Posts tagged " Abraham "

Mission Possible

November 11th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Each one of us is unique, of course.  It’s just that some are, well, a little more unique than others. Our president is certainly unique. Over the past few years, President Trump has worked at a pace that younger presidents did not attempt or manage. Whether you agree or disagree with his policies, he takes his mission seriously.

Let us look at five individuals who also took their missions seriously. In his own way, each has a lesson for us.

And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before me…I will destroy them… make an ark…”(Genesis 6:13-14)

And the Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, and your family, and your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

And the Lord appeared to him [Isaac] and said, “Don’t go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 26:2)

And, behold, the Lord stood above it [the ladder] and said [to Jacob], “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed.”  (Genesis 28:13)

And when the Lord saw that he [Moses] turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said, “Moses, Moses. And he said, ‘Here I am’.”(Exodus 3:4)

These are the very first times that God spoke to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, respectively.  Each of these instances heralded a major change in the life of the individual involved.  Each occasion propelled each person onto a powerful new plateau of being.

Most of us yearn to move to new levels in one or more areas of our lives.  Some seek added success in finances, while others wish for progress in family and friendships.  Whenever we seek transformation in our lives, God’s help can make all the difference. What sort of behavior characterized these five Biblical personalities?

Noah remained uninfluenced by the mistaken ideas of the evil people around him. (Genesis 6:5-9)

Abraham didn’t delay; he instantly started his journey. (Genesis 12:1-4)

By claiming his wife was his sister (Genesis 26:7) just as Abraham had done (Genesis 12:13), and by re-digging his father’s wells (Genesis 26:18) Isaac reasserted that he was Abraham’s heir and would further his father’s mission (Genesis 18:19) by dedicating himself to doing the things he alone as the heir to Abraham’s blessing could do.

Jacob single-mindedly seized the opportunity to purchase the birthright when his brother fortuitously asked him for his lunch. (Genesis 25:30-31)  Later he single-mindedly pursued Rachel, working for seven years to win her. (Genesis 29:18-20)

At the Burning Bush, Moses committed to bringing Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. In so doing, Moses accepted a mission that was to absorb all his effort for each and every day of the next forty years (Deuteronomy 29:4)

Above all, they all took their lives and their missions seriously.  Transformation arrives from treating one’s life seriously enough to adopt five practices.

How might we phrase the actions of these men in modern terms?

1.  Ignore bad ideas and tenaciously fight complacency, never settling for the status quo. (Noah)

2.  Never postpone decisions unnecessarily.  Sometimes, we need to act quickly and promptly.  (Abraham)

3.  Dedicate ourselves to the tasks that we are specially positioned to do.  (Isaac)

4.  Focus on one thing at a time, while keeping your eye on the bigger picture. (Jacob)

5.   Expect the ups and downs that you will meet. Keep the global landscape of your mission in mind at all times. (Moses)

God made us each unique. At the same time, we share with most other humans the desire to thrive in five main areas of life: Family, Finance, Fitness, Friendship, and Faith.  If we keep our eye on balancing these vital parts of our lives, we will be best suited to moving ahead with our overall mission.

Are you a Happy Warrior?
Are you ready to be one? 

Are You a Noah or an Abraham?

November 8th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

As we read the section of Genesis about the Flood, we see the world being destroyed and recreated. Noah is the man who lived through the recreation.  When he left the ark, he emerged into a world that was fundamentally changed from what it had been before.  Unfortunately, Noah himself was also changed through witnessing the horrific destruction.  Noah, who before the Flood was an Ish Tzadik, a man of righteousness, was now an Ish Adamah, a man of the earth.  Noah got derailed. He wasn’t able to adapt to the new world with resilience and he fell from his original great height.

Ancient Jewish wisdom draws parallels and distinctions between Noah and Abraham.  Rabbi Berel Wein points out that this is one area we see the difference between them.  Noah couldn’t move past the flood.  He entered the new world, planted a vineyard, and drowned his sorrows.  We don’t see him re-emerging to build and recreate.   Abraham had ten challenges each of which could have derailed him. He kept going forward regardless.  Abraham had resilience.  He looked forward with hope and optimism, not backward at difficulties and destruction.

