Posts in Thought Tools

Don’t Complain – Act!

January 28th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

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

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

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

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Don’t Complain – Do!

January 28th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stars and Superstitions

January 20th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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Hocus Focus: Wave Those Priests

January 13th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

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

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

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

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

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Rain, Rain Don’t Go Away

January 6th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Then we have the word MaTaR: מ ט ר

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

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Reach Your Promised Land

December 30th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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Of Cannibals and Chanukah

December 24th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Daniel 2:39)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey Buddy, Got a Light?

December 16th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Do I Write Thought Tools?

December 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

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

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

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

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

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River Revival

December 2nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 2:10

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

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