Posts tagged " Thought "

Built to Give

September 9th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Do you know what a “men’s room” is?  When I first heard the phrase soon after I immigrated to the U.S. from England where I’d been studying, my mind conjured up a big screen television, a comfortable couch, and a BBQ emitting wonderful smells of cooked meat.  That’s my men’s room!  Instead, I discovered that the term, like washroom, restroom, and bathroom are really all euphemisms for a room designed for relieving oneself.

Why would a society so comfortable with public expression of so many things, appear to be so squeamish about the perfectly natural bodily function of voiding one’s bowels.  You’ll pardon me. I don’t mean to be vulgar. However, I do think it important to ask why a society so openly public about every possible variation of sexual pleasure is so uncomfortable about simply saying, “Excuse me but I have to go and empty my bowels.”  Why do people instead say, “Excuse me, but I have to use the washroom.” For what—a shower?  “Excuse me, but I need a rest room.”  Why, are you tired?

Clearly, there is deep-seated discomfort with publicly acknowledging our need to relieve ourselves.  Therein lies the clue.  It is called ‘relieving oneself’ and not ‘relieving society’ or ‘relieving the world.’  Going to the bathroom is one of the very few human activities that in no way benefits, helps, (or relieves) anyone else other than the person involved.  One could say that, necessary though it is, it remains one of the few utterly selfish things that each of us does.  Not surprisingly, our souls are embarrassed by it.  Not because it is a bodily function, but because we feel subconsciously uncomfortable doing things that benefit only ourselves.

Even when indulging ourselves, say, in the purchase of an ice cream, our action produces other beneficiaries such as the storeowner.  This is why we feel no shame at purchasing some desired object.  We feel most comfortable as givers and not grabbers.

This is one of the reasons we love bringing children into the world and raising them.  They allow us to be givers.  We enjoy the sound of ‘Come here, Daddy, I need you.”  Children allow us to become similar to that Ultimate Giver in heaven, God Himself who gives so much to His children.

Indeed, we find the great King Solomon emphasizing how giving is in tune with God’s creation.

 There are those who give freely and yet prosper while others withhold what they should rightfully give and only come to shortage.
(Proverbs 11:24)

How can giving somehow bring abundance while grabbing and retaining often lead to destitution?  This is surely counter-intuitive.  However, knowing how the world REALLY works means understanding the mechanisms that God placed into reality.

Whether we are farmers, florists or framers; whether we are ballerinas, builders or beauticians, our abundance depends upon other people purchasing our goods or services.  In practice, that means an employer hiring me for the job rather than all the other applicants.  It means people patronizing my used car business or my janitorial services.  Why do people pick me rather than my competitors?  Usually it is more based on my interpersonal skills than because of technical proficiency.

Few of us know where our doctor ranked in medical school or even from which medical school she graduated.  We depend upon word of mouth and reputation; in other words, we depend upon how people that we trust feel about the doctor.

Not only do we become embarrassed when we become takers rather than givers, but we are put off by others who appear to be takers.  A characteristic that repels potential patients, employers, customers, or clients is projecting the personality of a grabber rather than a giver.  The super aggressive salesman, the store clerk almost pleading with you to purchase something, the realtor whose eyes seem constantly focused on his potential commission; these make us uncomfortable.  They come across to us as takers not givers.  Sometimes it is subconscious.  We may not be fully aware of why we are repelled by one vendor and attracted to another.  More often than not, it is that our souls are repelled by takers and drawn to givers.

Thus, when I become pleasingly useful to many of God’s other children, I automatically prosper. And the way to do that is to focus on how I can give something long before I focus on what I can get.  In so doing I am virtuously imitating God who gives His children so much, asking so little in return.  We are indeed correct to feel embarrassed about do things that benefit nobody but ourselves.

