Posts in Thought Tools

Of Boats and Businesses

November 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Like many of you, I find myself turning to online videos for information. Instead of reading through a dense and confusing manual or using a process of trial and error, I simply need to type a few words into my search engine to see step-by-step instructions for changing a water filter, manipulating the settings in my car or, should I ever be so inclined, how to fold a fitted bed sheet. If I follow the steps, I will accomplish my task. On a larger scale, carefully following engineering drawings and architects’ plans allow you to successfully build a house, boat or plane.

Yet, building a business or a marriage offers no such assurances.  Although countless books exist about starting a business and getting married, following those advisors brings no guarantee of success.  Surely directions for marriage and entrepreneurship ought to ensure success just as do directions for ship builders, airplane builders, and home builders.  Why would the success rate for new businesses and marriages be well below the figure for ships, planes, and buildings? Maybe Exodus can guide us.

God directed Moses how to build the Ark of the Covenant and then told him to place inside it, “…the testimony which I shall give you.” (Exodus 25:16)

God directed Moses to build the Table and then told him, “And you shall set the bread of display upon the table… (Exodus 25:30)

God directed Moses to build the Menorah and then told him, “…and he (the priest) shall light its lamps… (Exodus 25:37)

However, when God directed Moses to build the altar (Exodus 27:1-8) no subsequent instructions followed.

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Animals Are People Too, Right?

November 5th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 34 comments

Don’t you know that homosexuality is natural?  Surely you must be aware that same-sex behavior involving courtship and pair-bonding has been observed in hundreds of species of animals?

California’s Proposition 47 ensures that a career criminal (Sorry, I forgot that San Francisco prohibits that term in favor of “justice-involved-individual”) who steals money or property suffers virtually no consequences as long as the total value of his daily theft is less than $950.  A journalist with whom I was discussing this wholesale eviction of moral principles explained, “Rabbi, you probably don’t know that hundreds of animals from whales to squirrels take things from other creatures and nobody brands them as criminals and thieves.”

Here is another one.  Marriage is unnatural.  Expecting two people to commit legally to remain together for today’s longer lifespans is crazy. Maybe it made sense during earlier agrarian days and when life was more perilous but today it’s just unnatural. Almost no animal mates for life and neither should we.  It ought to be harder to get into marriage and easier to get out.

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Say it Once, Say it Twice…

October 29th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

America built three big, bold and beautiful bridges during a period of only 6 years.  In 1931, the George Washington Bridge leaped the Hudson River and linked Manhattan to New Jersey.  That same year brought us the Bayonne Bridge linking Staten Island to New Jersey and in 1937 San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened.

Three astounding inventions that changed our world each occurred about one hundred years apart from one another.  For thousands of years, until about 1750, the only way to make things move was with human muscle, animal muscle, wind or moving water. Then the steam engine appeared which could perform vastly more work than the work originally needed to  obtain the coal to fuel it.  For thousands of years the fastest way to communicate information was to send a man on a horse. About a hundred years after the invention of the steam engine, in 1844, Samuel Morse sent an electronic message down a copper wire from the Capitol in Washington DC to Penn Station in Baltimore. In 1948 William Shockley at Bell Labs invented the transistor making possible the digital world we take for granted today.

Three revolutions help us understand the American War of Independence:  the English Civil War of 1643, the French Revolution in 1789 and the Russian Revolution in 1917.

The three previous paragraphs are intended to demonstrate a truism of successful speaking and writing. Our attention tends to be attracted and retained by a list of three items. I could have added the San Francisco  Oakland Bay Bridge to the first paragraph; it was opened in 1936. I could have added the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903 to the second paragraph.  I could have added the Mexican revolution of 1910 to my third paragraph. However, in each paragraph, I deliberately wanted three items.

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Yo Ho Ho – a Pirate’s Life for Me

October 20th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

In the early 1600s, Rabbi Samuel Palache, president of Neveh Shalom Synagogue in Amsterdam, was also a pirate.  With authorization from Dutch and British authorities, he preyed on Spanish ships. A hundred years earlier Spain had cruelly expelled his family, along with all other Spanish Jews.

I relate to the roving rabbi. For half the year, he lived aboard his boat, equipped with a kosher chef, in the balmy waters of the Caribbean.  Some of our most memorable family times have been aboard a boat, admittedly not in the Caribbean but off the coast of British Columbia. We don’t engage in piracy and our kosher chef is my wife. Still, my feelings about boat and ocean seem to confirm our family tradition that we descend from the tribe of Zevulun.

