Posts tagged " |Old Testament| "

Never Marry Your Aunt

June 30th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 

One of my least favorite laws was the National Speed Limit law of 1974 that mandated 55 miles per hour as the legal maximum.  Government assured us that it would save gasoline that, back then, we were lining up at gas stations to buy at, gasp! 55 cents a gallon. Of course the law did nothing of the sort, not even cutting the country’s fuel usage by a half of a percent.  Furthermore, I was hardly the only citizen who utterly ignored that law.  While cruising at a comfortable 85 along some straight and deserted highway in Montana or Nevada I was frequently overtaken by cars whooshing by in a blur.  Finally recognizing its futility, Congress repealed the law in 1995 returning speed limit decisions to the states.

How did they come up with the 55 miles per hour number back in 1974?  I hate to disillusion you, but some anonymous bureaucrats sat in an anonymous committee and pulled the number out of the air.  I’d have theorized that perhaps a brave and anonymous bureaucrat did it all on his own but then I realized that bureaucrats only make decisions from behind the safety shield of a committee.  So it was a committee that determined the magic number to be 55.  They could also have ruled 50, 60 or even 70.  Whatever they decided would become the law.  There are other laws like this; filing your income tax return by April 15, walking barefoot through the airport metal detector, and not buying more than 16 ounces of sugary drinks in New York City.  Laws like these are proscriptive laws. Some person or group of people with authority, proscribed them to be the law.  They could have made tax day May 29, they could have said you have to strip to your underwear at the airport, and they could have made 12 ounce Slurpees the maximum allowed.

However, there is another category of laws that I call descriptive laws.  These include the law of gravity which says that anyone who steps out of a window on the twentieth floor of a building will plummet downwards to a sudden and fatal stop on the sidewalk below.  There is no bureaucratic committee that can modify that law to apply only on Mondays.  This law does not proscribe. Instead it describes how the world really works.

Boyle’s Law and Charles’ Law state that expanding gases must cool down.  These convenient two laws make refrigerators and air conditioners possible.  There is no bureaucratic committee anywhere that can repeal these laws.  They were not created at the whim of Robert Boyle or Jacques Charles.  They describe reality.

Are Scriptural laws, for instance the one prohibiting men from marrying their aunts and women from marrying their nephews, proscriptive or descriptive?  (Leviticus 18:12 & 20:19)

In other words, would violating this law result in a penalty only if caught by a law enforcement officer or is the consequence intrinsic and automatic like gravity?

The first clue is that God’s concern is clearly not genetic. If it was, the Torah would also prohibit men from marrying their nieces and women from marrying their uncles.  Yet marriages with exactly the same genetic element are permitted.

What possible reason could God have for prohibiting a man from marrying his aunt but permitting him to marry his niece?  Likewise, why prohibit a woman from marrying her nephew while permitting her to marry her uncle?  While we need to listen to God regardless of whether we understand His reasoning, we are supposed to look for underlying truths He is imparting to us.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that that most women yearn to look up to the man they marry.  Sadly, many men discover that when poor conduct costs them the respect of their wives, the marriage is challenging to sustain and very hard to rescue. (While women also need to be respected by their husbands, it is a different form of respect.) Could the law we are discussing help tilt the odds towards successful marriage?

Ideally, in a thriving society, marriages draw inspiration and guidance from ancestors.  Many homes proudly display pictures of grandparents on the walls.  How often I hear women say, “My husband’s grandfather taught him how to…”  In my own case, I know how influential my wife’s grandmother was in her life. We even named our oldest daughter after her.

With admirable multi-generational awareness in a healthy family, a patriarch or matriarch is vitally important.  Now, if a man marries his aunt, then she is one generation closer to the cherished grandparents than he is.  This makes it just a tiny bit more difficult for him to retain his wife’s respect.  After all, she is a closer link in the transmission than he is.

However when a man marries his niece or a woman marries her uncle, the husband is a generation closer to the grandparents and the family heritage.  This is admittedly a small matter, but marriage is so difficult to do well and so remarkably rewarding when it is done well, that even tiny little things can make a difference. With this seemingly random Biblical law that affects very few people, the Bible provides a practical lesson even for those of us who don’t marry relatives.  It has nothing to do with arbitrary, proscriptive rules. Instead, it describes a feature of marriage and intergenerational life we would all do well to understand.

Many of the details in the first three chapters of Genesis provide descriptions of spiritual laws that God built into male/female relationships. We can ignore or object to these laws, or we can embrace and take advantage of them (even when our government and society condemn us for doing so). We expand on many of them in our 2 audio CD set, Madam, I’m Adam: Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden. Every couple, from dating to those celebrating Golden anniversaries can enjoy and benefit by learning how God’s world really works. Today more than ever, you need to make sure that those you love get exposed to the truth. The Supreme Court can proscribe laws; Genesis describes them.

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Grab That Ox

June 23rd, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Almost everyone can tell when a synagogue or a church is in the final stages of decline.  The impending extinction is usually caused by changing neighborhood demographics or sometimes by a leadership crisis but the signs are always conspicuous.  Diminished attendance; few young women, a sad-looking facility showing signs of neglect. A roof needing repair, walls needing paint, and missing light bulbs reflect deferred maintenance.

