With immigrants in the news, let me tell you about fifteen-year-old David Sarnoff whose father died shortly after his family immigrated to America. To support his mother and siblings, David got a $5/week job as office boy at the Commercial Cable Company in New York. (Government funded welfare programs weren’t to arrive for another 30 years.) On his own time he taught himself to use the telegraph key making himself more useful to the company’s telegram business. On Monday morning September 17, 1906, he explained to his supervisor that he’d be unable to come to work on Thursday and Friday on account of the Jewish holyday of Rosh HaShana. He was promptly fired.
Ten days later, on Saturday, September 29, 1906 he observed the holyday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and on Sunday morning he began working for the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America. Two months later Guglielmo Marconi, himself, visited the New York office. Young David brashly introduced himself to the great Italian inventor who took a liking to his young employee. While off duty, David took correspondence courses in mathematics.
At work on the night of April 14, 1912, David Sarnoff received the distress signals being telegraphed from the doomed Titanic. He passed the tragic information to William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers. This turned the new-fangled radio into a household term. Meanwhile, despite his fascination with the technical side of radio, David Sarnoff moved to the financial side of the business saying, “…the place to make money is where the money is coming in…”
Marconi eventually became Radio Corporation of America, or RCA. Sarnoff tried in vain to interest his bosses in his idea of commercial radio for entertainment. Taking the initiative, on July 2, 1921, he broadcast a boxing match in Jersey City between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. Nearly half a million enraptured boxing fans listened in that Saturday afternoon, mostly on homemade radio sets, and heard Dempsey knock out Carpentier. Sarnoff enjoyed a phenomenal career until his death in 1971.
Whether at Commercial Cable Company or at Marconi, David Sarnoff was never heard complaining about the anti-Semitism which in those days undoubtedly made his youthful years difficult. He never spoke of having been passed over for promotion in favor of non-Jewish candidates though it undoubtedly occurred. Much later, as a successful and prominent business leader, he participated in attempts to defeat anti-Semitism. We see this behavior foreshadowed in Genesis.
As a young single man, Jacob started working for his uncle, Laban, as described in Genesis chapters 29 and 30. Laban was not a pleasant boss (or father-in-law), but Jacob never confronted him. Twenty years later he departed as a hugely successful man with substantial assets, four wives and many children. Laban pursued him, and only then, for the first time, Jacob exploded in righteous indignation at how Laban had mistreated him. (Genesis 31:36-42)
Had Jacob focused his emotions on Laban’s persecution of him, the energies he wanted to bring to bear upon improving his circumstances would have been dramatically diminished. Using energy to complain and whine about others who might be making your life more challenging means that you have far less energy available to improve your own life. Once Jacob reached a state of stability and success, he felt free to tell Laban just what he thought of him.
I would like to draw your attention to another Scriptural example of delayed reaction. In Numbers 31, God told Moses to wage one more war after which he would die. This war was to be against the Midianites who had earlier caused Israel some dreadful tribulations. After the war, Moses was dismayed that the army had allowed female survivors.
This is how he chided the army:
They [the Midianite women] were the very people who involved the children of Israel [in immoral and adulterous behavior] on Balaam’s advice to betray the Lord over the incident of Peor, resulting in a plague among the congregation of the Lord.
Here Moses makes it perfectly clear that Balaam was the responsible party for inciting the Midianites to send their women to entice the Israelites into conduct that he knew God would punish severely.
Yet, earlier when the incident actually happened, Balaam’s role is omitted and only the Israelites themselves are blamed as we see here:
Israel settled in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry
with the daughters of the Moabites.
Scripture omits Balaam’s role in causing Israel to sin so catastrophically to stress that Israel’s progress would have been handicapped by a “Blame-Balaam” movement. They were a nation on the road from slavery to freedom, responsibility and accountability. The cry “Balaam made us do it!” would have hindered them from starting to take responsibility for their own lives. Later, once Israel had been severely punished for their dalliances with the women of Moab, and once they had successfully defeated Midian/Moab in battle, Balaam’s true role could be mentioned. Given that Balaam was himself punished for his role, the nature of that role needed to be explained.
When confronting challenge, which any business professional has to do frequently, any tendency to blame other people or external circumstances for one’s problems only detracts from the mental energy and stamina available to triumph against whatever adversity threatens. Jacob focused on doing the job rather than on Laban’s nastiness.
This is true in our community and personal lives as well. Israel took responsibility for what they had done and rose to defeat their tormentors. This victory would never have been possible had they been focused on how terrible it was for Balaam to lure them into a trap.
