Posts tagged " Hebrew "

Two by Too(th)

August 4th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

I tossed a coin a hundred times. One of these results is real and one I just made up.  Which is which?

A:  I got 48 heads, 49 tails, and 3 landed on their edge and remaining balanced upright.

B:  I got 49 heads and 51 tails.

If you chose ‘A’ you probably have a PhD in philosophy and you are wrong.

If you chose ‘B’ you have the beginnings of an understanding of how the world REALLY works.

‘A’ could happen in theory, but it doesn’t in the real world.  In the abstract world of philosophical theory, there are often many alternatives and variations but this is less true in the real world of practical living where the choice is frequently between ‘heads’ and ‘tails.’

In the political science department of the local community college, rioting is endlessly discussed as falling somewhere on the spectrum between docile and protest. However, to the real-world business owner trying to pay his employees and take home a profit, barbarians who torch his store are just plain wrong.

Real-world duality is nowhere better seen than in the male-female dichotomy.  The cutting edge of abstract theory, mostly academics and intellectuals, insists that humans can be many things or anything on the male-female spectrum. The real world, inhabited by real people know that we are each either male or female; two choices.

Successful living means that when we are confronted by the need for a decision, we can and should explore a wide range of possibilities while we are in the early abstract stage of analysis. Once we must move from theory to action, it helps to know that many decisions boil down to A/B, a choice between two alternatives.

Early on, Scripture provides us with an introduction to areas where we must clearly recognize two categories and where fuzzy thinking will lead us astray. Not surprisingly, the portal to this discussion emerges from the number two. The first time a word occurs in Scripture provides deep insight, so let’s find the first time the number two appears in its common ordinal form, ‘two’ (not ‘second’).

And of all that lives, of all flesh, two of each you shall bring into the ark to keep alive with you, male and female they should be.
(Genesis 6:19)

This reveals that the fundamental “two-ness” in the universe is male and female.  Since the ultimate act of human creativity is creating a baby, we understand that two people can be far more creative than merely one, particularly if there is a male/female dynamic.  However, two men or two women can have a male/female dynamic as well, for example in brainstorming a business idea.  At any given moment one of the participants, whether male or female biologically speaking, is implanting the seed of an idea while the other is absorbing it.  A moment later they exchange roles as the conversation continues.

Another aspect of the number two is that the Hebrew root of two is the same root as for the Hebrew word for tooth.

   שנים  two                  שנ tooth

Even the very sound of the English word “tooth” carries within itself the sound of the number two (2-th). This highlights the point that two things complement one another.  We have both upper and lower teeth and we need them both.  Having only upper teeth or only lower teeth is worse than having no teeth at all.

One of the best Biblical examples of two is the Two Tablets that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.  The Bible rarely refers to the Ten Commandments but calls them the Two Tablets about thirty times.  This is because the quality of two they possess is so important.  The two tablets complement one another and make it possible for us to create our moral matrix by consulting them both.

Lastly, the Hebrew word for two shares a common root with the Hebrew word for years. This informs us that there is a theme linking the concept of two to the idea of years.

                                  שנה  year                שנ  tooth

Each passing year naturally possesses similarities to its predecessor on both a global and a personal level.  Nonetheless, nobody experiences two successive years as being identical.

Similarly, when we think of the power of two we think of two things close enough to be counted together, but not so identical as to be duplicates.  Our spouses are incredibly close to us, we can often complete their sentences.  But they are also sufficiently different to make the connection meaningful.  I may consult two books for guidance in repairing my plumbing.  They will both be about the problem I am experiencing but, to be helpful, each should tackle the project in a different way.

We understand that if we wish to change our oneness into a two, whether in seeking a spouse or a business partner, we need to find someone close and similar but not identical.

Essentially, the number two speaks to the fundamental duality which is so much a part of life.  Day/Night.  Good/Evil. Man/Woman.  Light/Darkness. Plus/Minus.  Hot/Cold.  Yes, many ideas do exist on a spectrum, but they are easier to analyze and understand when we know the two dualities that anchor the ends of the real-world spectrum.

Fascinated by the wisdom flowing from the Hebrew language?

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Breaking Up or Breaking Through?

July 27th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 21 comments

Neil Sedaka’s song “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” hit number one on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 in the summer of 1962.  And as all who’ve loved and lost know, it is hard to do.  But if you are in the wrong relationship, you must do it if you are ever to move on and unite with the right person.

My wife and I nursed many a young congregant through the heartbreak of a relationship ending.  Indeed, we often encouraged and hastened the goodbye, assuring our tormented friend that only by enduring the tears of break up now, could joy arrive tomorrow.