Similarly, a country that is losing its vitality and sliding down into decadence reveals certain characteristics that serve as an early warning system.  One surprisingly significant sign is hostility towards private citizens owning property.  It starts off subtly by stressing the rights of renters rather than owners and then gradually grows to criticize landlords, owners of commercial and industrial property and others who have successfully acquired property.  Eventually censure of property-owners turns into condemnation to justify government agencies raising property taxes imperiling ownership, and ultimately seizure of properties, always for the “public good” of course.

This pattern has nearly always accompanied the decline of empires, nations, and societies and can easily be observed today in Europe as well as in N. America.  The growth of an economically viable society under stable and limited government is in itself something of a miracle.  It is far from the natural order of things and to a great degree, depends upon a government not only refraining from confiscatory policies but actively protecting citizens’ ability to acquire and own property.

The Bible clearly reveals how emphatically God desires for people to own both real estate and movable property.

… nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But each man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree…
(Micah 4:3-4)

The prophet is not talking about people sitting under any old vine or fig tree but under their own.  Furthermore, ancient Jewish wisdom declares that the proximity of the topics of war and owning their trees in these verses suggest that violence and war are best avoided by each citizen owning property.

Not only does God want all His children to own property, but He is apparently uneasy about ownerless property.  Take a look at this:

When you encounter the ox or the donkey of your enemy wandering you shall surely return them to him.
(Exodus 23:4)

Intriguingly, the same idea is repeated with some variation later in the Torah:

You shall not see the ox or sheep of your brother wander off, and ignore them; you must certainly return them to your brother. 

(Deuteronomy 22:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches three timeless truths from these verses:

First: If you encounter obviously lost animals wandering around, you don’t have the right to ignore them.  As soon as you spot them they become your business and you are obliged to take all necessary steps to restore them to them to their owners.  God doesn’t care for ownerless property and He counts upon us to help owners retain their property.

Second: In Exodus, the second book of the Torah, we are directed to return lost property, even that belonging to our enemy.  Surely we’d have been able to figure out that if we have to treat our enemy’s property this respectfully, then we need to do so for our brother’s property.  Thus the verse mentioning brother in Deuteronomy, the fifth book, seems superfluous.  The answer is that God is teaching us that by interrupting whatever you are doing and going out of your way to return lost property to your enemy (Exodus 23:4) you can eventually transform him into your brother. (Deuteronomy 22:1)

Third: By mentioning helping one’s enemy first, God is telling us that He wants us constantly to be working on overcoming our inbuilt, unworthy natural tendencies.  A very understandable part of our beings exults at seeing our enemy’s valuable animals lost and wandering.  “That will teach him to be such a scoundrel,” we self-righteously tell ourselves.  Yet God tells us to work at overcoming our ignoble instincts.

The same applies to training ourselves never to become angry, not to be lazy, or any of the numerous other negative tendencies and instincts we possess.  They may be natural to us, but that doesn’t make them permissible.

Another area where we need to overcome a natural tendency is envy, which leads us  to equate poverty with virtue.  It is a natural instinct but a wrong one to tell ourselves that those with far more property than we have must have ‘cut corners’ and must be greedy, unworthy folks.

By remembering that part of God’s plan for human interaction demands that people own property, we can, in our own small way, help to preserve our society.  We can help curb the natural tendency of our culture, entertainment and politicians.  By remembering the Biblical approach to humans and their property, we can, in our own small way, help our synagogues and churches remain fiscally healthy and reverse the societal decline that flows from envy and hatred of those who wisely own some property.

In case you’re wondering what inspired me to write this Thought Tool, it was partially the fascinating questions that my wife and I receive from readers asking about economic, family and social issues.  We receive many puzzling and perplexing questions and we answer one a week.  So many of you have expressed interest in this aspect of our work that we have published an irresistible anthology of 101 of the most intriguing questions we have received. It is easy reading that packs a punch and you can get it today.

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Snow White and the Bible’s 7 Year Cycle

June 16th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you ever wondered why Snow White met seven dwarfs? Not six, not eight— exactly seven. Why do we speak of Seven Wonders of the World—perhaps there should be nine? Marilyn Monroe even starred in The Seven Year Itch.

Have you ever wondered why England celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne on the fiftieth anniversary? Forty and sixty are also nice round numbers. We make a huge fuss for a couple’s Golden anniversary—perhaps as lifespans increase we should change that to fifty-five years rather than fifty?

Both seven and fifty are embedded into the world’s psyche because of their importance in the Bible.

Six years you shall sow your field and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruit; but in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest to the land…(Leviticus 25:3-4)

The seventh year in each cycle is called the Shemitah.  Sure enough, nothing is being planted or harvested on Jewish-owned land in Israel during the current Biblical year of 5775 ending on September 13, 2015.

This parallels the Fourth Commandment of doing no work on the seventh day, the Shabbat.

Six days you shall work and achieve all your accomplishments but the seventh day is the Shabbat of the Lord your God, on it you shall do no work, not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates.  

(Exodus 20:9-10)

Ideally, Israel’s land is so sensitive that not even it should work for us on the Sabbath!  It is plainly impracticable to uproot all crops each Friday afternoon and replant them on Saturday night. By the end of six years we’ve accumulated a total of about 312 Sabbaths upon which the earth has worked.  Leaving the land fallow for the seventh year, ‘gives back’ the six years-worth of Sabbaths. If we add to that the approximately fifty-two Sabbaths of that seventh year we get 312+52 = 364 or approximately one complete Sabbatical/Shemitah year.