Zevulun will live on the seashore and boats will be his haven…
(Genesis 49:13)

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Save Civilization – Find a Father

October 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Deaths by drug overdose, particularly from the class of heroin-containing drugs known as opioids are generally high. But there is one demographic that constitutes only 32% of America’s population but accounts for over 70% of opioid deaths—single men.  They do stand out, but there is another group that stands out even more conspicuously for deaths by crime, overdose, suicide and disease.  Their statistics are even worse than for single men in general.  This group is  men who are not fathers.  They are the most dangerous and the most vulnerable group in the United States. 

Not only are they vulnerable but by far and away, men who are not fathers and who never had fathers themselves, perpetrate most violent crime.  Mass shooters are overwhelmingly single men but there are exceptions. For instance, Stephen Paddock, the 2017 Las Vegas shooter, had been married twice and had a girlfriend. However, he had never been a father.  If instead of identifying them as single men, we identify  men who are not fathers, that pretty much covers all the mass shooters in recent American history.

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Find Yourself in a Fish

October 7th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

What a blessings it is to be able to bounce out of bed each morning on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low, miserable and even depressed is having a purpose, knowing it, and passionately propelling oneself towards it.

As an ardent boating enthusiast, I find the behavior of the Bible’s most famous mariner, Jonah, to be quite baffling.  At the very height of a furious storm that threatened the very survival of their ship, the terrified sailors cast their cargo overboard to lighten the vessel.  Obviously, during such a tempest the safest location is high up on the struggling vessel from where escape might at least be possible.  That is why lifeboats on every ship are found on the upper deck.  Nobody in his right mind would voluntarily remain far down in the belly of the boat.  Many victims of the Titanic drowned down in bottom decks of the doomed liner.

But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep. 
(Jonah 1:5) 

Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world.  But don’t envy him.  Only the dead have no worries.  And that’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.  Jonah was an avoider of challenges. 

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Yours, Mine and Our Sins

October 1st, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

But everybody’s doing it.” Is there any parent who has not heard that cry? Perhaps your child wants to go to an inadequately chaperoned party. Maybe a teenager wants to read the latest best-selling book that his or her parents see as morally suspect. No matter the issue, children want to be part of a group.

We adults are susceptible to this desire as well. We buy new clothing and cars so that we ‘fit in’ with a certain crowd; we watch popular movies because ‘everyone’ is talking about them. Sometimes we even vote with our social group rather than researching and making an informed decision.

We are not only influenced by others, but we are also the influencers. When I succumb to complaining, cowardice or anger, I affect my spouse, children, neighbors and co-workers. Contaminated by my attitude, they will be more likely to behave the same way. If I lower my standards and speak rudely or profanely, others will more easily do so as well.

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Rosh HaShana Means War

September 24th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

Some of my friends find challenge in running marathons while others play competitive tennis. I’ve also got friends who struggle to achieve and maintain musical proficiency. Others work on their digital dexterity for sleight of hand magical illusions. Yes, I am blessed with very interesting friends and I haven’t even come close to exhausting the list.  My point is that unlike animals, God created human beings with a desire to prove themselves and improve themselves. Animals seem to need nothing more than survival, whereas some successful people, who seem to have it all, risk their lives scaling perilous mountain peaks. 

Unlike animals, we humans revel in the struggle itself; and perhaps no challenge is ultimately as satisfying as that of trying to make oneself a better person. Perhaps this is why in those quaint old stores that used to sell books more shelf space was devoted to what was called the ‘self-help’ category than to any other.  Becoming more self-disciplined; losing weight; being a more loving and considerate spouse; becoming more honest; becoming a more consistent parent; spending less of one’s life staring at a screen; these challenges are all as difficult as climbing Everest or learning to play the violin. Each demands fighting a furious war with one’s own resistance.

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Nobody is Wrong All the Time

September 17th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

In 1849, the American Bible Society included in its annual report a section that read, “Voltaire predicted that in the 19th century the Bible would be known only as a relic of antiquity.”  Voltaire was a witty 18th century French intellectual who harbored deep hatred for Judeo-Christian Biblical civilization. 

On page 94 of his Philosophical Dictionary he writes about Jews, “…an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched.” 

In a letter to King Frederick of Prussia he described Christianity as “…assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.”  Needless to say, in common with most secular fundamentalists today, he is much more tolerant and openminded about Islam.

Because nobody is wrong all the time, he made some good observations about business.  In his Letters Concerning the English Nation, he contrasts England, where he lived for three years,  with his native France.  He describes how ordinary Frenchmen try to pass themselves off as aristocrats using phrases like “a man of my quality and rank” while they “hold merchants in the most sovereign contempt.”  Voltaire then goes on to say, “The merchant, again, by dint of hearing his profession despised on all occasions, at last is fool enough to blush at his condition.  I will not however take upon me to say which is the most useful to his country.”

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They Give Me the Creeps

September 9th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

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

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

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

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