Posts in Thought Tools

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.

In the summer of 2011, Boeing’s biggest customer, American Airlines, announced that they were purchasing over 400 new planes. Since they wanted the new, efficient engines, they planned on buying hundreds of planes from Boeing’s competitor, Airbus, which had already placed an airliner powered by the new engines on the market.  This forced Boeing’s hand and they decided to retool the 737 to accept the new engines.

Boeing’s earliest test flights revealed that the extra power of the new engines could force the nose of the 737MAX upwards under certain conditions.  This was because the fifty-year-old airplane was designed for smaller engines.  The famed airplane company decided on a software fix which they called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System).  The flight computers were programed to adjust the flight attitude of the airplane whenever the nose tended to pitch upwards. Without even notifying the pilot, the computers would momentarily push the airplane’s nose down towards the ground.  A better solution would have been aerodynamic changes to the ancient airframe, but they would have taken much longer and cost far more. 

Two planes crashed (October 2018 and March 2019) and 346 lives were lost. Regulatory agencies around the world grounded the 737MAX last March.  Optimistic voices at Boeing predicted the plane would regain its airworthiness certification no later than April 2019.  At this time, it is all but certain that the plane will not fly before 2020.

The reason I told you this long sad story is because, though it is hard to be precise and Boeing is not talking, it is certain that the entire financial cost to Boeing of the 737MAX calamity is fast approaching the 10 billion dollars that it would have cost the company to develop a brand new plane in the first place.  That is not counting the cost of the damage to Boeing’s brand reputation or  the harder to quantify yet more important  cost of the human tragedy.  Yes, indeed, do it right the first time because it will be harder/more expensive/take longer to fix.

Here comes a great big but.  But that isn’t always true.  There are some things just not important enough to take the extra time to do right if doing it quickly and cheaply will work 80% of the time.  The lad mows the lawn but omits the challenging bits near flower beds and tree trunks.  His father might notice or he might not.  If he does, he might ask his son to fix it or he might not. And if he asks his son to fix it, it won’t take that much longer than doing it earlier.   In this case, in his own interests, the young man made the logical choice. 

For years already software companies have put out products far from ready for the market.  They certainly did not do it right the first time.  On the contrary, they counted upon early users to be unpaid fault finders. Astute consumers quickly learned never to purchase the first release of a new software product.  Obviously, their “Do NOT do it right the first time” policy paid off because the practice persisted. 

Doing it right the first time is often but not always the best strategy.  But doing the first time right is always the right thing to do.  (Reading those sentences aloud will help you see the difference.)

Let me explain.  Of his own volition, Joshua prohibited Israel from taking spoils when they conquered the city of  Jericho. (Joshua 6:18)  However, Israel was allowed to plunder the next city they conquered, Ai.

You shall treat Ai… as you treated Jericho…
however, you may take the spoil and the cattle as booty for yourselves…
(Joshua 8:2)

It puzzles us why Joshua considered it important not to seize booty from Jericho. God even went along with Joshua’s prohibition including bringing major disaster upon all of Israel because one man, Achan, helped himself to a few items from Jericho.  As a result, their attack on the second target city, Ai, turned into a catastrophe. 

Here’s why Joshua prohibited plunder at Jericho.  That ancient walled city was the first objective in what would be Israel’s long battle for their country.  Joshua wanted the enterprise of capturing Jericho to contain no moral imperfection.  The army of Israel was to attack the city with no personal considerations but, rather, only in response to God’s directions.  No soldier should be thinking of what he might plunder. 

Achieving moral perfection in that first capture would set the tone for future military campaigns.  Doing it right the first time is often important but doing the first time right is always important.  It builds morale for the future.

One’s entire career can gain a boost from the way we treat our very first job.  It can be viewed as a special opportunity to do it right, thereby creating an internal sense of professional dedication which can become a lasting part of one’s personality. Many who later fail treated their first job with disdain. 

One’s first act of physical intimacy with another human being of the opposite gender can be done right.  It can be performed within the holy covenant of marriage thereby conferring a unique incandescence upon that marriage.  There is no shortage of published (but unpopular) information on the advantages enjoyed by marriages entered into by two virgins.  Yes, doing the first time right always makes a real difference. 

Whether establishing a new relationship,  starting one’s first business, or experiencing any other undertaking for the first time, doing it right sets up the future for success.

