Posts tagged " ancient jewish wisdom "

Love Your Neighbor – Really?

February 24th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

One of the most frequently recurring questions that I am asked is this:  “Rabbi Lapin, I try to live my life as an upright and decent person and I try to make my decisions according to the Biblical code of good and evil but I often feel exploited.  Sometimes relatives count on my good nature as they ask to stay at my home for lengthy visits while they tour nearby vacation areas.   Other times co-workers ask for favors that go way beyond normal collegial cooperation.  I am at my wit’s end because I know they view me as a God-fearing, kind and compassionate Christian.  They assume that since I love them, I must agree to their requests. Sometimes, though, I find these requests excessive and I feel resentful.  I don’t see how I can refuse without appearing unchristian but I don’t like feeling resentment. How can I reconcile my self-expectations of love with those of other people in my life?”

Let’s face it. Loving others isn’t always easy.  Even loving one’s friends and relatives can sometimes be a bit demanding.  This is especially true when things begin to resemble a bottomless pit.  Imagine your neighbor borrowing your lawnmower in the name of your love for him, then demanding your hedge trimmer before he hosts a late night noisy party, always confident of your obligation to give him endless love.  When is enough, enough?

I sympathize.  The Bible does demand much from us.  What are we to do when others latch onto our moral commitment to behave agreeably and exploit it?  Well, today I want to do more than sympathize.  I want to provide you with a solution to the dilemma created by your faith and dedication to God’s word.

Clearly the one specific Bible verse causing this consternation is:

…and you shall love your friend as yourself, I am the Lord.
(Leviticus 19:18)

This verse appears problematic because a casual reading of it could imply that whenever I love myself enough to get me an ice-cream, I need to get you one too.  And you, and yes, you too!   Does it mean that when you purchase a lovely new outfit, you should buy one for each of your friends and neighbors as well?   Upon reflection, that does seem ridiculous, but if it is what the Scripture says, well…

Happily ancient Jewish wisdom comes to the rescue pointing out that the Hebrew text actually reflects that you must love your friend just as you would expect him to love you.  No more and no less.

In other words, would I expect my friend or neighbor to buy me an ice-cream whenever he gets one for himself?  No, of course not.  Would you expect your friend to get you a pretty new dress whenever she got one for herself?  No, of course you wouldn’t.  The message is clear; do not expect more love than you would deliver in the same circumstances.

Once we learn how to overcome the problem of limitless expectations on the part of those we love, learning how to love those among whom we live is very worthwhile.  It can help us love others once we realize that loving someone else “as yourself” does not mean you ought to love him as much as you love yourself, but as much as you’d expect him to love you.  Do things for other people in the name of your love for them, to the extent that you would expect them to do the same for you.

As soon as we apply these reasonable limitation on expectations, we can love fearlessly.  However we must remember why we should indeed love our friends at all.  The concluding phrase of Leviticus 19:18,  “I am the Lord,” reminds us that we are all God’s children and as such, we are all brothers and sisters and by that relationship, worthy of one another’s love.

One way to show love for each other, as well as to celebrate our being created by God, is to properly use the gift He uniquely gave to human beings – speech. When we speak rudely or use foul language in a public area, we are stating a lack of care for others.  When we use profanity among our friends and family, we degrade ourselves and them. In the process, as we show in our audio CD, Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak, we damage our economic chances as well as our opportunities for lasting love. An hour listening to this CD can change your future.

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The Pen Is NOT Mightier than the Sword

January 27th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

If the pen really was mightier than the sword, the idiom would be unnecessary.  Nobody says, “Atom bombs are stronger than paper clips” or “Ferraris are faster than Fiats.” Most simple slogans are untrue.  “He who hesitates is lost” is contradicted by “Look before you leap.” “Out of sight, out of mind” is contradicted by “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

 The truth is usually a composite of the two extremes.  One must balance too much hesitation with too much impetuousness.  One can miss those who are far away but after a while one can also forget them.  Similarly, sticks and stones can break bones but words written by a pen cannot.  Yet there are certainly times when the long term impact of words is greater than that of guns.  Sometimes victories are brought about by bullets but other times they are won by ballots.

Because we’re all imperfect humans, our emotions can propel us toward ill-considered action rather than thoughtful words.  The little boy in the playground pushes or punches rather than inviting his antagonist to a symposium on mediation.  The crying wife drives many a husband to action, as he tries to fix the problem rather than listen to his wife explain her sadness.  The business professional might impose his will rather than negotiate what could have been a superior solution.

At times even when action is the wrong solution, the intensity of our feelings can nonetheless still push us towards doing something instead of saying something.  By the way, when a bad boss has provoked you into walking out and yelling, “I quit,” you have actually used action not words.

Wouldn’t you like to know how to make sure that you use words even when your emotions are trying to make you lash out with an action you’ll later regret?  The answer lies in a Biblical mystery.

