Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Don’t Tell the Boss

August 14th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

A common dilemma in business is when your immediate boss responds to growth by appointing a supervisor above you.  In addition to a layer of management now insulating you from your boss, it becomes especially unpleasant if the new manager is an outsider.  Whatever the difficulties, one thing any experienced business professional knows is that going over your new supervisor’s head directly to your old boss can be a career-killer.

This makes a sequence of events late in Genesis especially surprising.  Like many of our Thought Tools, this one will definitely repay you if you read it with an open Bible .  Pharaoh appoints Joseph viceroy over Egypt saying, “Only the throne shall be higher than you.”  He repeatedly admonishes Egypt that Joseph’s word will rule in all matters.  (Genesis 41:40-45) 

It must have been a tad awkward for those senior administrators who formerly enjoyed direct access to Pharaoh himself.  Nonetheless, Joseph gets to work diligently making the most of the seven years of agricultural and economic abundance.  (Genesis 41:48-49)

So it is astonishing when the Egyptians approach Pharaoh directly.

The entire land of Egypt was starving and the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread.
(Genesis 41:55)

Not surprisingly, Pharaoh does what most competent bosses would do—he reminds them of Joseph’s authority and sends them right back to Joseph.

What could possibly account for the Egyptians acting in a manner that seems so irrational?  Pharaoh had emphasized Joseph’s absolute power so clearly that it is unthinkable that they simply forgot.  What made them go over Joseph’s head and submit their appeal directly to Boss Pharaoh?

Ancient Jewish wisdom comes to our rescue.  The clue is the precise wording in Pharaoh’s response to them.  Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians,

…Go to Joseph, that which he says to you, you must do.
(Genesis 41:55)

Ordinarily, in conventional Biblical style, we’d have expected Pharaoh to have said, “That which he commands you, you must do.”  The word ‘says’ ( Hebrew root AMaR) is especially incongruous here since it usually means casual conversation.

Happily, another usage of that word helps us decode its secondary meaning.  In Psalms 119:162 King David says, “I rejoice at Your saying…”  using that same word. This use of AMaR alerts us to hidden meaning. 

The full story is that David uttered these words while in the shower!  That’s right, standing nude with water sluicing over him, David was suddenly overwhelmed by a depressing thought:  Stripped of clothing, I resemble just another animal.  Is that really all I am; just an animal trying to look better than other creatures by donning fancy clothing? 

Glancing down in the midst of these dispiriting musings, he realized that his male member was circumcised.  He was instantly filled with exultation realizing that no animal deliberately marked its body in accordance with God’s directives.  “I rejoice at your instruction to circumcise” said David.  He was after all, not an animal but a human touched by God. 

It is from this account that we understand that the Hebrew root AMaR has a secondary association.  Not only does it mean oral communication but it also means circumcision.  Returning to Joseph in Egypt, we now understand that what Pharaoh really said to his people was, “Go to Joseph, he told you to circumcise, go and do it.”  (Genesis 41:55) No wonder the Egyptians weren’t quick to listen.

It turns out that when the seven years of famine began people began starving immediately.  (Genesis 41:54-55)  I have noticed that many English translations wrongly insert the word “When” at the beginning of verse 55 which mistakenly conceals the suddenness of the transition from having bread to starving.

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that the Egyptians did first go to Joseph.  He asked them why they were not eating from food that they surely stockpiled. They responded that their stored food went rotten overnight. “Oh well, in that case,” said Joseph, “you must circumcise.” 

The Egyptians were so outraged at this insane-sounding instruction that they went over Joseph’s head to Pharaoh.  Predictably he told them to obey Joseph.  But why would Joseph tell the Egyptians to circumcise themselves? 

God imbued people with appetites for both sex and food.  Harm inevitably follows immoderate self-indulgence in both.  Furthermore, loss of all constraint in sex usually impacts the food area too.  Which is to say that people who live out their sexual obsessions may lack “enough to eat” meaning that their lack of self-discipline can diminish their ability to accumulate wealth.  Food is of course the most basic use for money. 

Circumcision is a symbol of God’s rules over even the urgency of sex.  We mark that most demanding of organs with a symbol of restraint and self-discipline.  Not surprisingly, those with restraint in the sexual area generally possess it in the financial area too.

The intricate details of these fifteen verses in Genesis 41 help us understand a very subtle but very real relationship that God built into the world.  In Biblical nomenclature, Egypt is associated with licentiousness. 

