Posts tagged " Hebrew "

Faith, Fertility and Fear

December 12th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Almost everyone notices that religious couples tend to have more children then secular couples.  Among American Jews the trend is pronounced.  American Jews fall into two categories, religious and secular.  I define religious as those who believe that God gave His message to mankind through Moses on Mount Sinai about 3,300 years ago and who regard that message, the Torah, as the constitution of Judaism.  Only about 20% of Jewish Americans are religious.  In the United States, where the national average is 1.8 births per woman, secular Jewish women average about 1.6 births per woman. The figure for religious Jewish women is just over 4.8.  During our family excursions, Susan and I were always amused when strangers, noting our seven children, would nod knowingly and, leaning in conspiratorially, whisper to us, “Catholic, right?” 

It was not hard to discover that many doctoral dissertations in many universities have been written attempting to explain the correlation between religiosity and large families.  They range from fatuous to foolish and from pedantic to perplexing.   They assume religious couples know no better or are backwards and unable to accept modern science.  Almost without exception, they ignore the positive effects of religion on family formation. I would like to suggest three benefits.

We are more comfortable exercising authority over our children.  Susan and I do not run a democratic household; we eagerly solicit everyone’s views and preferences but the final decision is ours.  The reason is because the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12) appears in the first tablet of the Ten Commandments, which detail man’s obligations toward God.  Commandments six through ten detail obligations humans have towards one another.  One might assume that honoring parents should fall into the second set since it addresses the obligations that one set of humans (children) has towards another set of humans (parents).  But no; its position in the first five indicates that it is not our parents demanding honor, but God insisting that we deliver such honor to our parents. 

When I insist that our children respect Susan or when she demands that they honor me, neither of us does so with any diffidence.  We confidently assert God’s wishes, not our own.  We are not acting like tinhorn dictators but like responsible parents carrying out our Creator’s wishes.  Based on what I have read in popular child rearing articles and books, secular people tend to grapple with the question of by what right do they exercise authority over their children.  If you feel uneasy about this question, having a child can be quite frightening. 

Second, it is also frightening to feel powerless over the direction of our children’s development.  We know that it is our obligation to initiate guidance for our children rather than merely reacting to their foibles.  It goes without saying that, “If your child asks you tomorrow, saying…” (Deuteronomy 6:20), you are obliged to provide the answer.  But how about if your child doesn’t ask you?  Then, “You shall tell your child…” (Exodus 13:8) 

However, if you don’t feel comfortable directing your family’s trajectory, you will feel out of control and fearful of how your children will turn out.  Obviously there are no guarantees when it comes to one’s children but parents who comfortably and confidently shape their children’s development are far more likely to succeed than parents who allow their children to shape their own destiny out of misguided obeisance to trendy ideas of child autonomy.  One of King David’s most disastrous children was his fourth son, Adoniyah.  About him Scripture records, “All his days, his father had never saddened him by saying, ‘Why did you do this?’”  (I Kings I:6) Leaving aside the question of how David failed in his duty as a father, we know that religious parents do not mind ‘saddening’ their children by asking, “Why did you do this?”  Thus religious couples tend to feel less trepidation about their children because they feel confident about actively teaching them and they have a pretty good idea of what to teach them.

Finally, religious parents tend to feel more confident about gender specific education which generally works better than imposing contemporary fads upon little kids.  Teach the boys one way and the girls another way just as God told Moses to teach the Israelites.

“…and God called to [Moses] from the mountain saying, ‘thus you shall say (AMaR)  to the house of Jacob and [thus shall you] speak (TaGiD) to the sons of Israel.’”
(Exodus 19:3)

Ancient Jewish wisdom assures us that this is no mere poetic repetition.  ‘House of Jacob’ refers to women, while ‘sons of Israel’ refers to men.  What is more, the Hebrew word AMaR, is a more gentle word for speaking than TaGiD, which specifies speaking  in a very firm way. 

The identical usage of AMaR (gentle) and TaGiD (firm) is found again here:

Ask your father and he will firmly speak(TaGiD),
[ask your] grandparents and they will say (AMaR) to you.
(Deuteronomy 32:7)

Everyone knows that one gets far more gentle treatment from one’s grandparents than from one’s father.

Being more gentle in how we instruct our daughters and firmer with our sons doesn’t come easily to the secular parent swayed by current notions of gender fluidity and other destructive ideas about boys and girls.  Again, the advantage is to the religious parent who, with good reason, embarks upon the entire child-rearing enterprise with ever so much more confidence that the secular man or woman.  It is truly no wonder that religious couples tend to bring more babies into the world with confidence and joy.

