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Take to the Desert

Over the past year, many businesses have been forced to switch directions in order to survive. Restaurant owners stopped prioritizing friendly and competent wait staff in favor of finding efficient web technology and delivery drivers. As more locations required masks, skin care and eye makeup took precedence over lipstick, causing cosmetic companies to revamp their lines. 

Even without the current upheaval, changing direction is a feature of life.  Parents unhappy with their children’s school sometimes move to another neighborhood.  A husband and wife might switch directions to escape the unhealthy rut into which their marriage has fallen. And, of course, countries change leaders in ways that dramatically change the nation’s course. 

Switching directions can destroy or save a floundering firm, a failing family, or a nation. Nevertheless, conceiving of the new path is incredibly difficult and fraught with peril.  Inertia tends to make us think the current way is the only way.  How do we escape these shackles and open up limitless possibilities?

The fourth book of the Torah, opens with these words:

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai…
(Numbers 1:1)

After setting the scene “in the desert of Sinai” the book continues with a detailed census of the Israelites followed by an equally detailed description of how the Israelite campsite must be laid out.

Isn’t it odd that the Children of Israel are to be counted when the Torah records God’s promises to Abraham  (Genesis 15:5 and 22:17)  and to Jacob (Genesis 32:13) that their descendants will be too numerous to count?

Second, why is so much time spent arranging the camp site when, at this point in the narrative, they are heading directly for the Promised Land?  (Numbers 10:29) The decree of spending forty years in the desert hasn’t happened yet.  Why worry about a few weeks of camping details until they reach Israel?  

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals how both the counting and the camp layout were crucial preparations for the permanent settlement of the Land of Israel and the future of the Jewish people.

The Hebrew name for Numbers is Bamidbar, meaning “in the desert.”  However, ancient Jewish wisdom offers a second name for the book, “Sefer haPekudim.” This can translate as “The Book of Numbers,” but Pekudim also means appointments, positions, purposes, or assignments, or the “Book of Assignments.”

It follows that the numbering and positioning in the first two chapters of Bamidbar share a function, namely establishing everyone’s physical position in the community as well as everyone’s purpose or assignment. Switching direction from their earlier lives in slavery was essential if they were to succeed as a nation.

Determining how all the elements in the organization would dovetail is best accomplished in a desert!

In ancient Jewish wisdom a desert does not suggest a physical place like the Sahara, Kalahari or Mojave Deserts. In Hebrew, “midbar” or desert means barren emptiness.  No sight of wildlife, no sounds of birds, nothing growing. Just the people and God. 

This desert is a metaphor for a place of no distractions, no pre-formatted reality, and no life pattern into which the visitor must fit.  It also shares a root with the Hebrew word for “speech.” It is the place open to almost anything and where you can hear yourself and others speak of ideas in a safe environment. It is also the place, where you need to format and organize your plans, just as random words are useless but when gathered together purposefully they possess unlimited power. 

Today, in our busy lives so often in need of realignment, taking time to be alone (without even having any technology within reach) is vitally important. 

In other words, when having to develop a new paradigm for your family or your business, get yourself into a desert.  Strip away all structure and let your imagination soar. It is a ‘place’ increasingly difficult to find in today’s world, and increasingly necessary to access.

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Another Day at the Office

I think many of us expect to be facing tumultuous times. While I am sure there will be a great deal to say, one message I keep repeating to myself is that I cannot control national or world events. I can pray and do what is within my abilities, but I most effectively have power only over myself, and perhaps influence over those closest to me. I can’t let fears of what I cannot do stop me from doing the things that I can do, such as keeping my own house in order.  

In that spirit, I’d like to add a new phrase to the words that I hope you have already banished from your lexicon. One of my husband’s pet peeves is the phrase, “Giving back to society,” when referencing a charitable donation. Giving is wonderful, but giving back implies that you were taking from society all the years you were working hard to earn money. Unless you are a repentant thief, or perhaps a self-serving, venal politician, while you were making your money you were actually contributing to society, not taking from it.. Why should your words suggest that you were involved in a nefarious and immoral activity?

