Posts in Thought Tools

Don’t Complain – Act!

January 28th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Have you ever grappled with one of those wooden puzzle boxes that has a secret compartment? If you manipulate the different pieces correctly, a hidden drawer pops open and you find the concealed prize.

This type of puzzle can be extremely frustrating. I was once handed such an item at a dinner party. After a while, I became convinced that there was no answer. The whole thing was simply a sadistic game. At that point, the friend who gave me the game took back the box and showed me exactly how to solve the puzzle. Once I knew how it was quite simple.

In a similar manner, a full 30% of the Book of Exodus is taken up by a long and detailed description of how Israel got out of Egypt.  We Jews read those Torah portions every single year, and in addition, once each year we actually live out the entire experience in a ceremony known as the Passover Seder.

The Book of Exodus serves to instill into our bloodstreams the belief that there is always a solution and a possible redemption.  Each of us suffers in our own form of Egypt, but it is not terminal.  There is always a way out allowing us to emerge from darkness to light and from slavery to freedom.

Verses that may not make sense if Exodus is viewed as just a storybook, begin to shine bright beams of brilliance when we realize the book is an instruction manual.  The details that are given direct each of us how to pave our own pathway from stagnation to growth and from despair to triumph.

For example, look at this verse:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and He issued a commandment to Israel and to Pharaoh king of Egypt for the Children of Israel to exit the land of Egypt.
(Exodus 6:13)

The basic understanding might have been that God spoke to Moses and Aaron and instructed them to make Pharaoh allow Israel to leave. But why is God issuing that commandment not only to Pharaoh but also to the people of Israel themselves?

After all, Israel is the victim, right?  Pharaoh must be made to release his slaves, which is exactly what God directs.  But His directive is also issued to Israel. Why?

Ancient Jewish wisdom supplies the shocking answer.  Israel was not to be a passive people being delivered by Moses and Aaron and expelled by Pharaoh.  God never wants His children to be inert tennis balls floating down the gutter of life.  God commanded them to become instruments of their own deliverance.  Passivity and victimhood never propelled anyone anywhere.

Today we need this reminder more than ever.  We are culturally indoctrinated to think that we have all sorts of rights that others have the responsibility to deliver to us. The rights to an education, to food, to a job, to health care and to housing are only a few of the rights we are urged to claim. Some politicians are now extending this principle to a right to basic income regardless of any actions we might take—or choose not to take.  The more that citizens reject the principle of responsibility for their own lives, the more they transfer those responsibilities to the government.  It follows that they are increasingly comfortable with government growing ever bigger, ever more powerful and ever more intrusive.

The Bible, out of which emerged the Judeo-Christian values on which the United States of America was founded, teaches differently. Each of us has many obligations; to our families, to our communities, to our nation and to God. Today, increasing numbers of citizens reject that viewpoint.

A few years before the terror attacks of 9/11, Susan and I wrote a book called America’s Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values Are Vital for Our Nation’s Survival.  We are updating it and reissuing a new edition with a roadmap for our times. We would like your participation in doing so. Starting on February 11, 2020, we are hosting ten online Facebook sessions to discuss areas that need to be added and questions that need to be answered. Please go here to find out more about this exciting project. We hope you will join us.

Don’t Complain – Do!

January 28th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 5 comments

There was a family I once knew.  Mom, dad, and three delightful young children lived in a small home they rented in a really rotten part of our town.  It wasn’t rotten because it was poor. No, this part of town was poor because its inhabitants lived by rotten values.  These five beautiful people made up one of the very few intact, functional families in that neighborhood where fatherlessness was the rule. Of the men to be seen, almost none were working or married.

My friends worked very hard; dad devoted himself to his job all day and studied accounting at night. Mom fed her children both body and soul, nourishing them and educating them with facts and morals while providing a warm nurturing home for her husband.

Then, eventually one day—a breakthrough!  Dad’s employer, rewarding years of diligence, dedication and integrity, allowed him to participate on favorable terms in the company’s initial public offering.  From then on their financial fortunes soared. After a few years, the family moved into a large and comfortable home in the most prestigious suburb of town.

Each of the children, now young teenagers, was given their own room.  I remember their mother telling me that during their first few weeks in the new house, she’d find all her children sleeping in one room every morning.  They were close siblings and instinctively drifted together as they were unaccustomed to being alone in a big empty room.

That was what mom told me. What dad told me was much more surprising.  He went right back to the old neighborhood and made the owner of their old house an offer he couldn’t refuse.  He then put the house up for rent at below-market with one proviso: for one night each year, his family could move back into the house while the renters were put up in a hotel.

Sure enough, I saw it with my own eyes.  Once each year, on the anniversary of the date they moved out of the little old house, they moved right back in.  Clutching their sleeping bags and blankets, the family drove across town.  Dad parked his car right there on the street where he used to park every night for so many years.  The five of them slowly walked up the short concrete pathway, mounted the steps to the front door and went in.

After a plain sandwich supper eaten while they sat on the floor of the living room, they unrolled their sleeping bags right there on the carpet and spent a weird and uncomfortable night.  The next morning, they arose and without much conversation, each wrapped in his own thoughts, the family returned to its lovely new house.  The slightly heavy atmosphere lasted until they walked through their elegant front door whereupon a happy bedlam ensued.

