Posts tagged " rabbi lapin "

Adam, Moses and Air-Conditioning

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

More than a quarter million Bangladeshis were killed by a typhoon in November 1970.  Horrifying!  But wait, twice that number of Americans were killed by an influenza virus in 1918.  In the summer of 1995 excessive heat killed over 700 Americans while in the same year severe cold or hypothermia killed more than 2,000.  I am not trying to list a catalog of calamities; I want to explain how the world really works by posing an important question.

Why would God create a world filled with frequently fatal meteorological events, disease and intolerable heat and cold?  Why couldn’t God have just made the entire world with the mild weather of coastal British Columbia and with no germs or viruses?

Ancient Jewish wisdom answers this question.

In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the words for not good are Lo Tov.

Tov  Lo

                                                                        לא טוב

good   not

 This phrase occurs only twice in the Torah.  It appears first in Genesis 2:18 when God declares,

It is not good for man to be alone.

The phrase appears again in Exodus 18:17, when Moses’ father in law criticizes Moses for not delegating and trying to do all the teaching by himself.

And Moses’ father in law said to him, “What you are doing is not good.

In Genesis, God is not speaking only in the context of Adam’s future matrimonial prospects. Moses’ father-in-law is repeating the same message, even for his son-in-law who has the closest relationship with God. It is never good for people to be isolated from other people. The message in both places is: Find ways to collaborate and you will thrive, but alone you will perish.

Like any parent, our Father in Heaven wants His children to relate to one another with love and concern rather than indifference.  Imagine a father wanting his three children to remain connected to one another always.  He might bequeath to each just a part of the combination to activate a safe into which he had placed their inheritance.  This way they would need to cooperate in order to acquire their legacy.  Similarly, our Father in Heaven has incentivized us to cooperate and collaborate.

Think of being parachuted down onto a remote uninhabited desert island.  It is a fine tropical island with the drawback of very high temperatures.  It is almost unbearably hot on that sun seared beach.  However, you are not dismayed because back home you were a successful heating/air conditioning technician so you determine to build yourself a little air conditioned beach shack.  How long will it take you to build a working air conditioner?

The answer, of course, is that you never will.  On this island there is nobody making and selling sheet metal. The same goes for rubber tubing, compressors and condensers.  Not to mention that there is nobody generating electricity.  All the wonderful appliances and devices that make life comfortable and even possible only come about through human cooperation.   In other words, God incentivized us to connect, communicate, cooperate, and collaborate.  It is as if He is saying to us, “My children, I have created a world with tough challenges.  Here’s your choice:  Learn to get on together or you will live short and painfully unpleasant lives.”

In 1953, a flood drowned nearly 2,000 Dutchmen in the Netherlands.  Why has no subsequent North Sea flood done anything similar?  Because immediately following that disaster, the Dutch got together and pooled capital and engineering know-how to build the world’s largest land reclamation project ever.

One family alone can never protect itself from an epidemic.  However, when millions of families pool their capital and expertise, over time they come up with a vaccine against the rampaging disease.  Far more successful small businesses are launched by partnerships and teams than by one entrepreneur laboring alone.

By highlighting that the phrase Lo Tov — it is not good — appears only twice in the Torah and that both occurrences involve someone disconnected from others, we learn a vital life lesson.  The good things in life come when we are not alone.  Connecting, communicating, cooperating and collaborating with others allows us to achieve far more goodness than we possibly can alone.

There is considerably more ancient Jewish wisdom highlighting not only the infinite range of potential that more and better connections can unleash in your life but also practical strategies to make that happen.  I have collected the best of these and made them available for you to employ in your social and business life in a 2 CD audio package entitled  Prosperity Power—Connect For Succe$$.  (Check out the instant download option which is on sale.) Listen while you commute or exercise or even as you doze off in bed.  It is material you need to hear more than once.

Whether as a gift for someone who’ll realize how important they are to you or for yourself, this program will not only teach you things you didn’t know about the Bible and about human connection, but it will also help you transform yourself  into a vastly improved connector.  That is good for your finances, it is good for your health, and it makes our Father in Heaven smile. And that is really good.