At the burning bush, for about 35 verses God argues with Moses, persuading him to take on the mission of bringing Israel out of Egypt.  God promises him that Pharaoh and the Israelites will listen to him. God gives him wonderful signs to impress the Egyptians. After God’s many assurances, Moses finally yields basically saying, “Okay fine, go ahead and send whomever you wish; I’ll do it.”  (Exodus 3:4-4:17) 

Would you not have thought that the story would have ended quite soon with the triumphant march of Israel out of Egypt?  Yet in fact, what happens is quite the reverse. The plight of the Israelites is worsened by Pharaoh oppressing them further. As a result of Moses’ agitation, the Children of Israel must deliver the same quota of work while scavenging for their own raw material. (Exodus 5:18)  At the burning bush, God gave Moses no inkling that all would not proceed smoothly.  Something went wrong.

To add to the mystery, after this dreadful disappointment, Moses twice tells God that Pharaoh will never listen to him on account of his speech impediment.  Twice he uses the Hebrew term “Aral Sefatayim” explaining that Pharaoh will not listen to him because he has ‘sealed lips’(Exodus 6:12 & 6:30)

However, back at the burning bush, Moses used different terminology when he said, “…I am not a man of words…”  (Exodus 4:10)

Why did Moses use two different phrases to refer to his speech?

The answer lies in the remarkable conversation Moses had with God at the burning busy.  God said, “I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and you shall take my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)

Moses responds, “…when I come to the Children of Israel…” (Exodus 3:13)  Had Moses been talking to a human boss, he might have heard this:  “Are you deaf, Moses?  What do you mean asking me about going to the Children of Israel? Did I tell you to go to the them? No! I said quite clearly, ‘Go to Pharaoh – not the Children of Israel.  Just do what I tell you!”

But Moses was talking to his Heavenly Boss.  If we ignore His word, God allows us to proceed along the path of our own desires.  God basically said to Moses, “Well, okay, if you insist, go ahead and try it your way.”  It was only later, once Moses’ approach had failed and Israel was even more miserable than they had been that God eventually said to Moses, “Okay, let’s try it my way now. This time, go to Pharaoh like I originally told you.”  (Exodus 7:2)  This time Moses obeyed (Exodus 7:6) and the process of the Exodus was under way.

When Moses originally demurred by saying, “I am not a man of words,” he was not referring to any speech impediment.  He was really saying to God, “Hey, I’m not a man of words; I’m a man of action.  I’m the guy who killed an Egyptian for harassing my brethren. (Exodus 2:12)  I did not engage him in a discussion about the root causes of Egyptian anti-Semitism. Don’t send me to talk to Pharaoh.  Let me go to the people of Israel and stir up a great national revolution.  We’ll take our freedom by force; by the people throwing off their yoke of Egyptian oppression. I want action not words.”

God knows that Moses must discover for himself that this redemption has to come from God not from a people’s liberation movement.  Real redemption will come through following God’s words.

Sometimes we too must learn our own painful lessons by trying avenues that fail.  We can save ourselves much heartache by doing the right thing first.  This passage can help provide us with the necessary strength.

The pen is surely mightier than the sword when it is God’s pen and the words are His Book.  Many times throughout history, people brandishing the Bible have beaten superior forces that knew nothing of the Bible and cared less.  Our purpose in making these Thought Tools available to you is to enable you to deploy Biblical power and its ancient solutions against the modern problems that plague your life.

If you think you might benefit from a slightly more concentrated dose of Thought Tools, I have just the thing for you.  If you’d like to be able to have about a hundred of our Thought Tools on your bookshelf or your bedside table right now rather than seeing them one-at-a-time each week, this is all you need to do:

Order either Thought Tool Volume I or Thought Tool Volume II (better yet, save money by buying the set!).  If we see that this has value to you, we’ll go ahead and issue the next two volumes of Thought Tools as well.  Your order will not only provide you with a source of inspirational and practical information but it will encourage us to continue publishing them in book form. Enjoy!

You Want the Last Word?

January 6th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Has one of your children ever approached you with a long litany of complaints?  Your offspring begins detailing his grievances, some of them more perceived than real.  You gently interrupt to contradict the mistakes.

Perhaps it’s a friend or professional associate.  The instinct to defend ourselves against what we feel is an illegitimate allegation is all but irresistible.  The problem is that whether child, friend or business acquaintance, the odds are that the real resentment is only going to be mentioned at the very end.

By interrupting the catalog of charges and objecting to the first or second accusation, we never actually get to hear the climax, the main issue that brought about the confrontation in the first place.

The Torah also builds to a climax in its final lines.  The closing verse suggests that the entire book fulfills its purpose through the people of Israel.

