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I Need Some Chutzpah!

Hello, I’m one of your grateful students. My name is Roman, want to say thank u for all your work and wisdom.

Can u explain notion of Chutzpah and some tips how to develop and improve it. Probably u know some books that have deep explanation of the notion.

Thank u a lot.

Roman

Dear Roman,

We must ask you to have a little patience as we begin our answer with words that seem to have little to do with your question.

In 1909, the first kibbutz was established in what is now the modern State of Israel. A kibbutz is a collective where all property is shared and the group takes precedence over individuals and individual families. In those days, many of those who immigrated to the land of Israel were Socialists from Russia and the kibbutz is a Socialist utopian dream. Today, few kibbutzim exist anymore and those that do are based much more on a capitalist and sometimes even a religious foundation.

Why do we tell you this? Because many people associate a kibbutz with Judaism because of the misguided, and often religiously alienated, founders of the modern State of Israel. Yet, were you to ask us to tell you tips about kibbutzim, the first thing we would have to say is that they are, at their basic level, in opposition to how God wishes us to live our lives. The Torah lauds both family integrity and private property.

What does this have to do with chutzpah, a word that has entered the English language with synonyms such as gall, audacity, effrontery and boldness? Well, rather than telling you how to develop and improve chutzpah, we have to tell you to run away from it! The word (and its root) does not appear in Scripture other than two references in the book of Daniel where it is based in Aramaic rather than Hebrew.

The classic illustration of chutzpah is a man who murders his mother and father and then pleads for mercy from the judge on the basis of his being an orphan. That is not something that makes God smile. We are not meant to be brazen and cheeky but rather humble and modest.

However, we assume that you meant chutzpah mistakenly thinking of it as acting with confidence and conviction. You are looking for the quality that allowed Moses to confront Pharaoh, which enabled Joseph to assume control of the Egyptian economy and that gave a spine of steel to the numerous Jews over centuries who accepted death rather than betray their God.

That quality is not chutzpah, but rather strength and integrity. When you know what is right and are able to distinguish meaningless stubbornness from principled stance, you do not allow yourself to be moved by anyone or anything. How best to develop those traits? That is an ongoing process that goes hand in hand with Bible study. Seeking and committing to a wise mentor and counselor is invaluable as well since we all can be blind to our own biases. Surrounding yourself with those who act the way you wish to act is also essential; just as cowardice is contagious, so is courage.

By asking the question, Roman, you are showing a desire to be a greater person. There are wonderful biographies of people that you can read which will inspire you, but in the final analysis, working on yourself each and every day is the only way forward.

Be strong and of good courage,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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When Noah Met Abraham

I know a lawyer who really wishes that he was a rabbi.  I also know a rabbi who really wishes he was a doctor.  Have you met the plumber who really wishes he was a poet or the bookkeeper who really wishes she was a ballerina?  The lawyer is doing nothing to change his profession and neither is the rabbi. The plumber only dreams of writing and the bookkeeper only dreams of dancing.

Do I hear you say, “No harm in fantasy”?  Wrong! Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that fantasizing makes us less happy with our reality.  Remember that lawyer harboring secret rabbinic dreams? Well, he’s less effective at his work.  That rabbi daydreaming of replacing his dark suit with green scrubs has no passion for his profession.  Deep down that plumber is dissatisfied with fixing faucets and as for that want-to-be ballerina, her clients get less of her enthusiasm than that faded old tutu in her closet.

Lingering thoughts of roads not traveled infiltrate all our minds, so how do we generate focused passion for what we actually are doing?

Let’s become flies on the wall for what must have been one of history’s most extraordinary meetings.  But first, a little Genesis arithmetic. Let’s say Adam was created at the beginning of year 1 and died in the year 930.  (Genesis 5:5)

It is easy to calculate that ten generations later, Noah was born in the year 1056 and died in the year 2006 at the age of 950 years-old.  (Genesis 9:29)  Meanwhile, in the year 1948, Abraham was born, which means that at the time of Noah’s death, Abraham was 58 years old.

Do you think it feasible that Abraham, a spiritual seeker, would not have sought out the elderly Noah?  It is impossible to fathom Abraham not seeking a meeting with the man whom God had directly instructed to build the ark and who was the living ancestor of everyone on earth.

