Yearly Archives: 2012

The Snake that Roared

December 25th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Ever found yourself frustrated by endless conversation while you knew that time for critical action was passing?  You need the roadmap to transformation.

Genesis chapter 46 enumerates Jacob’s children and grandchildren by name, arriving at a total of seventy souls who came to Egypt.  All is as expected until we arrive at Jacob’s fifth son, Dan.

Dan’s sons: Chushim.
(Genesis 46:23)

That’s right, Dan’s “sons” suggests a plural, yet there is only one—Chushim.  Strangely, his name ends in the manner that masculine plural nouns end in Hebrew—IM.  So yeladIM means boys; sefarIM means books, and susIM means horses.  Though Dan only has one son, ChushIM, there is a hint in the ending of his name that he is actually plural—two people.

We see one additional hint at a duality in the tribe of Dan:

When blessing his sons, Jacob compares Dan to a snake:

Dan will be a serpent on the highway, a viper by the path…
(Genesis 49:17)

By the end of Deuteronomy, Moses compares Dan to a lion:

…Dan is a lion cub…
(Deuteronomy 33:22)

From snake to lion is quite a leap.  It certainly seems that Dan has undergone major transformation in the few centuries separating the two verses.  In fact he is assigned a prestigious and protective post north of the Tabernacle during the desert journey. (Numbers 2:25)

What started this transformation? Ancient Jewish wisdom describes a rather strange story. When Jacob’s sons arrived at the cave to bury their father (Genesis 50:13), their Uncle Esau confronted them saying, “That burial plot belongs to me.”  The stunned sons reminded Esau that he sold his inheritance to Jacob, but he refused to give ground. They then dispatched Naftali to Egypt to fetch the contract to prove that the plot indeed belonged to Jacob. Meanwhile they waited.

Chushim, the son of Dan was deaf and did not hear the entire discussion.   When he asked, “What’s the delay?” his uncles explained how Esau was holding up the burial. This outraged Chushim. “Must my grandfather lie in disgrace until Naftali returns?” he yelled.  He immediately killed Esau.

What caused Chushim to have such an instantaneous and strong reaction?

Lengthy conversation and negotiation can have a numbing effect.  It can gradually erode the certainty of one’s position.  One begins to “understand” the other side.  Think of how many today have begun to “understand” those who would destroy Israel.

By contrast, the deaf Chushim who heard none of the interaction with Esau knew only that, “Grandpa lies in disgrace.”  He recognized Esau’s intent for what it truly was—a desire to remove Jacob and his descendants from continuing the heritage of Abraham and Isaac.  The delay was for the sole purpose of demeaning Grandfather Jacob rather than a valid confusion over a contract.

We are certainly not meant to model our behavior exactly on that of Chushim. However, those of us with ambition to improve our lives can learn from him. Sometimes we need to transform ourselves radically from snakes to lions as it were.  Such transformation is best brought about through action rather than talking, arguing, organizing or coordinating.  Often we can get ourselves out of the rut by a convulsive leap rather than by endlessly discussing detailed drawings and descriptions of the obstacles in our path.  Chushim really was two people—Chushim the First before transformation and Chushim the Second thereafter.

We are intended to use everything in Scripture to help improve every aspect of our lives.  We are to improve our relationships with people, with God, and with our property.  We are to improve our health, our moods, and our usage of time.  One of the most effective resources that we make available is our two-volume Thought Tool Set.  On sale for only $15 for both books right now, the set contains over one hundred inspiring and motivating tips, tools, and techniques for life improvement and personal transformation, and can help you and those you love.  Reading, contemplating and talking about these essays will help you know when the time to talk is past and action is needed. Act now by clicking here for more information.


This week’s Susan’s Musings: Merry Christmas – No Reciprocity Required

“Have a joyous Christmas.”

“Thank you and Happy Chanuka. Well, I guess that’s over now but I hope it was happy, I mean…”

I’ve had a few awkward conversations such as this one over the past few days. In my daily life I regularly interact with Christians. From the woman who leads the exercise class I attend to the checker at the local supermarket wearing a reindeer pin, many around me are celebrating a special, religious occasion.

They often know that I am not. For some reason that leaves them tongue-tied…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here

Why does God sometimes address His words to Jacob and then to Israel even in the same verse of Scripture? I’m thinking about Isaiah 43:1.

