Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

A Holiday for Optimists

November 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

In pre-COVID days when I spoke to large audiences, I enjoyed asking groups to raise their hands if they were sales professionals.  Usually, only a few hands went up.  I then asked, “How many of you are justices of the United States Supreme Court?”  After the chuckles subsided, I asked, “How many of you are tenured university professors?”  Finally, I would say, “Look, if you’re not a judge appointed for life, and you’re not a professor hired for life, you are probably in sales.

At the very least, you must constantly sell your employer on the idea that you are worth keeping on the payroll.

Selling means helping others see things from a new perspective. Whether you are a dentist or a lawyer, whether you are a bookkeeper, a bartender, or a ballerina, you are in sales.  To a large extent, your success is as dependent upon your selling ability as it is upon your basic skill.  If you have a job or are looking for a job, you are in sales.  If you are a teacher, a pastor or a preacher, you are in sales.  And if you are seeking a spouse you are in sales. In other words, in any number of areas of our lives we are all in sales—perhaps even that Supreme Court Justice is.

Fortunately, ancient Jewish wisdom can help hone your selling ability. Not only can it help, but the prescription doesn’t include spending tens of thousands of dollars on tuition or demand that you have relatives or friends to pave your way. As the famous MetLife study brilliantly conducted by Martin Seligman and many other subsequent studies strongly suggest,  optimism is a prerequisite to being successful in sales.  But how do you become a more optimistic person?

To answer that question, let’s look at a perplexing piece of Scripture. We first meet Moses as a baby, then we follow him as he matures and seeks out his suffering brethren. We track his escape to the land of Midian where he rescues Jethro’s daughters and becomes a shepherd. We delight as God appears to him and sets him on his life-mission.

Surely Moses must have been confused when, at the very beginning of the plagues that will culminate in the Israelites leaving Egypt,  God instructs him to take a back seat and instruct Aaron to turn the Nile River into blood.  (Exodus 7:19)

Isn’t Moses to be God’s messenger to Pharaoh? Why does God assign Aaron to bring the plague of blood?

“Gratitude,” answers  ancient Jewish wisdom.  The Nile carried Moses to safety as an infant.  It would show ingratitude to turn that life-saving  water into a lifeless stream of blood.

Excuse me? This is a river we’re talking about. Can a river feel shunned? No. That is the entire point!  Expressing gratitude does allow those who helped us to feel our appreciation. But it benefits the speaker as much—or more— than the recipient.  Among other things, expressing gratitude dramatically increases one’s optimism level.

An article published this year in a National Institute of Health journal noting the correlation between optimism and gratitude stated, “Thus, optimistic people experience more gratitude, which could give more sense to their lives and, in turn, enhance life satisfaction.”

The researchers have the equation back to front. It is not that optimistic people experience more gratitude, it is that grateful people experience more optimism. Working on “being optimistic” is difficult to pin down. But it is simple and clear-cut to work on “being grateful.” Whether you start a gratitude journal or challenge yourself to express gratitude aloud, to God, to each person with whom you interact, or to your nation on a daily basis, there is no more effective way to induce the happy sensation of optimism and hope in our souls than finding opportunities to say, “Thank you!”

Rather than focusing on the deprivation and great losses of the preceding year, the early Pilgrims counted their blessings and gave thanks. Not surprisingly, they embedded in America a sense of boundless optimism. It is no surprise that as their descendants become ungrateful “it’s owed to me” citizens, they are increasingly pessimistic and unhappy.

Wishing all of us a Thanksgiving of first principles, where we remind ourselves multiple times a day of the many things in our lives for which we are grateful.

Did you know that Chanuka is a holiday for “praise and gratitude”?
Its timeless messages are for all humanity.
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Be Holy

November 2nd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 3 comments

Tomorrow is Election Day. But, even if the results are known on Wednesday, the fight for America’s culture will continue—no matter which party wins. Each one of us is busy on so many fronts: family, earning a living, synagogue or church, and our many daily tasks. However, it is a deadly mistake to pay attention only when elections roll around. Swelling secular sentiment imperils us all because beliefs have consequences.  The consequences of a changing culture occur as people act upon their beliefs.

Powerful ideas can be false and lead to great evil. When enough people believe in a powerful idea, subsequent social and political trends march in step with that idea.  It was a political genius who thought up the idea of advancing homosexuality by labeling as hateful and intolerant everyone who considered it sinful.  When caring about babies in-utero is classified as “hating women,” reasonable discourse is over.