After seven Shemitah cycles, equalling forty-nine years, the fiftieth year is the Jubilee year, in Hebrew YoVeL.

And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years, seven times seven years and the total of the seven Sabbaths of years will be forty-nine years…And make holy the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land for all its inhabitants…

(Leviticus 25:8-10)

God’s  fifty year cycle seems to extend beyond the borders of Israel to the economies and even wars of all the world.

I’d like to introduce you to Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff.  He recognized a fifty year cycle in economics and explained to Soviet society that God’s cycle was more accurate than the Kremlin’s latest, “Five year plan.” Not surprisingly,  Stalin executed him in 1938. Yet, what he observed stands the test of time.

In economic affairs, wealth creation seems to peak approximately every 50 years.  The year 1800 gave us steam power, industrialization and mass produced cotton fabric.  1850 was the start of railroads being built in N. America, Europe, Africa and Asia and the manufacture of steel in industrial quantities.  1900 introduced high voltage AC distribution making home and street lighting affordable and the start of the chemical industry.  1950 brought plastics and the mass produced modern automobile. 2000 ushered in the computer and digital revolution.

Likewise, at the bottom of the economic graph we have a trough every fifty years.  The first modern economic crisis was the Panic of 1825.  The Long Depression was a world-wide price recession that reached its depths in 1875.  Again, just over fifty years later we saw the Great Depression with the market crashing in October 1929.  The high oil prices, unemployment and inflation of 1975 was another recession that adhered to the Kondratieff Biblical model of economic cycles.

In warfare, God’s fifty year pattern for human affairs is equally evident. In the period 1885-1890, Britain, France, Germany, and North America were all involved in armed conflicts that established or defended borders.  Twenty-five years later, World War One broke out in 1914.  Another twenty-five years elapsed until 1939 and the outbreak of World War Two.  Another twenty-five years went by bringing us to 1964 and the sad Vietnam War.  Another twenty-five years saw the first Gulf War in summer 1990.

God’s Biblical cycles of the seven year Shemitah and the fifty year Jubilee are not arbitrary numbers. Rather, they are descriptive of how God created the world.  It is as good for us to know and understand these cycles in human affairs as it is for us to know and understand the realities that God built into the world’s psyche relating to male/female relationships, communities and personal finance.  My life’s mission has been to share this ancient Jewish wisdom in a way that makes it accessible to people of every background and in a way that helps people use it to improve their families and friendships, their finances, and their faith.

Saving Civilization

April 14th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

It’s hardly surprising that increasing numbers of women loathe men and detest masculinity.  After all, most of their experiences with men have been only with cads, scoundrels, rogues and rakes.  They have been exploited by clowns, abused by creeps, corrupted by crooks and debased by cranks.  Only a diminishing minority of women have enjoyed the privilege of living with that rare, noble creature, the loyal, loving and devoted husband.

It is in the nature of the human male to seek multiple sexual partners.  But God issued us a challenge: Be like angels, rather than like apes.  Only an animal must follow its nature; man must overcome it.  Resist your nature and rise above it; that way you will reap the blessings of the Biblical blueprint.

In our audio CD program Madam, I’m Adam-Marriage Secrets from Eden I pointed out how the Hebrew text (Genesis 2:7 & 19) emphasizes the contrast between man and animal, which is not visible in the English translation.

But you already know all this.  When a man and woman make a lifetime commitment to one another they each benefit from the resulting stability, sensuality, and happiness.  When a wife revels in her femininity and her husband submits his masculinity to the silken bonds of matrimony, the couple and the children they create form a cocoon of security and joy.

What you may not already know, however, is that the couple that surrenders to God’s connubial concept benefits not only themselves and their children but all of society as well.  Only societies that have successfully sublimated rampant male sexuality into marriage have built civilization.

The world is filled with countless cultures but only one civilization.  A civilization eschews violence in favor of voting and replaces bullets with ballots.  A civilization respects and values its women, escorting them onto the lifeboats before the men.  It values life and protects it by advancing the study of science and medicine.  It lifts its citizens from drudgery by promoting a vibrant economy.  It prefers beauty to vulgarity and gentleness to brutality.  Its basic unit is the family.

Every society that has successfully achieved civilization has learned that indulging human desire in unrestrained fashion leads both to personal and societal calamity.  Everybody knows that overeating with no self-control is bad.  People all recognize that alcohol without moderation brings massive problems.  Yet, when it comes to sex, many feel that unrestrained indulgence is liberating and progressive.  The tragedy is that unbridled concupiscence does more to rot the fabric of a society and erode the spirit of its citizens than almost anything else.

Perhaps the most dramatic disclosure of the entire Torah was the structure of sexual restriction found in Leviticus 18 and 20.  One can but imagine the wonder with which it was greeted by both Hebrews and Hittites.  The difference was that Hebrews immediately accepted those rules as binding whereas the Hittites, along with everyone else, mocked and jeered what they saw as repressive and primitive sexual boundaries.  The Hebrews still survive.

Israel was warned:

Like the behavior of the land of Egypt, where you lived, shall you not do; and like the behavior of the land of Canaan, where I bring you, shall you not do…

(Leviticus 18:3) 

  Ancient Jewish wisdom clarifies how the context makes clear that God is referring to sexual promiscuity.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the additional sexual restrictions circumscribing exactly who priests may marry (Leviticus 21) are not random restrictions but rather these rules contribute to the elevated status of the priests.  In other words, marital and sexual boundaries refine and advance men toward achievement while limitless licentiousness degrades men and lowers them to lethargy and indolence.

