Posts in Thought Tools

Give Me Nashville, Not New York

April 2nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When They Gang Up On You

March 26th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak

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Are You a Pious Pushover?

March 19th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What does Esau have to do with Islamic fundamentalism?
Where does Queen Esther come into the picture?
Which Biblical verse distills the essence of the problem?

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Leadership and Levitation

March 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

A friend once invited me to join him and several other guests on a day sail off the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.  After his rhapsodic description of the classic sailboat and his praise of the captain whom I was going to be fortunate enough to meet, I could hardly accept quickly enough.  My enthusiasm ran high as we gently glided out of Cape Town harbor and beyond the sheltering mass of famous Table Mountain.

They only renamed the Cape of Good Hope because its original name, the Cape of Storms, terrified early sailors discouraging them from signing on to crew the ships of the Dutch East Indian Company.  That afternoon it lived up to its original name.  The winds howled, the waves tossed around our seventy-foot masterpiece of teak wood and canvas and we all struggled mightily to reduce the sail and bring the powerful vessel under control.

Strangely enough, the captain who had been resplendent in his smart blazer and cap during the calm first hour while offering drinks and regaling us with his adventures, was nowhere to be seen.  We were all too busy (and frightened) to wonder where he was.  In his absence, we did our best trying to learn one another’s strengths and skills as we exerted our last ounces of energy defeating the wind and water.  Once we were finally through the storm and calmly ghosting back into the harbor our captain reappeared in full regalia and blusteringly explained to our exhausted little group everything we had done wrong.  I whispered to my friend that I had just gained an unforgettable lesson in what leadership was not.

Leadership means being there with your people during the storms and wars of life.

Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelites.  Moses began his career when God appeared to him at the Burning Bush (Exodus chapter 3) and Joshua started his when Moses appointed him in accordance with God’s directive. (Numbers chapter 27) 

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Angels, Actions and Achievements

March 4th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

Gender is a smoking hot topic right now.  Depending on your world-view, you’ll either be offended or relieved to hear that for the purposes of this Thought Tool, there is no gender confusion.  The defining axiom is found as early as the 27th verse of the Bible—“…male and female He created them.” 

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the implications of this verse go way beyond the creation of Adam and Eve.  Not only does biological reproduction of humans, animals and vegetables depend upon the collaboration of male and female, but all creativity springs from the engagement of those two complementary opposites.  In trying to understand how the world REALLY works, this sexual insight is so foundational that God even gave every noun in His language a gender.

The chief difference between a feminine noun and a masculine one is that typically the feminine noun describes something capable of ‘giving birth’.  For instance, the word for a minor argument, RIV,  is masculine while the word for an ongoing feud in which every disagreement gives birth to yet another, MeRiVaH, is, not surprisingly, a feminine word. 

The Hebrew words for a cup, KoS, or ball, KaDuR, are both masculine because neither gives birth to anything else, however the Hebrew word for a thought, MaCHSHaVaH is feminine since every thought can give birth to another thought.  Similarly, the Hebrew word for an investment, HaSHKaaH, is feminine for the same reason.

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Tent on the Beach

February 26th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

Lately I’ve been listening to the rhetoric of ambitious politicians both in the United States and Europe.  They tend to speak of business in very negative terms usually with adjectives like greedy, selfish, and unfair.  They blame corporations for everything from inequality to poverty and from depression to crime.  They preach that the institution of business is inherently flawed.

Business, like politics, education and the press is run by people who sometimes do illegal and immoral things. But an additional complaint against businesses is the notion of competitiveness. Implementing new ideas in itself is evil, they claim, as it results in the closing of less creative enterprises.

It is true that business does depend upon constant innovation as things change.  The man making, selling or repairing fax machines in the 1980s had to adapt to email and cell technology at the turn of the century.

Former finance minister of Austria and mid-20th century Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter said that business depends upon creative destruction.  Humans’ constant march forward to ever-newer ways of doing things is not a lamentable side effect of commerce but is an essential element of wealth creation. 

Prior to his death, Moses addressed each of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. 

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Friends Forever?

February 18th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 13 comments

Go ahead; list the ten most important relationships in your life.  Some will be family and others will be business and work relationships.  There will probably be a few friends on the list too.  Family relationships are fairly well defined.  The obligations and expectations of those relationships are, for the most part, known quantities. Business relationships are also clear, governed as most are by contracts.  But what about friends?  What are the obligations of friendship? What are reasonable expectations of friendship?

While the Five Books of Moses are packed with rules and rituals that shape both family and business relationships, it is notably light on mention of friendships.  We know just what employees owe their employers and vice versa, and we know what parents owe children and what children owe their parents, but if we ask people what they owe their friends, the answer could be, “It depends on the friend.”

Everyone knows the answer to the question, “For how long will your parent be your parent?”  If asked for how long a marriage is intended to last, the correct answer is, ‘This is forever.’  But if one is asked for how long one’s friend will be one’s friend, the prudent answer is, “I don’t know.”  The true answer might be, “For as long as we both want to be friends.”

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More? Sure! Everything? Never!

February 12th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 26 comments

A business professional in Michigan named Ken Lingenfelter owns about 230 cars.  Entertainer Jay Leno has about 170 and Jerry Seinfeld owns about 150.  Each of those avid car collectors has a list of a few more cars that he’d really love to acquire but knows he probably won’t.  Healthy people eventually recognize that nobody gets everything they want. 

Even when we acquire what we want, we usually find ourselves wanting more, putting us back to square one.  God created us with infinite desires. Happiness depends upon knowing that not all ambitions and longings can or should be realized.

This message is so important for humans to absorb that it is presented as a set of bookends to the Torah, appearing both at the beginning and at the end.  It is as if the good Lord is saying, “Look, life has a huge paradox.  I have created you with limitless ambition, countless hopes, and inexhaustible dreams.  I want you to pursue those boundless visions but I don’t want your happiness to depend upon attaining them.” 

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Through the Fog

February 4th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 18 comments

While serving the synagogue it was my privilege to establish in Southern California, my wife and I frequently sailed our forty-four foot cutter to Catalina Island.  On that 26 mile jaunt, we often saw dolphins, whales, and other beguiling sea life.

When fog set in, I’d think of Florence Chadwick, who in 1952 set out to swim from Catalina to the mainland.  When fog obscured her goal, she lost her drive and abandoned her attempt. Despair defeated Florence.

After the fog lifted she was horrified to see that she had quit only half a mile from the beach.  Two months later, with the coastline visible, she tried again and succeeded.

Let’s understand this principle from Moses, who in one Scriptural account responds to Israel’s provocation with steadfast leadership while elsewhere in the Bible he responds to similar provocation with exasperation, hopelessness, and even despair.

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Slaying the Giants

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

“Leave the light on, please” says the child, “I’m scared of the dark.”  One of the most common emotions expressed by little children is fear.  Long before they become comfortable articulating happiness, excitement and sadness, small children speak of feeling frightened.

Though we speak of it less as we grow up, we still feel it.  Just ask the adult who has been invited to give a speech before a large gathering.  People fear approaching strangers, they fear harmless insects and they fear looking over the edge of tall buildings; there are all kinds of phobias.

To be sure, there is a healthy fear that keeps us from doing dumb and dangerous things, but what about the fears we all have for utterly harmless activities?  I don’t know what your particular fears and phobias are but I’m sure you have them.  I know I do.

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