Posts tagged " Jacob "

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:

…the Lord met him (Moses)
(Exodus 4:24)

… (Aaron) go into the desert to meet Moses…
(Exodus 4:27)

While there are a number of Hebrew words throughout the Bible that translate in English as, “meet,” the specific root word used here is P-G-SH. One of the tools for understanding Scripture is to note when a Hebrew word is rarely used. In those cases, we should look for similarities in the unusual appearances. P-G-SH appears only four times in the Five Books of Moses.  We see it twice in our instance in Exodus and twice while Jacob is on his way to meet his brother Esau.

…when Esau my brother meets you…
(Genesis 32:18)

…what did you intend by that whole camp that I met…
(Genesis 33:8)

פ   ג   ש

SH    ←   G       ←  P

Thus the word P-G-SH (meet) appears in only two stories in the Torah, both of which involve a man (Jacob/Moses) on a mission, traveling with his entire family, leaving his father-in-law (Lavan/Yitro).  In the midst of the journey, each man encounters a Divine being who presents a mortal threat. (In Jacob’s case, he meets the angel with whom he wrestles, Genesis 32:25-33)

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Jacob did not leave Lavan’s house as promptly as he should have, to some degree from fear at confronting the terrifying Esau.  Similarly, Moses, on his way to confront a frightening Pharaoh, made an unnecessary stop at a hotel. (Exodus 4:24) Even though God had promised His protection, both men delayed approaching their destiny partially out of fear of a scary personality.  In each case, they end up in a life-threatening situation. The lesson to us is clear: Despite our fears, avoiding our life purpose and destiny is more dangerous than meeting it head on.

You or I may not be on the level of Jacob or Moses. God may speak to us more subtly and our missions may be on a smaller scale. Yet each and every one of us has a purpose in life, the reason for which God put us on this earth.  Our path to that achievement has many milestones, each a little challenge on its own.  Invariably, we face formidable challenges on our road to accomplishment. Intimidating people or frightening circumstances often stand in our way, telling us we are foolish for following our path or even threatening us if we continue to move forward.  The intimidation may even come from inside ourselves!

The accounts of Jacob and Moses remind us that when we have a mission to do, we should unhesitatingly race past all obstacles to do it. Like all else in Scripture, the details of the stories and the specific words used serve as blueprints for enhancing our lives, encouraging us to courageously meet our own destinies.

Sometimes, a specific recurring obstacle seems to block us.  We feel trapped and unable to bulldoze our way through. To provide a path for moving forward we share three secrets from the Egyptian Exodus that can be applied on a personal level. Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt is designed to kickstart your future. Take a look at it now and benefit from the temporary sale price.

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Were a third of Jacob’s sons illegitimate?

June 6th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 28 comments

Deuteronomy 23:3 says that a bastard is not part of the assembly unto the 10th generation.  How can that be when half of Jacob’s sons were born to his concubines and became the heads of tribes?

Peggy

Dear Peggy,

If you are not a lawyer you may not know the difference between manslaughter, 1st degree murder and 2nd degree murder. If you aren’t a gourmet chef you may not distinguish between Hungarian paprika and Spanish paprika. Yet, in the courtroom or a five-star kitchen a great deal may hinge on those distinctions.

The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 23:3 is mamzer. It is generally mistranslated as ‘bastard’.  This is not what the term means. Mamzer is a technical term that refers to the very rare case of a child of a man and a woman who are not allowed to marry, such as siblings or a married woman and someone other than her husband. So, for example, while the Torah much prefers children to be created within marriage rather than outside of that holy covenant, the child of an unmarried couple who are legally able to get married but did not do so, is not a mamzer.

(more…)

Where Did I Hear That?

April 18th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

“When we were young, we were taught again and again that we shouldn’t get pregnant. Now we can’t!”

That plaintive wail from a childless 43 year-old woman caught my attention. Holly Finn describes the mortification and expense of countless in-vitro-fertilization procedures she endured. A little cashmere baby sweater goes everywhere with her; she bought it years earlier for the baby she hoped she’d one day have. Now Holly weeps about having the sweater but not the child. Her most excruciating experiences are being in the company of other women chattering happily about their children, or with men, most of whom simply don’t get how she feels.

