Posts tagged " Abraham "

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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How do I raise my son in the ways of the Bible?

August 1st, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 1 comment

I am a Christian who lives in Indonesia. I am a frequent listener of your podcast and blessed to find tremendous wisdom in your teaching. I am keen to learn about the root of my faith from Hebrew Bible, at which I believe, as you believe, as a God-given blueprint for our life.

As a recent father, it is my desire to show my child the way of the Lord. Thus, I have a question; what is the best way to teach Torah to our children (especially toddler to under 12 years of age). What is the best method/technique to convey the narrative to them while at the same time conveying the wisdom/substance (which some stories I find them may not be suitable for children. I want to learn from your perspective as rabbi and Jewish parents on how to impart your wisdom to your children.

Thank you and God bless,

∼ Nugroho H.

Dear Nugroho,

Congratulations on the new blessing and challenge in your life. You are asking a wonderful question. Wouldn’t it be nice if for $99 you could purchase a curriculum that would guarantee that your children will view the Bible the way you do? Of course, no such program exists.  (more…)

This Way or That

April 5th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Want to lose weight? It’s always hard, but why make it harder than necessary by using the wrong strategies? Everyone knows that there are two prongs to this challenging goal: eating fewer calories and increasing exercise. Where to start? Is it more effective to sign up at a gym and use the exhilaration of mastering the Elliptical to help overcome the urge for chocolate cream eclairs or better first to lay off the calories and once that urge has been defeated, get going on the treadmill?

Intoxicated by a regular paycheck in your first job after college you’ve gone on a spending spree. The credit card bills make you hyperventilate each month. Got to get the finances into shape. Got to stop spending and start saving. But which one first? Take a scissors to the credit cards and then go and open a savings account or the other way around. Do we humans respond best to ending destructive behavior and only then starting the restorative conduct or the other way around? (more…)

Excuse Me, God

November 9th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

“Do you have any questions for me?” I asked the applicant for a position in my organization.  “Yes,” she responded.  “How many vacation and sick days do I get each year?”  Needless to say, she got none from me.

There is a right way and many wrong ways to interview for a job.  The right way involves demonstrating that you are a giver rather than a taker.  The job seeker should thoroughly research her prospective employer, learning about the industry, its challenges and its opportunities.  Ideally, she would even learn the details of the department in which she’d be working.  Finally and most importantly, she’d know exactly how she could help and add value. 

That is how the good Lord designed human economic interaction. “I truly wish to serve you,” is the tacit message that you should communicate by your words and actions.  And if you serve God’s other children it shouldn’t surprise you that a good and loving God rewards you with the blessing of financial success. 

To take it a stage further, ancient Jewish wisdom insists that serving other people is one path to serving God.

Here is one portion of the Torah in which this vital lesson is communicated.

1)    And God appeared to him [Abraham]…while he was sitting
at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.
2)    And he lifted his eyes and saw three men standing by him…
3)    And he said, ‘My Master, if I find favor in your (singular) eyes,
do not move (singular) away from your servant.’
4)    Let some water be brought and wash your (plural) feet
and recline (plural) beneath the tree.
(Genesis 18:1-4)

In English, the phrase “your eyes,” “do not move,” “your feet” and “recline” can be addressing one person or many people. In the original Hebrew, we know whether they are meant as singular or plural.  Furthermore, in the Bible, God is addressed by many names. Some of these are unique to God, while others portray attributes of God that can apply to people as well. So, God can be addressed as, “my Master” but three visitors could be addressed with the same word. (Don’t be confused by the connotation the word master had in the pre-Civil War South. Think of a master chef or master carpenter, suggesting a respectful recognition of the person’s standing.)

English translations often mistakenly suggest that when Abraham says, “My Master” in verse 3, he is addressing the three men he saw standing near him, asking them not to pass by but to visit.

Ancient Jewish wisdom records that in reality Abraham is addressing God, saying, “I know you’ve just appeared to me but I have to take care of some visitors. Please don’t leave me while I am thus engaged.  I’ll be back with You shortly.”

The singular usage in verse 3 indicates this quite clearly. Having excused himself from God, Abraham addresses the three travellers in verse 4 using the plural form since he is now speaking to three individuals.

In verse 13, God, who had patiently waited until Abraham had taken care of his guests, re-enters the conversation. Clearly, God expresses no anger at all upon being kept waiting while Abraham hospitably welcomed his guests.

Through this seemingly simple story in Genesis, we learn this vital lesson.  We need to have a relationship with God and we need to have relationships with other people.  They complement each other rather than conflict with one another.

Acknowledging God’s role in Creation leads to acknowledging that all other human beings are made in His image. Focusing on their needs, in your business, communal or personal life is one way of serving God. God might even happily wait, watch, smile, and yes, bless you.


