Posts tagged " Hebrew "

When Enough is Not Enough

May 8th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 55 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.

During the same week, I received a letter from an individual whom I had been advising regarding his career.  One paragraph read:

“I am fascinated by how you teach people to learn to love the work they should do.  But how do I know what is the work that I should do?  Is it the work that would pay me the most?  If so, that doesn’t really work for me as I am definitely NOT money-motivated, (although my wife thinks I should be).  I don’t need to make more money, I just want to do meaningful work.  If all I was supposed to do in this world was make a lot of money (to have what to give away-not a bad thing), why did I waste so much of my adult life in education?”

It was another of those not uncommon instances of synchronicity. In one week I was asked the same question twice; once by an executive team and once by an unrelated individual.  The question:  Is it okay for someone to make much less than he could provided he is content with what he has? 

At first glance, you might think that all the people involved are indeed exemplary.  After all, money just isn’t that important to them.  They exhibit a contentment with life and are willing to step off the financial treadmill.  Surely they ought to be applauded?

A very difficult task now falls to your rabbi.  I must try to explain to you why they are wrong, just as I had to explain it to them last week. 

As the Shabbat ends each Saturday night, by the flickering light of the Havdalah candle Jews sing this verse signalling the start of a new week of work.

When you eat of the labor of your hands, you will be happy
and all will be well with you.
(Psalms 128:2)

In this verse, King David reiterates the value of work, the same purpose for which God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:15)

Nowhere in Scripture is found any implication that we ought to work only until we have enough.  Neither is there any acknowledgement of the unhealthy practice of retirement which is really only another way of saying, “I’ll work only until have enough”.

I know this feels a bit awkward because we’ve been raised to believe the virtue of contentment.  “He who is contented is rich,” is only one of hundreds of proverbs and idioms all praising the person who says, “I have enough”. 

However, to have enough is not why we work.  That would be an incredibly selfish approach to work.  We work because God created us to serve other people and our work is how we do it.  For this reason, the Lord’s language, Hebrew uses the same word—OVeD—for worship as well as for doing our daily labor. 

We shall worship  the Lord
נעבד את ה…
(Joshua 24:15)

Six days you shall work
ששת ימים תעבד
(Exodus 20:9)

In the same way that there is no “enough” to our worship of God, there is also no “enough” to our daily work.  We don’t work for money; we work to serve others; our customers, clients, or associates.  The money follows almost automatically and confirms that we have really served.  There is no point at which I have cared for God’s other children enough.  It is a lifetime mission. 

Although it flies in the face of popular thinking, there is no virtue is thinking one has enough money.  One should certainly be happy with whatever one currently has, but never content.  The difference is that happiness does not kill ambition; contentment does. 

Obviously, God does not want us to sacrifice our lives, our faith, our families and our friendships to make more money.  However, as long as we work with integrity, in the specific time allotted for our daily work and with the energy dedicated to that purpose, the more we can make usually shows the more effectively we are serving God’s other children. It would be wrong to try to limit that.

Hebrew possesses a word a word for satisfied (SoVaH – שבע) which is as close as the language comes to contentment. The important point is that SoVaH is never used in the context of money and mostly appears in connection with food.

And you shall eat and be satisfied (SoVaH) and bless the Lord your God..;
(Deuteronomy 8:10) 

The good that one can do with money is proportional to how much is available. There is an old joke about the beggar accustomed to getting a dollar from one of his ‘regulars’ who passed by each day.  On one occasion the passerby dropped a quarter into the beggar’s cap.  “Hoy!” called the hobo. “Why only a quarter today?”

“I’m having a tough week in my business” answered the man. 

The panhandler’s response:

“Just because you’re having a bad week, I have to have one too?”

Just because you decide that you have enough money, do all those who depend upon you and those who might benefit from you also have to say enough? 

To the individual I was counseling, I added the observation that his marriage might well benefit from his increasing his revenue.  To the company I added that not only was it the right thing to grow the company (within the limits of managerial capability) and find ways to serve even more customers but there was also a strategic reason to continue growth.  In the real world, whether you’re looking at a beautiful flower or a profitable business, the same thing is true.  It is either growing or dying. Staying the same is not an option.

