Posts in Thought Tools

Pebbles and Panoramas

May 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 3 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.

Just as understanding both the macro of mountains and the micro of molecules helps us relate to physical reality, so understanding both the macro and the micro of the letters, words, and texts of the Bible helps us relate to spiritual reality.

Whenever we probe the inner meaning conveyed by a word or letter in the Lord’s language as we often do here in Thought Tools, we are exploring the micro.  However, when we examine patterns that reoccur in different parts of Scripture we are allowing the macro to reveal its secrets.

Let’s wrap our souls around four famous parallels linking God’s Garden of Eden with the desert Tabernacle and its successor, the Jerusalem Temple, both constructed by humans.

1.   God walks in both the Garden of Eden and the Tabernacle.

And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden…
(Genesis 3:8)

And I will set my tabernacle among you…And I will walk among you…
(Leviticus 26:11-12)

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2.  Water flowed out of the Garden of Eden and also out of the Temple.

And a river went out from Eden…
(Genesis 2:10)

…and a fountain shall issue from the house of the Lord…
(Joel 4:18)

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3.   Cherubs appear in both places to guard and protect.

…and he placed cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden…to guard the way to the tree of life.(Genesis 3:24)

And the cherubs shall stretch out their wings on high to cover the covering with their wings…(Exodus 25:20)

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4.  Special garments [ketonet] are required in both places

For Adam and for his wife the Lord God made leather coats [ketonet]…
(Genesis 3:21)

And these are the garments which they shall make…an embroidered coat [ketonet]  
(Exodus 28:4)

Recounting the four parallels, we see:

1   God walks in His garden and in the places we create.

2   Water flows out of His garden and out of the places we create.

3   Spiritual forces protect the way to the Tree of Life and to the Tablets of the Covenant.

4   God made clothing for humans in His garden; we emulate Him in our holy places.

Today, in our current conditions, we are obviously unable to locate the Garden of Eden let alone enter it.  However, God did provide us with blueprints to create our own substitute.  Moses and the Israelites used them to build the Tabernacle and later Solomon used them to create the Temple. 

As long as we recognize that both the Tabernacle and the Temple were human replicas of the Garden of Eden, we too become capable of erecting our very own Garden of Eden substitutes right in our own homes.  We merely need note the four parallels.

One, our homes must be places where God walks and we walk with Him.  We don’t sit with Him or stand with Him, we walk with Him.  Meaning we and our families are on the move; we are never in exactly the same (spiritual) place. 

Second, water, (associated with spiritual sustenance in Torah nomenclature) must flow out of our homes.  Regularly inviting guests to share our meals and participate in uplifting conversation allows our ideas to flow and spread.

Third, we must ensure that spiritual forces are in place to protect our most cherished attributes, namely our faith and our families.  With the same enthusiasm that we invite the right people to enter, enjoy and contribute to the atmosphere of our homes, we must also keep out those people and influences that could harm it.

Fourth, and finally we must always, even in the privacy of our home, clothe ourselves in the garments of human dignity. Clothing is holy because God bestowed it upon His children as a way of distinguishing us from the animal kingdom.  Almost all of us look better clothed than naked and for all of us, being clothed protects our sense of self.  This is why the first thing Nazi concentration camps did to Jews upon their arrival was strip them naked.

It is all too easy to figuratively ‘let ourselves go’ when we’re at home.  It is so tempting to slide into poor behavior, abysmal manners, inadequate clothing and other unwholesome self-indulgences when we’re in our own homes.  In reality, in order to build our own Garden of Eden we need to resist these allures.

It is never too late to turn our own home into a Garden of Eden, a Tabernacle, or a Temple.  The rewards are incalculable and more than worth the effort it takes.  Keep both the mountain and the molecule in mind.  The former is the larger vision for the kind of home you’d like to live in while the latter are the details that keep you on that road.

On of humanity’s first moves away from Eden was the Tower of Babel. Only nine verses in Scripture, but the ideas behind them reappear in the pattern of history over and over again. They are in ascendancy once again in our days. Understand what is happening, how it affects you and how to oppose it with our 2 audio CD, Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel. On sale this week, it will give you a wondrous glimpse into Scripture as well as today’s headlines.

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This Thought Tool was first published in October, 2014.

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?

Through His love for each and every person, God wants us to live happy and fulfilling lives.  What makes that so hard is that we all have our own ideas of what constitutes a happy and fulfilling life.  If we make bad choices, the appalling results of those bad choices usually only become evident when it is already too late for a do-over.  In other words, if we all lived for a thousand years, by the time we reached middle age and had experienced life for five or six hundred years, we’d be quite wise.  Unfortunately, our life span is considerably shorter.  What is more, most of us make critical life decisions long before we’ve even lived three decades.  What chance to we have?  The odds aren’t good.

Not surprisingly, many men make bad educational and career decisions based on deceptive data.  Many women dissipate crucial years confident that if and when they might possibly desire marriage and children, the necessary matrimonially-minded men will magically appear.  Many men and women debase their marriages and disparage their spouses until divorce seems a welcome respite.  Many mothers and fathers without a clue about how to acculturate the next generation provide no guidance to the children they bring into the world. 

