Banish Stinking Thinking

Nobody I know ever warned more effectively against “Stinking Thinking” than my unforgettable friend, the late Zig Ziglar.  His son, Tom, carries his father’s legacy forward, doing his bit to help banish the scourge of Stinking Thinking.

What is Stinking Thinking? It’s the business professional saying to him or herself, “I’ve called enough customers for one day; it’s time for a break.” It’s the harried homemaker thinking, “I can’t carry on; nobody appreciates me.” It’s the employee avoiding making the case for requesting a raise by saying, “I’m probably not worth any more than I’m being paid.” It’s the overwhelmed mom doubting her ability to cope with one more toddler temper tantrum or the dad coming home and sitting down in front of the TV instead of spending time with his children and wife as deep down he knows he ought. It’s the writer thinking that he or she can’t sit in front of the keyboard for another minute and it’s you and me explaining to ourselves why we shouldn’t exercise more than we do.

Stinking Thinking can’t be overcome by arguing with ourselves; our lower self has far better debating talents than our higher selves. Stinking Thinking can best be defeated by utterly obliterating the idea that is discouraging our progress upwards.

During the dark days of 1940, Winston Churchill understood this when many of his colleagues did not. In June of that year, only a few months after he succeeded Chamberlain as prime minister, he delivered his famous speech containing this stirring passage, “…we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”

This speech changed everything because many in the British government were indeed advocating a negotiated surrender to Hitler. People like Lord Halifax, encouraged by America’s very poor choice of ambassador to the United Kingdom, Joseph Kennedy, argued somewhat persuasively that lives would be saved by ending the struggle sooner rather than later.

Churchill uniquely understood that without total victory against Hitler, the Stinking Thinking of the Nazis would endure. Germany had to be obliterated in order to wipe out the evil ideology of Nazism. The Lord Halifax group was wrong. The goal was not peace at all costs. It was victory at all costs. Stinking Thinking can’t be negotiated away, it can only be obliterated.

I believe that Churchill knew this simple reality because of his deep familiarity with the Bible.

Referring to the plague of locusts, the King James translation says:

And they shall cover the face of the earth…
(Exodus 10:5)

However, the Hebrew original says:

And they shall cover the eye of the earth…

What does eye of the earth signify? An eye is our way to see things. Eye of the earth is the means by which the earth, or the world, sees things. While discussing this with my family recently, my son excitedly interjected, pointing out that, ‘eye of the world’ literally means a world view; how everybody sees things.

The goal of the Exodus was not merely getting the Hebrews out of Egypt any more than the goal of England’s WW2 fight was merely bringing the fighting to an end. Had God’s goal been extricating the Hebrews out of Egypt, He could have done this much earlier. God’s goal was utterly obliterating the Stinking Thinking of Egypt. Without obliterating Egypt, their obnoxious immorality would survive and again inflict itself on the world at some later date. The eighth plague began the process of obscuring that Egyptian world view for all time.

This phrase, ‘eye of the earth’ occurs only twice in all of the Five Books of Moses.  We see it again in Numbers.

He [Balak] sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of his people, to call for him, saying, “A people has come out of Egypt, and behold, they have covered the eye of the land
(Numbers 22:5)

King Balak is complaining to Balaam that Israel is threatening to wipe out the prevailing world view by substituting its own vision of Biblical morality in place of tyranny and evil.  Balak rightly assumed that the powerful Balaam would eagerly help destroy the Hebrews and the threat they posed to the way everybody thought.

The only way to undermine an undesirable world view is to obliterate it entirely.  Churchill understood this, and so must we.  In whatever ways Stinking Thinking is obstructing us from reaching our real objectives, it has to be obliterated.  And the only way to obliterate it is by replacing it with uplifting thinking.

You know how it is that when someone says to you, “Do not, under any circumstances, think of a pink elephant,” all you can see in your mind’s eye is a pink elephant?  The only way to stop thinking about a pink elephant is by deliberately thinking about something else. Similarly, the only way to obliterate ideas that harm us is by replacing them with ideas that help us.  

33 thoughts on “Banish Stinking Thinking”

  1. What a difference having the correct Hebrew word makes!
    We are at the mercy of Bible translators! Thank you for giving us
    authentic teachings! Much appreciated..

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      You are so welcome Diane–
      And don’t blame the translators; most of them are doing the best they can. (Other than those with a politico-cultural agenda) Inter-cultural translation is for all intents and purposes, not really possible. It’s like trying to describe sex to a life-long celibate or a well-bbq’d steak to a vegan.

  2. An excellent Thought Tool, Rabbi, and apt for my situation at this very moment! We shall banish negative thoughts, whatever the cost may be! We shall fight them in the board rooms, we shall fight them in the markets, in the waiting rooms, we shall fight them waiting at the traffic lights. We shall fight them while standing in line and while waiting for Godot. We shall never surrender!

