Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Character, Not Curriculum

June 30th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Sometimes, the passage of time makes things crystal clear. It is obvious today that there is no link between education and wisdom and, furthermore, no link between hours spent in school and education. Scores of college students and graduates constantly reveal their ignorance about basic concepts of American history, democracy and the Constitution on a daily basis.

During the 19th century, when England was largely populated by Bible-believing Christians, Thomas Henry Huxley was an outlier.  He invented the word ‘agnostic’ to explain himself and later devoted his life to promoting what he thought of as “scientific rationalism” rather than religion. Among his writings is this paragraph:

“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.”

It serves to show how even smart people can say foolish things.  Huxley is suggesting that education can give us the ability to do what we should do when we ought to do it, whether we feel like it or not.  In other words, he believes that will power and self-discipline can be academically taught.  If this were true, there would be some correlation between education and successful living. However, many people with advanced academic degrees exercise no willpower and demonstrate no self-discipline whereas many people who failed to graduate high school possess those indispensable characteristics.

He is certainly correct that it would be most valuable to acquire early in life the ability to make yourself do the things you have to do when you ought to do them.  Conversely, it follows that acquiring the ability to refrain from doing those things that you ought not to do would be equally valuable. 

But it just isn’t that simple.  There is no course you can take in high school or college that will equip you with these vital life skills.  If there were, there would be no such thing as a procrastinating professor. Doing what you should do and doing it in a timely manner is not a matter of fact. Refraining from things you ought not to do is not a matter of curriculum.  They are a matter of character.

Here is a little of ancient Jewish wisdom’s teachings on the topic.

Each of the three letters making up the Hebrew word for ‘king’ (MeLeCh) stands for a part of the human body. However, ancient Jewish wisdom is not a textbook on anatomy so what is being highlighted are internal characteristics. 

מ     ל    כ
C       L      M

M – Mo-aCH – Brain

L- LeV –  Heart

C – CaVeD – Liver

Those three parts of the human body each carry special spiritual allusions.  The brain alludes to our analytical and thoughtful abilities. Whenever the word heart is used in Scripture, it means our emotional beings.  Finally, the word CaVeD, liver, means base bodily appetites.

Furthermore, the word MeLeCh, ‘king,’ occurs many times in Scripture. Biblically, when discussing people, a king can refer to anybody rising to leadership over his fellow humans.

Thus, aspiring to leadership means running your life and making your decisions based primarily on intellectual and thoughtful analysis.  Secondly, consider your emotions.  Finally, only once all else is in place, indulge the bodily appetites.  A successful life is lived firstly on doing what one’s head directs and only subsequently on what one’s heart wants.  Seldom, if ever, are important decisions made based on the calls of the body.

Conversely, let’s see what Hebrew word emerges by reversing the three letters.  What if one runs one’s life with a paramount emphasis on food, sex, and fun?  Then if time and energy still allow, one does what one’s heart directs, and finally, if ever, one listens to the call of one’s head. What would that life look like?

Reversing the order of the letters making up the Hebrew for king, we now have:

Caved – liver – bodily appetites

Lev – heart – emotions

Mo-aCH – brain – the intellect.

What does the Hebrew word CaLeM, (the opposite of MeLeCh) mean?  Answer:  Embarrassment, shame, calumny.  Notice that words like calumny and calamity possess the root letters of CLM. 

The lesson is clear.  To reach the heights of leadership and success, do first what your head tells you. Only then consult your heart, and finally, very finally, think of what your body craves. Failing to heed this guidance leads to calumny, embarrassment and shame. 

The problem is that knowing this does not ensure that we will follow it.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the basic requirement for a king of Israel was an active and healthy relationship with God.  The Israelite king had to write his own copy of the Torah and he had to follow it.  A connection with God is one of the strongest tools for building character.  Possessing deep conviction that regardless of where one finds oneself, the King of Kings is watching with the highest expectations is a guard rail of moral safety. 

There are naturally agnostics and atheists with high character, just as there are, sadly, religious people without.  However, what I say to an atheist who asks me if I think being religious makes me better than him, is this:  I don’t think my faith in God makes me better than you. I don’t know what is in your heart. How could I?  But I do know that my religion makes me far better than I would be without it. And me, I do know.

Huxley was an intelligent man.  Of this, there is no doubt.  However, he lacked wisdom, believing that character could be taught as if it were a page of historic facts.

