Posts in Thought Tools

Land Ho!

November 18th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

Quiz time.  Can you name seven countries that grant their citizens rights to own real property and that protect those rights thus empowering their citizens to sell, mortgage or rent their property for their own benefit?

No? Let me help. Here are a few in the top twelve:  Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Holland, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

Here, in contrast, are seven in the bottom twelve: Yemen, Haiti, Nigeria, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan.

You might note that hungry hordes are desperately trying to leave all countries in the second list in order to immigrate, legally or not, to any country in the first list.  You might attribute that to a coincidence, but if you’re a long-time happy warrior, you will already have heard from me many times that the Lord’s language, Hebrew, lacks a word for coincidence.  Not only are people urgently fleeing countries with low regard for property rights, but all the countries to which they wish to go are societies founded with regard for a majestic book of mysterious origins that we call the Bible.  And that too is no coincidence.

Owning land is of course unnatural.  Nothing in nature owns land.  It goes without saying that the territorial instinct displayed by your Rottweiler or by the weaver birds in your garden has nothing to do with property ownership.  The former is merely an instinct exerted against others of its species.  For instance, the weaver bird becomes agitated only when what it perceives as its territory is invaded by another weaver.  However, if a duck or a robin enter its space, it remains oblivious. The Rottweiler won’t tolerate invasion by another dog but barely notices the cow wandering into its zone.  By contrast, human ownership comes with various rights and obligations and was originally adopted chiefly by cultures in contact with the Bible.

It was the Bible that asserted God’s approval of people owning land.  Genesis 23 details Abraham’s rejection of the Hittite offer to  bury Sarah wherever he wishes.  He meticulously educated them on the idea of property ownership and thereafter accedes to the ridiculously high price they demanded for the land he desired. From this point onwards, one of the biggest differences between primitive cultures and those building a superior civilization was everyone able to own his own land.

The second governor of the Plymouth colony, William Bradford, described in his history of Plymouth how the colony only began to thrive three years after its founding. At that point,  by common consent, they abandoned the community ownership model foisted upon them by English investors and allowed each man to farm his own land.

Other than the Bible there was no model of land ownership.  In nature, no animal owned land and no primitive culture ever came up with such a revolutionary idea.  Animals don’t put fences around the land they occupy, why should humans?  For this reason, early in Genesis, the Bible emphasizes the difference between people and animals.

And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth…
(Genesis 2:7)

And the Lord God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky…
(Genesis 2:19)

According to the English translation I used, it does appear as if God made humans and animals in exactly the same way. Even the same verb, formed, is employed.  God formed man out of the dust of the earth. God formed animals out of the earth. And that word ‘formed’ seems to imply that whatever process God used for man was replicated when he created animals, which seems to be contrary to what I’m asserting which is that there is an enormous  difference between humans and animals.

However, in the original Hebrew text, the two verbs show a crucial difference.  The word translated as ‘formed’ in Hebrew is VaYitzer. In verse 19 it looks like this:   וַיִּצֶר֩  However, when used to describe God forming mankind, the word sounds the same but looks like this:  וַיִּיצֶר

Now I recognize you might not read Hebrew yet and that’s just fine because I’m going to show you that man and animal were not created in the same way. In verse 7 the word is Vayitzer:  “and He formed,”  made up of five letters.  The second and the third letters —we read Hebrew from right to left—are these tiny little letters. In fact, they are  the 10th letter of the alphabet and the smallest one — named Yud. This word meaning ‘and He formed’ contains two Yuds.  Verse 19 also uses the word Vayitzer and it also means “and He (God)  formed”. But notice what happened. There’s only one Yud in this case.  Now the King James translators of the Bible never made this distinction. They didn’t say, “Oh, wait a second, there is an important difference in these  words. They look the same, they sound the same, but they aren’t the same.”

Every single letter counts in the Hebrew text of the Tanakh [Scripture]. And the letter Yud, using the least ink, is the most spiritual of the letters. It’s the main letter that identifies the name of God himself.

So it’s not surprising at all that when we look at the Hebrew word describing the formation of human beings there are two Yuds implying an extra spirituality. However, verse 19, discussing the forming of animals, contains only one letter Yud. We can all relate to that, even if, like me, you are very fond of animals. Nonetheless, we can recognize that the level of spiritual sensitivity, the level of spiritual awareness that an animal has is completely different from that possessed by a human being.

Animals do not own land. People should. God created people with a deep and valid desire to own land.  Not surprisingly, the Manufacturer’s Instruction Manual informs us of the social and economic systems that work best for people, among them ownership of land.  It is not at all surprising that Germany outperforms Bangladesh or that Holland works better than Zimbabwe.  The more you follow the Manufacturer’s directions, including allowing people to own their land,  the more successful your society will be.

