Posts tagged " Hebrew "

The Ups and Downs of Freedom

April 15th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

During the administration of George W. Bush, I was privileged to be appointed to a presidential commission. I received a document that included something akin to the words, “power to execute the duties of this office.” Lopping off a few words, I tried to explain to my children that now, in the manner of the Lord High Executioner in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado, I had been granted the power to execute. What a difference a few words can make!

Passover, which we look forward to celebrating in a few days, is often misconstrued as a holiday celebrating freedom. Not quite. It is a holiday celebrating the overthrowing of human tyranny and slavery while accepting God’s dominion over our lives and our own responsibility to properly use the freedom we have. The first part of the equation only exists in conjunction with the second part.

In that way, Passover not only  commemorates something that happened long ago, but it is an annual opportunity to rise above our own Egypts, those circumstances that block the path to our own Divine destiny.  Egyptian slavery is the ultimate model of any oppressive force that obstructs our attempts to reach the purpose God has planned for us. Each detail of the Exodus provides us with a route to overcoming the limitations and constrictions in our own lives.

A peculiar phrase used in the description of the Exodus guides us towards one escape strategy.

…and the Children of Israel are going out with a high hand.
(Exodus 14:8)

Perhaps because present tense is so rare in Scripture, the King James translation of the Bible incorrectly substitutes the past tense. That misses the Divine message. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the present tense emphasizes the relevance of this section to anyone wishing to emulate the Children of Israel and escape his own Egypt.  It applies to each of us today.

We should look as well at the Hebrew word used for high—RaMaH.  It appears in a similar context in Deuteronomy 32:27:

…lest they will say, “our hand is high; the Lord has not done this.”

ר  מ ה

RaMaH means high and dominant.  However, look at this verse:

…the horse and its rider has He flung down into the sea.
(Exodus 15:1)

How perplexing that the Hebrew word used for ‘flung down’ is also RaMaH.

To make matters worse, see this verse from Job:

How much less man, who is [after all] a worm
(Job 25:6)

The Hebrew word used for ‘worm?’  RiMaH.  Regular readers of Thought Tools know that RaMaH and RiMaH are the same word with slightly different pronunciations. With the special power of Hebrew, their meanings are also related.  How can the ideas of high and low be related? Identifying that relationship exposes us to deep spiritual insight.

The mysterious message of the twin words RaMaH and RiMaH suggest that though they appear to be antonyms, there is a spiritual link between high/dominant and low/abject.  Furthermore, this link is a key to escaping one’s own Egypt.

That majestic record of Jewish durability known as the Hagadah, read at the Passover Seder, hints at the link. Not surprisingly, the Hagadah relates how the powerful and mighty Egyptians were humbled and the Israelites elevated.  But another essential characteristic of the Hagadah is its commencement with deprecating accounts of the ignoble beginnings of the Israelites.  The Hagadah reminds us that Abraham’s father was an idolater before relating the achievements of his children.

Therein lies the valuable key. Life is not static. If you happen to be riding high at this point in your life, retain humility by remembering how easily and quickly high can turn into low. No matter what struggles you face today, you must remember how much lower you or your ancestors were yesterday. Neither the depths of misery nor the heights of triumph are constant states.

In this way, the Passover Seder serves as an annual inoculation against thinking that the status quo defines you. With God’s help and in the blink of an eye, we can go out from our difficulties with a high hand. 

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Angels, Actions and Achievements

March 4th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

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

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

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

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

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Storm Shelter

September 17th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 17 comments

I am spoiled. When I contemplate boating, I picture vacationing with my family among the magnificent islands of the Pacific Northwest. But except for a blessed few people and times, boarding a ship has not meant leisure, but instead was a risky way for crossing oceans.

Traveling by ship was dangerous and frightening in the days before exotic cruising. Ships served as the precarious means of transportation to start a new life, for trade or as a means of livelihood like the potentially deadly 19th century whaling ships and, indeed, today’s commercial fishing boats.

The book of Jonah opens with a different type of boating:

And Jonah arose to flee… from before God…
and he found a ship going to Tarshish…
(Jonah 1:3)

And God sent a big wind over the ocean and there was a great storm
upon the ocean and the ship appeared likely to shatter.
(Jonah 1:4)

And the sailors were terrified … and they threw all the articles
on the ship into the ocean to make it lighter
and Jonah went down
to the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell asleep.
(Jonah 1:5)

The word ship appears four times in these three consecutive verses. Only by looking at the Hebrew text can you see that the word in the first three instances differs from the fourth. The first three use the the Hebrew word ONiYaH. The final instance of ship uses the word SeFiNaH.

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Everyone Homeschools – Even You

July 30th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 3 comments

Maybe your children go to school. Maybe you don’t have children or they are no longer little. If you have breath in your body, you need to think of yourself as a homeschooler. 

Learning is a lifetime occupation. Unless you want to be boring, bitter, unimaginative and stuck in a rut, keep learning. Whether you are ten or eighty, childless or parenting a houseful, and whether you or your children go off to a building called school or not, every vibrant person homeschools.

In English, people teach and people learn. Those words are not linguistically connected. In Hebrew, the act of teaching and learning are variants on the same root; L-M-D. To teach is le-LaMeD while to learn is li-LMoD.


D  M  L (L)
ל) ל מ ד)
(to) learn/ (to) teach

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When Enough is Not Enough

May 8th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 57 comments

I invested a day last week advising the executive team of a Nashville-based business with branches in several southern states.  My job was to help them resolve several challenges caused by their rapid growth.  One question we explored concerned whether the company had grown enough and should henceforth do nothing but aim to maintain its current annual revenue level. 

