Posts in Thought Tools

They Give Me the Creeps

September 9th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

Prawns, shrimp, lobster and crab; as a long-time underwater diving enthusiast, I’ve seen them all in their natural habitat and they give me the shudders.  Even while wearing rubber gloves I’ve never liked handling them.  From once living in Africa, I remember the huge Goliath beetle—not at all fondly.  I know children who keep large hairy tarantula spiders as pets and enjoy grossing out their parents’ guests.  Count me in that latter group.  If cicadas ever invade my neighborhood, I’d probably emigrate.  I don’t care for bugs.

Psychiatrists claim to be able to treat something they call entomophobia, the fear of bugs, but none actually understand it.  There are numerous theories; I know most of them.  Some of these attempted explanations are insightful while others are fanciful.  But whatever explains it, I am not the only person disturbed by creepy-crawlies. It’s actually most of us.

Perhaps some of the near universal revulsion of creepy-crawlies might stem from the Bible’s explicit denunciation of bugs as food.  Bear with me as I walk you through more verses on this topic than you might have expected.  And they are all from the same single chapter in Leviticus.

But anything in the seas or in the streams that has no fins and scales, all the crawling things of the water…are an abomination for you.
(Leviticus 11:10)

These shall be tameh for you…things that swarm and crawl on the earth…
(Leviticus 11:29)

All things that swarm and crawl upon the earth are an abomination; they shall not be eaten.
(Leviticus 11:41)

You shall not eat anything that swarms upon the earth or that crawls…or anything that has many legs; for they are an abomination.
(Leviticus 11:42)

For I the Lord who elevated you up from the land of Egypt to be your God: you shall be holy, for I am holy
(Leviticus 11:45)

I must draw your attention to two Hebrew words.  One is SheReTZ which best translates as both swarm and crawl and appears repeatedly in the above verses.  The second word is Ma’ALeH meaning elevated and appears uniquely in the final verse I quoted.

Almost always, God speaks of having ‘taken you out of the land of Egypt’ as in the opening of the Ten Commandments:  I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. (Exodus 20:2)  Why only in Leviticus 11:45 do we find God saying elevated you from the Land of Egypt?

To understand that unusual usage we need to return to SHeReTZ, that word that connotes loathsome creepy-crawlies.  It is used only one time in connection with the Israelites. 

And the Israelites were fruitful and they swarmed and crawled; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.
(Exodus 1:7)

The King James translation treats that word SHeReTZ somewhat poetically if inaccurately and redundantly:

And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that much of verse 7 in Exodus 1 speaks of quantity, describing how rapidly the Hebrew population increased. However, the word SHeReTZ in that verse is not about quantity but about quality.  It lets us know that while their numbers increased, they also drifted from the ways of their fathers and their behavior deteriorated.

Today, in ‘polite company’ it has been made unacceptable to blame the victim in any way.  Yet, in many circumstances it is easy to see that the victim is largely to blame for his predicament.  It is manifestly absurd to insist that the victim is NEVER complicit in his own misfortune.  Thus it was that, at least to some extent, the anti-Israelite policies imposed by the Egyptians in the verses following Exodus 1:7 were influenced by Israelite conduct. Hebrew misbehavior made the Egyptians shudder in revulsion just as so many do when confronted by creepy-crawly bugs.  That is why the word SHeReTZ is used in describing the demographic changes occurring to Israel in Egypt. 

This is why God, at the conclusion of his prohibition of all creepy-crawlies as food, refers to Himself as having elevated Israel out of Egypt rather than merely as having taken them out.  He compassionately focused on what they were doing right rather than judging them on what they were doing wrong. In order to take them out from Egypt, he elevated them above the “creepy” level to which they had sadly fallen.

So many messages in the Bible, like this one, only reveal themselves through the Hebrew. Isn’t it time for you to get familiar with some of Hebrew’s special powers and characteristics (they will floor you!) as well as learning to at least recognize the individual letters? Make this a family project with two of our best-selling resources, Buried Treasure: Life Lessons from the Lord’s Language and Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet. Both are on sale this week so you can jump right in.

