Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Fill Your Basket

June 11th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Before we can achieve great things we have to be able to picture great things. Someone whose parents constantly fought doesn’t know that family life can be conducted in pleasant and calm tones. A person who only knows hourly wage-earners can’t imagine acquiring a position with a large monthly salary.  Accepting your current circumstances as your normal, ongoing reality is a terrible trap.

Who would have blamed the Israelites for accepting their nomadic lifestyle as normal?  After two hundred years of slavery, followed by forty years wandering around a desert, how could they picture themselves becoming independent landowners?

Every Israelite should have dismissed the words of Moses as hopeless fantasy when he said to them:

And it shall be when you come into the land that the
Lord your God gives you as an inheritance…
(Deuteronomy 26:1)

What made them accept the vision of their own Promised Land without skepticism?

The secret is that Moses presented them with a vision, not a fantasy. He didn’t promise a utopian future divorced from reality; he let them know that with blessing comes challenge and responsibility. That was believable. He not only promised them their Promised Land and its abundant harvests, but he also revealed the duties and obligations that would be theirs along with the abundance. 

In the future, they will take their first fruits, put them into a basket, and take them on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In other words, as recipients of God’s blessing they must acknowledge Him as the source of that blessing and welcome the obligation to follow His ways.

That first fruits ceremony is described in Deuteronomy 26:1-11. A real attention-getter jumps off the Hebrew page—a rare word for basket.  The word ‘basket’ appears about twenty times throughout Scripture and most times the Hebrew word used is sahl.

ס   ל

L ← ha ← S

…and the birds were eating them from the basket…
(Genesis 40:17)

In our first fruits passage, the word basket appears twice (Deuteronomy 26: 2&4) but the word used is not sahl but the very unusual word, teneh.

ט   נ   א

he ← N e ← T

The letter samech, pronounced ‘S’ in the first word, sahl (basket) is shaped like a closed circle.  Not only is the word sahl missing in the first fruits passage but amazingly, there is no appearance of the letter samech in all those eleven verses.  The verse immediately preceding contains a letter samech (Deuteronomy 25:19) and a few verses later (Deuteronomy 26:18) we spot a samech.  While samech is not one of the most frequently used letters, here an unusual Hebrew word is employed in order to avoid introducing the letter samech in the more common word for basket. Why is it so important that the whole first fruits passage should not contain that letter?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the fully enclosed circular shape of the letter samech hints of boundaries and limitations. These have no place in a passage filled with God’s promise of limitless abundance.  For this reason, teneh replaces sahl to signify a veritable cornucopia of plenty. But along with being able to envision God’s ability to deliver abundance, one has to recognize that responsibility accompanies that gift, signified by the bringing of the first fruits.

Never view your today as your inevitable tomorrow.  But merely fantasizing about a tomorrow with health, wealth, and love is unrealistic and entraps you in an unchanging today.  Envision your promised land without limits but with accompanying obligations.  Make a specific plan with strategic steps, each of which is another obligation on the road to a better future, but don’t limit your picture of that future. Convert hopeless fantasies into energizing visions by eagerly anticipating the responsibilities that will accompany God’s bounty.

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One Picture…

June 5th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

How easy it is to become impatient with a long story being recounted to us by a toddler, colleague, client, customer, or patient.  Unfortunately, leadership, whether in business or the family, sometimes depends upon making the best decision after receiving nothing more than a written or verbal report.

When we are the ones relaying information, we can get frustrated as our listeners tune us out. Instead of our employees, spouse, children or patients paying attention, they seem uninterested or distracted.

How do we become better at both giving and receiving information?

This verse can help:

Just watch out for yourself…lest you forget the words which your eyes saw,
and you shall make them known to your children and your grandchildren.
(Deuteronomy 4:9)

Why does Deuteronomy 4:9 refer to words that are seen? We see things, not words. I sympathize with the plight of translators who often mistakenly write, “Just watch out for yourself…lest you forget the things which your eyes saw…”

While ‘things’ is a possible alternative meaning for the Hebrew word, DeVaRiM, which is used here, it is not correct in this context.  DeVaRiM, meaning words, is the Hebrew name for the fifth of the Five Books of Moses and is the second Hebrew word of the book.