One of the greatest anthropologists was the early 20th century, Oxford and Cambridge scholar, Joseph Daniel Unwin.  He devoted his life to studying more than eighty different cultures which existed over a 5,000 year period and discovered an inviolable rule.  The more sexual restraints a culture practices, the higher its level of cultural, scientific, and economic achievement.  His magnum opus, Sex and Culture published in 1934, reveals the results of his research, including gems such as these:

“The whole of human history does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilized unless it has been absolutely monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs.”

In other words, the Judeo-Christian Biblically-based model of sex being confined to marriage is essential for the development of civilization and for its endurance.  Though Unwin captured this Biblical truth he did make one mistake.

He correctly argues that as societies become prosperous they become increasingly lax about sexual morality causing them to lose cultural cohesion and become confused about their purpose.  He died in 1936, so he never lived to see America as the latest society to prove his point.

Where Unwin errs is that he claims that the process is irreversible.  The truth is that Israel’s many failures brought it close to extinction but a religious revival always saved the day.  This can be the way back to national vitality for the US also.

You have a part to play in helping restore the culture you live in and one highly effective way to do so is by helping others access traditional, Biblical messages about relationships.  Rather than being relics of the past, these virtues are the path to the future. I encourage you to share the book Hands Off! This May Be Love with your pastors and friends. Most importantly, share it with the children you love.

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Amazon, Apple, and DNA

March 12th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Internet giant, Amazon, is famous for its frugality. This means cheap desks cobbled together from wooden doors and scraps of lumber. It also means main cabin air travel, even for senior executives, on long flights.  This corporate parsimony didn’t suddenly appear from nowhere.  Although he was already a senior vice president at a successful hedge fund, Jeff Bezos and his wife borrowed a car and drove themselves to Seattle to start Amazon in a garage.

Apple products are cool.  Even people who don’t know the term ‘cool’ can best grasp its meaning by strolling through an Apple store.  Even the Apple store is cool.  Mall operators vie with one another to win an Apple store because it generates so much foot traffic.  Though he was a far more talented electronic designer, Steve Wozniak left Apple after losing out to the ever-cool Steve Jobs, despite owning most of Apple’s early patents.  The corporate cool of Apple didn’t suddenly appear from nowhere.  Jobs beamed out cool from the earliest days in Cupertino.

Did Bezos driving an old car cross-country in 1994 or Steve Jobs wearing his black turtleneck sweater in 1976 set the pattern for the future?  It is hard to be sure but it certainly seems probable. Whether you are starting a family or a factory it is worthwhile sparing some thought to what ideas will be implanted in the cultural DNA of your venture.  Whether you are acquiring a business or a mate, probe early history for hints of the cultural DNA that might have been implanted that will show up years later.   

We see this in Scripture.  It is all but impossible to grasp fully the purpose, impact, and destiny of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem without knowing anything of its early-stage cultural DNA.  When its construction is detailed in the First Book of Kings, we see an incongruous reference. Instead of dating commencement of building to the king’s reign, as would be expected, the first reference is to an apparently unlinked event nearly 500 years earlier:

And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomons reignhe began to build the house of the Lord.
(I Kings 6:1)

Then we find an iconic phrase, Machon LeShivtecha—a place of your dwelling—appearing four times, almost like a recurring motif. (I Kings 8:13, 39, 43, 49)  It is impossible to read this special phrase in Kings without being transported back to Exodus when the phrase first makes its appearance in the song that the Children of Israel sing after their triumphant crossing of the Red Sea.

A place of your dwelling
(Exodus 15:17)

This wording suggests that the Exodus that occurred a week earlier will only find its ultimate fulfillment in the erection of a place for God to dwell in half a millennium later.  This comes as no surprise to us because Moses repeatedly assured Pharaoh that the purpose of Israel’s leaving Egypt was to worship God. 

Lest we be left in any doubt that the cultural DNA of Solomon’s Temple is rooted in the Exodus from Egypt 500 years earlier, we find explicit reference to the Exodus no fewer than six times during the detailing of the Temple in the eighth chapter of the Book of Kings.

What is the connection between the Jerusalem Temple and the Egyptian experience? Before you can commit to serving God, you have to viscerally understand that only such service can liberate one from the tyranny of having to serve man.  After years of  Egyptian slavery, the Israelites comprehended how preferable it is to serve a loving  God rather than a human tyrant.  Thus, it in order to understand completely the Temple that Solomon built, we need to study the lines linking it to the Egypt experience which was part of its cultural DNA.  These lines serve as an excellent reminder of how important it is to explore the cultural DNA of a person or organization’s past in order to understand its present and future.

I am quite certain that this kind of Biblically-based insight can strengthen each of us and make all our undertakings far more effective.  For more practical insights from the Exodus,  I ask you to go ahead, right now while the thought is still fresh, and order our audio CD, Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt.

Love Your Neighbor – Really?