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Three Wise Men

September 2nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

What if I told you that you could change how intelligent you are–or your children will be? Perhaps you’re saying, “That’s ridiculous. IQ is immutable and unlikely to be altered by one’s behavior. Or maybe you’re saying, “I don’t know, but if it’s true sign me up!”

However you may have reacted, I hope you’re intrigued enough by this proposition of ancient Jewish wisdom to try it out for size.  I think you’ll be surprised at how precisely it accounts for your experiences in the real world. 

We read of three men whose wisdom was admired and whose guidance and leadership was sought: Joseph, Daniel, and Mordechai.  Each withstood alluring attempts to get him to abandon restraint.

Watch Joseph as his employer’s wife, by all accounts a most attractive woman, tries to seduce him.

…after these things, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, lie with me.  But he refused… ‘[saying] because you are his wife, how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’  And she spoke to Joseph day by day but he did not listen to her to lie with her or be with her. 
(Genesis 39:7-10
)

Soon after, we find that Joseph’s wisdom and leadership qualities become evident to all.

And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find anyone like this man in whom the spirit of God is’?  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘In as much as God has shown you all this, there is none so smart and wise as you are you shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled.’
(Genesis 41:38-40)

We encounter Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in the court of King Nebuchadnezar.  The Babylonian King, intending to entice them into the Babylonian aristocracy, arranged for them to be fed his royal, but unkosher, food. 

And the king appointed them a daily portion of the king’s food, and of the wine which he drank; and to bring them up during three years, that at its end they might stand before the king.  Among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
(Daniel 1:5-6)

Refusing to surrender their Hebrew identity, the four heroes requested a purely vegetarian diet (which is by definition kosher).  The king’s steward, nervous about disobeying the king and being held responsible for the four Jews not looking well fed, hesitated.  Daniel made this suggestion:

‘…test your servants, I beg you, ten days; and let them give us only vegetables to eat, and water to drink then let our faces be looked upon before you, against the faces of the other young people that eat of the portion of the king’s food; and according to what you see, deal with your servants’.  So he consented to them in this matter, and tested them ten days and at the end of ten days their faces appeared better in appearance…
(Daniel 1:11-15)

After resisting the appeal of the king’s food, Daniel and his colleagues became recognized for wisdom:

And the king talked with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah…in all matters of wisdom and understanding that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.
(Daniel 1:19-20)

Finally, we meet Mordechai who refused to bow to the wicked Haman. Each day, courtiers tried to persuade Mordechai to submit.

It came to pass as they spoke daily to him and he did not listen to them, that they told Haman…And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow, nor did him obeisance, then was Haman full of wrath.
(Esther 3:4-5)

Though it would have been so much easier to submit to Haman, Mordechai stood firm, loyal to his spiritual identity.  Not surprisingly, as the book ends, we read:

And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordechai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?..Mordechai the Jew was next to King Ahasuerus…
(Esther 10:1-2)

What phenomenon is playing out in all these cases? Leviticus 11:43 sheds light.

ולא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם

…nor shall you make yourselves impure with them [forbidden non-kosher foods] that you should be made impure by them.

The underlined Hebrew root for impure is  (טמ(א, pronounced TaM(eh)

Ancient Jewish wisdom asks what the repetition of the root word TaM adds to the verse. The response is that in addition to impure, the word also means unintelligent, dull  or– dumb. In fact, T’ and ‘D’ are both dental consonants, produced by placing the tongue behind the upper teeth causing considerable etymological ambiguity between these two letters.  Many scholars believe that the English word ‘dumb’ derived from the Hebrew source TaM. 

IMPURE      =         טמ             =             DUMB

The message is that yielding to pressure, including bodily appetites, reduces the chances of a happy and fulfilled life.  What is more, submitting to hedonistic urges gradually makes one stupid.  If practiced multi-generationally, it eventually produces very dumb people.  The process of exercising restraint and saying ‘no’ makes people smarter and better suited to leadership.

