Posts in Thought Tools

Compassion Confusion

October 30th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

Have you ever endured the ugliness of having to step cautiously past a comatose vagrant and his smelly bundles blocking the entry to a store you’re trying to patronize?  I know what you’re thinking. “Our rabbi lacks mercy for the homeless,” right?

Have you ever visited a home where the parents are meticulously raising monstrous little brats by bribing them for basic compliance?  Did you have to stop yourself from rolling your eyes as mom and dad yielded to a toddler’s terrible tantrum?  Are you thinking that your rabbi lacks kind feelings for children?

Many employers fail to demand adequate performance from certain classes of employees thereby imposing additional pressures on other employees who are not deemed worthy of special compassion.  Even in education, many grades and admissions are not bestowed impartially but on the basis of compassion.

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Don’t Blame Me

October 24th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

On June 4, 1944, recognizing how easily D-Day could fail, Gen. Eisenhower prepared the following:

“Our landings…have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold… The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

As a family member or business professional, learning to accept responsibility is profoundly valuable.  Learn to say, “I messed up and I accept all consequences.” The character strength needed for this is increasingly rare and we need to acquire it ourselves before we can hope to influence others.

Hebrew reveals one aspect of owning one’s actions. Referring to Leah and Rachel’s sibling relationship in Genesis 29, two words are used, GDoLah and K’TaNah, older and younger. Earlier, when Lot and his daughters flee the destruction of Sodom, we encountered two other words BeCHiRah – firstborn, and TZeiRah – younger (19:31).   In chapter 19 we find a clustering of the root letters TZ-R.  Lot escapes to the city of TZoaR whose name occurs six times in this chapter. The associated word TZeiRah — younger— appears four times.  In just these few verses, the TZ-R root is used ten times; more than in the rest of Genesis all together.  Word clustering is one of the ways that ancient Jewish wisdom unpacks Scripture’s deeper meaning.

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The Birds, the Beasts and Me

October 17th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People appeared years before Mark Zuckerberg elevated the importance of acquiring friends on Facebook.  Yet, most healthy people realize that collecting “friends” only to further your own interests or in a fake world has nothing in common with establishing authentic relationships.

Let’s see if we can get an insight into real relationships through an unexpected Biblical connection:

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field
and 
every bird of the air and brought them to Adam
to see what he would call them…
(Genesis 2:19)

God brought Adam two categories of creatures (i) every beast of the field; (ii) every bird of the air.

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Good Gracious, You’re Pregnant!

October 9th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

“Just five more minutes,” “One more chapter,” “I guess I can stay a little longer.” The temptation to stretch out an enjoyable activity just a little bit more is one to which we can all relate.

After a month of reveling in God’s closeness, culminating with the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the Jewish people felt the same way. In response, God granted them an extra holy day, Simhat Torah, that begins as Sukkot ebbs away (starting this year Wednesday night, Oct. 11). Literally translated as “The Joy of the Torah,” it is on this day that we conclude and begin anew the annual cycle of reading the Five Books of Moses.

That makes this week a particularly apt time to highlight the idea that the first time in Genesis that a specific letter is used to start a word, that word provides a key to the inner meaning of that initial letter.

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L’Chaim: To Life – and Death

October 2nd, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

“Death is very likely the single best invention of Life,” said Steve Jobs during his 2005 Stanford Commencement address.  This phrase aptly describes one of the themes underlying the most joyous Biblical festival, Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

Before beginning the Passover seder meal, which falls half a year distant from Sukkot, we extend an invitation to those who are hungry to join us.  However, before the Sukkot meal,  we invite seven dead people to join us; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.  Sounds a little like Halloween dinner at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion doesn’t it?

Yes, Sukkot, which is set by an exquisitely precise lunar calendar, always occurs close to Halloween.  That time of the year as the leaves die and the days get colder and shorter, can feel quite lifeless.  Hence Halloween’s frivolous mocking of death.  Sukkot’s association with death couldn’t be more different.

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Who Me?

September 25th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Which word connects these five sentences?