דברים

These are the words (DeVaRiM) which Moses spoke to all Israel…
(Deuteronomy 1:1)

As our verse reveals, central to the entire theme of intergenerational Torah transmission is that we must transmit to our children and grandchildren specific words and not general things. But spoken words like the Torah taught by Moses are heard not seen!

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the unusual language in the verse refers to the fact that the entire Sinai revelation was an integrated, comprehensive, multi-media experience; a sort of son-et-lumiere show. There was a visual depiction of the words spoken by God.

Why was this necessary? 

When we see a landscape, a statue, a battlefield or a building, we instantly grasp the entire picture.  No translation is necessary.

Many of us still prefer watches with hands because by merely glancing at the position of those little hands, we instantly understand that we’re late.  Seeing a colorful graph reflecting sales figures immediately lets us know how the company is doing compared to last year.  A picture really is worth a thousand words.

When we look at details or hear a recitation, our brains need to convert the information into useful real world information such as “you’re late!” Listening to a lesson, a speech or a piece of music requires that we concentrate through its entirety since it imparts meaning only once our brains have assembled hundreds of words or musical notes into one integrated totality.

Our verse teaches the correct technique for coping with the challenge of conveying and receiving information.  As listeners, we need to exercise our memory muscles in order to concentrate on converting a long flow of words into one complete picture that we can almost see in our mind’s eye. Only then can we exercise judgment and leadership in arriving at the right conclusion and taking the best actions.

When relaying important information, try to make it come alive, using words and imagery which captivate our listener and help him visualize what we are saying. Try making your listener see a picture rather than just hear words.

In directing the children of Israel to convey words to children and grandchildren, God taught us how to effectively do so. The words must be so alive that they can actually be seen just as they originally were when God presented them.

Parents know that children learn more from what we do than from what we say. Early in Genesis we see an example of this when Noah’s actions transmit his values to his children in a way that makes them and their wives deserving of escaping the Flood along with their parents. To discover more about these verses as well as those concerning the Nephilim, the dimensions of the Ark and more, access our 2 audio CD set, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah. Along with the fully illustrated study guide, I have tried my best to paint a picture of that Biblical episode in a way that will bring it to life and relate it to your life. Get it on sale now.

Reprinted from 5/2012

The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah

S A L E Rabbi Lapin Download

Sneaky Snakes

May 28th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 27 comments

Evil exists. It is a fatal mistake to think that it does not. Yet, it is very hard to find anyone who is doing an evil act who will admit to doing so, even to themselves. Most often, sophisticated people doing great evil will justify their actions, convinced to the depths of their souls that they are doing what is absolutely good, right, and noble. Indeed, the right course of action is rarely obvious. Truth and falsehood; right and wrong; these  are not simple distinctions.

Not surprisingly, the word of the Lord and the language in which it was written offer us a tool to help cut through the moral fog.

The nation spoke against the Lord and Moses,
“Why did you take us from Egypt to die in the desert,
there is no bread or water and our souls are disgusted
with this lightweight bread.”
Numbers 21:9

This complaint is about the miraculous Manna from Heaven, one of God’s great blessings! In response, the Lord sends venomous snakes to attack the nation, killing a great number of people. Realizing the gravity of their ingratitude, the nation approaches Moses and acknowledges that they erred in grumbling. Moses prays to God on their behalf. God instructs Moses to make a serpent and place it on a stick. Moses makes a copper snake and miraculously, any stricken person who looked at this snake survived.

Isn’t this more work than is necessary? Why offer a cure for the snakes rather than simply removing them?

Ancient Jewish wisdom points out that the words for copper and snake are made up of the same root letters.

נ ח ש       נ ח ש ת

copper        snake

In other words, the word snake blends right in to the word copper. A person looking at the word copper does not even notice that there is a snake in there!