Holly’s sad situation echoes the Biblical account of Rachel. When Leah repeatedly gives birth, the childless Rachel cries out in agony to her husband:

…give me children otherwise I’m as good as dead.
(Genesis 30:1)

(more…)

Rowdy Red or Benign Blue

May 31st, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

It was on election night November 2nd, 1976, when President Ford was being challenged by Jimmy Carter that NBC television showed us our first blue/red electoral map. The blue was Republican and showed the 27 states won by Ford, while red was Democrat. It was only in the 2000 Bush-Gore election that the colors were switched. Since then red shows states and counties voting Republican while blue stands for Democrats.

This was a cunning reversal of the usual convention of red symbols standing for left-leaning revolutionary movements while conservative parties in almost every country used blue. After all, the color red was emblematic of communism and still reminds us of the Soviets. You might remember the Cold War cry of the American left, “Better red than dead!” (more…)

Make Meetings Matter

January 16th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

In early January we tend to focus on the future. Yet, while New Year’s resolutions are not about reexamining last year’s failures, it is important to remember that there is no moving forward if we fail to integrate our past realities with our future plans. Our past realities shouldn’t haunt us and hinder us. But we do well to recognize them, adjust for them where necessary and reject the notion that they have the power to keep us anchored in an unchangeable present.

What is one of the most powerful tools for moving forward? Make meetings matter. (more…)

Mugging or Mayberry

December 9th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

As the rabbi of a fledgling synagogue in Venice, CA, one of my first goals was to build a school. Recognizing that a stable community needs a place to celebrate and pass along its values, Susan and I spent the summer after our marriage recruiting students for an enterprise that, as of yet, had no teachers and recruiting teachers for an enterprise that, as of yet, had no students.

One father’s reaction disturbed us greatly. He conceded that the local public school his six-year-old was slated to attend wasn’t safe. Nonetheless, he told us that he was committed to sending his son there. “I know he will get mugged for his lunch money and he may get roughed up a bit but I want him to live in the real world.” (more…)

Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker

March 22nd, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

When asked what the “Gerber” brand means, most moms would say ‘baby food.’ This is partly why Gerber’s foray into selling Buster Brown clothing, strollers, and insurance was doomed. Gerber lost sight of its specialty. It was not the only famous brand to forget its identity.

Contributing to Sears’ demise was confusion about its specialty. By the 80s, Sears was selling not only Craftsman tools, clothing, and home appliances; it was also selling insurance, commercial real estate, stocks and computers. Would you go to an eye doctor who repaired lawn mowers in the back room?

Early Americans were influenced by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. The book explains the importance of specialization. It is easy to see how specialization increases production and hence wealth. Six cobblers working independently will never make as many shoes as they would make collaborating with one another. If one makes only soles while another makes uppers while a third stitches them together and so on, productivity will soar as each specialist discovers better and faster ways to accomplish his own task. As a result, each person will take home far greater pay than he would have working alone. Then he can use his wages to buy clothes and food from other specialists.

It is easy to spot the trend toward specialization as societies evolve and develop increasingly sophisticated ways for humans to diminish the drudgery necessary to earn a living. Department stores give way to niche retailers, the corner garage offering full care for your car yields to Jiffy Lube and brand-specific repair centers.

This is exactly how the good Lord planned life for His children. He created a world in which His children would connect with one another and become preoccupied with one another’s needs. How better to accomplish this than to reward us with greater income provided we replace the model of working alone by the ideal of collaboration? God placed us in a world in which many people cooperating with one another within a mutually agreed-upon moral framework will vastly outperform those same people trying to make a living in isolation.

Why did the world’s Bible-based societies lead the march toward specialization by innovating the corporation and the industrial revolution? Perhaps because Scripture reveals how the founding of the people of Israel was rooted in specialization.

Jacob, or Israel, became the father of the ‘children of Israel.’ At the end of Genesis, Jacob assigned a specialized role to each son. Levi was to take care of temple worship, Zebulon was to develop expertise in shipping and trade, Issachar was to provide the scholars and educators, and so on. As each brother and his descendants specialized, thus becoming dependent upon all the others, the nation emerged.

