Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Honoring a Brave Man

February 14th, 2019 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

On February 6, I, like many others, was shaken to hear of the death of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. I am honored to have been asked to eulogize him for one of the most important Jewish newspapers.

You can read excerpts from my words on our American Alliance of Jews and Christians page here.

More? Sure! Everything? Never!

February 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

A business professional in Michigan named Ken Lingenfelter owns about 230 cars.  Entertainer Jay Leno has about 170 and Jerry Seinfeld owns about 150.  Each of those avid car collectors has a list of a few more cars that he’d really love to acquire but knows he probably won’t.  Healthy people eventually recognize that nobody gets everything they want. 

Even when we acquire what we want, we usually find ourselves wanting more, putting us back to square one.  God created us with infinite desires. Happiness depends upon knowing that not all ambitions and longings can or should be realized.

This message is so important for humans to absorb that it is presented as a set of bookends to the Torah, appearing both at the beginning and at the end.  It is as if the good Lord is saying, “Look, life has a huge paradox.  I have created you with limitless ambition, countless hopes, and inexhaustible dreams.  I want you to pursue those boundless visions but I don’t want your happiness to depend upon attaining them.” 

The first person mentioned in the Five Books of Moses is Adam and the last  is Moses.  Both men experienced three steps; (1) Presentation of abundance; (2) Limitation; (3) Death notice.   

First, the presentation of abundance:

Adam:

From all the trees in the Garden you are free to eat and you should eat. (Genesis 2:16)

Moses:

Moses climbed up from the plains of Moab up onto Mount Nebo… and the Lord showed him the whole land…(Deuteronomy 34:1)

Second, the limitation:

Adam:

And from the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you may not eat of it…(Genesis 2:17)

Moses:

This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over into it.  (Deuteronomy 34:4)

Third, the death notice:

Adam:

…On the day that you eat of it, you will die. (Genesis 2:17)

Moses:

And Moses the servant of God died there…  (Deuteronomy 34:5)

Adam saw a garden with more delectable resources than any person could imagine.  God immediately informs him that he doesn’t get everything.  Nonetheless,  Adam and Eve try for everything and are reminded for all time that life has its limit.  The secret is enjoying what one does have.

Born in the exile of the Egyptian diaspora, Moses dreamed of the land of Israel which he knew had been promised to his seven-time-great-grandfather, Abraham.  God selected him to bring to fruition the Hebrews’ return to Israel.  For forty interminable, trying years in the desert, Moses longed for Israel. He is then shown the land.  Scripture uses as many as thirty-three words to describe the full expanse of Israel that he saw.  However, his vision was limited to seeing it from the top of a mountain outside the land. Shortly after, he transited to the spiritual world in which there are no limitations. 

Whether we are driven to acquire automobiles or anything else, we must remember that the urge for limitlessness is a Godly impulse ingrained in us.  It is from our limitless Creator that we inherit our desires for the infinite.  As humans, we should enjoy the process and find happiness in the quest without mortgaging our fulfillment to attaining everything—an impossible task.

In relationships, too, we sometimes sacrifice our happiness on the altar of ‘wanting it all.’  Sometimes we concentrate on the flaws of children and friends rather than appreciating their strengths. In dating and marriage, this tendency can be even more pronounced. So many people never marry as they wait for “the perfect match.” Focusing on a spouse’s imperfections provides a quick path to frustration. For those looking to date and stay married more successfully, take a look at our Lasting Love Set. Save money by purchasing three complementary resources at one time and use them wisely as you strive to fulfill the inborn desire to share life with one unique partner within a world of limitation.

Through the Fog

February 4th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

While serving the synagogue it was my privilege to establish in Southern California, my wife and I frequently sailed our forty-four foot cutter to Catalina Island.  On that 26 mile jaunt, we often saw dolphins, whales, and other beguiling sea life.

When fog set in, I’d think of Florence Chadwick, who in 1952 set out to swim from Catalina to the mainland.  When fog obscured her goal, she lost her drive and abandoned her attempt. Despair defeated Florence.

After the fog lifted she was horrified to see that she had quit only half a mile from the beach.  Two months later, with the coastline visible, she tried again and succeeded.