If you would appreciate more insights into work through the medium of the Hebrew language, now, when it is on sale, is a good time to get Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language. There is even an entire chapter entitled AVoDaH – work. Pair it with Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet and give your children a head start. These very popular books will both satisfy and spur you to want more. 





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.


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.


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.


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.


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
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.


Good Gracious, You’re Pregnant!

October 9th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 7 comments

“Just five more minutes,” “One more chapter,” “I guess I can stay a little longer.” The temptation to stretch out an enjoyable activity just a little bit more is one to which we can all relate.

After a month of reveling in God’s closeness, culminating with the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the Jewish people felt the same way. In response, God granted them an extra holy day, Simhat Torah, that begins as Sukkot ebbs away (starting this year Wednesday night, Oct. 11). Literally translated as “The Joy of the Torah,” it is on this day that we conclude and begin anew the annual cycle of reading the Five Books of Moses.

That makes this week a particularly apt time to highlight the idea that the first time in Genesis that a specific letter is used to start a word, that word provides a key to the inner meaning of that initial letter.


Who Me?

September 25th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 9 comments

Which word connects these five sentences?

  • The world of baseball went wild in the spring of 1974 when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.
  • It was at the height of the hurricane when three men and a woman, crewing the Coast Guard Sikorsky Jayhawk helicopter, took off hoping to home in on the radio distress beacon that had been deployed by the stricken cargo ship.
  • There were no signs of trouble the day that newlyweds, Mary and Allen moved into their new home.
  • Almost everyone knows that in sports, the home team enjoys an advantage but nobody knows exactly why.
  • China prices its car exports far lower than they do at home.

In each sentence, the word “home” has a slightly different meaning but with a little thought one can see how these five different applications might be connected.  But there is little point in the exercise.


Seeing Eye-to-Eye

June 20th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 19 comments

Reading your rabbi’s observations about a baby’s behavior is probably going to be as incongruous as overhearing a cannibal enthusing about a veggie burger made of sweet potato, quinoa and black beans with a little creamy lime aioli drizzled on top. (Not sure what lime aioli is?  Me neither.)

Nonetheless, I must tell you of something I recently noticed in an extremely cute little one year-old.  While I was talking to him, his eyes were not on the only moving part of my face, my mouth.  Instead, he gazed into my eyes.  This made no sense to me because in general, babies’ eyes are drawn to movement.  Yet while I was talking to him, he watched my motionless eyes instead of my moving mouth.

I was so puzzled by this that I tested it on a few other pre-talking little toddlers and discovered they all had this disconcerting tendency.  I am obviously accustomed to adults looking into one another’s eyes. But babies?  It would make most sense to me if their eyes were drawn to the mouths of those talking to them. But if they are not going to be looking at the moving mouth, why are they looking at the eyes rather than the conspicuous nose or huge expanse of forehead?

Ancient Jewish wisdom might suggest an explanation.  In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the word for eye is AYIN while the word for mouth is PEH.  Those two words, AYIN and PEH are also the names of two consecutive letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the sixteenth and seventeenth letters, respectively.


Snow Day; Grow Day

March 14th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

A couple I knew, misunderstanding the meaning of being loving parents, raised their children with no rules and little restraint.  You won’t be shocked to hear that their two kids grew into demanding little monsters.

The parents blamed the children’s teachers for why their children were ‘difficult’.  They explained that their children ‘had issues’ because of preservatives in food. They blamed the tiny tyrants’ grandparents.  They never were able to see their poor parenting as the central problem.

It’s hard to live an effective life when you are blind to cause and effect.

Imagine someone waking up on a recent morning in Washington DC, to discover that forty inches of snow fell in the night.  Shivering with cold, he turns up the thermostat to no effect.  He tries to turn on the lights, but the electricity is out.

Listen to him saying, “I can’t believe this!  What bad luck!  On the same morning, no heat, no lights, and on top of that, there’s a load of snow all over my yard.”  He sees three separate, simultaneous but disconnected inconveniences, not comprehending that they are all linked.