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Of Boats and Businesses

November 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Like many of you, I find myself turning to online videos for information. Instead of reading through a dense and confusing manual or using a process of trial and error, I simply need to type a few words into my search engine to see step-by-step instructions for changing a water filter, manipulating the settings in my car or, should I ever be so inclined, how to fold a fitted bed sheet. If I follow the steps, I will accomplish my task. On a larger scale, carefully following engineering drawings and architects’ plans allow you to successfully build a house, boat or plane.

Yet, building a business or a marriage offers no such assurances.  Although countless books exist about starting a business and getting married, following those advisors brings no guarantee of success.  Surely directions for marriage and entrepreneurship ought to ensure success just as do directions for ship builders, airplane builders, and home builders.  Why would the success rate for new businesses and marriages be well below the figure for ships, planes, and buildings? Maybe Exodus can guide us.

God directed Moses how to build the Ark of the Covenant and then told him to place inside it, “…the testimony which I shall give you.” (Exodus 25:16)

God directed Moses to build the Table and then told him, “And you shall set the bread of display upon the table… (Exodus 25:30)

God directed Moses to build the Menorah and then told him, “…and he (the priest) shall light its lamps… (Exodus 25:37)

However, when God directed Moses to build the altar (Exodus 27:1-8) no subsequent instructions followed.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the purpose of building the Ark, the Table, and the Menorah was to allow actions like sheltering the testimony, setting the bread, and lighting the lamps to happen.  Building the altar had purpose and meaning in and of itself.

Building the Ark, the Table and the Menorah more closely resembled changing a water filter or building a boat.  However, the altar was more of a spiritual entity. Building it was meaningful in itself.

A ship is built for the purpose of launching it; an airplane is built for the purpose of flying it; a sheet is folded for the purpose of neatness and efficiency.

However, a marriage needs no other purpose to exist.  Its very existence provides meaning.  While it is true that a business will fail if it does not make a profit, it gives its owners significant meaning and purpose in life entirely separate from that goal.  If you enter into either a marriage or a business with the proper attitude, they are both vehicles for giving to others. Thus they resemble the altar whose purpose was also giving—to God. Building a successful marriage means becoming a giver and building a successful business means focusing on giving real value to other human beings.

There are libraries of information on how to build physical objects like boats, planes, and houses. And you will only fail by ignoring those physical directions.  Happily, for successfully building entities like marriages and businesses, there is information available too, but you need to expand your horizons to include spiritual information.

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Animals Are People Too, Right?

November 5th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 33 comments

Don’t you know that homosexuality is natural?  Surely you must be aware that same-sex behavior involving courtship and pair-bonding has been observed in hundreds of species of animals?

California’s Proposition 47 ensures that a career criminal (Sorry, I forgot that San Francisco prohibits that term in favor of “justice-involved-individual”) who steals money or property suffers virtually no consequences as long as the total value of his daily theft is less than $950.  A journalist with whom I was discussing this wholesale eviction of moral principles explained, “Rabbi, you probably don’t know that hundreds of animals from whales to squirrels take things from other creatures and nobody brands them as criminals and thieves.”

Here is another one.  Marriage is unnatural.  Expecting two people to commit legally to remain together for today’s longer lifespans is crazy. Maybe it made sense during earlier agrarian days and when life was more perilous but today it’s just unnatural. Almost no animal mates for life and neither should we.  It ought to be harder to get into marriage and easier to get out.

Each of the above three arguments has really been made.  Many times.  In many places such as magazines, media, books, university courses and by social pundits, professors, and commentators.  All three arguments depend upon one underlying assumption. They are all built on the equation making people equivalent to animals.  Or to put it more scientifically, people are just one more species on the vast spectrum of animal life on this planet.  Since homosexuality, theft, and casual mating are common among animals, they ought to be common among people too. All attempts to discourage these behaviors should be stopped as these activities are perfectly normal and perfectly natural.  Among animals, that is to say.  Thus, family life, social stability and economic security slowly erode and thus civilization quietly dies.

Though wildly unpopular, the correct answer to each of the above three arguments is, “So what?” That’s right.  So what if animals do these things?  We aren’t animals, we are human beings touched by the finger of God.  We humans don’t do those things. We may occasionally slip up but we certainly don’t celebrate those behaviors.  We don’t even normalize them.

Let us note that civilization grew up around the Bible and that the countries and societies to which the world’s desperate individuals flock in hope are precisely those places shaped by Judeo-Christian Biblical values.  One of the most important innovations that Moses bequeathed to the civilized world when he descended from Mt. Sinai was that people were a distinct and unique species.  It was a shockingly new piece of information to most people back then and it is no less controversial today, that animals and humans are as different from one another as is a Tel Aviv falafel street stand from Maxim’s restaurant in Paris.  It is true that both are places for relieving hunger and, yes, both animals and people breathe oxygen, but that is where the resemblance ends.

The first chapter in Genesis paints a mainly physical picture of life on earth.  And through that biological lens, people do share similarities with lions, lemurs, and llamas. We all breathe, eat, require water, reproduce sexually, and die.  It describes creatures in ascending order of biological complexity, starting with simple sea animals and ending with humans.