Kathleen G.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE

Merry Christmas – No Reciprocity Required

December 25th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 7 comments

“Have a joyous Christmas.”

“Thank you and Happy Chanuka. Well, I guess that’s over now but I hope it was happy, I mean…”

I’ve had a few awkward conversations such as this one over the past few days. In my daily life I regularly interact with Christians. From the woman who leads the exercise class I attend to the checker at the local supermarket wearing a reindeer pin, many around me are celebrating a special, religious occasion.

They often know that I am not. For some reason that leaves them tongue-tied when I offer timely greetings. If you think about it, that makes little sense. When the coffee barista knows that it is my birthday because I am using my “free happy birthday” card, she wishes me good tidings on that day. I feel no compunction to say back, “and a happy birthday to you too.” That would be rather ridiculous.

When the postal employee who has been out on maternity leave returns to work and I offer congratulations, she doesn’t respond with, “Congratulations to you as well.” Since my ‘baby’ just got married, that would be rather disconcerting.

Yet, when I wish a merry Christmas to so many who know I am Jewish, they often have trouble simply saying, “Thank you.” I understand this. Our culture has drummed into the minds of too many that equality is all that matters, even at the price of common sense.

Christmas is a federal, legal holiday in the United States because our founders were Christian. If, as a nation, we continue on the current path it is conceivable that the move to revoke its special status will gather steam. Just as I see the increasing number of store openings on Christmas day as a troubling sign, I would view that as a sad and ominous portent.

I hope my Christian readers had a truly uplifting day, and please know that my Jewishness is in no way threatened by your celebration. I expect the real threat to the freedom to observe my own traditions to come when and if Christian culture ceases to influence the United States. 


I’m Scared

December 18th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

“Leave the light on please,” says the child, “I’m scared of the dark.”  Perhaps the most common emotion expressed by little children is fear.  Long before they become comfortable articulating emotions like happiness, excitement, and sadness, small children speak of fear.

Though we speak of it less as we grow up, we feel it just as acutely.  Just ask the adult who has been invited to give a speech before a large gathering.  People fear starting a conversation with strangers, harmless insects and all sorts of other things.

To be sure, there is healthy fear that keeps us from doing dumb and dangerous things, but what about the fears we have for harmless things?  Or for those things that may truly be threatening, but which we are capable of overcoming? It is worthwhile defeating fears that hold us back.  Though about 10,000 books on dealing with fears and phobias have been published, I find that I need only one.

Let’s glance at Deuteronomy, the book that records Moses’ final speech as he attempts to strengthen Israel and help them surmount their own fears about conquering the Promised Land.

The first verse of Deuteronomy provides geographic coordinates describing where this major address took place.

These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan…(Deuteronomy 1:1)

Verses 2 and 3 then provide time coordinates, describing exactly when this happened.

…and it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month…
(Deuteronomy 1:2-3)

And in a perfectly logical sequel, the fifth verse reads:

On this side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses began to explain this Torah, saying.
(Deuteronomy 1:5)

However, verse 4 interrupts the narrative in a most perplexing way:

After he killed Sichon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived at Ashtaroth Edrei.
(Deuteronomy 1:4)

Huh?  Moses vanquished many enemies during the previous forty years.  Why mention just these two obscure rascals, Sichon and Og?

Sichon and Og are described as giants.  Scripture uses seven nouns to name giants: refaim, eymim, giborim, zamzumim, anakim, avim and nefilim.  We are meant to notice they are heavily concentrated in the book of Deuteronomy.  Though briefly mentioned in some other books like Genesis and Joshua, no book of the Bible contains the same number of references to giants as the book of Deuteronomy.

These are not massive men of grotesque proportions such as we imagine Goliath to have been. While Goliath stood over six cubits tall, none of these terms for giant is used in describing his life and death in I Samuel 17. The words for giant refer Biblically to those people, phenomena and circumstances that scare us, though with fortitude we could dispatch them.  Sichon and Og were formidable foes mainly on account of our own faintheartedness.

In order to strengthen Israel for the forthcoming challenges they will face without him, and for those that still exist until the present time, Moses reviews the encounters with the seven giants on the road from Sinai to the River Jordan.  Here is one example:

Where can we go? Our brothers discouraged us saying, ‘The people are bigger and taller than us; the cities are great and fortified to heaven; and furthermore we saw the sons of the Anakim there.’  Then I said to you, ‘Fear not; don’t be afraid of them.’
(Deuteronomy 1:28-29)

In this fifth book of the Torah, Moses teaches the three steps for dealing with fears.

