Posts by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Bye, Bye Baby

August 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

Just over a week ago, Susan and I were blessed by the arrival of a new granddaughter. Along with her parents, we, her siblings and cousins are excited to welcome her. At the same time, we know many couples of ‘grandparent-age’  who have no grandchildren and, at the moment, see none on the horizon. 

Many of these folks chose to delay marriage and limit the size of their own families wanting to be able to nurture their careers, provide their children with “extras” and save for future college expenses. They encouraged their own children, both sons and daughters, to establish their careers, sample a variety of romantic relationships and enjoy the early years of adulthood before getting married and starting a family. Quite a few of them are still waiting for their now thirties-something children to begin thinking of marriage and children. Some of them have been informed that building a family   isn’t part of their children’s vision and even marriage may or may not happen.  

What seemed like a prudent and good idea for how to organize a family is now causing disappointment and pain. They are facing a yearning for grandchildren, or in some cases great-grandchildren, whom they assumed would naturally come along. They failed to recognize that building a legacy of generations is not an automatic  default condition. 

In the Book of Ruth, Naomi advises her widowed daughter-in-law to get to know a local nobleman by the name of Boaz with an eye to marriage. 

…get dressed and go down to the threshing floor…when he lies down…
you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down…
(Ruth 3:3-4)

Now I must explain that one of the marvelous methods encrypted into Scripture for decoding ancient Jewish wisdom is what, in Hebrew, is known as k’ree and k’tiv.  These two terms mean ‘the way the word is pronounced’ and ‘the way the word is spelled” respectively. K’ree and k’tiv words appear throughout the Bible and our job is to merge the two meanings thereby exposed in the text.

One of the most famous examples of k’ree and k’tiv is found in the above verses from Ruth.

In the k’ree version, the verse reads simply as I translated it.  However, as the words are actually spelled in the original Hebrew text, in the k’tiv version, Naomi indicates that she, rather than Ruth, would really be the one getting dressed and going down to meet Boaz at the threshing floor.

What can this mean?  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that although Naomi was advising Ruth how to bring about a union, she herself would also be there in spirit, in order to assist the process that would bring her progeny. Ruth and Boaz joining in marriage would impact more than just  the two principals 

In a Biblical framework, having children is not just  a personal choice for only the couple to make. It serves the family and community, linking the past to the future. The more mature Naomi understood the blessing of children, and so she yearned for a child far more than the younger Ruth did. Indeed, it was through this adventure that Naomi attained immortality, becoming a grandmother and ancestor to King David, bringing hope not only to her own family but also to the larger world.

If you enjoy going behind the scenes and having access to ancient Jewish wisdom such as this teaching, be sure to pick up a Thought Tools Set while it is on sale. Get three years worth of inspiring messages to spur your own growth and to share with family and friends.

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I’ve Been Working on the Railroad – Not!

August 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

The Second Continental Congress, acting as the national government of what was soon to become these United States, met in Baltimore from December 1776 until February 1777.  During this time, Baltimore was the largest seaport through which most of the young country’s imports and exports moved.  It wasn’t until the 1830s that New York supplanted Baltimore. 

What was responsible for New York replacing Baltimore as the largest trading city in the country?  In my view it was nothing but a great big ditch about forty feet wide and four feet deep that stretched 363 miles from Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie.

It was the largest, most daunting and most expensive engineering project imaginable. Tens of thousands of men dug it with their picks and shovels.  The earth was moved by horses pulling primitive equipment.  The Erie Canal took eight grueling years of men relentlessly driving through limestone mountains and cutting through dense forest.  Rocks and tree stumps were blown up with black powder since dynamite would not be invented for another forty years.  It rose 600 feet from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes necessitating the construction of 48 magnificent stone locks to raise and lower boats.

The canal was completed in 1825 and began carrying passengers and cargo across New York State at a fraction of the cost of wagons.  The economy of New York grew meteorically as it rapidly became the busiest seaport in the country.

Though the Erie Canal was the defining engineering project of the 19th century, it was not the end but the beginning of grand projects in America.  Railroads quickly followed. The 20th century saw great bridges like the Golden Gate, the George Washington, and the Verrazano.  That century saw Americans building the world’s tallest buildings, the biggest dams, and the finest Interstate Highway system in the world.

Then America started sliding down the sordid slope of secularism. Grand construction ceased.  Is this a coincidence?  I don’t think so. 

Consider these two conflicting verses written by King David:

…the earth and all that fills it is the Lord’s…
(Psalms 24:1)

The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but He has given the earth to humans.
(Psalms 115:16)

Well, which is it?  The earth and all in it belong to God or else He gave the earth to humans.  Either the earth is His or it is ours.  It can’t be both.

Or can it?  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that King David was not inconsistent nor did he write Psalm 115 after forgetting what he wrote in Psalm 24.  He was illuminating a timeless truth vitally necessary for understanding how the world REALLY works.