PP package front

 

 

I Won’t Stand for It

April 29th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

 

“The boy stood on the burning deck

Whence all but he had fled;

The flame that lit the battle’s wreck

Shone round him o’er the dead…”

(Casablanca, Dorothea Hemans, 1826)

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing…”

(The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845)

“Stood there and watched you walk away…”

(Haunted, Taylor Swife, 2010)

“How to Handle Getting Stood Up on a Date”

(Glamour Magazine, 2014, 2011, 2004, 1998)

The French captain’s son stood resolutely on the burning deck until he was finally consumed in the furious flames.  Though Edgar Allan Poe claims he stood there for a long while, I suspect that in reality he soon returned to his bed.  Taylor Swift stood there as her lover walked away but one assumes that she managed to replace him quite quickly.  The readers of Glamour who keep getting stood up, well, enough said.

There really ought to be different words in English for stood.  One can scarcely compare my different examples of standing.  One shouldn’t.  I won’t stand for it.

In the Lord’s language there are indeed words to describe two different ways of standing.  One can stand firm like the boy on the burning deck; one might say, stand like a pillar.  Or one can stand there sadly like Taylor Swift, ready to be quickly distracted by someone else.

Let’s see a Biblical example of each kind of standing.

You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God that you should enter into a covenant…that He may establish you today for a people to himself…

(Deuteronomy 29:9-11)

 

And it came to pass at the end of two years that Pharaoh dreamed; and, behold, he stood on the river. 

(Genesis 49:1)

 When the Israelites stood before God to establish a special covenant, it was for all time.  In fact, the Bible makes clear that this covenant is being established not only with those Israelites who were standing there, but also with all the future generations not yet born. (Deuteronomy 29:13-14).  In other words, a permanent standing.  The Hebrew word used for standing is YaTZaV.

However, when Pharaoh dreamed that he stood on the Nile, not only did he not remain there for long, but it was a dream.  The Hebrew word used for stand is the far more common OMeD.

The word OMeD is also used here, implying a lack of firmness:

 

And the magicians were unable to stand before Moses…

(Exodus 11:9) 

However, when the standing is more that of standing like a rock until one’s task is complete, the Torah uses the word YaTZaV.

For instance, “Behold I stand by the water well…” (Genesis 24:13) said Eliezer as he prayed for success in finding the woman who’d become the second matriarch, the wife of Isaac.

The same root word as that for standing firmly, YaTZaV, is used for a pillar that stands immovably forever, such as the pillar that Lot’s wife turned into.

 But his wife looked back from behind him,
and she became a pillar (NeTZiV) of salt.

(Genesis 19:26)

Knowing that there are two different ways of standing helps us translate our spirit into our posture.  When I stand in line at the check-out, I hope it’s not for long and so I don’t root myself to the ground.  However, when I stand up for principle, I want to be utterly immovable and just as importantly, I want to appear to others as utterly immovable.

Deciding which principles one will stand up for unyieldingly is vital for successful living.  It allows one to know in advance which battles are worth fighting and which are better averted.

Some of those battles arise from the political and cultural maelstroms that swirl around the foundations of your family and livelihood.  The best way to acquire a Biblical perspective on these is through my audio CD program Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of BabelThe two CDs and study guide explore nine verses in Genesis that lay out struggles that repeat continually through history and which roil the times in which we live. Understanding that struggle allows you and yours to take your stand.

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.

America and the Jews

March 3rd, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

This morning, Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel delivered a historic address to the Congress of the United States of America.  He alluded to the face of Moses staring down upon the chamber but neglected to mention that Moses is the only face depicted full-on rather than in profile.  Moses enjoys special placement in America’s great hall of government.

Over 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson proposed depicting the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt upon the Great Seal of the United States.  How remarkable that the new world should consider featuring on its great seal, the Israelites, a nation so symbolic of the old world.  They associated the birth of America with the Hebrews for the same reason that motivates many Americans today to view Israel and the Jews in a special light.

No country has been a more stalwart friend of Israel than America and no other society has ever been more hospitable to its Jewish population.  In no other nation has any Jewish community enjoyed a longer period of tranquillity and affluence.  The bond between America and her Jews is so conspicuous that it has even attracted foreign attention.  Hundreds of books have been published in Europe, Asia and many Islamic countries, that chronicle the extraordinary prominence that Jews enjoy in America.  Life has been good for American Jews.