Ford’s Model T debuted in 1908.  By 1914, a quarter-million were being built each year.  This was terrible for people who had spent years in the horse wagon business.  In fact, in the year 1900, about 110,000 people were employed building or repairing carriages and harnesses.  Nearly 250,000 blacksmiths lived and worked in America that year fitting shoes on countless horses.  And thousands more kept busy sweeping tons of horse manure off city streets.

Jobs for horse-driven transport workers quickly vanished.  However, there were soon far more automobiles than there had ever been horses and carriages and along with the cascade of cars came not thousands, but millions, of new jobs.  The end of the horse-drawn era was tough on many and those who clung to the past deprived themselves of the blessings that were marching down the new highways.

Sometimes a divorce allows two people in a doomed marriage to rebuild new lives; the breakup of an empire allows many newly independent nations to thrive; the breaking up of an old building allows a new one to rise in its place or the breaking apart of an atom releases unimaginable amounts of energy and frees humans from drudgery.  Every act of breaking, as painful as it always is, can launch something new that carries us further down the path of our own development as individuals, as a nation, and as the human family of God’s children.

I’d like to show you what the Hebrew verb for breaking looks like.

ש ב ר

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…
(Psalms 29:5)

But exactly the same word also means place of birth:

…for the children have arrived at the birthstool
(Isaiah 37:3)

משבר

,And what is more, exactly the same word .also means food

And Jacob saw that there was food in Egypt…
(Genesis 42:1)

ש ב ר

Ancient Jewish wisdom expresses this equation:

Breakup    =    Birth     =     Sustenance

The Lord’s language is teaching us that when something breaks and is destroyed, it also can give birth to something entirely new which can provide ongoing sustenance. It’s interesting that this idea has carried over into English where we have similar positive connotations for, “giving someone a break,” “breaking into a new business,” the phrase, “break of day” and of course, having a “breakthrough.”

One problem is that often we allow a breaking of something in our lives to break our spirits.  Instead, we must ensure that it becomes the birth of something new and positive.  To learn how to transform breakage into birth we need to see two more uses of the same Hebrew word which help to make everything clear.

And when Gideon heard the recounting of the dream and its interpretation
(Judges 7:15)

שברו

I hoped for your salvation, Oh Lord…
(Psalms 119:166)

שברתי

That’s right, when confronting the breakup of something we regarded as valuable we must analyze and interpret the past but then we must face only forward and anticipate salvation with confidence.

End that bad relationship; analyze what went wrong and why you stuck with it; walk away and don’t look back; face the future with optimism.  Convert your stock of buggy whips into fan belts and join the car revolution.

Breakup        Birth         Sustenance

…if you react with analysis and optimism.

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Return to Normal?

July 20th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 25 comments

When will things return to normal?

That question got your attention, didn’t it?  Internet search engines report that this may be the most asked question during the first half of 2020.  This popular question was also asked (although not on the Internet)  after President Lincoln signed into law the first income tax in 1862. It was passed as an emergency temporary measure, but you know how that worked out.

During the first few years after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, harassed airline passengers used to ask, “When will things return to normal?”  No travelers ask that question anymore. You might think that the brief answer to the question is…never!  But it is not so simple. The problem is that the question employs a word with no definition—normal.

What you really mean is, when will things return to the way I remember them back in…er, when? Immediately prior to covid19?  One year before anyone heard of corona? Before mobs of Americans defaced and destroyed historical statues? There is no such thing as normal.  That is why the Lord’s language, Hebrew, possesses no word for normal.

But Hebrew does have a word for change and it shares a root source with the Hebrew word for year. This is to teach us that just as one year leads to the next, always forward never backward, so change leads to change, sometimes positive and other times negative and never returning to what we remember as normal.

ש – נ – ה            ש – נ – ה
year                  change

The trouble is that change produces anxiety in us. We worry whether we’ll be able to function under the new circumstances brought about by change.

If there is worry in a man’s mind, he should _________ 
(Proverbs 12:25)

That blank replaces a complex and untranslatable Hebrew verb “yaschenah”  which is used throughout Tanach in three different ways each of which sheds another ray of light onto dealing with worry and anxiety.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains the three-component meanings of “yaschenah”:

1. Quash.
2. Banish.
3. Discuss.

In other words, when overwhelmed by anxiety, there are three strategies we can employ. Different ones work best at different times, based both on what is causing the anxiety and on our own personalities and circumstances.

1. We should attempt to quash the worry by burying it beneath an avalanche of other more positive thoughts. At this point, it is still in our minds but overwhelmed by competing upbeat messages.