Some of us may be past most of life’s firsts, but there are younger people in our orbits whom we are capable of influencing.  They have heard the oft-repeated aphorism of do it right the first time.  But doing the first time right will be a new and novel lesson for them to hear and for you to impart. 

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

July 9th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 26 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.

To the boys we echo the words of Jacob to his grandchildren and we say:

God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.

Of all the many impressive Scriptural characters, why do we choose exactly these two rather obscure boys to bring blessing on our sons?  The answer is that in so doing, we are merely obeying the directives of Father Jacob.  Listen to the entire verse from which I just quoted a few words.

So he [Jacob] blessed them [Ephraim and Manasseh] that day, saying, “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,”
thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.
(Genesis 48:20)

Let’s jump back a few verses to see how Father Jacob named the younger Ephraim before the older Manasseh.

Joseph brought his two sons to his father, Jacob/Israel for a blessing:

Joseph took the two of them, Ephraim with his right hand—to Israel’s left—and Manasseh with his left hand—to Israel’s right—and brought them close to him.
(Genesis 48:13)

Then Father Jacob startled his eleventh son:

But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head—thus crossing his hands—although Manasseh was the first-born.
(Genesis 48:14)

When Joseph saw that his father was placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he thought it wrong; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s.  “Not so, Father,” Joseph said to his father, “for the other is the first-born; place your right hand on his head.”
(Genesis 48:17-18)

Father Jacob then rather curtly told his son, Joseph, that he knew exactly what he was doing.

What led Joseph to exhibit such lamentable chutzpah as to correct his revered father in front of Manasseh and Ephraim? 

Joseph was super-sensitive to the family problems that can arise when birth order is not followed.  He knew of the terrible tension between his father Jacob and his uncle Esau, the older son, whom his father had supplanted many years earlier.  Jacob had also loved the younger Rachel more than her older sister Leah which set off tensions between the two sisters. And worst of all, Jacob had caused his sons to sell their young brother Joseph into slavery because Jacob seemed to favor Joseph.  Now Joseph watched his father continuing the terrible tradition of family tension into the next generation by placing his younger grandson beneath his right hand.

But Jacob knew exactly what he was doing.  Earlier I asked why we bring blessing on our sons by means of these two brothers and I explained that Jacob instructed us to do so.  However, that merely postpones the question: Why did Jacob direct us to bless our sons by invoking the names of Manasseh and Ephraim?

The answer is that after being kidnapped, enslaved, and rising to power, Joseph had to create a new life for himself in a far away land with its alien culture.  His two sons became his partners in this enterprise and he named them for the two most important tools needed by any of us trying to build a life.

He named Manasseh for material prosperity and financial success.  He named Ephraim for connection with God and the spiritual grounding and identity that brings.

Like most new immigrants, when Joseph arrived in Egypt he was a stranger in a strange land.  He naturally had no choice but to focus on the basics of life so he named his first son, Manasseh accordingly.  This is not to say he forgot his heritage or neglected his spiritual identityhe didn’t.  But he made sure of the basics of life’s necessities.  After he was established he was able to make his religious identity as a Hebrew his priority.  Now, when he had his second son, he named him Ephraim.

But later, for all his descendants, Father Jacob corrected the order by putting Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.  If you get your spiritual priorities right, the material prosperity follows, but the reverse hardly ever happens.

That’s why the spiritual priority of observing the Sabbath takes first place when the sun sets on Friday even though there is always more work we would otherwise think that we need to do.

Little is more important than passing on our values to our children. Somehow, Noah and Mrs. Noah raised three sons who were worthy of entering the ark. Discover the story behind the story of how they managed that along with other fascinating events that led up to the Flood in our 2 CD audio set, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah. It remains on sale through the end of this week.






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Going for the Jugular

July 2nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

Have you ever seen a five-year-old stamp her foot and declare, “No! I will not”?

Whether it is parents in a family, political heads of a country, executive officers in a business enterprise or captains of ships like the Bounty, challenges to leadership come with the territory.  Part of effective parenting is to help your children understand that you hear their challenges and may even sympathize with aspects of their mini-rebellions and then to restore calmness and order.  Similarly, even statesmen like Winston Churchill engaged in saving their countries have to divert energy to deflect political assaults meant to unseat them.  Likewise, business professionals who have risen to success are accustomed to boardroom battles during which they are baselessly charged with every imaginable offense.  As Captain Bligh discovered, sometimes one has no alternative but to split the enterprise and lead the loyalists to survival.  Experienced leaders expect these kinds of challenges and respond to them calmly and decisively.