  • The world of baseball went wild in the spring of 1974 when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.
  • It was at the height of the hurricane when three men and a woman, crewing the Coast Guard Sikorsky Jayhawk helicopter, took off hoping to home in on the radio distress beacon that had been deployed by the stricken cargo ship.
  • There were no signs of trouble the day that newlyweds, Mary and Allen moved into their new home.
  • Almost everyone knows that in sports, the home team enjoys an advantage but nobody knows exactly why.
  • China prices its car exports far lower than they do at home.

In each sentence, the word “home” has a slightly different meaning but with a little thought one can see how these five different applications might be connected.  But there is little point in the exercise.

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It’s a Holy Day; Let’s Eat

September 19th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

A four-week window of Jewish holy days is approaching. I understand why we will spend more time in synagogue than usual. However, we will also spend more time at the dining room table. This isn’t a concession to human frailty; it is recognition of human greatness.

Ever since the start of our lives as babes suckling at our mothers’ breasts, eating provides us with not one, but two benefits.  They are (i) physical nourishment and sustenance, and (ii) spiritual and emotional sustenance.  The link between eating and emotion is well studied.  Many of us have ‘comfort foods.’  Gloom and uncertainty are often banished by a meal that fills our heart as well as our stomach.

Have you ever wondered why so many young people nowadays suffer from eating disorders that were virtually unknown a generation or two ago?  Surely the answer is the spiritual desert in which so many young people live.  Eating disorders are more often treated by a psychologist than by a nutritionist because there is a powerful spiritual component to eating. In other words, food and faith go together.

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Of Hurricanes and Hatred

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

This week offers a view into two types of tragedy. Our news is filled with stories of people losing homes, businesses and even their lives due to hurricanes. Sixteen years ago this week, on September 11, 2001, the news was full of stories of many more people losing their lives (the loss of businesses existed but was overshadowed by the magnitude of loss of human life) due to an evil ideology full of hatred.

Scripture pulls no punches in warning us of tragedies that will overwhelm us should we abandon God’s guidance. Many of these are consequences that flow naturally rather than bolts of lightning from Heaven as people focus on the wrong things and stop seeing humanity as created in God’s image.

One section of the Torah, filled with horrifying descriptions of misery, begins with these words:

…if you do not listen to the voice of the Lord your God…
(Deuteronomy 28:15)

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Ignore that STOP Sign

September 4th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

Don’t we all start out with optimistic plans? We are going to accomplish great things, be great spouses and parents, build our businesses and ever so much more.  Yet, somehow, we sometimes find ourselves still single, still yelling at our kids, still working at a dead-end job struggling to make ends meet. We haven’t made the impact we hoped to on our communities, family or friends. Perhaps a Hebrew word can move us back on track.

Just before Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh, God threatens Moses for neglecting to circumcise his son.  God would have terminated Moses’ career, had Moses’ wife, Tziporah, not intervened.  (Exodus 4:24-26) What is going on?

We get a clue from the language used in and around this event:

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Forests or Factories

August 29th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

A while back I visited an exhibition of photographs by the renowned photographer, Ansel Adams.  I still struggle to properly compose a photograph and learned much from observing how Adams composed his pictures.  I observed something else too:  In this exhibition, not one Adams photograph depicted any man-made object.  I later discovered that he had photographed a freeway interchange, an old adobe ruin, and a few other man-made objects but they were few and far between.  It was clearly noticeable that Ansel Adams preferred to photograph nature untouched by man.

I believe that if I could travel back in time and stroll into the Tabernacle that Moses and Israel built in the desert, I would have made exactly the opposite observation.  Most of what I could see would be man-made.  For instance, even the ark of the covenant, though constructed of wood was to be entirely overlaid with gold.  (Exodus 25:10-11)  The natural wood was quite invisible.  Though wood may be shaped, planed and polished, it still resembles the tree from which it came.  Gold, however, is never seen at all were it not for man’s industriousness in mining it, refining it and shaping it.  Wherever one looked in the Tabernacle as well as in its successor, Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the worshipper was surrounded by evidence of human creativity rather than nature.

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