Later, at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses reaffirmed the concept of specialization for each of Israel’s tribes. While individuals had different talents and strengths, the idea was being set in place for all time that specialization linked with mutual dependence and cooperation produces a strong nation.

One person completely on his own will not live as well as he would as a member of a family. A nuclear family lacks the power of an extended family. A tribe is greater than a family, but a nation made up of large numbers of interdependent people with a common set of expectations and obligations will achieve vastly more. A frequently ignored and invisible network of connectivity and cooperation makes possible so much of what we often take for granted. Moreover, we need to know that this vast enterprise of millions of people cooperating needs more than a legal system to sustain it. Laws reflect moral and ethical beliefs; they don’t form them. Jacob and Moses’ blessings instilled in the Jewish people the idea of specialization under an umbrella of widely accepted core beliefs.

My book, Thou Shall Prosper: The Ten Commandments for Making Money teaches you how to deploy this strategy, along with many others, to survive and thrive under widely disparate circumstances. For a limited time we are making this book, which has transformed the financial realities of so many families, available (web orders only) at the lowest price we have ever offered.

Often Charming – Always Dangerous

April 20th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Back in the 1970s, Jim Davis, a good and deeply religious man, felt he could safely go into business with his flamboyant roommate at Baylor University, Allen Stanford.  In early 2009 Stanford Financial collapsed in scandal.  Today, Davis is a ruined man.

 

A long time ago, I entered into a business transaction with someone whose moral flexibility included listing his dog as a shareholder in his company.  While I didn’t know that fact when we worked together, there were clues to his character that I should have noticed. Happily we parted ways before his little empire fell apart and he was incarcerated.  However, I did lose a lot of money and worse than that I felt incredibly stupid because I had long since been taught the transcendent truth of this Torah tip:

 

You will seldom emerge unscathed after involving yourself with someone whose values do not match yours.

 

Consider this verse:

 

And when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of Lavan,

his mother's brother, and the sheep of Lavan, his mother's brother,

and Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth,

and watered the sheep of Lavan, his mother's brother.

(Genesis 29:10)

 

A look at Genesis 24:29 shows that the family relationship reiterated above is correct.  That doesn’t explain why we needed to be told this three times.

 

The question intensifies as we watch what happened a few minutes later when Jacob met Rachel, the daughter of Lavan (his mother’s brother!)

 

And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother,

and that he was Rebecca's son and she ran and told her father.

(Genesis 29:12)

 

So, after Scripture firmly establishes in verse 10 that Jacob was Rachel’s first cousin, Jacob now lies to Rachel saying he is her uncle!  Then he immediately trips himself up with a contradictory statement when truthfully adds that he is Rebecca’s son.

 

At this point we have only three possible explanations for both the triple recurrence of “his mother’s brother” and Jacob’s seeming lie.

 

(i)   The Torah was written for people with really, really, bad memories.

(ii)  The Torah’s editor did an extremely sloppy job.

(iii) Every letter in the Torah, let alone every phrase, can reveal deep and valuable insights into how the world REALLY works.

 

 

In the context of verse 10 which emphasized the real relationships, it is not plausible that Jacob is merely discussing blood relationships.  He is discussing something far more important, namely morality, character and integrity.

 

Ancient Jewish wisdom fills in the pieces and provides practical life tools along the way.  You see, not detailed in the written text is Jacob’s immediate proposal of marriage to Rachel.  (For heaven’s sake, he’d kissed her already in verse 11!) 

 

Rachel responded by explaining that her father, Lavan, was a notorious rogue who would endeavor to cheat Jacob in any marriage negotiations. 

 

Jacob attempted to reassure Rachel by saying, “Hey, I’m capable of being your father’s brother.  I’ll be as canny as if I was his brother.  However, never fear, deep down I am the son of the righteous Rebecca.”

 

And to paraphrase the sad closing words of ancient Jewish wisdom’s explanation—Lavan succeeded in cheating Jacob into 14 years of hard work anyway.  This is not merely a poignant afterthought—it is the very point of the entire story:

 

When you become involved with someone possessing fewer moral scruples than you, you will lose.  No matter how clever you think you are, any interaction – business, social or romantic – with someone whose moral threshold is lower than yours will eventually bring pain.

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