It is thus no surprise at all that the Israelites rebelled against Moses.  They did so frequently.  Consider this particular occasion:

And Korach…took upon himself to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites…They ganged up against Moses and Aaron
and said to them, “You have gone too far…” 
(Numbers 16:1-3)

What is surprising is that in the very next verse Moses reacts with such evident agony.

Moses heard and fell on his face.
(Numbers 16:4)

As he did in most of his confrontations with the people, Moses could merely have responded, as indeed he eventually does in verse 5.

What is verse 4 doing there?  In other words, what exactly did Moses hear and why did it make him throw himself onto the ground in despair? 

Happily for us, King David answered this question in one of the chapters of Psalms.  Referring to precisely this incident, King David explained:

They beamed zealous jealousy at Moses in the camp, and of Aaron, the holy one of the Lord.
(Psalms 106:16)

The Hebrew word I have translated as ‘zealous jealousy’ is KiNAh.  Its usage is rather particular.  For instance, when a man suspects his wife of infidelity, the feeling of zealous jealousy he feels is known in Hebrew as KiNAh.  In fact, in the relevant verse it appears no fewer than four times.

And a fit of zealous jealousy [KiNAh] comes over him and he is zealously jealous [KiNAh]  about his wife who has defiled herself; or if zealous jealousy [KiNAh] comes over one and he is zealously jealous [KiNAh] about his wife although she has not defiled herself.
(Numbers 5:14)

Amazingly, we now know why Moses didn’t merely respond with calm words to Korach and his mutineers.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Korach and his gang accused Moses of seducing other men’s wives.  Moses was accustomed to the people challenging his leadership but this preposterous accusation simply took his breath away.   This is why when he heard this aspect of the mutiny, he fell on his face.  Only after gathering himself was he able to respond to them.

As we well know from our own times, prominent men are quickly brought down by charges of inappropriate behavior or conversation with or about women.   

Why did the repugnant Harvey Weinstein not simply respond to his accusers, “Yes, of course I sought intimacy with you.  You knew that. And in exchange you wanted fame and fortune. That’s why you came to my hotel room late at night”? 

Matt Lauer, Roy Price, Charlie Rose and many other degenerates collapsed at the accusations and faded out of public life.  I am not comparing these often-depraved entertainers to the mighty Moses, of course.  They were indulging the appetites they had spent their careers stoking in others.

The widely loathed former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer resigned when the press revealed that he had dallied with a professional lady of the night.  On some level, he intuitively knew that he could not respond, “This is nobody’s business. I committed adultery. So what? Do you want to stone me?  We long ago ceased censuring adultery. Stop scolding me like a prudish spinster aunt and get back to your work!”  He too vanished from public life.

The accusation of abusing the force which attracts men to women is so incendiary that even innocent men like Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh cannot treat it lightly.  They would both easily relate to the intense reaction suffered by Moses.

It’s a paradox.  Decades ago elite opinion makers decided that there is nothing sacred about marital relations and that regardless of how bizarre anyone’s behavior, anything at all that willing adults choose to do with or to one another’s bodies is quite ordinary and certainly undeserving of critical comment.  Yet, powerful men are seldom accused of gluttony and bad table manners.  They are seldom targeted for their pride or sloth or any other of the seven deadly sins. Instead, the focus is on only one human failing – lust.

Here is one explanation to this paradox.  Deep in their subconscious hearts even men of reprehensible conduct suspect that they debased something sacred and splendid.  Gluttony, sloth, and even pride can be explained or even laughed away but the distance between depravity and the divine design of conjugality is just too great.  The accusation penetrates to shatter the very core of even bad men’s self-identity.  If one is guilty, there is no comeback.  If, like Moses, one is innocent, the charge is breathtakingly debilitating.  It is impossible to answer calmly without first taking a moment to mourn.

So much of societal decay is centered right there.  Separating sex from marriage, demeaning women, normalizing homosexuality and popularizing abortion, indeed, the very erosion of gender identity itself are incandescent signposts on the road of a nation’s descent into depravity and eventual oblivion. But, this is not a new phenomenon. Our audio 2-CD set The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah along with its accompanying 16 page study-guide gives a detailed explanation of this tragic pathway that harms families and imperils populations. Beneath the surface of the verses in Genesis that precede the Flood, patterns emerge that reappear throughout history and into our own times.