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All or Nothing

June 17th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Sadly, but readily, I’ll confess that I am no dancer.  It’s not that I wouldn’t like to be Fred Astaire on the dance floor.  It’s just that when I dance, more than anything else I resemble a drunk trying to trample a cockroach.  One of my many problems in this arena is that I remember only one thing at a time.  I can remember a kindly advisor (actually it was a contemptuous teenager) at a family celebration telling me to wave my arms.  This I can do, but since the rest of me stands as rigidly as the Statue of Liberty the overall effect is less Astaire and more like a seizure.  When I remember to bounce lightly on my toes while syncopating my feet, well, we’re back to stomping cockroaches.  It really is important to apply all elements of an integrated solution; to use all the recommended ingredients in a recipe.

Running a business means taking care of production, marketing, accounting, and several other key areas.  No matter how proficiently you pursue only one of those, if the others are neglected, you won’t see success.  Building a happy and tranquil family also depends on simultaneously progressing on a number of fronts.  A military campaign is another example of this principle.  If an invasion is successful but the air cover and supply lines are neglected, all is lost.  No complex task or project can be accomplished with blinders on.  One must understand all the components that taken together comprise success and then figure out how to move forward on them all at the same time.

Part of Israel’s success as a modern, democratic state is surely due to her ability to focus simultaneously on defense, tourism, industrialization, infrastructure, immigration, and many other concerns.  In all likelihood, understanding the total picture entered the DNA of Israel from the following Scriptural source:

And you shall guard them and do them [the laws and statutes] for doing so
[is evidence of] your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations who,
when they hear about ALL these statutes will say,
“Surely this is a nation of wisdom and understanding”.
Deuteronomy 4:6

Ancient Jewish wisdom describes how this verse would have read almost identically had the word ALL been omitted. 

…when they hear about these statutes (they) will say, “Surely
this is a nation of wisdom and understanding.”

See what I mean?

Nonetheless, that word ALL is vital.  If the nations see Israel observing and doing only selected laws and statutes, perhaps only those they feel emotionally drawn to, the result would be quite different.  The nations will not say, “This is a nation of wisdom and understanding.” Instead, they are more likely to say, “How weird, bizarre, and generally inexplicable is this nation!”

Revering only the parts of the Bible we like the sound of does not make us effective children of God; it subjects us to ridicule.  Seeing the Bible as the comprehensive life plan that it is, not only makes us effective but it also makes us admired.

There are those who take the Bible seriously on family matters but who ignore it at work.  There are those who meticulously study the Bible and obey its edicts on charity and justice but who regard its rulings on other social issues to be anachronistic.  All the folks in these examples are getting as much benefit from the Bible as they would from eating a culinary delight prepared by a careless chef who omitted a few key ingredients.

When you respect the Biblical statutes, that important word ALL is the key.  If you try to make a bed so perfectly that a sergeant’s coin bounces off the blanket, you need to pay equal attention and apply equal tension to ALL four corners. God’s word is no different. Perhaps certain concepts resonate with us while others baffle us. That is irrelevant.  We do well to recognize that they are all intertwined.

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Peace or Pandemonium

June 9th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

Boating without a chart and a compass is quite unthinkable.  Even on land, maps help me make sense of otherwise confusing environments that can feel almost unknowable.  Before the advent of the Global Positioning System, otherwise known as GPS, roadmaps were ubiquitous.  I have heard that (before my time), gas stations used to hand them out for free.  To this day, when I arrive in a new city for the first time I feel uneasy until I have acquired a large-scale street map on which I can locate my surroundings. 

A young relative on a road trip recently phoned me from his car.  He was trying to get from one side of a busy city to the other and wanted to know if there was a beltway that encircled the city or whether he had no choice but to drive through the city center as his GPS instructed.  This is a question that could be instantly answered by consulting a map but, not having one, he called me.  He knew that I had a big box of road maps for almost every North American location and that I’d be happy to help him.  I was still astounded that he embarked on a 700-mile journey without a paper map in the car.

Those who are elected, anointed or appointed to run the day-to-day operations of a society are often subjected to extreme pressures.  Those pressures are particularly powerful if that society is closer to a democracy than to a tyranny. In the latter, those applying pressure can ‘be dealt with.’  In a democracy, however, if enough people demand something, even something that will eventually imperil that society, it is very hard for representatives to resist. And without a roadmap, people will sometimes demand things that promise pleasure, satisfaction or even revenge now but will decidedly bring destruction and doom down the road. Without a roadmap, politicians often lack a reason to resist the dangerous populist call and administer wisely rather than merely compliantly.

The study of physics, chemistry, biology, and other authentic sciences helps us feel less alienated from the physical world in which we live.  Things happen for a reason and we don’t need to fall back on mythical monsters and vengeful deities to explain why thunder follows lightning, how microbes help our digestion and why certain elements undergo radioactive decay.