February 24th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

One of the most frequently recurring questions that I am asked is this:  “Rabbi Lapin, I try to live my life as an upright and decent person and I try to make my decisions according to the Biblical code of good and evil but I often feel exploited.  Sometimes relatives count on my good nature as they ask to stay at my home for lengthy visits while they tour nearby vacation areas.   Other times co-workers ask for favors that go way beyond normal collegial cooperation.  I am at my wit’s end because I know they view me as a God-fearing, kind and compassionate Christian.  They assume that since I love them, I must agree to their requests. Sometimes, though, I find these requests excessive and I feel resentful.  I don’t see how I can refuse without appearing unchristian but I don’t like feeling resentment. How can I reconcile my self-expectations of love with those of other people in my life?”

Let’s face it. Loving others isn’t always easy.  Even loving one’s friends and relatives can sometimes be a bit demanding.  This is especially true when things begin to resemble a bottomless pit.  Imagine your neighbor borrowing your lawnmower in the name of your love for him, then demanding your hedge trimmer before he hosts a late night noisy party, always confident of your obligation to give him endless love.  When is enough, enough?

I sympathize.  The Bible does demand much from us.  What are we to do when others latch onto our moral commitment to behave agreeably and exploit it?  Well, today I want to do more than sympathize.  I want to provide you with a solution to the dilemma created by your faith and dedication to God’s word.

Clearly the one specific Bible verse causing this consternation is:

…and you shall love your friend as yourself, I am the Lord.
(Leviticus 19:18)

This verse appears problematic because a casual reading of it could imply that whenever I love myself enough to get me an ice-cream, I need to get you one too.  And you, and yes, you too!   Does it mean that when you purchase a lovely new outfit, you should buy one for each of your friends and neighbors as well?   Upon reflection, that does seem ridiculous, but if it is what the Scripture says, well…

Happily ancient Jewish wisdom comes to the rescue pointing out that the Hebrew text actually reflects that you must love your friend just as you would expect him to love you.  No more and no less.

In other words, would I expect my friend or neighbor to buy me an ice-cream whenever he gets one for himself?  No, of course not.  Would you expect your friend to get you a pretty new dress whenever she got one for herself?  No, of course you wouldn’t.  The message is clear; do not expect more love than you would deliver in the same circumstances.

Once we learn how to overcome the problem of limitless expectations on the part of those we love, learning how to love those among whom we live is very worthwhile.  It can help us love others once we realize that loving someone else “as yourself” does not mean you ought to love him as much as you love yourself, but as much as you’d expect him to love you.  Do things for other people in the name of your love for them, to the extent that you would expect them to do the same for you.

As soon as we apply these reasonable limitation on expectations, we can love fearlessly.  However we must remember why we should indeed love our friends at all.  The concluding phrase of Leviticus 19:18,  “I am the Lord,” reminds us that we are all God’s children and as such, we are all brothers and sisters and by that relationship, worthy of one another’s love.

One way to show love for each other, as well as to celebrate our being created by God, is to properly use the gift He uniquely gave to human beings – speech. When we speak rudely or use foul language in a public area, we are stating a lack of care for others.  When we use profanity among our friends and family, we degrade ourselves and them. In the process, as we show in our audio CD, Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak, we damage our economic chances as well as our opportunities for lasting love. An hour listening to this CD can change your future.

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You’re a One Hit Wonder, Jezebel

February 10th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you ever found yourself entranced by the video game, Angry Birds?  You might have thought that the stock of the company, Rovio, that started with the launch of that strangely addictive activity would be soaring as high as its colorful avian projectiles.  Not so; in fact it never came up with any subsequent games even remotely as popular.

That Thing You Do” was a moderately successful 1996 movie about a teen-age band in a small Pennsylvania town that achieves stardom with their eponymous hit song.  It was their first and last hit.  It was pretty much also the first and last directorial of well-liked actor, Tom Hanks.

You know those hideous rubber shoes that come in fluorescent colors? Well, the company that innovated that particular fashion accessory once enjoyed a stock price of about $70 but for years it has hovered around $10.  Those shoes apparently were the company’s only achievement. Since then profits have plummeted.

There was a time when over 4 million people had a television watching device called a Tivo, made by a company of the same name.  At its peak the company stock sold for about $60, but for quite a while it’s been down around $10.  The brains who came up with that innovative TV accessory have not come up with anything else and meanwhile viewers have fled Tivo for newer alternatives.

Let’s not even look at Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s Cubes or Pet Rocks. We’ve seen any number of one hit wonders that come out of nowhere, capture everyone’s attention, then just as quickly turn into attic clutter.  It even happens to people.

Meg Whitman took the reins at eBay in 1998, where she soon took it public and made it one of the most valuable companies on the Internet.  After ten great years at eBay she ran for governor of California, losing to career politician, Jerry Brown, in November 2010.  Hewlett Packard then picked her to head the giant computer company.  Things haven’t gone well.  HP stock is way down.  Bloomberg LP dubbed Meg Whitman the most underachieving CEO.  Another one hit wonder?

Ron Johnson was hired by Steve Jobs to create those sleek gadget-filled Apple stores.   Opening 300 stores with incredibly high average sales per square foot, Ron made Apple Stores the top American retailer.  Johnson seemed a miracle merchandiser but he was really a one hit wonder.  He next signed up as CEO of J.C.Penney. Seventeen months later, the giant retailer was in ruins and Ron Johnson was fired.

In general, it seems a far better plan to build a company on an ethos of constant improvement and innovation than basing strategy upon one individual or product with early stupendous success. It is certainly better to consistently provide attention and create good memories with children rather than providing one spectacular vacation week a year.