I would like to recommend another sentence to this aggregation of misleading words:  “No one ever said on their deathbed, that they wished they had spent more time at the office.” I have seen this phrase, usually in regard to parents being on hand for their children’s activities.

I am a huge advocate of carving out large quantities of family time, of building community relationships and of devoting volunteer time to various causes. Nonetheless, the above sentiment is unadulterated bilge-water.

Let’s try hearing what it sounds like in another iteration:  “No one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they had spent more time on the sofa.” If you are a couch potato and lazily sink back into your sofa to watch endless hours of movies, that might be a meaningful sentence. But sitting on your sofa is usually not the goal of the action. I spent many hours on my sofa cuddling babies, reading to toddlers or older children, telephoning elderly relatives, and keeping my finances organized. I clocked many more sofa hours with other necessary and worthwhile activities. I might well wish that I did have more hours to spend on my sofa. 

I spend many of my waking hours in the kitchen. Will I, after 120 years*, say that I wish I had spent more time in the kitchen? Not if the focus of my kitchen-time was simply being in a certain room. But will I wish that I had prepared more nutritious meals for my family even if they took a bit more effort? Will I wish that I had prepared more meals than I did for new mothers or families with a hospitalized child? Will I regret not having shared more hours baking with my children and grandchildren? Possibly. Once again, the heart of the matter isn’t the room but what I was doing in it. 

Will anyone feel bad that they didn’t spend more time at the office? Doesn’t that depend on what he or she did there? Will someone actually rue the hours he spent keeping a company going during a difficult time, thus allowing three or thirty or three hundred employees to continue supporting their families in an honorable manner? Why would anyone regret office time that provided  a product or service that benefited one’s fellow human beings as well as providing food and shelter for his or her own family? I can’t think of any respectable man or woman I know who wishes they lived off charity or taxes forcibly taken from their fellow citizens so that they could diminish their hours at work. If anything, the number of people suffering because they have lost the ability to work this past year, even if they are not struggling financially, should remind us of the centrality of work. The important thing is what is taking place in the office, not the location. 

So, yes, it is entirely possible that some of us might wish we had spent more time doing those things that take place on the sofa, in the kitchen, and most definitely at the location of our economic productivity, even if that location is an office. 

* See Genesis 6:3 and Deuteronomy 34:7. A Jewish blessing often given on birthdays is “until 120 years.” (and be ready to see the connection between the two verses as we go Scrolling through Scripture.)

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Come—Even When You Go

The third section of the book of Exodus, starting with Exodus 9 begins with God telling Moses, “Come to Pharaoh.” The obvious question is, why does God say, “come to Pharaoh” instead of “go to Pharaoh”?  Surely, “go to Pharaoh” is what we expect to hear!

The classic answer is that God is telling Moses and all leaders of the Jewish people after him, “You are not alone.  I will be right there in the throne room as you approach, supporting you and guiding you.  I’m not sending you on a mission with the word “go,” I am calling you to come to me as you fulfill this mission. Come— I’ll be there with you; you are never alone.

Sometimes mothers feel the responsibility of parenting until it feels like a burden on our shoulders.  We need to remind ourselves that parenting is also a “Come” mission from God.  He doesn’t send us off to parent on our own, He is right there alongside us.  We know that there are three partners in every child; a father, a mother, and God.  God’s role doesn’t end at birth.  He remains an active partner with us and fortunately, His role in parenting is infinitely more powerful, loving and effective than ours.  God is present as our partner.  The burden is not ours because the mission is  come rather than go. 

There is another aspect here that I want to share with you and it is how we can use this message in raising our children.  There is a world of difference in sending our child to do something as a “go” mission, versus  a “come” mission.  Challenging our children in any way works best as an, “I’m with you,” message rather than a, “go off alone,” message.  I recently heard a great line, “The only direction I can push someone is away from me.” Whether we are encouraging a young child to do something small or asking an older child to stretch beyond their comfort level in a larger way, we too, can learn from God and give a message of “come,” I will be with you as you do this.  You’re not alone.  