One of the things Susan and I treasure doing is helping guide our readers through some of life’s confusing situations. Each week we answer one on the many questions sent to us as people grapple with their families, livelihoods, faith and relationships. We have gathered 101 of the most representative and popular questions and answers into a book, Dear Rabbi and Susan, which we are excited to present. We hope you’ll use it as a way to stimulate conversation and debate—a give and take that benefits everyone.

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Places I Remember

August 20th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

It’s sometimes difficult to force yourself to do your work, isn’t it?  Perhaps you allow the plague of procrastination to infect your soul.  Maybe you find unproductive ways to persuade yourself that you’re working, even though you’re not doing what really needs to be done.  How do we know what really needs to be done? One answer is whether the activity produces revenue from someone who is free to accept or decline your goods or services.

There is another way to know if we’re doing work, perhaps cooking or taking care of our home.  We can ask ourselves, “Who am I benefiting by doing what I am doing?” If the answer is, “Nobody!” or “Myself!” or even a vague, “Humanity!” then you’re probably not doing work.

In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, one word, AVoDaH, is used for serving God and for serving His children—in other words, work.  One way of serving God is through prayer and, though, of course, we can pray anywhere, there is an advantage to praying in a fixed place.

We learn from ancient Jewish wisdom that Abraham had a regular place to speak with God. There he prayed for Sodom (Genesis 18:23). Amazingly, after God destroyed Sodom despite his prayers, Abraham returned to the same place to continue praying to God.

And Abraham went [to pray] early in the morning to the place [MaKOM]
where he stood [in prayer]  before the Lord.
(Genesis 19:27)

By contrast, less praiseworthy people than Abraham changed their places of prayer when they failed to get the results they desired.  Rather than accepting a “no” or searching within themselves, they assumed the fault must lie in the geography and jumped from place to place.

And Balak said to him [Balam]  ‘please come with me to another place [MaKOM]  from where you may see them [Israel]… and curse them for me from there.’
(Numbers 23:13)

This word, MaKOM, place, whenever used in Tanach, always refers to a space with some Godly connection.  So powerful is this relationship between a special space—MaKOM—and God, that there is a compelling numerical clue.

The holy four letter name of God in Hebrew, known as the Tetragrammaton, comprises the following four letters, Yud, Heh, Vav, and Heh.

yud,hay, vav, hay

The numeric values of those letters are 10, 5, 6, and 5 respectively.  If those four letters define God’s name linearly as it were, then it follows that squaring them brings us to an awareness of God that is more spatial.

This process is similar to how we’d discover the area of a square field if we know the length of the side to be 10 yards.  We square the line of 10 yards and obtain an area of 100 square yards.

What happens when we square these four letters?

ten,five, six, five squared

Now, add together the four letters making up the Hebrew word MaKOM (place).

makom186equals186
So, in a sense, the “area” of God’s name gives us the Hebrew word for place, MaKOM.  Thus, when a special place is chosen, it possesses spiritual significance.  Yes, it is true that I can do my AVoDaH, meaning both my worship and my work serving others, almost anywhere.  I can pray on the bow of my small boat anchored off an island in British Columbia and thereafter, I can open my laptop and write a Thought Tool intended to bring useful data into your life.

Tod Inlet

However, both my prayer and my work get an additional boost if I do them in a fixed place.  Prayer is best when uttered in a space dedicated for that purpose and work flourishes when done in a place reserved for that purpose.

This is why one of the best ways of coping with the challenge of forcing yourself to focus on your work is to take yourself to the right MaKOM; the correct place for doing that work. Even if you must travel, it is beneficial to recreate the feel of your work or prayer place as much as possible.  Sometimes, even just the action of picking yourself up and moving to the right MaKOM brings God’s blessing to your efforts.

When different names for God are used throughout Tanach, it reveals more than literary variation. Like MaKOM, each name has unique implications. If you enjoyed this Thought Tool you will love the deeper meanings of God’s names that I reveal in our 2 audio CD set, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah. Suddenly, the dimensions given for the ark make sense in an astounding way. This resource will help you protect your family from troublesome times just as Noah was able to provide safety for his wife and children. Take advantage of special pricing right now.

