Posts in Thought Tools

Feel Your Way to Failure

October 2nd, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 49 comments

Our society is moving towards respecting feelings more than facts and placing emotions above the rule of law. That road to disaster is blatantly evident in the battle for civilization going on in Washington, D.C. right now.   It is clearly time for us all to relearn the following lesson from ancient Jewish wisdom.

Both individuals and societies can allow emotions to dominate us.  We then invariably  use our heads to rationalize the bad decisions we’ve just made. Alternatively, we can carefully make decisions and then invite our hearts on board to provide needed excitement and enthusiasm. The two ways we can choose to go lead to strikingly different places.

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Merry or Macabre?

September 25th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

We are in the midst of Sukot, known in English as the Feast of Tabernacles. Weather permitting (easier in Israel than in many other locations), observant Jews spend as much time as possible in their Sukot, or outdoor booths, based on this verse:

In Sukot you shall live for seven days…so that your generations will know that in Sukot
I sat the children of Israel when I took them out of the land of Egypt,
I am the Lord your God.
(Leviticus 23:42-43)

This holyday is uniquely characterized as “the time of our joy” on account of the following verses:

…and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.
(Leviticus 23:40)

You shall make the holyday of Sukot for seven days…
And you shall rejoice in your holyday…
(Deuteronomy 16:13-14)

In another of those puzzling paradoxes we so frequently encounter in our Biblical studies and whose resolution inevitably leads to one more blinding truth about how the world REALLY works, we find death surrounding the holyday called “Time of our Joy.”  Death and joy?  Really?

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Storm Shelter

September 17th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

I am spoiled. When I contemplate boating, I picture vacationing with my family among the magnificent islands of the Pacific Northwest. But except for a blessed few people and times, boarding a ship has not meant leisure, but instead was a risky way for crossing oceans.

Traveling by ship was dangerous and frightening in the days before exotic cruising. Ships served as the precarious means of transportation to start a new life, for trade or as a means of livelihood like the potentially deadly 19th century whaling ships and, indeed, today’s commercial fishing boats.

The book of Jonah opens with a different type of boating:

And Jonah arose to flee… from before God…
and he found a ship going to Tarshish…
(Jonah 1:3)

And God sent a big wind over the ocean and there was a great storm
upon the ocean and the ship appeared likely to shatter.
(Jonah 1:4)

And the sailors were terrified … and they threw all the articles
on the ship into the ocean to make it lighter
and Jonah went down
to the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell asleep.
(Jonah 1:5)

The word ship appears four times in these three consecutive verses. Only by looking at the Hebrew text can you see that the word in the first three instances differs from the fourth. The first three use the the Hebrew word ONiYaH. The final instance of ship uses the word SeFiNaH.

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Instant Happiness?

September 5th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

Susan and I shared in the immense joy of dear friends while attending the wedding of their daughter on Labor Day.  Since Rosh HaShana starts this coming Sunday night, we heard many greetings of, “Shana Tova,” (have a good year) and, “Have a happy new year.” The sentiment is lovely. The words are not quite accurate.

Being happy is a purposeful decision we make. Being happy is our responsibility.  It’s not the responsibility of our parents, friends, family, or God.  God commands us to be happy regardless of circumstance. (Deuteronomy 16:15)

On both occasions when the Torah mentions Rosh Hashana, it fails to speak of new year.

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Bloody Beastly Behavior

August 27th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

I cringe whenever I recall the many instances my adolescent pranks and puerile pronouncements cast my parents down to the depths of hopeless gloom.  They had little excuse for optimism about the prospects of their first-born.  But seldom did the white heat of their anger flame more menacingly than when I dismissed myself as an animal.  Admittedly, I had learned to light their fuses so I knew just what to say when Mom reacted to my disgustingly slurping soup out of the bowl by spitting these words at me, “Stop eating your soup like an animal!”  What I said was, “But since I am an animal, it’s okay if I eat this way, right?”  In order not to posthumously ensnare my saintly mother with the government’s Child Protective Services, I’ll leave you in the dark as to what she then did to me.

Not to leave my long-suffering father out of this stroll down memory lane, I recall his reaction to our picnic in the park being marred by a nearby amorous couple’s inappropriately public displays of affection.  “That’s how animals behave,” he exclaimed.  That was a poorly chosen moment for me to disagree with him.  I mildly explained that I thought it was rather charmingly natural that they were indulging their animal instincts.  I think it was the word ‘charming’ that sealed my fate.  Or perhaps it was the approving way in which I uttered the word “natural”.  Either way, the father-son bond became taut and suspenseful for a day or two.

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Get a Whiff of Winning

August 21st, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

I really hope that my children think of their childhood with the same sweet nostalgia that I do.  Whenever the Lapin family embarked upon a trip, it was usually with at least fifteen suitcases, all of which needed to be loaded into our van.  Though I could have done it myself quite quickly, we patiently waited while our young son laboriously loaded every piece of luggage, many of which were larger than he was.

My wife always shared the preparations for the Sabbath with our daughters, assigning some children to set the table while others cleaned the house until it shone. Planning menus and cooking were group efforts. Especially when the kids were very young, she could have prepared the house and meals for our family and our guests far more quickly herself.   