One explanation often advanced to account for the hospitality enjoyed by America’s Jews has been the size of the American Jewish community and its economic and political influence.  In other words, the argument goes, America has been good to her Jews because their power has allowed her little alternative.  In addition to demonstrating astonishing ingratitude, this argument is as wrong headed as claiming that turning on street lights causes the sun to set.  A moment’s reflection reveals that American Jews have achieved affluence and political prominence precisely because of the security and tranquillity they have enjoyed here for so many years.

Furthermore, if, as some claim, America’s support for Israel were based entirely on political expediency, that support would originate from the State Department.  It does not.  Instead, it springs from the Christian heartland of America and from the deep commitment to Judeo-Christian values felt by so many Americans.

Americans’ fondness for Judaism and Israel manifests itself in those politicians who can least be said to preside over major centers of Jewish culture.  For example, it is hard to make the case that Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Robert Pittenger support Israel in order to placate the large number of Jewish voters in Texas and North Carolina.  It is clearly Christian commitment to the Bible that lies behind America’s affinity and friendship for Judaism.

The real bond linking American civilization and the Jews is that they are the only two nations founded on an idea rather than on a land.  Judaism and America were founded on commitment to the loving God of Abraham and to freedom from human tyranny.  Furthermore, they are the only two peoples that foreigners can join with all subsequent rights.  Just try to become accepted as a naturalized Englishman, Frenchman, Swiss or Japanese.  However if one becomes a naturalized American or converts to Judaism, one becomes a full American or a full Jew with all rights, save one:  a convert to Judaism cannot become king, and a naturalized American cannot attain the presidency.

Shortly after the founding of both the American and the Jewish peoples, each experienced a horrendous civil war.  Both the war between the North and the South and the war between Judah and Israel were over moral issues and both nations emerged from their travails stronger than they had been before.

Only two countries, America and Israel, swing their doors open wide to welcome even poor and down-trodden immigrants who share their ideals.

The founders of America, the Pilgrims, were called “separatists.”  Similarly the early Jews, Abraham and his family, were called “Ivrim”—Hebrews, or in English— “separatists.”

The first settlers in both America and Israel found primitive populations who knew nothing of the God of Abraham.  Both America and Israel eventually built their capital cities in a manner designed to guarantee equal access for all.  Neither Washington DC. nor Jerusalem belongs exclusively to any one state or tribe.

Jacob launched the Jewish people by replacing his son Joseph with Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Menashe.  “They will be to me like Reuben and Shimon” said Jacob, thus changing the twelve tribes into thirteen. (Genesis 49:5)  Similarly, the twelve colonies launched their great enterprise, the United States, once Rhode Island became the 13th original colony.  Evidently the founding fathers knew that the number of elements required for the founding of a holy nation had to be increased from twelve to thirteen.

Our currency expresses this important idea that unity has its origin in thirteen.  The phrase e pluribus unum, printed above the eagle on the one dollar bill, contains thirteen letters, as does the phrase annuit coeptis printed above the pyramid.  There are thirteen layers of stone in that pyramid, thirteen stars above the eagle’s head and thirteen stripes upon its breast.  There are thirteen arrows clutched in one talon and thirteen olives upon the olive branches in the other.  And all this symbolism of thirteen is found only on the one dollar bill.  In Hebrew, a language which associates a numerical value with each letter of the alphabet, the word for “One,” Echad, possesses a numerical equivalent of thirteen.

The intrinsic similarity between these two great nations was not lost on the early Americans.  Neither is it lost on their descendants, so many of whom still share a devotion to the Judeo-Christian principles that fueled our nation’s earliest visions.  Robert Frost’s The Gift Outright and John Winthrop’s Citie on the Hill are only two of the many literary examples that reflect this deep spiritual bond that links Judaism and the American dream.

The graciousness extended by most Americans towards their Jewish friends is not the result of having been intimidated by those friends into a mood of sullen acceptance.  It is a wholehearted embrace surrounding one sentiment best expressed by the Scriptural words, “and I will bless those that bless you and those that curse you, will I curse.” (Genesis 12:3)  Many Americans still revere those words as they do God Almighty who spoke them.  American Jews have always been the beneficiaries of that sentiment.  The joyous serenity of life experienced by American Jews is safe only for as long as most Americans continue to subscribe to that Biblical sentiment.