And in all the mighty hand and all the awesome sight which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel.
 (Deuteronomy 34:12)

But, the Torah comprises five books.  Listen to the closing verse of the fourth book of the Torah:

These are the commandments and judgments which God commanded by the hand of Moses to the Children of Israel on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan near Jericho. (Numbers 36:13)

Again, we find Israel highlighted in this climactic final verse of Numbers.  To explore the possibility of a revealing pattern, let’s examine the last verse of the third book of the Torah:

These are the commandments that God commanded Moses for the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai.
(Leviticus 27:34)

Still, we’re not yet done.  Let’s see how the second book ends:

For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, through all their travels.
(Exodus 40:38)

That would seem to settle it.  The climax of each book seems to emphasize the Children of Israel.  Perhaps just as a matter of course, for the sake of completion, we’ll check the final verse of Genesis as well, but with every confidence that the pattern will be maintained.  Or will it?

And Joseph died at 110 years old and they embalmed him
 and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
 (Genesis 50:26)

Oops!  No mention of Israel.  Just when it seemed so clear.

But wait!  By the end of Genesis, there is no People of Israel.  There is only Jacob and his family living in exile in Egypt.  It follows that having no mention of the People of Israel in the final verse of Genesis makes perfect sense.

This begs the question. When did the People of Israel come into existence?  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Israel became a people when it acquired a national mission.  In other words, the first time God issued a commandment to the people of Israel is the moment when they emerged onto the stage of world history.

Here is the first commandment issued to the nascent nation:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.”
(Exodus 12:1-2)

Ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that in some ways, this twelfth chapter of Exodus represents the real beginning.  In this case, the first section of the Torah would really end with these words:

…but God strengthened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not send out the Children of Israel from his land.
(Exodus 11:10)

To the extent that this approach provides an alternate picture of the Torah, the first book, comprising Genesis and the first eleven chapters of Exodus also ends with a mention of the word Israel. God’s revelation, the Torah, emphasizes as a climax the emergence of the people of Israel to help the world replace barbarism with civilization.

We see that the final words often reveal the real purpose of the entire communication.  As hard as it is to hear complaints, particularly with family, try to nod encouragingly without interrupting in order to be able to hear the entire list.  The climax will probably only come just before your interlocutor finally falls silent.

That is then an excellent time to repeat the main complaint with the words, “So do I understand that you are chiefly unhappy because I (did) (said)…etc.?”  Then you should say, “I can tell that you have been thinking about this for a while and I am going to take a day to digest all you’ve said; is it okay if I get back to you tomorrow?”

In this fashion, you not only secure yourself some time to think carefully, but by the next day, the emotional tensions will largely have dissipated and the resulting conversation is likely to bring the rewarding result of rescuing the relationship.

And those closing words are the climax of today’s Thought Tool.

Start the New Year with the resolution of more Bible study through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom. A deeper look into Genesis will provide insights to improve your relationships with God, your family and community. Our Genesis Journeys audio CD package contains eight hours of teachings sure to get 2015 off on the right foot.

Genesis Journeys

 

Fossil Fuel Festivities

December 16th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Around the world, Jews greet the holiday of Chanukah by lighting one flame. On each successive night of this eight-day festival we add one additional flame, culminating on the eighth night with a fully lit eight-flame menorah.

Among the miracles commemorated by Chanukah is that God made a tiny quantity of consecrated oil last for eight days until a further supply could be secured.  Since only one flame was involved in the original miracle, we could adequately commemorate it by lighting one candle each evening of the eight days.  Or if you prefer bright lights, we could light eight candles each night of the festival.  After all, my gracious Christian neighbors don’t keep adding to or subtracting from the attractive holiday lighting on their homes as Christmas approaches.

Surely kindling the identical array of light each night would adequately capture recollection of the original miracle by replicating it.  However, if you really do want to make each evening distinctively different, it would express more environmental sensitivity were we to first light eight candles and then one fewer on each successive night.  This would demonstrate our sad but inexorable progress toward a darker world.  Each night’s declining light would publicly proclaim that we are running out of the fossil fuels from which candles are made. (You do know that this is not my real belief, don’t you?)

What ultimate meaning do we derive from ancient Jewish wisdom’s requirement that we light one flame the first night, two the second, until night eight when the menorah’s eight candles cast out an incandescent blaze of light?

Darkness is the tragic default condition for much of humanity.  Even our live lives are frighteningly fragile and can all too easily turn dark.  One need only dwell on the problems that we all face for life to become overwhelming. Family issues, health and financial crises, even matters of personal faith.  If individual challenges are not enough, consider the state of the world.  That alone could envelop you in gloom and darkness.

With all that darkness, the pathway towards brightness and happiness is hard to find. Since it’s impossible to completely rid one’s life of problems, how does one dispel darkness?

The best way is by focusing on only one problem at a time.  If we chip away at only one challenge at a time and ensure that each passing day diminishes that problem, we see hope.  As the figure of speech goes, we see ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’  The key is to make each day even just a little brighter than the day before.  Herein lies the key to the infusion of hope that the Chanukah experience offers.