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the serpent represents the inclination to do evil that is present in man. Yet, very few of us openly choose to do wrong. Instead, we rationalize our choices and convince ourselves of our righteousness. Humans struggle to make the right choices due to the lure of the wrong choices.

Just as the snake’s camouflage allows him to blend perfectly into the underbrush so that he simply can’t be seen, so does evil often blend in with good. The serpent lures us into believing that his voice inside of us is in fact our better instincts speaking.

The solution is to isolate the serpent and place him up on a pole. Take him out from the copper hues of the underbrush where he hides and identify him for the fraud that he is. When wrong faces the light of day, it can no longer be as easily misrepresented as good. That part of man that lures him into make mistakes and urges him to choose the fleeting over the eternal is not really a part of him at all!

There is no getting rid of the snake; perplexing challenges are here to stay. This world is confusing. Frequently, we need a mentor to help us remove the snakes from the ground and raise them in the air. It takes years of training and guidance to make sure that a Godly, moral lens is the one through which we are looking. Too often, we create our own moral system and then self-righteously do wrong, convinced that we are, in fact, doing right.

This morning, on Memorial Day, when Americans recognize the sacrifices made by so many in a nation that was formed on the concept of trying to live up to high ideals, Susan and I joined our children in welcoming our eight-day-old grandson into the Covenant of Abraham. Our gratitude to those who fought for America, and continue to do so, is immense. Their sacrifices allow us to live as Jews in safety, prosperity and freedom in this great land.

Parenthood is a sacred trust; for sophisticated people it is an understandably frightening choice to join with the Almighty in creating a human being. The snake can whisper dozens of excuses as to why it is the wrong thing to do. No wonder the more secular a society the lower its fertility rate. Yet, those excuses pale when exposed to light and seen through God’s directions for our lives.

When we created our audio CD program, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah, our goal was to show how some of today’s most confusing moral choices are the same as those that early generations faced. We hoped to strengthen parents who wanted to ensure that their children, like Noah’s, would join them in an Ark of safety in a dangerous world. Snakes survived the Flood, making the guidance in those verses in Genesis preceding the destruction of the world, pertinent, necessary and invaluable to us today. We pray that they can benefit you and those you love.

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S A L E

 

Rabbi Lapin Download
The Gathering Storm:
Decoding the Secrets of Noah
The Gathering Storm:
Decoding the Secrets of Noah MP3

Ditch the Doldrums

May 23rd, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

There are many life-metaphors to be found in the wonderful world of boats. Boats and people both embark on journeys and both can reach their destinations or sink.

When a boat is in the doldrums it is in that notorious windless zone near the equator. Old-time sailing vessels were often stuck there for weeks.  When a person is listless and despondent, he is also said to be in the doldrums.  But there is one major difference. While sailboats must await changing weather, humans have the miraculous capacity to bring about change in their lives themselves. 

Being marooned in stagnant circumstances is enough to make anyone miserable.  Change, growth, and progress are amazingly effective antidotes to depression. Most of us feel energized and optimistic when taking actions to improve our lives. Often, the changing calendar serves as a useful catalyst. But wait!  What’s the point?  We all know that most New Year resolutions fade away by spring.

One way to retain resolutions is to feel authentic, durable excitement in our souls about the spiritual magic of change.

Isn’t it rather strange how God introduced Himself to humanity on Sinai 3,330 years ago? 

I am the Lord your God who…
(Exodus 20:2)

Who did what?

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Shhh! It’s a Holy Day

May 15th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

This coming Saturday night will see immense numbers of Jews studying Scripture until sunrise.  They will be observing the sixth of the month of Sivan, Shavuot 5778, the 3,330th anniversary of the events described in Exodus 19, when God handed over His book to Moses.

What happened on Shavuot plays a crucial role in the daily lives of Jews.  For instance, every circumcision of a Jewish male infant commemorates God’s gift of the Torah. Without that Scriptural commandment, it is extremely unlikely that this minor operation would have been so consistently performed on every Jewish male. 