My life mission is providing access to the Bible through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom – much of it wisdom that was known to this country’s founders. I encourage you to explore our store and delve into understanding the world, not through the latest transient trend, but rather with God’s timeless wisdom.

 

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.

Peril cover 143

Find Yourself in a Fish

February 18th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

What a blessing it is to bounce out of bed each morning on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low, miserable and even depressed is having a purpose, knowing it, and passionately propelling oneself towards it.

As an ardent boating enthusiast, I find the behavior of the Bible’s most famous mariner, Jonah, to be quite baffling.  At the height of a furious storm that threatened the very survival of their ship, the terrified sailors cast their cargo overboard to lighten the vessel.  Obviously, during such a tempest the safest location is high up on the struggling vessel from where escape might at least be possible.  That is why lifeboats are found on the upper deck.  Nobody in his right mind would voluntarily remain far down in the belly of the boat.

But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep.

(Jonah 1:5)

 Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world.  But don’t envy him.  Only the dead have no worries.  And that’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.  Jonah was an avoider of challenges.

God elevated Jonah and made him His prophet.  God dispatched him on a challenging mission to Nineveh.  Instead of confronting the challenge, Jonah elected to avoid it attempting to escape to Tarshish.

Jonah represents you and me.  He represents leaders in politics and in business.  He represents parents and preachers.  Jonah had been given a life mission by God.  Just like each of us, he had been given the gift of a real purpose for living.

From each of us, God expects specific performance and achievement in some specific mission.  After all, if God is to be taken seriously then He must be taken personally too.  We must each distill our own life experiences and our own spiritual adventures into the essence of what it is that we alone have been created to achieve.

Life itself demands no less, but the search is challenging, even dangerous, and the mission once found is always formidable.  Having problems and worries is a barometer of life. Confronting them is the elixir of immortality.  But Jonah preferred escape.

In reality, only one escape exists: view life as meaningless and seek solace in entertainment.  Distract ourselves to death.  Jews are fond of the toast, L’Chayim—to life!  What that really means is ‘affirm life’.  But the only way to affirm life is by embracing your moral mission with all its challenges.

Attempting escape means choosing an empty alternative and abandoning your own great moral challenge. It means a life in which the dull gray monotony of existence becomes almost indistinguishable from death.

Jonah tried to abandon his Divine destiny.  Instead of traveling to Nineveh as commanded, he attempted to evade his whole purpose for living by escaping to Tarshish.  Since evading one’s mission is an embrace of death, it is no wonder that Jonah was content to die in the sinking ship.

When we try to avoid our mission, it is not because we consider the attempt to be futile.  It is because nothing has awoken us.  Only one thing could awake Jonah to his destiny and help him find his redeeming mission in life:  three days in the belly of that fish.

It was an unimaginable place of wet darkness where Jonah huddled among the giant pulsing organs of life.  Was this living cave to become a grave—the end of his life, or was it to become a womb—the start of his real life?  It could have gone either way.  The choice was Jonah’s to make.

The one time in the Jewish calendar that the book of Jonah is read in synagogue is late in the afternoon on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  As the sun starts setting and the day of fasting is ebbing away, we read:

 Jonah left the city and sat at the east of the city.  He made himself a booth there…

(Jonah 4:5)

 It is quite impossible to read that verse without thinking of the Festival of Sukot, (sometimes called Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths) that commences just five days later.  The book of Jonah read on Yom Kippur actually hints at the forthcoming Sukot.

As if to parallel that chronology, of all the many laws governing conduct during the Day of Atonement, the final regulation, the last word as it were, is that Jews should commence building their booths for Sukot immediately following the conclusion of the fast.

The idea is that every day is connected to its yesterday and its tomorrow.  Rosh HaShana, New Year, is linked to Yom Kippur by the Ten Days of Repentance.  In turn, Yom Kippur is linked to the next holy day, Sukot by the final reading of the day, the Book of Jonah.

It is interesting that much of the ancient Jewish wisdom surrounding Jonah is disclosed in the tractate entitled Booths.  (Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah Chapter V)  It is there that we discover Jonah’s identity and origins.  It turns out that he was the son of the widow who was Elijah the prophet’s landlady in the first book of Kings, chapter 17.   The lad had died and, in response to the entreaties of his bereaved mother, Elijah brought him back to life. Later in his life we encounter him as the prophet Jonah.  This helps explain why he seemed so fearless of dying during the storm.  After all, he had died once before and had been resuscitated once before—by Elijah the prophet.