In other words, adhering to Biblical faith, its rituals of restraint and its principles, is a key to wisdom, leadership and success.  This is an inconvenient truth because so many who have cast their lot in with the camp of the secular fundamentalists, America’s current government-sponsored religion, are dismayed to discover the very real and practical benefits of the twin Biblical faiths, Judaism and Christianity.

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Holy Money

August 27th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 31 comments

Dan Ariely is an Israeli-American teacher at Duke University in North Carolina.  I think he’s smart and very well educated.  Based on his weekly column in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal he is often insightful and entertaining.  However, his recent answer to the question of whether people’s salaries accurately reflect the value they provide to society, lacked wisdom. 

He lamented the fact that many people create a lot of value and don’t get paid much, citing teachers as the best example.  I am going to leave aside the obvious fact that most rabbis probably feel that rabbis are underpaid and a liberal arts graduate with a bad choice of majors probably feels intuitively that specialists in Byzantine frescoes are underpaid.  I am leaving those aside as I leave aside the fact that Dan is a teacher because I am not that interested in the feelings of rabbis, liberal arts graduates or teachers.  I am much more interested in their thoughts than I am in their feelings.

It was Dan’s closing sentence that revealed a lack of wisdom.  Here it is:

“Maybe one day we will evolve as a society and base people’s salaries on their actual contribution to the common good.”

Let me acknowledge that it wouldn’t be hard to find examples of sentences that I wish I had not written amidst the millions of words I have written.  I can even find sentences that I do not agree with, particularly those I wrote without Mrs. Lapin’s editorial assistance (blue pencil).  I would enjoy an opportunity to discuss this with Dan Ariely.

However, assuming that Dan Ariely wants to stand by his comment, it lacks  wisdom because  he doesn’t explain which bureaucrat, in his utopian vision, would be charged with the responsibility of deciding who makes the biggest contribution to “the common good”.  The beauty of money and the free market is that it democratizes that decision.  It actually gives the vote to you and me.  Yes, we get to decide who does most good and we get to reward that person with our money.  In some Asian countries, some tutors are among the highest paid individuals, but they are paid by parents who choose them for their children out of many available choices.

Likewise, our desire for money incentivizes us to contribute to the common good in the best way we are able.  We can investigate ways of contributing the most to the most people and thereby, through the magic of money, we can acquire all we need.  Money also confers independence from government to the extent that anyone who serves the needs and desires of another citizen can earn the gratitude of that citizen in the form of money.  The two parties to the transaction need not wait for government to either approve or evaluate the transaction; they themselves determine how much the exchange is worth to each.

This is why every time and in every place that government has tried to introduce price controls the result has been failure.  In agriculture, for instance, to win the votes of farmers and their dependents, government imposes a much higher price on butter than the supply demand equilibrium would justify.  The result is the notorious mountains of butter either destroyed or sent as “aid” to foreign countries thereby disrupting their agricultural supply chains.  In housing, so-called ‘rent control’ set by government because there are far more renting voters than property owning voters, always results in a shortage of housing.

In the final analysis, the value of something can be established only by two people or two entities, the buyer and the seller.  This is true for salaries, used cars, housing, and yes even medical care along with everything else.  Money is what makes this possible.

Furthermore, money encourages wholesome person-to-person interaction.  People don’t work for ‘society’ or for the ‘common good’; they work for an employer, a customer or a client.  It makes no difference if ‘society’ or the ‘common good’ or their self-anointed spokesmen approve or disapprove of the transaction.  And when people interact with people, they behave better than when they interact with institutions.  Just think about how people care for a car lent to them by their neighbor versus how they treat their rental cars.

Money is able to play this remarkable role of lubricant for human interaction largely because like people, money is more spiritual than physical.  It is a person’s uniqueness that energizes love, friendship, and yes, also transactions (because we choose those with whom we prefer to do business), and uniqueness is all due to the soul. If a beloved loses an arm or a leg, real love doesn’t change.  But if a person loses their soul, friendships and love inevitably  perish.  Money is not discs of metal or strips of colored paper.  These are merely abstract symbols of whatever I did for another child of God who happily gave me that currency in exchange. 