What did they discuss?  They might have discussed their families.  Or perhaps they discussed the pain and peril of adult genitourinary operations.

That is merely conjecture but what they certainly did discuss was the value of trying to save others by bringing them God’s word by outreach and evangelism.  Noah would have argued against it because we know he never engaged in evangelism.  When God warned of the impending destruction of humanity, Noah neglected the opportunity of trying to persuade the population away from their wicked ways.  He merely built an ark and saved himself and his family.

Abraham, by contrast, never missed an opportunity to talk to people about God.  He regularly invited strangers into his tent to share a meal during which he shared his faith.  Noah silently accepted God’s decree on humanity whereas Abraham argued with God in a vain attempt to save the inhabitants of the doomed city of Sodom.  Noah kept his relationship with God to himself.  Abraham couldn’t stop talking about it.

Which man was more successful?  To be sure, Noah did save his family but Abraham launched a movement of God-fearing and Bible-believing people numbering in the millions and which endures to this day even after the passage of thousands of years.

Talking enthusiastically about your work not only signals your passion but it also serves to augment that passion.  Another way to increase the passion you have for the things you must do is to increase your professionalism.  The pride felt by a professional is almost palpable and nurtures itself.

Increasing one’s professionalism is the surest way to increase how enthusiastically one tackles one’s work.  These are ten actions that build one’s professionalism:

  • seize responsibility and accept accountability for your work
  • be punctual in all your work commitments
  • be consistently pleasant and polite in all work encounters regardless of your mood
  • speak and write like an educated adult
  • be sufficiently serious as frivolity is not professional unless you’re a paid comedian
  • dress with dignity
  • expand your skills and improve them constantly
  • never yield to your anger
  • be reliable
  • deliver more than expected

So banish those daydreams and enjoy whatever it is you do by becoming ever more professional about it.  Of course, if you really mean to make a major life change, then don’t just dream of doing it; do it.  But if you are retaining your current occupation, you’ll discover unsuspected delights by embracing professionalism.  These delights will far exceed anything available through fantasies and daydreams.

Fascinated by the wisdom flowing from the Hebrew language?

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 Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s LanguageAleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

What Could Go Wrong?

Certain phrases such as, “Where’s the beef?” leap into the national language. Other phrases glide into the shared language of smaller groups. When my children were younger, we read many books aloud. This lasted way beyond the years when the children became fluent readers. I have fond memories of taking turns reading Thomas Hardy’s  The Mayor of Casterbridge with my then sixteen-year-old son.

One book we enjoyed as a family was a memoir written by a man recalling his late 1800s childhood. (I don’t remember the title but if anyone does, please let me know.) He and his siblings were raised in Maine by their grandfather, and our favorite chapter concerned a day when the grandfather was away from home. The children decided to bake tarts. To add a note of suspense and excitement, they doctored one tart with all sorts of less than tasty flavorings. Once baked, each child would pick a tart and they would bite into them at the same time. Most of the faces would be wreathed in smiles–while one child would grimace and race for a glass of water. The lone, unfortunate tart was known as the “Jonah,” named for the prophet who brought storm conditions to the ship he boarded.

As the tarts finished baking and anticipation grew, the children heard a knock at the door. There stood an elderly man who introduced himself as their grandfather’s friend. Returning home after a number of years’ absence, he stopped by for fellowship. After explaining the grandfather’s absence, they invited him in and offered a drink. Just then, the tarts were ready and the guest exclaimed, “Oh, it has been so long since I’ve smelled such wonderful pies!”

The children were trapped. Good manners demanded that they invite their guest to join them. What was meant as a fun game had turned into a potential nightmare! Can you imagine the tension as they sat around the table and passed the tray? As each family member bit into a tart, so did their guest. As fortune would have it, he turned red and started coughing as the Jonah effect took hold.

Once all was calm, the children explained what had happened and braced for a stern lecture. To their great relief, the guest burst out laughing. As he headed out, the good-natured man asked them to tell their grandfather that Mr. Hannibal Hamlin sent regards.

That night, the children greeted their grandfather with the message of his friend’s visit, omitting the details which might earn them a punishment. On subsequent visits, Mr. Hamlin shared their reticence.