2. Alternatively, we might try to banish the worrying thoughts from our minds. The Tenth Commandment reveals that God expects us to control not only what we do, but also what we think. Commandment number eight already told us ‘Don’t steal’. Yet, number ten asks us not to desire the possessions of others. Simply saying, “I can’t help what I think and feel, the heart wants what the heart wants,” in the words of the illustrious sage, Woody Allen, doesn’t cut it. We can and must control our thoughts and feelings. Therefore one way of dealing with anxiety brought on by change is to banish the thoughts entirely from our minds.  Exercising discipline and willpower, we don’t allow the worry-provoking thoughts to linger in our minds, but we instantly suppress them by replacing them with alternate scenarios.

3. If we find that we can’t tackle the anxiety on our own, we can adopt the strategy derived from the third meaning of “yaschenah” by discussing the worry with the right friend. If we choose wisely, doing so should remove the worry and reintroduce joy just as the conclusion of that verse indicates.

…and a good word transforms it into joy.
(Proverbs 12:25)

When will things return to normal, exactly as they were in summer 2019?  The answer is — never.  But eventually, schools and businesses will reopen.  Eventually, the pandemic will subside and the panic will fade. The brazen wearing of masks even on outdoor hiking trails will ease up. Some will wear them and others won’t.  Eventually, the economy will bounce back with a roar, and decimated portfolios and savings accounts will get replenished. Eventually roaming mobs of barbarians will fade away; some statues will be replaced and others will be lost forever.  Homeschooled children will learn their nation’s history while those children attending *GIC’s won’t.  Eventually, universities will reopen while many former students will rethink the value proposition of their expensive ‘educations’. Yes, change. Plenty change.   

Much change may be regrettable and we’ll think back nostalgically.  However, through it all, wise and happy warriors will focus on their five Fs. They will build and protect their Families, they will maintain Friendships, they will nurture Faith, they will adjust their activities to the times in order to boost their Finances, and they will manage their Fitness.

When all those five Fs of your life are in good shape, oppressive travel regulations,  quarantine restrictions, political cupidity, civic cowardice, and a growing canyon cutting through the culture cannot shake up the core of your life.  Despite the turbulence swirling around the pilings of our peoplehood,  we can still function and be very happy indeed.

When will things return to normal? Wrong question.  When shall we live our lives to the fullest? Now.

* government indoctrination camps formerly known as public schools

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Cave Grave

May 18th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

I love boating along coastal British Columbia. Occasionally, we spot First Nation burial apparatus, a box or platform, often a canoe, into which the departed is placed and which is then perched upon high stilts or wedged into tree forks.

The Choctaws buried their dead by leaving them atop a high scaffold. Eskimos placed their departed beneath piles of rocks.  In much of Asia, corpses were burned as a final rite and the popularity of cremation spread far and wide.  Egyptians placed their departed in pyramids while others preferred vast above-ground mausoleums.   

When Sarah, the wife of Abraham died, Abraham didn’t place her body in a tree or under a heap of rocks.  He certainly didn’t burn it.  Instead, he said to the locals:

…entreat for me to Ephron the son of Tzochar…that he give me the cave of MaCHPeLah…as a burying place…
(Genesis 23:8-9)

The first Scriptural account of a burial follows:

 …Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of MaCHPeLah…
(Genesis 23:19).

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Rain, Rain Don’t Go Away

January 6th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

I just received a wonderfully welcome gift—a warm and wooly winter coat. With winter wheezing its cold breath over most of the northern hemisphere it couldn’t be more timely.  In my neighborhood, it’s time to think of snow.  Put snow tires on the cars; get ready to shovel snow from the sidewalk, and make sure we have boots high enough to keep snow out of our socks.  For the benefit of all you happy warriors and favored friends reading this Thought Tool in Ghana, Australia, and Florida, snow is a cold white substance somewhere between rain and hail that makes life a little difficult in urban environments subject to its presence. (Yes, I know that you smug Vermonters think it’s beautiful.  If my office window looked out over white fields, I’d agree.)

Though it is apparently a controversial assertion, I do believe that in languages like Inuit, Yupik, Swedish and Icelandic more words exist to describe subtle nuances in snow than are found in English.  There is no reason to find this surprising.  People in those far northern latitudes see so much more of the white stuff than we do.  What is more, many details of their day-to-day existence revolve around being able to tell the difference between snow suitable for sledding and snow suitable for building igloos.

From the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tanach, it is easy to see that many more words exist in the Lord’s language, Hebrew, for love than are found in English.  There are so many Biblical mentions of love; between people and God, God towards people,  between friends, between lovers, and many others.  It is not surprising that in a Biblical culture built around love, there should be many nuances of love each requiring its own Hebrew word.

But why do we find four different words for rain in Scripture?  The English language distinguishes between drizzle, downpour, and drencher, which to me makes sense.  It always seems to be raining in the homeland of the English language.  But why would the language of Scripture have more than one word for rain?

