Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

River Revival

December 2nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Hannah is a full-time mom working strenuously, with her husband’s partnership, to raise five delightful (but rambunctious) children.  Sometimes, the daily pressures threaten to overwhelm her, and she finds herself snapping shrewishly at her family.

Jake recently launched his own small business. He is hoping soon to marry his girlfriend, whose family is equally enthusiastic about the pending union.  However, Jake sabotages his success by procrastination and by allowing unimportant distractions to derail him.

Henry, a middle-aged, senior level executive suspects he is losing the respect of his professional associates, and is increasingly estranged from his wife.  He often ends his day feeling depressed and miserable.

Hannah, Jake, and Henry all suffer from exactly the same problem and Scripture provides the prescription.

A river flows out from Eden to water the Garden,
and from there it is divided and becomes four headwaters.

Genesis 2:10

Unfortunately maps prove that no such arrangement of waterways ever existed. Another problem: If the purpose of the river is to “water the Garden,” it ought to flow into Eden rather than out from Eden. 

Clearly there must be more to this story than improbable geography.  Ancient Jewish wisdom helps by showing how the main river represents the human yearning to achieve our best life.  The river flowing from Eden makes it possible for us to swim back upstream to our own personal Eden. 

This ‘waterway to wonderful results’ comprises four basic rivers representing our four basic drives.  Each needs to be developed and focused if we are to head towards Eden.

Why four basic drives?  We possess both physical and spiritual needs and the world can provide us with both physical and spiritual commodities. Combined, that makes four drives.  Here they are with examples of how each drive is fulfilled.

  • What I need physically and the world supplies physically: food, water, shelter
  • What I need physically and the world supplies spiritually: friendship, connection, love, and esteem of others
  • What I need spiritually and the world supplies physically: a sense of security, beauty and culture
  • What I need spiritually and the world supplies spiritually: a connection with God, gaining of wisdom

In other words, the four Biblical rivers that lead us to the main canal of contentment represent four categories of human need.  Our desires and motivations come from our being both physical and spiritual creatures operating in a world that supplies both physical and spiritual commodities. 

Someone who ignores category 1 leaving himself and his family hungry and cold while vigorously advancing himself in category 4 would be viewed as foolish and perhaps even evil.  Similarly,  single-mindedly increasing one’s bank account while ignoring human relationships is sheer folly. 

Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that as complex beings, people need to experience growth and progress in each of these four categories if they are to live purposeful, successful, and fulfilling lives. 

We all know that we need food, water and shelter.  However, categories 2, 3, and 4 are less blatantly obvious and more easily ignored.  In the same way that balance is important in diet, exercise and investment portfolios, balance is equally important in healthily developing our life blueprint.

This Biblical model brings into our lives the ability to balance our existence.  This balance is critical.  For instance, my very capacity to earn money or relate to my spouse and children will be diminished if I do not also work at gaining wisdom and spiritual connection at the same time.  Think of it as a balanced diet. 

Hannah, Jake, and Henry need to study the rivers of Genesis. They should work on identifying the categories they are neglecting.  Their unhappiness will start to dispel once they begin repair work. 

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You Want Others to Think Well of You?  Good!

November 26th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

With an increasing sense of unease, I read reports about criminal assaults of unimaginable brutality committed against innocent passers-by.  In many instances, there was no robbery involved; the motivation was clearly not gain. It turns out to be nothing but an expression of nauseatingly violent hatred against a stranger on account of his political persuasion or his religious beliefs or because of his white skin color.  Sometimes it is just for the nihilistic joy of destruction. To my knowledge, this form of anti-social behavior is occurring more frequently in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Today we rightly condemn past times when similar assaults took place, though the political persuasions, religious beliefs and skin color might have been different. Yet, today we often avert our eyes from these attacks and pretend they aren’t happening. 

I am sure that there must be one or two people in your world for whom you harbor intense dislike.  I know that is true for me. There are even a few human beings whose actions I view as so evil and destructive that I do believe the world would be better off without them.

What stops you and me from creeping up behind one of these people we dislike (okay, detest) and ferociously slamming our fists against the back of their heads so savagely that they collapse to the sidewalk?  Precisely this is now happening ever more frequently, and what is more, most of the thugs elude capture and escape justice.