Chapter two, on the other hand, views Creation through a spiritual lens, naturally making a massive distinction between people and animals, describing them in order of moral significance.  First humans in verse 7 then animals in verse 19.  Moreover, the difference between male animals and female animals is ignored in chapter two just as it is in chapter one—they’re animals. But no fewer than seven verses of the second chapter are devoted to discussing the differences between men and women.   

But does chapter one really ignore the differences between people and animals? Let’s find out by comparing four consecutive verses:

1)   God made wild beasts of every kind and cattle of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. And God saw that this was good.
(Genesis 1:25)

2)   And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.”
(Genesis 1:26)

3)   And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
(Genesis 1:27)

4)   God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”
(Genesis 1:28)

One verse covers the entire description of God creating animals.  When creating mankind, God devoted three entire verses which yield much information that changed the history of civilization among those nations that had access to them.

First, we see that creating humans was a collaborative undertaking.  God actually included man in his own creation when He said, “Let us make…”.  This teaches us that we may not view ourselves as passive victims of outside vectors over which we have no control.  We are responsible for making, improving and developing ourselves each and every day.  We are partners of the Almighty in our own creation and daily renewal.

Second, no other creatures were given dominion over any others.  Bears were not elevated over wolves. Human beings, however, were directed to master the world and all it contains.  We are not animals; we are morally superior to animals and we are to master them.  For instance, we own our animals, we are not their ‘guardians’.

Third, only we were purposefully created as male and female.  Our maleness and femaleness were part of God’s plan from the beginning in a way quite different from animals whose gender differences are not worth mentioning.

Fourth, unlike animals, we are created in God’s image.  This places enormous responsibility upon each of us to live up to that.  When you wear the uniform of your country’s army you can’t behave just as you might when you’re dressed in anonymous jeans and a T-shirt.  You’re identifiable as a representative of your army and have to behave appropriately.  We humans are identifiable as being in the image of our Creator and are under an obligation to behave accordingly.

Finally, only we humans are especially blessed by God after He created us.

It is therefore as clear as could be that in both the first two chapters of the Bible, considerable emphasis is placed on distinguishing between people and animals.  What animals do and how they behave is utterly irrelevant to how God expects us to behave.  No, people are most decidedly not animals.  Civilization came into being largely because of this paramount principle and it continues to exist only for as long as we maintain this vital distinction.

Another vital distinction between humans and animals is commerce. No leopard hands slips of paper to another leopard in exchange for a share of a goat. If you think of making money as an animalistic activity, you will not do well at it. If you recognize the potential for spiritual greatness in financial transactions, you are on the road to success. Our Income Abundance Set has set thousands on exactly that path and you can find it on sale this week.

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Say it Once, Say it Twice…

October 29th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

America built three big, bold and beautiful bridges during a period of only 6 years.  In 1931, the George Washington Bridge leaped the Hudson River and linked Manhattan to New Jersey.  That same year brought us the Bayonne Bridge linking Staten Island to New Jersey and in 1937 San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened.

Three astounding inventions that changed our world each occurred about one hundred years apart from one another.  For thousands of years, until about 1750, the only way to make things move was with human muscle, animal muscle, wind or moving water. Then the steam engine appeared which could perform vastly more work than the work originally needed to  obtain the coal to fuel it.  For thousands of years the fastest way to communicate information was to send a man on a horse. About a hundred years after the invention of the steam engine, in 1844, Samuel Morse sent an electronic message down a copper wire from the Capitol in Washington DC to Penn Station in Baltimore. In 1948 William Shockley at Bell Labs invented the transistor making possible the digital world we take for granted today.

Three revolutions help us understand the American War of Independence:  the English Civil War of 1643, the French Revolution in 1789 and the Russian Revolution in 1917.

The three previous paragraphs are intended to demonstrate a truism of successful speaking and writing. Our attention tends to be attracted and retained by a list of three items. I could have added the San Francisco  Oakland Bay Bridge to the first paragraph; it was opened in 1936. I could have added the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903 to the second paragraph.  I could have added the Mexican revolution of 1910 to my third paragraph. However, in each paragraph, I deliberately wanted three items.

Consider Solomon’s wisdom as revealed in these three observations from Ecclesiastes about two being better than one.

1) Two are better off than one, because they produce more working together than the total of what each would produce alone.  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

2) They constantly energize one another just as two sleeping together warm one another.  (Ecclesiastes 4:11)

3) Two working together can far better overcome adversity than one alone. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Solomon then concludes the passage with a metaphor about a certain kind of cord not parting easily.  Now I ask you to guess. Since he has just been talking of  ways in which two are better than one, wouldn’t you expect Solomon’s conclusion to be “…and a double cord won’t easily break.”?  This would neatly wrap up the idea that two are stronger and more effective than one, which was the entire point of the last few verses.