While science is clearly a vital tool in trying to understand how the world REALLY works, it cannot provide information about those things not measurable by scientific method.  It can tell us little about the role honesty and integrity play in the life of a person and a culture.  It provides no reliable data on the sources of profound human happiness and it often provides contradictory information on how to marry successfully and how best to raise the progeny of that marriage.  For these and countless other questions vital to human survival, we have to turn to another system every bit as powerful and just as reliable as the scientific system.

I think of this system as the general theory on the totality of all existence, otherwise known as the Biblical system of knowledge. It makes our world as comprehensible as a roadmap makes a new city and allows us to anchor ourselves to a unifying integrity.

This truth is reflected by the arrangement of the Days of Creation in Genesis 1, each of which concludes with an ordinal number; third day, fourth day, fifth day, etc.  The exception is the first day of Creation. Rather than saying, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day,” the verse reads:

… there was evening and there was morning day One
Genesis 1:5

In Hebrew, the number one, ECHaD, has no ordinal form. If we need to say first, we use an entirely different word RiSHoN, which literally means, “head of” as in the head of the line.  Each of the subsequent Hebrew numbers follows the ordinal pattern such as fourth or seventh.

The reason that the Lord’s language doesn’t admit an ordinal form of one is that when we use numbers such as sixth or eighth we imply that there are more of whatever we are counting coming along.  However, ancient Jewish wisdom views one as unique by definition.  It always references the singleness of God and the unifying integrity of His creation. There is nothing like it coming down the road to make it only the first (of several).  Since one is associated with God, it is one and only one.

While there are thousands of ways to destroy a skyscraper, a bridge, or a precision watch, there really is only one way to build each of those things, and that is by meticulously following blueprints. Aesthetics and embellishments can differ, but you must adhere to the basic rules of engineering. There are also thousands of ways to destroy the civilization that enables millions to live in peace, to work productively, eat to their fill and obtain medical help when needed. However, there really is only one way to build it and maintain it. That way is detailed in the Manufacturer’s Manual for the Maintenance of Civilization, the book otherwise known as the Bible.  Details of observance can differ, but the basic rules are fixed in stone.

The number one becomes very important when there are not a lot of ways of keeping something alive.  At a time like that nobody wants experimentation, they want the one way that is guaranteed to work.

Step one of that reliable way is that we try to avoid making dramatic and permanent changes in the machinery of society in the very midst of turmoil. When turbulence is roiling what used to be a more serene surface of society, people are emotionally driven; and emotional feelings ignore facts. Just as we must wait for a tsunami to subside before building dikes, so we have to let feelings calm before we see what path we should take. That is true for marriage, child-raising, business, and society.

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Three Wise Men

June 2nd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

What if I told you that you could change how intelligent you are – or your children will be? Perhaps you’re saying, “That’s ridiculous. IQ is immutable and unlikely to be altered by one’s behavior. Or maybe you’re saying, “I don’t know, but if it’s true sign me up!”

However you may have reacted, I hope you’re intrigued enough by this proposition of ancient Jewish wisdom to try it on for size.  I think you’ll be surprised at how precisely it accounts for your experiences in the real world. 

We read of three Bible characters whose wisdom was admired and whose guidance and leadership was sought: Joseph, Daniel, and Mordechai.  Each withstood alluring attempts to get them to abandon restraint.

Watch Joseph as his employer’s wife, by all accounts a most attractive woman, tries to seduce him.

…after these things, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, lie with me.  But he refused… ‘[saying] because you are his wife, how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’  And she spoke to Joseph day by day but he did not listen to her to lie with her or be with her.
(Genesis 39:7-10)

Soon after, we find that Joseph’s wisdom and leadership qualities become evident to all.

And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find anyone like this man in whom the spirit of God is’?  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘In as much as God has shown you all this, there is none so smart and wise as you are you shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled.’
(Genesis 41:38-40)

We encounter Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.  The Babylonian King, intending to entice them into the Babylonian aristocracy, arranged for them to be fed his royal, but unkosher, food. 