Let me have dad explain in his own words why he led his family on this bizarre annual ritual. 

“I didn’t want my kids to become spoiled by our luxurious new lives and my wife and I didn’t want to forget where we came from.  We decided to create a family tradition of spending one night a year where we once used to live with the intention of building a family feeling of gratitude and as a regular reminder of our good fortune.  An added benefit is that our children have absorbed into their very bloodstream the belief that there is always a way out. That no matter how tough and dark things seemed to be, there was always a way up towards hope and light.”

No sooner did I hear his words than I thanked him profusely. 

“With your wonderful family tradition, you have taught me the meaning of the Biblical book of Exodus, the second book of the Torah.”   

Just think about it.  A full 30% of the Book of Exodus is taken up by a long and detailed description of how Israel got out of Egypt.  Not only do we read it repeatedly every single year, but once each year we actually live out the entire experience in a ceremony known as the Passover Seder.

The Book of Exodus serves to instill into our bloodstreams the belief that there is always a way out.  Each of us suffers in our own form of Egypt but it is not terminal.  There is always a way out allowing us to emerge from darkness to light and from slavery to freedom.

Verses that may not make sense when Exodus is viewed as just a storybook, begin to shine bright beams of brilliance when we realize the book is not a storybook but an instruction manual.  An escape manual directing each of us how to pave our own pathway from stagnation to growth and from despair to triumph.

For example, look at this verse:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and He issued a commandment to Israel
and to Pharaoh king of Egypt for the Children of Israel to exit the land of Egypt.
(Exodus 6:13)

The basic understanding might have been that God spoke to Moses and Aaron and instructed them to make Pharaoh allow Israel to leave, but why is God issuing that commandment not only to Pharaoh but also to the people of Israel themselves?

After all, Israel is the victim, right?  Pharaoh must be made to release his slaves, which is exactly what God directs.  But His directive is also issued to Israel. Why?

Ancient Jewish wisdom supplies the shocking answer.  Israel was not to be a passive people being delivered by Moses and Aaron and expelled by Pharaoh.  God never wants His children to be inert tennis balls floating down the gutter of life.  God commanded them to become instruments of their own deliverance.  Passivity never propelled anyone anywhere.

Today we need this reminder more than ever.  We are culturally indoctrinated to think that a job is a right that someone else has the responsibility to deliver to me.  Many politicians extend this principle to a right to basic income without even having a job. They call it Universal Basic Income and proudly place it on their platforms.  The more that citizens reject the principle of responsibility for their own lives, the more they transfer those responsibilities to government.  It follows that they are increasingly comfortable with government growing ever bigger, ever more powerful and ever more intrusive.

Put another way, the line of people in front of the window where they are giving away stuff for free will grow longer and longer.  Is there hope?  Yes; it has to do with replacing rotten values with real values.  A few years before the terror attacks of 9/11, Susan and I wrote a book called America’s Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values Are Vital for Our Nation’s Survival.  We are updating it and reissuing a new edition with a roadmap for our times.

We would like your participation in doing so. Starting on February 11, 2020, we are hosting ten online Facebook sessions to discuss areas that need to be added and questions that need to be answered. Please go here to find out more about this exciting project. We hope you will join us.

Stars and Superstitions

January 20th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

Why do people say “Bless you!” to a sneezer? Well, you see, in olden times they believed…Why do so many believe that walking under a ladder brings back luck?  You see, about 5,000 years ago, Egyptians thought…What is the ‘evil eye’? It was something feared by the ancients… See the subtext here?  Dismiss something as ‘from yesterday’ and you condemn it to irrelevancy.  Only today and tomorrow count; yesterday is probably only a superstition.

What is the significance of the Star of David? Well, it was found on a 3rd-century Jewish tombstone…It is discussed in medieval Kabbalah texts…In the early 1600s, it appeared on a flag flying over a Czechoslovakian synagogue. 

Does it really have no contemporary significance?  Is it just a six-pointed star that ignorant people used to draw that Jews later adopted as a symbol?

6 is the first of what are called “perfect numbers”.  All the numbers that can be exactly divided into 6 also add up to 6.  (1 + 2 + 3 = 6)  The second perfect number is 28 and the third is 496. More importantly, it is the number of directions at which we can look at our world. Imagine yourself embedded in the middle of a lucite cube. You can look out of its six faces: forwards (north), left (west), rear (south), right (east), up and down. 

Most importantly, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them…” (Exodus 20:11).  But the Star of David, known in Hebrew as the Shield of David is not just a six pointed star.  It is one triangle superimposed on another. It is actually two triangles, one of which is rotated half a circle (180 degrees) and then superimposed upon the other.

That is important because a triangle is the most reliable engineering shape. For this reason, the truss bridge, which is the most common kind of bridge,  is made up of nothing but triangles.