So, why don’t you and I launch barbaric assaults on those most deserving of our censure?  One important answer is that we refrain from violently attacking strangers in the street for exactly the same reason that those conscienceless criminals do commit those attacks: In order to earn and maintain the approval and esteem of others.

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Land Ho!

November 18th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

Quiz time.  Can you name seven countries that grant their citizens rights to own real property and that protect those rights thus empowering their citizens to sell, mortgage or rent their property for their own benefit?

No? Let me help. Here are a few in the top twelve:  Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Holland, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

Here, in contrast, are seven in the bottom twelve: Yemen, Haiti, Nigeria, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan.

You might note that hungry hordes are desperately trying to leave all countries in the second list in order to immigrate, legally or not, to any country in the first list.  You might attribute that to a coincidence, but if you’re a long-time happy warrior, you will already have heard from me many times that the Lord’s language, Hebrew, lacks a word for coincidence.  Not only are people urgently fleeing countries with low regard for property rights, but all the countries to which they wish to go are societies founded with regard for a majestic book of mysterious origins that we call the Bible.  And that too is no coincidence.

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Of Boats and Businesses

November 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Like many of you, I find myself turning to online videos for information. Instead of reading through a dense and confusing manual or using a process of trial and error, I simply need to type a few words into my search engine to see step-by-step instructions for changing a water filter, manipulating the settings in my car or, should I ever be so inclined, how to fold a fitted bed sheet. If I follow the steps, I will accomplish my task. On a larger scale, carefully following engineering drawings and architects’ plans allow you to successfully build a house, boat or plane.

Yet, building a business or a marriage offers no such assurances.  Although countless books exist about starting a business and getting married, following those advisors brings no guarantee of success.  Surely directions for marriage and entrepreneurship ought to ensure success just as do directions for ship builders, airplane builders, and home builders.  Why would the success rate for new businesses and marriages be well below the figure for ships, planes, and buildings? Maybe Exodus can guide us.

God directed Moses how to build the Ark of the Covenant and then told him to place inside it, “…the testimony which I shall give you.” (Exodus 25:16)

God directed Moses to build the Table and then told him, “And you shall set the bread of display upon the table… (Exodus 25:30)

God directed Moses to build the Menorah and then told him, “…and he (the priest) shall light its lamps… (Exodus 25:37)

However, when God directed Moses to build the altar (Exodus 27:1-8) no subsequent instructions followed.

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Animals Are People Too, Right?

November 5th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 34 comments

Don’t you know that homosexuality is natural?  Surely you must be aware that same-sex behavior involving courtship and pair-bonding has been observed in hundreds of species of animals?

California’s Proposition 47 ensures that a career criminal (Sorry, I forgot that San Francisco prohibits that term in favor of “justice-involved-individual”) who steals money or property suffers virtually no consequences as long as the total value of his daily theft is less than $950.  A journalist with whom I was discussing this wholesale eviction of moral principles explained, “Rabbi, you probably don’t know that hundreds of animals from whales to squirrels take things from other creatures and nobody brands them as criminals and thieves.”

Here is another one.  Marriage is unnatural.  Expecting two people to commit legally to remain together for today’s longer lifespans is crazy. Maybe it made sense during earlier agrarian days and when life was more perilous but today it’s just unnatural. Almost no animal mates for life and neither should we.  It ought to be harder to get into marriage and easier to get out.

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Say it Once, Say it Twice…

October 29th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

America built three big, bold and beautiful bridges during a period of only 6 years.  In 1931, the George Washington Bridge leaped the Hudson River and linked Manhattan to New Jersey.  That same year brought us the Bayonne Bridge linking Staten Island to New Jersey and in 1937 San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened.

Three astounding inventions that changed our world each occurred about one hundred years apart from one another.  For thousands of years, until about 1750, the only way to make things move was with human muscle, animal muscle, wind or moving water. Then the steam engine appeared which could perform vastly more work than the work originally needed to  obtain the coal to fuel it.  For thousands of years the fastest way to communicate information was to send a man on a horse. About a hundred years after the invention of the steam engine, in 1844, Samuel Morse sent an electronic message down a copper wire from the Capitol in Washington DC to Penn Station in Baltimore. In 1948 William Shockley at Bell Labs invented the transistor making possible the digital world we take for granted today.