As my friend Dave Ramsey (www.daveramsey.com) teaches, if one of the causes of your darkness is debt, select one credit card and chip away at its balance.  Make each passing day a bit brighter. This will help you shine light and dispel gloom on the next area you need to confront.

If your marital life, or lack thereof, is bringing darkness, pick one small area to start improving each day. If a health or financial issue looms darkly, again, start today to better one small area.

Trying to tackle everything at once – the equivalent of lighting eight flames each night – can quickly lead to chaos. Starting with a huge chunk and despondently recognizing that you have undertaken too much is demoralizing.  Even worse is lighting eight candles, then seven, then six. You’re moving depressingly toward darkness.  Instead, find one limited area to which you can consistently add a little more light. Needless to say, seeing that one dark area brighten up a little each day equips us to confront other problem areas with optimism—an expression of light.

Celebrating Chanukah in accordance with ancient Jewish wisdom provides an annual infusion of hope and promise.  Watching that menorah become brighter each night assures me that tomorrow can be lighter than today and offers a roadmap to bring that about.

Susan and I try to dispense cheer and guideposts for successful living on our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show. We love the mail we receive telling us how you enjoy and benefit from our work. We gathered eight of your favorite shows onto two DVDs. As part of our Chanukah celebration, get both discs for the price of one. They make great holiday gifts and provide uplifting “downtime” relaxation. (For more Chanuka insights check out Festival of Lights as well as the final day of our Biblical Blueprints sale.)
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First Fruits (and sometimes Nuts)

December 10th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

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Here is today’s Thought Tool quiz:

Early in 1845, Henry David Thoreau, along with about twenty of his friends, began a two and a half year-long party in a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord Massachusetts.  True or False?

In 1971 Ted Kaczynski, his wife, six children, a nanny, a tutor, and three puppies moved to an isolated mountain cabin in Montana from where he later sent bombs through the mail injuring dozens of people and killing three. True or False?

Brilliant twentieth century photographer Ansel Adams, who specialized in capturing the glory of America’s national parks and other natural wonders, left a legacy of thousands of pictures depicting happy crowds enjoying their natural outdoor heritage. True or False?

With thirty members of his Rotary Club, Chris McCandless hiked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. After being awed by nature’s grandeur, he returned home to Virginia.  True of False?

Ready for the answers?  All four statements are false. (I am sure you hardly needed me to tell you that.)  Thoreau was alone at Walden Pond.  The Unabomber lived in lonely isolation for nearly thirty years.  It is difficult to find any Ansel Adams photographs containing even one human image.  In his book, “Into the Wild,” Jon Krakauer relates how McCandless hiked alone and died alone, tragically and unnecessarily.

While it is true that many families and crowds of friends enjoy the outdoors in companionship, we each tend to experience nature in our own individual way.  To some it’s the sunrise or sunset. To others it’s lambs gamboling behind their mothers in the spring.  But whichever way you experience nature, it can resemble a museum which evokes awe more than camaraderie.  I might visit an art gallery with a group of friends, but the experience is essentially lonely.

It is not a coincidence that far more money is made, and far greater wealth created, in the crowded confines of cities than in the open spaces of nature.  Almost by definition, the great outdoors is uncrowded while making money requires considerable contact between humans.  I make money when other people who know me, like me, and trust me invite me to serve them with my good or services.  That is certainly more likely to happen when my focus is people and connection than when I revel in the splendid isolation of the wild.

This helps us understand a perplexing puzzle found in Deuteronomy 26.

We’re told that when Israel enters its land everyone should bring his annual first fruits to Jerusalem. There, he should place his basket before the priest in the Temple. He then recites a proclamation.

Wouldn’t you suppose that in appreciation of nature’s bounty the grateful farmer might recite verses praising nature and its miraculous processes? For instance, you might have expected those who brought their first fruits to articulate verses like these from Psalms.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving sing praise upon the harp to our God who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass grow on the mountains.
(Psalms 147:7-8)

Yet those bringing their first fruits to Jerusalem must utter a different passage:

An Aramean tried to destroy my father, who then went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous; But the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us terrible slavery.  And when we cried to the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression and brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesomeness, and with signs, and with wonders.  And he has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land that flows with milk and honey.  And now, I have brought the first fruits of the land.  
(Deuteronomy 26:5-9)

Why a condensed history lesson rather than a song of nature’s bounty?  History bonds us to those who came before us and to those who will follow us.  Moreover, emphasizing shared history bonds us to others as we gather to celebrate anniversaries, holidays and memorial observances.  If we are celebrating the sustenance we enjoy, then it is far more appropriate to celebrate our connection to people, both living and long gone, than to sing of nature.

Yes, nature provides valuable solace and rejuvenation. However, as a model for existence, God wishes for us to live among others. Keeping our histories alive is a sure way to retain the nourishment of connection. Not surprisingly, God blesses those who follow His wishes in this respect with the enormous blessing of sustenance and abundance.

