Posts in Thought Tools

A Holiday for Optimists

November 23rd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

In pre-COVID days when I spoke to large audiences, I enjoyed asking groups to raise their hands if they were sales professionals.  Usually, only a few hands went up.  I then asked, “How many of you are justices of the United States Supreme Court?”  After the chuckles subsided, I asked, “How many of you are tenured university professors?”  Finally, I would say, “Look, if you’re not a judge appointed for life, and you’re not a professor hired for life, you are probably in sales.

At the very least, you must constantly sell your employer on the idea that you are worth keeping on the payroll.

Selling means helping others see things from a new perspective. Whether you are a dentist or a lawyer, whether you are a bookkeeper, a bartender, or a ballerina, you are in sales.  To a large extent, your success is as dependent upon your selling ability as it is upon your basic skill.  If you have a job or are looking for a job, you are in sales.  If you are a teacher, a pastor or a preacher, you are in sales.  And if you are seeking a spouse you are in sales. In other words, in any number of areas of our lives we are all in sales—perhaps even that Supreme Court Justice is.

Fortunately, ancient Jewish wisdom can help hone your selling ability. Not only can it help, but the prescription doesn’t include spending tens of thousands of dollars on tuition or demand that you have relatives or friends to pave your way. As the famous MetLife study brilliantly conducted by Martin Seligman and many other subsequent studies strongly suggest,  optimism is a prerequisite to being successful in sales.  But how do you become a more optimistic person?

To answer that question, let’s look at a perplexing piece of Scripture. We first meet Moses as a baby, then we follow him as he matures and seeks out his suffering brethren. We track his escape to the land of Midian where he rescues Jethro’s daughters and becomes a shepherd. We delight as God appears to him and sets him on his life-mission.

Surely Moses must have been confused when, at the very beginning of the plagues that will culminate in the Israelites leaving Egypt,  God instructs him to take a back seat and instruct Aaron to turn the Nile River into blood.  (Exodus 7:19)

Isn’t Moses to be God’s messenger to Pharaoh? Why does God assign Aaron to bring the plague of blood?

“Gratitude,” answers  ancient Jewish wisdom.  The Nile carried Moses to safety as an infant.  It would show ingratitude to turn that life-saving  water into a lifeless stream of blood.

Excuse me? This is a river we’re talking about. Can a river feel shunned? No. That is the entire point!  Expressing gratitude does allow those who helped us to feel our appreciation. But it benefits the speaker as much—or more— than the recipient.  Among other things, expressing gratitude dramatically increases one’s optimism level.

An article published this year in a National Institute of Health journal noting the correlation between optimism and gratitude stated, “Thus, optimistic people experience more gratitude, which could give more sense to their lives and, in turn, enhance life satisfaction.”

The researchers have the equation back to front. It is not that optimistic people experience more gratitude, it is that grateful people experience more optimism. Working on “being optimistic” is difficult to pin down. But it is simple and clear-cut to work on “being grateful.” Whether you start a gratitude journal or challenge yourself to express gratitude aloud, to God, to each person with whom you interact, or to your nation on a daily basis, there is no more effective way to induce the happy sensation of optimism and hope in our souls than finding opportunities to say, “Thank you!”

Rather than focusing on the deprivation and great losses of the preceding year, the early Pilgrims counted their blessings and gave thanks. Not surprisingly, they embedded in America a sense of boundless optimism. It is no surprise that as their descendants become ungrateful “it’s owed to me” citizens, they are increasingly pessimistic and unhappy.

Wishing all of us a Thanksgiving of first principles, where we remind ourselves multiple times a day of the many things in our lives for which we are grateful.

Did you know that Chanuka is a holiday for “praise and gratitude”?
Its timeless messages are for all humanity.
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A Prince and a Pauper

November 16th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

There is no such thing as a level playing field in the real world. Some of us win what I call the ovarian lottery when it comes to health, others when it comes to place of birth. Some of us have genes wired for height and attractiveness, while other babies might enter the world with outstanding artistic talent lurking in their chromosomes. Newborns do not choose their parents, yet our lives are tremendously influenced by those who conceived us.

The Bible usually provides meticulous detail about family. Twelve spies are sent to explore the land of Canaan—each is identified with his father’s name. (Numbers 11: 1-16) Betzalel is to be the Tabernacle’s craftsman? Not only are we told who his father is, but, in a way that is extremely common, also his grandfather. (Exodus 31:2)   

This makes it all the odder that when we first meet King Saul’s son Jonathan, we’re not told who he is.

Saul picked 3,000 Israelites, of whom 2,000 were with Saul in Michmas and in the hill country of Bethel,
and 1,000 with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin;
the rest of the troops he sent back to their homes.
(I Samuel 13:2)

Only after King Saul has disobeyed the prophet Samuel and imperiled his kingdom, does Scripture inform us that Jonathan is the son of King Saul.