  • He lists all the frightening phenomena.
  • He characterizes each one with the appropriate term.
  • He proves their vulnerability by mentioning that he himself slew Sichon and Og.

Moses’ three steps serve us all well.  Identify paralyzing fears.  Analyze what about them frightens.  Recognize their vulnerability to action and proceed to act.

For the procrastinators among us, our best-selling books Thou Shall Prosper and Buried Treasure remain on sale for a few more days. As an added bonus, instantly download our audio CD, Let Me Go at half price. Get a jump-start for 2013 and begin overcoming your fears with this unique resource.

We wish all our Christian readers a joyous and uplifting Christmas.


This week’s Susan’s Musings: Do Something

I can truly understand the cries of those calling for greater gun control after the horrific elementary school shooting last week. Faced with so much pain, there is a natural desire to do something to ensure that such an incident can never happen again.

The impulse is a good one; unfortunately,…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here

I understand that there is provision made in one of the Jewish feasts to be forgiven and released from any foolish promise that has been made. Is this only for man to man or does it also pertain to any foolish promise(s) made to God?

Thank you for your consideration of this question.

Sara S.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE

Do Something

December 18th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 10 comments

I can truly understand the cries of those calling for greater gun control after the horrific elementary school shooting last week. Faced with so much pain, there is a natural desire to do something to ensure that such an incident can never happen again.

The impulse is a good one; unfortunately, on a large scale, emotional reactions aren’t well suited to being effective. The clarion call, “Do something” frequently leads to implementation of policies whose consequence are quite different from what was intended. Other times it leads to a vast waste of resources that are now no longer available for other important purposes. (For an example of this phenomenon, see New York Times columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof’s article revealing how some expensive programs meant to help poor children are instead harming them.)


The Real Safety Net

December 11th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

What do high tax rates, entitlement programs and a dinner in
honor of my nine-year-old grandson have to do with each other? It turns out, quite
a lot.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s
house. A siyum marks the conclusion
of learning a specific portion of God’s word. (For a deeper understanding of a siyum see chapter 50 in Thought Tools 2008.)
In this case, our grandson, Yosef, completed his very first section of the Mishnah—a compilation of ancient Jewish
wisdom. Learning Mishnah marks a growth in maturity of thought and is a portal
to deeper understanding. To mark the event, Yosef’s parents invited his teacher
to a celebratory dinner.

What made this event particularly special is that we have
known Yosef’s teacher since he was born. We met his parents when, as singles,
they began attending my husband’s Torah classes. We rejoiced at their wedding;
our families have shared many joyous and some sad times together as the
teacher/student relationship evolved into one of close friendship. When our
children were looking for a Torah teacher for Yosef, our friends’ oldest child
was a natural choice.

When society functions successfully, this is how life works.
People get to know, care for and trust each other. They interact in small
family units, extended units of family and friends, and larger units like
synagogue, church or business networks. When times are good they share Fourth
of July barbecues, pick up groceries for each other and exchange recipes and
books.  In a time of need, such as
illness, losing a job or a natural disaster like a hurricane, they support each
other, providing not only physical assistance but also loving comfort.

Inevitably, as government grows bigger, family and
friendship ties shrink. The more an impersonal government provides, the less
people rely on each other. The less people rely on each other, the more they
generally need government support.  As
taxes increase to provide more necessities and entitlements it forces more
people to work longer hours, leaving them less time for strengthening ties to family
and friends. When government is the first resource rather than the last one, forming
relationships becomes optional and temporary. “What can you do for me”
associations replace the traditional connections that are a vital, necessary
part of successful living.

In the final analysis, the government cannot supply love,
affection, compassion or charity. It can provide money and services, but not
heart. It can label you as needy but not recognize and encourage the sparks of
your soul that turn you into a giver rather than a taker.  It can fool you into thinking that you are
self-sufficient, while stopping you from forming networks of community and recognizing
that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Current society is
increasingly devolving so that people relate more to the government than to
each other.  The sad results are poorer
and more bitter lives. 

Yosef’s teacher and his wife brought their newborn daughter
to the siyum. Since my husband’s late
parents were also part of the web of connection with our students and friends,
four generations were spiritually present at the celebration. That kind of
safety net cannot be equaled no matter how many billions of dollars a
government spends.  