Every time a Jew declines bacon with his morning eggs, he is recognizing that most important event of Jewish history which took place on Shavuot.  Jewish marriages are properly solemnized,  “…according to the laws of Moses and Israel,” once again with a firm foundation in what took place on Shavuot. 

It is therefore puzzling that Shavuot, the day on which God presented the Bible, gets trumped in popularity by other festivals that wouldn’t even be celebrated at all were it not for that Bible.  For example, many more American Jews celebrate Passover than celebrate Shavuot.  Many more Jews celebrate Chanukah than celebrate Shavuot.  It is hard to think of a holiday bearing greater religious significance than Shavuot; it is also hard to think of a Jewish holiday that gets less attention.  Just try asking a non-observant Jewish acquaintance about Shavuot—you’re likely to get a puzzled look in return.  Why are so many Jews indifferent to Shavuot?

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When Enough is Not Enough

May 8th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 55 comments

I invested a day last week advising the executive team of a Nashville-based business with branches in several southern states.  My job was to help them resolve several challenges caused by their rapid growth.  One question we explored concerned whether the company had grown enough and should henceforth do nothing but aim to maintain its current annual revenue level. 

Several of the executives expressed satisfaction with what they had achieved over the past few years, both in the business as well as in their personal lives.  They felt content and although they were fairly young men and women, they saw their hard-work-years as having ended.  They now saw themselves as treading water rather than trying to win any races.  “We don’t need any more money,” they told me.

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Only the Few

April 30th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 32 comments

Most teachers follow the rule that if one student asks a question, more than one student is thinking the same question. So when I repeatedly get asked one question, I know that it is time to rephrase the answer I have been giving and try to explain it more fully.

The question I get concerns our teaching that only about 20% of the Israelites left Egypt. I understand that this isn’t part of general Sunday School lessons, but that is because it is a message for adults with enormous implications.

In fact, the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, is credited with popularizing this eighty-twenty principle although I have no idea if he knew that it is found in  the Bible. There are plenty of examples of this rule that will set your head nodding.

If you enjoy cooking or baking, you probably use about 20% of your recipes 80% of the time.  You probably wear about 20% of your clothing 80% of the time.  Perhaps about 80% of your social connectivity comes from interactions with only 20% of your friends. Those in sales know that about 80% of their sales revenue comes from 20% of your customers. 

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April 25th, 2018 Posted by AAJC Happenings 14 comments

Dear AAJC Friend,

Greetings to you as we rapidly approach the summer months of 2018.  It is our prayer that so far this has been a blessed, healthy and prosperous year for you and your loved ones.

I saw a recent editorial headline that read, “America is a more divided nation than ever before”  At first, I agreed wholeheartedly with that statement.  But then, I questioned myself.  After all, we were a pretty divided nation in the 1770s.  Some wanted to break with England while others did not.  We were a very divided nation in the 1850s.  That division even led to a bloody war.  We were divided in the 1930s.  Some wanted to participate in finishing off Nazi Germany while others wanted to leave the ‘Old World’ to fight its wars alone. 

But now really is different.  At the time of our founding, we were divided about declaring independence but we all agreed about the Judeo-Christian basis to our society.  During the Civil War both sides relied on the Bible for guidance.  Many Americans did not want the country in World War 2 but everyone agreed that the Nazi barbarians threatened the Judeo-Christian values that had built civilization.

But today, we are divided about those Judeo-Christian values.  Some believe them to be vital for our nation’s survival while others view them as primitive obstructions to progress.  Some regard the work of those wise Christian men over two hundred years ago, our Constitution, as vital for our nation’s survival while others see it as a primitive obstruction to progress.  Today, we really are divided about the fundamentals of our existence.  The kind of lives we shall live and the kind of country in which our children will grow up is up for grabs.  It could go either way.

It should be obvious to all that civilization as we know it and as we live it in comparative tranquility every day utterly depends upon Biblically based Judeo-Christian values being gently and lovingly implanted in every hearth.

This is a question I regularly ask when I am being interviewed on radio and television:  Right now, would the world be a better place or a worse place if a billion Moslems became Christians.  The long silence I usually get indicates that everyone knows the answer.