By contrast, researchers recognize that generally, American children ignore or resist appeals to help. According to a UCLA study a few years back, compared to other countries and cultures, and even more importantly, compared to how we Americans used to raise children, parents today are focused on what they can do for their children and don’t think about what their children can do for them. 

Were my wife and I taking unseemly advantage of free labor or doing our children a favor? Let’s look at a precedent.

From the moment they left Egypt the Israelites grumbled about almost everything. 

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Don’t Tell the Boss

August 14th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

A common dilemma in business is when your immediate boss responds to growth by appointing a supervisor above you.  In addition to a layer of management now insulating you from your boss, it becomes especially unpleasant if the new manager is an outsider.  Whatever the difficulties, one thing any experienced business professional knows is that going over your new supervisor’s head directly to your old boss can be a career-killer.

This makes a sequence of events late in Genesis especially surprising.  Like many of our Thought Tools, this one will definitely repay you if you read it with an open Bible .  Pharaoh appoints Joseph viceroy over Egypt saying, “Only the throne shall be higher than you.”  He repeatedly admonishes Egypt that Joseph’s word will rule in all matters.  (Genesis 41:40-45) 

It must have been a tad awkward for those senior administrators who formerly enjoyed direct access to Pharaoh himself.  Nonetheless, Joseph gets to work diligently making the most of the seven years of agricultural and economic abundance.  (Genesis 41:48-49)

So it is astonishing when the Egyptians approach Pharaoh directly.

The entire land of Egypt was starving and the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread.
(Genesis 41:55)

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Be a Heel

August 7th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

High heeled shoes for women, and at times for men, go in and out of style. Yet, two English expressions that revolve around the heel seem to be negative. We speak of someone’s weakness as his Achilles heel and we use heel as a pejorative term as in, “He’s such a heel.” 

In the Lord’s language, the heel means something quite different.  It implies progress made possible by being properly grounded.  Just think of how we move forward by walking. The first part of our body to touch ground is our heel. We then swing forward on that perfectly shaped round heel and prepare the next step.

In Hebrew, Jacob’s name, Ya-AkoV, contains within it the word heel.

ע ק ב          י ע ק ב

   (Ya)A-K-V          A -K -V
Jacob                Heel

If ‘heel’ were a verb, Jacob’s name would suggest, “He will heel”.  But that would be meaningless.  What does Jacob’s name mean?

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Ancient Solutions for Modern Problems

July 30th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Can you tell the difference between these two lists of questions?

List A

  • How do you build a self-driving car?
  • What is the best way to treat breast cancer?
  • What is the quickest way to get to New York from Los Angeles?
  • How high can a skyscraper be built?
  • What is the best way to obtain energy?

List B

  • What is the best way to cope with feelings of anger?
  • Can love be sustained or is it destined to fade?
  • How do we best find consolation in the face of death?
  • How do we raise children to respect their parents?
  • How do you balance work and family?

I am sure you got it.  List A comprises questions for which the answers regularly change. To find the current answers to List A type questions, we need only to study the latest scientific and technological data. Each year as we acquire more knowledge and achieve greater technological prowess (and sometimes as we unmask scams or discover errors) those answers change.

In List B, however, the answers never fundamentally change. Regardless of new advances in science, technology, or medicine, the answers to those questions remain the same. 

These kinds of questions gnaw away at people.  Long ago, people turned to Scripture for the answers.  About the time of the Renaissance, secularism started spreading its sordid stain and universities replaced the study of God’s teachings with literature.  People studied Seneca the Roman philosopher partly to learn his views on anger management.  They read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to gain insight into the complex dynamics of marriage and studied Shakespeare’s plays for understanding the entire range of human emotions.

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Don’t Disturb Me Now

July 24th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 15 comments

“Don’t disturb me now!”  How often have we used that phrase?  Looking back, whenever we’ve muttered, “Don’t disturb me now,” hasn’t it usually been said to a child?   The years inevitably go by and eventually you wish that your child would disturb you now.

Occasionally, we might say it to a spouse.  Then the years go by and you realize how much you’d give if only your spouse was there to disturb you now. Or any time.  Sometimes a customer walks into your store just as you’re getting ready to close up for the day.  You may not say it, but you’re thinking, “Don’t disturb me now!”  It’s good to remember those early days when you prayed for a customer to walk through the door.

It can happen that one is overtaken by an urgent call of nature at an inconvenient time, say, in the middle of an important meeting.  It would be perfectly normal to silently beseech one’s body, “Don’t disturb me now!”  A better response is to take care of bathroom business and then thank God for one’s body and its multiple complex orifices all of which open and close at the appropriate times.  Being able to relieve oneself regularly is a big blessing.

Blessings of all kinds come but we often miss them because they don’t necessarily come on our schedule.  “Don’t disturb me now” is just one way of banishing blessing.  Being so inwardly focused is another way of remaining oblivious to a blessing in the shape of an opportunity.  A business professional seeking to hire an associate can sometimes have such an overly defined candidate in mind that he ignores someone who’d be a spectacular employee.  A single man assuring all his married friends about how eager he is to find a spouse but with such a fixed picture in mind of the woman he imagines marrying that he all but eliminates the possibility of blessing finding him.

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