Fire Up the Blender

December 11th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Successful living often involves blending two incompatibles.  For instance, raising great children means parenting with the perfect mix of tough, firm discipline and gentle, yielding compassion.  In running a business, entrepreneurs must exquisitely blend ‘the customer is always right’ with ‘some customers are not worth having.’  In courting, smart men and women combine ‘you’re the only one for me’ with recognizing that until the wedding, other options do exist.

Living without this ability to combine opposites is seldom successful.  Such parents run the risk of creating either brats or brutes. Such a suitor can endlessly submit to an excessively demanding and unsuitable marriage partner.  Such a storekeeper ends up with a collection of customers who spend very little and complain a great deal or with no customers at all.

Chanukah, whose fourth day is today, emphasizes one of the most crucial of these blends—that between body and soul, between living in the physical world and also in the spiritual one.

In ancient Jewish wisdom Greek culture represents a materialistic view of reality and is viewed as the source for a physical world view in which only those things that can be seen and touched have value.

One might suppose that the opposing view is that only spirituality matters.  However that is not correct.  God gave Israel one of the great secrets of life – the importance of striking a balance between physical and spiritual and between body and soul.  The tension between the world views of Israel and Greece is the central theme of Chanukah.  How one feels about whether we live only in a materialistic world or whether we live in a world of both physical and spiritual will greatly influence the decisions we make in running our lives. For that reason, understanding the Greece/Israel tension is vital for successful living.

The Torah term for Greece is Yavan.  It appears many times throughout Scripture and always hints at a mistaken materialistic view of reality. It is first found early in the tenth chapter of Genesis.  The word looks like this: The word’s graphical appearance, three vertical columns of different lengths, suggests the famous columns that are the most enduring relic of ancient Greece.  What is more, if one slightly varies the pronunciation of the three letters that comprise the Hebrew word YaVaN, what emerges is ION, the origin of Ionia, the ancient name for Greece.

The word Zion captures the idealistic vision of God’s plan and purpose for us.

…for from Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.(Isaiah 2:3)

The word Zion looks like this:

It is created by placing the letter Tsadi in front of the Hebrew word for Greece, YaVaN.

All Hebrew letters have meanings and that of Tsadi is a saintly human being.  Putting all this together reveals that the idealistic vision of Zion depends upon blending the spiritual saintliness of the Tsadi with the worldliness of Yavan.

While it is true that in the afterlife we shall be involved only in the spiritual, in this world, God intends us to live successful lives blending together the physical and the spiritual.  We reflect this ideal on Chanukah by kindling our menorahs, creating a special light whose purpose is to shine as a beacon, blending physical and spiritual.  That is what scientists mean by the duality of light.  Light can best be understood as a mind-boggling blend of physical particles and spiritual information in waves.

When I light my menorah tonight in the company of my wife and children I will reflect in gratitude to God for His wisdom. We have an abundance of sales going on right now giving you the opportunity to bring more of God’s wisdom into your homes. Our best-selling books Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money and Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language remain on sale for a short while longer. As an added Chanukah bonus, our audio CD Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life can be downloaded instantly at more than 50% savings (or get it by mail for only a bit more). Buy now and help yourself, those you gift and us—it’s a win/win.


This week’s Susan’s Musings: The Real Safety Net

What do high tax rates, entitlement programs and a dinner in honor of my nine-year-old grandson have to do with each other? It turns out, quite a lot.

My husband and I were privileged to attend a siyum at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. A siyum marks…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here

In your recent Thought Tool, you site how in Genesis 29, two words are used, GeDoLah and KeTaNah, (older and younger) and discuss how important it is to be responsible for your actions. You conclude, “Accepting responsibility puts us on the path to greatness”.

Given the opposite behavior in our highest political leaders – I have some serious doubt that this piece of advice really applies to the truly powerful in America in this decadent age. Perhaps in the afterlife these powerful prevaricators will get their just rewards, but on earth – this tactic of blaming others seems quite effective. How do you explain the success of those who successfully hold on to high office in the land and apparently prosper by blaming others?

Alan L.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE

Zig Ziglar: A Truly Great Man

December 4th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

I found two text messages on my phone after my exercise
class last Wednesday. The first, from my daughter in nursing school, told me
that she had assisted in a birth for the very first time. Even the sterile
method of communication couldn’t conceal her excitement. The second was from my
husband, telling me that our dear friend, Zig Ziglar, had passed away. Even the
sterile method of communication couldn’t mask his grief.