Yet, what he really wrote was:

“…a three-strand cord won’t easily part.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the wise king was not trying to provide yet another example of how two partnering together will achieve far more than the sum of what two loners could each accomplish. That is obvious to anyone and requires no evidence.  With his three stranded metaphor, Solomon is explaining why he brought not one, not two, but three separate examples of two being better. He is saying that we won’t quickly forget that two are better than one because he gave us not one, not two, but three examples of the axiom.  The reader will always remember that two are better than one because he’s just read three examples followed by the explanation that the three-stranded cord will not quickly part. 

Here are three really effective phrases to use in the next speech you have to deliver for work, at a family event, or to a civic group with which you are affiliated. (i)  I am going to offer you three reasons why we need to start carrying the new Chinese manufactured widget in our catalog.  (ii)  We all feel palpable joy at this wedding because we know three ways in which we can see that Jack and Jill are just meant to be together.  (iii)  Our membership drive will achieve its goals if we deploy the following three strategies.

The three advantages that King Solomon speaks about for reaching out and establishing relationships with others help explain why we have established a new group on Facebook, Friends of Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin. We want to encourage our readers and listeners to exchange ideas with each other. We benefit so much from knowing you and we believe that you will benefit from ‘meeting’ each other. If you do use social media, please head over and see how this group can add to your life. 

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Yo Ho Ho – a Pirate’s Life for Me

October 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

In the early 1600s, Rabbi Samuel Palache, president of Neveh Shalom Synagogue in Amsterdam, was also a pirate.  With authorization from Dutch and British authorities, he preyed on Spanish ships. A hundred years earlier Spain had cruelly expelled his family, along with all other Spanish Jews.

I relate to the roving rabbi. For half the year, he lived aboard his boat, equipped with a kosher chef, in the balmy waters of the Caribbean.  Some of our most memorable family times have been aboard a boat, admittedly not in the Caribbean but off the coast of British Columbia. We don’t engage in piracy and our kosher chef is my wife. Still, my feelings about boat and ocean seem to confirm our family tradition that we descend from the tribe of Zevulun.

Zevulun will live on the seashore and boats will be his haven…
(Genesis 49:13)

Yet, I am known as a Jew rather than as a Zevulunite.  Jacob had twelve sons but the people of Israel are not called Reuveinim—Reubenites or Shimonim—Simonites. We are named only as descendants of Yehuda—Judah, Yehudim.  In Germany we were called Juden, descendants of Jude. In English that became shortened to Jew.

Why did Judah become the namesake of all the Children of Israel?  Like everyone in Scripture, and like all of us, he was not perfect.  He made mistakes.  However, Yehuda learned from his mistakes.

He shirked responsibility towards his brother, Joseph.  When the brothers wanted to kill Joseph, he did not use his persuasive powers to advocate complete mercy.  Instead of rescuing Joseph, he said to the brothers:

What profit is there in killing our brother…come let’s sell him…
(Genesis 37:26)

He was also insensitive to his father.  Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that Judah showed Joseph’s bloody coat to Jacob and said:

Please recognize this, is it your son’s coat or not?’
(Genesis 37:32)

Then, the tables were turned.  After an amorous encounter with a woman he didn’t know was his daughter-in-law, Judah is incensed to discover that Tamar is pregnant.  She is about to be punished when she proclaims:

please recognize this signet ring, jewelry, and stick…I am pregnant by their owner.’
(Genesis 38:26)

In Hebrew, that phrase ‘please recognize’  is “Haker Na” and it appears only twice in all of Scripture.  These two unique instances appear here, within 30 verses of one another.

Judah acknowledged that he is the father of Tamar’s offspring, one of whom later becomes an ancestor of King David.  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Judah understood that because he caused his father pain with those words “please recognize—haker na,” that identical rare phrase was soon thereafter used to cause him the pain of public embarrassment. 

We see that Judah learned his lesson when Joseph, as viceroy of Egypt, threatened to imprison Benjamin and Judah stepped forward and courageously insisted that he must return his brother home to his father. (Genesis 44:18)

Frequently, God kindly sends us unmistakable signs that the ordeal we are undergoing is the result of some earlier mistake we made.  Only by being open to that quiet, heavenly message can we grow and learn from our mistakes.  Linking current tribulations to our own past mistakes is good not only for individuals but also for nations.

Most Spaniards of the 17th century didn’t realize that their ordeal of a collapsing culture and economy was caused by the cruelty their country had inflicted on its Jewish population.  Some nations get it while others don’t. 

One of today’s moral barometers is how the nations of the world react to Moslem extremists.  It is impossible to understand today’s headlines and predict tomorrow’s, without grasping the spiritual realities of the Middle East.  Discover the roots of Islamic terrorism, and envision the only hope for the future, with our indispensable audio CD program Clash of Destiny—Decoding the Secrets of Israel and Islam.  At 40% off this week, it is an ideal family and study group resource. Listen to this program more than once and review its study guide to perceive astonishing prophetic insights that impact Israel, America and indeed all the world.