Next week, Jews will gather to celebrate Chanuka. It is a blueprint for the present as well as a history of the past, with important life lessons for all of God’s children. We collected some valuable insights in our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. You can get it alone or enjoy substantial holiday savings and hours of life-enhancing learning when you order it as part of our Biblical Blueprint Set. And yes, listening with others amplifies the benefits.

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Action Man

November 25th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you noticed how many men seem allergic to something broken?  Often a man acquires a new car and the first thing he does is lift the hood to see if anything needs doing.  Perhaps he installs a police-radar detector or buys safety valve stem caps for his tires.  Here’s the secret: for men, engagement means action and action means engagement.  For men, connecting with someone or something usually involves action.

For a man to be happy at work, he needs to be recognized for solving problems.  The uniformed services attract men partially because they are action oriented. Men meeting one another shake hands, fist bump, slap one another’s shoulders or hug boisterously.  Women connect just as powerfully but a delicate kiss precedes the important, non-physical, animated conversation.  For women engagement often means talking.

If you still remain in any doubt on this male female distinction, just watch how much more actively and physically little boys play with their peers than little girls with theirs.  Or notice how women in marriage seek more conversation while men would like more physical interaction. Both want to engage with their spouses; each gender goes about it a little differently.

Young men who are perhaps insufficiently active in their business lives sometimes undergo dramatic change upon marriage.  God created males in such a way that it is impossible to enjoy ultimate connection with a wife without action on the part of the male.  This reality can spread benefit to every part of their lives, particularly financial.

Isaac, the first born Jew, appears in the opening verses of Genesis 21.  Strangely, for the longest time, we don’t see him doing anything or even saying anything.  Finally, when he is in his thirties, comes the seminal binding of Isaac upon the sacrificial altar. At the age of 37 for the very first time he speaks, asking, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” (Genesis 22:7)  Immediately after this comes Sarah’s death and burial.  There is a greater obligation upon a child to mourn and bury a parent than upon a man to bury his wife, yet Isaac is missing in action.

Next come selecting a wife for Isaac and, once again, the man of the moment is nowhere to be seen.  Abraham arranges all with Eliezer who subsequently finds Rebecca and brings her back (Genesis 24:1-61).

Finally, Isaac returns from a journey and goes out to the field to pray (Genesis 24:62-63).  He sees Rebecca and springs into action.

And Isaac took (Rebecca) into the tent of his mother, Sara, and he married her and she became his wife and he loved her…
 (Genesis 24: 67)

Isaac then becomes active, burying his father, Abraham, just as we’d expect.  He prays for his wife and they have two sons Jacob and Esau.  He relocates his family to Gerar, digs wells, and initiates a special blessing to his sons fifty-seven years before his death.  He sends Jacob away to Rebecca’s family and lives until 180, whereupon his two sons bury him.

What suddenly caused Isaac to become so active cementing his place as the second of the three forefathers of Israel?  The process of becoming a husband and a father changed him.  Indeed, Abraham sought out a wife for him but Isaac alone embraced Rebecca, brought her into the tent of his late mother, loved her and fathered her two sons.

I have often discussed how God built our bodies to reflect our spiritual realities.  I have explained about eyes and ears, and taught on the internal asymmetry and external symmetry of our bodies. Now, I will point out how God made human males sexually distinct from virtually all other male mammals.

Reproduction is made possible in almost every mammal male— including gorillas and baboons— by means of a rigid bone, called a baculum, which facilitates the mating process.  However, for human males no such material aid exists. Mating depends entirely upon the spiritual desire the man feels for his wife.  God wanted human male/female connections to be so much more than biological.  If reproduction is the only goal, a rigid bone coming into play is immensely useful.  However, if God’s main goal is for authentic connection on every level to take place between a man and woman, then a baculum would detract from the relationship, making it merely physical.

God’s design of the human male without a baculum ensures that the man is fully invested in the connection.  His mind can’t be elsewhere; if it is, there will be no connection.  He cannot be distracted or uninterested; if he is, there will be no connection.  Connection and engagement are linked to action.  That action only become possible if authentic connection exists. (In the case of rape or a prostitute or hook-ups, the sinful connection may be one of anger, scorn or selfishness, but it still takes the man’s total and complete attention.)

This connection between action and marriage that helps pinpoint Isaac’s becoming active, also explains the remarkable correlation between men, their marital status, and the amount of money they make.  In the United States, single men of every background are the poorest demographic in society.  Married men tend to be active and engaged and few things are better indicators of wealth creation.

Many more astounding connections in our amazing world are found in ancient Jewish wisdom.

When Noah and Abraham Met

November 18th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

I know a lawyer who really wishes that he was a rabbi.  I also know a rabbi who really wishes he was a doctor.  Have you met the plumber who really wishes he was a poet or the bookkeeper who really wishes she was a ballerina?  The lawyer is doing nothing to change his profession and neither is the rabbi. The plumber only dreams of writing and the bookkeeper only dreams of dancing.