We had heard of Zig long before we met him.  As one of America’s earliest motivational
speakers, Zig’s books, tapes, CDs, videos and personal appearances, have helped
and continue to help millions of people worldwide, prosper. His cheerfulness, faith,
humor and above all optimism, burst forward from his publications.

Yet, when you know a person’s public life, you don’t
necessarily know whether what is visible is a facade or who the person truly
is. So, when my husband called to say that he and Zig were speaking on the same
program in Seattle and that Zig would be joining us for dinner, my children and
I were elated. We quickly sprang into “guest coming” mode, including trying out
a new recipe, which until today is known in our family as “Zig Ziglar
cheesecake”. That night, we loved it almost as much as we loved our guest.

Over the years, the better acquainted we became with Zig,
his wife Jean and two of his children, Tom and Julie, the more our admiration
and affection grew. When Zig entered a room, the world was a brighter place.

Seattle NY Aliyah Summer 2008 002


In the last few years, after a serious fall, Zig had trouble
with his short-term memory. At first, he recognized my husband; the last time
we visited Zig and Jean, the glimpses of recognition came and went. Yet, his
charm and courtliness never wavered. There is a phrase of praise in Jewish
tradition, ‘tocho k’varo,’ that means that one’s inside mirrors his outside.
When Zig could no longer “present himself” at his best, as all of us try to do
when we know others are looking, there was absolutely no change in his
demeanor. He continued to be dignified, sunny and personable and, most of all,
to beam adoration at his life partner. Zig repeatedly told my husband that the
two of them shared a common bond; in Zig’s words, they both married up. Jean
and Zig, who celebrated their 66th anniversary the Monday before he
died, were a team and right now, as happened when he frequently travelled
during their marriage, they are in different physical locations. Nonetheless,
their spirits are still united. For those of us whose days were made richer
by Zig’s presence, we can only do our best to keep his wisdom and gifts alive
in our world as well.




Speech! Speech!

December 4th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Five years ago, in a dazzling speech at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, Steve Jobs introduced his iPhone with these words, “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything…”

On June 4th, 1940, Winston Churchill gave a speech warning of a possible Nazi invasion.  This was its climax:

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Just over 3,300 years ago, Moses concluded a 36-day long speech to Israel with these words:

I’m 120 years old today and can no longer go out and come in for the Lord has said to me, ‘You will not cross this Jordan.’ The Lord your God will cross before you; he will destroy these nations from before you and you shall inherit them. Joshua, he will cross over before you as the Lord has spoken.
(Deuteronomy 31:2-3)

Do you think it would have been as effective had Steve Jobs sent everyone an email about the new iPhone?  Within a week of its release, Apple sold about a million iPhones; by the end of 2007 about ten million, and to date about 85 million.  Without Steve Jobs’ iconic speeches, would those sales figures have been achieved?

In 1940, some of England’s leaders, men like Lord Halifax, considered the attempt to defeat Hitler to be hopeless.  Their call to cut a deal with Hitler was especially persuasive after France unexpectedly fell to the Germans and the British Expeditionary Force was ignominiously rescued from the beach of Dunkirk.  Over three hundred thousand soldiers were saved from annihilation by a heroic fleet of small boats, arriving back in England early June 4th.  It is hard to imagine England recovering its nerve and its determination to fight had Churchill urged England never to surrender in a newspaper column.  Instead he mesmerized the nation with his speech that afternoon.

Just before his impending death, Moses handed to Joshua the leadership of Israel on the eve of their most formidable challenge—defeating barbaric tribes and conquering the Promised Land.  The spies had earlier demoralized the Children of Israel with terrifying accounts of the land’s impregnability and what is more the people were anxious about a future without the man who had guided them for over forty years. Yet, after Moses’ speech the Torah concludes by informing us that the Children of Israel listened to Joshua as Moses had directed. (Deuteronomy 34:9)  Without this monumental speech by Moses, could the leadership transition and the subsequent inheritance of the Land have occurred?

The Torah is more about actions than beliefs.  For instance, it tells us to love the Lord our God rather than to believe in Him. (Deuteronomy 6:5).  It focuses on walking, sacrificing, and eating rather than on thinking, theorizing, and speculating.  Which action verb does the Torah mention more than any other?  Words for say, speak, or talk appear nearly five times more frequently than any other verbs.