Obviously, few of these disasters would occur if people were able to carefully observe others making their mistakes for a few hundred years.  Since that is impossible, in His goodness, God provided us with the next best thing: a Book which teaches the wisdom of the ages.  By studying this book, we can find out what works and what doesn’t without having to laboriously gain that knowledge through hundreds of years of life-destroying mistakes.

For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you—declares the Lord—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.
(Jeremiah 29:11)

This advice on picking a career isn’t intended to make God happy—it is to make us happy.  Ancient Jewish wisdom expounds some of the nuances and details for successful living.

He who finds a wife finds that which is good and receives favor from God.
(Proverbs 18:22)

This is one of several Biblical sources that when understood and absorbed would save young people years of unnecessary sadness in the challenging task of finding a mate.

Train a lad in the way he ought to go;
He will not swerve from it even in old age.
(Proverbs 22:6)
 

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals the permanent principles of child rearing by expanding on this and other related verses.  If every child born was raised in accordance with these principles by parents who followed them too, we’d be living in a paradise.  Instead, a frightening percentage of children are born not knowing their fathers and being raised by a flickering screen.  Not surprisingly, we are not living in a paradise.

For happy and fulfilling lives as well as for a peaceful and productive society, this Book provides the principles.  This is why on the threshold of the launching of the nation of Israel in their own land, God warns Joshua thus:

Let not this Book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it. Only then will you prosper in your undertakings and only then will you be successful.
(Joshua 1:8)

Of course there is always the alternative—live for a thousand years and you’ll pick up pretty much every principle presented in the Book.  Well, of course that is not possible, but the closer one gets to it, the better off one can be.  This is to say that someone who has reached old age has a far greater chance of knowing more about the permanent principles of how God ordered the world than someone who has lived for only twenty or thirty years. In a world filled with billions of people, there are certainly some curmudgeonly old fools, but young and foolish is a more likely pairing.

For that reason alone, the elderly deserve deference.

Speaking of young and foolish the adoration of socialism among the young is rather scary. Nine verses in Genesis uncover the appeal and dangers of socialism as well as the antidote. You will be amazed as you go beneath the surface using Hebrew and ancient Jewish wisdom to give you an insight into one of today’s challenges that is as old as life itself. On sale right now, Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel will astound, entertain and enlighten you.

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They’re Keeping You Down

May 6th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

Recently, I enjoyed the pleasure and privilege of leading a Passover Seder.  Around the room sat a most stimulating group of enthusiastic participants.  I began by explaining that rule number one at the Seder is that everything we do has contemporary significance.  For example, when a therapist talks a client back through her childhood, it is not to wallow in nostalgia.  No, it is for the purpose of revisiting the past to better understand the present in order to improve tomorrow.   In the same way, we are not commemorating the Exodus and deliverance from Egyptian slavery.  No, we are reliving that 3,330 year-old torment for the purpose of making changes in our lives today and thereby improving tomorrow.

This sounds obvious and easy however in real life it is anything but that.  Especially since the culture surrounding most of us emphasizes blaming others for anything we dislike about our own lives.  The most obvious ways in which Marxism has influenced secular liberalism, the semi-official state religion of America and most of Europe, is that we have been indoctrinated to assume that problems in our lives are entirely due to race, gender or class.  We suffer harassment, injustice, or outright oppression because of the color of our skin, our gender, or the fact that we see ourselves as a ‘disadvantaged class’. 

Perhaps the most searing pain comes when we are forced to face the excruciating truth—most of our problems are caused by the person whose name and picture is upon our driving license.  Confronting this truth causes such agony that our culture goes to great lengths in order to protect people from it.  Saying things that penetrate people’s protective facades, revealing that it’s not wicked ‘others’ causing their problems but they themselves, is condemned as ‘politically incorrect.’  Currently popular ideas like ‘triggering’ and ‘safe space’ all point to our tacit agreement never to remind one another of our own faults. 

Any suggestion that a woman should not have entered a man’s hotel room is greeted with howls of indignation because it suggests that she bears some small blame for what next happened.  Any suggestion that poor people might need, not other people’s money but some life-values that enabled other people to create the money in the first place provokes screams of outrage.  Again, this is because it suggests that poor people might bear some small blame for their own condition.  Modern society has come to reject this timeless wisdom of the past—most of our troubles are caused by us ourselves.

Most people, including I think it fair to say many Jews, mistakenly assume that Passover is all about those wicked Egyptians enslaving the poor innocent Hebrews.  Yet an honest observance of the Seder leads to startlingly opposite and painful conclusions.

One would expect that the first twelve chapters of the Book of Exodus, dealing as they do with the experience of the Israelites in Egypt up until their deliverance, would contain the word avadim—slaves—many times.  Remarkably the word doesn’t appear even once.  While the text clearly refers to tax collectors and task-masters nowhere does it as much as suggest that the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. 

For the one and only indication of the Jews becoming avadim—slaves, we must go back to the end of the book of Genesis.

Following the death of their father, Jacob, Joseph’s brothers speak to him saying:

…we present ourselves before you as your slaves. 
(Genesis 50:18)

We might have expected Joseph to firmly reject the offer and remind them that they are free and independent men in servitude only to God Almighty. 