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Save Civilization – Find a Father

October 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Deaths by drug overdose, particularly from the class of heroin-containing drugs known as opioids are generally high. But there is one demographic that constitutes only 32% of America’s population but accounts for over 70% of opioid deaths—single men.  They do stand out, but there is another group that stands out even more conspicuously for deaths by crime, overdose, suicide and disease.  Their statistics are even worse than for single men in general.  This group is  men who are not fathers.  They are the most dangerous and the most vulnerable group in the United States. 

Not only are they vulnerable but by far and away, men who are not fathers and who never had fathers themselves, perpetrate most violent crime.  Mass shooters are overwhelmingly single men but there are exceptions. For instance, Stephen Paddock, the 2017 Las Vegas shooter, had been married twice and had a girlfriend. However, he had never been a father.  If instead of identifying them as single men, we identify  men who are not fathers, that pretty much covers all the mass shooters in recent American history.

For purposes of these statistics, father doesn’t mean any man who has impregnated a woman. It refers only to men who play an active role in the lives of their children.  And men who fail to do so are harming both society and themselves.  Nothing comes even close to restraining risky and self-destructive behavior in men than feeling responsibility for a child.  Unsurprisingly, the insurance industry knows that while some men buy life insurance when they marry, most do after the birth of their first child. 

In the late 1950s Japan implemented its birth-control program called the New Life Movement. By the 1960s it was in full swing and together with their enactment of the Eugenic Protection Act (legalization of abortion) in ten short years they had halved Japan’s fertility rate.  For a number of reasons aggravating the trend men stopped marrying, a pattern that continues in Japan to the present day. One unintended consequence is Japan’s contemporary plague of “kodokushi” meaning “lonely death.”  This refers to people  dying alone and being discovered in some cases, only weeks later. According to Tokyo’s Meiji University, almost all kodokushi cases involve men who never had children.

Men who become fathers, real fathers, are doing both themselves and society a favor.  Obviously no man becomes a father without the cooperation of a woman.   Not only is her compliance required for the biological process, but usually unless she promotes the role of the man in her child’s life, he will have none. 

Sadly, however, a woman becoming a mother is not necessarily doing herself and her neighborhood a favor.  It all depends upon the presence of a father.  Without the active involvement of the father, her chances of living in poverty and becoming dependent upon her fellow citizens through the welfare system are very high. Without the child’s father being involved in the day to day nurturing of a boy, her son stands a very high chance of criminal involvement.  Without the child’s father being involved in the day to day nurturing of a girl, she too faces challenges. These are, to quote someone-or-other, very inconvenient truths.  In summary, a shortage of fathers brings tragic outcomes.

So, I am not surprised that  although there are 1,534 verses in the Book of Genesis,  it takes  only 55 verses to reach the first mention of ‘father’ and ‘mother.’

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife…
(Genesis 2:24)

In other words, only about 3%  of the way into Genesis, we encounter the concept of establishing families.  We see emphasis  on mothers and fathers again in the Fifth Commandment:

Honor your father and your mother…
(Exodus 20:12)

And in other places like this:

Every man must revere his mother and his father…
(Leviticus 19:3) 

That seems about right for something as fundamental as family is to the human experience.  Now if secularists are right and Scripture is nothing but a compendium of ancient ramblings by a bunch of bored Bedouins, there is nothing more to say.  Life is too short to waste time analyzing something so trite. However, if this is God’s message to mankind, subtle patterns are important.  Which is to say that I am curious about why Genesis contains more than 90 mentions  of the word father but only 19  mentions of the word mother. After all, surely they go together?   To have one you need the other.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God’s message to mankind wastes no ink telling us things we already know.  A close relationship between a child and its mother is completely natural. Just visit YouTube to see baby giraffes or baby zebras being born and bonding with their mothers.  Fathers? Nowhere to be seen.  When we acquired our beautiful llama, Llucky, he was reluctant to leave his mother. He clearly knew or cared nothing about his father.  Sadly, as God’s message to mankind becomes less and less relevant in public policy and in social life, our human communities increasingly resemble nature. Children are born, bond with their mothers and know nothing of their fathers. (As society disintegrates further, we do even worse than nature, producing women who harm their own children.)

To teach us of this disastrous state of affairs, ideally before we fall off the cliff as Japan seems to have done, Genesis emphasizes the role of fathers five times more often than it speaks of mothers.  Yes, we get the role of mothers. Even nature in the wild gets the role of mothers.  But for a civilized human society you need fathers.  That needs to be emphasized. 

Far more than a father gives life to a child, a child grants life to its father.

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Find Yourself in a Fish

October 7th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

What a blessings it is to be able to bounce out of bed each morning on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low, miserable and even depressed is having a purpose, knowing it, and passionately propelling oneself towards it.

As an ardent boating enthusiast, I find the behavior of the Bible’s most famous mariner, Jonah, to be quite baffling.  At the very height of a furious storm that threatened the very survival of their ship, the terrified sailors cast their cargo overboard to lighten the vessel.  Obviously, during such a tempest the safest location is high up on the struggling vessel from where escape might at least be possible.  That is why lifeboats on every ship are found on the upper deck.  Nobody in his right mind would voluntarily remain far down in the belly of the boat.  Many victims of the Titanic drowned down in bottom decks of the doomed liner.