Saul and his son Jonathan, and the troops who remained with them, stayed in Geba of Benjamin,
while the Philistines were encamped at Michmas.
(I Samuel 13:16)

Shortly after that, Jonathan performs an act of both wisdom and courage, leading to terror and confusion in the Philistine ranks.

Saul and the troops with him assembled and rushed into battle; they found [the Philistines] in very great confusion, every man’s sword turned against his fellow.*
(I Samuel 14:20)

This is one of only two instances in all of Scripture where the phrase, “every man’s sword against his fellow” is used.

Here is the other:

For when the three hundred horns were sounded, the LORD turned every man’s sword against his fellow, throughout the camp, and the entire host fled as far as Beth-shittah and on to Zererah—
as far as the outskirts of Abel-meholah near Tabbath.*
(Judges 7:22)

When we are initially introduced to the hero of this incident, Gideon, we are told about his family. Yet the contrast to a royal prince could hardly be more striking. Gideon’s father is the most impoverished in his tribe and Gideon himself is the youngest of the sons.  (Judges 6:15)

Why are these two men, seemingly so different, united by a rare Biblical phrase?

In the 2nd act of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, his character, Malvolio, proclaims this memorable truth:  Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Gideon, plucked from obscurity by God, had no reason to expect to be great. Jonathan’s royal parentage is omitted from when we first encounter him to indicate that, although “born great,”  his distinction was not a result of being born the son of the king but was of his own doing.

Both these men stepped on the ladder of greatness by sowing internal discord in the ranks of their enemies. Although outnumbered and outflanked by their nation’s enemy, they both had complete faith in the rightness of their cause and their ability, with God’s help, to overcome their limitations. This moral spine of steel overwhelmed the opposition, leading the Midianites (Gideon) and Philistines (Jonathan) to turn upon and destroy themselves.

What a message to us! Each one of us must strive for greatness whether or not our backgrounds seem to predispose us to such or not. In our roles as parents, employers, citizens or friends, once we determine the right path, we should march ahead with steadfast determination. We mustn’t crumble or cower beneath opposition and we must never use the excuse of who our parents are to justify our being anything less than we can be.

A little boy whose seven siblings were each conceived by different men, none of whom was married to his mother, does not have the same chance in life as the eighth son of a couple whose long-term marriage is dedicated to raising their children.  Those two boys are not competing on a level playing field.  What is more,  not only is the lifestyle of one boy’s mother and father far more helpful to him than that of the other boy, it is also far more beneficial to society. Family does matter.  But your own actions matter even more.
_________

*If you would like to see the phrases in the Hebrew using Rabbi Lapin’s recommended Bible: חרב איש ברעהו

Judges 7:22 – p. 762. Words 8, 9, and 10 in verse 22.
I Samuel 14:20 – p. 860. Words 12, 13, and 14, in verse 20.

חרב = sword
איש = man
ברעהו = against his fellow

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Mission Possible

November 11th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Each one of us is unique, of course.  It’s just that some are, well, a little more unique than others. Our president is certainly unique. Over the past few years, President Trump has worked at a pace that younger presidents did not attempt or manage. Whether you agree or disagree with his policies, he takes his mission seriously.

Let us look at five individuals who also took their missions seriously. In his own way, each has a lesson for us.

And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before me…I will destroy them… make an ark…”(Genesis 6:13-14)

And the Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, and your family, and your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

And the Lord appeared to him [Isaac] and said, “Don’t go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 26:2)

And, behold, the Lord stood above it [the ladder] and said [to Jacob], “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed.”  (Genesis 28:13)

And when the Lord saw that he [Moses] turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said, “Moses, Moses. And he said, ‘Here I am’.”(Exodus 3:4)

These are the very first times that God spoke to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, respectively.  Each of these instances heralded a major change in the life of the individual involved.  Each occasion propelled each person onto a powerful new plateau of being.

Most of us yearn to move to new levels in one or more areas of our lives.  Some seek added success in finances, while others wish for progress in family and friendships.  Whenever we seek transformation in our lives, God’s help can make all the difference. What sort of behavior characterized these five Biblical personalities?

Noah remained uninfluenced by the mistaken ideas of the evil people around him. (Genesis 6:5-9)

Abraham didn’t delay; he instantly started his journey. (Genesis 12:1-4)

By claiming his wife was his sister (Genesis 26:7) just as Abraham had done (Genesis 12:13), and by re-digging his father’s wells (Genesis 26:18) Isaac reasserted that he was Abraham’s heir and would further his father’s mission (Genesis 18:19) by dedicating himself to doing the things he alone as the heir to Abraham’s blessing could do.

Jacob single-mindedly seized the opportunity to purchase the birthright when his brother fortuitously asked him for his lunch. (Genesis 25:30-31)  Later he single-mindedly pursued Rachel, working for seven years to win her. (Genesis 29:18-20)

At the Burning Bush, Moses committed to bringing Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. In so doing, Moses accepted a mission that was to absorb all his effort for each and every day of the next forty years (Deuteronomy 29:4)

Above all, they all took their lives and their missions seriously.  Transformation arrives from treating one’s life seriously enough to adopt five practices.