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Young Man, Choose Wisely

August 15th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Any German living under the Nazi regime, who announced that he had Jewish friends, was being politically incorrect.  He was also being shockingly imprudent and probably reckless. Any Russian living under Stalin, who proclaimed his admiration for the American ideal of freedom, was being politically incorrect.  He was also being imprudent and reckless.  Any Moslem living in Pakistan, Qatar, Brunei or any of the many other countries in which Sharia is the law of the land, who expresses enthusiasm for Christianity is politically incorrect, imprudent and dangerously reckless.

Any American today, living under the oppression of the country’s dominant faith, secular fundamentalism, who professes belief in the God of Abraham and in the Bible is being politically incorrect. If he works in entertainment, government, or education he is also being imprudent and reckless. He won’t imperil his life as in my earlier examples but he will certainly jeopardize his job.  Just ask Professors Mark Armitage, Richard Sternberg, and Guillermo Gonzalez.

Like any bully resorting to force after failing to persuade by fact and reason, secularism silences dissent with suppression, ridicule, and threat.  The underlying belief of secularism is that we humans are nothing more than super-evolved primates.  You think you’re touched by the finger of God?  Don’t be ridiculous! You’re just an animal with all the healthy appetites of an animal.  If it feels good, do it.

This is one reason you hear so little in America popular culture about the benefits that virginity brings to marriage.  As the sexual revolution runs its course and nears the end of its natural lifespan of about fifty years several serious publications and institutions are rediscovering the advantages of being married to your only lover.  However, since this runs counter to the secular urge to indoctrinate young people into premature sexuality, such information is deemed politically incorrect and it is either entirely suppressed or if it does sneak into view, it is instantly ridiculed. This is truly the behavior of the bully who no longer even believes his own propaganda.

For a timeless perspective consider these verses:

…the young man and the virgin…
(Deuteronomy 32:25)

…the old, the young man, and the virgin…
(Ezekiel 9:6)

The Hebrew word for young man is BaCHuR.  Its feminine equivalent, young woman would be BaCHuRAh. (According to the standard rules of Hebrew, adding Ah to a masculine noun makes it the feminine equivalent.)

Yet nowhere in Tanach do we encounter the word BaCHuRAh. Every instance of young man and young woman uses BaCHuR for the young man, and BeTuLAh, virgin, for the young woman.

Now let’s explore the meaning behind the word BaCHuR that explains why its feminine equivalent is not used in the Hebrew Scripture.

BaCHuR is simply the noun form of the verb B-CH-R, to choose or select.

And Moses said to Joshua choose [B-CH-R] for us men…
(Exodus 17:9)

Why this connection? Ancient Jewish wisdom explains by asking a question: What is the essence of being a young man?  The answer is being on the cusp of vital choices. He must choose a wife.  He also must choose his career, a way of serving his fellow humans. Hence, the word for young man is BaCHuR, a chooser.

By contrast, there are fewer choices available to a young woman.  (Warning:  this is going to be politically incorrect.) She can certainly choose a career today, but she is not able proactively to choose a husband.  She has to wait to be asked, at which point her choice is to accept or reject.

Please understand that this is not me decreeing that a young woman can’t ask a man to marry her any more than it is me decreeing that apples fall off the tree downwards not upwards.  If you’re uneasy with this inconvenient truth, just think of how many marriages you know of in which the wife proposed marriage to her husband. It happens only rarely. The way that God built men is that most of us flee a pursuing woman.

The very opposite of a pursuing woman is a young woman of modesty, a virgin.  Thus Scripture defines reality by referring to a young man and young woman as BaCHuR and BeTuLAh. A young man on the cusp of choosing a wife and a young woman making decisions that value herself and encourage him to choose wisely.

There! I’ve said it. I’ve told the truth even though it is politically incorrect.  And telling the truth can be dangerous under any tyrannical regime.