King David was explaining that to begin with, the entire earth and all it contains belongs to God.  However, if we, His children, trust Him, bless and thank Him, then he gives the earth to us.  Deep down, within the hidden recesses of our collective cultural souls, we recognize that if our relationship with God is strong and loving, we have a right to the earth.  We have a right to carve canals through its forests and mountains; we have a right to throw bridges across its gorges, gullies, and waterways.  We have a right to dam up the mighty rivers to provide food and power to great cities.  We have a right to sculpt highways across its landscapes.

However, should we reject Him and embrace a grotesque worldview that attempts to make us masters of the universe, paradoxically, masters is exactly what we don’t become.  Instead, we rightfully recognize that the earth and all that fills it has not been given to us.  Consequently, we cease all creative activities that improve a property. After all, these are typically performed only by owners, not the tenants or squatters that we have made ourselves.

Taking our place are countries in Asia and Africa, building the grand projects that improve the lives of millions.  Those bridges, buildings, dams and roads are, for the most part, being built in countries whose populations are becoming more and more Bible-centric.  A coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Your life, like mine, is punctuated by grand projects.  Some of these concern your home, family, marriage or child-raising.  Other grand projects you’re working on involve making money and developing a business or career.  Just like the grand projects of nations, yours are also fueled by faith and carried on conviction.  The forces that sap the will of nations and individuals are not new. I pray that Thought Tools brings you encouragement and direction. While you can read old Thought Tools online, for a few dollars (on sale this week) you can acquire the Thought Tools Set (or individual volumes) composed of three years’ worth of teachings. Bring them to the supper table, read them on your commute and share them with friends. Ground your projects in ancient Jewish wisdom and see them soar!

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Three Cheers for Desire and Ambition

July 29th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

Sailing into Puget Sound in the spring of 1792, Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy anchored his boat in a sheltered bay he named Port Townsend.  Now, 227 years later, up on the quay in this pretty Washington town sits a decrepit-looking seventy-six-foot wooden fishing boat built nearby in 1937.  Western Flyer, sailed to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez by the great American writer John Steinbeck and his friend, “Doc” Ed Rickets in 1940, is now being adoringly restored by the master craftsmen of Port Townsend.  Steinbeck lovingly recounted that voyage in his 1952 book The Log From The Sea of Cortez.

That boating expedition was Steinbeck’s reward to himself for completing his famous novel The Grapes of Wrath although he himself regarded his later East of Eden as his greatest book.  I agree with him and am confident that I know the reason why the former is often assigned to American high school students while East of Eden is much less famous.  GICs (Government Indoctrination Camps, formerly known as public schools) approve of Grapes of Wrath because, with its themes of ruthless landlords and banks along with brave labor union organizers, it encourages teachers to engage in Left Wing advocacy.  East of Eden on the other hand is a staunchly religious book which cannot be understood without frequent reference to the Bible.

The very title, East of Eden is a quote from the Biblical narrative following God banishing Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

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Do the First Time Right!

July 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Do it right the first time!  How many times have you heard those words?  How many times have you uttered that phrase?  You’ve heard it from your parents, from your educators and from your boss at work.  You’ve said it to your children, to anyone you’ve been responsible for training, and to your employees. 

Why should I do it right the first time?  We all know the standard answer: because it will take more time and money to redo it than it would have taken to do it right the first time.

Whether it is Boeing, Airbus or any other manufacturer, it takes about 100,000 man-years to design, test, and build a commercial airliner. Typically that means a team of perhaps 10,000 engineers working for ten years or 20,000 professionals working for five years.  This helps us understand why total development costs for a brand-new plane can run as high as ten billion dollars.

In 2010 it became clear to Boeing that they needed to offer their airline customers an aircraft powered by a new type of jet engine which was larger, more powerful, and more fuel efficient.  Apparently, they spent a few months trying to decide whether to commit to a multi-year new airplane development program or whether to find a way to fit the new engines onto the wings of the venerable 737.

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Won’t Ya Let Me Take You on a Sea Cruise?

July 9th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 30 comments

Old man rhythm is in my shoes
It’s no use to sittin’ and a-singin’ the blues
So be my guest, you got nothin’ to lose
Won’t ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Johnny Rivers 1974

We go on a wonderfully relaxing cruise every week.  It’s only a 25-hour cruise but it makes us leave our regular worries and cares far behind us.   Yes, the Shabbat is a really big deal for the Lapin family.  As the sun drops towards the western horizon on Friday afternoon, the frantic turbulence that swirls through our lives starts slowing down.  Along with her Sous-Chefs and her assistants, all of whom are closely related to her, Susan puts the finishing touches to the three meals she will serve during the next 25 hours.  I get the garbage out, make sure the cars are properly parked for the weekend, and wrap up the remaining tasks of my week.  Finally, as the last rays of the sun turn red, I turn off my computer, telephone, fax machine, and tablet.  Then comes the last action of the week when Susan lights the Sabbath candles that sit upon the dining room table.  As their dancing incandescence casts highlights upon the white table cloth, we know Shabbat has arrived.  We’ve cast the mooring lines off down to the dock and we’re off on our sea cruise.

