Posts in Thought Tools

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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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You’ll Pardon Me, I Hope

September 22nd, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 3 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?

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