Most frequently, when our children know that we support them and are there to help them if needed, they run off independently, and happily do whatever the current challenge is.  Pushing them to go off and do something hard because we think it’s good for them as a push, a “go,” “go on your own,” isn’t nearly as effective as a message of “come”.  The task is still a mission—Moses still had to do something difficult, but he knew he wasn’t alone.  The awareness of constant, unwavering, generous love and support enables all of us to be independent and reach higher.  The message of “come” isn’t one that God only gave to Moses, or to all future Jewish leaders, or just to parents. It’s one that we can internalize and offer to our children as well when we remind them that we are unwaveringly committed to being there with them as they grow.

What’s up with fitness?

I am a Happy Warrior and have listened to your podcasts and read your books for several years. I am curious as to why Fitness was not incorporated in your teachings to the other four F’s (Family, Faith, Friendships and Finances) until rather recently. 

Can you explain?


Pedro A. P., Coral Gables, Florida

Dear Pedro,

You certainly noticed correctly that what we used to term the 4Fs, about two years ago turned into the 5Fs with the addition of (physical) fitness. This actually took place due to reader/listener input and suggestion.

We know that as a stone stays the same but a tree constantly grows, living organisms constantly change, grow and adapt.  In that spirit, we are always trying to improve our own understanding of how the world REALLY works and grow the value of the content we bring to our friends and subscribers.

While we have long been aware that care for our bodies is of concern to the Bible,  we generally set it aside because we possess no special expertise or knowledge in promoting, say, paleo eating over keto or swimming over cycling. Truthfully, while we make efforts to have balanced meals and Susan is committed to her aerobic and strength exercise plan, we both eat more sugar than we probably should and move less than is good for us. 

Whenever we did discuss fitness in past Thought Tools, podcasts, or other teachings, it usually involved the mind/body connection in areas such as placebos as well as the spiritual aspects of eating. We have compared the Greek view of the body to a Biblical view and pointed out that we need both our bodies and our souls to follow God’s guidance for healthy living. 

For instance, the Bible emphasizes how the body is really a vessel for the soul, thus care for the body is also care for the soul.  Caring for the body as an end in itself is discouraged.

One of the foundational principles we explore in Scrolling through Scripture Unit 1 is that the world was created, and continues to exist, on two levels, the physical and the spiritual. (You will be amazed at how this idea leaps off the pages of the Hebrew text.) These levels both intersect with and mirror one another. 

Thanks for your question, Pedro.   After receiving feedback asking us to discuss fitness more, we included it in our free ebook, The Holistic You, and look forward to receiving more questions that we might explore. While we won’t weigh up various fitness programs, we can use the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom to help emphasize the integration of our bodies and our souls and to increase understanding of how caring for the body fits into the complete integrated picture of life.

Wishing you a ‘Happy Warrior’ day,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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  • Take to the Desert January 25, 2021 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - Over the past year, many businesses have been forced to switch directions in order to survive. Restaurant owners stopped prioritizing friendly and competent wait staff in favor of finding efficient web technology and delivery drivers. As more locations required masks, skin care and eye makeup took precedence over lipstick, causing cosmetic companies to revamp their… Read More


  • What’s up with fitness? January 20, 2021 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - I am a Happy Warrior and have listened to your podcasts and read your books for several years. I am curious as to why Fitness was not incorporated in your teachings to the other four F's (Family, Faith, Friendships and Finances) until rather recently. Can you explain?Respectfully,Pedro A. P., Coral Gables, Florida Dear Pedro, You certainly… Read More


  • Another Day at the Office January 21, 2021 by Susan Lapin - I think many of us expect to be facing tumultuous times. While I am sure there will be a great deal to say, one message I keep repeating to myself is that I cannot control national or world events. I can pray and do what is within my abilities, but I most effectively have power… Read More


  • A COVID Plus for Thanksgiving November 24, 2020 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - The COVID virus and the response to the COVID virus have both resulted in much sorrow and difficulty. But, they have also led to some positive responses. For years, we have been dismayed as more and more stores open on Thanksgiving, switching the focus of the day to shopping.  While people will still be shopping… 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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