Telling the truth is just another way of describing the calling of teaching Scripture.  There are more politically incorrect, inconvenient truths on the topic of men and women in Gila Manolson’s book, Hands Off: This May Be Love (God’s Gift for Establishing Enduring Relationships). I think that both men and women should read it. Young people may not like the conclusions they draw from this book (though it is entertaining to read) but life is easier and more rewarding when you live in reality.

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Field and Stream

August 6th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Are you a specialist in your field of work?  What career field should I go into?  Will history graduates find work in their field?  Why is the word field by far the most common metaphor for work, career, or profession?  Why not ask, “what river do you work in?”  Or, “what road of work do you walk?”  Or, “can you find work in your stream?”

This usage of language derives from the Bible. While working in your field can mean agriculturally since that is the means of earning a living most often referred to in Scripture, on a larger scale your field means whatever honorable way you have of earning a living.  Just as a field provides a farmer with sustenance, so does a field of work do the same for the professional in that field.

Prepare your work externally and make yourself fit for the field; then afterwards build your house.
(Proverbs 24:27)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains this verse to mean that the best way to order your life is first learn to do work that others (outside of yourself) find useful, then establish your career performing that work.  After that, you’ll be in a position to build your house, meaning, create your family.

Excelling in your field provides blessing not only for you but also for others in your society.  Noah’s name means ‘rest’ and he brought the possibility of rest to mankind by increasing the agricultural yields of the fields.  Notice how Noah is named:

And he called his name Noah, saying, this one shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.
(Genesis 5:29)

Sure enough, God had cursed the earth.

…cursed is the ground for your sake…thorns and thistles will it bring forth to you…
(Genesis 3:17-18)

How did Noah ‘comfort us concerning our work’?  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Noah invented the plow allowing mankind to draw more from the cursed earth with less effort. Similarly, by being productive we too add value to the lives of those around us.  For this reason, a Biblical worldview frowns upon earning one’s living as a professional gambler.  No matter how much money one wins by gambling, nobody else’s life is thereby improved.

Does the importance of working in your field disappear later in Scripture? From the following passages, it seems as if society’s prosperity hinges only on one’s relationship to God.

And it will be that if you carefully obey my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give you the rain of your land in its season…that you may gather in your grain, and your wine, and your oil and I will send grass in your fields for your cattle, that you will eat and be satisfied.
(Deuteronomy 11:13-15)

This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth; but you shall meditate on it day and night that you may observe and do all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
 (Joshua 1:8)

If we are meditating on the Torah day and night, obeying God’s commands with all our heart, when do we find time to plant that grain, those vines and olive trees?  Ancient Jewish wisdom’s answer is that we “serve Him” and “do all that is written in it” largely through supplying the needs of God’s other children.

We humans are holistic. Even our bodies do best when our spiritual and physical sides are synchronized. Why does a placebo have any therapeutic impact at all in modern medicine? People’s bodies perform better when their brains and souls are on board with the program. This is why most people choose doctors in whom they have confidence. A patient’s recovery is directly linked to how much confidence that patient has in his or her medical advisers. It is almost as if your body knows what is in your mind and responds accordingly. Helping your mind to know and believe that what you do professionally is good, noble, and worthwhile helps to fuel your energies and propel your efforts.

No wonder ‘you will eat and be satisfied’.  No wonder ‘you will make your way prosperous and you will have good success’.  Working in our fields is part of our holy calling.

Many of us first met Noah when we were children. Yet his life, as the lives of others in Scripture, contains vital lessons for us as adults. We do ourselves a disservice by not approaching them with mature intellect. The 8 audio CDs in our Genesis Journeys Set will amaze you as they reveal astounding messages hidden in Genesis.