Our drive for food (money) is inextricably linked to our drive for sex.  If we yield entirely to our lower selves in the sexual arena, we’re liable to suffer in the money area.  It’s interesting to note that America’s economy seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut until the aftermath of the so-called sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s.

The deterioration in America’s economic power in the world that began in about 1979 was at least partially due to increasing numbers of people wanting more and more in exchange for less and less.  This is exactly the economic consequences one might expect to see coming to a population ever more of which desires more sex and less commitment. 

Commitment means marriage and nobody is surprised by government statistics showing that among families headed by two married parents just 7.5% live in poverty while in families headed by a single parent the poverty level jumps to 33.9%.

Thus, we discover two mistakes that can hurt the ability to earn money.  One is that there is no good way to go over your boss’s head to his boss. The second is that life’s different areas are sometimes unexpectedly linked.

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Be a Heel

August 7th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

High heeled shoes for women, and at times for men, go in and out of style. Yet, two English expressions that revolve around the heel seem to be negative. We speak of someone’s weakness as his Achilles heel and we use heel as a pejorative term as in, “He’s such a heel.” 

In the Lord’s language, the heel means something quite different.  It implies progress made possible by being properly grounded.  Just think of how we move forward by walking. The first part of our body to touch ground is our heel. We then swing forward on that perfectly shaped round heel and prepare the next step.

In Hebrew, Jacob’s name, Ya-AkoV, contains within it the word heel.

ע ק ב          י ע ק ב

   (Ya)A-K-V          A -K -V
Jacob                Heel

If ‘heel’ were a verb, Jacob’s name would suggest, “He will heel”.  But that would be meaningless.  What does Jacob’s name mean?

Let’s try to understand by looking more closely at the verse describing the birth of twins Esau and Jacob. 

And afterwards, his brother emerged, and his hand was grasping Esau’s heel (A-K-V), and he named him YaAKoV…
(Genesis 25:26)

But there is a problem. 

Jacob’s action was grasping.  The heel was almost incidental.  It’s not impossible that had Esau been aligned differently, Jacob might have grasped his arm.  So, the younger brother’s name could more appropriately have been Grasper because that is what he did.

In reality, however, a careful reading of Genesis 25:26 shows that there is no “because”.  Scripture does not specify ‘therefore he called him’. 

In many other instances throughout the Bible the verse is quite clear as to why someone is named.  Here are two examples:

And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction, for now my husband will love me.”
(Genesis 29:32)

And it came to pass, in due course, that Hanna conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, because I have asked him from the Lord.
(I Samuel 1:20)

But when Isaac named Jacob, it was not because of anything. 

Or was it?  What does this word A-K-V mean?  Is it only heel?

In order to understand the full meaning of Jacob’s name, we need to be aware of four other times the word AKeV appears.

1:  God cursing the serpent in the Garden of Eden: … He [man] will strike you [using] the head, and you will strike him [using] the A-K-V. (Genesis 3:15)

2:   An angel of the Lord promising Abraham:  And through your children shall be blessed all the nations of the world, A-K-V  you hearkened to My voice. (Genesis 22:18)

3:  God speaking to Isaac:  A-K-V Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My instructions. (Genesis 26:5)

4:  Moses speaking to Children of Israel: A-K-V  you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform them, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. (Deuteronomy 7:12)

Looking only  at 2,3, and 4 you might think that A-K-V means because.  But Hebrew has perfectly good and often-used words for because. There is much more to A-K-V. 

We begin to understand this word better when we note that the three-letter word A-K-V, has a numerical value of 172, This links it, In ancient Jewish wisdom, to the Ten Commandments which have a total of 172 Hebrew words. (Exodus 20:2-14)

Now we are getting somewhere.  Let’s examine these four verses above in the light of ancient Jewish wisdom’s explanation of this very special ‘code word’ A-K-V. 

Abraham will be the source of blessing on account of the depth of his commitment to authentic Biblical values: hinted at by A-K-V.

Isaac is being told that his mission comes because his father, Abraham, really listened to God’s voice and kept all His Biblical rules: hinted at by A-K-V.

Moses is teaching that if we want God to keep His covenant that He swore to our ancestors then we need to heed these authentic Biblical values: hinted at by A-K-V.