And the king appointed them a daily portion of the king’s food, and of the wine which he drank; and to bring them up during three years, that at its end they might stand before the king.  Among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
(Daniel 1:5-6)

Refusing to surrender their Hebrew identity, the four heroes requested a purely vegetarian diet (which is by definition kosher).  The king’s steward, nervous about disobeying the king and being held responsible for the four Jews’ not looking well-fed, hesitated.  Daniel made this suggestion:

‘…test your servants, I beg you, ten days; and let them give us only vegetables to eat, and water to drink then let our faces be looked upon before you, against the faces of the other young people that eat of the portion of the king’s food; and according to what you see, deal with your servants’.  So he consented to them in this matter, and tested them ten days and at the end of ten days their faces appeared better in appearance…
(Daniel 1:11-15)

After resisting the appeal of the king’s food, Daniel and his colleagues became recognized for wisdom:

And the king talked with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah…in all matters of wisdom and understanding that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.
(Daniel 1:19-20)

Finally, we meet Mordechai who refused to bow to the wicked Haman. Each day, courtiers tried to persuade Mordechai to submit.

It came to pass as they spoke daily to him and he did not listen to them, that they told Haman…And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow, nor did him obeisance, then was Haman full of wrath.
(Esther 3:4-5)

Though it would have been so much easier to submit to Haman, Mordechai stood firm, loyal to his spiritual identity.  Not surprisingly, as the book ends, we read:

And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordechai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?..Mordechai the Jew was next to King Ahasuerus…
(Esther 10:1-2)

What phenomenon is playing out in all these cases? Leviticus 11:43 sheds light.

וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם

…nor shall you make yourselves impure with them [forbidden non-kosher foods] that you should become impure by them.

The underlined Hebrew root (in blue) for impure is  טמ, pronounced TaM

Ancient Jewish wisdom asks what the repetition of the root word TaM adds to the verse. The word has a second meaning—foolish. The response explains a cause and an effect.  If you take the action that makes you impure, then you will inevitably become a lessened person.  The effect is not temporary. 

The message is that yielding to bodily appetites reduces the chances of a happy and fulfilled life.  Submitting to our hedonistic urges gradually reduces our life effectiveness.  If practiced multi-generationally, it eventually produces less self-disciplined and less wise people.  The process of exercising self-restraint and saying ‘no’ to ourselves makes us more suited to leadership.

In other words, adhering to Biblical faith, its rituals of restraint and its principles is a key to wisdom, leadership and success. Tragically, we see examples of too many people in the streets today who have been raised without God and utterly devoid of Biblical principles. They are destroying civilization as they reject any idea of “Thou Shall Not” let alone loving one’s neighbor.

Listening to God’s word not only makes you a better person, but also a wiser one. It forces us to confront ultimate issues and to face ideas that really matter.  To make the exercise as easy and enjoyable as possible we have produced a set of over 150 Thought Tools collected into three volumes and they are now on sale. This is literally a marathon run for your mind and a super stretch session for your soul.

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The First Time You…

May 26th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

In the charming 1980 South African movie masterpiece, The Gods Must Be Crazy, the Kalahari bushman hero found an empty Coca Cola bottle dropped from his plane by a careless pilot.  No life experience or knowledge gained till now prepared Xi to understand the bottle’s purpose.  He couldn’t imagine its value other than as a magic talisman. 

In a similar way, no education or experience in the lives of many young men today prepares them to view a wife as anything other than an economic asset in an attractive package. They marry with a picture dancing in their minds of the larger house for whose mortgage they will now jointly qualify.  Understandably, they can’t imagine the magic of a marriage partnership in which each partner carries responsibility for a separate specialty just as in a successful business partnership.

Social media and occasional news articles reveal the existence of an informal association of women devoted to the homes and families of the husbands who happily support them.  These women, in the U.K., Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States gather beneath the banner of traditional wives and have assumed the hashtag #Tradwives.

Angry voices in mainstream media malign these women in terms so vituperative that you’d think traditional wives drank the blood of journalists.  You might have thought that feminism’s commitment to “choice” would praise these wives for making their own unconventional choice. Yet, they disparage these wives in the vilest ways going so far as to drum up today’s ultimate charge—racism.  Yes, these primitive and bigoted women are not only setting back women’s “progress” by decades, but they are obviously trying to have and raise more—that’s right—white children.

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Cave Grave

May 18th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

I love boating along coastal British Columbia. Occasionally, we spot First Nation burial apparatus, a box or platform, often a canoe, into which the departed is placed and which is then perched upon high stilts or wedged into tree forks.

The Choctaws buried their dead by leaving them atop a high scaffold. Eskimos placed their departed beneath piles of rocks.  In much of Asia, corpses were burned as a final rite and the popularity of cremation spread far and wide.  Egyptians placed their departed in pyramids while others preferred vast above-ground mausoleums.   

When Sarah, the wife of Abraham died, Abraham didn’t place her body in a tree or under a heap of rocks.  He certainly didn’t burn it.  Instead, he said to the locals:

…entreat for me to Ephron the son of Tzochar…that he give me the cave of MaCHPeLah…as a burying place…
(Genesis 23:8-9)

The first Scriptural account of a burial follows:

 …Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of MaCHPeLah…
(Genesis 23:19).