Genesis Journeys Set

July 29th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Confidence is to arrogance what self-respect is to self-esteem. The former is the result of achievement; the latter is hollow chest beating. The former inspires; the latter repels. Confidence breeds success while arrogance is a symptom of impending failure. Arrogant people abuse both family members and business associates, yelling at them and belittling them. Confident people treat everyone with respect. Arrogant people view all human relationships in terms of acquiring power and authority. Confident people know that moral prestige trumps power and authority.

A crucial lesson about how the world REALLY works is embedded within every Scriptural account. The Bible is not a series of stories about long-forgotten people engaged in irrelevant activities for readers with nothing better to do but a guide to reality. One consistent Biblical message is that the prophet of God overrules even the king.

Regular readers of Thought Tools know that when a (Hebrew) word appears exactly seven times within a Tanach tale, it provides a crucial clue. Only two words in Chapter 5 in the 2nd book of Kings appear seven times: LIFNEI, meaning before and implying subservience, and ADON meaning master, implying authority. This entire account revolves around power and subservience.

The opening verse sets the theme:

And Na’aman, the army general of the king of Aram was a great man, (subservient) before his master…

(II Kings 5:1)

 And the Arameans…kidnapped from the land of Israel a young girl and she was (subservient) before Na’aman’s wife

(II Kings 5:2)

 Na’aman, a leper, reports to his master, the king of Aram, that this Jewish slave recounts that the prophet in Israel can cure his leprosy. The Aramean king, assuming that all is under the power and authority of the king in Israel, just as it is in Aram, sends a request to Israel’s king that he arrange for the prophet to effect the cure. However, the king of Israel, knowing that he has no power over a prophet of God, is dismayed.

Elisha, the prophet, hears and sends a message summoning Na’aman to him. Na’aman who was willing to subordinate himself to a king is haughtily unwilling to do so for merely a prophet. When he arrives at Elisha’s house he doesn’t even dismount his chariot because entering someone’s home or office as a guest or supplicant means making yourself subservient (II Kings 5:9)

In response, Elisha sends a message directing Na’aman to immerse in the Jordan. Na’aman indignantly retorts that Elisha should have personally emerged to heal him and furthermore back in Damascus he has rivers better than the Jordan. Observe the ongoing clash between power and authority versus humility and subservience.

Na’aman’s servants persuade him to obey Elisha and after bathing in the Jordan, he is cured. Whereupon he returns to Elisha but this time the text emphasizes that Na’aman appeared before (subserviently) Elisha (II Kings 5:15). He then proclaims his newfound faith in the God of Israel and wants to bless Elisha with gifts. Elisha, again using the Hebrew word for before, LIFNEI, rejects the gifts, asserting his subservience to God.

The story ends with Elisha’s own servant, Gaychazi, being cursed with eternal leprosy when he shows arrogance instead of subservience to his master, Elisha.

In ancient Hebrew wisdom, the disease TZARA’AT, translated as leprosy, is a psychosomatic disorder in which the spiritual condition of arrogance produces physical manifestations. Confidence is earned through subservience to God, breeding humility and respect to all those who are part of one’s life.

Now that you’ve gained a glimpse into this enchanting chapter, take time to read it carefully paying special attention to the submission/authority theme throughout. Not only will it enthrall you but it will help train your soul to read Scripture in the way that allows deeper meaning to make the leap from the page to your heart.

If you enjoy digging deeper into Biblical verses that illuminate reality as it relates to your life, marriage and children as well as national and international headlines, you will want to explore our Genesis Journeys Set. Scripture comes to life as ancient Jewish wisdom and the Hebrew language reveal hidden gems. Right now, the set is temporarily available at an amazing low price making now the perfect time to benefit from it.

Genesis Journeys Set

ICU Seeking Creativity

July 22nd, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

I see you.  I see you seeking creativity.  I see you sitting glumly with your elbow on the table and your chin resting in the palm of your hand.  I see you staring wildly around the room hoping to spot an idea in the corner crevice.  Are you trying to come up with a unique theme for a birthday party you’re throwing?  Are you struggling to conceive a business start-up idea?  I don’t know.  That much I can’t see.  After all, I’m not a seer, just a rabbi.