Let’s understand this principle from Moses, who in one Scriptural account responds to Israel’s provocation with steadfast leadership while elsewhere in the Bible he responds to similar provocation with exasperation, hopelessness, and even despair.

In Exodus 16:2-3, the children of Israel complain against Moses and Aaron, who had just liberated them from hundreds of years of horrific slavery.  The Israelites pretend ridiculously to recall desirable circumstances in Egypt where they claim to have lacked nothing.  Frustratingly, they express remorse at having been taken from that Egyptian paradise. 

Without hesitation Moses sternly chastises them for grousing against God and assures them that they will soon see meat and bread. (Exodus 16:12) Through the remainder of chapter 16 Moses leads calmly and confidently.

A year later the Israelites again demanded meat. (Numbers 11:4) Hearing them grouching and kvetching, Moses was deeply distressed. (Numbers 11:10)

Instead of admonishing them as he did in Exodus, he cries out to God:

Why have you afflicted your servant? Why haven’t I found favor in your eyes
that you lay the burden of this entire people upon me?
(Numbers 11:11)

Moses renounces responsibility for the people and in hopeless anguish contemplates the impossibility of finding meat for the people. (Numbers 11:12-13).  Sliding swiftly into utter despair, he confesses himself incapable of carrying the people any further and begs God to end his life. (Numbers 11:14-15).

Moses seems so utterly demoralized that even when God promises to bring meat for the people, Moses reacts incredulously asking God if enough animals exist for them.  (Numbers 11:22)

One clear distinction between the two instances is that in Exodus, the Hebrews had just left Egypt.  While certainly an oppressive regime, at least Egypt was a known evil.  Their future in the desert however, was terrifyingly unknown.  Moses ‘cut-them-some-slack’ because he felt their fear partially excused their impudence.

The story in the 11th chapter of Numbers is quite different.  A year has elapsed during which God has unfailingly provided for their every need and Israel’s ingratitude is incomprehensible to Moses.  Instead of confronting them as a steadfast leader, he avoids them and laments his circumstances to God.  The goal of a strong, faithful nation that would trust in God was obscured by fog.  Despair defeats Moses.

Had I now been teaching a Sunday school class, this is where I’d leave it.  But I think far too highly of my Thought Tool readers and thus must offer you another golden nugget of ancient Jewish wisdom.

God’s solution was for Moses to select seventy elders to stand with him.  They didn’t have to do anything other than just stand with him.  Their firm vision and complete confidence was contagious.  Moses caught some of that confidence and defeated his despair.

By associating with those who recognize that God’s plan is good, we also come to see that our despair is born of our mistaken assumption that there is no goal. With the help of wise friends, we realize that the goal is still there, even if hidden by fog.

Looking for courageous and wise people to stand beside us goes hand in hand with one of the three tips in our audio CD, Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own EgyptOne part of that teaching lays out how we cannot free ourselves from seemingly hopeless situations but need outside assistance. Both the physical and download versions that have already helped thousands of people are on sale today.

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Slaying the Giants

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

“Leave the light on, please” says the child, “I’m scared of the dark.”  One of the most common emotions expressed by little children is fear.  Long before they become comfortable articulating happiness, excitement and sadness, small children speak of feeling frightened.

Though we speak of it less as we grow up, we still feel it.  Just ask the adult who has been invited to give a speech before a large gathering.  People fear approaching strangers, they fear harmless insects and they fear looking over the edge of tall buildings; there are all kinds of phobias.

To be sure, there is a healthy fear that keeps us from doing dumb and dangerous things, but what about the fears we all have for utterly harmless activities?  I don’t know what your particular fears and phobias are but I’m sure you have them.  I know I do.

It’s worthwhile overcoming the fears that hold us back.  Though about 10,000 books on dealing with fears and phobias have been published, I find that I need only one book. 

Let’s glance at Deuteronomy, the book recited by Moses during the last thirty-six days of his life as he attempted to strengthen Israel and help them overcome their own fears of the next phase of their national development—conquering the Promised Land.

The book opens with the first verse providing geographic coordinates describing where this happened. 

These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan…
(Deuteronomy 1:1)

Verses 2 and 3 provide time coordinates describing exactly when this all happened.