Not only is money spiritual but in the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the word DAMIM means both money and blood.  This points to many similarities. We don’t speak of ‘a money’ or ‘a blood.’ Instead we say ‘do you have money?’ or ‘does the hospital have blood?’  We know that hemorrhages of both blood and money are bad. Both have to keep flowing to fulfill their purposes.  Both blood and money carry nourishment to the furthest reaches of the organism whether a country or a body. If blood is cut off from an extremity like a toe, it will die. When a customer in Maine buys goods from a seller in the remote foothills of the Rockies, the entire country thrives.

Yes, phrases like ‘contribution to the common good’ sound lofty and noble but the oceans of blood shed by the innocent victims murdered by the twentieth century’s infatuation with the ‘common good’ cry out in opposition.  Society works best when individuals deal directly with other individuals without the officious mediation of government in between.  And that can only happen with the miracle of holy money.

For more on this topic, check out our financial resources HERE.

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Bye, Bye Baby

August 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

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

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

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

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

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I’ve Been Working on the Railroad – Not!

August 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

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

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

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

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

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Napoleon’s Jewish Insight

August 6th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

Once upon a time, the great Napoleon paid a state visit to Russia.  Proud of the enlightened way his country, France, treated its Jewish population, he asked to see some Russian Jews.  His hosts brought him to a St. Petersburg synagogue.

Entering the synagogue lit by only a few flickering candles, they found it filled with Jews sitting on the floor weeping in the dark.  Napoleon swung around accusingly to his Russian hosts and asked, “What did you do to them?”

Just as astonished, the Russians hastily denied complicity in whatever horrible calamity had produced this misery.  Napoleon turned to the bereft community and asked what tragedy had befallen them.

The rabbi stepped forward and softly sobbed, “Our Temple has been destroyed.”

Turning a reproachful face to his Russian guides, Napoleon asked why the Czar had done such a terrible thing.  His hosts insisted that they were baffled by the accusation.

Questioning further, Napoleon soon discovered that the Temple in question had stood not in Russia but in Jerusalem, and had been destroyed not recently but over 2,000 years earlier.

Napoleon is said to have proclaimed, “Any nation linked so powerfully to its history that it agonizes over such an ancient loss will ultimately outlive both France and Russia.”

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Three Cheers for Desire and Ambition

July 29th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

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

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

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

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Snake in the Grass

July 22nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

I often meet profoundly confused people. Sometimes a fellow isn’t sure if he is ready for marriage or a woman is struggling to deal with her difficult neighbor. Sometimes we need to make a business decision and we’d like to believe that both choices are equally honorable. The right course of action is seldom readily visible. Truth and falsehood; right and wrong; these are not simple distinctions. People take opposing attitudes on politics or social issues, everyone convinced to the depths of their souls that they are absolutely doing what is good, right, and noble.

Not surprisingly, Scripture offers us a tool to help cut through the confusing fog.

The nation spoke against the Lord and Moses,
“Why did you take us from Egypt to die in the desert,
there is no bread or water and our souls are disgusted with this lightweight bread.”
Numbers 21:9

This complaint is about the miraculous Manna from Heaven, one of God’s great blessings! In response, the Lord sends venomous snakes to attack the nation, killing a great number of people. Realizing the gravity of their ingratitude, the nation approaches Moses and acknowledges that they erred in grumbling. Moses then prays to God on their behalf. God instructs Moses to make a serpent and place it on a stick. Moses makes a copper snake and miraculously, any stricken person who looked at this snake survived.

Notice that the solution to the plague of snakes did not involve getting rid of the snakes themselves. Why offer a cure for the snakes rather than simply removing them?

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Do the First Time Right!

July 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

July 9th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 32 comments

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

Johnny Rivers 1974

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

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

To the girls we say:

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

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