Lather, Rinse, Repeat – Again and Again

After two tragic airplane accidents, Boeing is in the news. Possible liability has depressed its stock price and shaved tens of billions of dollars off the company’s valuation.  I covered troubling questions of cut corners in the design of the latest generation of the 50-year-old 737 and the disturbing relationship between government and one of its largest military contractors in my podcast here.  However, today let’s look at the approximately 2,000 Boeing 737s in the air at any given time every day and the fifteen normal take-offs made by a 737 every single minute of every day. 

Before each 737 starts to taxi away from the gate, the pilot in the left seat and the first officer in the right work their way down a printed check list that each could recite by heart.  “Navigation lights” calls out one and the other glancing at the panel responds, “On.”  Then comes “Taxi Lights.”  “On.” This is followed by altimeter, radios and autopilot and the correct response for each is “Set.”  Not until the long check list has been completed does the airplane begin its pushback.

The repetitive routine could anesthetize ordinary people into robotic compliance.  But commercial pilots are not ordinary people, they’re professionals and they’ve trained themselves to view each and every run down the check list as if it was the first time.  They might have asked one another those same questions on three earlier flights that day but on the fourth, their eyes still scan each switch and gauge with the same alert focus they did on the first.  Their confirmations are still precise and accurate.

The routine of repetitiveness can dull the senses and even dehumanize us if we fail to learn the secrets used by the flight deck and other professionals.  Most of us shower or brush our teeth so automatically that sometimes we don’t even remember having performed these basic ablutions.  When the harried young mom tries yet again to teach her toddler not to throw food on the ground during meals it is hard for her not to sound weary; she’s already remonstrated with her offspring eleven times this week alone.  When the office worker prepares his weekly report for the forty-third time this year his weariness comes through in the words he chooses to write.  Yes, repetitiveness can dehumanize us unless we learn how to transcend it.

Successful living depends on establishing routines but we also need the vital life skill of keeping routines fresh so they don’t detach us from passionate living.  This indispensable life skill is taught in the longest chapter of all the 187 chapters found in the Five Books of Moses.  Chapter 7 in the Book of Numbers details the altar dedication gifts brought by the head of each of the twelve tribes.

The first was Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Judah.  While not intending to bore you to death, I am reproducing the text detailing his offering.  You’ll see why in just a moment.

His offering: one silver bowl weighing 130 shekels and one silver dish of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a meal offering; one gold ladle of 10 shekels, filled with incense; one bull of the herd, one ram, and one lamb in its first year, for a burnt offering; one goat for a sin offering; and for his sacrifice of well-being: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five yearling lambs…
(Numbers 7:13-17)

The next was Nethanel ben Tzuar of the tribe of Issachar. I don’t have to reproduce the text of his gift (Numbers 7:18-23) since it was word for word identical to that of his predecessor.  And so with Eliav Ben Cheilon of Zevulun (Numbers 7:24-29) and so with the head of the tribe of Reuven and so on, all the way to the twelfth gift by Achirah ben Ainan of the tribe of Naphtali (Numbers 7:78-83).  Every gift was completely identical.

If the purpose of God’s message to mankind was merely conveying dusty and irrelevant historic information, 66 verses could easily have been omitted.  I think the way that you or I would have written this would be simply, “And each tribe’s head brought the same gift of ____.”  There we would have inserted those six verses one time instead of twelve.  Had we been especially diligent we might have added, “And for those of you with no lives to live, we provide the names of all the tribal heads in the appendix at the end of this volume.” 

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that although the material details of all twelve gifts were identical, each was enumerated separately because each was uniquely given with its own unique symbolism.  For instance, the numerical value of the letters making up the words ‘one silver bowl’ add up to 930 which Nachshon meant to allude to the years of the life of the first man, Adam who lived 930 years.  He meant its weight of 130 to allude to Adam’s age when he begat Seth (Genesis 5:3) from whom the world’s population spread.  In similar fashion, Zevulun intended his silver dish to represent the oceans upon which he sailed. (Genesis 49:13).  Without going into all the details here, each tribe gave the same objects but personalized them all with their own unique identities.

Therein lies the secret of escaping the repetitiveness routine.  While I may brush my teeth just as I did yesterday, each morning is quite unlike any other morning of my life. This morning is filled with all kinds of yet undreamed-of potential and my conversation with God and gratitude to Him for another day will reflect that each day is a very special day. 

I might be speaking to my child in just the way I did yesterday but each and every interaction with that tiny potential-filled bundle is its own privilege with its own possibilities.  I might be preparing a routine weekly report but if I used the past week well then I am a slightly different person and my work will reflect that fact.  And those pilots up front? While you’re settling into seat 27B, fastening your belt and making sure your entertainment system works, the flight crew professionals are meticulously working their way through a routine.  They are doing so with the feeling that this is the most important flight ever.  This morning’s flights are forgotten; tomorrow’s haven’t yet come to mind.

All that matters is this moment when my soul comes together with what I must be doing right now and this blending creates an utterly unique moment, breeding a one-time set of actions done like they have never been done before.  72 verses in the Book of Numbers makes that so clear.