Yet his response was the subtle seduction that has always invited people to discard their freedom in exchange for the promise of security.

…fear not. I will sustain you and your children.  Thus he reassured them,
speaking kindly to them. 
(Genesis 50:21)

Clearly, on behalf of the Egyptian administration whom he represented, Joseph accepted their voluntary subjugation. 

Thus we see that the Israelites did become slaves, but at their own initiative.  Later, in the Ten Commandments we read:

I the am the Lord, your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
the house of slaves – avadim.
(Exodus 20:2)

From this emerges one of the agonizing therapies of the Seder experience; acknowledging that though we did suffer as slaves in Egypt, it was we Hebrews who put ourselves in that unenviable situation.  What happened to the group is a lesson about what happens to the individual. Or in other words, the unwelcome but powerful lesson of the Seder experience is that much of what we suffer from today is the result of the bad decisions we made yesterday. 

Our willingness to exchange our freedom albeit with all its risks, for the illusory security offered by a government of venal politicians eager to expand their power, is not new. As early as only 23 years after America gained independence from Britain, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Thomas Lomax, a member of the Virginia Senate.  It contained these words:

“The body of the American people is substantially republican. But their virtuous feelings have been played on by some facts with more fiction; they have been the dupes of artful maneuvers, and made for a moment to be willing instruments in forging chains for themselves.”
(Thomas Jefferson, March 12, 1799)

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May I Have a Word?

April 29th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

In January 2007, in a dazzling speech at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, Steve Jobs introduced his iPhone with these words, “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything…” 

On June 4th, 1940, Winston Churchill gave a speech warning of a possible Nazi invasion.  This was its climax:

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Just over 3,300 years ago, Moses concluded a 36-day long speech to Israel with these words:

I’m 120 years old today and can no longer go out and come in for the Lord has said to me, ‘You will not cross this Jordan.’ The Lord your God will cross before you; he will destroy these nations from before you and you shall inherit them. Joshua, he will cross over before you as the Lord has spoken.

(Deuteronomy 31:2-3)

Do you think it would have been as effective had Steve Jobs sent everyone an email about the new iPhone?  Within a week of its release, Apple sold about a million iPhones; by the end of 2007 about ten million, and to date about 85 million.  Without Steve Jobs’ iconic speeches, would those sales figures have been achieved? 

In 1940, some of England’s leaders, men like Lord Halifax, considered the attempt to defeat Hitler to be hopeless.  Their call to cut a deal with Hitler was especially persuasive after France unexpectedly fell to the Germans and the British Expeditionary Force was ignominiously rescued from the beach of Dunkirk.  Over three hundred thousand soldiers were saved from annihilation by a heroic fleet of small boats, arriving back in England early June 4th.  It is hard to imagine England recovering its nerve and its determination to fight had Churchill urged England never to surrender in a newspaper column.  Instead he mesmerized the nation with his speech that afternoon.

Just before his impending death, Moses handed to Joshua the leadership of Israel on the eve of their most formidable challenge—defeating barbaric tribes and conquering the Promised Land.  The spies had earlier demoralized the Children of Israel with terrifying accounts of the land’s impregnability and what is more the people were anxious about a future without the man who had guided them for over forty years. Yet, after Moses’ speech the Torah concludes by informing us that the Children of Israel listened to Joshua as Moses had directed. (Deuteronomy 34:9)  Without this monumental speech by Moses, could the leadership transition and the subsequent inheritance of the Land have occurred? 

Speeches can transform our destiny.  We hold enormous power in our speeches.  When your spouse agreed to marry you, it was probably after one of your best speeches. When you got your favorite job or scored your biggest sale it was after another of your effective speeches.  When you influenced friends or persuaded someone towards your point of view, you were employing your power of speech.

The Torah is more about actions than beliefs.  For instance, it tells us to love the Lord our God rather than to believe in Him. (Deuteronomy 6:5).  It focuses on walking, sacrificing, and eating rather than on thinking, theorizing, and speculating.  Which action verb does the Torah mention more than any other?  Words for say, speak, or talk appear nearly five times more frequently than any other verbs. Instructions for using the power of speech correctly abound in Scripture as do examples of tragedies that came about because of the wrong use of that Godly gift to humanity. Never underestimate the power of your mouth. 

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Reprinted from December 5, 2012

Find the Father

April 22nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

Progressive societies tend to quickly impose restrictions on behaviors that are considered dangerous to ‘society’.  Occasionally, this goal of providing security for society is achieved at the cost of people’s freedoms but progressive voters don’t doubt that the exchange is a worthwhile one.

For instance, some people, many of them thoughtful and educated parents, choose not to vaccinate their children for various reasons.  Progressive politicians like New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, have little hesitation in imposing mandatory vaccination orders with fines of $1,000 for violators.  This sounds logical and seems to be prudent public policy. In the name of public health government trounces parents’ freedoms.