How might we phrase the actions of these men in modern terms?

1.  Ignore bad ideas and tenaciously fight complacency, never settling for the status quo. (Noah)

2.  Never postpone decisions unnecessarily.  Sometimes, we need to act quickly and promptly.  (Abraham)

3.  Dedicate ourselves to the tasks that we are specially positioned to do.  (Isaac)

4.  Focus on one thing at a time, while keeping your eye on the bigger picture. (Jacob)

5.   Expect the ups and downs that you will meet. Keep the global landscape of your mission in mind at all times. (Moses)

God made us each unique. At the same time, we share with most other humans the desire to thrive in five main areas of life: Family, Finance, Fitness, Friendship, and Faith.  If we keep our eye on balancing these vital parts of our lives, we will be best suited to moving ahead with our overall mission.

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Be Holy

November 2nd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 3 comments

Tomorrow is Election Day. But, even if the results are known on Wednesday, the fight for America’s culture will continue—no matter which party wins. Each one of us is busy on so many fronts: family, earning a living, synagogue or church, and our many daily tasks. However, it is a deadly mistake to pay attention only when elections roll around. Swelling secular sentiment imperils us all because beliefs have consequences.  The consequences of a changing culture occur as people act upon their beliefs.

Powerful ideas can be false and lead to great evil. When enough people believe in a powerful idea, subsequent social and political trends march in step with that idea.  It was a political genius who thought up the idea of advancing homosexuality by labeling as hateful and intolerant everyone who considered it sinful.  When caring about babies in-utero is classified as “hating women,” reasonable discourse is over.

Change people’s hearts and you change the way they vote. One of my regular radio mantras is, “Politics is nothing other than the practical application of people’s most deeply held beliefs.”  Secularism uses emotionally charged words and slogans to promote itself. Even if you are not religious yourself, you should be very scared of a secularized culture.

The American poet, T. S. Eliot who won the Nobel literature prize in 1948, put it this way during a speech at Oxford University in 1939.

As political philosophy derives its sanction from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality.

Belief in secularism leads inevitably to results that contradict reality.  Often, good people don’t foresee the calamitous consequences of secularist policies.  One way to clarify where one best fits is to ask oneself which of the following two choices in each of the three sets comes closest to how one feels.

A)

  • Humans arrived on the planet by a process of unaided, materialistic evolution.  It follows that humans are no more than sophisticated animals.
  • God created us in His image and placed us here. Humans are unique creatures touched by the finger of God.

B)

  • There is no outside source of wisdom and truth. People should look into their own hearts for moral guidance.
  • People are born knowing no more about morality than about calculus.  Most of us are born with an appetite for evil, and we find good by knowing God, loving Him and obeying His Word.

C)

  • The ‘g’ of government is nearly always good while business is nearly always bad.  Without government regulation, business would run amok. Driven by greed, business relentlessly exploits employees, customers, and the environment.   
  • The ‘G’ of God is always good. Business is about serving customers and customer service is related to worship service because serving His children is closely related to serving Him.  Business has less potential to tyrannize than government because you can choose not to give your money to a business.

As these three examples of secular belief, and many others, have become more and more accepted they have significantly changed the way we lead our lives.  Yes, beliefs do have consequences and in these examples, not for the better.

Take the first belief, that humans are really nothing more than sophisticated and evolved chimpanzees.  It follows from this that like all other animals, humans are also incapable of true creativity.  If I seize a banana, there is naturally one less banana available for you.  If I work hard and achieve something and you don’t, it can only be because systemic problems kept you from getting your bananas. The zookeeper must supervise the distribution of bananas among all the primates.  Thus, redistribution of positions and complete economic equality become ultimate values.  Have you noticed how ‘accomplished’ and ‘rich’ have become pejoratives in America?

The second belief is that nobody—except today’s elites—may tell you what is moral or immoral, good or bad.  That is for you alone to decide (as long as you are properly “woke”).  Among the consequences of this belief is that villains are seen as virtuous or at least blameless while the truly virtuous are portrayed as villains.

The third belief, that government solves problems while business creates them, encourages governments to increasingly tax businesses in order to fulfill its own unkept promises.  Furthermore, government schools teach your children to believe the worst about how you earn your living.  Know-nothing street rioters destroy an economy they don’t even begin to understand.  All they know is that profit equals plunder and business is bad.

Yes, beliefs do have consequences and when wrong-headed ideas become popular we all suffer. Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this is why the entire nation of Israel is told to be holy.

Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, Be holy…
(Leviticus 19:2)

We can certainly protest the consequences of secularism.  We can campaign against increased taxation.  We can wring our hands at soaring rates of illegitimate births even as we know that many of today’s babies without fathers are tomorrow’s children without futures.  We can object to our schools collaborating with gender-reassignment programs and encouraging confused sexuality for fifteen-year-olds.