Three revolutions help us understand the American War of Independence:  the English Civil War of 1643, the French Revolution in 1789 and the Russian Revolution in 1917.

The three previous paragraphs are intended to demonstrate a truism of successful speaking and writing. Our attention tends to be attracted and retained by a list of three items. I could have added the San Francisco  Oakland Bay Bridge to the first paragraph; it was opened in 1936. I could have added the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903 to the second paragraph.  I could have added the Mexican revolution of 1910 to my third paragraph. However, in each paragraph, I deliberately wanted three items.

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Yo Ho Ho – a Pirate’s Life for Me

October 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

In the early 1600s, Rabbi Samuel Palache, president of Neveh Shalom Synagogue in Amsterdam, was also a pirate.  With authorization from Dutch and British authorities, he preyed on Spanish ships. A hundred years earlier Spain had cruelly expelled his family, along with all other Spanish Jews.

I relate to the roving rabbi. For half the year, he lived aboard his boat, equipped with a kosher chef, in the balmy waters of the Caribbean.  Some of our most memorable family times have been aboard a boat, admittedly not in the Caribbean but off the coast of British Columbia. We don’t engage in piracy and our kosher chef is my wife. Still, my feelings about boat and ocean seem to confirm our family tradition that we descend from the tribe of Zevulun.

Zevulun will live on the seashore and boats will be his haven…
(Genesis 49:13)

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Save Civilization – Find a Father

October 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Deaths by drug overdose, particularly from the class of heroin-containing drugs known as opioids are generally high. But there is one demographic that constitutes only 32% of America’s population but accounts for over 70% of opioid deaths—single men.  They do stand out, but there is another group that stands out even more conspicuously for deaths by crime, overdose, suicide and disease.  Their statistics are even worse than for single men in general.  This group is  men who are not fathers.  They are the most dangerous and the most vulnerable group in the United States. 

Not only are they vulnerable but by far and away, men who are not fathers and who never had fathers themselves, perpetrate most violent crime.  Mass shooters are overwhelmingly single men but there are exceptions. For instance, Stephen Paddock, the 2017 Las Vegas shooter, had been married twice and had a girlfriend. However, he had never been a father.  If instead of identifying them as single men, we identify  men who are not fathers, that pretty much covers all the mass shooters in recent American history.

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Find Yourself in a Fish

October 7th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

What a blessings it is to be able to bounce out of bed each morning on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low, miserable and even depressed is having a purpose, knowing it, and passionately propelling oneself towards it.

As an ardent boating enthusiast, I find the behavior of the Bible’s most famous mariner, Jonah, to be quite baffling.  At the very height of a furious storm that threatened the very survival of their ship, the terrified sailors cast their cargo overboard to lighten the vessel.  Obviously, during such a tempest the safest location is high up on the struggling vessel from where escape might at least be possible.  That is why lifeboats on every ship are found on the upper deck.  Nobody in his right mind would voluntarily remain far down in the belly of the boat.  Many victims of the Titanic drowned down in bottom decks of the doomed liner.

But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep. 
(Jonah 1:5) 

Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world.  But don’t envy him.  Only the dead have no worries.  And that’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.  Jonah was an avoider of challenges. 

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Yours, Mine and Our Sins

October 1st, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

But everybody’s doing it.” Is there any parent who has not heard that cry? Perhaps your child wants to go to an inadequately chaperoned party. Maybe a teenager wants to read the latest best-selling book that his or her parents see as morally suspect. No matter the issue, children want to be part of a group.

We adults are susceptible to this desire as well. We buy new clothing and cars so that we ‘fit in’ with a certain crowd; we watch popular movies because ‘everyone’ is talking about them. Sometimes we even vote with our social group rather than researching and making an informed decision.

We are not only influenced by others, but we are also the influencers. When I succumb to complaining, cowardice or anger, I affect my spouse, children, neighbors and co-workers. Contaminated by my attitude, they will be more likely to behave the same way. If I lower my standards and speak rudely or profanely, others will more easily do so as well.

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