Years ago the freedoms of a private citizen to open a restaurant that allowed smoking were abrogated.  By that time, the rights of people to smoke in most public areas had long since been trampled.  How was this achieved?  By government addressing what it saw as its duty to provide health for all.  But wait, then surely government should have banned not only smoking but also mountain climbing and bungee jumping along with all other life-threatening activities?  “No,” answered big-government progressives. “While climbing and other high risk activities imperil only the participant himself,”  they insisted, “smoking jeopardizes everyone because smoke exhaled by the smoker pollutes all the air for all living things.”   Again, the greater good was achieved with a corresponding loss of freedom judged by many to be a worthy exchange.

To be clear, then, we are comfortable restricting the freedom of parents to make their own health decisions for their children and we are okay with restricting the freedom of restauranteurs and of people who choose to smoke tobacco.  Yet, at the same time we utterly reject the notion of restricting the freedom of people who engage in a certain activity which imposes great public health penalties along with other costs on us all and which significantly increases the likelihood of us becoming the victims of criminal violence.

What is this damaging activity?  It is conceiving and giving birth to children without the partners being married.  Why is this as or more damaging than second hand smoke or unvaccinated children?  As the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and other studies show growing up without a father in the home dramatically increases the likelihood of teens engaging in criminal behavior.  The National Center for Education Statistics points out that 71% of school dropouts are fatherless.  Children in fatherless homes are four times as likely to be dependent on welfare.

In America, about one-third of all children born this year will live in homes without their father present.  This adds immeasurably to the likelihood of you becoming a victim of a violent crime perpetrated by a man who grew up without a father.  It guarantees you having to help underwrite the more than a hundred billion dollars a year that this growing trend costs. 

Up until the 1960s in no group in the United States was a teenage unmarried mother a common sight.  Since then, government and culture have methodically removed all the impediments to having children out of marriage.  Well-intentioned government programs have eviscerated those social attitudes and economic realities that used to be such an effective barrier to this destructive conduct. The cost to the health and safety of individuals and the public have been enormous.

Whenever a group of people suffers from the pathologies of crime, poverty, and homelessness, the main culprit is nearly always fatherless families.  After two hundred and ten years, Egyptian slavery had undermined the role of the Israelite father.  Before any tiny spark of freedom could be ignited that would lead to a healthy nation, father-led families needed to be restored as a normative pattern.

Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month each of them shall take one lamb to each father-led home…They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts… of the house in which they are to eat it. They shall eat the meat that same night…roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs.
(Exodus 12:3-8)

Aware that in years to come, the word ‘family’ will come to lose much of its meaning, the Hebrew text prophetically avoids the word mishpachah—family.  Here it uniquely stresses the father-led home.

The inescapable point is that before a damaged group of people can attain real freedom, they must first restore the foundational pillar of a healthy, functioning society, namely the father-led home. 

Why does a government that compels its citizens by force to vaccinate their children against measles not at least check the health of illegal immigrants arriving from countries with comparatively high prevalence rates of tuberculosis? 

One might also ask why a government that shuts smokers into small designated areas never quarantined AIDS carriers even while that deadly disease was considered to be highly contagious?

The answer surely is that to a government whose driving values are secular liberalism rather than the American constitution, some things are just more important than public health.  Not impinging on the ‘rights’ of all to enter the United States is more important than public health.  Not casting any aspersions on the demographic group whose sexual choices were then believed to be behind the spread of AIDS was more important than public health.  And since the 1960s, not even criticizing anyone’s sexual behavior even when that behavior will bring a child into a fatherless home is more important than defeating poverty and crime. 

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The Ups and Downs of Freedom

April 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

During the administration of George W. Bush, I was privileged to be appointed to a presidential commission. I received a document that included something akin to the words, “power to execute the duties of this office.” Lopping off a few words, I tried to explain to my children that now, in the manner of the Lord High Executioner in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado, I had been granted the power to execute. What a difference a few words can make!

Passover, which we look forward to celebrating in a few days, is often misconstrued as a holiday celebrating freedom. Not quite. It is a holiday celebrating the overthrowing of human tyranny and slavery while accepting God’s dominion over our lives and our own responsibility to properly use the freedom we have. The first part of the equation only exists in conjunction with the second part.

In that way, Passover not only  commemorates something that happened long ago, but it is an annual opportunity to rise above our own Egypts, those circumstances that block the path to our own Divine destiny.  Egyptian slavery is the ultimate model of any oppressive force that obstructs our attempts to reach the purpose God has planned for us. Each detail of the Exodus provides us with a route to overcoming the limitations and constrictions in our own lives.

A peculiar phrase used in the description of the Exodus guides us towards one escape strategy.

…and the Children of Israel are going out with a high hand.
(Exodus 14:8)

Perhaps because present tense is so rare in Scripture, the King James translation of the Bible incorrectly substitutes the past tense. That misses the Divine message. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the present tense emphasizes the relevance of this section to anyone wishing to emulate the Children of Israel and escape his own Egypt.  It applies to each of us today.

We should look as well at the Hebrew word used for high—RaMaH.  It appears in a similar context in Deuteronomy 32:27:

…lest they will say, “our hand is high; the Lord has not done this.”