However, even as a rabbi, I know that several times each week you seek a great idea because great ideas greatly improve our lives.  This means that you need every possible strategy and technique for attracting powerful ideas into your mind.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of books and blogs detailing tips and tools for generating ideas: Calendar a specific time and set an alarm to terminate the session.  Make it quiet time with no electronic distractions.  Pencil and paper will do more for you than tablet or smartphone.  Discipline your mind not to wander or daydream but to focus only on possible solutions to the problem.  Calendar a second creative thinking session the following day allowing ideas to percolate in your subconscious overnight.  You probably already know most of these ideas.

However, one indispensable element of truly creative thinking is largely unknown. Its absence is usually most responsible for failure.  It makes all the difference between a productive creative session and wasted time.

The one absolutely necessary ingredient for successful creativity is having a heart filled with happiness.  When joyfulness overwhelms your soul, the gates of limitless mental creativity swing wide open.

In order to understand how this works, read these three verses that seem to repeat the same idea.

Three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord God.
 (Exodus 23:17)

Three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.
 (Exodus 34:23)

…thou shall rejoice in your feast…and in all the work of your hands…three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord your God in the place which He shall choose; in the festival of unleavened bread (Passover), in the festival of weeks (Shavuot/Pentecost), and in the festival of booths (Sukot)…
(Deuteronomy 16:14-16)

Readers who think the Bible is the work of assorted human authors must ask themselves why some early editor didn’t remove two redundant verses.  After all, how many times does anyone need to be told something?

Those of us comfortable knowing that God authored His book, ask what secret message is encoded into the triplicated message. We got it the first time—males must pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year.

Three times a year?  Message repeated three times?  Hmmm…ancient Jewish wisdom to the rescue.

A general rule in understanding the Torah is that repeating messages ascend in importance.  The first verse matches Passover. God took us out of Egypt; He’s the Boss. If He says to go up to Jerusalem, we go.

The second verse relates to Shavuot (Pentecost), the time of the giving of the Torah. God is our God – there is a close relationship.

Mention of rejoicing and productivity precede the third verse. We go up not only to follow orders, not only because we crave a close relationship with God, but also as an expression of joy and fulfillment.

That’s it!  If you are happy, you will be productive enough to appear before the Lord bearing gifts.  The three festivals all emphasize gratitude to God, and few things contribute more to a feeling of happy optimism than expressing gratitude.  But that’s not all; each festival also highlights its own mechanism for inculcating a happy feeling in our hearts.  Passover is all about visualizing a spirit of redemption.

The Passover Seder teaches that we must each see ourselves as emerging from Egypt to freedom.  Therefore, seeing success in our mind’s eye is the first step in bringing about a happy heart.

Shavuot is about seven weeks of progress, journeying from the depths of Egypt to the sublime heights of Sinai. Hence, the second step trains us to plan detailed steps that can take us from where we are to where we want to be.

Finally, Sukot is all about happiness and water.  One of the Torah messages of water is that it flows to the lowest point; a metaphor of humility.  When we lower ourselves from an elevated posture of arrogance, water, which in Torah nomenclature evokes both wisdom and happiness, flows in our direction.

Those are the four steps to a soulset conducive to creativity.  Once you are all set up for a session of creative thinking:

1)    Evoke gratitude
2)    Imagine how you’ll feel when you have come up with a successful solution
3)    Visualize the stepping stones to get to the solution you need.
4)    Arouse your humble persona.

These four steps will fill your heart with an indescribable joy and thereby equip you for the most successful creative thinking session of your life.

In my mind, I am confident that I do us both a favor by identifying for you the ancient Jewish wisdom resources that will benefit your life.  For more on happiness and productivity see my book, Buried Treasure: Life Lessons from the Lord’s Language. Delve into the Hebrew words and capture the added wisdom embedded in God’s language. Read more about it here.

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