Yesterday I read an article discussing how society is changing because of corona and the author gave a prediction of how long it will take until life is back to normal.  The author claimed that this will take several years.  I realized then that we have a choice.  We too are witnessing a changing world.  Thank God, not anywhere close to the level that Noah witnessed, but we are living through an upheaval, and we suspect that our world for at least the next year will be unlike the world last year.

We have a choice.  We can look backward and feel stuck because life doesn’t feel normal, it doesn’t feel comfortable and it’s not what we’re used to.  Or we can look forwards like Abraham and focus on and embrace the reality we have been given today with optimism and energy.

On Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), I took my young son to an outdoor farm festival.  It was not crowded, we were outdoors and in masks.  At one time, he and two other children were playing in a big sandlot and I noticed that each of the three children was playing totally independently. They weren’t chatting or creating a make-believe game.  They were far apart and ignoring each other.  It felt surreal to me.  When my other children were this age and in a public park or play area, they naturally started interacting with other children, playing with, and talking to them.  I felt saddened that this was the new reality for little children, but I realized that the three kids were perfectly happy.  They may not even remember it being otherwise.  I was the one that could stew in the past and feel upset that today was different, or I could accept the beauty of today’s reality and face the new situation head on without contrasting it to last year’s scenario.

Weddings have changed.  Bar Mitzvahs have changed.  School has changed.  Our relationship with screens has changed.  And so much more. And yes, change is difficult.  But the choice is ours to learn from Abraham to choose to look forward with hope and resilience.  Our children won’t benefit from hearing us bemoan how different everything feels.  They will benefit from us making the best of our world as it is today.  We need to find the blessings and overcome the challenges.  It is on us as mothers to not to complain in front of our kids about what is currently gone and different, but to see with clear-headed eyes what our reality is today and make the right decisions to make the most of today’s opportunities.  This is resilience – switching our focus from what once was to what is today and what we look forward to tomorrow.

Inherit the Land

April 13th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Thought Tools are meant as practical, real-world application of specific principles in Ancient Jewish wisdom.  Before submitting them for publication we ask ourselves whether they would have made sense to our grandparents and if they will make sense to our grandchildren. In other words, are they ‘evergreen’?  Little gets stale more quickly than political columns, while God’s Biblical blueprint is always current.

Occasionally we make an exception and when we do, it’s because politics is nothing more than the practical application of someone’s deeply held moral beliefs.  The World Health Organization (WHO) began in 1948 because of some people’s belief that it would be good for this United Nations agency to exist.  Advocating for universal health care as one of its mandates was someone’s idea of morality. It isn’t mine, but it was someone’s. 

WHO issues a list of the countries with the best healthcare systems. The United States ranks at number 37.  France and Italy occupy positions 1 and 2 respectively. The list of 36 countries with supposedly superior health care than the United States includes Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Cypress, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Dominica. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it would be better to need urgent medical care in Columbia or Cypress or even France than in Wichita, KS.  WHO’s chief criterion for ‘best’ healthcare is actually ‘most equal’ healthcare. Poor or even appalling healthcare delivered equally to all puts you up high on the WHO list.

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You + You = YOU

July 2nd, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

Money, money, money…” sang Abba in 1976.  What is it?  It is funny how challenging it is to define.    Is it those metallic discs clinking in your pocket? How about those strips of colored paper in your wallet?  How about when you write a check? Is that money?  What if you write on a napkin, “I’ll give you $10 on Friday.” Is that money? How about if we shake hands and I simply say, “I’ll give you $10 on Friday.” Is that money?  Or is money the magnetic orientation of iron oxide molecules on that brown strip back of your credit card?  Is it a stream of ones and zeroes on the hard drive of your financial institution’s computer?  What is money?

Whether you consult economists or financiers, business school deans or directors of the International Monetary Fund, you’ll always get much the same answer.  It will be something like this: money is a government authorized circulating medium of exchange that allows us to count and store value. 

