A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table

Samsa was a travelling salesman.



It showed a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur

boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff.

Flag Day

A number of rulings that have to do with the American flag have been handed down by the Supreme Court on June 14th, Flag Day, in different years. Wouldn’t it be interesting to re-read the arguments and imagine if certain Justices would rule differently were they to have seen down the road? Would those who dissented from the majority opinion wish they had agreed and vice-versa? Wishing you a respectful Flag Day.

Horrified or Amused?

While some people may be concerned about N. Korea or Iran, in the really important news of the week, Netflix banned employees from looking at each other for more than five seconds. Asking a co-worker out more than once is similarly discouraged and, after having been turned down, every effort should be made to avoid that colleague. At about the same time, the National Health Service in England is preparing to diagnose a teenager with its first case of internet addiction and studies show an unprecedented number of U.S. college students are seeking mental health counseling.

While all this was going on, one of our daughters went to enroll her young son in a new school. To her amusement and horror, most of the forms she was asked to fill out overwhelmingly asked about her child’s therapies and special needs. She felt like apologizing for his being a rather uncomplicated kid.

When did normal human interaction and run-of-the-mill childhood become unconventional?  Have we seriously become incapable of differentiating between discomfort and true harassment or of taking responsibility for creating many of the problems we then turn to government and officialdom to solve?

Netflix, and entertainment in general, produce and present media that overwhelmingly revolve around violence or romantic involvement. Sophomoric humor abounds, much of it relating to behavior between the sexes. Sexual interplay between unmarried adults is presented as completely normal and natural. Perhaps employing some internal censorship to produce old-fashioned value-laden shows would be more effective than bulking up the employee instruction manual?

Some individuals have always faced more serious emotional challenges, but it seems to me that we should be worrying less about man-made global warming and instead focusing more on man-made psychological dysfunction. Parents in the 1940s kept their children away from swimming pools in the hope of shielding them from the polio virus. What should parents do today to increase their odds of raising mentally and morally healthy youth and  swim upstream from a culture designed to produce the opposite?  Should Netflix’s new rules simply be laughed at and headline grabbing dysfunction ignored as millions of parents are actually doing just fine? Are N. Korea and Iran a more serious threat than the suicide of western civilization?  Or are things actually better than they seem and are the sensational headlines (to employ a frequently used phrase) just fake news and easily refuted by spending time with one’s rather normal friends and relatives? 

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What is ancient Jewish wisdom?

I read your books and listen to many of your on-line teachings very often. My question is: What is “Ancient Jewish Wisdom”?  Is it something like common sense for a Jew or a way of thinking  based on discussions among Jewish teachers or is it actual books that you are referencing. The reason for my question is to explain your teachings to others in my circle. How do I reference this source, if my main tool is the Bible.

Shami M.

Dear Shami,

We mention ancient Jewish wisdom so often that our first instinct was to go to the FAQ (frequently asked question) section on our website and then direct you there. We were a bit shocked to find that we don’t have an answer posted. You can be sure that most of this letter will find its way to that location.

We coined the term ancient Jewish wisdom to describe the oral tradition that has accompanied the written Bible since the time of Moses. God dictated the Bible to Moses during the daylight hours on Mount Sinai and during the nights he drilled the great teacher of Israel on the hidden meanings and multi-layers found in every letter and word.  Throughout the Bible there are “hooks” that remind us to look to the oral tradition. These include words that seem to be misspelled, contradictions, unusually shaped letters and unusual words, numerical values of words and so much more.

All that material was taught to the Israelites during the forty years in the desert, history’s longest graduate school program.  From them it was handed down, parent to child and teacher to disciple. About two thousand years ago it began to be written down in an extremely abbreviated shorthand form for fear of it becoming forgotten. It is studied and taught in traditional Torah-oriented Bible seminaries till today.

Obviously, there are challenges, such as technological ones that did not exist generations ago. In her book, Daniel Deronda, author George Eliot refers to the rabbis as “the great Transmitters,” a phrase that we treasure. One very valid way to judge the degree to which a rabbi is a reliable source of knowledge is to ascertain how faithful his ‘transmission’ is to the past, and who his link to that transmission is. Examples and delivery can be updated and modernized, but not the essence of the teaching itself. Anything valid must conform to knowledge that is based on God’s transmission to Moses.