16 thoughts on “Lather, Rinse, Repeat – Again and Again”

  1. Dear RDL and Family, God bless you all. I have this troubling issues in my heart and have been seeking ways to understand the ways to serve God better. I have had a touch with Christianity and Judaism. In my country, lots of people engage with Judaism, yet there are issues of how best to conduct services. Some claiming better knowledge of the Jewish ways of worship. And this has put me on a cross road as to which is the better way to worship Yahweh. I truly desire to engage myself with Judaism by doing all that’s required. I need direction. Thanks and God bless you and your family.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Stanley-
      You don’t mention the country in which you live but around the world there is interest in the Hebrew roots of Christianity. We recommend that you explore and find a teacher or spiritual leader whose words resonate with your soul.

  2. Glyn Mackerron

    Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin,

    Having, in the last year, joined the Catholic Church and now exploring our Hebrew Roots (my husband and I), I must concur with both Kristin and Theresa. There is so much joy and insight to your teachings, such as this one, but a sense of mourning that I did not learn what the two of you teach back when I was a young Christian(over 40 years ago).

    Since my husband and I have been reading and listening to both of you for about
    3 1/2 years now, we will stop and say to each other, “A-ha! The NT makes so much more sense when studied with “Our Rabbi” through Ancient Jewish Wisdom.” It has helped us to live a more practical life that we were missing, if that makes sense.

    So, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Also, this includes a thank you to your daughter Rebecca for her postings at Practical Parenting.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Glyn–
      There is no comment we hear more frequently than variations on this theme: Where were you when I was in my 20s?
      We all have regrets. The challenge today for you is to penetrate the souls of the 20 somethings you know and help them avoid future regret.
      Happy journeys through your spiritual odyssey.

  3. Theresa Brooks

    There is so much that the church is lacking by being cut off from our Jewish roots. I feel as if I am in mourning at this time. Thank you for sharing this wisdom with us.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Theresa–
      More than ever before the connections felt by Jews and Christians based on their shared Jewish roots continues to grow. Please don’t mourn. Mourning is a passive state of acceptance. Instead, become passionately engaged in helping others gain access to ancient Jewish wisdom also. You’ll enjoy it.

  4. Kristin M. Grose

    From one of your Catholic girl fans, Rabbi. Your writing and those of Susan’s brings so much joy and insight. This one particularly in that I remind myself to be sure that what I am doing at any given moment is done with the utmost care and expertise…if you will…living in the moment and that it deserves my entire attention. I am praying for BiBi’s continued success as Israel’s PM. Blessings.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Kristin-
      I can’t have enough Catholic girl fans so welcome aboard! Your kind words are so uplifting.

  5. My takeaway from all this was it’s probably not a bad time to buy Boeing stock .. 😊

    … oh yeah and a bunch of other good stuff 💖

    1. Ah, never mind. From the podcast link this doesn’t seem much like a subject to joke about. Too bad, joking is kind of my go to mode these days… not your problem lol.

      Seems like someone will benefit from the lower stock price though. Maybe China like you were saying. Maybe some Americans as well. These days who can gauge the flow and boundaries of national interests.

      For me it is just a little too deep. One thing I do know however. I cannot control these events or the reasoning of those who participate. Perhaps after all the best thing to do is divest of such stocks if questions exist regarding the nature of the company.

      Bottom line Gd is in control. We are called upon to follow Him in whatever sphere He has placed us in our lives. To worry is pointless. To take heed of the trends and try to apply that to the seemingly smaller and more localized sphere of life I am currently living is for me an excersise in translation. What does it mean for me here, between me and my family, between me and my neighbors, etc.

      Rabbi Lapin your reminder regarding mindfulness (in checklists and other seemingly repetitive tasks) is a gift for anyone in any sphere of influence, from local to global on up.

      Thanks again 🌞

      1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Thank you for writing Acea–
        A little humor nearly always helps

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Acea–
      Investment decisions for the stock market are incredibly complex and quite important so I would not necessarily endorse that take-away! It depends upon too many variables.

  6. I especially enjoyed your blog today. People are always asking Mom how she makes and manages her schedule to have raised 8 children, home educate all of them, cook, work, clean etc. Her answer is always the same. “We don’t have a schedule, we have a routine!”

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Jesse–
      Your mother astounds Susan and me as well; she’s an exception all to herself. God bless your wonderful family. We were hoping to see you over Passover but the Passover retreat conference in LV I was engaged to teach at, got cancelled. Oh well, another time.

  7. So interesting. Ran the finance group of a large aerospace manufacturer. My boss of 25 years was an Air Force Reserve navigator. He convinced me of the value of checklists covering a variety of functions. They never became routine. Each repeated use was really about “this time”. I like your spiritual and always practical application.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Carol–
      Yes, checklists can, and should be used in many applications outside the airplane flight deck. Dr. Atul Gawande wrote a book popularizing checklists in medicine.
      Very happy you enjoyed our take on this.

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