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Love Her, Hate Her

June 24th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

During a few appearances in California recently, I found myself counseling three sincere and newly married young rabbis.  They had all enjoyed the good fortune of marrying lovely young women deeply devoted to religious ideals along with an eager willingness to adopt the mission of being rabbis’ wives.

It turned out that all three were experiencing the same mild marital problem and it was resolved for all of them with exactly the same directive.  It’s one my wife and I dubbed “The 3-A challenge for men”.  I directed these three well-meaning newlyweds to create regular opportunities to make themselves authentically feel and then tell their wives how much they Appreciate them, Adore them, and Admire them. 

Please don’t for a moment think that my three young men meekly acquiesced to my instruction.  They didn’t.  They insisted that their wives knew how they felt. They insisted that such spiritual wives as they were blessed to have would see such compliments as mere flattery. Again, I patiently explained that unless they took the time and effort to really feel deep appreciation, adoration, and admiration for their wives, saying it would be nothing but flattery.  Furthermore, I insisted, their wives were entitled to husbands who really felt that way about them.  Furthermore, a great many wives, unless told, tend to doubt the esteem in which their husbands hold them.

Two of the three have already expressed profound, and in one case almost tearful appreciation to me, assuring me that I couldn’t possibly have any idea of what a tremendous difference this simple instruction has so quickly already made in their marital relationships.  I’m sure I’ll soon hear from the third guy as well. 

Husbands are usually astounded when I explain how common it is for a wife who is not assured of her husband’s affection to begin suspecting she is disliked or worse.  Here’s how I know:

If a man has two wives, one beloved, and another hated…
(Deuteronomy 21:15)

After reading that verse from Deuteronomy, anyone with even a rudimentary familiarity with the Bible will remember the following story:

and he [Jacob] loved Rachel more than Leah…
And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated…
(Genesis 29: 30-31)

There aren’t many characters in Genesis who married two wives.  There is only one who married two wives, one of whom felt hated while the other felt loved and cherished; his name was Jacob.

Our Deuteronomy verses teach that when a man’s ‘hated’ wife gives birth to his son and later his beloved wife does the same, he may not favor the son of the loved wife over the boy’s older brother.  Yet, this is exactly what Jacob did.  Jacob’s wife Leah gave birth to Reuben and much later, his beloved wife Rachel gave birth to Joseph.  Jacob displayed favoritism towards Joseph which stimulated years of enmity between his sons.

Not surprisingly for those of us who treasure the Bible as God’s blueprint for living,  the word SeNuAH (hated) occurs only twice in the Five Books of Moses; once in the story of Jacob and his wives and the other in the legislation against favoring a younger son found in Deuteronomy.  Clearly we are being taught to link the story to the legislation.  Though God had not yet formally prohibited favoring a younger son over the first-born in Jacob’s time, it was still a very bad idea.

There’s another vital lesson we’re being taught.  Note that Scripture never even suggests that Jacob hated Leah.  We are only told that Jacob loved Rachel more.  Nonetheless, while Rachel basked in the knowledge of his love for her, Leah felt hated.  Indeed, God accepted that she was hated in a way that perhaps Jacob himself was oblivious to.  I can be closer to one sibling, cousin or friend more than to another one and yet they and I know that I love them too. That is not so in marriage. And this isn’t only true for multiple wives. Women can feel hated when they see their husbands seeming more passionate about work, sports or other people than they are about them.

Most women intuitively understand that their husbands need physical reassurance of being loved. Fewer men realize that their wives need, and deserve, emotional reassurance of being loved, expressed in words and actions. While courting their wives, most men understand the value of positive words and gestures like flowers. I’m delighted that my young rabbis learned at an early stage of their marriages that those tangible signs of adoration, appreciation and admiration are a lifetime commitment.

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Watch Out for Angels!

June 17th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

Have you ever noticed how sometimes one carries out one’s work effectively but without joy?  There are other times when every task is exhilarating and uplifting.  In both situations, the work gets done and your business progresses, but in the latter case, there’s an additional bounce in one’s step.

Building a marriage and building a business share many similarities.  There are times in every marriage when the marriage functions, but it operates mechanically.  Husband and wife carry out their duties and obligations but without passion.  At other times, every moment of life is enhanced by the magic of the marriage.

A peculiar few verses that help us understand this dynamic appear in Exodus soon after the Ten Commandments are given at Mount Sinai.

Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way, and to bring you to the place…Take heed of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him…if you obey his voice and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy to your enemies…For my angel shall go before you, and bring you to the Amorites…and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off.
(Exodus 23:20-23)

Israel has never before been told to follow an angel.  We’ve been told to obey God; we’ve been told to obey the Torah and its commandments, but an angel?  Never!

Furthermore, God repeatedly assures the Israelites that He will Himself be among them to protect them.  In fact, He even commanded them to build a Tabernacle for Him so He could dwell in their midst.  So what is with this angel? 

Perhaps catching a glimpse of him elsewhere will provide some insight.

I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite…and the Jebusite to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in the midst of you; because you are a stiff-necked people…and the people heard these bad words and mourned…
(Exodus 33.2-4)

The second case that sounds so similar to the first one makes clear that there is a problem. Despite the fact that the Angel is a messenger of God that will lead the Israelites to victory, the presence of the Angel conveys a lack of God’s direct intervention.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that there will be times when Israel will step out of line and no longer merit God’s direct involvement.  At those times, His support and guidance will come indirectly.  The practical results will be the same. They will still have to obey whatever the angel conveys, and they will still be protected.  However, the spiritual dimension will be weakened.  They will still be under the Divine wing, but the joy of being at one with God will be temporarily absent.

Both accounts of the angel are followed by details of restoring the relationship with God.  We are reminded of our duties and obligations.  What a blessing that even when Israel falls out of favor for a while, there is a road to restoration.

In the same way, when we fall out of love with our work, there is a way back.  When we fall out of love with our marriage, there is a way back.  In all these cases, the road to rebuilding and restoring is by fulfilling our duties and obligations.  Instead of allowing the temporary dissatisfaction to fester into a crisis, we focus on what we ought to be doing.  When Israel resumes loyalty to God and His commandments, God returns to dwell in their midst. 

At work and in our marriages, the bumps in the road that strip the excitement and happiness from us are often temporary.  We can mistakenly respond to the lack of joy by making poor choices and doing things that magnify the problem, or we can continue to do what needs to be done. That path leads us back to where we wish to be, living a fulfilling, harmonious life. 

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Don’t Go Bananas

June 7th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

Our bodies need potassium to help maintain normal blood pressure and heart function.  The good news is that a banana supplies about 10% of the potassium we need each day.  The bad news: potassium is toxic.  Potassium poisoning is called hyperkalemia, not a pleasant condition.  Before throwing out all your bananas, read on.

Tenure made it possible for university professors to teach without fear of being fired regardless of prevailing politics.  Making it impossible to terminate a teacher seemed a good idea.  Yet, tenure has allowed professors to indoctrinate students with their own prejudices and beliefs rather than teach them.  Some tenured professors also get sloppy about teaching, seeing no need to engage with their material or students.

Unions once served a vital need. However, many have told of gaining a union job where it is almost impossible to be fired and being sternly warned by fellow workers to slow down productivity. After all, one hard worker highlights the lack of industry of others. He or she also makes it harder for the department to demand more employees.

Slow is the operative word.  Have you noticed how slowly some post office clerks saunter to serve you?  How about Department of Motor Vehicles workers? In Washington DC most of the people rushing are on their way to lunch.  In fact, few government workers exhibit the slightest urgency about their work.

If you’re trying to obtain a job, a promotion or a raise, never meander. Stride purposefully even if you’re going to the washroom.  Few behaviors irritate the person paying your salary more than seeing you amble around as if on a seaside promenade. 

Always act as if there is a shortage of time.  You know why? Because there really is a shortage of time.  Here’s a bonus: acting with urgency brings professional advancement.  As the wise King Solomon put it:

See a man urgent about his work—he will stand among kings.
(Proverbs 22:29)

It is bad enough that dawdling makes you look listless and lethargic to others.  Far worse, that is also how you begin to appear to yourself. Drifting through your day makes you feel complacent and fills you with an illusion of security.  Few of us do our best work while feeling overly secure.

When your boss says, “I want you to feel at home here,” he doesn’t mean he wants to see you draped lazily over a couch for the afternoon.

For best results, even in our homes, husbands and wives shouldn’t feel too much at home! Taking the most important relationships in our lives for granted is a recipe for disaster.

God’s wisdom ensures that even on your own land in Israel, you shouldn’t feel too laid-back and over-secure. You thought it was your own land? Well, guess what! You can’t sell it completely.