However, that is locking the barn door after the priceless racehorse has escaped.  A better target for our energies would be combatting the bad beliefs in the first place that led to these undesirable consequences.

The best way we can all help defeat false and evil ideas is by promoting true and good ones. Absolutely, get out and vote tomorrow. Shame on you if you don’t. But, most of all, combat secularism with life-affirming Bible-based Judaism and Christianity.

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I Won’t Stand for It

October 20th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment
  1. “The boy stood on the burning deck
    Whence all but he had fled;
    The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
    Shone round him o’er the dead…”

                                                            (Casabianca, Dorothea Hemans, 1826)

2. “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing…”

                                                       (The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe, 1845)

3. Stood there and watched you walk away…”

                                                     (Haunted, Taylor Swift, 2010)

4. “How to Handle Getting Stood Up on a Date”

                                                       (Glamour Magazine, 2014, 2011, 2004, 1998)

The French captain’s son stood resolutely on the burning deck until he was finally consumed in the furious flames.  Though Edgar Allan Poe claims he stood there for a long while, I suspect that in reality he soon returned to his bed.  Taylor Swift stood there as her lover walked away but one assumes that she managed to replace him quite quickly.  The readers of Glamour who keep getting stood up, well, enough said.

There really ought to be different words in English for stood.  One can scarcely compare my different examples of standing.  One shouldn’t.  I won’t stand for it.

In the Lord’s language, there are indeed words to describe two different ways of standing.  One can stand firm like the boy on the burning deck; one might say, stand like a pillar.  Or one can stand there sadly like Taylor Swift, ready to be quickly distracted by someone else.

Let’s see a Biblical example of each kind of standing.

You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God.…
that thou shouldst enter into the covenant of the Lord thy God and into His oath…
(Deuteronomy 29:9-11*)

And it came to pass at the end of two years that Par’o dreamed;
and behold, he stood on the river.
(Genesis 41:1*)

When the Israelites stood before God to establish a special covenant, it was for all time.  In fact, the Bible makes clear that this covenant is being established not only with those Israelites who were standing there but also with all the future generations not yet born. (Deuteronomy 29:13-14*).  In other words, a permanent standing.  The Hebrew root used for standing is YaTZaV.

י   צ  ב

However, when Pharaoh dreamed that he stood on the Nile, not only did he not remain there for long, but it was a dream.  The Hebrew root used for stand is the far more common OMeD.

ע  מ  ד

The root OMeD is also used here, implying a lack of firmness:

And the magicians were unable to stand before Moses…
(Exodus 11:9*)

When the standing is more that of standing like a rock until one’s task is complete, the Torah uses the word YaTZaV. The use of this word in an unexpected place can give us deeper insight into a person’s actions.

For instance, “Behold I stand by the water well…” (Genesis 24:13*) said Eliezer as he prayed for success in finding the woman who’d become the second matriarch, the wife of Isaac. This resounds to Eliezer’s credit.

Knowing that there are two different ways of standing helps us translate our spirit into our posture.  When I stand in line at the check-out, I hope it’s not for long and so I don’t root myself to the ground.  However, when I stand up for principle, I want to be utterly immovable and, just as importantly, I want to appear to others as utterly immovable.

Deciding which principles one will stand up for unyieldingly is vital for successful living.  It allows one to know in advance which battles are worth fighting and which are better averted.

We are offering a sale this week on our Genesis Journeys Set as a powerful way to learn Biblical truths that Hebrew and ancient Jewish wisdom reveal. Each of the four audio CD sets (with a study guide) guides you to understand today’s personal and universal struggles and strengthen you as you take your stand.

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*Deuteronomy 29:9-11 – p. 626 –  4 lines at the bottom נצבים
*Genesis 41:1 – p. 124 – 11th line from the top (after the paragraph break) עמד
*Exodus 11:9 – p. 188 – 13th line from the top, 2nd half of the line (reading right to left) לעמד
*Genesis 24:13 – p. 62 – last line. נצב

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The Harder They Fall

October 13th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

In 1956, Humphrey Bogart played sportswriter Eddie Willis in the last movie he made, The Harder They Fall.  After many ups and downs, Bogart’s character achieves greatness.  Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t want to try too hard because I don’t need to be wildly successful,” or, “I don’t want to rise too far because the tallest tree catches the wind”?  Many of us have impeded our own progress by warning ourselves that reaching for the sky can bring a great fall.

While there may be some good reasons not to clamber up the cliff, that old Humpty Dumpty rationale isn’t it. Impeding our progress by warning ourselves that reaching for the sky can bring a great fall leads to not reaching our potential, a crime against ourselves and our Creator. It is so easy to succumb to wrong-headed thinking and sabotage our own potential that Scripture projects a powerful message to deter us.

Whenever a specific phrase is found in more than one location in Scripture, we are intended to compare and contrast the instances in which it appears.