Speeches can transform our destiny.  We hold enormous power in our speeches.  When your spouse agreed to marry you, it was probably after one of your best speeches.  When you got your favorite job or scored your biggest sale it was after another of your effective speeches.  When you influenced friends or persuaded someone towards your point of view, you were employing your power of speech.

Is your power of speech as effective as it could be? Presenting yourself successfully through speech is a theme that runs through almost all the resources we offer. In my book, Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money, I explain why speaking from notes harms communication and teach you how to speak without them. Moses, Churchill and Jobs certainly didn’t read their speeches. Find out more about this tip, as well as additional ones vital for improving your financial situation, while taking advantage of the book’s lowest sale price ever. Alone, or as part of our Income Abundance Set, it makes a thoughtful and long-lasting gift for those you love, as a road-map to a transformed financial future.


This week’s Susan’s Musings: Zig Ziglar: A Truly Great Man

I found two text messages on my phone after my exercise class last Wednesday. The first, from our daughter in nursing school, told me that she had assisted in a birth for the very first time. Even the sterile method of communication couldn’t conceal her excitement.

The second was from my husband, telling me that our dear friend, Zig Ziglar, had passed away. Even the sterile method of communication couldn’t mask his grief…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here

I’m a doctoral candidate in a Philosophy of Theology program writing a dissertation. I’m attempting to answer the question, “What is the biblical concept of community?” More than understanding its historical expression, I am seeking to show how its value is critical to humanity in contemporary culture. What insights are found Torah for defining and living in community? Thank you for your contribution into my life through Thought Tools.

Roderick L.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE

Not My Fault!

November 27th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

On June 4, 1944, recognizing how easily D-Day could fail, Gen. Eisenhower prepared the following:

“Our landings…have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold… The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

As a family member or business professional, learning to accept responsibility is profoundly valuable.  Learn to say, “I messed up and I accept all consequences.” The character strength needed for this is increasingly rare and we need to acquire it ourselves before we can hope to influence others.

Hebrew reveals one aspect of owning one’s actions. Referring to Leah and Rachel’s sibling relationship in Genesis 29, two words are used, GDoLah and K’TaNah, older and younger. Earlier, when Lot and his daughters flee the destruction of Sodom, we encountered two other words BeCHiRah – firstborn, and TZeiRah – younger (19:31).

In chapter 19 we find a clustering of the root letters T-Z-R.  Lot escapes to the city of TZoaR whose name occurs six times in this chapter. The associated word TZeiRah — younger— appears four times.  In just these few verses, the T-Z-R root is used ten times; more than in the rest of Genesis all together.  Word clustering is one of the ways that ancient Jewish wisdom unpacks Scripture’s deeper meaning.

The word root T-Z-R means narrow and confined.  These letters, for example, form the basis of the name miTZRayim—Egypt, Biblical nomenclature for a place that confines and restricts one.  What was restricting about Lot’s city of refuge, TZoaR? A refuge from any kind of stress is by its nature somewhat confining.  Anyone made homeless by financial mishap or family misfortune and who becomes dependent on others recognizes the limitations of refuge.

What is the connection with a younger child? Inevitably, being the younger is a somewhat restricting role.  Younger children by definition come into a family that has been shaped by the presence of the older child. They feel their older sibling’s power advantage.  Similarly, the younger or junior partner is usually at a slight disadvantage in any negotiation.

None of this implies that younger siblings or partners can’t rise above their circumstances and of course, those seeking refuge can and often do exceed those who initially have a home advantage. Many ambitious immigrants eventually outperform long-established citizens.

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Rachel took an active role by stage-managing Leah’s marriage to Jacob. Knowing his future father-in-law to be a rogue, Jacob had pre-arranged signs by which Rachel would assure him that she, and not a substitute, was under the wedding canopy. Rather than allow her sister to be embarrassed as the subterfuge was uncovered, Rachel passed these signs on to Leah.  Rachel’s compassion for her sister as well as her transcendent understanding that Leah was destined to be a matriarch in Israel, overrode her personal desire to marry the man she loved. Possessing such noble leadership qualities made it inappropriate to call her a TZeiRah.