We’re living in a time Christians and Jews must stand up for  what we believe.   Only Judeo-Christian values can save the world from descending into decades of darkness.  That, in short, is our mission.

And in support of this mission we’ve been sending out Thought Tools free to over 40,000 subscribers every week now for ten years.   I hope you receive it and enjoy it.  More than that, I hope that you extract meaning from it and discover new spiritual strategies to apply in your life. 

(If are a new subscriber to Thought Tools and have yet to benefit from it or you do not share my views about the future of civilization and what we could be doing, I apologize.  Please ignore it and forgive me for troubling you.)

However, if you have been reading our Thought Tools for a while, you might have noticed that this weekly spiritual strategy is sent out by the not-for-profit American Alliance of Jews and Christians.  I would like to tell you a little about the AAJC.

The American Alliance of Jews and Christians grew from the deep conviction held by a group of Jewish and Christian friends, that despite theological differences, millions of Jews and Christians share a common vision of civilization and furthermore, definitely prefer civilization to its alternative—barbarism.

Civilization prefers tranquility to violence; it prefers men to treat women with respect and deference; it prefers freedom to centrally planned tyranny; it prefers people enjoying economic independence through their own efforts to socialism; it believes in charity by choice rather than in government redistribution by force; it believes that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman devoted to one another and to their children, and it believes that both the beginning and end of life should be in God’s hands alone.  Civilization engenders friendship, beauty, compassion, and courtesy rather than brutishness and vulgarity.  Like the American Founders, we prefer a Biblically inspired culture to the sordid stain of secularism and the socialistic society it tends to inspire.

In recent years, America’s Judeo-Christian principles have been increasingly under assault by the media, our universities, as well as the government.  The self-evident truths of 1776 that the Founders based so solidly on Scripture have been marginalized by the notion that no such truths exist.

Some insist that America must change by casting off the old and putting on the new.  But the change that we urgently need is not movement away from, but a return to our founding Judeo-Christian principles.  At this important time in our nation’s history, we must respond by retaking and resolutely defending the high ground of America’s founding principles.

That is why we began this important work over twenty years ago which led to our establishing the  American Alliance of Jews & Christians.  Since that time we have been directly impacting our world by promoting better understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews who care about God’s Biblical blueprint.

Our mission is to equip today’s thought-leaders and opinion-makers with the Bible’s ancient solutions to  cutting-edge problems that come directly from the sacred principles found in ancient Jewish wisdom. 

I am asking for your help and support today.  I am telling you this right now so that if you are unable to help at this time or simply do not wish to do so, you don’t have to continue reading. And that is just fine.  I value your time and I appreciate you and the many other ways you help defend all that is good.

But if you’re still reading, you might like to know more about our work and perhaps help our work continue by means of an appropriate gesture of financial support.  Let me tell you a little more about the idea behind the AAJC and its goals and dreams.

We have not done this work alone.  Countless people have given of their time and financial support to help us make a positive difference in America and around the world.   AAJC is a not-for-profit organization.  It is the support from people like you that allows us to continue broadcasting Bible teachings from ancient Jewish wisdom worldwide via radio, TV, books, the Internet, newsletters, personal appearances, speaking engagements and much more.

We have been honored to work alongside many wonderful organizations that share a similar conviction of restoring Biblical principles into the American culture.  Although the American Alliance of Jews and Christians   has made tremendous progress and it continues to expand its  calling, there is still much to be done.  We need your help more than ever. The threat of Muslim terror and political influence continues to rise.  Not only in the United States, but also directly against Israel.

How can we stop this onslaught against our culture?  Who has the knowledge and the ability to help fight this battle?  With your help, the AAJC has become a leader in this courageous fight.

The sacred mission of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians is to provide the ammunition for keeping the culture attached to its Judeo-Christian spiritual roots enabling it to continue as healthy and successful. 