Of all the holydays in the Jewish calendar, the most popular with the under twelve set is Chanukah.  (I am not saying that this has nothing to do with eight days of presents.)  Particularly for young children but also appealing to their parents is a our book Aleph Bet: A Fun, Rhyming Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet. It makes a great gift.  And strictly for adults, is our audio CD program Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life.  It is filled with sophisticated insights into Chanukah that can guide you in relating to time, technology, beauty and even Tesla. Catch both these resources on sale now.

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Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life MP3 Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life  Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet




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.


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
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.


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.


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.


Seeing Eye-to-Eye

June 20th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Reading your rabbi’s observations about a baby’s behavior is probably going to be as incongruous as overhearing a cannibal enthusing about a veggie burger made of sweet potato, quinoa and black beans with a little creamy lime aioli drizzled on top. (Not sure what lime aioli is?  Me neither.)

Nonetheless, I must tell you of something I recently noticed in an extremely cute little one year-old.  While I was talking to him, his eyes were not on the only moving part of my face, my mouth.  Instead, he gazed into my eyes.  This made no sense to me because in general, babies’ eyes are drawn to movement.  Yet while I was talking to him, he watched my motionless eyes instead of my moving mouth.

I was so puzzled by this that I tested it on a few other pre-talking little toddlers and discovered they all had this disconcerting tendency.  I am obviously accustomed to adults looking into one another’s eyes. But babies?  It would make most sense to me if their eyes were drawn to the mouths of those talking to them. But if they are not going to be looking at the moving mouth, why are they looking at the eyes rather than the conspicuous nose or huge expanse of forehead?

Ancient Jewish wisdom might suggest an explanation.  In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the word for eye is AYIN while the word for mouth is PEH.  Those two words, AYIN and PEH are also the names of two consecutive letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the sixteenth and seventeenth letters, respectively.


Snow Day; Grow Day

March 14th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

A couple I knew, misunderstanding the meaning of being loving parents, raised their children with no rules and little restraint.  You won’t be shocked to hear that their two kids grew into demanding little monsters.

The parents blamed the children’s teachers for why their children were ‘difficult’.  They explained that their children ‘had issues’ because of preservatives in food. They blamed the tiny tyrants’ grandparents.  They never were able to see their poor parenting as the central problem.

It’s hard to live an effective life when you are blind to cause and effect.

Imagine someone waking up on a recent morning in Washington DC, to discover that forty inches of snow fell in the night.  Shivering with cold, he turns up the thermostat to no effect.  He tries to turn on the lights, but the electricity is out.

Listen to him saying, “I can’t believe this!  What bad luck!  On the same morning, no heat, no lights, and on top of that, there’s a load of snow all over my yard.”  He sees three separate, simultaneous but disconnected inconveniences, not comprehending that they are all linked.


Thought Tool Update

October 20th, 2016 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Thanks for your comments about needing a visual. Please check out the Thought Tool again – let us know if the Hebrew visual is helpful.

While we are learning how to take full advantage of our website, one of the things that we are most enjoying is hearing from all of you through the comments section. Being able to easily edit the teaching in response to your comments is an additional treat.

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.


What do God’s different names mean?

September 15th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 16 comments


I am looking for some good Jewish/Hebrew information about the names of God. Has Rabbi Daniel Lapin written or spoken on that topic anywhere? 

I love what I have learned from him and I would like to learn more on this topic.



Dear Anne,

One of the amazing things about studying the Torah is that you never reach a point where you can say, “Well, now I know everything.” The question you are asking illustrates how reading passages with a focus on a specific idea—in your case the name used for God—can reveal an entire new level of meaning.

Sometimes, the name for God that is used changes our entire understanding of an episode. In The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah, we reveal how early in Genesis God’s name changes (in the Hebrew, of course), and how looking at certain sections through the lens of which name is used gives an entirely new perspective on what we thought we understood.

Sometimes a Name connoting mercy is used and other times the Name associated with justice. In some places, for instance in Esther, there are hidden mentions.  We often point them out in our TV show and in our writing.

One of the chapters in our book Buried Treasure: Life Lessons from the Lord’s Language (which is on sale right now!) discusses even another name of God. We hope this gives you a starting point for a deeper study of Scripture.

Keep asking questions,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin