Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

The Mysterious Traveller

March 31st, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

In 2004, a beautiful blonde dropped out of Stanford University to start a biotech company she called Theranos. Before she was 21-years-old, she had raised hundreds of millions of dollars from some of America’s smartest and most sophisticated investors. These included ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; the owner of the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, Rupert Murdoch; and the Walton family, founders and owners of Walmart. Even then-vice-president, Joe Biden, toured Theranos and announced, “Talk about inspirational, this is inspirational.”

These investors weren’t deterred by articles questioning the technology of the company and the secretiveness of its founder. For example, the Journal of the American Medical Association was hardly reticent in expressing concern that Theranos was operating in “stealth mode”  and never published research in peer-reviewed medical journals. Their concerns were valid. Within a short space of time, Theranos was revealed as a scam and stupendous sums of money were lost.

How do smart people make such big mistakes?  This same question could be asked about all of us who have ever made bad mistakes with money, relationships or politics. It could be asked about every bright and intelligent person who carries regret for dreadful decisions.  Now, imagine if we possessed a foolproof ‘mistake monitor’ that could prevent us from making those egregious errors in life that end up being so costly.  Well, we do, but like all effective solutions, it is not a magic wand.  It takes hard work to deploy it in your life. Let’s begin.

Exodus 23:5, as usually translated, seems to be a straightforward verse:

If you see the donkey of your enemy lying under his burden,
you would refrain from helping him?— you shall surely help with him.

A deeper look shows a rather large problem with this translation. The word translated here as ‘help’ is repeated three times in the Hebrew. However, the Hebrew root,  A-Z-V  doesn’t mean help. It means ‘leave’ as in this verse: 

…therefore shall a man leave his father and mother…
(Genesis 2:24)

The Hebrew word for help is A-Z-R, not A-Z-V and leave is surely the very opposite of help. 

In II Samuel 11, King David displeased the Lord by taking Batsheva, wife of Uriah. The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to denounce King David, which Nathan did by way of a parable. He described Uriah as a poor man who had only one sheep and King David as a rich man who owned many sheep (wives).  One day a traveller visited the rich man and instead of preparing one of his own sheep for the traveller, the rich man (King David) took the poor man’s sheep (Batsheva) for the traveller. (II Samuel 12:4)

I am sure you see the colossal question: Why in the parable did Nathan introduce a “traveller”? In the real-life scenario there were only three parties, King David, Uriah, and Batsheva. Nathan tells the story as if there were four:  King David, Uriah, Batsheva, and the traveller for whom, said the prophet, the king really took the sheep.

Who is this mysterious traveller?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the traveller is the spirit of fantasy/imagination/romance that so often enters our souls. It is the intense emotional fixation we develop for something we want.  Without it, our better selves would simply and unequivocally banish the temptation.  But once that particular traveller has taken up residence in our souls, the temptation is no longer a moral temptation to be resisted.  We now rationalize and view it as the right thing to do.

David inadvertently saw Uriah’s wife bathing.  He didn’t just desire her, he ‘fell in love’ with her and even recognized with Divine insight that she was intended to be his wife. The traveller had entered his soul and fantasy/romance/imagination flourished. He not only wanted her, he actually decided to bring about that result.

Now that we know that the key word in Exodus 23:5 is not ‘help’ but ‘leave’ and that donkey is always a Biblical hint for our physical, material (versus spiritual) selves the verse more properly reads like this:

If you see the tangible reality of the tempting source of fantasy and imagination
(which is the enemy of your highest self)  lying under his burden (of harming you),
do not refrain from leaving him, you shall surely leave him.
(Exodus 23:5)

In other words, do not allow the powerfully persuasive force of emotional appeal to enter your decision-making apparatus.  It is always trying to harm you and hinder your progress. You feel tempted to make it a welcome visitor in your soul, but don’t do that. Get rid of it!

Those smart and successful investors in Theranos would never have foregone their due diligence had the company’s founder been a middle-aged man in a rumpled suit rather than a beautiful blonde in an immaculate black turtleneck.  They desperately wanted to be part of history’s first major hi-tech enterprise started by a young woman rather than by men. They fell in love. The emotional appeal of that proposition, along with her attractiveness, was easily strong enough to overcome natural caution and prudence.

Even the great King David fell victim to this dangerous tendency to welcome the ‘traveller’ into his soul.  Our challenge is to put ourselves on perpetual high alert to the peril of making important decisions once fantasy/emotional appeal/imagination has taken up residence in our souls.  That is no way to pick candidates, investments or spouses.

Touching base with yourself once a day – in writing – can banish the traveller.
Our new journal with its weekly challenge and inspiration can help.

Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges
with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


Our 15% off sale on almost everything on our site ends this week.

The Corona Cascade of Calamities

March 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Most of us are feeling some sort of anxiety and stress these days. We are worried about our health and the health of those we love. We are anxious about our jobs and businesses surviving. We are coping with either more people in one space than we are used to and/or not seeing enough of other people. 

Anyone who has lived for a few years knows that stress can cause an overreaction to the normal ups and downs of everyday life.  Often, when we behave towards someone we love in a way that leaves us feeling ashamed, our reaction stems from being over-stressed. A dish left on the table or a toy left on the floor leads to nasty words rather than a reasonable response.

This plays out in the workplace as well. In analyzing medical mistakes, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that stress was a primary cause of errors. Whether you are providing health care, car rides or ketchup, poor decision making is often the result of an anxious mind.

What is stress?  Psychology texts offer dozens of definitions but it’s mostly feeling that important aspects of your life are outside your control.  You lack time to do what you think must be done.  Fate is flinging circumstances at you for which you lack the resources.  Costs are climbing faster than your ability to increase revenue. 

Stress overwhelms you when you feel that you’re not in control of consequential developments in your life. Paradoxically this makes you less capable of making smart decisions and executing them. It is not surprising that the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 have most of us feeling unstable.

I Samuel chapter 20 accentuates the deep bond between David and Jonathan. After confirming that Jonathan’s father, King Saul, wanted to kill David, Jonathan enabled David to escape. It would be hard to overestimate the greatness of his actions as recognizing David as the heir to the throne meant relinquishing his own royal hopes and aspirations. Yet, the following chapters show that a great tragedy results from David’s hasty escape. King Saul wipes out Nov, the city of the priests that had provided food for David as he runs away. Ancient Jewish wisdom sadly reveals that Jonathan must accept some of the responsibility for that slaughter. Why? Because in the emotional turmoil surrounding his farewell to David, Jonathan neglected to provide David with food and drink. This does not negate Jonathan’s laudable actions—however, it provides a chilling example of how stress can cause even the best of us to make serious mistakes.

The current crisis means that we need to be aware of our vulnerability to stress and be proactive in acknowledging and regulating our emotions and actions. Thankfully, God is always present and available but human contact is essential for our mental health. Even if it needs to be by phone, letter or internet we must be vigilant in reaching out to others in this time of social-distancing.

As many of you know, we are big proponents of keeping a written record of daily activities and thoughts. Responding to inquiries about journaling, we determined that we would like to encourage and help our friends to do the same. To that end, a few months ago our team began putting together a new resource, Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin. Each week provides a thought-provoking concept, a Biblical reference and a challenge. There is room to record your thoughts, attempts and successes (or setbacks) at meeting the challenge. Little did we know that by the time this journal was ready (it should begin shipping by mid-week), the world would be in upheaval. We have made the decision to go ahead with the release of this resource in the hope that it can serve as an outlet and a source of strength as we all work through these trying days. We close with prayers for you and yours. 

Psalm 130: A song of ascents: From the depths have I called you, Lord.
Lord, hear my voice, may Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleas.


Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges
with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Our 15% off sale on all resources
(excluding library packs and this new item)
is still on!

Music, Marriage and Eternal Life

March 16th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I sat among a capacity crowd in a darkened auditorium.  I sat on the edge of my seat as, upon the stage, about a hundred young people between the ages of ten and seventeen played complex classical musical masterpieces with stunning perfection. The music by Beethoven, Bruch, and Mahler was being played by members of a city youth orchestra. It was the youth orchestra of one of America’s most deeply troubled cities.  Violent crime, high school drop-out rates, rampant drug use and the virtual abolition of normal family life plague this city.  Surviving somehow, in this desert of doom and destruction, were these children who devoted hours to honing their musical talents and their parents who made music lessons a priority despite competing pulls on their time and finances. There I sat in open-mouthed astonishment in a virtual oasis, surrounded by the parents and siblings as these young virtuosos played their hearts out on stage.

But wait! Was my sense of wonder really well placed?  In many parks and fields around that same city were plenty of other groups of young people.  They were playing football, soccer or basketball. Of those, quite a few were on teams playing proficiently.  Is there really any difference between being on a football team and playing in a youth orchestra?  Don’t they both require discipline, dedication, and teamwork?  Why be more amazed at music than basketball?  I asked myself whether there really is any true and objective reason to value participating in a youth orchestra more than participating in athletics and sports?

To answer that question, I had to ask why students who play in a youth orchestra generally achieve far greater academic prowess at school than those who excel in sports?  If classical music and sports and athletics both require proficiency, discipline and teamwork, why does academic achievement correlate more closely with Bach, Brahms and Beethoven than with basketball, baseball and bodybuilding?  Clearly the discipline and dedication found in both are not the causation. Something else is causing the correlation between classical music and academic proficiency.

As usual, when baffled, I turn to ancient Jewish wisdom.  Exodus 25 opens with God telling Moses what gifts he should accept from Israel in order to build a home for Him so that he may ‘dwell among them.’  He then proceeds to specific directions for building the Ark of the Covenant. (Exodus 25:10)

After 8 verses of Ark details that any competent craftsman could follow, He arrives at this verse:

Make two cherubs of gold…at the two ends of the cover.
(Exodus 25:18)

At this point, I would have expected Moses to interject with, “Excuse me Lord, but what was that? Did you say cherubs?  What are cherubs?”

Since Moses did not ask, he must have known what cherubs are.  Moses never saw the cherubs that Michaelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel just over 500 years ago. But for the rest of us, we all know they are adorable little chubby toddlers of no particular gender with wings on their backs.  Or are they?

Moses was not nonplussed by the command to make golden cherubs because he was already familiar with them from the following verse:

The Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the earth from which he was taken.  He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubs….to guard the way to the tree of life.
(Genesis 3:23-24)

The conventional wisdom is that the purpose of the cherubs was to guard the way to the Tree of Life in order to prevent anyone from reaching it. However, as is so often the case, conventional wisdom is wrong.  Ancient Jewish wisdom, in my experience a far more reliable guide, informs us that an accurate reading of the Hebrew original proves that the cherubs were there to guard the way, in order to keep the path back to the Tree of Life open.  What is more, the cherubs were far from androgynous infants. Each set of cherubs comprised a mature human male and female with gender quite undisguised. Their role was not to obstruct those who seek the Tree of Life but to guide them onto the appropriate path of an uplifted spirit via marriage and God’s Biblical blueprint.

How, you might ask, does one find the way back to the Tree of Life?  Easy, just follow the clue of the cherubs. The cherubs are stationed at the Garden of Eden to usher you into your destination just as they are also stationed on the Ark containing the two tablets of the Ten Commandments in order to point the way to the start of your journey.

The Torah, summed up in the Ten Commandments,  along with the wisdom it contains is often referred to as a tree of life based on the following verse.

It [Scripture] is a tree of life to those who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy. 
(Proverbs 3:18)

The cherubs are signposts on the path to uplifting self-improvement. That path is unequivocally associated with marriage, family, faith and the Bible and ends at the eternal Tree of Life.

One of the ways in which classical symphonic music is distinctive is that, for the most part, it is not built on the pounding bass beat found in the tribal dances of primitive societies and which characterizes most popular music. While  I do appreciate and enjoy the complex chords of the Beach Boys,  the clever arrangements of the Beatles and much of Freddy Mercury’s music, the simple truth is that the rhythms of classical music are immeasurably more complex.  Far more concentration is required to capture the sublime beauty of a half-hour Beethoven symphony than is needed for a bouncy-beat, three-minute ode describing how much the guitar player desires his girlfriend. I admire how my friend, the great David Goldman puts it:

“…The great composers require memory. Popular music dwells in the moment, but classical music employs the past to create a sense of the future. An educated ear is required to hold in memory the musical events of a long movement in which the composer traverses an extended territory to reach the musical goal…”

Both classical music and academic attainment are matters of the soul.  While there is a spiritual element, especially at the highest levels of competition, athletics and sports are basically matters of the body. It makes perfect sense that classical music proficiency correlates more with academic aptitude than football does.  Which makes what I heard a hundred teenagers doing on Sunday afternoon even more breathtaking. 

We join all of you in praying that the health crisis, along with the resulting economic crisis, facing our world comes to an end sooner rather than later. May this remind all of us to cherish our loved ones, strengthen ties with those in need around us and turn our hearts and minds back to our Father in Heaven. We know that many of you are spending more time at home and want to use this opportunity (as unwelcome as it may be) in a positive way. To this end, we are placing our entire store* at 15% off and hope these teachings can provide enlightenment and comfort during these difficult times.

*excluding Library Packs.

Extra time at home? Make the most of it.
15% off the entire store (excluding Library Packs)

Into the Valley of Equality

March 4th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

It’s truly terrifying that more young males are being brought up without a father than ever before. Terrifying?  Yes, terrifying! You want to know why?  Because boys need dads to help them acquire self-discipline and become men of honor. Because those with real-life experience of the criminal justice system will tell you that the one factor most shared by incarcerated men is not economic status, race, or gang-affiliation, but the absence of a father in the home.  Thus, the more boys without dads, the more frightened we should be. It’s sad but simple.

It’s truly terrifying that there is more income inequality in America than ever before. Terrifying? Huh? Why?  I’m trying to find out, honest I am.  One thing is for sure and that is that there is more talk of income inequality than ever before.  Pundits and politicians pontificate about how dangerous it is, but I like to figure things out for myself and I cannot see the problem.

Most Americans are reasonably comfortable living among people who have less than we do and we are equally comfortable helping them with a hand up.  Likewise, most of us are fine living among those with much more than we have.  For most of us, how people behave is more important than how much money they have.  We feel sympathy for the poor and, if anything, we are inspired to greater effort by the rich in hopes of reaching their levels of affluence.  Those agitating about inequality insist that it’s terrible but they won’t tell us why.   The wealth gap is frightening?  I think not. Income inequality is one of America’s biggest problems? I think not.

But maybe inequality is just plain immoral?  The trouble is that the words ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ are utterly meaningless without specifying the framework that defines morality.  For instance, if the framework comprises socialism, liberalism, and progressivism, then inequality is clearly immoral.  This means we must empower government to ‘tax-the-rich’ in order to redistribute their money to the poor. Government will also define who is rich and who is poor.

However, there is another morality-defining framework that has sculpted the civilization that socialism wishes to dismantle.  This is the Bible-based Judeo-Christian vision. One can futilely search there for any endorsement of equality as a guiding moral principle.  Just as absent is any condemnation of inequality.

The word ‘equal’ appears only once in all the 79,976 words in the Torah.

…of the kings who were with him, at the Valley of Equality (SHaVeH),
which is the Valley of the King.
(Genesis 14:17)

The Hebrew word ShaVeH means equal.  This chapter in Genesis not only contains the Torah’s very first mention of the word king, but it also contains many more mentions of the word king than any other chapter in Scripture.  And it contains the only mention of equality.

One more piece of information is needed to solve the riddle.

And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar…
(Genesis 14:1)

The opening verse of the entire story mentions Amraphel of Shinar.  In Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel,  I walk you through the steps that lead ancient Jewish wisdom to see that Amraphel was another name for Nimrod, king of Shinar (Genesis 10:10). Nimrod’s vision of social organization is the centralized control system that battles against Abraham’s Biblical vision of human freedom.