There is no stronger arrangement into which you can shape 3 lines than by making them into a triangle.  If I had to give written instructions for constructing one, I’d say connect one end of line A to one end of line B, and then the other end of line B to an end of C.  Now join the other end of C to A.  Connected this way, the resulting triangular structure cannot wiggle or move. It is perfectly stable and strong. Two triangles superimposed on each other will look like the final drawing in this series:

 

If a triangle is the strongest way of connecting three lines, what might be the weakest way of connecting three lines?  It would be doing the opposite of my earlier directions.  Connect three lines, A, B & C and then do not connect C back to A.  It might look something like this:

Now, let’s take two of these shapes, rotate one of them half a circle and then superimpose it upon the first.  Look what we obtain:

 

Thus we see that both the triangle and the basic element of the swastika comprise three lines, A, B & C.  What do the three lines represent? 

A: God.
B: The physical world which He created and into which He placed us.
C: People.

In the triangle, each line is linked to the other two in an inseparable matrix of might. The triangle is asserting that if we remain connected and bonded with God, other humans, and our physical world, we are firmly planted in a dependable reality.

By contrast, the swastika’s basic element also contains three lines, however,  were you to push on the ends, the structure would wiggle, shake, and deform. Here we see the intrinsic fragility of a worldview in which we humans are not linked both to our Creator and to His world in a very practical way. 

You might be wondering why two triangles are needed.  Why couldn’t the symbol of the Jewish covenant just be one triangle? The answer is that each of the three lines represents something that must be considered from two perspectives. 

  • We face God during our lives as the essence of Holy but we also recognize a timeless God that exists beyond death.
  • The physical world can only be understood as a conjunction of both time and space.
  • People are either male or female.

Those are the six faces of that lucite cube from which we contemplate reality and struggle to understand it.  The Star of David graphically represents that with geometric precision, while its mirror image, the swastika, represents failing dismally at that task.

You see, some things actually are best understood in contemporary, real-life terms rather than as anachronistic antiques from an earlier age.  Reality is also best understood when we include all six perspectives. This includes the reality of money. It is part of our relationship with God, with the physical world and with other people. Begin making this idea a part of your being by listening to this week’s featured audio CD, Boost Your Income: 3 Spiritual Steps to Success.

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Hocus Focus: Wave Those Priests

January 13th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

Artist Jacob Kurtzberg, later known as Jack Kirby, once told an interviewer that he was inspired to create the comic book character The Incredible Hulk after seeing a mother lift a car off her injured child.

Though I do not know that this was the event Kirby witnessed, the Associated Press reported a 1982 incident in Lawrenceville, Georgia, in which Angela Cavallo freed her teenage son, Tony, who was crushed when a Chevy Impala he had been working on fell off its jacks. She lifted the vehicle enough for neighbors to pull Tony to safety.

I’ve heard so many accounts of people driven to superhuman feats of strength that I knew this must be well researched. Sure enough, in 1961 the Journal of Applied Physiology published a study entitled “Some Factors Modifying the Expression of Human Strength.” Apparently, certain drugs, hypnosis and yelling are among the stimuli that can temporarily boost human muscular strength by over 30%.

Wouldn’t it be useful to discover a way in which those of us who prefer not to indulge in psychotropic drugs or undergo hypnosis can nonetheless boost our strength?

Let’s glance at several Biblical feats of strength:

And Aaron shall wave the Levites….

The Levites purified themselves…and Aaron waved them…
(Numbers 8:11 and 21)

Ancient Jewish wisdom makes a point of noting that Aaron actually lifted and waved a large number of Levites. If Aaron only waved half the 22,000 Levites mentioned in Numbers 3:31, he would have had to lift and wave one adult male approximately every five seconds during about twelve hours of daylight. In the face of this almost unbelievable feat of strength and endurance, you would have expected to see the waving portrayed as some sort of spiritual metaphor that would have made the entire account plausible. Yet it insists that Aaron, and only Aaron, was capable of this feat.

Similar discussions surround other feats of strength. Jacob singlehandedly rolled a massive stone off the mouth of a well, a stone that usually required many men to move it. (Genesis 29:8-10)

Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that Jacob accomplished this task as easily as one removes a cork from a bottle.

Moses carried a heavy pair of stone tablets down steep Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 34:4)

In all these examples, oral transmission makes no attempt to dismiss the stories as metaphors. Instead, we are instructed to read them literally in order to gain a glimpse into God’s guide to life that can help us all in our own lives right now and right here.

What is the secret? It is focus! That’s right, just focus. As a child, did you ever play with a magnifying glass? Holding it just right would focus the sun’s rays into a blazingly bright spot that could melt plastic and burn wood.

Similarly, focusing all of our mental and physical energy can allow us to achieve astonishing results. Jacob was utterly focused on supplying Rachel’s need for water. Moses was utterly focused on bringing God’s Torah to the Israelites. And, yes, Aaron was utterly focused on worshipping God in exactly the way He instructed. Utter focus confers the gift of superhuman strength and endurance.

There are ways to train ourselves to focus. The martial arts expert’s blood-curdling yell as he strikes out is an example of one way. For most of us the goal is not smashing bricks or lifting up huge boulders but it is tackling the things we should do diligently and effectively. This can be done with focus.

Ancient Jewish wisdom regards the opposite of focus as laziness.


The field (work) of the lazy man is covered with thorns, dilapidated and overgrown.
(Proverbs 24:30-31)

In a world that dangles distractions, focusing on being able to focus is a necessary first step.  Start by devoting a few minutes before the start of each workday to drawing on God’s limitless strength by studying His word. Keep yourself on track by making a physical mark on paper each time you interrupt what you are doing to pick up your phone, check e-mail or succumb to the siren call of technology. By doing that day after day, you will accustom yourself to using those amazing tools deliberately rather than as a tool of disruption or procrastination.