David Sarnoff had many opportunities to rail at the unfairness of his situation. He was a new immigrant who had to learn the language. As a teenager, he was left as the only support for his family. He had to work in a climate hostile to Jews, especially those who wished to observe their faith even to a small degree. Nonetheless, he apparently wasted no energies crying out at the unfairness of it all. He focused on learning new skills, taking on new responsibilities and seizing opportunities as they occurred. Not surprisingly he prospered.
This is one lesson that we can all apply. We all encounter tough situations in which we experience a desire to protest the unfairness of it all. We even feel a little satisfaction at indulging our internal desire to see ourselves as hapless victims in a maelstrom of malevolence swirling around us. But this indulgence is terribly costly. It erodes our willpower, our energies and our mental stamina. By not allowing any whining or self-pitying to creep into our worldview, we can see an immediate increase in our ability to triumph over tribulation. We are not victims but captains of our own destinies.
31 thoughts on “Bury the Blame”
Thank you for sharing this teaching, Rabbi.
The timing can only be Divine.
Bless you and Susan.
Thank you Rabbi, I stumbled at the Jacob and Laban story, at a time I am going through a similar situation. Your Lesson has really empowered and encouraged me not to grope and wail in the agony of being cheated but to actually make a better “lemonade ” out of the sour lemon my boss gave. God bless you Rabbi and Shalom to Is real and Jerusalem!
Thank you David,
Appreciate hearing that this Thought Tool helped you escape the shackles of yesterday’s ordeal and move forward into a brighter tomorrow.
Thank you for taking time to answer every post!
Honestly, Eddie, we don’t answer EVERY post,
but we certainly try to do so. We don’t even publish every post. But we really do cherish those who benefit from our ministry and our work; they all impart value to our lives and so we try really hard to honor their efforts in writing to us by responding as meaningfully as we can.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space where we choose our response.” “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” Stephen R. Covey
Facing a temptation (marry a Midianite, blame The System, eat the whole cake) is not sin, that’s life. How we choose to think, to speak and to act makes the difference. Do we choose to follow current fads or Timeless Truths?
It is so easy to become indoctrinated by current fads–remember infant formula was better than breast milk for infants?–so many people end up really, really believing that circumstances beyond their control are the reason for their bad situation. It is a formidable prison to break out of. Learning the timeless truths of ancient Jewish wisdom is one way to start the process.
That’s the spirit, Lyna-
Exactly. Stephen Covey was a wonderful friend.
Boy, I needed this today. I have been leading a children’s ministry in our church for nearly a year. This means I never get to sit in “big church”, I struggle to find 6 volunteers each week to watch the nursery, preschool, and elementary children, and I don’t feel like a member of the congregation (since most of them never see me as I’m with the kids). This week, a situation arose where I needed a Sunday off. I spoke with my pastor and his reply left me forlorn. He wanted me to plan something for the kids in my absence. So, in order to have one Sunday off (I haven’t mentioned that I work full time and serve my community in various capacities) I have to work twice as hard in the coming weeks to prepare and plan. I have honestly spent time crying over this and wanted to voice how unfair it is. I wanted to rally my friends and cry out against this injustice. Rather, after reading this, I know what I have to do. Work harder and know that honing my skills in preparing MORE things for the kids will only grow my resume and complaining isn’t going to get me any farther in any aspect of my life.
Perhaps one approach worth considering is to ask for an appointment with the pastor and sit down with him. No whining or crying out about unfairness. No, instead, suggest that perhaps he needs help on the administrative side, since setting up replacement protocols for when you can’t do it, or perhaps to give you off one Sunday each month as a routine, all fall under the administrative umbrella rather than upon your shoulders. It would be hard, you could explain, to do an adequate job while also handling the umbrella administrative tasks. These would include setting up a rotation of ‘stand-ins’ and additional volunteers so as no onerous burden fell disproportionately on one person. Ask if you can help him recruit and hire some admin help whose task it would be to provide administrative back up to the children’s ministry. Perhaps you could indicate that this would give you time off in order to visit a few large and successful churches in order to study how they handle this common problem. By doing nothing, you may be impeding the proper growth of the church. No one person can do everything neither should they try. But no looking backwards or wallowing in victimology. Only forward looking–solutions, answers and progress.
wow. i so needed this lesson. thank you
Happy to hear this Debra–
sometime when you feel like it, write and tell us anonymously what is happening in your life that makes this lesson so valuable.
Meanwhile, onwards and upwards.
Great wisdom and I really like how much you invest in seeking true wisdom and your analogy between truth and reality. Life and living. I write from Nigeria. I am igbo(Eri-Gad) by race. Above all I like you zeal to share meaningful knowledge. Of recent a large part of the West shares unhelpful mordernism and perversion. Keep it up till the end. I have had to listen to you for hours over Youtube
Thank you for writing Emmanuel–
I’m happy to hear from you in Nigeria since having been born an African, my heart still has a special attachment to that continent.