By contrast, Lot’s younger daughter instantly agrees to her older sister’s questionable suggestion. She unhesitatingly submits to her sister rather than taking charge of her own actions.  She acts as one who is limited and confined, a follower rather than an independent spirit.

We all start life as a T-Z-R. We are restricted by finding ourselves born into a specific body, family, place and time.  Yet, our souls can always soar. Each of us has the choice to be like Lot’s younger daughter or like Rachel. We can point to our circumstances and say, “There’s nothing I can do to improve my situation,” or we can turn our liabilities into assets and focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Accepting responsibility puts us on the path to greatness.

As this example shows, each Hebrew word reveals practical life lessons. We are thrilled to offer a special holiday sale on our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language. Available in hardcover or as an eBook, the updated second edition includes one completely new chapter. Explore powerful Divine truths that empower you and those you love to live a more fulfilling and prosperous life.


This week’s Susan’s Musings: Stitch by Stitch

Quilting is not in my blood. I possess no antique quilts handed down through the generations nor do I have fond memories of my mother and aunts socializing as they pieced together a quilt top. Nonetheless, I have been hanging out in the fabric store, reading quilting magazines and dreaming about quilt patterns.

My interest was piqued…

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here

Genesis 6:1-5 is such a controversial passage at our house that pacifists have learned not to bring that subject up. 🙂 Can you shed any light on what this passage means? Thank you!

Hannah H.

Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s  ANSWER HERE

Choose Life

November 20th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 8 comments

I am driving my husband crazy. This is not, as
you might think
, because he returned home to an organized study. He is
gracious enough to concede that he loves the way his study looks and will be
able to work more efficiently than before. No, it is because I am not keeping
quiet while he listens to the radio.

Yesterday, we heard a respected news commentator announce
that both Israel and Hamas were being intransigent in their demands. At that
point, I began a tirade that went something like this: “I can’t believe he said
that. Israel is intransigent that Hamas stop firing thousands of rockets aimed
at kindergartens and hospitals and Hamas is intransigent that it be allowed to
massacre all Jews. And he says it as if the two sides are equivalent.” It is
possible that I carried on a wee bit longer, repeating the concept in a variety
of ways. Meanwhile, my poor husband was not able to hear any more of the radio

Israel is not perfect. Her government sometimes behaves
wrongly. Her citizens, like the citizens of America and other countries, run
the gamut from holy to reprehensible. That data is irrelevant. I did not
originate the following idea, but it is true. If Hamas, Hezbollah, and other militant
Islamists put down their weapons there would be peace in the Middle East. If
Israel puts down its weapons there will be a massacre. That is the only reality
that counts. Israeli schools do not inculcate hatred of Moslems, while
Palestinian schools teach math through problems such as, “If there are seven
Jews and I kill four, how many are left?” Unlike TV in Egypt and other Moslem
countries, Israeli children’s TV does not advocate murder of those who follow a
different religion.  Unless a cease-fire
changes core teachings such as these, the idea of peace is a hopeless chimera.

God holds Israel and the Jewish people to a higher standard
than He holds any other lands or people. That is both a privilege and a
terrifying truth. I believe that the blessings and curses that He pledges in Deuteronomy
for following or abandoning His ways, explain Jewish history to the present day.
The children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob need to combine prayer and repentance with
pragmatic and practical strategies.  

Yet, even when Israel deserves chastisement, each nation and
person (Jew and non-Jew) has the free choice whether to join those who protect
or those who attempt to destroy the Jewish people. Each nation and person will be
held accountable for the choices made, as nations and people have for thousands
of years.

I am not really driving my husband crazy. We are both
desolate at seeing so much of humanity, in the Middle East and around the world,
choose evil over good and death over life. We are despondent at the moral
equivalence that is prevalent in the world today that equates murder with
self-defense or destruction with productivity. Yet we are also hopeful, knowing
that millions in Israel, America and around the world are committed to fighting
darkness and praying to merit light.

The American Alliance of Jews and Christians (AAJC) wants to
support Israel’s soldiers, many of whom are reservists called away from home
and business. If you would like to participate, all donations made to AAJC through
Saturday night will be sent to provide much appreciated packages and supplies
for these men and women. (After that time, enter the word “Israeli soldiers” on
the ‘organization’ line to have funds targeted for this campaign).


Pray for the
peace of Jerusalem, those who love you shall prosper.

May there be
peace within your walls
and serenity within your citadels.
Psalms 122



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