There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb…And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month…
(Deuteronomy 1:2-3)

And in a perfectly logical sequel, the fifth verse reads:

On this side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses began to explain this Torah, saying. 
(Deuteronomy 1:5)

However, just before verse 5, the narrative is interrupted in a most perplexing way:

After he killed Sichon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived at Ashtaroth Edrei.
(Deuteronomy 1:4)

Huh?  What has this got to do with anything?  Moses did many marvelous feats and vanquished many enemies along the way during the previous forty years in the desert.  Why mention just these two obscure rascals, Sichon and Og?

Well, it turns out that Sichon and Og are what are described as giants.  In fact, there are seven nouns used in the Torah to describe giants: refaim, eymim, giborim, zamzumim, anakim, avim, and nefilim.  And here is the strangest thing.  Far from being somewhat uniformly distributed throughout Scripture, they are heavily concentrated in the book of Deuteronomy.  Though briefly alluded to in some of the other books such as Genesis and Joshua, no book of the Bible contains anywhere near the number of references to giants as the book of Deuteronomy.

Are these really massive men of grotesque proportions? Are they what we imagine Goliath to have been?  Well, strangely enough, not one of these terms is used in describing the life and death of Goliath in I Samuel 17.  We are told he stood over six cubits tall, but he is never referred to as a giant. So what is a giant?

While each of the seven words has a nuance of its own, Ancient Jewish wisdom employs these terms for the fears that terrify and paralyze us.  During his final speech Moses repeatedly mentions the ‘giants’ reminding Israel in his fourth sentence that he already slew two of these monsters.  He describes them and assures Israel that they too will be able to overcome these representations of paralyzing phobias.

While we all have our personal concerns, a huge industry in the current world is the “fear industry.” It magnifies threats to get our attention so that we buy certain magazines or watch particular shows, so that we vote for certain candidates and support specific policies, and so that we buy various products. It leads us to focus on worry rather than counting our blessings and often leads us to live in ways that constrict and harm us. Our audio CD, Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt serves as an antidote. Rather than fearing the future, it provides practical assistance for moving ahead in life with confidence and clarity and helps you begin conquering your personal challenges. Take a look at this best-selling resource while it is on sale.

Join the thousands who have already moved forward with the help of:

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Adapted from Thought Tools December 2012

Fake News? I’m Shocked

January 22nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

Hypocritically assuming a false mantle of virtue by pretending horror at discovering someone else’s transgression is so unattractive.  We all recognized the dishonesty when Captain Louis Renault in the movie Casablanca (1942) said, “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

The hysterical shrieks we’ve been hearing these past couple of years about “Fake News” are equally disingenuous.  Until 2016, did we simply accept as reliably true everything we read or saw?  Of course not.  The rule of Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware-has been part of the prudent person’s arsenal forever. 

Sadly out of print is Robert Spero’s wonderful book, The Duping of the American Voter: Dishonesty and Deception in Presidential Television Advertising in which Spero showed how the television ads as far back as the 1960s and used by presidential candidates Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter were “the most deceptive, misleading, unfair, and untruthful of all advertising…” 

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Don’t Build a House; Build a Boat

January 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 31 comments

I’ve noticed that when someone in a group casually says, “Oh, I live on my boat down in the harbor” everyone hearing him perks up with interest.  Eager questions quickly follow.  But when someone says, “I live in my car behind the supermarket,” people go quiet and someone changes the subject.

There are, of course, many differences between living in a car and on a boat, but I enjoy this observation by an author, Arthur Ransome, who plays a big role in my family’s reading.  “The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage.  The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.” 

Someone living in his car is, well, living in his car.  (Living in a fully-equipped RV is quite different.) But someone living on a boat is on a journey. At any point he could cast off the mooring lines and head to Haifa, Honolulu, or Hong Kong.

Feeling settled is very seductive but feeling unsettled is more productive.  To their parents’ dismay, God arranged things so that when approaching those teenage years, children start feeling unsettled.  Other than when with their friends undergoing the same stage, young people approaching adulthood often feel they don’t really belong anywhere.  The last time they felt comfortably ‘at-home’ was as children cocooned in the security of parents and family.  The next time they are going to feel ‘at-home’ will be once they’re in their own homes. 