Just how momentous the day had been was something the children did not understand until years later. Hannibal Hamlin had indeed been away from home for years, serving as Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president during his first term of office. He was returning from that position, having relinquished the title to Andrew Johnson, who shortly thereafter became president following Lincoln’s assassination.

Since reading that book, the phrase, “Jonah tart” serves as a shorthand in our family. Dozens of other phrases from shared books and movies occupy a similar place. This is by no means the only benefit of having family read-aloud time, but it is one that will linger long after the children are grown.

Shout Out

Human nature leads us to notice when things are wrong more than when they are right. If our throats are sore, our fingers achy or our stomachs disturbed, our bodies get our attention. Yet, when all our parts are working smoothly we must force awareness of that fact. A large part of the system of Jewish prayer does exactly that—reminds us to be grateful that we can stand, see and swallow.

On a larger scale, we take for granted countless blessings. We expect light to come on when we flick a switch and we assume water will pour out when we turn on the faucet. We quickly get irritated if any glitch affects thousands of normally smooth-running parts of our day.

Of course, I am prey to this human tendency as well. Many of my Musings highlight societal, educational and political failure. This week, I want to note three successes. They are not contenders for “success of the year award,” nor are they epic, grandiose or related to each other. However, this group of three represent people and companies doing the right thing, an accomplishment that is all too easy to overlook.

A. We had an ant invasion in our kitchen this week. Like King Solomon, I am a fan of ants in theory (Proverbs 6:6 & 30:24) , but not when they are crawling around my kitchen. A few years ago, when a similar incursion occurred, I searched online and discovered Terro Liquid Ant Baits©. This week, someone beloved to me graciously responded to my cries for help and brought home a well-known name brand ant trap. The ants just loved this product enjoying a feeding frenzy and then performing an ant victory dance on the kitchen counters. On my suggestion, my beloved went back to the store and purchased Terro. Goodbye ants. Problem solved and I gladly pass this tip on to you.

B. Answering the phone, I found a distressed daughter on the other end of the line. Montgomery County, MD, where her son is heading into his senior year at a Jewish religious school, had announced that like public schools, private schools could not open in September. While her son’s school did a stellar job creating online classes this spring, her son had absolutely no desire to continue in that format. As an experienced homeschooling mom, our daughter knew that she could create a satisfactory year for her son, but the hours of effort to do that in addition to everything else on her plate was the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back—at least until she could regroup.

The school, like many other private schools, has already invested thousands of dollars and hours of manpower arranging for extra space, cleaning and procedures so that both staff and students would be safe. Yet, bureaucrats were treating administrators, staff and parents like recalcitrant children who needed to be controlled.

Within an hour Governor Larry Hogan overruled the county’s officials. Here is a shout-out to his leadership and sanity.

C. This week, millions of Americans worked hard, took care of their families and honored their common humanity. Actually, in spite of my earlier words, this success is epic and grandiose.

Let’s hear it for doing the right thing!

 

Fascinated by the wisdom flowing from the Hebrew language?

ON SALE

 Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s LanguageAleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

THOUGHT TOOLS

  • When Noah Met Abraham August 10, 2020 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - I know a lawyer who really wishes that he was a rabbi.  I also know a rabbi who really wishes he was a doctor.  Have you met the plumber who really wishes he was a poet or the bookkeeper who really wishes she was a ballerina?  The lawyer is doing nothing to change his profession… Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • I Need Some Chutzpah! August 11, 2020 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - Hello, I'm one of your grateful students. My name is Roman, want to say thank u for all your work and wisdom. Can u explain notion of Chutzpah and some tips how to develop and improve it. Probably u know some books that have deep explanation of the notion. Thank u a lot. Roman Dear… Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Shout Out August 6, 2020 by Jessica Black - Human nature leads us to notice when things are wrong more than when they are right. If our throats are sore, our fingers achy or our stomachs disturbed, our bodies get our attention. Yet, when all our parts are working smoothly we must force awareness of that fact. A large part of the system of… Read More

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About Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, popular international speaker and best-selling author. He hosts the Rabbi Daniel Lapin podcast as well as co-hosting the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show on the TCT network with his wife, Susan. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner, thus improving peoples’ finances, family and community life  has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.

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