Originality, defined as completely new ways of thinking, is not prized in ancient Jewish wisdom; faithfulness and fidelity are.  Delivery and application of ideas can be updated, but not the basic source of the wisdom. One of the most important questions to ask a rabbi is, “Who is your rabbi?”.  In this system, a teacher (or rabbi) is seen as a window into ancient Jewish wisdom.  He should barely be seen; only the view beyond the window should stand out in 3D multicolor clarity.  If the window can be seen, it means that window is not completely clean.

A surprising amount of ancient Jewish wisdom disseminated into the Christian community and became part of what we call the Western world. One could literally spend a lifetime studying and not absorb the entire blueprint of existence that flows from the Torah. Without knowledge of Hebrew and without a link to someone in the chain of transmission, it is not knowledge that one can intuit or reach by means of reasoning or common sense. Often the truth is counter-intuitive and in contradiction to current thinking.

There are excellent resources and, unfortunately, terrible ones out in the greater world. At Lifecodex Publishing and at the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, our mission is to share important parts of this transmission and to arm those who are faithful to God with a deeper understanding of His wishes and His guidance to us.

We appreciate your joining us on this journey.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Fill Your Basket

Before we can achieve great things we have to be able to picture great things. Someone whose parents constantly fought doesn’t know that family life can be conducted in pleasant and calm tones. A person who only knows hourly wage-earners can’t imagine acquiring a position with a large monthly salary.  Accepting your current circumstances as your normal, ongoing 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 picture themselves becoming independent landowners?

Every Israelite should have dismissed the words of Moses as 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?

The secret is that Moses presented them with a vision, not a fantasy. He didn’t promise a utopian future divorced from reality; he let them know that with blessing comes challenge and responsibility. That was believable. He not only promised them their Promised Land and its abundant harvests, but he also revealed the duties and obligations that would be theirs along with the abundance. 

In the future, they will take their first fruits, put them into a basket, and take them on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In other words, as recipients of God’s blessing they must acknowledge Him as the source of that blessing and welcome the obligation to follow His ways.

That first fruits ceremony is described in Deuteronomy 26:1-11. A real attention-getter jumps off the Hebrew page—a rare word for basket.  The word ‘basket’ appears about twenty times throughout Scripture and most times the Hebrew word used is sahl.

ס   ל

L ← ha ← S

…and the birds were eating them from the basket…
(Genesis 40:17)

In our first fruits passage, the word basket appears twice (Deuteronomy 26: 2&4) but the word used is not sahl but the very unusual word, teneh.

ט   נ   א

he ← N e ← T

The letter samech, pronounced ‘S’ in the first word, sahl (basket) is shaped like a closed circle.  Not only is the word sahl missing in the first fruits passage but amazingly, there is no appearance of the letter samech in all those eleven verses.  The verse immediately preceding contains a letter samech (Deuteronomy 25:19) and a few verses later (Deuteronomy 26:18) we spot a samech.  While samech is not one of the most frequently used letters, here an unusual Hebrew word is employed in order to avoid introducing the letter samech in the more common word for basket. Why is it so important that the whole first fruits passage should not contain that letter?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the fully enclosed circular shape of the letter samech hints of boundaries and limitations. These have no place in a passage filled with God’s promise of limitless abundance.  For this reason, teneh replaces sahl to signify a veritable cornucopia of plenty. But along with being able to envision God’s ability to deliver abundance, one has to recognize that responsibility accompanies that gift, signified by the bringing of the first fruits.

Never view your today as your inevitable tomorrow.  But merely fantasizing about a tomorrow with health, wealth, and love is unrealistic and entraps you in an unchanging today.  Envision your promised land without limits but with accompanying obligations.  Make a specific plan with strategic steps, each of which is another obligation on the road to a better future, but don’t limit your picture of that future. Convert hopeless fantasies into energizing visions by eagerly anticipating the responsibilities that will accompany God’s bounty.

Summer is a great time for envisioning expanded possibilities. With our “every paperback books only $9.99” summer sale, pick as much as you desire of thought-provoking, wisdom-imparting, soul-expanding and just plain fun reading. Get something for a friend and turn it into a shared experience!

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