The lesson to be learned is that there are three avenues to finding our mission and thrilling to our purpose.  First, dark and frightening days in the belly of the fish – tough experiences – have the potential either to bury us or birth us anew. Second, relating deeply to the interconnectedness of days.  If today lacks clarity, know that tomorrow will soon arrive. Finally, rebirth is possible.  The old Jonah died in that fish, just as he did as a lad.  In both cases, he was restored.  Finding our purpose is the same as being restored to life.  And bounding out of bed each morning is a joyful reaffirmation of the life you live.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, contains more life affirming messages to help us maximize our time on earth. Discover them in our audio CD Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity.

Day for Atonement front cover

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!

You Want the Last Word?

January 6th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Has one of your children ever approached you with a long litany of complaints?  Your offspring begins detailing his grievances, some of them more perceived than real.  You gently interrupt to contradict the mistakes.

Perhaps it’s a friend or professional associate.  The instinct to defend ourselves against what we feel is an illegitimate allegation is all but irresistible.  The problem is that whether child, friend or business acquaintance, the odds are that the real resentment is only going to be mentioned at the very end.

By interrupting the catalog of charges and objecting to the first or second accusation, we never actually get to hear the climax, the main issue that brought about the confrontation in the first place.

The Torah also builds to a climax in its final lines.  The closing verse suggests that the entire book fulfills its purpose through the people of Israel.

And in all the mighty hand and all the awesome sight which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel.
 (Deuteronomy 34:12)

But, the Torah comprises five books.  Listen to the closing verse of the fourth book of the Torah:

These are the commandments and judgments which God commanded by the hand of Moses to the Children of Israel on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan near Jericho. (Numbers 36:13)

Again, we find Israel highlighted in this climactic final verse of Numbers.  To explore the possibility of a revealing pattern, let’s examine the last verse of the third book of the Torah:

These are the commandments that God commanded Moses for the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai.
(Leviticus 27:34)

Still, we’re not yet done.  Let’s see how the second book ends:

For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, through all their travels.
(Exodus 40:38)

That would seem to settle it.  The climax of each book seems to emphasize the Children of Israel.  Perhaps just as a matter of course, for the sake of completion, we’ll check the final verse of Genesis as well, but with every confidence that the pattern will be maintained.  Or will it?

And Joseph died at 110 years old and they embalmed him
 and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
 (Genesis 50:26)

Oops!  No mention of Israel.  Just when it seemed so clear.

But wait!  By the end of Genesis, there is no People of Israel.  There is only Jacob and his family living in exile in Egypt.  It follows that having no mention of the People of Israel in the final verse of Genesis makes perfect sense.

This begs the question. When did the People of Israel come into existence?  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Israel became a people when it acquired a national mission.  In other words, the first time God issued a commandment to the people of Israel is the moment when they emerged onto the stage of world history.

Here is the first commandment issued to the nascent nation:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.”
(Exodus 12:1-2)

Ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that in some ways, this twelfth chapter of Exodus represents the real beginning.  In this case, the first section of the Torah would really end with these words:

…but God strengthened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not send out the Children of Israel from his land.
(Exodus 11:10)

To the extent that this approach provides an alternate picture of the Torah, the first book, comprising Genesis and the first eleven chapters of Exodus also ends with a mention of the word Israel. God’s revelation, the Torah, emphasizes as a climax the emergence of the people of Israel to help the world replace barbarism with civilization.

We see that the final words often reveal the real purpose of the entire communication.  As hard as it is to hear complaints, particularly with family, try to nod encouragingly without interrupting in order to be able to hear the entire list.  The climax will probably only come just before your interlocutor finally falls silent.

That is then an excellent time to repeat the main complaint with the words, “So do I understand that you are chiefly unhappy because I (did) (said)…etc.?”  Then you should say, “I can tell that you have been thinking about this for a while and I am going to take a day to digest all you’ve said; is it okay if I get back to you tomorrow?”