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity for the land is mine and
you shall be strangers and temporary residents with me.
(Leviticus 25:23)

God wants us always to feel like strangers?  Right! He doesn’t want us ever to feel too secure because excessive security destroys drive, annihilates ambition, and kills creativity.  Being a stranger means not feeling at home and thus it means putting your best foot forward, and doing so swiftly not slowly. Tenure? Unions that make it impossible for anyone to lose their job regardless of malfeasance?  Well, when they create a sense of excessive security, they are not so good. Not for the people who can’t be fired and not for the people who depend on their work.

A certain amount of security allows us to sleep at night; too much security encourages us to sleep during the day.  A little potassium — just what the doctor ordered.  Too much — danger. And those bananas?  Yes, eating about 10,000 in half an hour could be perilous.

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Ace the Interview

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Finding a terrific job is not easy.  One way to ruin your chances is by projecting over-confidence. While employers certainly want to know what you can do for them, being too full of yourself will turn off most interviewers. Strangely enough, in one of the few job interviews in Scripture, the prospective employee seems to display exactly this wrong attitude—yet he gets the job! I am talking, of course, about Joseph. Understanding his behavior will provide us with some specific strategies for interviews and meetings.

After failing to find satisfying interpretations to his two disturbing dreams, Pharaoh recounted them to Joseph. (Genesis 41:8 & 15) Joseph then explained how the dreams foretold seven years of economic abundance followed by seven years of famine.  Astonishingly, he then offers unsolicited advice.  Joseph suggests that Pharaoh hire a wise administrator (implying that he himself is the ideal candidate) to supervise the economy.


Jethro’s Connection Contribution

May 29th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

When the English novelist, Charles Dickens, visited a prison outside of Philadelphia in 1842, he witnessed prisoners being held in solitary confinement.  He wrote that most people are incapable of recognizing the full extent of the torture and agony of being incarcerated alone.  He insisted that the mental torture of solitary confinement was far worse than any torture that could be inflicted upon the body.

In this, Dickens was agreeing with the Bible’s insistence on everyone’s need for human connection.

We’re all familiar with the 187 chapters into which Archbishop Langton divided the text of the Five Books of Moses in the 13th century.  Less well known are the 54 original divisions called sidras, each containing a few chapters and each named according to a word appearing early in the sidra that conveys the main theme of the sidra.  Uncovering the connection between the sidra’s theme and its name is always interesting.


Pebbles and Panoramas

May 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

My children constantly fascinate me when we hike in breathtakingly beautiful British Columbia during the summer. Some of them visibly thrill to the vast vistas and magnificent landscapes revealed as we crest a hill.  Others seem oblivious to the large scale spectacles but will stoop to pick up a pebble which can absorb their attention for twenty minutes.  Similarly, when boating, one child gazes endlessly at the wave pattern stretching to the horizon.  Meanwhile, her sister lies on her tummy on the edge of a dock peering down at a school of tiny fish darting around as if being signaled by an invisible choreographer. 

We learn much from the patterns of larger arrangements such as the earth’s upheavals that created the mountain ranges and the erosive forces that carved majestic canyons.  However it is just as important to understand the microscopic forces that help atoms to form molecules and the characteristics that shape those tiny molecules into complex substances.


Young and Foolish, Old and Grumpy?

May 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

With apologies to all senior citizens, (a civilized sobriquet if there ever was one) I am going to ask you a question:

What is the one word in English literature that occurs more frequently than any other directly after the words “crotchety,” “curmudgeonly,” or “cranky”?  If you answered “old” you are quite correct.  You’ll nearly always read “the crotchety old woman” or “that curmudgeonly old man”.  I am certainly not suggesting that all senior citizens are crabby or cantankerous but apparently enough are to have earned the connection.

Apart from being a warning to us all to avoid acquiring those unpleasing characteristics as we age, it also raises a question.  What in heaven’s name was in God’s mind with this verse:

You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old;
you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
(Leviticus 19:32)

Other than managing to survive for six (seven, eight, nine? Fill in the number of your choice) decades or more, what exactly has an ill-tempered old man done to deserve such respect?  Therein lies an important insight from ancient Jewish wisdom.  An old person might indeed be a bit grumpy and grouchy but he or she has seen a bit of life.  If nothing else, the elderly have experienced more of life than people in their twenties.  Why does that qualify them for such a level of respect?


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