If you are ready to focus on earning more money, a great place to start is with our audio CD, Boost Your Income: 3 Spiritual Steps to Success. Let it propel you to greater heights through strategies that come straight out of a Biblical perspective.

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Rain, Rain Don’t Go Away

January 6th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

I just received a wonderfully welcome gift—a warm and wooly winter coat. With winter wheezing its cold breath over most  of the northern hemisphere it couldn’t be more timely.  In my neighborhood it’s time to think of snow.  Put snow tires on the cars; get ready to shovel snow from the sidewalk, and make sure we have boots high enough to keep snow out of our socks.  For the benefit of all you happy warriors and favored friends reading this Thought Tool in Ghana, Australia, and Florida, snow is a cold white substance somewhere between rain and hail that makes life a little difficult in urban environments subject to its presence. (Yes, I know that you smug Vermonters think it’s beautiful.  If my office window looked out over white fields, I’d agree.)

Though it is apparently a controversial assertion, I do believe that in languages like Inuit, Yupik, Swedish and Icelandic more words exist to describe subtle nuances in snow than are found in English.  There is no reason to find this surprising.  People in those far northern latitudes see so much more of the white stuff than we do.  What is more, many details of their day-to-day existence revolve  around being able to tell the difference between snow suitable for sledding and snow suitable for building igloos.

From the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tanach, it is easy to see that many more words exist in the Lord’s language, Hebrew, for love than are found in English.  There are so many Biblical mentions of love; between people and God, God towards people,  between friends, between lovers, and many others.  It is not surprising that in a Biblical culture built around love, there should be many nuances of love each requiring its own Hebrew word.

But why do we find four different words for rain in Scripture?  The English language  distinguishes between drizzle, downpour, and drencher, which to me makes sense.  It always seems to be raining in the homeland of the English language.  But why would the language of Scripture have more than one word for rain?

The best-known word for rain is GeSHeM: ג  ש  ם

And the rain [GeSheM] was on the land for forty days and forty nights.
(Genesis 7:12)

 

Then we have the word MaTaR: מ ט ר

…because the Lord God had not sent rain [MaTaR] upon the earth
and there was no man to till the soil…
(Genesis 2:5)

Here are two more words for rain, YoReH and MaLKoSH: י ו ר ה  + מ ל  ק ו ש  

I will grant the rain [MaTaR] for your land in season,
the early rain [YoReH]  and the late rain [MaLKoSH]…
(Deuteronomy 11:14)

King Solomon alluded to the water cycle, describing how rivers  flow into the sea, which never fills. The wonders of evaporation, clouds and rain keep the rivers full and make human life possible.

All streams flow into the sea, Yet the sea is never full;
To the place [from] which they flow The streams flow back again.
(Ecclesiastes 1:7)

My mother used to try fill me with a sense of wonder about rain.  We would take a walk outside as soon as the rain let up, finding excitement in newly arrived mushrooms, fresh shoots on trees and new grass sprouting out of the rich soil.

However, it is possible to view rain as a prosaic meteorological phenomenon.  Water evaporates and  forms clouds.  Then, wind and temperature changes cause the clouds to move inland and discharge their precious load.  That’s all there is to it says King Solmon in the gloomy opening verses of Ecclesiastes.

Then all of a sudden we realize that in the Lord’s language there are four words for rain.  GeSHeM means the plain materialistic phenomenon. MaTaR means rain in the context of God’s love for His world and its inhabitants.  YoReH and MaLKoSH mean rain precisely timed in order to yield maximum growth and benefit along with  minimum harm to humans.

Similarly, when imparting gifts to others, it is important that we pay attention to timing.  Whether our gift is a tangible expression of our warm feelings or whether it is the gift of a friendly and empathetic word, timing matters.  Had my coat arrived in spring, I might have considered the possibility that my benefactor was cleaning up accumulated clutter and came across an unused coat.  But arriving last week, it made me feel cherished.

If you’d like to access some of the timeless truths that the  Bible in Hebrew reveals, in a way that the Bible in translation does not, be sure to acquire the Genesis Journeys Set while it is on sale for a few more days. This is an eye-opening set that will also guide you in interpreting today’s hot-button issues through a Biblical lens.

Susan and I would love to have you join us tomorrow night for a Facebook Live event. (Tuesday, January 6, 8 P.M. ET) We will be discussing the update of our book America’s Real War in light of last week’s Susan’s Musing and the uptick in the United States of violent acts against Jews.

We would also love to see those of you close to  Beltsville, MD, (in the Washington, DC area) this coming Sunday morning (January 11) when I am privileged to address the congregation at Hope Christian Church.

 

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Reach Your Promised Land

December 30th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

As the new year and a new decade dawns, it is natural to wonder what lies ahead. Whatever they are, keep your dreams alive.  Maybe you wish you were happily married, or prospering, or healthier.  Accepting your current circumstances as your normal reality is a terrible trap.

Who would have blamed the Israelites for accepting their nomadic lifestyle as normal?  After two hundred years of slavery, followed by forty years wandering around a desert, how could they ever have seen themselves becoming independent landowners?