In this fashion, you not only secure yourself some time to think carefully, but by the next day, the emotional tensions will largely have dissipated and the resulting conversation is likely to bring the rewarding result of rescuing the relationship.

And those closing words are the climax of today’s Thought Tool.

Start the New Year with the resolution of more Bible study through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom. A deeper look into Genesis will provide insights to improve your relationships with God, your family and community. Our Genesis Journeys audio CD package contains eight hours of teachings sure to get 2015 off on the right foot.

Genesis Journeys

 

First Fruits (and sometimes Nuts)

December 10th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

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Here is today’s Thought Tool quiz:

Early in 1845, Henry David Thoreau, along with about twenty of his friends, began a two and a half year-long party in a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord Massachusetts.  True or False?

In 1971 Ted Kaczynski, his wife, six children, a nanny, a tutor, and three puppies moved to an isolated mountain cabin in Montana from where he later sent bombs through the mail injuring dozens of people and killing three. True or False?

Brilliant twentieth century photographer Ansel Adams, who specialized in capturing the glory of America’s national parks and other natural wonders, left a legacy of thousands of pictures depicting happy crowds enjoying their natural outdoor heritage. True or False?

With thirty members of his Rotary Club, Chris McCandless hiked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. After being awed by nature’s grandeur, he returned home to Virginia.  True of False?

Ready for the answers?  All four statements are false. (I am sure you hardly needed me to tell you that.)  Thoreau was alone at Walden Pond.  The Unabomber lived in lonely isolation for nearly thirty years.  It is difficult to find any Ansel Adams photographs containing even one human image.  In his book, “Into the Wild,” Jon Krakauer relates how McCandless hiked alone and died alone, tragically and unnecessarily.

While it is true that many families and crowds of friends enjoy the outdoors in companionship, we each tend to experience nature in our own individual way.  To some it’s the sunrise or sunset. To others it’s lambs gamboling behind their mothers in the spring.  But whichever way you experience nature, it can resemble a museum which evokes awe more than camaraderie.  I might visit an art gallery with a group of friends, but the experience is essentially lonely.

It is not a coincidence that far more money is made, and far greater wealth created, in the crowded confines of cities than in the open spaces of nature.  Almost by definition, the great outdoors is uncrowded while making money requires considerable contact between humans.  I make money when other people who know me, like me, and trust me invite me to serve them with my good or services.  That is certainly more likely to happen when my focus is people and connection than when I revel in the splendid isolation of the wild.

This helps us understand a perplexing puzzle found in Deuteronomy 26.

We’re told that when Israel enters its land everyone should bring his annual first fruits to Jerusalem. There, he should place his basket before the priest in the Temple. He then recites a proclamation.

Wouldn’t you suppose that in appreciation of nature’s bounty the grateful farmer might recite verses praising nature and its miraculous processes? For instance, you might have expected those who brought their first fruits to articulate verses like these from Psalms.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving sing praise upon the harp to our God who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass grow on the mountains.
(Psalms 147:7-8)

Yet those bringing their first fruits to Jerusalem must utter a different passage:

An Aramean tried to destroy my father, who then went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous; But the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us terrible slavery.  And when we cried to the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression and brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesomeness, and with signs, and with wonders.  And he has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land that flows with milk and honey.  And now, I have brought the first fruits of the land.  
(Deuteronomy 26:5-9)

Why a condensed history lesson rather than a song of nature’s bounty?  History bonds us to those who came before us and to those who will follow us.  Moreover, emphasizing shared history bonds us to others as we gather to celebrate anniversaries, holidays and memorial observances.  If we are celebrating the sustenance we enjoy, then it is far more appropriate to celebrate our connection to people, both living and long gone, than to sing of nature.

Yes, nature provides valuable solace and rejuvenation. However, as a model for existence, God wishes for us to live among others. Keeping our histories alive is a sure way to retain the nourishment of connection. Not surprisingly, God blesses those who follow His wishes in this respect with the enormous blessing of sustenance and abundance.

Next week, Jews will gather to celebrate Chanuka. It is a blueprint for the present as well as a history of the past, with important life lessons for all of God’s children. We collected some valuable insights in our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. You can get it alone or enjoy substantial holiday savings and hours of life-enhancing learning when you order it as part of our Biblical Blueprint Set. And yes, listening with others amplifies the benefits.

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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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