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Pandemic Pandemonium

May 12th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 47 comments

Oftentimes, when people start a story by saying, “I’m not proud of this…” the truth is that they really are rather proud of whatever they are fake-confessing.  But I am really, really not proud of this. What I did was just plain incredibly stupid. It was a male sort of thing.  Honestly, I wouldn’t even mention it if it didn’t help me make an important point for this Thought Tool.

When one of our lovely daughters turned six, she asked for a sleepover party. Accordingly, in the late afternoon, about a dozen excited little girls between the ages of five and seven were dropped off at our home in their pyjamas. They had supper together before burrowing into blankets and sleeping bags in our living room, chattering and giggling. 

That was the moment I donned my rented gorilla costume.  Beating my chest while uttering gorilla-like roars, I leaped into the living room and pranced among the sleeping bags.  Yes, I really did. I hate myself for this and all I can say is that it was a male sort of thing. Little boys would have loved it. (I was so sure Susan and our daughter would love my exciting plan that I neglected to inform them in advance.)

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Zulus, Boers, Brits, and the Bible

May 8th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

It was 10:30 am on that bright, sunny Wednesday morning when 1,200 British soldiers were stunned by the sight of 12,000 Zulu warriors advancing over a hill toward the unfortified British camp. By 4:00 pm that afternoon, it was all over.  Only a handful of Redcoats escaped with their lives to tell the world of Britain’s biggest military disaster.  That evening the haunting vista of well over a thousand British soldiers’ corpses confirmed that the Battle of Isandlwana on January 22nd, 1879, was a catastrophe for England. Nobody knows exactly how Zulus armed with nothing more than short assegais and clubs annihilated a well-armed and highly disciplined regiment.

Some say that the state of the art Martini-Henry single shot rifles used by the Redcoats began to overheat and jam. Others claim that the breech-loading guns puffed a big cloud of white smoke out of the front of the barrel after each shot, obscuring the enemy Zulus and preventing accurate aim.  The solar eclipse that darkened the field at 2:29 that afternoon certainly diminished shooting accuracy and favored the Zulus.  The chief factor that enabled the British to hold out as long as they did was their superb discipline.  They held to their “thin red lines” until the foe was upon them, killing them ferociously in hand-to-hand combat. 

My own view is that the Zulus won because they possessed ferocious courage and pressed forward relentlessly even in the face of their own three thousand casualties.  That, along with their famous and flawlessly executed  ‘horns of the bull’ flanking strategy brought them victory.   But as you’ll soon see, there was another ingredient in their victory.

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Why Did I Do That?

April 27th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

Many of us are spending more time these days not only with our spouses and children but with ourselves. Unable to run around as usual, we may find ourselves paying more attention to our own thoughts, feelings, words and actions, including how we react under stress.

Have you caught yourself thinking, speaking or acting just the way your parents did? Or maybe, your knee-jerk reaction is the exact opposite from your parents?

Have you been slightly embarrassed to catch yourself imitating an expression or gesture of a celebrity or mindlessly repeating the “wisdom” of a pundit?

Your ‘Yes!’ reminds us of the mysterious power our parents exert upon our souls and the extent to which influential people impact our inner natures.

Whether in professional, social, or family settings, our instinctive reaction to challenging circumstances is unlikely to be the most productive one. Our susceptibility to being influenced by those around us can harm our lives because few of the occasions to which we need to respond grant us the luxury of lengthy contemplation.

We regularly react to events more because of how we’ve been shaped rather than by carefully analyzing them. How do we overcome this?

As usual, I seek guidance in a verse from Scripture:

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Male Highs and Lows

April 20th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

“No questions are out of bounds,” I explained to the awkward-looking young man who approached me.  “Nothing in the entire spectrum of human experience falls outside the purview of ancient Jewish wisdom or beyond the Torah upon which it is based.  Go ahead and tell me what is worrying you,” I assured him.

He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other and with his face betraying inner embarrassment, he finally blurted out his question.  “Why did God create men to both urinate and reproduce through the same bodily orifice whereas with women it’s different?”  I had to stop myself from smiling.  Having finally got this conundrum off his chest, he looked like he couldn’t decide whether to feel relief or a desire to flee.

“That is a wonderful question and a very important one,” I told him.  At this point, all panic vanished from his face.  I then told him the answer and added that I would be writing about it in a future Thought Tool for everyone else who had thought of the question but lacked his courage to ask it.  Trent, this one is for you!

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