  3. Dear Rabbi,
    I wish I could get our congregation and my other Christian freinds listen to and read your messages. But I am dismayed by the fact that so many of our denominations are preaching differant messages. While some of us believe wholely on Gods word it seems that the magority are adapting an appeasement attitude toward un Godly actions and life styles. I am afraid we won’t get out of Egypt until we get the true word of God into the eyes and hearts of ourselves and others..
    Again thank you for your insightful messages.
    Shalome and God Bless,


    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Brian–
      and keep on trying. But I have to mention that tens of thousands of your fellow Christians do subscribe to and read our messages.

  4. Wonderfully timely thought tool. We need this change of worldview so much now not merely as individuals but as a community, as a nation—just as Churchill changed the worldview of the British to overcome Nazism and God changed the worldview of His people in the wilderness. We need it now to replace the current world view of lax morality, idolatry of government, globalism, etc., with a fresh look at the ancient paths. What brought our forefathers to these shores? The desire for religious freedom and a chance to live in freedom. We have come perilously close to selling our heritage for a mass of portage as Esau did. We need to cherish our heritage as Jacob did, so that we may not only embrace our birthright but pass it along to the next generation. Our president is no Moses, but he has blown into Washington like a breath of fresh air, beginning the process of bringing down the false gods of governmentalism. Now it is up to us to take the positive view and follow through. We can make a difference. As individual citizens we can stand up for a return to limited government. As members of believing communities of Christians and Jews we can take back the moral ground by upholding Biblical standards on sexual morality, marriage, and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing Joyce–
      It does seem as if we are in substantial agreement on all the important matters of the day.

  5. Thanks, Rabbi, for a perspective so badly needed in our country today. Loved your son’s–er–insight! What popped into my head was the KJV of Matt. 6:22: The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. When things are as far gone as they were in Churchill’s time, compromise just won’t do; win/win consists of the wrong being exposed to the light and pulled back into line. We are closer to that situation than many people realize today. Changing metaphors a bit, we can drive out the “stinkin’ thinkin'” with a steady stream of clear, pure water into the mirey cistern.

      1. Hi my Rabbi:

        Your TT (and your son’s fabulous commentary!) remind me of one of the most important insights that I gained when studying the same passage in the Christian scriptures that Deb has referenced. Matthew Chapter 6 records the words of Jesus which he spoke during what Christian theologians call “the sermon on the mount” (not a horse – a hill 😉 The very next verse after Deb’s Matt 6:22 “But, if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness . . .”. Matt 6:23a

        That important insight I was privileged to receive so many decades ago: the metaphor of the ‘eye’ in Christian scripture always refers to one’s SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING.

        “World view” works too. Spiritual understanding, however, points to the underpinnings of how we arrive at our world view. My all-time favorite and perhaps THE BEST method ever devised for revealing the bed rock, the foundation upon which a person’s spiritual understanding is constructed has been developed by you, my dear rabbi, as follows:

        Believe in secularism?
        Here’s the three part test (pick one of two choices in each category):

        Humans arrived on the planet by a process of unaided, materialistic evolution. It follows that humans are no more than sophisticated animals.

        God created us in His image and placed us here. Humans are unique creatures touched by the finger of God.

        There is no outside source of wisdom and truth. People should look into their own hearts for moral guidance.

        People are born knowing no more about morality than about calculus. Most of us are born with an appetite for evil, and we find good by knowing God, loving Him an obeying His Word.

        The ‘g’ of government is nearly always good while business is nearly always bad. Without government regulation, business would run amok. Driven by greed, business relentlessly exploits employees, customer and the environment.

        The ‘G’ of God is always good. Business is about service customers and customer service is related to worship service because serving His children is closely related to serving Him. Business has less potential to tyrannize than does government because you can choose not to give your money to a business.

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Dear Peter–
          Thanks so much for reminding me of that 3 part secularism test I taught many years ago. Every time I hear from you, you leave me with new thoughts and added stimulation. It would be nice to meet again.

  6. Gee, and here’s to all of us wiping the nasty locusts, or whatever mote ye may have, out of our eyes. Yuck!

  7. Rabbi Lapin,
    AH HA!!!! You fell right into my trap! I was just wondering YESTERDAY if you could shed some insight on WHY the wells that great spiritual Patriarchs dug, or dwelt by, are also called EYES of the landscape. And why did Isaac find the springing-up gusher of living water in the valley, after he had re-dug the wells of his father Abraham, and faithfully re-established them in the names Abraham had called them? SO…are the great spiritual Patriarchs the ones who color and irrigate the “worldview” of their local (and beyond) vicinities, because of the instruction, teaching, training, revelation of God that they have “dug out”, live by, govern by, and make available to thirsty passers-by (hopefully)? And is this a goal that all of us should be aspiring to – to change the EYE, the WORLDVIEW of our landscape, by what we know and live and uncompromisingly set forth for any interested to see, about God? And what was the SONG that Moses and the children of Israel sang when they dug up a well (with their staves)? And what other stories are connected to this, other than all the obvious ones that talk about wells?