By the way, there is even much more free available teachings of mine on audio which you can easily listen to right now here: https://soundcloud.com/rabbi-daniel-lapin-show You will find hundreds of hours of useful information helpful in combating the indoctrinations of modern western perversions.
Thanks, dear Rabbi, for the mighty lesson! The message is clear: no matter what happens to you, focus on the positive and don’t look back; and don’t fall into the deadly trap of being a ‘victim.’ Learning this lesson could diminish the ‘victimological’ behavior so prevalent in America today. Your Thought Tool always hits home.
When you point your forefinger at someone else, you still have three other fingers pointing back at you. Just a reminder that the person usually most responsible for your situation has the same name as you! Hard to think of yourself as a victim of yourself! So Israel couldn’t blame Balaam, Jacob couldn’t blame Laban and we shouldn’t blame anyone either.
With great good humor I fondly remember your anecdote from AJW show about addressing an audience of college students, advising them that the person most responsible for their failures and poor conditions was the person featured on their drivers’ licenses.
‘What, the Governor?’ ‘Is it the Director of the Dept. of Motor Vehicles?’
Yes, that’s right. Some stories are just too good to make up.
Glad you’re watching, James.
I attended high school less than 3 miles from RCA’s David Sarnoff Research Center near Princeton, NJ, but I never heard his story until now.
You’re most welcome, Henry–
Yes, he never complained or whined; just played the hand he was dealt the best he could.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS WISDOM! I am a woman and run a plumbing business. This word from you will change my life. I will keep this in my heart.
Thank you Edie–
So happy to hear that this Thought Tool teaching is going to help you succeed in your business at a higher level.
Thank you for your thoughts. As I mentioned before. I grew up in a very bigoted culture. In our family Jewish business men were seen as money grubbers. They charged to much for their products and if you bought on time the interest was too high etc. etc. etc. all this while being a Christian church member. Once I started high school, where the population was predominantly Jewish and started making freinds my attitude changed dramatically. Ironically it seems that the tables have turned as more an more the animosity and pure hatred toward Christians is growing day by day. However, unlike the hero of your story it, it is not just personal any longer. It has become institutionalized and wide spread. Even government leaders are jumping on the band wagon. All I do now is pray that our God will soon fulfill his promise to restore Israel and that the USA will be on the winning side. But until that happens we Christians and Jews have a lot work to do getting people to see the light.
God bless Israel and God bless you.
I’ve been amused by how many people advertise their virtue by claiming that they weren’t doing whatever they were doing for the money. “Oh, I don’t do it for the money” has become today’s popular proclamation of virtue. But what is wrong with doing it for the money? Getting paid converts you from an amateur and a dilettante into a professional with accountability. When some guy “fixes” your car “not for the money” and he screws up, you’re stuck. He can shrug his shoulders and say, “Gee, I did my best, sorry but I wasn’t doing it for the money” When a professional fixes your car, he is worried about being paid; He is worried about his reputation and the cost of failing to please you, the customer. Paying people for their services and being paid for services you render to other’s of God’s children is wonderful.
Thank you Rabbi Daniel for this good teaching from David Sarnoff and Jacob which remind us of working hard while being focused to the goal. David was an orphan who decided to go to work in order to earn money and serve other people ( his mother and sibling). The key word hear is that he worked hard and coming up with new creating ideas without complaining to others and he used extra time to learn new skills. This teaching is also reminds us about Jacob’s life from the Bible teachings when he worked at Laban. Jacob knew what he was doing rather than complaining. Through this reflection, we need we should to be part be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.
Thank you Kastory.
Great story… excellent insight… please continue…
We shall continue next week, with another Thought Tool. We have published several years worth of Thought Tools–about fifty each year.
Please enjoy them all and find useful application,
Dear Rabbi Lapin,
Your book “business secrets from the Bible” came my way through a friend and has transformed me as a person. I barely got halfway and had to order mine, and ever since, I have referred friends to not only read the book but to have a copy. An interesting aspect of the book is that, its relevance applies, and speaks to the soul despite the kind of challenge one is passing through.
I am most delighted to read your thoughts on Jacob and David, and just watched your video on “let my people go”. I have never had the depth of understanding of the Bible as much as I do with your teachings. Keep this up, and may God continue to bless you.
Dr Chidimma Anyanwu
Thank you very much Dr. Chidimma–
I am so happy that Business Secrets from the Bible sang to your soul. Now I recommend that you read Thou Shall Prosper https://rabbidaniellapin.com/product/thou-shall-prosper-hardcover-book/
Indeed, these books on how we humans relate to money should be applicable everywhere anytime under any circumstances since they treat the topic from first universal principles.
Thank you for your good wishes and please remain in touch,
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