ר  מ ה

RaMaH means high and dominant.  However, look at this verse:

…the horse and its rider has He flung down into the sea.
(Exodus 15:1)

How perplexing that the Hebrew word used for ‘flung down’ is also RaMaH.

To make matters worse, see this verse from Job:

How much less man, who is [after all] a worm
(Job 25:6)

The Hebrew word used for ‘worm?’  RiMaH.  Regular readers of Thought Tools know that RaMaH and RiMaH are the same word with slightly different pronunciations. With the special power of Hebrew, their meanings are also related.  How can the ideas of high and low be related? Identifying that relationship exposes us to deep spiritual insight.

The mysterious message of the twin words RaMaH and RiMaH suggest that though they appear to be antonyms, there is a spiritual link between high/dominant and low/abject.  Furthermore, this link is a key to escaping one’s own Egypt.

That majestic record of Jewish durability known as the Hagadah, read at the Passover Seder, hints at the link. Not surprisingly, the Hagadah relates how the powerful and mighty Egyptians were humbled and the Israelites elevated.  But another essential characteristic of the Hagadah is its commencement with deprecating accounts of the ignoble beginnings of the Israelites.  The Hagadah reminds us that Abraham’s father was an idolater before relating the achievements of his children.

Therein lies the valuable key. Life is not static. If you happen to be riding high at this point in your life, retain humility by remembering how easily and quickly high can turn into low. No matter what struggles you face today, you must remember how much lower you or your ancestors were yesterday. Neither the depths of misery nor the heights of triumph are constant states.

In this way, the Passover Seder serves as an annual inoculation against thinking that the status quo defines you. With God’s help and in the blink of an eye, we can go out from our difficulties with a high hand. 

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Lather, Rinse, Repeat – Again and Again

April 8th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

After two tragic airplane accidents, Boeing is in the news. Possible liability has depressed its stock price and shaved tens of billions of dollars off the company’s valuation.  I covered troubling questions of cut corners in the design of the latest generation of the 50-year-old 737 and the disturbing relationship between government and one of its largest military contractors in my podcast here.  However, today let’s look at the approximately 2,000 Boeing 737s in the air at any given time every day and the fifteen normal take-offs made by a 737 every single minute of every day. 

Before each 737 starts to taxi away from the gate, the pilot in the left seat and the first officer in the right work their way down a printed check list that each could recite by heart.  “Navigation lights” calls out one and the other glancing at the panel responds, “On.”  Then comes “Taxi Lights.”  “On.” This is followed by altimeter, radios and autopilot and the correct response for each is “Set.”  Not until the long check list has been completed does the airplane begin its pushback.

The repetitive routine could anesthetize ordinary people into robotic compliance.  But commercial pilots are not ordinary people, they’re professionals and they’ve trained themselves to view each and every run down the check list as if it was the first time.  They might have asked one another those same questions on three earlier flights that day but on the fourth, their eyes still scan each switch and gauge with the same alert focus they did on the first.  Their confirmations are still precise and accurate.

The routine of repetitiveness can dull the senses and even dehumanize us if we fail to learn the secrets used by the flight deck and other professionals.  Most of us shower or brush our teeth so automatically that sometimes we don’t even remember having performed these basic ablutions.  When the harried young mom tries yet again to teach her toddler not to throw food on the ground during meals it is hard for her not to sound weary; she’s already remonstrated with her offspring eleven times this week alone.  When the office worker prepares his weekly report for the forty-third time this year his weariness comes through in the words he chooses to write.  Yes, repetitiveness can dehumanize us unless we learn how to transcend it.

Successful living depends on establishing routines but we also need the vital life skill of keeping routines fresh so they don’t detach us from passionate living.  This indispensable life skill is taught in the longest chapter of all the 187 chapters found in the Five Books of Moses.  Chapter 7 in the Book of Numbers details the altar dedication gifts brought by the head of each of the twelve tribes.

The first was Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Judah.  While not intending to bore you to death, I am reproducing the text detailing his offering.  You’ll see why in just a moment.

His offering: one silver bowl weighing 130 shekels and one silver dish of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a meal offering; one gold ladle of 10 shekels, filled with incense; one bull of the herd, one ram, and one lamb in its first year, for a burnt offering; one goat for a sin offering; and for his sacrifice of well-being: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five yearling lambs…
(Numbers 7:13-17)

The next was Nethanel ben Tzuar of the tribe of Issachar. I don’t have to reproduce the text of his gift (Numbers 7:18-23) since it was word for word identical to that of his predecessor.  And so with Eliav Ben Cheilon of Zevulun (Numbers 7:24-29) and so with the head of the tribe of Reuven and so on, all the way to the twelfth gift by Achirah ben Ainan of the tribe of Naphtali (Numbers 7:78-83).  Every gift was completely identical.

If the purpose of God’s message to mankind was merely conveying dusty and irrelevant historic information, 66 verses could easily have been omitted.  I think the way that you or I would have written this would be simply, “And each tribe’s head brought the same gift of ____.”  There we would have inserted those six verses one time instead of twelve.  Had we been especially diligent we might have added, “And for those of you with no lives to live, we provide the names of all the tribal heads in the appendix at the end of this volume.” 