But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep. 
(Jonah 1:5) 

Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world.  But don’t envy him.  Only the dead have no worries.  And that’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.  Jonah was an avoider of challenges. 

God elevated Jonah and made him His prophet.  God dispatched him on a challenging mission to Nineveh.  Instead of confronting the challenge, Jonah elected to avoid it and attempted to escape to Tarshish.

Jonah represents you and me.  He represents leaders in politics and in business.  He represents parents and preachers.  Jonah had been given a life mission by God.  Just like each of us, he had been given the gift of a real purpose for living. 

From each of us, God expects specific performance and achievement in some specific mission.  After all, if God is to be taken seriously then He must be taken personally too.  We must each distill our own life experiences and our own spiritual adventures into the essence of what it is that we alone have been created to achieve. 

Life itself demands no less, but the search is challenging, even dangerous, and the mission, once found is always formidable.  Having problems and worries is a barometer of life. Confronting them is the elixir of immortality.  But Jonah preferred escape.

In reality, only one escape exists: view life as meaningless and seek solace in entertainment.  Distract ourselves to death.  Jews are fond of the toast, L’Chayim—to life!  What that really means is affirm life.  But the only way to affirm life is by embracing your own moral mission with all its challenges. 

Attempting escape means choosing an empty alternative.  It means abandoning your own great moral challenge. It means a life in which the dull gray monotony of existence becomes almost indistinguishable from death. 

Jonah tried to abandon his Divine destiny.  Instead of traveling to Nineveh as commanded, he attempted to evade his whole purpose for living by escaping to Tarshish.  Since evading one’s mission is an embrace of death, it is no wonder that Jonah was content to die in the sinking ship. 

When we try to avoid our mission, it is not because we consider the attempt to be futile.  It is because nothing has awoken us.  Only one thing could awake Jonah to his destiny and help him find his own redeeming mission in life:  three days in the belly of that fish. 

It was an unimaginable place of wet darkness where Jonah huddled among the giant pulsing organs of life.  Was this living cave to become a grave—the end of his life, or was it to become a womb—the real start of his life?  It could have gone either way.  The choice was Jonah’s to make. 

The one time in the Jewish calendar that the book of Jonah is read in synagogue is late in the afternoon on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  As the sun starts setting and the famous fast day is ebbing away we read:

Jonah left the city and sat at the east of the city.  He made himself a booth there…” 
(Jonah 4:5)

It is quite impossible to read that verse without thinking of the Festival of Sukot, sometimes called Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths that commences just five days later.  Yes, the book of Jonah read on Yom Kippur really does hint at the forthcoming Festival of Booths.

As if to parallel that chronology, of all the many laws governing conduct during the Day of Atonement, the final regulation, the last word as it were, is that Jews ought to commence building their booths for Sukot immediately following the conclusion of the fast.

The idea is that every day is connected to its yesterday and its tomorrow.  Rosh haShana, New Year, is linked to Yom Kippur by the Ten Days of Repentance.  In turn, Yom Kippur is linked to the next holy day, Sukot by the final reading of the day, the Book of Jonah. 

It is interesting that much of the information surrounding Jonah is disclosed in the tractate entitled Booths.  (Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah Chapter V)  It is there that we discover Jonah’s identity and origins.  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that he was the son of the widow who was Elijah the prophet’s landlady in the first book of Kings, chapter 17.   The lad had died and, in response to the entreaties of his bereaved mother, Elijah brought him back to life. Later in his life we encounter him as the prophet Jonah.  This helps explain why he seemed so fearless of dying during the storm.  After all, he had died once before and had been resuscitated once before—by Elijah the prophet. 

The lesson to be learned is that there are three avenues to finding our mission and thrilling to our purpose.  First, it can be dark and frightening days in the belly of the fish.  This is to say, some experience that has the potential either to bury us or birth us anew. Second, we should relate deeply to the interconnectedness of days.  If today lacks clarity, know that tomorrow will soon arrive. Finally, rebirth is possible.  The old Jonah died in that fish, just as he did as a lad.  In both cases, he was restored.  Finding our purpose is the same as being restored to life.  And bounding out of bed each morning is a joyful reaffirmation of the life you live.

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Tuesday Oct. 8 at 6:17 PM PST
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Yours, Mine and Our Sins

October 1st, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

But everybody’s doing it.” Is there any parent who has not heard that cry? Perhaps your child wants to go to an inadequately chaperoned party. Maybe a teenager wants to read the latest best-selling book that his or her parents see as morally suspect. No matter the issue, children want to be part of a group.

We adults are susceptible to this desire as well. We buy new clothing and cars so that we ‘fit in’ with a certain crowd; we watch popular movies because ‘everyone’ is talking about them. Sometimes we even vote with our social group rather than researching and making an informed decision.