And what of the Serpent? The serpent is synonymous, according to ancient Jewish wisdom, with Satanic forces intended to distract mankind from God.  God is not saying that the Serpent will bite our heels and we will stomp on his head. Rather, the Serpent, manifested by our desire to do wrong, knows that the way he can best strike us is by attacking our Achilles heel, our urge to rebel against authentic Biblical values— hinted at by A-K-V. The only way we combat this is by using our heads to dominate our desires.

Isaac named his son, Ya-AKoV, prophetically seeing he would remain true to the values of grandfather Abraham, hinted at by A-K-V. Doing likewise keeps us well-heeled indeed.

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Ancient Solutions for Modern Problems

July 30th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

Can you tell the difference between these two lists of questions?

List A

  • How do you build a self-driving car?
  • What is the best way to treat breast cancer?
  • What is the quickest way to get to New York from Los Angeles?
  • How high can a skyscraper be built?
  • What is the best way to obtain energy?

List B

  • What is the best way to cope with feelings of anger?
  • Can love be sustained or is it destined to fade?
  • How do we best find consolation in the face of death?
  • How do we raise children to respect their parents?
  • How do you balance work and family?

I am sure you got it.  List A comprises questions for which the answers regularly change. To find the current answers to List A type questions, we need only to study the latest scientific and technological data. Each year as we acquire more knowledge and achieve greater technological prowess (and sometimes as we unmask scams or discover errors) those answers change.

In List B, however, the answers never fundamentally change. Regardless of new advances in science, technology, or medicine, the answers to those questions remain the same. 

These kinds of questions gnaw away at people.  Long ago, people turned to Scripture for the answers.  About the time of the Renaissance, secularism started spreading its sordid stain and universities replaced the study of God’s teachings with literature.  People studied Seneca the Roman philosopher partly to learn his views on anger management.  They read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to gain insight into the complex dynamics of marriage and studied Shakespeare’s plays for understanding the entire range of human emotions.

As time went on, we turned to science for the answers as if the human soul was nothing more than $9.75 worth of common chemicals cunningly arranged into millions of neurological wiring systems. Thus the pages of popular magazines like Scientific American and Psychology Today offered the latest ‘scientific’ information on the role of sex in marriage and how human interactions work.  Of course it helps that a tolerant readership overlooked the fact that one month’s advice frequently contradicted that from another issue of the same magazine eighteen months earlier. 

Rather than ignoring the Bible in a search for answers to List B, we might be better off if, like many scientists of old, we turned to the Bible for List A as well.

Historian David Barton of Wallbuilders once mentioned to me that famed oceanographer, Lieut. Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873) of the U.S. Navy, cited this verse as the impetus for his brilliant discovery of ocean currents:

The birds of the heaven and the fish of the sea all travel along the paths of the seas.
(Psalms 8:9)

Astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a pioneer in understanding the laws of planetary motion, credited his scientific research to a recognition that God made an orderly world and our job was to discover the rules of that order.

Rather than scoffing at Bible study while worshipping science, we should have the humility to recognize that the Bible may have much to teach us. Needless to say, especially when dealing with the very real List B questions which have to do with successfully living our lives, we should admit that the most modern developments have hardly produced spectacular success.

So what are we to do?  The answer, to me, is clear, and I think you’ll agree that there is really nothing to lose in giving my answer a fair try.

My answer is that we must again turn back to the Bible for these answers.  Just as Psalms 8:9 did not reveal the specific currents of the North Atlantic, but pointed Lieut. Maury in the right direction, we do not find answers neatly laid out.  Yet the Bible, especially understood with the aid of ancient Jewish wisdom, is utterly reliable as our compass.

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Letter to the Editor: Wall Street Journal

July 24th, 2018 Posted by AAJC Happenings 8 comments

We submitted the following to the Wall Street Journal and  an abridged version appeared in the August 1, 2018 edition:

I appreciated Liel Leibovitz’ article (Is Brett Kavanaugh Bad for the Jews? July 24, 2018 ) confirming that the Anti-Defamation League currently serves more as a partisan branch of the Democrat Party than fulfilling its founding mission as an organization combating anti-Semitism.

However, I want to point out that while Jonathan Greenblatt has moved the ADL further to the Left, that shift was already well under way during the tenure of the organization’s prior president, Abe Foxman. During the 90s, the ADL became actively hostile toward Evangelical Christianity as seen in many of their publications such as “The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance & Pluralism in America”.  This notorious 200 page polemic, for which the ADL eventually was forced to apologize, excoriated leaders like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Sr. and Phyllis Schlafly.  The American Alliance of Jews and Christians was founded in response to the leftward tilt of many Jewish groups like the ADL.  Our credo is to “promote traditional values while opposing bigotry against traditional faith, particularly the war on Christianity.” 