Do I hear you say, “No harm in fantasy”?  Wrong! Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that fantasizing makes us less happy with our reality.  Remember that lawyer harboring secret rabbinic dreams? Well, he’s less effective at his work.  That rabbi daydreaming of replacing his dark suit with green scrubs has no passion for his profession.  Deep down that plumber is dissatisfied with fixing faucets and as for that want-to-be ballerina, her clients get less of her enthusiasm than that faded old tutu in her closet.

Lingering thoughts of roads not traveled infiltrate all our minds, so how do we generate focused passion for what we actually are doing?

Let’s become flies on the wall for what must have been one of history’s most extraordinary meetings. First, we need a little Genesis arithmetic. Let’s say Adam was created at the beginning of year 1 and died in year 930.  (Genesis 5:5)

Ten generations later, Noah was born in the year 1056 and died in the year 2006 at the age of 950 years-old.  (Genesis 9:29)  Meanwhile, in the year 1948, Abraham was born, which means that at the time of Noah’s death, Abraham was 58 years-old.

Do you think it feasible that Abraham, a spiritual seeker, would not have sought out the elderly Noah?  It is impossible to fathom Abraham not seeking a meeting with the man whom God had directly instructed to build the ark and who was the living ancestor of everyone on earth.

What did they discuss?  They might have commiserated about their wayward sons, Ham and Yishmael.  That is merely conjecture, but they certainly must have discussed how and if they share their intimate relationship with God with other people.  Noah, presumably, would have argued against trying to influence others to recognize God.  When God warned of the impending destruction of humanity, Noah neglected the opportunity to attempt to persuade the population away from their wicked ways.  He merely built an ark and saved himself and his family.

Abraham, by contrast, chose another path. As his future unfolds, we see that he never missed an opportunity to talk to people about God.  He regularly invited strangers into his tent for a meal during which he shared his faith.  Unlike Noah who silently accepted God’s decree on humanity, Abraham argued with God in an attempt to save the inhabitants of the doomed city of Sodom.  Noah kept his relationship with God to himself.  Abraham went in a different direction.

Which man was more successful?  To be sure, Noah saved his family but Abraham launched a movement of God fearing and Bible believing people numbering in the millions, that even after the passage of thousands of years, endures to this day.

Talking enthusiastically about your work not only signals your passion but it also serves to augment the passion and professionalism you feel. Along with sharing what you do, here are nine more ways to increase your pride, passion and professionalism.

1.    seize responsibility and accept accountability for your work
2.    be punctual and reliable in all your work commitments
3.    be consistently pleasant and polite in all work encounters regardless of your mood
4.    speak and write like an educated adult
5.    be sufficiently serious as frivolity is not professional unless you’re a paid comedian
6.    dress with dignity
7.    expand your skills and improve them constantly
8.    never yield to your anger
9.    deliver more than expected

So banish those daydreams and enjoy whatever it is you do by becoming ever more professional about it.  Of course if you really mean to make a major life change, then don’t just dream of doing it; do it.  But if you are retaining your current occupation, you’ll discover unsuspected delights by embracing professionalism.  These delights will far exceed anything available through fantasies and daydreams.

Your Radio Rabbi can now be heard at

http://www.W4CY.COM
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Expanded hours and podcast coming soon.
Join in by calling
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Power of Purpose

November 12th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

The international accounting giant, Deloitte, recently spent over $300 million educating its 50,000 American employees about its purpose.  This sounds a little touchy-feely for the world’s largest audit, tax and consulting firm.  They spent so much money in this way because they determined that companies that instill a strong sense of purpose in their people enjoy greater long-term success.  Deloitte felt confident that instilling a sense of purpose in their own people would better position them to do the same for their clients.

In Deloitte’s own words:

“What companies do for clients, people, communities, and society are all interconnected. A culture of purpose ensures that management and employees alike see each as a reason to go to work every day.”

When paraphrased for families, wouldn’t it be equally true?

“What a family does for its members, neighbors, community, and society are all interconnected. A culture of purpose ensures that parents and children alike see each as a reason to contribute to the family every day.”

But how exactly does one go about infusing businesses or families with a sense of purpose?  One of history’s most profitable and enduring enterprises is surely the people of Israel.  Lessons can be learned from its launch.

…thus said the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. (Exodus 9:1)

And Pharaoh’s servants said to him…Let the men go, so they may serve the Lord their God; don’t you realize yet that Egypt is destroyed?
(Exodus 10:7)

…Pharaoh…said to them, Go, serve the Lord your God, but who exactly is going? (Exodus 10:8)

And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds
(Exodus 10:9)

[Pharaoh said]…go now only you who are men and serve the Lord; because that is what you wanted to do…
(Exodus 10:11)

And Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds stay…
(Exodus 10:24)

God planned to take the entire people of Israel out of Egypt—the young, the old and the middle-aged along with their material wealth in the form of livestock.  Pharaoh’s courtiers advised him to placate the God of the Hebrews by releasing part of the people, the men, males between twenty and sixty.