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that although the material details of all twelve gifts were identical, each was enumerated separately because each was uniquely given with its own unique symbolism.  For instance, the numerical value of the letters making up the words ‘one silver bowl’ add up to 930 which Nachshon meant to allude to the years of the life of the first man, Adam who lived 930 years.  He meant its weight of 130 to allude to Adam’s age when he begat Seth (Genesis 5:3) from whom the world’s population spread.  In similar fashion, Zevulun intended his silver dish to represent the oceans upon which he sailed. (Genesis 49:13).  Without going into all the details here, each tribe gave the same objects but personalized them all with their own unique identities.

Therein lies the secret of escaping the repetitiveness routine.  While I may brush my teeth just as I did yesterday, each morning is quite unlike any other morning of my life. This morning is filled with all kinds of yet undreamed-of potential and my conversation with God and gratitude to Him for another day will reflect that each day is a very special day. 

I might be speaking to my child in just the way I did yesterday but each and every interaction with that tiny potential-filled bundle is its own privilege with its own possibilities.  I might be preparing a routine weekly report but if I used the past week well then I am a slightly different person and my work will reflect that fact.  And those pilots up front? While you’re settling into seat 27B, fastening your belt and making sure your entertainment system works, the flight crew professionals are meticulously working their way through a routine.  They are doing so with the feeling that this is the most important flight ever.  This morning’s flights are forgotten; tomorrow’s haven’t yet come to mind.

All that matters is this moment when my soul comes together with what I must be doing right now and this blending creates an utterly unique moment, breeding a one-time set of actions done like they have never been done before.  72 verses in the Book of Numbers makes that so clear.

If you’d like to explore the idea of the numerical values of Hebrew words as mentioned above, along with many other unique features of the language that reveal hidden depths in Scripture, take a look at Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language. It pairs well with Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet for the young ones in your life (or maybe even yourself!). Both books are at a substantially  reduced price this week.

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Give Me Nashville, Not New York

April 2nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

I enjoy visiting New York where I inevitably encounter many stimulating minds and meet many charming people.  For a large part, though, New Yorkers are rude and customers in New York are subjected to surliness.  This is not true for all cities.  People in places like Nashville smile and show a desire to please. 

Great customer service tends to be found in communities with healthy marriage statistics.  This is no coincidence.  One reason is that successful spouses are better equipped to provide exemplary customer service at work; they do it all the time at home.  Furthermore, young people raised by parents in a happy marriage have learned how uplifting serving others can be.  Such youngsters are more likely to serve customers with smiling enthusiasm.

Most of us have experienced truly horrid customer service.  You might have been ignored by the two sales girls on the floor who are too busy giggling with one another to attend to you.  It might be an arrogant public servant trying to make you feel insignificant or who sees no connection between his actions and his paycheck. 

Vile customer service extracts a cost in both economic and human terms.  Courteous customer service lubricates the wheels of commerce and fights the friction that is found in human interaction.  If engaging a plumber to repair my faucet was a pleasant experience, I am more likely to hire him again rather than try to fix it myself.  That way I can spend that time on what I do best instead of struggling with recalcitrant pipes. 

In human terms, whether one returns home at the end of a day beaten or elated depends to a great extent on whether one feels uplifted by respectful human interaction.  Winning the deal, but from an overbearing, pompous bully (male or female) leaves the sales professional feeling oppressed. 

Imagine what your life would be like if every person with whom you came into contact made you feel valued.  Imagine what you could do for others if you sought ways to make everyone with whom you interact, feel appreciated.  Instead of complaining about how we are served by others, we could try focusing on how well we do the serving ourselves.  The customer can also find ways to serve the vendor—a kind word of gratitude does just that. 

The key to both marriage and customer service is one and the same.  Taking a spouse for granted and expecting only to be served is surely a recipe for marital disaster.  Service should go both ways and expressing deeply sincere appreciation is one profound form of service.  Those who see serving as degrading and subservient will be less successful with both spouses and customers. 

Jews have always been disproportionately successful in business partially because they understood the importance of customer service.  Early in our history in America, we Jews became small merchants.  From the barrows of the Lower East Side of New York to the main streets of nearly every small town across America, people felt comfortable purchasing from the Jewish storekeeper.  One of my Southern Baptist friends, a pioneering medical industries investor, recalls growing up in the South, in the town of Natchez, MS.  His anecdotes highlight the warm relationships between local Jewish merchants and their Christian customers.  Where did Jews learn customer service?

Judaism calls the process of praying to God—a prayer service.  Christianity has of course adopted this nomenclature too; we all serve God and we attend services.  Serving God helped Jews understand the inherent Godliness of serving His children, other people.  Serving God and serving customers are closely related.

People who are obsessed with celebrities would do almost any favor imaginable for their preferred idol.  They would even change diapers for Angelina’s tot or baby-sit Madonna’s children.  Serving someone’s children is a way of getting close to that someone.

Praying is not just about asking God for various favors.  It is expressing profound appreciation to Him; serving Him.  Serving is a God-given process of expressing the deepest yearnings of our souls.  After all, no animal consciously serves another.  Serving is a uniquely human gift and serving God makes us feel closer to Him.  Serving other people, His children, does the same.