Where in ancient Jewish wisdom is this principle taught?  It’s time to revisit I Kings 18 & 19.

The wicked king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel led Israel into idolatry, worshipping the Baal.  God’s prophet, Elijah, challenged four hundred and fifty false prophets to have their god bring fire down to their sacrifice. They failed while God brought fire which consumed Elijah’s sacrifice.  This signaled a colossal defeat for Ahab and Jezebel which was compounded when Elijah brought a rainfall, ending a devastating drought.  This was the end of the false prophets and Israel returned to the Lord.  This has to have been the triumphant high point of Elijah’s life.

Then two astonishing things happen.  First, Jezebel sends a message to Elijah promising to kill him on the next day.  Second, Elijah falls into utter dejection.  He flees into the desert and prays for God to take his soul.

If Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah why didn’t she just do it today? Why telegraph her intentions of killing him tomorrow?  Furthermore, with his stunning success over the Baal and bringing Israel back to God, why was Elijah so depressed?

The clue is the verse that directly follows the queen’s threat.

And he [Elijah] saw and he arose and went towards his soul…
(I Kings 19:3)

 

The words are not, “and he heard,” the threats of the queen and he fled “for” his life.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Elijah “saw” as we today say, “Oh, I see…,” meaning I understand.  Elijah understood what the queen was saying.

He correctly understood her message to mean, “Elijah, I can’t kill you today because today you won. You produced an incomparable miracle.  You’re a big hero. Today.  However, if you think the effect will last, you’re terribly mistaken.  Tomorrow the people will forget what you did.  They will return to idolatry and then I will kill you.”

After a lifetime dedicated to keeping Israel attached to God, Elijah felt defeated.  He feared that Jezebel was correct and that the effects of his work would be short-lived.  He didn’t flee for his life; she wasn’t about to kill him.  He went towards his soul, convinced that his work in this world was done and ready to die.

One massive miracle that demonstrated God’s power would have no lasting impact.  Indeed, one fantastic and flamboyant triumph seldom has lasting value.  But Elijah was nonetheless wrong. His life was not just one pyrotechnic extravaganza.  It was the accumulated collection of a long list of accomplishments growing in significance.  As a result, his effectiveness lasts forever.  He never actually died.

…and Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
(II Kings 2:11)

When hiring an associate we can use this wisdom by seeking a candidate with a record of steadily increasing responsibilities and achievements rather than someone with an early meteoric rise.  When building a business enterprise we can plan for an airborne future rather than a flamboyant takeoff followed by a flameout.  When raising a child we must provide a consistent environment of attention rather than occasional extravagant treats amidst benign neglect. Avoid being a one hit wonder.

Many permanent principles like this one govern our relationship to money; making it, spending it, saving it and growing it. Fortunately over the past twenty years I gathered those many timeless truths from the Torah and now condensed them into two books, Thou Shall Prosper and Business Secrets from the Bible.

Make a change and enhance your 2015 finances by making this set a part of your strategies.  It could also bring about significant change in the financial fortunes of someone you love.  I am sure your gift would be well appreciated.

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The Pen Is NOT Mightier than the Sword

January 27th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

If the pen really was mightier than the sword, the idiom would be unnecessary.  Nobody says, “Atom bombs are stronger than paper clips” or “Ferraris are faster than Fiats.” Most simple slogans are untrue.  “He who hesitates is lost” is contradicted by “Look before you leap.” “Out of sight, out of mind” is contradicted by “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

 The truth is usually a composite of the two extremes.  One must balance too much hesitation with too much impetuousness.  One can miss those who are far away but after a while one can also forget them.  Similarly, sticks and stones can break bones but words written by a pen cannot.  Yet there are certainly times when the long term impact of words is greater than that of guns.  Sometimes victories are brought about by bullets but other times they are won by ballots.

Because we’re all imperfect humans, our emotions can propel us toward ill-considered action rather than thoughtful words.  The little boy in the playground pushes or punches rather than inviting his antagonist to a symposium on mediation.  The crying wife drives many a husband to action, as he tries to fix the problem rather than listen to his wife explain her sadness.  The business professional might impose his will rather than negotiate what could have been a superior solution.

At times even when action is the wrong solution, the intensity of our feelings can nonetheless still push us towards doing something instead of saying something.  By the way, when a bad boss has provoked you into walking out and yelling, “I quit,” you have actually used action not words.

Wouldn’t you like to know how to make sure that you use words even when your emotions are trying to make you lash out with an action you’ll later regret?  The answer lies in a Biblical mystery.

At the burning bush, for about 35 verses God argues with Moses, persuading him to take on the mission of bringing Israel out of Egypt.  God promises him that Pharaoh and the Israelites will listen to him. God gives him wonderful signs to impress the Egyptians. After God’s many assurances, Moses finally yields basically saying, “Okay fine, go ahead and send whomever you wish; I’ll do it.”  (Exodus 3:4-4:17) 

Would you not have thought that the story would have ended quite soon with the triumphant march of Israel out of Egypt?  Yet in fact, what happens is quite the reverse. The plight of the Israelites is worsened by Pharaoh oppressing them further. As a result of Moses’ agitation, the Children of Israel must deliver the same quota of work while scavenging for their own raw material. (Exodus 5:18)  At the burning bush, God gave Moses no inkling that all would not proceed smoothly.  Something went wrong.