For instance, the phase:   הִנָּ֥ךְ הָרָ֖ה וְיֹלַ֣דְתְּ בֵּ֑ן

appears in two places in the Bible; once in connection with Abraham’s first son, Yishmael, and again in connection with Samson.

The phrase has two meanings:

Behold you have conceived and will give birth to a son
(Yishmael; Genesis 16:11)

and

Behold you shall conceive and will give birth to a son
(Samson; Judges 13:5)

Since the tense of the English translation varies, many people with no access to Hebrew (and no rabbi) remain oblivious to the fact that both verses contain the identical phrase.

In fact, these are the only two instances in the Tanach of an angel directly informing a woman that she will soon give birth.  But that is where the similarities end. Among many other differences, the two sons marry differently.

Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, finds her son a wife:

…and his mother took him a wife from Egypt
(Genesis 21:21)

Samson finds his own wife, despite his parents’ disapproval of her (but in concert with God’s plan):

…get her for me as a wife
(Judges 14:2)

Yishmael’s life follows a steady trajectory from his birth in Genesis 16 until his death in Genesis 25.

Samson’s life is clearly divided into two sections.

From his birth in Judges 13 until the end of Judges 15, we see the Lord is with him constantly.

The second part of Samson’s life begins with him consorting with a harlot (Judges 16:1) and concludes with his death (Judges 16:30). During this time the Lord appears to have abandoned him.

Contrast the two phrases which conclude the two parts of Samson’s life:

And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
  (Judges 15:20)

…and he judged Israel twenty years. 
(Judges 16:31)

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that during the first half of his life his purpose and mission was defeating the Philistines and protecting Israel from them.  During the second part of his life, he largely forgot his mission.

Yishmael, even though he and his progeny were promised blessing by God, lived a largely uneventful life.

Samson, the heroic Hebrew Judge, lived a turbulent life the beginning of which he lived in accordance with God’s wishes and enjoying His blessings.  Tragically the latter part of his life was lived without his mission, without God, and without His blessings.

The contrast is between two men both of whose births were heralded by an angel and both of whom were blessed.  One became an ordinary man who never achieved any great good and never did any great wrong. The other became a larger-than-life figure, a giant man with giant abilities and giant appetites.  He played a vital role in Israel’s history, achieving enormous triumphs but also sinking to tragic depths.

Samson remains a Hebrew hero; flawed but heroic.  His passion for life led him to heights and his weaknesses led to his downfall.  But it wasn’t inevitable and he serves as a far better model than Yishmael.

God created us with the potential for greatness.  We all possess the potential for doing great good, but also for failing disastrously.  Being great doesn’t mean never desiring to do wrong or never doing wrong.  It means developing our resistance to wrongdoing.  With the lesson of Samson fresh in our minds, we can throw ourselves into the struggle for greatness confident that we will reap its blessings and fight its dangers.

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A Time for Everything

October 5th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

Whether because of COVID-19 or due to governmental reaction to the virus, these past months have provided a stark message to the world that many things are outside our control. Businesses have failed no matter how hard their owners labored; people have fallen ill no matter how many health foods they consumed, and political currents have destroyed cities no matter how decent the people who live there.

Imagine a baby newly aware of his ability to deliberately move his arms, hands and feet. Lying on a blanket near a window, he sees that each time he waves his arms, the leaves outside the window dance. Delighted with this power, he repeats his gestures. Suddenly, the leaves stay rigidly still and our baby bursts into tears. Unbeknownst to him, the leaves were responding to an autumn wind, not to his machinations.

There are things in this world that we can influence and other things that we cannot. One of the secrets to sanity and happiness is recognizing the difference.

The world-record for the biggest-selling popular song with the oldest lyrics belongs to The Byrds’ rendition of Turn, Turn, Turn from 1965, containing words from the third chapter of King Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes. This book, Kohelet in Hebrew, is read during the holyday of Sukot each year, a joyous week that we are currently celebrating. It contains a credible explanation for our mystery.

A time to be born         And a time to die

      A time to plant             And a time to pluck…

(Kohelet 3:2)

The seven verses of Ecclesiastes we are examining (3:2—3:8) contain twenty-eight events for which “there is a time.”  Some events are under our individual control. Other times, we can only respond to events in our world.  By scrutinizing each verse from the perspective of strong individual control, we find that verses (3:2—3:4) deal with events in our lives where we need to follow external triggers.  Verses (3:5—3:7) deal with events under our control.

In Kohelet 7:8, Solomon provided the clue to the pattern he followed:

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning…

This verse tells us to look at the end of the section we are studying for a clue.

A time to love         And a time to hate

A time for war       And a time for peace

(Kohelet 3:8)

This verse contains both types of events. Loving and hating are decisions made by each of us.  Whether our nation is at war or peace lies outside our personal choice.  King Solomon teaches that our lives contain both kinds of events and we need to learn to distinguish between them.