Change people’s hearts and you change the way they vote. One of my regular radio mantras is, “Politics is nothing other than the practical application of people’s most deeply held beliefs.”  Secularism uses emotionally charged words and slogans to promote itself. Even if you are not religious yourself, you should be very scared of a secularized culture.

The American poet, T. S. Eliot who won the Nobel literature prize in 1948, put it this way during a speech at Oxford University in 1939.

As political philosophy derives its sanction from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality.

Belief in secularism leads inevitably to results that contradict reality.  Often, good people don’t foresee the calamitous consequences of secularist policies.  One way to clarify where one best fits is to ask oneself which of the following two choices in each of the three sets comes closest to how one feels.

A)

  • Humans arrived on the planet by a process of unaided, materialistic evolution.  It follows that humans are no more than sophisticated animals.
  • God created us in His image and placed us here. Humans are unique creatures touched by the finger of God.

B)

  • There is no outside source of wisdom and truth. People should look into their own hearts for moral guidance.
  • People are born knowing no more about morality than about calculus.  Most of us are born with an appetite for evil, and we find good by knowing God, loving Him and obeying His Word.

C)

  • The ‘g’ of government is nearly always good while business is nearly always bad.  Without government regulation, business would run amok. Driven by greed, business relentlessly exploits employees, customers, and the environment.   
  • The ‘G’ of God is always good. Business is about serving customers and customer service is related to worship service because serving His children is closely related to serving Him.  Business has less potential to tyrannize than government because you can choose not to give your money to a business.

As these three examples of secular belief, and many others, have become more and more accepted they have significantly changed the way we lead our lives.  Yes, beliefs do have consequences and in these examples, not for the better.

Take the first belief, that humans are really nothing more than sophisticated and evolved chimpanzees.  It follows from this that like all other animals, humans are also incapable of true creativity.  If I seize a banana, there is naturally one less banana available for you.  If I work hard and achieve something and you don’t, it can only be because systemic problems kept you from getting your bananas. The zookeeper must supervise the distribution of bananas among all the primates.  Thus, redistribution of positions and complete economic equality become ultimate values.  Have you noticed how ‘accomplished’ and ‘rich’ have become pejoratives in America?

The second belief is that nobody—except today’s elites—may tell you what is moral or immoral, good or bad.  That is for you alone to decide (as long as you are properly “woke”).  Among the consequences of this belief is that villains are seen as virtuous or at least blameless while the truly virtuous are portrayed as villains.

The third belief, that government solves problems while business creates them, encourages governments to increasingly tax businesses in order to fulfill its own unkept promises.  Furthermore, government schools teach your children to believe the worst about how you earn your living.  Know-nothing street rioters destroy an economy they don’t even begin to understand.  All they know is that profit equals plunder and business is bad.

Yes, beliefs do have consequences and when wrong-headed ideas become popular we all suffer. Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this is why the entire nation of Israel is told to be holy.

Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, Be holy…
(Leviticus 19:2)

We can certainly protest the consequences of secularism.  We can campaign against increased taxation.  We can wring our hands at soaring rates of illegitimate births even as we know that many of today’s babies without fathers are tomorrow’s children without futures.  We can object to our schools collaborating with gender-reassignment programs and encouraging confused sexuality for fifteen-year-olds.

However, that is locking the barn door after the priceless racehorse has escaped.  A better target for our energies would be combatting the bad beliefs in the first place that led to these undesirable consequences.

The best way we can all help defeat false and evil ideas is by promoting true and good ones. Absolutely, get out and vote tomorrow. Shame on you if you don’t. But, most of all, combat secularism with life-affirming Bible-based Judaism and Christianity.

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I Won’t Stand for It

October 20th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment
  1. “The boy stood on the burning deck
    Whence all but he had fled;
    The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
    Shone round him o’er the dead…”

                                                            (Casabianca, Dorothea Hemans, 1826)

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

                                                       (The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845)

3. Stood there and watched you walk away…”

                                                     (Haunted, Taylor Swift, 2010)

4. “How to Handle Getting Stood Up on a Date”

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

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

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

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

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

You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God.…
that thou shouldst enter into the covenant of the Lord thy God and into His oath…
(Deuteronomy 29:9-11*)

And it came to pass at the end of two years that Par’o dreamed;
and behold, he stood on the river.
(Genesis 41:1*)

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

י   צ  ב

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

ע  מ  ד

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

And the magicians were unable to stand before Moses…
(Exodus 11:9*)

When the standing is more that of standing like a rock until one’s task is complete, the Torah uses the word YaTZaV. The use of this word in an unexpected place can give us deeper insight into a person’s actions.

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

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

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

We are offering a sale this week on our Genesis Journeys Set as a powerful way to learn Biblical truths that Hebrew and ancient Jewish wisdom reveal. Each of the four audio CD sets (with a study guide) guides you to understand today’s personal and universal struggles and strengthen you as you take your stand.

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*Deuteronomy 29:9-11 – p. 626 –  4 lines at the bottom נצבים
*Genesis 41:1 – p. 124 – 11th line from the top (after the paragraph break) עמד
*Exodus 11:9 – p. 188 – 13th line from the top, 2nd half of the line (reading right to left) לעמד
*Genesis 24:13 – p. 62 – last line. נצב

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The Harder They Fall

October 13th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

In 1956, Humphrey Bogart played sportswriter Eddie Willis in the last movie he made, The Harder They Fall.  After many ups and downs, Bogart’s character achieves greatness.  Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t want to try too hard because I don’t need to be wildly successful,” or, “I don’t want to rise too far because the tallest tree catches the wind”?  Many of us have impeded our own progress by warning ourselves that reaching for the sky can bring a great fall.

While there may be some good reasons not to clamber up the cliff, that old Humpty Dumpty rationale isn’t it. Impeding our progress by warning ourselves that reaching for the sky can bring a great fall leads to not reaching our potential, a crime against ourselves and our Creator. It is so easy to succumb to wrong-headed thinking and sabotage our own potential that Scripture projects a powerful message to deter us.

Whenever a specific phrase is found in more than one location in Scripture, we are intended to compare and contrast the instances in which it appears.

For instance, the phase:   הִנָּ֥ךְ הָרָ֖ה וְיֹלַ֣דְתְּ בֵּ֑ן

appears in two places in the Bible; once in connection with Abraham’s first son, Yishmael, and again in connection with Samson.

The phrase has two meanings:

Behold you have conceived and will give birth to a son
(Yishmael; Genesis 16:11)

and

Behold you shall conceive and will give birth to a son
(Samson; Judges 13:5)

Since the tense of the English translation varies, many people with no access to Hebrew (and no rabbi) remain oblivious to the fact that both verses contain the identical phrase.

In fact, these are the only two instances in the Tanach of an angel directly informing a woman that she will soon give birth.  But that is where the similarities end. Among many other differences, the two sons marry differently.

Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, finds her son a wife:

…and his mother took him a wife from Egypt
(Genesis 21:21)

Samson finds his own wife, despite his parents’ disapproval of her (but in concert with God’s plan):

…get her for me as a wife
(Judges 14:2)

Yishmael’s life follows a steady trajectory from his birth in Genesis 16 until his death in Genesis 25.

Samson’s life is clearly divided into two sections.

From his birth in Judges 13 until the end of Judges 15, we see the Lord is with him constantly.

The second part of Samson’s life begins with him consorting with a harlot (Judges 16:1) and concludes with his death (Judges 16:30). During this time the Lord appears to have abandoned him.

Contrast the two phrases which conclude the two parts of Samson’s life:

And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
  (Judges 15:20)

…and he judged Israel twenty years. 
(Judges 16:31)

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that during the first half of his life his purpose and mission was defeating the Philistines and protecting Israel from them.  During the second part of his life, he largely forgot his mission.

Yishmael, even though he and his progeny were promised blessing by God, lived a largely uneventful life.

Samson, the heroic Hebrew Judge, lived a turbulent life the beginning of which he lived in accordance with God’s wishes and enjoying His blessings.  Tragically the latter part of his life was lived without his mission, without God, and without His blessings.

The contrast is between two men both of whose births were heralded by an angel and both of whom were blessed.  One became an ordinary man who never achieved any great good and never did any great wrong. The other became a larger-than-life figure, a giant man with giant abilities and giant appetites.  He played a vital role in Israel’s history, achieving enormous triumphs but also sinking to tragic depths.

Samson remains a Hebrew hero; flawed but heroic.  His passion for life led him to heights and his weaknesses led to his downfall.  But it wasn’t inevitable and he serves as a far better model than Yishmael.

God created us with the potential for greatness.  We all possess the potential for doing great good, but also for failing disastrously.  Being great doesn’t mean never desiring to do wrong or never doing wrong.  It means developing our resistance to wrongdoing.  With the lesson of Samson fresh in our minds, we can throw ourselves into the struggle for greatness confident that we will reap its blessings and fight its dangers.

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A Time for Everything

October 5th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

Whether because of COVID-19 or due to governmental reaction to the virus, these past months have provided a stark message to the world that many things are outside our control. Businesses have failed no matter how hard their owners labored; people have fallen ill no matter how many health foods they consumed, and political currents have destroyed cities no matter how decent the people who live there.

Imagine a baby newly aware of his ability to deliberately move his arms, hands and feet. Lying on a blanket near a window, he sees that each time he waves his arms, the leaves outside the window dance. Delighted with this power, he repeats his gestures. Suddenly, the leaves stay rigidly still and our baby bursts into tears. Unbeknownst to him, the leaves were responding to an autumn wind, not to his machinations.

There are things in this world that we can influence and other things that we cannot. One of the secrets to sanity and happiness is recognizing the difference.

The world-record for the biggest-selling popular song with the oldest lyrics belongs to The Byrds’ rendition of Turn, Turn, Turn from 1965, containing words from the third chapter of King Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes. This book, Kohelet in Hebrew, is read during the holyday of Sukot each year, a joyous week that we are currently celebrating. It contains a credible explanation for our mystery.

A time to be born         And a time to die

      A time to plant             And a time to pluck…

(Kohelet 3:2)

The seven verses of Ecclesiastes we are examining (3:2—3:8) contain twenty-eight events for which “there is a time.”  Some events are under our individual control. Other times, we can only respond to events in our world.  By scrutinizing each verse from the perspective of strong individual control, we find that verses (3:2—3:4) deal with events in our lives where we need to follow external triggers.  Verses (3:5—3:7) deal with events under our control.

In Kohelet 7:8, Solomon provided the clue to the pattern he followed:

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning…

This verse tells us to look at the end of the section we are studying for a clue.

A time to love         And a time to hate

A time for war       And a time for peace

(Kohelet 3:8)

This verse contains both types of events. Loving and hating are decisions made by each of us.  Whether our nation is at war or peace lies outside our personal choice.  King Solomon teaches that our lives contain both kinds of events and we need to learn to distinguish between them.

Fatalistic people deem everything in life to ‘just happen’ so they attempt little and achieve less. Foolish people imagine they can control every aspect of their lives and fritter away their time and energy fighting reality. Those of us who follow King Solomon’s guidance recognize that while everything is ultimately in God’s control, we must spend our time and efforts on those things our endeavors are likely to impact while adapting to and accepting those things the wind blows our way.

It is always the right time for Biblical wisdom
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Reaching Joy

September 30th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

These past six months, since COVID-19 has dominated the headlines (with no end in sight), we have been called on to adjust, revise and improvise in both our personal and professional lives.  Thinking outside the box, hatching new ideas and implementing them has become a necessary tool for survival.

Fortunately, there is 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 (Sukkot)…
(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 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?  A 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 precedes 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 (rule of man) to freedom (rule of God).  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, Sukkot 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 ‘soul set’ 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 indescribable joy and thereby equip you for the most successful creative thinking session of your life.

(Our offices and store will close this coming Friday night – Sunday night in observance of the first days of Sukkot)

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The Sinister Lights of Perverted Science

September 22nd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Science doesn’t lie—some scientists do.  Up till the 1970s, California was building, cleaning, and maintaining fire breaks around residential communities in forested areas.  Fire roads were bulldozed and kept usable for large firefighting equipment.  This provided rapid access allowing fires to be fought while they were still small.  Going back to Spanish times, controlled burning, backfires and removal of dead undergrowth in the forests all kept fires controllable. Up until the 1970s, any fire that burned 10,000 acres was considered a huge conflagration because fires were fought effectively and they were quickly extinguished.

Then came the radical environmental movement declaring with a religious zeal that nature is sacred. Mother Earth must not be alienated nor angered by bulldozing access roads through forests or by clearing underbrush. Today, fires regularly consume a quarter of a million acres.

However, the New York Times has a different explanation for the increase in both the number and the size of California fires:  “…Scientists say climate change — specifically warmer temperatures that dry out vegetation — is a major factor in the region’s worsening fires…”  But no mention whatsoever of destructive public policy enacted by politicians who worship at the altar of secular fundamentalism and who serve the sacred sacrament of radical environmentalism.

You will remember that after every Soviet “Five Year Plan” inflicted devastating starvation on Russia, Stalin always explained away the catastrophes of doomed socialist policies with weather caused famine.  He killed off millions of Kulaks who transported food from farmers into the towns leaving fruit and vegetables to rot in the fields, but no, the misery was never due to his decisions, it was always the climate.

Science doesn’t lie but scientists are also human beings subject to normal human temptations like fame and favor, academic advancement, and tremendous sums of money at stake for research in areas anointed by the gods of political correctness.  Not to mention that science can only work with the tools available at the present time.

On March 21st, 2020, President Trump tweeted that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and azithromycin might be a real “game-changer” in treating COVID-19.  Immediately, the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN, began featuring articles claiming that HCQ is not only ineffective but potentially dangerous, and ignored all evidence to the contrary, in order to suggest that the president is a dangerous maniac.

In May 2020, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific and medical journals, The Lancet, did something quite unprecedented.  It strode into the heart of the country’s political rift and demanded that President Trump be defeated in November.  A week later, The Lancet published an article explaining that HCQ is not only unhelpful but is actually dangerous.

Many scientists wrote to The Lancet demanding to see the underlying data on which that startling study totally denouncing a medicine that was not entirely without promise, was based. It turned out that there was no reliable underlying data proving HCQ as completely ineffective.  The editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, did the only thing he could. He withdrew the article denouncing it to have been a “monumental fraud.”

Yes, science doesn’t lie but scientists often do.  That is part of the important task of learning how the world really works.  There have always been scientists.  Most of the time, they have been improving our lives with technology and medicine.  The people who tamed fire and learned how to work iron were scientists as were those who gave us the telephone, the automobile, and the airplane.  We just didn’t always call them scientists. In fact, in earlier times they were often thought of as magicians.

How many times do you think magicians are mentioned in the Five Books of Moses?  If I didn’t know better, my first guess would have been none!  What business does magic have in God’s message to mankind?  Actually, they are mentioned nine times in the Torah but only in the context of one story—the redemption of Israel from Egypt via the Exodus.

Magicians make their first appearance when Pharaoh dreams his strange dreams.  (Genesis 41:8 & 24)

They appear again when Aaron turns his rod into a snake in order to persuade Pharaoh that he and Moses were God’s representatives.  However, the magicians also transformed rods into snakes.  (Exodus 7:10-12)

Then God sent the plagues of Blood and Frogs but the magicians easily emulated them thus convincing Pharaoh that the plagues were natural phenomena.  (Exodus 7:22 & 8:3)

After that, we encounter the first failure of the magicians.  They try to emulate the third plague—Lice— but fail.  Amazingly, instead of making excuses, they honestly inform their boss, Pharaoh, that this must be the finger of God.  (Exodus 8:14-15)

The magicians play no role in the next two plagues and they appear for the final time during the sixth plague.  They no longer stand before Pharaoh. They have now switched their allegiance to Moses. They are human and want to be on the winning side.

And the magicians could not stand before Moshe because of the pox,
for the pox was on the magicians, and on all Mitzrayim (Egypt).
Exodus 9:11

And right there, as the eventual outcome of God’s triumph over Egypt is becoming evident, is the last we ever hear of magicians.

So who were these magicians and what are we supposed to learn from their inclusion in the account of Israel’s redemption from Egypt?

Ancient Jewish wisdom recorded by Rabbi Nissim, the great Torah transmitter who lived in 14th century Barcelona, explains that the magicians were the cutting-edge scientists of Pharaoh’s day.

The Hebrew word for magicians has the root CH-R-T.* 


ח  ר  ט

Revealing meaning by reading both forward and backward as the Lord’s language does, we can read ‘magicians’ backward and we have T-R-CH, the Hebrew word for trouble or burden.

He burdens the thick cloud with an overflow…
(Job 37:11)

This verse uses the word T-R-CH**.


ט ר ח

Thus, scientists are those who reverse or do away with the troubles and burdens of living.  They find ways to help us more easily feed ourselves; they discover medical treatments, and they make machines to help us accomplish our work.

These magicians/scientists only appear in the context of helping Pharaoh retain Egypt’s Hebrew slaves.  This comes to teach us that scientists will and do serve many masters.

On the eve of the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940 when a few young Royal Airforce pilots held off the might of the Nazi Luftwaffe and on which the future of civilization depended; prime minister Winston Churchill addressed parliament.

As he drew to the end of his speech that  stiffened the spine of a frightened land, he spoke these words:

“…But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties…”

They could hardly be more true today.  The “lights of perverted science” indeed. Yes, science doesn’t lie but some scientists do. It is also true that the Bible doesn’t lie—but some clergymen do.  We must and do rely on those who know more than we do on certain subjects. However, we each need to cultivate our own relationship with Truth through the lens of God so that we can make our own judgments as to who is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.

*Find these words in the Recommended Hebrew/English Bible (read more about this Bible here)

Remember, Hebrew reads from right to left

*Genesis 41:8 – Page 124, 7 lines from the bottom, 7th word (from the right): (magicians of)  חרטמי

**Job 37:11  Page 2084, bottom line, 1st word: (He burdens) יטריח

Extra credit: Now that you know what letters to look for, find all the other references mentioned in the Thought Tool!

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Trust Folks with Jobs

September 8th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

In dozens of cities around the world, as darkness descends, barbarians emerge to enjoy their orgies of plunder and destruction. As if intoxicated by the absence of defenders, they are unable fully to comprehend that nobody is defying them.

I think of you, my readers, as noble knights defending the fortress of civilization against the hordes of scheming and surging savages trying to invade and conquer what you and your fathers have built.  The barbarians know that even after they destroy the civilization you built, as they loot its stores and wretchedly crawl through its wrecked ruins, they will still live better than in anything they could ever have built themselves.

Who are these people?  Who is the 23-year-old arrested for the second time in Green Bay, WI, on his way to a riot with guns and explosives?  Does he have parents? If so, do they know what has become of their baby? Above all, how does he eat? From where does he have money for clothing and food, not to mention weapons?

Who is the 40-year-old killer arrested at a Portland riot? We know that he has a baby daughter but no wife. We know that he seems not to have held down any kind of job, listing his occupation as a professional protester.  From where does he have money for all of life’s basic necessities?

We know two things for sure about the rioters: They do receive money and they do not have jobs.  They’re not dressed in rags and they don’t walk to riot locations; they have money. People with jobs tend to sleep at night so they are ready for work the next morning. Even when the prize is a few flat-screen TVs, people who riot all night don’t work all day.  These people have no jobs.

They are probably getting money from groups led by people like George Soros. They are also probably getting money confiscated from their fellow Americans and transferred to them in the form of welfare and COVID payments. Some of them are probably getting money from proud parents eagerly reliving the 1960s. Some of them are probably getting money from various criminal endeavors.

We can’t stop Soros from doing what he wishes with his own money and we can’t do much to stop parents from encouraging their children to commit mayhem. But we ought to be able to stop financial reward from criminal enterprise and we surely ought to be able to end rioters obtaining the money that the government transfers to them from hard-working citizens.  In other words, if we took the steps necessary to make having a job the best way of obtaining money, we’d be taking an enormous step towards tranquility.

Sadly, since the early 1960s, we began downgrading the value of work and elevating educational credentials so that many people who could have joined the real world by starting work instead extended adolescence indefinitely by spending years taking useless courses in colleges and universities.  On most campuses (on my podcast, I disparagingly refer to universities as kindergartens) a degree in gender studies or on racial bias in French movies is considered the equivalent in terms of rigor and objectivity as a degree in Russian literature or physics.

An unintended side effect of the then necessary and positive child-labor laws enacted throughout the West by the early twentieth century was to lower the social acceptability of work among young people. Though teenagers in most of the United States may legally work many hours a week in so-called safe industries, few do. This is a shame since work is uplifting and stabilizing.

Consider the first time Scripture discusses the relationship between man and work:

And no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth
and there was no man to work the ground.

(Genesis 2:5) [page 5*]

Not surprisingly, within no more than ten words, God was busy creating man. Clearly, in order to exist, creation needs man to work.  But does man need to work?

It would appear so because the Fourth Commandment could merely have prohibited work on the seventh day. It goes further, directing us indeed to work the other six days:

Six days you shall work and do all your work.
(Exodus 20:9) [page 225*]

The King James translation, recognizing that Hebrew has two different words for “work” translates Exodus 20:9 this way:

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work…

But what actually defines those two different words for work, AVoDaH and MeLaCHaH?

See both words and compare their appearance in the Hebrew [page 224, 7 lines up, 3rd last word and 7 lines up, 1st word*]

The first one, AVoDaH, means work in a more general sense. It is used extensively in describing the Egyptian servitude in Exodus.  See the same word in Genesis 2:5 [page 4 last line, 3rd word*. You’ll easily spot the same 3 letter root even if you don’t know any Hebrew. Yet!]

The second word for work used in Exodus 20:9, meaning a more specific work designed to attain an intended goal, is MeLaCHaH. For instance, general work like moving a table from one room to another is permissible on the Sabbath. However, specific work intended to increase my revenue is explicitly prohibited.

Six days should work (MeLaCHaH) be done and on the seventh,
a sabbath, a special sabbath holy to the Lord, all who do work (MeLaCHaH)
on the sabbath day shall die.
(Exodus 31:15)  [See the Hebrew word MeLaCHaH page 264, 9 lines down, 2nd word*]

In most parts of the world, ice cream is ice cream, but in Italy, there are many different names for different types of ice cream because Italians specialize in ice cream and love it.

In English work is work. Occasionally you might say labor, but it is all pretty much indistinguishable. However, in the Lord’s language, Hebrew, there are two important and distinctive words for work.  That is because the Hebrew culture specializes in work and loves it.  Doing one’s work when it should be done is an act of serving God and is an avenue to greatness.

See a man quick & diligent in his work (MeLaCHaH) he will stand before kings…
(Proverbs 22:29) [page 2010, 9 lines up, 3rd last word*]

At speeches and appearances, when I have the privilege of greeting families who come to hear me, I nearly always smilingly ask the teenage children what work they do. I can’t stop myself from breaking into a broad grin when the youngster enthusiastically tells me about his job.

In some countries today,  we’ve made a terrible mistake by making it possible, no, we’ve made it easy, for so many to live without working. Work was needed to make the garden grow and it is still needed today.

* all page and line references are from Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s recommended Hebrew/English Bible.

Recommended Hebrew/English Bible ON SALE: Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Ask the Rabbi Questions and Answers.

Gatherings are Great – or Not

August 31st, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

Why is it that people who excessively indulge their physical appetites for food, sex, or material goods, to the point we could call it an addiction, often yield to many other temptations as well?

Shakespeare’s character Sir John Falstaff highlights this very truth.  Not only is Falstaff a glutton and a drunkard but he is also a liar and a coward.  In yielding to physical appetite he also yields to decay of character.

Before I was ever taught Shakespeare’s depiction of this principle, I had already been taught it from the Book of Numbers.

The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving
and the Children of Israel wept, crying, ‘Who will feed us meat?’
(Numbers 11:4)

Though they had God’s miracle food, Manna, they still lusted for meat.  Their desire for variety in food was quickly followed by the desire for variety in another area.

Moses heard the nation crying about their families
(Numbers 11:10)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that they were angry about the limitations on sexual relationships and the rules for moral family life which they had received in the Torah a year earlier on Mt. Sinai.

What can we learn from the juxtaposition of problems with these two appetites? Can this section help us deal more effectively with situations in which we or people with whom we have to interact are controlled by physical desires rather than in control of them?

Before we answer that question, we have to understand how to isolate a section of the Bible. Numbers 11 extends from verses 1 – 35. However, as incredibly useful the chapter divisions are, they were developed in the 13th century by Steven Langton, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury, England. His divisions became accepted and were used in the Wycliffe Bible of 1382 and, after the invention of printing, in the King James translation of 1611. While they are universally accepted, they do not always share the divisions that exist in ancient Jewish wisdom.

Every hand-written “official” Torah scroll, whether large or small, is written following precise instructions. For example, each page must start and end with exact words. Among these directives, the scribe must accurately leave some lines only partially filled and other times he must put a break between two sentences even though they are written on the same line. These show two types of God’s paragraphs – ways of connecting or disconnecting topics that we might have thought (and Archbishop Langton did think) did not or did belong together.

We frequently find the most important clue to a perplexing Torah passage by looking to see what Hebrew root word appears seven times. Looking at our section, we see a word that appears exactly seven times over the span of three successive paragraphs of chapter eleven. We have identified our motif!

It turns out that variations of the Hebrew root ASF, which means gathering, appear seven times in noun or verb format.