We are not only influenced by others, but we are also the influencers. When I succumb to complaining, cowardice or anger, I affect my spouse, children, neighbors and co-workers. Contaminated by my attitude, they will be more likely to behave the same way. If I lower my standards and speak rudely or profanely, others will more easily do so as well.

We are in the Jewish High Holy Day period that began with Rosh HaShana and reaches its climax next Wednesday on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a time for intense introspection on one’s life, achievements, failures and goals. Simultaneously, it is a time for communal reflection and involvement. When we enumerate our sins on Yom Kippur, each individual has his or her own list, yet the format we recite is in plural language. Sentence after sentence begins with the words “We have sinned…” rather than, “I have sinned.”

Isn’t this strange? Even orphans say, “We are guilty of not appreciating parents.” Even the most upright among us say, “We have stolen.”

This interaction between our unique lives and the larger community is one of the universal messages of Yom Kippur. It is a time to strip away the illusion that we are independent and self-directed and to recognize how much of the wrong way that we think and act is a function of following the crowd. It is a time to recognize our own responsibility not only for ourselves but also for others.  As we take an annual moral inventory, we need to assess with clarity the inescapable intertwining of our lives with the lives of the many different groups of people with whom we share life on earth.

After starkly facing our failings during this period, we emerge from the holy days with optimism and conviction. It is wrong to think of peer pressure only as negative. When we smile despite our pain, we also influence others. When we express gratitude and are gracious to others, the effects of that ripple outward as well. If we are courageous and cling to standards, immune to what ‘everyone else’ is doing, we make it easier for others to do so as well.

This is a good time of year to set the odometer back to zero and reject becoming ensnared in the failings of society, no matter how widespread they are. It is a particularly conducive time to commit to being leaders in exemplifying moral greatness.

Yom Kippur teaches us to work from the inside out, in contrast to tyrants who impose their will on others while indulging themselves. When we change ourselves, we change our families. When we change our families, we change our communities. When we change our communities, we change our country. When we change our country, we change the world.

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Rosh HaShana Means War

September 24th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

Some of my friends find challenge in running marathons while others play competitive tennis. I’ve also got friends who struggle to achieve and maintain musical proficiency. Others work on their digital dexterity for sleight of hand magical illusions. Yes, I am blessed with very interesting friends and I haven’t even come close to exhausting the list.  My point is that unlike animals, God created human beings with a desire to prove themselves and improve themselves. Animals seem to need nothing more than survival, whereas some successful people, who seem to have it all, risk their lives scaling perilous mountain peaks. 

Unlike animals, we humans revel in the struggle itself; and perhaps no challenge is ultimately as satisfying as that of trying to make oneself a better person. Perhaps this is why in those quaint old stores that used to sell books more shelf space was devoted to what was called the ‘self-help’ category than to any other.  Becoming more self-disciplined; losing weight; being a more loving and considerate spouse; becoming more honest; becoming a more consistent parent; spending less of one’s life staring at a screen; these challenges are all as difficult as climbing Everest or learning to play the violin. Each demands fighting a furious war with one’s own resistance.

Rosh HaShana is the time of year assigned by the Hebrew calendar for rigorous self-judgement and for deliberate decisions to improve.  One of its names is even  the Day of Judgement.   It is the Biblical festival during which we challenge ourselves more than at any other time. It is when we remind ourselves that God created us with two competing components. One part of us knows what we ought to do while the other attempts to seduce us into self-indulgence, otherwise known as sin. Rosh haShana is when we commit ourselves to the triumph of the better side of our natures. And it is a war.

Let’s look at the only two places in the Torah that Israel is instructed to observe Rosh HaShana.

Speak to the Children of Israel saying:  In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion blowing blasts [TeRuAH] on the shofar in commemoration.
(Leviticus 23:24)

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day when blasts are blown [TeRuAH]  on the shofar. 
(Numbers 29:1)

Other than the date, the common feature is the word TeRuAH describing an attention-getting blast on the shofar, the ram’s horn.  The shofar was an early warning alarm system and a call to confront an emergency.  In much the same way that the sound of a siren warns of the possibility of a tsunami in Indonesia or Thailand, causing terrified tourists immediately to flee coastal areas, the sound of the shofar, the TeRuAH has always galvanized Israel. 

Whether it was for the assault on Jericho (Joshua 6:20)  or Gideon’s army preparing an attack (Judges 7:16) the TeRuAH of a shofar always signaled a military assault or a response to one. Even today, that sound possesses the same sense of urgency heard in a siren. The same sound, the TeRuAH calls us to both spiritual and physical war. This drives home the message that our lives are as much at stake when we face an opposing external army as when we face an internal army composed of our own weaknesses.

The Torah’s emphasis on the TeRuAH blast on Rosh HaShana reminds us that this festival is all about the internal war we wage with our lower selves.  It is thrilling for anyone to complete a year knowing that last Rosh HaShana fired one up to become more in tune with God’s expectations for us;  more generous, more trustworthy, more loyal, and more diligent; in other words, a better human being.