Furthermore, service to others is an element of life’s essence.  Indeed doing things for another person is surely part of creating life.  For spiritually attuned humans, the act of marital intimacy with all its life creating potential, remains a union in which each individual is preoccupied with enhancing the joy of the other.  God’s marital message for future parents is that there is no pleasure that exceeds providing for another.  What a perfect preparation for the arrival of new life that will be the beneficiary of its parents’ desire to provide for its every need.  This is why the Hebrew word for love—ahav, when broken down to its component parts, means—I give

These ancient ideas helped dispel the notion that there was something shameful or degrading about serving someone else.  Some cities still cherish these eternal values while others have rejected them.  It cannot be a coincidence that New York, a triumph of secular liberalism with a high proportion of its inhabitants single, also offers such dreadful customer service.  Learning that serving others is one of life’s ultimate thrills could be the key to repairing both customer service and marriage.

Being aware of how the words we use affects others is one way we serve them. The widespread use of profanity shows a willingness to selfishly pollute the environment around us. Alternatively, choosing kind and caring words brightens others’ days. Discover the power of words and concrete tips to improve your own language in Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak. On sale now, this audio CD can improve your financial and love life as it guides you to properly use the Divine gift of speech.

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When They Gang Up On You

March 26th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

There are at least three separate groups that hate President Trump, each for its own reason. Some people hate him because he’s an outsider to Capitol Hill and doesn’t play the “you-rub-my-back-and-I’ll-rub-yours” game. Another group hates him for enacting more conservative policies and appointing more conservative justices than any other president in recent memory. Yet another because they perceive him to be profoundly evil in every fearful nightmarish way.

There are at least three separate groups of Britishers eager to escape the bureaucratic clutches of Brussels and the iron-grip of the European Economic Community. Each has its own reason for wanting a more independent Britain.

There are many different groups enthusiastically pushing a gender spectrum sexually fluid society, whatever that all actually means. Each group benefits in a different way from the resulting identity confusion.

Your customers, your sales professionals, and your accountants might all encourage you to lower the price of your product. They all have their own different reasons, but by acting together, they cause you a huge headache.

Each of your young children has his or her own reasons for not wanting to end the day according to your preferred bedtime schedule. Regardless of their own individual agendas, from an early age they know the value of forming a coalition against you.

Politicians, union organizers and little children succeed by knowing how to bond together several disparate interest groups into one single coordinated force. Likewise, they are best defeated when you possess a deep understanding of the dynamics of unity and you know what each party really desires and what it fears.

Nobody knew better than Moses what to do when they gang up on you. Numbers 16 details a rebellion against his leadership. Join me in a stroll through that revealing part of Scripture.

The first two verses in chapter 16 identify all the participants in what seems to be one rebellion. Korach, Datan and Aviram, On the son of Pelet, and another 250 men. It sounds as if they are all unified in opposing Moses and Aaron. However, it soon becomes apparent that there is more here than meets the eye. In verse 12, Moses summons Datan and Aviram who refuse to respond. Their complaint against Moses: Why did you use the promise of taking us to a land of milk and honey to aggrandize yourself and appoint yourself our leader?

Another group comprises 250 men protesting Aaron’s exclusivity as priest. Not only are these two separate groups with two separate agendas but the verses show that they each are headquartered in different locations. Verses 1 through 4 introduce both rebellious groups. The next seven verses describe the complaint of group one who reject Aaron’s role as exclusive priest. The second group, that of Datan and Aviram with their complaint against Moses, is treated in verses 12 through 15.

Notice that when group two is being dealt with in verses 25 and 26, only Moses alone acts since their protests were against his leadership whereas the response to group one appropriately included Aaron as we see in verse 18.

We’re now in a position to understand the biggest mystery of chapter sixteen. Because of its apparent incomprehensibility, many translations mistranslate verse 1. Here’s how it really reads:

And Korach the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi took
and Datan and Aviram
the sons of Eliav and
On the son of Pelet the sons of Reuven.

That isn’t a typo— there is no object in the sentence telling us what Korach took. The simplest understanding is that Korach “took” men with his eloquent words, a human susceptibility that we can certainly take to heart. However, ancient Jewish wisdom also transmits another powerful message.

It explains that what Korach took was his own self interest along with the two separate disgruntled groups and he contrived to combine everyone into one formidable rebellion. Note how chapter sixteen makes us work to discover that there are two separate groups that Korach welds into one loud voice of protest against Moses and Aaron. This helps us understand that it is usually challenging to discover exactly who is ganging up on us and for what reasons. By carefully analyzing who the protagonists are and what exactly each wants, we place ourselves in our best position of strength. Moses successfully worked a wedge between the two groups, even keeping each in its own separate geographic location.

We must learn that lesson well and meticulously strategize to form cracks between those who would gang up on us. We should also be aware, as we diligently are at the American Alliance of Jews and Christians that those whose agendas disagree with our joint primary focus on following God’s word, benefit when they can drive wedges between us.