Every Israelite should have dismissed the words of Moses as hopeless fantasy when he said to them:

And it shall be when you come into the land that the
Lord your God gives you as an inheritance…
(Deuteronomy 26:1)

What made them accept the vision of their own Promised Land without skepticism?

The secret is that Moses presented them with a vision, not a fantasy. He didn’t promise a utopian future divorced from reality; he let them know that with blessing comes responsibility. That was believable. He not only promised them their Promised Land and its abundant harvests, but he also revealed the duties and obligations that would be theirs along with the abundance. 

In the future, they will take their first fruits, put them into a basket, and take them on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In other words as recipients of God’s blessing they must acknowledge Him as the source of that blessing and welcome the obligation to follow His ways.

That first fruits ceremony is described in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  Now, you know how I encourage everyone to learn to read Hebrew. Well, off the Hebrew page jumps a real attention-getter—a rare word for basket.  The word ‘basket’ appears about twenty times throughout Tanach (Scripture) and most times the Hebrew word used is sahl.

 


ס  ל
L – S

…and the birds were eating them from the basket…
(Genesis 40:17)

In our first fruits passage, the word basket appears twice (Deuteronomy 26: 2-4) but the word used is not sahl but the very unusual word, teneh.


ט   נ   א
EH- N -Te

If you own our Genesis Journeys series, you have the study guides that accompanies each teaching.  At the beginning of your study guide you will see our special layout chart of the Hebrew alphabet.

The 6th letter of the middle row is the letter samech pronounced ‘S’ (as in sahl-basket). You’ll notice that it is shaped like a closed circle.  Not only is the word sahl missing in the first fruits passage but amazingly, there is no appearance of the letter samech in any word in all those eleven verses.  The verse immediately preceding contains a letter samech (Deuteronomy 25:19) and a few verses later (Deuteronomy 26:18) we spot a samech.  Why is it so important that the whole first fruits passage should not contain that letter? A different and unusual Hebrew word for basket is employed (Te-NEH)in order to avoid introducing the letter samech in the more common word—sahl.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the fully enclosed circular shape of the letter samech hints of boundaries and limitations. These have no place in a passage filled with God’s promise of limitless abundance.  For this reason, teneh replaces sahl to signify a veritable cornucopia of plenty. But along with being able to envision God’s ability to deliver abundance, one has to recognize that responsibility accompanies that gift, signified by the bringing of the first fruits.

Never view your today as your inevitable tomorrow.  But merely fantasizing about a tomorrow with health, wealth, and love entraps you in an unchanging today.  It is true that your promised land comes with no limits.  But it does bring accompanying obligations.  Convert hopeless fantasies into energizing visions by eagerly anticipating the obligations that will accompany God’s bounty.

As we hibernate a bit for the winter (at least those of us in the Northern hemisphere), let’s commit to increasing our Bible study. I’d like to suggest my Genesis Journeys Set as a way to become familiar with ancient Jewish wisdom on powerful Biblical sections that relate directly to our lives today. The price on this 8 audio CD set has never been lower and will remain so for only a short while longer.

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Of Cannibals and Chanukah

December 24th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

Let’s use our imaginations for a thought experiment. In 1946, a crew is airlifting the latest model Dodge from Detroit to a car dealership in Brisbane, Australia. On the final leg of its flight the airplane develops engine problems over Papua, New Guinea.  The crew’s only hope is to shove the shiny new sedan out of the ramp at the back of the airplane. In the hope of a possible salvage, they attach a few parachutes to the car which then floats down towards the jungle below. It finally settles right side up in a small clearing outside a Korowai village.  

 The local cannibals generally prevent themselves from becoming the dinner of neighboring villages by building their homes high up in trees. On this day, however, one Korowai chief takes refuge in the Dodge, laughing delightedly as his enemies’ arrows bounce harmlessly off the car.  

I presented you with this little thought experiment only to ask you this question:  Language difficulties aside, is there any way you’d be able to explain to that cannibal chief that in using the motorcar as a fort, he is not making the best use of the Dodge sedan?  

He has never seen a car before and he has no idea of what gasoline might be. After all, the Korowai people never even encountered a westerner or a wheeled wagon until about 1970. No, there is nothing you could say that would convince  our mid-20th century cannibal chief that he is wasting a huge asset.

Anyone assuming that the Bible is no more than a simple story about long ago people and their anachronistic beliefs is making a similar  mistake to that of the Korowai chief living in his Dodge. If we were to inform the Papuan primitive that by using his new fortress properly he could effortlessly transport himself and a handful of his warriors to Port Moresby, he’d blink at us in clueless incomprehension.  If we were to inform our Bible illiterate that the volume he disparages not only relates information from the past, but it also reveals data on events that have not yet happened, he’d look like the twin brother of our New Guinea native. 

The festival now being celebrated, Chanukah, provides an excellent example of this Biblical phenomenon. In his sublime ignorance, our scriptural skeptic is quite certain that Chanukah is a “post-Biblical minor celebration.” While it is true that the central historical events of Chanukah occurred about 1,000 years after the death of Moses, the seeds of that historical event are planted in the Bible. 