One:  The rabble (ASaFsuf) that was among them…
(Numbers 11:4)

Two:  God said to Moses, ‘Gather (ASFah) me seventy men from the elders…’
(Numbers 11:16)

Three: …If all the fish of the sea were gathered (y’ASaF) for them would it suffice for them
(Numbers 11:22)

Four: …and he gathered (vay’ASaF) seventy men from among the elders…
(Numbers 11:24)

Five:  And Moses was gathered (vay’ASaF) into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.
(Numbers 11:30)

Six: …and they gathered (vayASaFu) up the quails…
(Numbers 11:32)

Seven: …the one with the least still gathered (ASaF) ten measures…
(Numbers 11:32)

The motif word ‘gathering’ implies gathering for a specific purpose rather than a bunch of people or things in the same place and time by happenstance.  While gathering the manna was good, gathering the quail was bad, having little to do with hunger and everything to do with lust. Moses gathered himself and the seventy elders into the camp, where, injected with God’s spirit, they successfully countered the gathering of the fleshy rabble.

In other words, the solution to excesses of the flesh is an injection of the spirit.  Over-indulgence of a physical substance often reflects a lack of spiritual completion. There is a reason that Alcoholics Anonymous and other successful rehab groups focus on building the person and connecting him with a higher power rather than just treating the physical addiction. There is a reason that people who exert tremendous effort to wean themselves from one physical addiction frequently succumb to another. People who mistreat their bodies reveal pain-filled souls.

As King David notes in Psalm 1, people may gather together to behave foolishly and wickedly. The rabble in Numbers 11 did exactly that. God’s response was to gather a group for purposes of wisdom and good. We, indeed, are very affected by those with whom we associate. But we mustn’t look at people’s physical make-up to choose our peers; rather, it is the spiritual make-up that matters.

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We Interrupt This Ceremony

August 17th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Have you ever attended a company’s annual shareholder meeting?  A couple’s fortieth wedding anniversary?  A school graduation?  A president’s inauguration?  These occasions share pomp, ceremony, and ceremonial structure that go way beyond their utilitarian function.  The music, the way people are dressed and the formal proceedings all help to conjure an atmosphere of unforgettable significance.  We can use this principle to add meaning to our lives.

Deuteronomy 31 opens with Moses telling Israel that he’s 120 years-old and Joshua will soon take over.  “Be strong and of good courage,” he says, and assures the nation that God will never forsake them.  (Deuteronomy 31:1-6)

The next two verses describe Moses charging Joshua with the task of leadership. (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)

Here’s what should come next:

And God said to Moses, now your days approach death, call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting that I may command him…

(Deuteronomy 31:14)

But this verse follows only after five intervening verses interrupt the flow. These verses explain that Moses wrote down the Torah, entrusted it to the priests and instituted a massive convention every seven years at which the Torah would be read before the entire nation — men, women, and children. (Deuteronomy 31:9-13)

Why does this instruction for a once-every-seven-years-Torah-reading-convention interrupt the story of the succession of leadership?

The clue lies in Moses’ use of the first word in verse 12, the verb “gather” or in Hebrew, HaKHeL.

This word is spelled exactly the same way as one of the Hebrew words for, “the congregation,” HaKaHaL. Hebrew in the Torah is written without vowels, so two words that have different pronunciations and meanings are sometimes spelled identically. In a way that is unique to God’s language, this similarity between words tells us to look at those words together.  When we encounter the word made up of the consonants HKHL we are reminded that we saw it used twice earlier in Deuteronomy describing the revelatory encounter at Sinai.

The day when you stood before the Lord your God in Horeb (Sinai), when the Lord said to me, gather (HKHL) the people…

(Deuteronomy 4:10)

and

And the Lord gave me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God;

and on them were written all the words which the Lord spoke with you…

on the day of the gathering (HKHL)

(Deuteronomy 9:10)

Interrupting the story of Joshua’s succession with news of a once in seven years special national Torah shareholders meeting tells us the most important thing about any future leader of Israel. Leadership must always be subservient to the nation’s constitution—the Torah.

At this dramatic reminder of the Sinai experience, shofars (ram horns) will be blown and the king of Israel will sit on a large platform reading the whole Torah aloud to the nation.  Being told about this powerful ceremony at this crucial point near Moses’ death, places the transfer of power to Joshua in context.  Leaders can change as long as allegiance to the Torah doesn’t.

Like the ceremonies that surround this gathering, like the pomp of a graduation, the way we dress for work or family functions is an important tool for establishing the importance of those events.  Sitting at a table and eating off attractive plates, rather than grabbing food on the fly, transforms eating from an animal-like to an exclusively human activity. Writing your daily journal with a fountain pen filled with green ink in a finely bound notebook rather than scrawling it with a free give-away promotional ballpoint pen on a scrap of old dog-eared paper, reflects the weight you put on your writing.

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