Words matter. Our highlighted (and on sale) audio CD, Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak highlights the damage to individuals and to society when cursing becomes standard as it is today. If this is a problem area for you, you may not even be aware of the damage to your purse and love life. However, because of the culture around us, this is actually a problem which affects all of us.

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Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak

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Are You a Pious Pushover?

March 19th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

Anyone who spends any time in neighborhoods populated by Bible-believing, religiously inclined people, knows that, for the most part, such people are kinder, gentler, more empathetic and more compassionate than the general population.  Sometimes, however, unselfish behavior can morph into unwarranted meekness and timidity.

Here are five questions that might help determine if you have allowed your own goodness to be exploited by others less restrained than you.

  • Do you always deflect adversarial encounters?
  • Is being liked more important than standing your ground?
  • Do you often tell yourself, “I’m just too tired to argue”?
  • Do you frequently resent how “pushy people” seem to get their way and pride yourself on not being pushy?
  • Do you sometimes feel embarrassed after standing firm and ‘winning’?

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of those questions, what’s to be done?  As usual, ancient Jewish wisdom points to the Bible for help.  Remember that we learn as much from the flaws of Biblical personalities as we do from their greatness.

My wife, Susan, attends a weekly Bible class she greatly values. In one class, the rabbi  described the patriarch Jacob using the phrase ‘conflict-averse.’  Seeking peace, the rabbi explained, is be a wonderful thing to do most of the time but taken to an extreme, it can lead us down the wrong path. This was a failing of Jacob’s. I would like to impart some of what Susan learned along with some additional truths from ancient Jewish wisdom.

Looking at Jacob in Genesis 32 as he prepares to meet Esau, Jacob has sent messengers and gifts to the brother whom he worries is coming towards him with animosity.  Then he settles down for the night.

On that night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions.  And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. 
(Genesis 32:23-25)

Mystery #1:  After the camp settles down for the night, why does he wake everyone up?

Mystery #2:  Why did God send an adversarial angel to detain Jacob in struggle all the night? (Genesis 32:25-30)

Mystery #3:  When he does meet with Esau, why is there only one camp when earlier Jacob thought of dividing his camp in two so that, if attacked, at least one camp might survive? (Genesis 32:8)

It seems that, at the last minute, Jacob changed his plans. Rather than facing Esau, he contemplated avoiding him. To that end, he has everyone retreat across the river.  In the last minute disorganization, he is temporarily alone and God sends an angel to struggle with him.

By the time dawn comes and Jacob disengages from the angel,  Esau unexpectedly materializes right in Jacob’s path. (Genesis 33:1) God defeated Jacob’s plan to evade the confrontation by keeping him busy through the night and speeding up Esau’s travel.

This was only one example of Jacob’s tendency to avoid conflict. 

Earlier, Jacob who had legitimately purchased the birthright from his older brother Esau, doesn’t question his mother’s decision to trick his father, Isaac, into believing that he was Esau.  While Rebecca acted with prophecy, Jacob was quick to acquiesce in order to avoid confrontation and conflict.

He did the same thing when instead of confronting his deceitful father-in-law, Lavan, and telling him he was leaving, Jacob snuck away.  (Genesis 31:8)

We see the pattern again when Jacob’s daughter Dina is raped.  Rather than plan the necessary retribution, Jacob doesn’t even castigate the perpetrator but merely waits for his sons to return home.  (Genesis 34:5)

Later on, we will see this tendency again. When Joseph recounts his disturbing dreams provoking jealous fury among his brothers, instead of settling things with his sons then and there, Jacob avoided conflict and merely put the thought away in his memory.  (Genesis 37:11)

Similarly, although he knows something is wrong when the brothers show him Joseph’s bloody coat, as we see by the fact that he stays in an active state of bereavement for years, he doesn’t push his sons to tell him the truth. (Genesis 37:34)

From examining each of Jacob’s experiences we see that it is the emotion of fear that underlies his all-too-human tendency to avoid conflict. In fact, Genesis 32:8  states that Jacob was afraid. He wasn’t a coward; his fear was for his family and also fear of harming his brother should a fight ensue. Both concerns were praiseworthy, but giving in to them was not. Throughout his life, had Jacob faced his fears, we could see each event turn out more satisfactorily than it did. 

Sometimes, rather than face the fact that we are unworthily yielding to fear, we deliberately mislead ourselves into believing that we are avoiding conflict on account of our virtue.  While there are certainly occasions on which to yield in the name of peace, we must be on guard not to yield on account of our own fears of conflict.  Most times, avoiding today’s conflict almost guarantees worse and unavoidable strife tomorrow. In fact, ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Jacob was unnecessarily subservient to Esau when they did meet again, causing his descendants problems.

The best antidote to becoming a pious pushover is to remember that it nearly always results in bigger problems.  Nowhere is this clearer than contemporary news headlines concerning Israel and Islam.  Each time Israel yields in the hope of generating goodwill the problems mount.  Whenever Israel displays firm resolve, the situation improves or at least does not deteriorate. 

Delve into two hours of Biblical teaching that explains the timeless truths behind today’s headlines in our 2 audio CD resource, on sale right now

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What does Esau have to do with Islamic fundamentalism?
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Which Biblical verse distills the essence of the problem?

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