Leviticus 23 lists all the festivals in order through the Jewish calendar year.  Each is allocated its own “paragraph” in the unique graphical layout of the Torah. The festival of Tabernacles (Sukot) which occurs in autumn is treated in  Leviticus 23:33-44. The very next paragraph is devoted to an instruction to use pure olive oil to light a menorah. It starts off describing one flame, corresponding to the first night of Chanukah, (Leviticus 24:2) and ends with, “..he shall arrange the flames (plural) upon the menorah…(Leviticus 24:4).  Those flames were activated after the historical events of Chanukah and to this day we add an additional flame on each of the eight nights.

Years before the Greek invasion of Israel,   Daniel provided King Nebuchadnezzar with a prophecy about several subsequent empires. Each was represented by a different metallic element such as iron, gold, silver and copper.  (Some translations mistakenly render NeCHoSHeT as bronze or brass.)  

But another kingdom will arise after you, inferior to yours; then yet a third kingdom, of copper,
which will rule over the whole earth.

(Daniel 2:39)

The empire referred to as copper is Greece, the antagonist of Jerusalem in the Chanukah account.  Each time copper is mentioned in Scripture, an aspect of Greek domination is being referenced. 

With this in mind, we can look at these words having to do with vessels in the Tabernacle: .  “…shall be of copper.” (Exodus 27:19) The very next verse reads: “You shall instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling the lamps regularly.”  (Exodus 27:20) Again we see lighting olive oil referring to the yet-to-be events of Chanukah, when the light will overwhelm the darkness brought on by Greece.

Here is one more Biblical reference to Chanukah. Every number possesses a specific significance in ancient Jewish wisdom. The number 25 always alludes to the Festival of Light. In fact the final syllable of the word Chanukah actually means 25.  It is no coincidence that Chanukah is the only festival in the Hebrew calendar that falls on the 25th day of the month. In that context, are you surprised to hear that the 25th word of the Bible is the word, OHR—light? 

 “God said, “Let there be light”
(Genesis 1:3)

It is through these and several other similar hints and allusions that we see that Chanukah, far from being solely a historical event, is actually part of the Bible’s depiction of how we humans are to relate to the electromagnetic phenomenon known as light. Light is always to be contrasted with darkness as metaphors for good and evil. We are always to be reminded that the stygian gloom of bad times can be dispelled by even one small ray of light. A tiny flame fed by pure olive oil has the power to push back the darkness of evil. If we celebrate Chanukah solely as a depiction of a historical conflict, or even as a remembrance of a miraculous military victory and subsequent miracle with oil, we are making the same error as our Korowai chief. The holiday will benefit us, but nowhere near to its fullest potential. 

If you wish to explore how this message can impact you, we invite you to find out more in our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. It remains on sale through the holiday.

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Hey Buddy, Got a Light?

December 16th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

What three changes could you institute that would improve your life? Most people know exactly what they ought to do and what they ought to stop doing that would make their lives better. Which begs the question—why don’t we just go ahead and do these things?

The answer is what I call “The Force of Darkness.” Understanding and learning to conquer this sinister force is so important that God introduces us to this primeval darkness and general chaos no later than the second verse of Genesis.

According to ancient Jewish wisdom this verse reveals a dark force built into the universe that attempts to combat progress towards improving our lives. This is why it is harder to diet, exercise, and grow thin than it is to sit around, eat, and grow fat. This is why it is harder to save and invest than it is to spend and consume or to educate one’s self and improve one’s career rather than to seek entertainment. This is why self-discipline is harder than indulgence or why it is harder to build a marriage than it is to destroy one. In other words, keeping the flame burning is just plain hard. It is far easier to sit back and allow darkness to win.

If the problem is darkness, surely the antidote is light—which brings us to Chanukah, the festival of light.

Many mistakenly think that Chanukah is a post-Biblical rabbinical holiday. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, its roots lie in the Torah and within the prophecies of Hagai and Zecharia centuries before the historic events.

Many mistakenly think that Chanukah exists because about 2,160 years ago the Hasmonean Maccabees won an extraordinary military victory over the Greeks and Jewish Hellenists. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, one of the reasons the loyal and faithful Jews were able to win the war was because it was fought on the days already prophetically preordained for light to defeat darkness.

Many mistakenly think that Chanukah is an annual holiday celebrated by playing silly games while eating oily potato latkes. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, just as ranchers must vaccinate their livestock each year to keep them healthy, Chanukah is an annual vaccination of light to keep ourselves healthy enough to dispel darkness.

On the first night of Chanukah we light one flame. We add a flame each successive night until we have a glorious extravaganza of light emanating from our menorah on the eighth night. Why don’t we increase the total light on this holiday by kindling eight flames every night?

Simple arithmetic reveals that lighting correctly requires a total of 36 flames. It is no coincidence that the word light appears 36 times in the Torah. It is also no coincidence that the first word in the Bible possessing the numerical value of 36 is the Hebrew word meaning “Where are you?” which God asks Adam after his sin. You see, in Hebrew, each letter has a numerical value and the four letters of that word have the values of 1; 10; 20; and 5 for a total of 36.

א    י    כ    ה

5 + 20 + 10 + 1

Needless to say, God knows where Adam is hiding. The question was not an attempt to discover Adam’s physical whereabouts but instead it was God admonishing Adam to reflect on his spiritual condition.