Our weekly Thought Tools as well as the books and audio CDs we help make available, our daily TV show on TCT Television Network and our podcast now heard around the world are all part of how we provide the intellectual ammunition for good men and women around the world to deploy in the struggle to defend civilization and protect the culture we love. 

This year, AAJC continues to increase our effectiveness through new publications, programs, speaking engagements in the US and Internationally, and we look forward to soon announcing a national conference.

If these values are important to you and your family, I would like to ask you to join with us.  We have a responsibility to our children to do what we can to fight for a return to Judeo-Christian values.

I would never suggest how much you should or can give. This is an intensely personal decision; however, I will tell you that for our programmed activities during 2018-2019, we have planned a program requiring a budget of $900,000.  We are grateful for those few of you who give in the tens of thousands of dollars.  We are equally grateful to the many of you who give in the hundreds and tens. It is up to you and up to me and if you give us the tools, we’ll do the job. 

Whatever support you can give to our work will be very much appreciated. You can make your tax-deductible gift HERE or by mailing in your gift to: 

AAJC
P.O. Box 58
Mercer Island, WA 98040 

May God bless you and protect you and may we all be privileged to do our part in protecting the legacy He entrusted to humanity on Mount Sinai over three thousand years ago. 

Rabbi Daniel Lapin

President

American Alliance of Jews and Christians 

PS:  Just as ancient Israel arrived in the Promised Land with nothing but a set of Biblically-based ideas and proceeded to carve a civilization out of a wilderness, those great early Americans did the same thing.  They crossed an ocean bearing little more than those timeless truths of the Bible and they too carved a great civilization out of a great wilderness.

Now plucking a flower from its roots and bringing it indoors to enjoy might seem like a good idea but pretty soon we discover that anything severed from its roots dies mighty quickly.  Similarly, the great ideas of western civilization have roots too.  Those roots are enshrined in the page of Scripture. And trying to disconnect civilization from its roots assures it of a rapid demise.

Therein lays the sacred mission of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians.  Keeping civilization attached to its Judeo-Christian spiritual roots to maintain it as a fresh, strong, and influential force.

I want to support the  AAJC

The When and Where Matter

April 17th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

This evening, Tuesday April 17, Susan and I are doing a live TV show in Akron, OH before a studio audience.  Among other teaching, we will accept questions from people in the audience to which we shall respond by employing principles of ancient Jewish wisdom.  This is what we do with our Ask the Rabbi feature that appears on our website each week. Except that tomorrow evening, we shall see the people asking and get to meet them after the one-hour show is done.

Imagine someone in the audience asking, “Rabbi, I want to get a divorce, but my wife who is here with me is really hurt and wants us to work on our marriage; what should we do?”  There is, of course, no way to respond helpfully to all the pain oozing out of that question in the few minutes available in the show format.  I know that both Susan and I would view it as a really inappropriate question to ask in a public forum.

A lawyer friend told me that, more times than he would have expected, he would be celebrating a family birthday at a restaurant when a client would approach him saying, “I know you’re in the middle of dinner, but…”  What would follow would be some technical issue that could have and should have been addressed in an office environment. 

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Predictably Offensive

April 9th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

If you pass by a lady who is  standing on a busy sidewalk and staring upwards, it probably doesn’t mean much. She might be stretching her neck or watching a butterfly.  If you pass by a crowd of twenty people all avidly gazing upwards, it probably means that something is happening up there.

If one person invests in a crypto-currency it’s hardly worth noting, but if ten thousand do it’s a trend that should be understood.  If three or four companies depart a high-tax state for one in which taxes are low, politicians might ignore it.  But if hundreds move each year, it would be sheer folly for state leaders to ignore the trend. 

If every individual picked his own profanity, swear word, or obscenity, there’d be little to discuss.  But if millions of speakers over many centuries confine their verbal vulgarities to mostly three categories, discovering why could be valuable.  It turns out that almost all dirty dialect and putrid patter revolve around the bathroom function of defecation, the sexual function of copulation, and God.  I discuss a number of reasons for this in my audio CD on the topic, but I’d like to look at an additional explanation.

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