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Stairway to Heaven

October 30th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

I recently eavesdropped on a conversation taking place at a table adjacent to mine.  A customer in the Dallas kosher restaurant in which I was having dinner was talking to the waitress.  After thanking the waitress for excellent service, he asked what she did when she wasn’t waiting tables.  When she responded that she was a recent immigrant and didn’t yet have other work, he said, “How would you like to earn a good living by helping women enjoy healthier skin and better looks?” 

To my amazement, there and then he hired the waitress to staff a cosmetic sales kiosk in one of the larger malls in Texas.  Never mind hiring the waitress—I would have liked to hire him.  He knew not to ask his prospect, “How would you like to make a lot of money persuading passersby to try a hand cream?”  Instead, he motivated by painting a picture of a higher purpose. 

I remember how easy it was to ignite a contagious enthusiasm for chores among my young children provided I first spoke about how much we all owed my wife, their mother, before assigning tasks.  I appealed to a higher purpose.

Most of the brave men and women who enlist in the military do so to defend freedom and protect their loved ones.  Army recruiters rightly emphasize these attributes rather than the pay or the working conditions.

Needless to say, just as fire can cook delicious food, heat our homes and provide mechanized transport, it can also burn and destroy.  The more powerful a tool, the more powerfully it can be used for both good and evil.

Similarly, tapping into the worthy human desire to strive for a greater purpose than merely our physical existence can also be used for both good and evil.  Politicians win support for unpopular policies by explaining, for instance, that confiscatory rates of taxation are necessary to “give every citizen free medicine,” to “help the children” or to “end poverty.”  They know better than to justify higher taxes by explaining that they wish to hire more of their friends and provide them with lavish retirement benefits.

Nimrod, who enslaved the populace to build the Tower of Babel, knew as all tyrants know, that you cannot subdue people by telling them, “I want to enslave you.  I want you to work for my aggrandizement.”  You have to find a way to appeal to their desire for a higher purpose.

…Come; let us build a city and a tower whose top will reach heaven…
(Genesis 11:4)

Nimrod was speaking to a spiritual need.  The tower was a metaphor for appealing to a higher purpose.  In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the word for tower-MiGDaL is closely related to the word for great-GaDoL.  Not only is a tower a great building, but it is the physical depiction of our own human yearning to find transcendent purpose in our lives.  Often companies build enormous headquarters, not because they need the space but because they want a symbol of their vision. Every one of us yearns to reach for the sky.  Similarly, by orating about his stairway to Heaven, Nimrod is saying, “Come with me, I will help you reach for your highest aspirations.”

On the positive side, knowing that on the deepest level most people are motivated best by a call to higher purpose is a practical and indispensable tool for managing a military, a business, or a family. A good leader takes the time to share his or her vision and the idea and passion behind it rather than simply relaying the task that needs to be accomplished. Mundane and often boring jobs lay the groundwork for majestic missions. Being able to envision the goal in grand terms makes even difficult tasks achievable.

 As for the waitress, I hope she will be one more among the many who have achieved success in sales under the guidance of a wise mentor.

 

Super Action Hero – Abraham!

October 19th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 
Four years ago, Business Week magazine ran a story about how Hindu thinking was influencing business in the United States. It stated, “Academics and consultants such as C. K. Prahalad, Ram Charan, and Vijay Govindrajan are among the world's hottest business gurus.”  It turned out that over 10% of the professors at the best business schools were of Indian descent.

“When senior executives come to Kellogg, Wharton, or Harvard, they are exposed to Indian values" says Dipak C. Jain, dean of the Kellogg School.” 

Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth's School of Business, linked his theories directly to Hindu philosophy.  He helps companies stop reacting to the past and start creating their futures.  Govindarajan says his work is inspired by the Hindu concept that future lives are partly determined by current actions, "Innovation is about creating change, not reacting to change."

You will probably not be surprised to learn the idea of creating change rather than reacting to it originated in Genesis.

Before God told Noah of His unhappiness with human behavior and instructed him to build the ark, we’d already received clues that Noah was a pretty special guy.

And he (Noah’s father) called his name Noah saying,
 ‘He shall redirect us from our actions and from the sadness…’
(Genesis 5:29)

And Noah found grace in God’s eyes. Noah was a righteous man,
perfect in his generation; Noah walked with God.
(Genesis 6:8-9)

Thus it comes as no surprise when we read that of all other humans, God spoke to Noah.

Ten generations later we read that of all other humans, God spoke to Abraham.