To add to the mystery, after this dreadful disappointment, Moses twice tells God that Pharaoh will never listen to him on account of his speech impediment.  Twice he uses the Hebrew term “Aral Sefatayim” explaining that Pharaoh will not listen to him because he has ‘sealed lips’(Exodus 6:12 & 6:30)

However, back at the burning bush, Moses used different terminology when he said, “…I am not a man of words…”  (Exodus 4:10)

Why did Moses use two different phrases to refer to his speech?

The answer lies in the remarkable conversation Moses had with God at the burning busy.  God said, “I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and you shall take my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)

Moses responds, “…when I come to the Children of Israel…” (Exodus 3:13)  Had Moses been talking to a human boss, he might have heard this:  “Are you deaf, Moses?  What do you mean asking me about going to the Children of Israel? Did I tell you to go to the them? No! I said quite clearly, ‘Go to Pharaoh – not the Children of Israel.  Just do what I tell you!”

But Moses was talking to his Heavenly Boss.  If we ignore His word, God allows us to proceed along the path of our own desires.  God basically said to Moses, “Well, okay, if you insist, go ahead and try it your way.”  It was only later, once Moses’ approach had failed and Israel was even more miserable than they had been that God eventually said to Moses, “Okay, let’s try it my way now. This time, go to Pharaoh like I originally told you.”  (Exodus 7:2)  This time Moses obeyed (Exodus 7:6) and the process of the Exodus was under way.

When Moses originally demurred by saying, “I am not a man of words,” he was not referring to any speech impediment.  He was really saying to God, “Hey, I’m not a man of words; I’m a man of action.  I’m the guy who killed an Egyptian for harassing my brethren. (Exodus 2:12)  I did not engage him in a discussion about the root causes of Egyptian anti-Semitism. Don’t send me to talk to Pharaoh.  Let me go to the people of Israel and stir up a great national revolution.  We’ll take our freedom by force; by the people throwing off their yoke of Egyptian oppression. I want action not words.”

God knows that Moses must discover for himself that this redemption has to come from God not from a people’s liberation movement.  Real redemption will come through following God’s words.

Sometimes we too must learn our own painful lessons by trying avenues that fail.  We can save ourselves much heartache by doing the right thing first.  This passage can help provide us with the necessary strength.

The pen is surely mightier than the sword when it is God’s pen and the words are His Book.  Many times throughout history, people brandishing the Bible have beaten superior forces that knew nothing of the Bible and cared less.  Our purpose in making these Thought Tools available to you is to enable you to deploy Biblical power and its ancient solutions against the modern problems that plague your life.

If you think you might benefit from a slightly more concentrated dose of Thought Tools, I have just the thing for you.  If you’d like to be able to have about a hundred of our Thought Tools on your bookshelf or your bedside table right now rather than seeing them one-at-a-time each week, this is all you need to do:

Order either Thought Tool Volume I or Thought Tool Volume II (better yet, save money by buying the set!).  If we see that this has value to you, we’ll go ahead and issue the next two volumes of Thought Tools as well.  Your order will not only provide you with a source of inspirational and practical information but it will encourage us to continue publishing them in book form. Enjoy!

Action Man

November 25th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you noticed how many men seem allergic to something broken?  Often a man acquires a new car and the first thing he does is lift the hood to see if anything needs doing.  Perhaps he installs a police-radar detector or buys safety valve stem caps for his tires.  Here’s the secret: for men, engagement means action and action means engagement.  For men, connecting with someone or something usually involves action.

For a man to be happy at work, he needs to be recognized for solving problems.  The uniformed services attract men partially because they are action oriented. Men meeting one another shake hands, fist bump, slap one another’s shoulders or hug boisterously.  Women connect just as powerfully but a delicate kiss precedes the important, non-physical, animated conversation.  For women engagement often means talking.

If you still remain in any doubt on this male female distinction, just watch how much more actively and physically little boys play with their peers than little girls with theirs.  Or notice how women in marriage seek more conversation while men would like more physical interaction. Both want to engage with their spouses; each gender goes about it a little differently.

Young men who are perhaps insufficiently active in their business lives sometimes undergo dramatic change upon marriage.  God created males in such a way that it is impossible to enjoy ultimate connection with a wife without action on the part of the male.  This reality can spread benefit to every part of their lives, particularly financial.

Isaac, the first born Jew, appears in the opening verses of Genesis 21.  Strangely, for the longest time, we don’t see him doing anything or even saying anything.  Finally, when he is in his thirties, comes the seminal binding of Isaac upon the sacrificial altar. At the age of 37 for the very first time he speaks, asking, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” (Genesis 22:7)  Immediately after this comes Sarah’s death and burial.  There is a greater obligation upon a child to mourn and bury a parent than upon a man to bury his wife, yet Isaac is missing in action.

Next come selecting a wife for Isaac and, once again, the man of the moment is nowhere to be seen.  Abraham arranges all with Eliezer who subsequently finds Rebecca and brings her back (Genesis 24:1-61).

Finally, Isaac returns from a journey and goes out to the field to pray (Genesis 24:62-63).  He sees Rebecca and springs into action.