One of the moments that seems most moving to the guests at our Shabbat meal is when Susan and I bless our children. 

To the girls we say:

God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

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Going for the Jugular

July 2nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

Have you ever seen a five-year-old stamp her foot and declare, “No! I will not”?

Whether it is parents in a family, political heads of a country, executive officers in a business enterprise or captains of ships like the Bounty, challenges to leadership come with the territory.  Part of effective parenting is to help your children understand that you hear their challenges and may even sympathize with aspects of their mini-rebellions and then to restore calmness and order.  Similarly, even statesmen like Winston Churchill engaged in saving their countries have to divert energy to deflect political assaults meant to unseat them.  Likewise, business professionals who have risen to success are accustomed to boardroom battles during which they are baselessly charged with every imaginable offense.  As Captain Bligh discovered, sometimes one has no alternative but to split the enterprise and lead the loyalists to survival.  Experienced leaders expect these kinds of challenges and respond to them calmly and decisively.

It is thus no surprise at all that the Israelites rebelled against Moses.  They did so frequently.  Consider this particular occasion:

And Korach…took upon himself to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites…They ganged up against Moses and Aaron
and said to them, “You have gone too far…” 
(Numbers 16:1-3)

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Love Her, Hate Her

June 24th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

During a few appearances in California recently, I found myself counseling three sincere and newly married young rabbis.  They had all enjoyed the good fortune of marrying lovely young women deeply devoted to religious ideals along with an eager willingness to adopt the mission of being rabbis’ wives.

It turned out that all three were experiencing the same mild marital problem and it was resolved for all of them with exactly the same directive.  It’s one my wife and I dubbed “The 3-A challenge for men”.  I directed these three well-meaning newlyweds to create regular opportunities to make themselves authentically feel and then tell their wives how much they Appreciate them, Adore them, and Admire them. 

Please don’t for a moment think that my three young men meekly acquiesced to my instruction.  They didn’t.  They insisted that their wives knew how they felt. They insisted that such spiritual wives as they were blessed to have would see such compliments as mere flattery. Again, I patiently explained that unless they took the time and effort to really feel deep appreciation, adoration, and admiration for their wives, saying it would be nothing but flattery.  Furthermore, I insisted, their wives were entitled to husbands who really felt that way about them.  Furthermore, a great many wives, unless told, tend to doubt the esteem in which their husbands hold them.

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Watch Out for Angels!

June 17th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

Have you ever noticed how sometimes one carries out one’s work effectively but without joy?  There are other times when every task is exhilarating and uplifting.  In both situations, the work gets done and your business progresses, but in the latter case, there’s an additional bounce in one’s step.

Building a marriage and building a business share many similarities.  There are times in every marriage when the marriage functions, but it operates mechanically.  Husband and wife carry out their duties and obligations but without passion.  At other times, every moment of life is enhanced by the magic of the marriage.

A peculiar few verses that help us understand this dynamic appear in Exodus soon after the Ten Commandments are given at Mount Sinai.

Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way, and to bring you to the place…Take heed of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him…if you obey his voice and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy to your enemies…For my angel shall go before you, and bring you to the Amorites…and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off.
(Exodus 23:20-23)

Israel has never before been told to follow an angel.  We’ve been told to obey God; we’ve been told to obey the Torah and its commandments, but an angel?  Never!

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Don’t Go Bananas

June 7th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

Our bodies need potassium to help maintain normal blood pressure and heart function.  The good news is that a banana supplies about 10% of the potassium we need each day.  The bad news: potassium is toxic.  Potassium poisoning is called hyperkalemia, not a pleasant condition.  Before throwing out all your bananas, read on.

Tenure made it possible for university professors to teach without fear of being fired regardless of prevailing politics.  Making it impossible to terminate a teacher seemed a good idea.  Yet, tenure has allowed professors to indoctrinate students with their own prejudices and beliefs rather than teach them.  Some tenured professors also get sloppy about teaching, seeing no need to engage with their material or students.

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Ace the Interview

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Finding a terrific job is not easy.  One way to ruin your chances is by projecting over-confidence. While employers certainly want to know what you can do for them, being too full of yourself will turn off most interviewers. Strangely enough, in one of the few job interviews in Scripture, the prospective employee seems to display exactly this wrong attitude—yet he gets the job! I am talking, of course, about Joseph. Understanding his behavior will provide us with some specific strategies for interviews and meetings.

After failing to find satisfying interpretations to his two disturbing dreams, Pharaoh recounted them to Joseph. (Genesis 41:8 & 15) Joseph then explained how the dreams foretold seven years of economic abundance followed by seven years of famine.  Astonishingly, he then offers unsolicited advice.  Joseph suggests that Pharaoh hire a wise administrator (implying that he himself is the ideal candidate) to supervise the economy.

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