While that definition is basically true, it hardly tells the entire story.  For a far more useful depiction, we should turn to the 10th chapter of William James’ The Principles of Psychology published in 1890. While William James, who in my opinion had a much more correct understanding of the human soul than Sigmund Freud, is not trying to define money, he is helping us understand the breadth of its impact upon our lives.

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Compassion Confusion

October 30th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

Have you ever endured the ugliness of having to step cautiously past a comatose vagrant and his smelly bundles blocking the entry to a store you’re trying to patronize?  I know what you’re thinking. “Our rabbi lacks mercy for the homeless,” right?

Have you ever visited a home where the parents are meticulously raising monstrous little brats by bribing them for basic compliance?  Did you have to stop yourself from rolling your eyes as mom and dad yielded to a toddler’s terrible tantrum?  Are you thinking that your rabbi lacks kind feelings for children?

Many employers fail to demand adequate performance from certain classes of employees thereby imposing additional pressures on other employees who are not deemed worthy of special compassion.  Even in education, many grades and admissions are not bestowed impartially but on the basis of compassion.

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Did You Respond ‘Yes’?

June 27th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Here is a quick yes/no quiz which will reveal important information about your personality:

  • Do you occasionally make thoughtless remarks which you later regret?
  • Are you usually concerned about the need to protect your health?
  • Is it normally hard for you to own up and take the blame?
  • Do you sometimes resent the efforts of others to tell you what to do?
  • Do your past failures sometimes worry you?
  • Do you have a small circle of friends rather than a large number of acquaintances?
  • Do you sometimes find it difficult to express your emotions?
  • Would the idea of making a complete new start cause you any concern?
  • Do you find it challenging to ‘start the ball rolling’ at social gatherings?
  • Do you ever find yourself wondering if anyone really cares about you?
  • Are there any things about yourself on which you are a bit touchy?
  • Do you sometimes put off doing things and then discover it is too late?
  • Do you ever feel that your age is against you (too young or too old)?

Finished?  Now, how many times did you answer ‘yes’?  More than 3? More than 8? What! You answered ‘yes’ to more than 10 of the questions? Well, then you clearly need to purchase our special program for social stragglers available at a special price of only $10,000.  (Just joking)  The above questions came from a Scientology questionnaire but they resemble the questions often crafted by hucksters of all kinds trying to prey on our all too human weaknesses.

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In Front of the Eight Ball

November 29th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

“Rabbi Lapin, please stop talking and writing about money; all you’re doing is perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes!”  This was the phone call I received a while ago from the head of one of the Jewish organizations concerned with anti-Semitism.  Knowing it was futile, I still recommended that he worry more about Moslems than about me.

“Rabbi Lapin, I love your weekly email messages but I get really turned off by the commercial message. I know you have to advertise, but it detracts from the spiritual high you give me.”  This was an email I received from a long-time reader of our work.  I responded by explaining how making money can be as much a way of serving God as worship is. I suggested that her attitude really placed her ‘behind the eight ball’ financially.  Hoping she wouldn’t be too put-off by another advertisement, I recommended she read Thou Shall Prosper for the full explanation

Then I assured her that I would write more on the topic. Here it is.

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How do I raise my son in the ways of the Bible?

August 1st, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 1 comment

I am a Christian who lives in Indonesia. I am a frequent listener of your podcast and blessed to find tremendous wisdom in your teaching. I am keen to learn about the root of my faith from Hebrew Bible, at which I believe, as you believe, as a God-given blueprint for our life.

As a recent father, it is my desire to show my child the way of the Lord. Thus, I have a question; what is the best way to teach Torah to our children (especially toddler to under 12 years of age). What is the best method/technique to convey the narrative to them while at the same time conveying the wisdom/substance (which some stories I find them may not be suitable for children. I want to learn from your perspective as rabbi and Jewish parents on how to impart your wisdom to your children.

Thank you and God bless,

∼ Nugroho H.