And Isaac took (Rebecca) into the tent of his mother, Sara, and he married her and she became his wife and he loved her…
 (Genesis 24: 67)

Isaac then becomes active, burying his father, Abraham, just as we’d expect.  He prays for his wife and they have two sons Jacob and Esau.  He relocates his family to Gerar, digs wells, and initiates a special blessing to his sons fifty-seven years before his death.  He sends Jacob away to Rebecca’s family and lives until 180, whereupon his two sons bury him.

What suddenly caused Isaac to become so active cementing his place as the second of the three forefathers of Israel?  The process of becoming a husband and a father changed him.  Indeed, Abraham sought out a wife for him but Isaac alone embraced Rebecca, brought her into the tent of his late mother, loved her and fathered her two sons.

I have often discussed how God built our bodies to reflect our spiritual realities.  I have explained about eyes and ears, and taught on the internal asymmetry and external symmetry of our bodies. Now, I will point out how God made human males sexually distinct from virtually all other male mammals.

Reproduction is made possible in almost every mammal male— including gorillas and baboons— by means of a rigid bone, called a baculum, which facilitates the mating process.  However, for human males no such material aid exists. Mating depends entirely upon the spiritual desire the man feels for his wife.  God wanted human male/female connections to be so much more than biological.  If reproduction is the only goal, a rigid bone coming into play is immensely useful.  However, if God’s main goal is for authentic connection on every level to take place between a man and woman, then a baculum would detract from the relationship, making it merely physical.

God’s design of the human male without a baculum ensures that the man is fully invested in the connection.  His mind can’t be elsewhere; if it is, there will be no connection.  He cannot be distracted or uninterested; if he is, there will be no connection.  Connection and engagement are linked to action.  That action only become possible if authentic connection exists. (In the case of rape or a prostitute or hook-ups, the sinful connection may be one of anger, scorn or selfishness, but it still takes the man’s total and complete attention.)

This connection between action and marriage that helps pinpoint Isaac’s becoming active, also explains the remarkable correlation between men, their marital status, and the amount of money they make.  In the United States, single men of every background are the poorest demographic in society.  Married men tend to be active and engaged and few things are better indicators of wealth creation.

Many more astounding connections in our amazing world are found in ancient Jewish wisdom.

Power of Purpose

November 12th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

The international accounting giant, Deloitte, recently spent over $300 million educating its 50,000 American employees about its purpose.  This sounds a little touchy-feely for the world’s largest audit, tax and consulting firm.  They spent so much money in this way because they determined that companies that instill a strong sense of purpose in their people enjoy greater long-term success.  Deloitte felt confident that instilling a sense of purpose in their own people would better position them to do the same for their clients.

In Deloitte’s own words:

“What companies do for clients, people, communities, and society are all interconnected. A culture of purpose ensures that management and employees alike see each as a reason to go to work every day.”

When paraphrased for families, wouldn’t it be equally true?

“What a family does for its members, neighbors, community, and society are all interconnected. A culture of purpose ensures that parents and children alike see each as a reason to contribute to the family every day.”

But how exactly does one go about infusing businesses or families with a sense of purpose?  One of history’s most profitable and enduring enterprises is surely the people of Israel.  Lessons can be learned from its launch.

…thus said the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. (Exodus 9:1)

And Pharaoh’s servants said to him…Let the men go, so they may serve the Lord their God; don’t you realize yet that Egypt is destroyed?
(Exodus 10:7)

…Pharaoh…said to them, Go, serve the Lord your God, but who exactly is going? (Exodus 10:8)

And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds
(Exodus 10:9)

[Pharaoh said]…go now only you who are men and serve the Lord; because that is what you wanted to do…
(Exodus 10:11)

And Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds stay…
(Exodus 10:24)

God planned to take the entire people of Israel out of Egypt—the young, the old and the middle-aged along with their material wealth in the form of livestock.  Pharaoh’s courtiers advised him to placate the God of the Hebrews by releasing part of the people, the men, males between twenty and sixty.

Considering that advice, Pharaoh asked Moses to clarify exactly who would go.  Moses answered unequivocally that it would be everyone as well as their possessions.  Pharaoh tried to limit the group to the men by arguing that only they are needed to worship God.  Moses rejected that offer and inflicted more torment upon Egypt.  At this point, Pharaoh made one last attempt to prevent an intact people launching their destiny by trying to restrict their economic freedom through retaining their livestock.  This offer was also rejected and after the final plague, an Israel left Egypt with all its population and all its possessions.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Pharaoh knew that Egypt was finished. His goal was to prevent Israel from becoming a powerful nation that would dim the luster of his legacy.  The best way to do that would be by depriving this incipient nation of its past (the elderly), of its future (the young), and of its economic vitality (the animals).  Pharaoh correctly knew that a bunch of people whose focus was only on today would soon be gone and forgotten.

This is manifestly true for a family which gains its sense of purpose from its past and from its future.  A home filled with the rambunctious noise of little children while also possessing the seasoned presence of wise grandparents automatically is fueled forward with a sense of purpose.

Likewise, a business is propelled forward by a sense of purpose gained by making its past and its future just as important as its present. Expanding its employees’ vision to encompass everything from its founding to its tomorrow makes their work today more satisfying and successful.

Few sections of Scripture are as well-known and underappreciated as the Exodus. These chapters are not only the story of Israel’s redemption thousands of years ago, but they also hold many keys to our individual redemption from difficult, stressful and trying times. We recorded Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt so that we could share these strategies, providing hope and direction. Available by mail or instant download, we pray it will bless your life.

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