    Here’s to all of us changing the worldview of our landscape for the glory of God!

    Thanks Rabbi Lapin!!!

  8. Greetings from Kenya,
    A few weeks past, I was discouraged by an encounter I had with a close friend of mine.
    And stinking thinking kicked in so quickly. Surprisingly, I took a notepad and began listing negative things about myself which I should change so that I can fortify myself, by changing those bad things about myself.
    But this took an interesting turn, and I decided I will not accuse myself.
    In the book of Jeremiah 18 there is a picture painted through a vivid description of a potter in the middle of his pottery work.
    The pot is marred, but he does not discard. No, he made it again into a perfect vessel.
    When the ark of the covenant was returned to Bethshemesh in the book of 1 Samuel 6, there was a great slaughter of men when they removed the mercy seat to check if the 10 commandments were intact.
    It is inevitable to look (study) the ten commandments and see where you have wronged.
    When you are no longer merciful to yourself there is a great slaughter of positive spiritual attributes such us love, joyfulness, social capital.
    You find yourself having a negative self image. A stinking thinking world view about yourself.
    It brought me back to the three Ps of pessimism : Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personal.
    So the Times I recognize that I have weakness instead of agreeing with my lower self that my situation will never change and it will apply to all facets of my life because I am a bad bad person, I give over that energy to a higher power, God, through prayer.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Ivy
      Yes, so important to ignore the negative blandishments of our lower selves. Blessings in your climb upwards

  9. Rabbi Lapin,
    I am going to work on this. A light bulb seemed to light up. Hopefully, this will be a year of changes.
    Thank you!

  10. This teaching reminds me of something Max Lucado teaches about learning to live forgiven based upon Romans 8:1.

    I am also reminded of Pastor Hagee, who says (paraphrase) – The Hebrew children didn’t have to wander for 40 years to get out of Egypt, they had to wander 40 years to get the Egypt out of them.

    The Lord has a wonderful plan for each of us…we just need to listen to Him, rather than all that “stinkin’ thinkin'”

    Your Thought Tools, Ask the Rabbi and Susan’s Musings are the highlight of my mail box and you broadcasts on CTN are the highlight of my TV viewing

    Blessings to you and Susan –

  11. Yet another wonderful commentary Rabbi in which I learned a thing or two from you. I only wanted to add my two-cents regarding “victory” which is without victory there can be no peace. Secondly, I learned this from Dennis Prager, in Israel they have freedom but no peace. In North Korea they have peace, but no freedom. Where would you prefer to live? This from Rush Limbaugh or as I like to refer to him “The Rushmeister”, when Kuwait was liberated from Saddam Hussein’s evil grip, the Kuwaities didn’t jump up and down shouting “peace, peace, peace”. Instead, they were jumping for joy shouting “freedom, freedom, freedom”. Peace is not the primary goal, freedom is. . .

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for your gracious comments Ty–
      They add to the points I made in the Thought Tool

  12. What a tremendous reading today! Uplifting! Recently I heard that England now has a “minister of lonliness” can you imagine Churchill’s response?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hilarious Steve–
      I doubt that we would have been able to print Churchill’s response in this family – friendly publication!

  13. Do you think that in the Korean War the United States should have not stopped at the DMZ and continued on to obliterate the communist north and furthermore gone into China and wipe out its new communist gov’t? Do you think Stinking Thinking by our leadership then made us stop at the DMZ? Vietnam War just the same. If we would have kept bombing the north we would have kept that country democratic.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear John–
      I wasn’t present at the debates about how to prosecute the Korean war so can’t really answer your question but I do despair when the military is used for any reason other than to destroy our enemies, their ability to wage war and their economies. I strongly opposed the hideous waste of blood and money on George W’s ‘nation-building’ adventures in futility in the Middle East. The military was betrayed by craven political leadership in Viet Nam. Other than that, I have little to say about your speculations. You may well be right.

  14. Dear Rabbi Lapin,

    Thank you for this article, as I find it very uplifting during these challenging days. I also enjoy your weekly podcasts, and will look at some of the material in your store. Your insights are quite helpful to me personally. I am praying for G-d’s guidance to direct my way to a church of true faith, and good fellowship.


    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Frank–
      We are big enthusiasts about belonging to a faith family and being involved with like-minded friends so I hope you do find a great church. Remember, you are not seeking perfection.

  15. Again, perfect timing as always Rabbi!. This is the second time in a month that your message has been dead on for a situation in our lives or those around us. Thanks for your wisdom.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Susan–
      How good to hear from you. This just shows that your family and ours are in sync because, as you know, my writings are directed primarily at myself!

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