Dear Nugroho,

Congratulations on the new blessing and challenge in your life. You are asking a wonderful question. Wouldn’t it be nice if for $99 you could purchase a curriculum that would guarantee that your children will view the Bible the way you do? Of course, no such program exists.  (more…)

This Way or That

April 5th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Want to lose weight? It’s always hard, but why make it harder than necessary by using the wrong strategies? Everyone knows that there are two prongs to this challenging goal: eating fewer calories and increasing exercise. Where to start? Is it more effective to sign up at a gym and use the exhilaration of mastering the Elliptical to help overcome the urge for chocolate cream eclairs or better first to lay off the calories and once that urge has been defeated, get going on the treadmill?

Intoxicated by a regular paycheck in your first job after college you’ve gone on a spending spree. The credit card bills make you hyperventilate each month. Got to get the finances into shape. Got to stop spending and start saving. But which one first? Take a scissors to the credit cards and then go and open a savings account or the other way around. Do we humans respond best to ending destructive behavior and only then starting the restorative conduct or the other way around? (more…)

Excuse Me, God

November 9th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

“Do you have any questions for me?” I asked the applicant for a position in my organization.  “Yes,” she responded.  “How many vacation and sick days do I get each year?”  Needless to say, she got none from me.

There is a right way and many wrong ways to interview for a job.  The right way involves demonstrating that you are a giver rather than a taker.  The job seeker should thoroughly research her prospective employer, learning about the industry, its challenges and its opportunities.  Ideally, she would even learn the details of the department in which she’d be working.  Finally and most importantly, she’d know exactly how she could help and add value. 

That is how the good Lord designed human economic interaction. “I truly wish to serve you,” is the tacit message that you should communicate by your words and actions.  And if you serve God’s other children it shouldn’t surprise you that a good and loving God rewards you with the blessing of financial success. 

To take it a stage further, ancient Jewish wisdom insists that serving other people is one path to serving God.

Here is one portion of the Torah in which this vital lesson is communicated.

1)    And God appeared to him [Abraham]…while he was sitting
at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.
2)    And he lifted his eyes and saw three men standing by him…
3)    And he said, ‘My Master, if I find favor in your (singular) eyes,
do not move (singular) away from your servant.’
4)    Let some water be brought and wash your (plural) feet
and recline (plural) beneath the tree.
(Genesis 18:1-4)

In English, the phrase “your eyes,” “do not move,” “your feet” and “recline” can be addressing one person or many people. In the original Hebrew, we know whether they are meant as singular or plural.  Furthermore, in the Bible, God is addressed by many names. Some of these are unique to God, while others portray attributes of God that can apply to people as well. So, God can be addressed as, “my Master” but three visitors could be addressed with the same word. (Don’t be confused by the connotation the word master had in the pre-Civil War South. Think of a master chef or master carpenter, suggesting a respectful recognition of the person’s standing.)

English translations often mistakenly suggest that when Abraham says, “My Master” in verse 3, he is addressing the three men he saw standing near him, asking them not to pass by but to visit.

Ancient Jewish wisdom records that in reality Abraham is addressing God, saying, “I know you’ve just appeared to me but I have to take care of some visitors. Please don’t leave me while I am thus engaged.  I’ll be back with You shortly.”

The singular usage in verse 3 indicates this quite clearly. Having excused himself from God, Abraham addresses the three travellers in verse 4 using the plural form since he is now speaking to three individuals.

In verse 13, God, who had patiently waited until Abraham had taken care of his guests, re-enters the conversation. Clearly, God expresses no anger at all upon being kept waiting while Abraham hospitably welcomed his guests.

Through this seemingly simple story in Genesis, we learn this vital lesson.  We need to have a relationship with God and we need to have relationships with other people.  They complement each other rather than conflict with one another.

Acknowledging God’s role in Creation leads to acknowledging that all other human beings are made in His image. Focusing on their needs, in your business, communal or personal life is one way of serving God. God might even happily wait, watch, smile, and yes, bless you.


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