And God said to Abram, ‘Go for yourself from your land,from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you…’
(Genesis 12:1-2)

Yet, when we attempt to discover similar clues as to why God selected Abraham, the text is conspicuously silent.  All we know from the closing verses of Genesis chapter eleven are his relatives’ names and that his wife had difficulty conceiving.  This is hardly comparable to the wonderful things we heard about Noah and which explained why God selected him.

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals many hidden details of Abram’s early life, but the basic question remains: Why did the Torah explain why God selected Noah but remain silent on why God selected Abraham?

The answer possesses the power to transform us from tennis balls floating down the gutter of life into sculptors of our destiny:

God didn’t select Abraham.  Abraham selected God. 

God’s directive found at the beginning of Genesis chapter twelve was not only for Abraham.  It is beamed out loud and clear in every generation to every single human being.   It summons each of us, for our own good, to step out of our familiar comfort zone and loosen the shackles which can bind us to the unproductive past.  Once we start the journey, God shows the way and He will bless us.  God calls us all to escape our confining cocoons and discover our destiny.  Most do not heed the call.  Abraham did and so can we.

And how did Hinduism discover the importance of creating change?  From Abraham’s sons of course.

And to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts and … he sent them … eastwards to the land of the east.
 (Genesis 25:6)

Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us they went to India and with all Abraham had taught them, established Hinduism., To this very day their descendants, the priestly caste in Hinduism, are still called Brahmins, or descendants of “Abraham.”

 

Eat + Speak = Persuade

July 8th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Courting couples often dine together in romantic, candlelit restaurants.  But almost everyone who has become acquainted with a potential partner over a meal knows that the food is of secondary importance compared to the conversation.  It is through speech that men and women gain an impression of each other’s personality. Fascinatingly, studies show that early in a relationship the man talks more than the woman. The man who cannot keep the conversation going will most likely not get a subsequent date. 

 

When a Hollywood producer tells an agent, “We must do lunch sometime,” the correct response is not, “Great, I enjoy eating pâté de foie gras.”  Instead, the agent will typically say, “Yes, we have much to discuss.”

 

In 1943, even before the end of World War II, a prominent French businessman and diplomat, Jean Monnet, wrote that, “There will be no peace in Europe if the States rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty…….The countries of Europe…must therefore form a federation… that would make them into a common economic unit.”

 

Over several years, Monnet convened many meetings, not in an office building, but in his Brussels home. He purchased the home chiefly because it possessed a large dining room.  He explained that the formidable challenge of bringing together nations that only yesterday were mortal enemies could best be achieved by meeting over meals.  Thus by encouraging factions to speak while they eat, Jean Monnet became the father of the European Economic Community.

 

The dating couple, the Hollywood agent, and Jean Monnet all knew that talking is more powerful when combined with eating.  Additionally, the host of the meal enjoys enhanced persuasive influence. This is why the man usually pays for the date and why business professionals often wrangle for the lunch check.

 

By bringing food into a story that doesn’t seem to require it, ancient Jewish wisdom teaches how much more effective it is to talk to someone who is eating your food.  See the eighteenth chapter of Genesis.  Abraham’s entire life mission was bringing pagans to God.  Once, when visited by three angels whom he mistook for idolatrous strangers, Abraham first fed them before commencing the conversation he hoped would convert them to Belief. 

 

Abraham’s servant Eliezer knew this secret. On a mission to bring back a wife for Isaac, he arrived at Rebecca’s home where her brother, Lavan, set food before him.  Eliezer, knowing that he and Lavan were soon to be adversaries in the forthcoming discussion about Rebecca leaving home and accompanying him back to the house of Abraham, declined to eat until after the negotiation.

 

He said:

 

I will not eat until I have spoken my words.

(Genesis 24:33)

 

He did not want to be disadvantaged by eating Lavan’s food.

 

Why does dining together make you more susceptible to the words of your host?  I’ll answer that question by asking another.

 

Why do we absorb nutrition through the same facial orifice from which our voices emerge?  After all, we don't smell and hear through our nostrils.  Dedicated functionality seems to be God's design.

 

As a religious person, my first reaction to that question is to seek God’s spiritual insight. In this case having one organ with two distinct purposes expresses our dual nature.

 

Eating is a completely physical activity we share with animals while conversation is entirely spiritual.  Animals don’t talk and angels don’t eat.  When we humans talk while eating, we tacitly acknowledge our fundamental human predicament of being awkwardly suspended somewhere between the angels and the apes. 

 

Sharing challenges, be they mountain climbing, military campaigns, or marathons, brings us closer together.  When we share a meal and conversation with someone, we tacitly share the challenge, the uniqueness and the excitement of being human.  We feel closer and the guest feels especially warm towards the host who made this experience possible. Understanding the connection between eating and speech helps us know how the world really works.