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Get Ready for Mother’s Day

January 8th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 5 comments

Mother’s Day is sacrosanct. It is almost a law of nature. Nobody dare disparage the purchase of those boxes of chocolate and the saccharine-flavored greeting cards that accompany them. Few would discourage dragging mom out to a crowded restaurant for that obligatory Mother’s Day meal. Were I to  question its value as a revered date on our calendar closer to its date in May, I would be excoriated for blasphemy. This week however, my Thought Tool can be welcomed as, oh say, research.

You see, here is what bothers me about it: Most would agree that the Ten Commandments lie at the core of Western civilization. Well, the Fifth Commandment doesn’t instruct us only to honor our fathers and mothers on two special days each year, does it? No, the Commandment is valid for 365 days each year and 366 in leap years.

My wife and I have always suspected that observance of an annual Mother’s Day or Father’s Day actually diminishes observance of the Fifth Commandment. Not wanting to run the risk of that happening, we just declared from our children’s infancy that in our home, every day would be Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

To my relief, our children accepted this, but on growing a little older, they inquired about another verse found early in the 19th chapter of Leviticus.

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Out with the Old?

December 31st, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

It is quite exciting to tell ourselves, “This year is a new chance.”

“This year will reveal an improved version of ourselves. Just wait and see how our marriages, families and businesses thrive. It’s an opportunity for a new beginning.”

I’m all for looking ahead and upgrading our game. But let’s not be too quick to bury the past.

Imagine telling our kids, “Guess what!  We’re going to Disneyland in three years’ time!”  Or, “Guess what, Honey!  We’re being transferred to Paris for two years; our flight’s this afternoon.”  Both scenarios are equally ludicrous.  It is also as absurd to fire an under-performing employee and give him twenty-four months’ notice as it is to tell him that he must be out and off the premises within an hour. What time is right?

How long should you spend psyching yourself up to propose marriage to your girlfriend? A week? A month? An hour?

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Natural Limitations

December 25th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Here is a Thought Tool quiz:

Early in 1845, Henry David Thoreau, along with about twenty of his friends, began a two-and-a-half-year long party in a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord Massachusetts.  True or False?

In 1971 Ted Kaczynski, his wife, six children, a nanny, a tutor, and three puppies moved to an isolated mountain cabin in Montana from where he later sent bombs through the mail injuring dozens of people and killing three. True or False?

Brilliant twentieth century photographer Ansel Adams, who specialized in capturing the glory of America’s national parks and other natural wonders, left a legacy of thousands of pictures depicting happy crowds enjoying their natural outdoor heritage. True or False?

With thirty members of his Rotary Club, Chris McCandless hiked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. After being awed by nature’s grandeur, he returned home to Virginia.  True or False?

Ready for the answers?  All four statements are false. (I am sure you hardly needed me to tell you that.)  Thoreau was alone at Walden Pond.  The Unabomber lived in lonely isolation for nearly thirty years.  It is difficult to find any Ansel Adams photographs containing even one human image.  In his book, “Into the Wild,” Jon Krakauer relates how McCandless hiked alone and died alone, tragically and unnecessarily. 

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Fire, Frauds and Feminists

December 18th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 28 comments

Ready for a quiz?   Is the following news report true or false?   A famous explorer just returned from his latest expedition with shocking news.  He has located a remote and isolated island culture that generates electricity using the heat from nuclear reactors.  What astounded him was that these islanders who had mastered nuclear and electrical technology were primitive in all other ways.  They created electricity but used it only for lighting fires.  They had no knowledge of medication, artificial fabrics, or transportation.  They had no electrical appliances in their kitchens.  In fact, they had no kitchens.  They cooked outside their huts over wood fires that they ignited from huge electrical sparks obtained from their nuclear power plants.  Well, what do you say? True or false?

Oh yes, I know you answered, “False,” but did you mean that you considered the story highly improbable or are you certain that it’s demonstrably untrue?  The story is not only improbable but also impossible.  The explorer is a fraud.  There is an inevitable sequence to scientific discovery.  No culture has or ever will discover the secrets of atomic structure before they understand the chemistry of the periodic table.  Once people have probed the secrets of magnetism, the discovery of electricity will inevitably follow quite quickly.

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