That word echoes down the ages as God asks each one of us every day, “Where are you?” The message of the 36 bright flames, increasing by one each night, is that you dispel darkness by achieving just a bit more today than you did yesterday. Remaining in one place is just a slower way of moving in the wrong direction. Staying the same is an illusion, not reality. That is simply the way God created the world.

For more messages from Chanukah that will light up your life, listen to our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. Reduced for a Chanukah special, it may be the best $5 investment you can make this week!

An earlier version of this teaching appeared inThought Tools Volume 2.

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Why Do I Write Thought Tools?

December 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

No country has been more hospitable to its Jewish population than the United States of America.  It is hard to think of another nation in which a Jewish community has enjoyed a longer period of tranquillity and affluence. 

For two thousand years, in different countries, at different times, the wandering Jew found a resting place for his weary feet.  Some of these resting places were more hospitable than others, many were downright painful, but they were the temporary abode that God had arranged for His people.  However, after two world wars finally left America as the mightiest economic and military power in the world, her Jewish community achieved maturity and emerged as the healthiest and wealthiest of all Jewish communities.  The hospitality that Jews have enjoyed in America is unparalleled in recent times and perhaps even in all time.

One explanation often advanced to account for the hospitality enjoyed by America’s Jews has been the size of the American Jewish community along with its economic and political influence.  In other words, America has been good to her Jews because Jewish power has allowed her little alternative.  In addition to demonstrating breathtaking ingratitude, this argument is as wrong headed as claiming that turning on street lights causes the sun to set.  Even a moment’s humble reflection reveals that American Jews have achieved affluence and political prominence precisely because of the security and tranquillity they have enjoyed here for so many years.

A valuable clue in the search for an explanation of America’s fondness for Jews and Israel is that it comes most often from precisely those politicians who do not preside over major centers of Jewish culture.  For example, it is hard to make the case that Congressman Louis Gohmert supports Israel in order to placate the large number of Jewish voters in Texas.   If America’s support for Israel were based entirely on political expediency, that support would originate from the State Department.  It does not.  Instead it springs from the heartland of America as a reflection of the deep commitment to Judeo-Christian values felt by so many Americans.   Clearly something more profound lies behind several hundred years of affinity and friendship between America and its Jews.  The question is, what?

The real answer is that in the history of the world, only two nations were founded on an idea rather than on a land. The founders of America, the Pilgrims, were called “separatists.”  Similarly the early Jews, Abraham and his family, were called “Ivrim”—Hebrews, or in English—”separatists,” those who have crossed over to a new side.

Benjamin Franklin once proposed that the Great Seal of the United States should depict the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on their way to the Promised Land.  William Bradford, the second governor of the Plymouth Colony was a fluent scholar of Hebrew and studied the Old Testament in its original.  Several founders proposed Hebrew as an official language of the United States and a commencement speech at Harvard University was commonly delivered in Hebrew well into the twentieth century.

The intrinsic similarity between these two great nations was not lost on the early Americans.  Neither is it lost on their descendants, so many of whom still share a devotion to the Judeo-Christian principles that fueled our earliest visions.

The graciousness extended by most Americans towards their Jewish friends is not the result of having been intimidated by those friends into a mood of sullen acceptance.  It is a wholehearted belief in one sentiment best expressed by the Scriptural words, “and I will bless those that bless you and those that curse you, will I curse.” (Genesis 12:3)  Many Americans still revere those words as they do God Almighty who spoke them.  American Jews have always been the beneficiaries of that sentiment.  The joyous serenity of living as an American Jew is safe only for as long as most Americans continue to subscribe to that Biblical sentiment. 

We are embarrassed and unhappy that so many of the implacable foes of the president, who have been plotting his downfall since his inauguration, are Jews. Nadler, Schiff and Schumer are only 3 of the 34 Jews in Congress all but 2 of whom oppose the most pro-Israel and possibly the most philo-Semitic president in the past 70 years.  As part of their political impeachment ploy, they recently brought four constitutional scholars to explain the legalities that they claim justify the impeachment of President Trump.  Three of these four lawyers are Jewish.  In fact, it is amazing to note that although Jews constitute less than 2% of America’s population, 6% of the United States Congress is Jewish. (Sadly, all but 2 are Democrats).  This amazing acceptance of Jews is not found in any other country than America and Israel.

We are embarrassed and unhappy that the political, economic, and social ideas of so many American Jews are shaped by the nihilistic values of secular fundamentalism and not by the Bible.  In fact, a greater proportion of all Americans, both Jewish and not, is Biblically illiterate than at any earlier time in our history.  The future for America, Israel, and all freedom loving peoples is bleak unless we succeed in replacing secularism with Judeo-Christian Bible-based values as the culture’s dominant sculptor of popular outlook. The organization that I serve, the American Alliance of Jews and Christians  strives to restore, not Biblical laws, but Biblical values to the hearts and minds of all.