Fatalistic people deem everything in life to ‘just happen’ so they attempt little and achieve less. Foolish people imagine they can control every aspect of their lives and fritter away their time and energy fighting reality. Those of us who follow King Solomon’s guidance recognize that while everything is ultimately in God’s control, we must spend our time and efforts on those things our endeavors are likely to impact while adapting to and accepting those things the wind blows our way.

It is always the right time for Biblical wisdom
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Reaching Joy

September 30th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

These past six months, since COVID-19 has dominated the headlines (with no end in sight), we have been called on to adjust, revise and improvise in both our personal and professional lives.  Thinking outside the box, hatching new ideas and implementing them has become a necessary tool for survival.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of books and blogs detailing tips and tools for generating ideas: Calendar a specific time and set an alarm to terminate the session.  Make it quiet time with no electronic distractions.  Pencil and paper will do more for you than tablet or smartphone.  Discipline your mind not to wander or daydream but to focus only on possible solutions to the problem.  Calendar a second creative thinking session the following day allowing ideas to percolate in your subconscious overnight.  You probably already know most of these ideas.

However, one indispensable element of truly creative thinking is largely unknown. Its absence is usually most responsible for failure.  It makes all the difference between a productive creative session and wasted time.

The one absolutely necessary ingredient for successful creativity is having a heart filled with happiness.  When joyfulness overwhelms your soul, the gates of limitless mental creativity swing wide open.

In order to understand how this works, read these three verses that seem to repeat the same idea.

Three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord God.
(Exodus 23:17)

Three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.
(Exodus 34:23)

…thou shall rejoice in your feast…and in all the work of your hands…three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord your God in the place which He shall choose; in the festival of unleavened bread (Passover), in the festival of weeks (Shavuot/Pentecost), and in the festival of booths (Sukkot)…
(Deuteronomy 16:14-16)

Readers who think the Bible is the work of assorted human authors must ask themselves why some early editor didn’t remove two redundant verses.  After all, how many times does anyone need to be told something?

Those of us comfortable knowing that God authored His book, ask what message is encoded into the triplicated message. We got it the first time—males must pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year.

Three times a year?  A message repeated three times?  Hmmm…ancient Jewish wisdom to the rescue.

A general rule in understanding the Torah is that repeating messages ascend in importance.  The first verse matches Passover. God took us out of Egypt; He’s the Boss. If He says to go up to Jerusalem, we go.

The second verse relates to Shavuot (Pentecost), the time of the giving of the Torah. God is our God – there is a close relationship.

Mention of rejoicing and productivity precedes the third verse. We go up not only to follow orders, not only because we crave a close relationship with God, but also as an expression of joy and fulfillment.

That’s it!  If you are happy, you will be productive enough to appear before the Lord bearing gifts.  The three festivals all emphasize gratitude to God, and few things contribute more to a feeling of happy optimism than expressing gratitude.  But that’s not all; each festival also highlights its own mechanism for inculcating a happy feeling in our hearts.  Passover is all about visualizing a spirit of redemption.

The Passover Seder teaches that we must each see ourselves as emerging from Egypt (rule of man) to freedom (rule of God).  Therefore, seeing success in our mind’s eye is the first step in bringing about a happy heart.

Shavuot is about seven weeks of progress, journeying from the depths of Egypt to the sublime heights of Sinai. Hence, the second step trains us to plan detailed steps that can take us from where we are to where we want to be.

Finally, Sukkot is all about happiness and water.  One of the Torah messages of water is that it flows to the lowest point; a metaphor of humility.  When we lower ourselves from an elevated posture of arrogance, water, which in Torah nomenclature evokes both wisdom and happiness, flows in our direction.

Those are the four steps to a ‘soul set’ conducive to creativity.  Once you are all set up for a session of creative thinking:

1) Evoke gratitude

2) Imagine how you’ll feel when you have come up with a successful solution

3) Visualize the stepping stones to get to the solution you need.

4) Arouse your humble persona.

These four steps will fill your heart with indescribable joy and thereby equip you for the most successful creative thinking session of your life.

(Our offices and store will close this coming Friday night – Sunday night in observance of the first days of Sukkot)

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The Sinister Lights of Perverted Science

September 22nd, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Science doesn’t lie—some scientists do.  Up till the 1970s, California was building, cleaning, and maintaining fire breaks around residential communities in forested areas.  Fire roads were bulldozed and kept usable for large firefighting equipment.  This provided rapid access allowing fires to be fought while they were still small.  Going back to Spanish times, controlled burning, backfires and removal of dead undergrowth in the forests all kept fires controllable. Up until the 1970s, any fire that burned 10,000 acres was considered a huge conflagration because fires were fought effectively and they were quickly extinguished.

Then came the radical environmental movement declaring with a religious zeal that nature is sacred. Mother Earth must not be alienated nor angered by bulldozing access roads through forests or by clearing underbrush. Today, fires regularly consume a quarter of a million acres.