Considering that advice, Pharaoh asked Moses to clarify exactly who would go.  Moses answered unequivocally that it would be everyone as well as their possessions.  Pharaoh tried to limit the group to the men by arguing that only they are needed to worship God.  Moses rejected that offer and inflicted more torment upon Egypt.  At this point, Pharaoh made one last attempt to prevent an intact people launching their destiny by trying to restrict their economic freedom through retaining their livestock.  This offer was also rejected and after the final plague, an Israel left Egypt with all its population and all its possessions.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Pharaoh knew that Egypt was finished. His goal was to prevent Israel from becoming a powerful nation that would dim the luster of his legacy.  The best way to do that would be by depriving this incipient nation of its past (the elderly), of its future (the young), and of its economic vitality (the animals).  Pharaoh correctly knew that a bunch of people whose focus was only on today would soon be gone and forgotten.

This is manifestly true for a family which gains its sense of purpose from its past and from its future.  A home filled with the rambunctious noise of little children while also possessing the seasoned presence of wise grandparents automatically is fueled forward with a sense of purpose.

Likewise, a business is propelled forward by a sense of purpose gained by making its past and its future just as important as its present. Expanding its employees’ vision to encompass everything from its founding to its tomorrow makes their work today more satisfying and successful.

Few sections of Scripture are as well-known and underappreciated as the Exodus. These chapters are not only the story of Israel’s redemption thousands of years ago, but they also hold many keys to our individual redemption from difficult, stressful and trying times. We recorded Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt so that we could share these strategies, providing hope and direction. Available by mail or instant download, we pray it will bless your life.

Let Me Go, smaller

 

Mountains and Molecules

October 21st, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

My children constantly fascinate me when we hike in breathtakingly beautiful British Columbia during the summer. Some of them visibly thrill to the vast vistas and magnificent landscapes revealed as we crest a hill.  Others seem oblivious to the large scale spectacles but will stoop to pick up a pebble which can absorb their attention for twenty minutes.  Similarly when boating, one child gazes endlessly at the wave pattern stretching to the horizon.  Meanwhile, her sister lies on her tummy on the edge of a dock peering down at a school of tiny fish darting around as if being signaled by an invisible choreographer.

We learn much from the patterns of larger arrangements such as the earth’s upheavals that created the mountain ranges and the erosive forces that carved majestic canyons.  However it is just as important to understand the microscopic forces that help atoms to form molecules and the characteristics that shape those tiny molecules into complex substances.

Just as understanding both the macro of mountains and the micro of molecules helps us relate to physical reality, so understanding both the macro and the micro of the letters, words, and texts of the Bible helps us relate to spiritual reality.

Whenever we probe the inner meaning conveyed by a word or letter in the Lord’s language as we often do here in Thought Tools, we are exploring the micro.  However, when we examine patterns that reoccur in different parts of Scripture we are allowing the macro to reveal its secrets.

Let’s wrap our souls around four famous parallels linking God’s Garden of Eden with the desert Tabernacle and its successor, the Jerusalem Temple, both constructed by humans.

1.   God walks in both the Garden of Eden and the Tabernacle.

And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden…
(Genesis 3:8)

And I will set my tabernacle among you…And I will walk among you…
(Leviticus 26:11-12)

======================

2.  Water flowed out of the Garden of Eden and also out of the Temple.

And a river went out from Eden…
(Genesis 2:10)

…and a fountain shall issue from the house of the Lord…
(Joel 4:18)

==============================

3.   Cherubs appear in both places to guard and protect.

…and he placed cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden…to guard the way to the tree of life.
(Genesis 3:24)

And the cherubs shall stretch out their wings on high to cover the covering with their wings…
(Exodus 25:20)

==============================

4. Special garments [ketonet] are required in both places

For Adam and for his wife the Lord God made leather coats [ketonet]…
(Genesis 3:21)

And these are the garments which they shall make…an embroidered coat [ketonet]
(Exodus 28:4)

Recounting the four parallels, we see:

1   God walks in His garden and in the places we create.
2   Water flows out of His garden and out of the places we create.
3   Spiritual forces protect the way to the Tree of Life and to the Tablets of the Covenant.
4   God made clothing for humans in His garden; we emulate Him in our holy places.

Today, in our current conditions, we are obviously unable to locate the Garden of Eden let alone enter it.  However, God did provide us with blueprints to create our own substitute.  Moses and the Israelites used them to build the Tabernacle and later Solomon used them to create the Temple.

As long as we recognize that both the Tabernacle and the Temple were human replicas of the Garden of Eden, we too become capable of erecting our very own Garden of Eden substitutes right in our own homes.  We merely need note the four parallels.

One, our homes must be places where God walks and we walk with Him.  We don’t sit with Him or stand with Him, we walk with Him.  Meaning we and our families are on the move; we are never in exactly the same (spiritual) place.