Here is the paradox.  It is tragically true that many American Jews have replaced the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the gods of secular socialism.  It is also undeniable that these Americans of Jewish ancestry have exerted a baleful influence on our culture and politics.  Jewish rebellion against God is an old story—one only need read the book of Judges as an example. However, it is equally obvious that without the contributions of countless American Jews to the tapestry of American life—since its founding—we would all be the poorer and the nation would have flourished less.  The urgent task confronting us is to diminish the seduction of secular fundamentalism and turn more hearts and minds to those Biblical values that nurture civilization. Both Jews and Christians who believe in God need to step up and forcefully defend their views. 

At this time of the year, we particularly appreciate whatever support your heart calls upon you to offer.  The American Alliance of Jews and Christians works to diminish the powerful influence that secularism and its advocates exerts on civilization.  We help build counterweights in the form of educating effective people willing to speak out. 

This work and more, will continue in 2020 as we see enthusiasm for our efforts grow. With your help this can be done. The programmed activities planned for 2020  require a budget of $700,000.

I greatly appreciate the support you have offered in the past and I humbly enlist your support for what lies ahead. Any amount that your heart and prayers lead you to devote to this work will be a sacred element of our efforts and I thank you.

Whatever support you can give to our work will be very much appreciated. American Alliance of Jews and Christians (AAJC) is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization (EIN 26-07642520). We have several different ways that you can make your tax-deductible donation:

By mail (Check or Cash) to: AAJC, PO Box 58, Mercer Island, WA 98040

Through our secure website (Credit Card or PayPal) http://bit.ly/AAJC-DonateViaWebsite

Via the AAJC Facebook page http://bit.ly/AAJC-DonateViaFacebook

Network for Good http://bit.ly/AAJC-NetworkForGood

Amazon Smile (a small portion of your Amazon shopping purchases will go to AAJC) https://smile.amazon.com/ch/26-0764252

May God bless you and protect you and may we all be privileged to do our part in protecting the legacy He entrusted to humanity on Mount Sinai over three thousand years ago.

Thank you for helping make my life work possible,

Rabbi Daniel Lapin

River Revival

December 2nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Hannah is a full-time mom working strenuously, with her husband’s partnership, to raise five delightful (but rambunctious) children.  Sometimes, the daily pressures threaten to overwhelm her, and she finds herself snapping shrewishly at her family.

Jake recently launched his own small business. He is hoping soon to marry his girlfriend, whose family is equally enthusiastic about the pending union.  However, Jake sabotages his success by procrastination and by allowing unimportant distractions to derail him.

Henry, a middle-aged, senior level executive suspects he is losing the respect of his professional associates, and is increasingly estranged from his wife.  He often ends his day feeling depressed and miserable.

Hannah, Jake, and Henry all suffer from exactly the same problem and Scripture provides the prescription.

A river flows out from Eden to water the Garden,
and from there it is divided and becomes four headwaters.

Genesis 2:10

Unfortunately maps prove that no such arrangement of waterways ever existed. Another problem: If the purpose of the river is to “water the Garden,” it ought to flow into Eden rather than out from Eden. 

Clearly there must be more to this story than improbable geography.  Ancient Jewish wisdom helps by showing how the main river represents the human yearning to achieve our best life.  The river flowing from Eden makes it possible for us to swim back upstream to our own personal Eden. 

This ‘waterway to wonderful results’ comprises four basic rivers representing our four basic drives.  Each needs to be developed and focused if we are to head towards Eden.

Why four basic drives?  We possess both physical and spiritual needs and the world can provide us with both physical and spiritual commodities. Combined, that makes four drives.  Here they are with examples of how each drive is fulfilled.

  • What I need physically and the world supplies physically: food, water, shelter
  • What I need physically and the world supplies spiritually: friendship, connection, love, and esteem of others
  • What I need spiritually and the world supplies physically: a sense of security, beauty and culture
  • What I need spiritually and the world supplies spiritually: a connection with God, gaining of wisdom

In other words, the four Biblical rivers that lead us to the main canal of contentment represent four categories of human need.  Our desires and motivations come from our being both physical and spiritual creatures operating in a world that supplies both physical and spiritual commodities. 

Someone who ignores category 1 leaving himself and his family hungry and cold while vigorously advancing himself in category 4 would be viewed as foolish and perhaps even evil.  Similarly,  single-mindedly increasing one’s bank account while ignoring human relationships is sheer folly. 

Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that as complex beings, people need to experience growth and progress in each of these four categories if they are to live purposeful, successful, and fulfilling lives. 

We all know that we need food, water and shelter.  However, categories 2, 3, and 4 are less blatantly obvious and more easily ignored.  In the same way that balance is important in diet, exercise and investment portfolios, balance is equally important in healthily developing our life blueprint.

This Biblical model brings into our lives the ability to balance our existence.  This balance is critical.  For instance, my very capacity to earn money or relate to my spouse and children will be diminished if I do not also work at gaining wisdom and spiritual connection at the same time.  Think of it as a balanced diet. 

Hannah, Jake, and Henry need to study the rivers of Genesis. They should work on identifying the categories they are neglecting.  Their unhappiness will start to dispel once they begin repair work. 

Looking at Scripture through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom provides practical life lessons such as this one. That is the common theme running through all our books. Despite electronic alternatives, we still love physically handling what we’re reading. Does that also describe you or those you love? How about getting 25% off all our single item books?  Enter the promo code GIFT25 at checkout and stock up on presents (for you too!) right now.

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