Sadly, many groups founded by Jews express hostility to Judeo-Christian values, not only abandoning their lofty founding goals but  converting them into vehicles hostile towards religious Jews and Christians but nearly always supportive of Moslems.

Mr. Leibovitz wrote that the ADL should, “…realize that the threats to Jews these days come as fiercely from the left as they do from the right.” That is not entirely accurate. Anti-Semitism on the right is from the fringe, while anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bigotry  from the left increasingly represents the position held by rising stars in Democrat politics who are seldom denounced by the establishment. 

Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Mercer Island, WA

President, American Alliance of Jews and Christians

Don’t Disturb Me Now

July 24th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

“Don’t disturb me now!”  How often have we used that phrase?  Looking back, whenever we’ve muttered, “Don’t disturb me now,” hasn’t it usually been said to a child?   The years inevitably go by and eventually you wish that your child would disturb you now.

Occasionally, we might say it to a spouse.  Then the years go by and you realize how much you’d give if only your spouse was there to disturb you now. Or any time.  Sometimes a customer walks into your store just as you’re getting ready to close up for the day.  You may not say it, but you’re thinking, “Don’t disturb me now!”  It’s good to remember those early days when you prayed for a customer to walk through the door.

It can happen that one is overtaken by an urgent call of nature at an inconvenient time, say, in the middle of an important meeting.  It would be perfectly normal to silently beseech one’s body, “Don’t disturb me now!”  A better response is to take care of bathroom business and then thank God for one’s body and its multiple complex orifices all of which open and close at the appropriate times.  Being able to relieve oneself regularly is a big blessing.

Blessings of all kinds come but we often miss them because they don’t necessarily come on our schedule.  “Don’t disturb me now” is just one way of banishing blessing.  Being so inwardly focused is another way of remaining oblivious to a blessing in the shape of an opportunity.  A business professional seeking to hire an associate can sometimes have such an overly defined candidate in mind that he ignores someone who’d be a spectacular employee.  A single man assuring all his married friends about how eager he is to find a spouse but with such a fixed picture in mind of the woman he imagines marrying that he all but eliminates the possibility of blessing finding him.

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Summer in The City

July 16th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

It was on a clear but cold winter afternoon that I landed at JFK Airport on my first visit to the United States.  After clearing customs and immigration and being granted a three week tourist visa, I climbed into a taxi on my way to my Manhattan hotel.  Half an hour later, as the sun was starting to set, the cab swept around a curve in the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and for the first time in my life my eyes fell upon a sight of which I have never tired.  The towering skyscrapers of lower Manhattan silhouetted against the still blue sky took my breath away.  I found myself silently mouthing these words, “How great are your works, Oh Lord!” (Psalms 92:5) as tears started up in my eyes.  It was then, only a couple of hours after first setting foot upon the continent of North America while driving up the East River towards the Brooklyn Bridge that I resolved to stay.  And, though no longer on a tourist visa, I’m still here.

Why did this sight move me so deeply?  Because the Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, and the giant redwood trees overlooking San Francisco Bay might all have conceivably come into being as the result of a lengthy process of random, unaided materialistic evolution.  Primeval winds and wild rivers might have shaped canyons and mountains while undisturbed saplings grew and grew.  But a colossal hub of millions of human beings all cooperating to build and maintain Manhattan with its buildings and bridges, its streets and subways and its unimaginably vast system of human enterprise could only have been built by creatures touched by the finger of God.  I was immeasurably moved realizing that I was gazing upon the proof of God’s goodness. 

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Bury the Blame

July 10th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 31 comments

With immigrants in the news, let me tell you about fifteen-year-old David Sarnoff whose father died shortly after his family immigrated to America.  To support his mother and siblings, David got a $5/week job as office boy at the Commercial Cable Company in New York.  (Government funded welfare programs weren’t to arrive for another 30 years.)  On his own time he taught himself to use the telegraph key making himself more useful to the company’s telegram business.  On Monday morning September 17, 1906, he explained to his supervisor that he’d be unable to come to work on Thursday and Friday on account of the Jewish holyday of Rosh HaShana.  He was promptly fired. 