Second, water, (associated with spiritual sustenance in Torah nomenclature) must flow out of our homes.  By regularly inviting guests to share our meals and participate in the uplifting conversation that suffuses our dining tables we encourage our ideas to flow and spread.

Third, we must ensure that spiritual forces are in place to protect our most cherished attributes, namely our faith and our families.  With the same enthusiasm that we invite the right people to enter, enjoy and contribute to the atmosphere of our homes, we must also keep out those people and influences that could harm it.

Fourth, and finally we must always, even in the privacy of our home, clothe ourselves in the garments of human dignity. Clothing is holy because God bestowed it upon His children as a way of distinguishing us from the animal kingdom.  Almost all of us look better clothed than naked and for all of us, being clothed protects our sense of self.  This is why the first thing Nazi concentration camps did to Jews upon their arrival was strip them naked.

It is all too easy to figuratively ‘let ourselves go’ when we’re at home.  It is so tempting to slide into poor behavior, abysmal manners, inadequate clothing and other unwholesome self-indulgences when we’re in our own homes.  In reality, in order to build our own Garden of Eden we need to resist these allures.

It is never too late to turn our own home into a Garden of Eden, a Tabernacle, or a Temple.  The rewards are incalculable and more than worth the effort it takes.  Keep both the mountain and the molecule in mind.  The former is the larger vision for the kind of home you’d like to live in while the latter is the list of four details we have covered here.

Grasping the incredible patterns that God placed in Scripture brings bountiful blessing. These patterns affect our lives to this day. Listen to Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel and hear how ancient Jewish wisdom reveals human tendencies and weaknesses that shed light on current events, amazingly, even including the administration’s response to Ebola.

 Tower of Power:

Decoding the Secrets of Babel

 

Chatter is Cheap

October 14th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

In social settings, one sometimes hears people babbling about the marvelous things that they are going to do.  In the business environment, it is even more unsettling to hear an entrepreneur making public pronouncements of forthcoming achievements.  Anyone with even the most basic understanding of how the world REALLY works knows that saying a lot in advance of actually doing anything is a bad sign.

Ancient Jewish wisdom warns against promising much and delivering little or nothing.  This is described in the account of Abraham who wants to acquire a burial place for his beloved wife, Sarah, from the landowner, Ephron the Hittite,.

Abraham offers to buy the cave of Machpelah for its appropriate monetary value. (Genesis 23:9)

Ephron responds by magnanimously assuring Abraham that he can have it for free. (Genesis 23:10-11)

Yet as the conversation progresses (Genesis 23:15-16), Ephron insists on 400 pieces of silver, which Abraham promptly pays.  According to the Code of Hammurabi (from approximately the same period), the average annual household income then was five pieces of silver.  Compared to American averages today, Ephron asked the equivalent of $3M-$4M for a field and a cave. His generous talk was just that – talk.

Scripture also offers an example where someone delivers far more than he promises.

Abraham offers water and bread to the three angels, whom he mistakenly assumes to be men.  (Genesis 18:4-5)

However, what he actually brought them was far more lavish: many cakes baked with a large amount of fine flour, a calf, butter, and milk. (Genesis 18:6-8)

Regarding these tales, ancient Jewish wisdom offers a much-quoted aphorism, “Say little and do much.”  It is easy to read this as good proscriptive advice.  Be like Abraham who delivered much more than he promised, and not like Ephron who promised more than he delivered.  However, there is more to this popular saying.

This phrase is not only proscriptive; it is also descriptive.  If you say little, you will end up doing much.  On the other hand, those who do a lot of talking will end up achieving far less than they could.  Why should that be?

Whether you are building a skyscraper or baking a cake, you start by assessing your resources.  Do you have the money, the manpower, the raw material and everything else needed for successful completion of the project?

It is important that none of these resources is wasted.  Each must be put to productive use.  Similarly, in all projects there is also a finite spiritual energy and will with which to get the job done.

One way of wasting and dissipating that will and spiritual energy is to talk about it more than necessary.  By talking less, you will achieve more.

For example if you have just enough gas in your car’s tank to reach your destination, it makes no sense to leave the car idling for ten minutes before you even depart on your journey. You now will have less fuel than you need to reach your target.

Imagine an athlete staying up and socializing the entire night before an important challenge.  He would do better to harness all his resources for the upcoming contest.

Similarly, the act of chattering endlessly about your deepest ambitions is a sure way to have less energy and determination available to achieve those goals. Being productive is difficult enough without needlessly squandering your spiritual resources.

One reliable technique to avoid energy-eroding chatter is making sure you devote regular time to absorbing worthy material.  Think about it.  The chief difference between me today and me yesterday are the ideas I have absorbed.  Our famously popular library pack comprises 19 different books, DVDs and audio/visual resources. It is an absolute treasure trove of ideas.  We are heading into the final holy days of this special month in the Jewish calendar.

LibraryPackage with BSB, April 2014

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