Genesis 14:17 is the climax.  Abraham has defeated the dangerous vision of Nimrod at the Valley of Equality.  Nimrod and his allies used this idealistic promise of equality to cement their power over their people.  Abraham replaces the false vision of equality with that of the “Valley of the King” – the vision of God, the King.

Inequality is not scary.  You know what is?  When politicians start talking about inequality, that is scary.  When they promise to eradicate inequality, that’s just plain terrifying because that can be achieved only by obliterating freedom.

At this time, when socialism is not a specter on the horizon but is actually being advocated by one major political party, we ask you to use Tower of Power as a Bible study with your family, friends, church or synagogue. God’s message can reach hearts in a way that political advocacy cannot. Work with us to share God’s wisdom as revealed in these Genesis verses so that we do not have to learn the hard way to listen to His voice rather than our own.

Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel


Thirty is the New…You?

February 25th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 5 comments

Soon after earning my Private Pilot’s License, I was sitting in the left seat of a Piper Cherokee single-engine airplane flying at 5,000 feet over the Mozambique jungle on a course for Lourenco Marques.  I had no idea that soon thereafter the beautiful landscape beneath me would be transformed into a bloody battlefield of a civil war, resulting in the mass exodus of about a quarter of a million skilled Portuguese citizens and the destruction of an Indian Ocean paradise. 

On that sunny afternoon, however, I was accompanied by a British friend who was visiting me.  We rented a plane in Johannesburg, and with my fresh piloting skills, we set out to fly to the coastal resort now known as Maputo.

I tell you this partially in the spirit of self-indulgent nostalgia, but mainly to describe what happened when John, comfortably ensconced in the right seat, excitedly spotted a large herd of elephants below.  I immediately threw the P-32 into a bank and began carving a large circle through the clear African skies so we could keep the mesmerizing sight in view.  I must have done two or three complete circles as we gazed in wonder at that herd of one of God’s most astounding creatures.


Google Shmoogle, Going Mad

February 18th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

My accountant recommended I start taking one 40 milligram Atorvastatin tablet before bedtime.  I now pour a quart of synthetic fuel additive into my car’s fuel tank every filling because the plumber who fixed our kitchen sink advised it.  My auto mechanic said that everyone should expense carpet cleaning on their federal income tax.  You may well laugh but many people vote the way their favorite Hollywood celebrity recommends.  Many people raise their children according to the dictates of the latest issue of psychology magazines and many people choose what car to buy on the basis of the mindless ramblings of a hysterical Nordic teenager.

Wouldn’t you be really relieved to know that you had access to fully reliable information?  (…and no, that wouldn’t be the Internet.) Well, think of your rabbi as the ultimate antacid.  I am about to bring you relief.  That’s right; I am about to show you how and where you can seek dependable data about whatever troubles you.

The first step is to determine into which of two categories your question falls.  Does your question have something to do with the natural sciences?  Is it about how things are and not about how things should be?  Is it about things or animals more than about people?  Example: What is the highest mountain visible from a city with a population of more than five million inhabitants?  Most questions of this type have one unarguable answer.  Let’s call this basket of questions, category A.


Remember That Man

February 11th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

Does anyone you know speak in a bass tone? Does that make them more likely to enjoy bass fishing? That’s a ridiculous question. In English, we don’t expect words that have two meanings to be related. In Hebrew, however, homographs like these are significant. 

For example,  males have the responsibility to retain national memory.  Hebrew reveals this as male and memory are the same word, Z-CH-R.

ז כ ר

R  CH  Z

This explains why women and children generally take their husband and father’s family name. 

Every Friday night, Jewish men recite the special Sabbath benediction over wine called the Kiddush.  Guests often ask me why I say the Kiddush rather than my wife whose Hebrew skills equal mine.