However, the New York Times has a different explanation for the increase in both the number and the size of California fires:  “…Scientists say climate change — specifically warmer temperatures that dry out vegetation — is a major factor in the region’s worsening fires…”  But no mention whatsoever of destructive public policy enacted by politicians who worship at the altar of secular fundamentalism and who serve the sacred sacrament of radical environmentalism.

You will remember that after every Soviet “Five Year Plan” inflicted devastating starvation on Russia, Stalin always explained away the catastrophes of doomed socialist policies with weather caused famine.  He killed off millions of Kulaks who transported food from farmers into the towns leaving fruit and vegetables to rot in the fields, but no, the misery was never due to his decisions, it was always the climate.

Science doesn’t lie but scientists are also human beings subject to normal human temptations like fame and favor, academic advancement, and tremendous sums of money at stake for research in areas anointed by the gods of political correctness.  Not to mention that science can only work with the tools available at the present time.

On March 21st, 2020, President Trump tweeted that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and azithromycin might be a real “game-changer” in treating COVID-19.  Immediately, the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN, began featuring articles claiming that HCQ is not only ineffective but potentially dangerous, and ignored all evidence to the contrary, in order to suggest that the president is a dangerous maniac.

In May 2020, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific and medical journals, The Lancet, did something quite unprecedented.  It strode into the heart of the country’s political rift and demanded that President Trump be defeated in November.  A week later, The Lancet published an article explaining that HCQ is not only unhelpful but is actually dangerous.

Many scientists wrote to The Lancet demanding to see the underlying data on which that startling study totally denouncing a medicine that was not entirely without promise, was based. It turned out that there was no reliable underlying data proving HCQ as completely ineffective.  The editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, did the only thing he could. He withdrew the article denouncing it to have been a “monumental fraud.”

Yes, science doesn’t lie but scientists often do.  That is part of the important task of learning how the world really works.  There have always been scientists.  Most of the time, they have been improving our lives with technology and medicine.  The people who tamed fire and learned how to work iron were scientists as were those who gave us the telephone, the automobile, and the airplane.  We just didn’t always call them scientists. In fact, in earlier times they were often thought of as magicians.

How many times do you think magicians are mentioned in the Five Books of Moses?  If I didn’t know better, my first guess would have been none!  What business does magic have in God’s message to mankind?  Actually, they are mentioned nine times in the Torah but only in the context of one story—the redemption of Israel from Egypt via the Exodus.

Magicians make their first appearance when Pharaoh dreams his strange dreams.  (Genesis 41:8 & 24)

They appear again when Aaron turns his rod into a snake in order to persuade Pharaoh that he and Moses were God’s representatives.  However, the magicians also transformed rods into snakes.  (Exodus 7:10-12)

Then God sent the plagues of Blood and Frogs but the magicians easily emulated them thus convincing Pharaoh that the plagues were natural phenomena.  (Exodus 7:22 & 8:3)

After that, we encounter the first failure of the magicians.  They try to emulate the third plague—Lice— but fail.  Amazingly, instead of making excuses, they honestly inform their boss, Pharaoh, that this must be the finger of God.  (Exodus 8:14-15)

The magicians play no role in the next two plagues and they appear for the final time during the sixth plague.  They no longer stand before Pharaoh. They have now switched their allegiance to Moses. They are human and want to be on the winning side.

And the magicians could not stand before Moshe because of the pox,
for the pox was on the magicians, and on all Mitzrayim (Egypt).
Exodus 9:11

And right there, as the eventual outcome of God’s triumph over Egypt is becoming evident, is the last we ever hear of magicians.

So who were these magicians and what are we supposed to learn from their inclusion in the account of Israel’s redemption from Egypt?

Ancient Jewish wisdom recorded by Rabbi Nissim, the great Torah transmitter who lived in 14th century Barcelona, explains that the magicians were the cutting-edge scientists of Pharaoh’s day.

The Hebrew word for magicians has the root CH-R-T.* 


ח  ר  ט

Revealing meaning by reading both forward and backward as the Lord’s language does, we can read ‘magicians’ backward and we have T-R-CH, the Hebrew word for trouble or burden.

He burdens the thick cloud with an overflow…
(Job 37:11)

This verse uses the word T-R-CH**.


ט ר ח

Thus, scientists are those who reverse or do away with the troubles and burdens of living.  They find ways to help us more easily feed ourselves; they discover medical treatments, and they make machines to help us accomplish our work.

These magicians/scientists only appear in the context of helping Pharaoh retain Egypt’s Hebrew slaves.  This comes to teach us that scientists will and do serve many masters.

On the eve of the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940 when a few young Royal Airforce pilots held off the might of the Nazi Luftwaffe and on which the future of civilization depended; prime minister Winston Churchill addressed parliament.

As he drew to the end of his speech that  stiffened the spine of a frightened land, he spoke these words:

“…But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties…”

They could hardly be more true today.  The “lights of perverted science” indeed. Yes, science doesn’t lie but some scientists do. It is also true that the Bible doesn’t lie—but some clergymen do.  We must and do rely on those who know more than we do on certain subjects. However, we each need to cultivate our own relationship with Truth through the lens of God so that we can make our own judgments as to who is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.