Ten days later, on Saturday, September 29, 1906 he observed the holyday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and on Sunday morning he began working for the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America.  Two months later Guglielmo Marconi, himself, visited the New York office.  Young David brashly introduced himself to the great Italian inventor who took a liking to his young employee.  While off duty, David took correspondence courses in mathematics.

At work on the night of April 14, 1912, David Sarnoff received the distress signals being telegraphed from the doomed Titanic. He passed the tragic information to William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers.  This turned the new-fangled radio into a household term. Meanwhile, despite his fascination with the technical side of radio, David Sarnoff moved to the financial side of the business saying, “…the place to make money is where the money is coming in…”

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You + You = YOU

July 2nd, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

Money, money, money…” sang Abba in 1976.  What is it?  It is funny how challenging it is to define.    Is it those metallic discs clinking in your pocket? How about those strips of colored paper in your wallet?  How about when you write a check? Is that money?  What if you write on a napkin, “I’ll give you $10 on Friday.” Is that money? How about if we shake hands and I simply say, “I’ll give you $10 on Friday.” Is that money?  Or is money the magnetic orientation of iron oxide molecules on that brown strip back of your credit card?  Is it a stream of ones and zeroes on the hard drive of your financial institution’s computer?  What is money?

Whether you consult economists or financiers, business school deans or directors of the International Monetary Fund, you’ll always get much the same answer.  It will be something like this: money is a government authorized circulating medium of exchange that allows us to count and store value. 

While that definition is basically true, it hardly tells the entire story.  For a far more useful depiction, we should turn to the 10th chapter of William James’ The Principles of Psychology published in 1890. While William James, who in my opinion had a much more correct understanding of the human soul than Sigmund Freud, is not trying to define money, he is helping us understand the breadth of its impact upon our lives.

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Talking Gorillas and Thirsty Hebrews

June 26th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 34 comments

Koko, the famous female gorilla, recently died at the age of 46.  She became famous for being able to speak.  More than famous – Koko became an international celebrity.  Movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, William Shatner, and Robin Williams vied to be photographed with her.  Rock stars like Sting sang her praises.  Professors and politicians pirouetted with Koko in front of news cameras.  Papers like the Washington Post regularly ran features on the gorilla who was also, more than once, the cover story for National Geographic.  She starred in TV shows and documentaries.  All because…well, because she could speak (via sign language), right?

Koko’s interface with the world was psychologist Francine Patterson who devoted more than 40 of her 71 years to the gorilla with whom she lived in a remote, guarded location in the Santa Cruz mountains of Northern California.  Patterson tells us that she had conversations with Koko about death, about the meaning of life, and about the gorilla’s fervent desire to become a mother. 

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The Write Way

June 19th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 22 comments

In our age, when electronic communication has all but supplanted ink on paper, it is easy to overlook the great value of a handwritten letter.  Precisely because it is so effortless and inexpensive to dispatch messages, the value of an ink on paper letter has risen even higher. In an age when we communicate online with all our friends at once, a handwritten letter emphasizes, “I really care about you.”

History gifts us with letters between John and Abigail Adams as well as Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine.  Written with ink on paper, the letters reveal warmth of feeling and closeness that the men’s political nemeses probably never suspected they possessed. Letters between parents and children, friends, and even business acquaintances give us glimpses into multi-faceted lives otherwise too easy to dismiss with stereotypes and generalizations.

The handwritten word lets us forge relationships while hasty, impulsive electronic communication often serves to sever them. Let’s take a lesson from the years preceding the Flood.

And it was, when man began to increase…
(Genesis 6:1)

ר י ב                         ל ר ו ב

to increase                  quarrel

                                 

V o R al                           V i R

 In Hebrew, the word for “increase” is ‘laRoV’. The word is similar to the word for quarrel, ‘RiV’. In Hebrew, words that share core letters beg to be examined together. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that this phrase doesn’t refer to population size. It is describing people who have lost a shared moral framework and see each other as rivals rather than partners. Ten friends is a stimulating group; ten random people is an annoyance; ten enemies is a mob. Genesis 6:2 goes on to say how women  became the victims of this lack of fraternal feeling. Economically, sexually and socially, things rapidly went downhill from there.              rapidly

Now is an appropriate time to make sure that you are building real relationships. Writing handwritten letters is one helpful tool. Here are five tips: (more…)

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