days ago, we observed the 25th anniversary of the passing of my revered father, Rabbi A. H. Lapin, senior rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of South Africa, chief rabbi of the Gardens Synagogue founded in Cape Town in 1841, and founding rabbi of Congregation Am Echad, San Jose, California. But to me, his oldest son, all those distinctions are far less important than for me simply to say, “He was my teacher.”

On the day before he returned home to God, I had a terrible premonition and cancelled part of a trip in order to return home early. That evening I spent in his company in Los Angeles where he was teaching a Bible class in my community, and took him to the airport the following morning.  He died soon after he returned home to my mother in San Jose later that very morning.

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Work So You Can Work

December 6th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

You do it.  I do it.  We all do it. We find ways to avoid doing those tasks in our lives that will really make a difference.  They might be unpleasant, hard, boring, perhaps even frightening.  Often, they are the very ones we have to identify and tackle.

There’s the aspiring sales professional who does almost everything except the one task that will make most difference in his life—completing his quota of calls every single day.

There are the parents whose toddler is getting out of control.  The time is overdue to introduce him to the wonderful world of discipline.  They’ve let things go for a bit too long and now every attempt to introduce boundaries and insist on appropriate behavior is met with tantrums.  The parents focus on good nutrition and creative play times—anything in fact, in order to avoid doing the one great task that will make the most difference in their lives and that of their child.

There’s the student who dreams of playing at Carnegie Hall. She needs to sit down, play the same piece repeatedly, and start the cycle again with a more difficult piece.

The Lord’s language has a word for an activity which might be staggeringly difficult to confront but which also might be the single most important assignment for any given moment of our lives.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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