*Find these words in the Recommended Hebrew/English Bible (read more about this Bible here)

Remember, Hebrew reads from right to left

*Genesis 41:8 – Page 124, 7 lines from the bottom, 7th word (from the right): (magicians of)  חרטמי

**Job 37:11  Page 2084, bottom line, 1st word: (He burdens) יטריח

Extra credit: Now that you know what letters to look for, find all the other references mentioned in the Thought Tool!

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Not FaKING

September 15th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

Have you noticed how politicians in every country, even those only slightly influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx, tend to drive wedges between segments of the electorate?  They specialize in fanning the flames of resentment of the poor against the rich.  They encourage women to see men as their enemies.  And of course they increase hostility between people on the basis of the color of their skin.

Marx encouraged communist leaders to divide the population by class, race, and gender and to exacerbate grudges between them.  Secular fundamentalist seekers of political prestige do this almost instinctively.  They do it because it consolidates their power.  When your constituents are busy fighting each other, they have little time and less energy to oppose you. What is more, they all turn to you as referee, peacemaker, and allocator of rewards.

If you’ve noticed this in politics, you may also have encountered it in business.  Many so-called business leaders foment savage battles among those they lead.  Doing so makes them more difficult to topple in any boardroom battle.  They believe that making team members see one another as competitors is more effective than defeating real marketplace competitors.  It is not only for-profit businesses; some churches and synagogues are plagued with this kind of leadership. I have even seen parents who deliberately fuel ferocious fights among their children.  It makes them feel more loved by the children who, deprived of sibling support, vie for parental affection.  Increasingly we see, masquerading as leaders, men and women who specialize in splitting their followers into warring factions.  People are now accustomed to leaders who foster dissent, dispute and division.

A leader does not need to be maliciously intent on this mischief I have been describing.  Because squabbling is the default condition of humanity, a “Do-Nothing” leader will have exactly the same effect.  In his desperate desire to avoid conflict and escape decision making that will inevitably disappoint somebody, this kind of leader produces the same state of simmering tension in his organization.

Only the rare leader, possessing both a sense of security and a strong character builds unity in his organization as part of his mission.  Yet this is precisely what ancient Jewish wisdom expects from leadership.

Though Hebrew words such as ‘manhig’ meaning ‘leader’ have found modern usage in Israel, they don’t exist in Scripture.  This is because Scripture is more specific, preferring words for military leaders, religious leaders and so on, rather than a generic leader. The point is that just as a driver of a car is not necessarily able to drive a motorcycle, a jet plane, or a railway locomotive, a leader of one type of organization is not necessarily adept at leading other kinds of groups.

Nonetheless, the Scriptural word most relevant to our exploration of leadership is MeLeCH, translated as king.

As usual, when trying to probe the inner meaning of a word, we locate its first usage in the Torah.

And it came to pass in the days of Amrafel, king [MeLeCH] of Shinar,…
(Genesis 14:1)

That chapter continues to contain more than 25 usages of MeLeCH, king, which is fully one-third of all the usages of ‘king’ in the Torah.  No other Torah chapter contains more than five uses of ‘king’.

This non-uniform distribution of a word like king, tells us that Genesis 14 discloses important insights into king and leader.  Clearly, we are intended to study the contrast between the 9 kings engaged in the first world war of history, and the ultimate victor of the entire conflict, Abraham.

In reading Genesis 14 we learn that much of humanity then was locked into rebellion, subjugation and warfare.  Not only was each king incapable of maintaining unity among his own people, but he wasn’t even able to keep the peace with his fellow-kings.

By contrast, Abraham led only 318 men.  The Hebrew text alludes to them as those Abraham raised and educated.  (Genesis 14:14)  Isn’t that a wonderful way of viewing those you are responsible for leading?

The unity that Abraham engendered among his small band of followers was a main factor in the defeat he administered to the large military forces of the kings.

Not only does the Torah’s first usage of a word disclose secrets but also the last.  The final use of the word ‘king’ in the Torah is this:

And it was that when there was a king [MeLeCH]  in Yeshurun [Israel] the heads of the people were gathered together, the tribes of Israel were unified.
(Deuteronomy 33:5)

Which is to say that only when Israel had a real leader, a king worthy of being called a king, did unity reign among the people.  As a leader, it is very tempting to allow disagreement to fester among your people as it appears to make you indispensable.  However, this is a very short term strategy.  If your field of vision extends beyond the next election or the next annual report, you will want to lead Biblically and train others in your group to lead in the same way.

This coming Friday night begins the festival of Rosh HaShana, the head of the Jewish year and the time particularly suited for reemphasizing God’s kingship over us and our world. On these two holy days, through Sunday night, our store will be closed. Ten days later, we celebrate  Yom Kippur (this year falling on September 28th). Our audio CD exploring the benefits everyone can get from that Day of Atonement is on sale at this time.

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