Like a Big Pizza Pie

February 4th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 37 comments

Before I tell you about a big yellow full moon hanging low in the sky on a balmy summer evening, I have to tell you about a letter I recently received.

Dear Rabbi Lapin,

I have followed you and taken your advice on my marriage and my business for seven years now.  I owe you a debt of gratitude because many things you advised went against my instincts but I followed them anyway with great results.  My wife and my relationship has been thriving and business has been prospering.  But I am now disconnecting from you and will no longer be reading your material or listening to your podcast.  The reason is because I just discovered that you voted for President Trump.  I want nothing to do with anyone who thinks that man is a good president. You should know better as a rabbi.


[name withheld for privacy]

I wrote back to him, probably in much the same style you would have if you were in my shoes. 

Of course, I have heard of close family members who no longer talk to one another on account of disagreement about our president.  I have watched the Democrats, from my perspective, behave embarrassingly in their frantic and furious attempts to undo the results of the 2016 presidential election. And I understand that many Americans have precisely the opposite perspective.  I suspect I will even lose readers over this Thought Tool.


Don’t Complain – Act!

January 28th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

Have you ever grappled with one of those wooden puzzle boxes that has a secret compartment? If you manipulate the different pieces correctly, a hidden drawer pops open and you find the concealed prize.

This type of puzzle can be extremely frustrating. I was once handed such an item at a dinner party. After a while, I became convinced that there was no answer. The whole thing was simply a sadistic game. At that point, the friend who gave me the game took back the box and showed me exactly how to solve the puzzle. Once I knew how it was quite simple.

In a similar manner, a full 30% of the Book of Exodus is taken up by a long and detailed description of how Israel got out of Egypt.  We Jews read those Torah portions every single year, and in addition, once each year we actually live out the entire experience in a ceremony known as the Passover Seder.


Don’t Complain – Do!

January 28th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

There was a family I once knew.  Mom, dad, and three delightful young children lived in a small home they rented in a really rotten part of our town.  It wasn’t rotten because it was poor. No, this part of town was poor because its inhabitants lived by rotten values.  These five beautiful people made up one of the very few intact, functional families in that neighborhood where fatherlessness was the rule. Of the men to be seen, almost none were working or married.

My friends worked very hard; dad devoted himself to his job all day and studied accounting at night. Mom fed her children both body and soul, nourishing them and educating them with facts and morals while providing a warm nurturing home for her husband.

Then, eventually one day—a breakthrough!  Dad’s employer, rewarding years of diligence, dedication and integrity, allowed him to participate on favorable terms in the company’s initial public offering.  From then on their financial fortunes soared. After a few years, the family moved into a large and comfortable home in the most prestigious suburb of town.

Each of the children, now young teenagers, was given their own room.  I remember their mother telling me that during their first few weeks in the new house, she’d find all her children sleeping in one room every morning.  They were close siblings and instinctively drifted together as they were unaccustomed to being alone in a big empty room.

That was what mom told me. What dad told me was much more surprising.  He went right back to the old neighborhood and made the owner of their old house an offer he couldn’t refuse.  He then put the house up for rent at below-market with one proviso: for one night each year, his family could move back into the house while the renters were put up in a hotel.

Sure enough, I saw it with my own eyes.  Once each year, on the anniversary of the date they moved out of the little old house, they moved right back in.  Clutching their sleeping bags and blankets, the family drove across town.  Dad parked his car right there on the street where he used to park every night for so many years.  The five of them slowly walked up the short concrete pathway, mounted the steps to the front door and went in.

After a plain sandwich supper eaten while they sat on the floor of the living room, they unrolled their sleeping bags right there on the carpet and spent a weird and uncomfortable night.  The next morning, they arose and without much conversation, each wrapped in his own thoughts, the family returned to its lovely new house.  The slightly heavy atmosphere lasted until they walked through their elegant front door whereupon a happy bedlam ensued.

Let me have dad explain in his own words why he led his family on this bizarre annual ritual. 


Sign up to receive our AAJC newsletter and our free weekly teachings!

Sign Up Now!

Follow AAJC on its new Facebook Page!