Rosh HaShana begins a ten day period that ends with Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. While this is a uniquely Jewish day, there are themes that can help people of all religions. We isolate three of those ideas and explore them in our audio CD, Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity. You can get it on sale as we head into this momentous period.

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Our offices and store will close for Rosh HaShana on Sunday evening, Sept. 29 and re-open Tuesday night Oct. 1. (PST)

Nobody is Wrong All the Time

September 17th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

In 1849, the American Bible Society included in its annual report a section that read, “Voltaire predicted that in the 19th century the Bible would be known only as a relic of antiquity.”  Voltaire was a witty 18th century French intellectual who harbored deep hatred for Judeo-Christian Biblical civilization. 

On page 94 of his Philosophical Dictionary he writes about Jews, “…an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched.” 

In a letter to King Frederick of Prussia he described Christianity as “…assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.”  Needless to say, in common with most secular fundamentalists today, he is much more tolerant and openminded about Islam.

Because nobody is wrong all the time, he made some good observations about business.  In his Letters Concerning the English Nation, he contrasts England, where he lived for three years,  with his native France.  He describes how ordinary Frenchmen try to pass themselves off as aristocrats using phrases like “a man of my quality and rank” while they “hold merchants in the most sovereign contempt.”  Voltaire then goes on to say, “The merchant, again, by dint of hearing his profession despised on all occasions, at last is fool enough to blush at his condition.  I will not however take upon me to say which is the most useful to his country.”

England, he explains, is unique in having started off as a warlike and conquering nation that then transformed itself into a commercial nation. Writing about when Edward III conquered half of France in the 14th century, Votaire writes, “London was a poor country town.” He then explains that, eventually, owing to the English having become traders, businessmen and merchants, London outgrew Paris in power and prestige.  Voltaire marvels at how only in England, the younger son of a “peer of the realm” can achieve prominence and success as a merchant.  In most European countries, he says, men are obsessed with inherited title and finding connection to kings however in England, regardless of birth, a man could raise himself through trading in coal, wool, and corn.  Voltaire mocks the would-be French and German aristocrats, “whose whole fortunes and estate put together, amounted to a few coats of arms and the starving pride they inherited from their ancestors.”

Voltaire would have been shocked to know that the Bible emphasizes the very approach he saw in England and praised.  Instead of highlighting the political or ecclesiastical aristocrat, the ordinary citizen-farmer is the hero.

We’re told that when Israel enters its land all farmers should bring their annual first fruits to Jerusalem where they should place the baskets before the priest in the Temple. They were then to recite a proclamation.

Wouldn’t you suppose that in appreciation of nature’s bounty the grateful farmer might recite verses praising God’s creation of nature and its miraculous processes that make possible human sustenance?  For instance, you might have expected those who brought their first fruits to articulate verses like these from Psalms.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving sing praise upon the harp to our God who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass grow on the mountains.
(Psalms 147:7-8)

In response to which, the priest might emphasize his own unique position in God’s hierarchy. . 

However, in fact, the Jewish farmer’s annual first fruits proclamation is quite different and quite unexpected:

An Aramean tried to destroy my father, who then went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous; But the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us terrible slavery.  And when we cried to the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression and brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesomeness, and with signs, and with wonders.  And he has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land that flows with milk and honey.  And now, I have brought the first fruits of the land.
(Deuteronomy 26:5-9)

Why a condensed history lesson rather than praise for nature’s bounty?  Precisely because history bonds us to those who came before us and those who will follow us.  Moreover, history bonds us to our nearest and dearest as we gather to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and memorial observances.  Amazingly, when we are celebrating the sustenance we enjoy, it is far more appropriate to celebrate our connection to our people than it is to sing of nature.

Our hero is the ordinary man who produces food and abundance from the earth.  Only his proclamation matters and that proclamation personally links him not to his government and its bureaucrats, and not to his house of worship and its priests, but to his God, to his community and to his people. 

Voltaire fails to note that Britain’s move towards the prosperity that eventually laid the foundations of the British Empire was occasioned by Oliver Cromwell’s readmission of Jews into England in 1656 from where they had been  evicted in 1290.  Bringing with them Scripture’s approval of the independent farmer and merchant who spread prosperity to individuals as well as to the nation, Jews helped transform London into the trading capital of the world. 

Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any verification that Voltaire either said or wrote the often-quoted prediction about the Bible becoming extinct.  But, in a way that Voltaire might not appreciate that old secular cynic’s praise for the English merchant does correspond to Scripture’s recommendation for the economic life of a nation.

What do the Hebrew words for ‘work’ and ‘wealth’ teach us? 
What does the word ‘amen’ have to do with business professionals? 
Find out in
BURIED TREASURE: SECRETS FOR LIVING FROM THE LORD’S LANGUAGE
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Buried TreasureA Fun, Rhyming Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

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