Several of the executives expressed satisfaction with what they had achieved over the past few years, both in the business as well as in their personal lives.  They felt content and although they were fairly young men and women, they saw their hard-work-years as having ended.  They now saw themselves as treading water rather than trying to win any races.  “We don’t need any more money,” they told me.

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Banish Stinking Thinking

January 22nd, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 33 comments

Nobody I know ever warned more effectively against “Stinking Thinking” than my unforgettable friend, the late Zig Ziglar.  His son, Tom, carries his father’s legacy forward, doing his bit to help banish the scourge of Stinking Thinking.

What is Stinking Thinking? It’s the business professional saying to him or herself, “I’ve called enough customers for one day; it’s time for a break.” It’s the harried homemaker thinking, “I can’t carry on; nobody appreciates me.” It’s the employee avoiding making the case for requesting a raise by saying, “I’m probably not worth any more than I’m being paid.” It’s the overwhelmed mom doubting her ability to cope with one more toddler temper tantrum or the dad coming home and sitting down in front of the TV instead of spending time with his children and wife as deep down he knows he ought. It’s the writer thinking that he or she can’t sit in front of the keyboard for another minute and it’s you and me explaining to ourselves why we shouldn’t exercise more than we do.

Stinking Thinking can’t be overcome by arguing with ourselves; our lower self has far better debating talents than our higher selves. Stinking Thinking can best be defeated by utterly obliterating the idea that is discouraging our progress upwards.

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Not Your Average English Country Garden

December 26th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

Born to a confused sixteen-year-old girl impregnated by a man she met at an English pub, virtuoso guitarist Eric Clapton didn’t have much of a wholesome family childhood.  His father vanished before he was born and he was raised by his grandmother, led to believe that his mother was his sister.  Young Eric was soon playing guitar on the streets of London while passers-by dropped coins in his hat.

Years later, in rehab for alcohol addiction after having become an international music star, Eric writes in his autobiography:

“…I was absolutely terrified, in complete despair.  At that moment, almost of their own accord, my legs gave way, and I fell to my knees.  In the privacy of my room I begged for help.  I had no notion of who I thought I was talking to, I just knew I had come to the end of my tether, I had nothing left to fight with.  Then I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do, my pride just wouldn’t allow it but I knew that on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help and getting down on my knees, I surrendered.  Within a few days I realized that something had happened for me.  An atheist would probably say it was just a change of attitude, and to a certain extent that’s true, but there was much more to it than that.  I’d found a place to turn to, a place I’d always known was there but never really wanted or needed to believe in.  (emphasis added) From that day until this I have never failed to pray in the morning on my knees asking for help, and at night to express gratitude for my life and most of all for my sobriety. ”

Eric survived and went on to thrive because he took his soul seriously.  Treating his addiction as if it only afflicted his body wasn’t working.  Like the famed twentieth century Swiss psychiatrist who played a role in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous by recognizing that alcoholism has a spiritual dimension, Clapton involved his soul by using prayer.

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Faith, Fertility and Fear

December 12th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

Almost everyone notices that religious couples tend to have more children then secular couples.  Among American Jews the trend is pronounced.  American Jews fall into two categories, religious and secular.  I define religious as those who believe that God gave His message to mankind through Moses on Mount Sinai about 3,300 years ago and who regard that message, the Torah, as the constitution of Judaism.  Only about 20% of Jewish Americans are religious.  In the United States, where the national average is 1.8 births per woman, secular Jewish women average about 1.6 births per woman. The figure for religious Jewish women is just over 4.8.  During our family excursions, Susan and I were always amused when strangers, noting our seven children, would nod knowingly and, leaning in conspiratorially, whisper to us, “Catholic, right?” 

It was not hard to discover that many doctoral dissertations in many universities have been written attempting to explain the correlation between religiosity and large families.  They range from fatuous to foolish and from pedantic to perplexing.   They assume religious couples know no better or are backwards and unable to accept modern science.  Almost without exception, they ignore the positive effects of religion on family formation. I would like to suggest three benefits.

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Don’t Blame Me

October 24th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

On June 4, 1944, recognizing how easily D-Day could fail, Gen. Eisenhower prepared the following:

“Our landings…have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold… The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

As a family member or business professional, learning to accept responsibility is profoundly valuable.  Learn to say, “I messed up and I accept all consequences.” The character strength needed for this is increasingly rare and we need to acquire it ourselves before we can hope to influence others.

Hebrew reveals one aspect of owning one’s actions. Referring to Leah and Rachel’s sibling relationship in Genesis 29, two words are used, GDoLah and K’TaNah, older and younger. Earlier, when Lot and his daughters flee the destruction of Sodom, we encountered two other words BeCHiRah – firstborn, and TZeiRah – younger (19:31).   In chapter 19 we find a clustering of the root letters TZ-R.  Lot escapes to the city of TZoaR whose name occurs six times in this chapter. The associated word TZeiRah — younger— appears four times.  In just these few verses, the TZ-R root is used ten times; more than in the rest of Genesis all together.  Word clustering is one of the ways that ancient Jewish wisdom unpacks Scripture’s deeper meaning.

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The Birds, the Beasts and Me

October 17th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People appeared years before Mark Zuckerberg elevated the importance of acquiring friends on Facebook.  Yet, most healthy people realize that collecting “friends” only to further your own interests or in a fake world has nothing in common with establishing authentic relationships.

Let’s see if we can get an insight into real relationships through an unexpected Biblical connection:

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field
and 
every bird of the air and brought them to Adam
to see what he would call them…
(Genesis 2:19)

God brought Adam two categories of creatures (i) every beast of the field; (ii) every bird of the air.

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