The best-known word for rain is GeSHeM: ג  ש  ם

And the rain [GeSheM] was on the land for forty days and forty nights.
(Genesis 7:12)

 

Then we have the word MaTaR: מ ט ר

…because the Lord God had not sent rain [MaTaR] upon the earth
and there was no man to till the soil…
(Genesis 2:5)

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Hey Buddy, Got a Light?

December 16th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 26 comments

What three changes could you institute that would improve your life? Most people know exactly what they ought to do and what they ought to stop doing that would make their lives better. Which begs the question—why don’t we just go ahead and do these things?

The answer is what I call “The Force of Darkness.” Understanding and learning to conquer this sinister force is so important that God introduces us to this primeval darkness and general chaos no later than the second verse of Genesis.

According to ancient Jewish wisdom, this verse reveals a dark force built into the universe that attempts to combat progress towards improving our lives. This is why it is harder to diet, exercise, and grow thin than it is to sit around, eat, and grow fat. This is why it is harder to save and invest than it is to spend and consume or to educate one’s self and improve one’s career rather than to seek entertainment. This is why self-discipline is harder than indulgence or why it is harder to build a marriage than it is to destroy one. In other words, keeping the flame burning is just plain hard. It is far easier to sit back and allow darkness to win.

If the problem is darkness, surely the antidote is light—which brings us to Chanukah, the festival of light.

Many mistakenly think that Chanukah is a post-Biblical rabbinical holiday. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, its roots lie in the Torah and within the prophecies of Hagai and Zecharia centuries before the historic events.

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You Want Others to Think Well of You?  Good!

November 26th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

With an increasing sense of unease, I read reports about criminal assaults of unimaginable brutality committed against innocent passers-by.  In many instances, there was no robbery involved; the motivation was clearly not gain. It turns out to be nothing but an expression of nauseatingly violent hatred against a stranger on account of his political persuasion or his religious beliefs or because of his white skin color.  Sometimes it is just for the nihilistic joy of destruction. To my knowledge, this form of anti-social behavior is occurring more frequently in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Today we rightly condemn past times when similar assaults took place, though the political persuasions, religious beliefs and skin color might have been different. Yet, today we often avert our eyes from these attacks and pretend they aren’t happening. 

I am sure that there must be one or two people in your world for whom you harbor intense dislike.  I know that is true for me. There are even a few human beings whose actions I view as so evil and destructive that I do believe the world would be better off without them.

What stops you and me from creeping up behind one of these people we dislike (okay, detest) and ferociously slamming our fists against the back of their heads so savagely that they collapse to the sidewalk?  Precisely this is now happening ever more frequently, and what is more, most of the thugs elude capture and escape justice.

So, why don’t you and I launch barbaric assaults on those most deserving of our censure?  One important answer is that we refrain from violently attacking strangers in the street for exactly the same reason that those conscienceless criminals do commit those attacks: In order to earn and maintain the approval and esteem of others.

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Land Ho!

November 18th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 14 comments

Quiz time.  Can you name seven countries that grant their citizens rights to own real property and that protect those rights thus empowering their citizens to sell, mortgage or rent their property for their own benefit?

No? Let me help. Here are a few in the top twelve:  Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Holland, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

Here, in contrast, are seven in the bottom twelve: Yemen, Haiti, Nigeria, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan.

You might note that hungry hordes are desperately trying to leave all countries in the second list in order to immigrate, legally or not, to any country in the first list.  You might attribute that to a coincidence, but if you’re a long-time happy warrior, you will already have heard from me many times that the Lord’s language, Hebrew, lacks a word for coincidence.  Not only are people urgently fleeing countries with low regard for property rights, but all the countries to which they wish to go are societies founded with regard for a majestic book of mysterious origins that we call the Bible.  And that too is no coincidence.

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They Give Me the Creeps

September 9th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 30 comments

Prawns, shrimp, lobster and crab; as a long-time underwater diving enthusiast, I’ve seen them all in their natural habitat and they give me the shudders.  Even while wearing rubber gloves I’ve never liked handling them.  From once living in Africa, I remember the huge Goliath beetle—not at all fondly.  I know children who keep large hairy tarantula spiders as pets and enjoy grossing out their parents’ guests.  Count me in that latter group.  If cicadas ever invade my neighborhood, I’d probably emigrate.  I don’t care for bugs.

Psychiatrists claim to be able to treat something they call entomophobia, the fear of bugs, but none actually understand it.  There are numerous theories; I know most of them.  Some of these attempted explanations are insightful while others are fanciful.  But whatever explains it, I am not the only person disturbed by creepy-crawlies. It’s actually most of us.

Perhaps some of the near universal revulsion of creepy-crawlies might stem from the Bible’s explicit denunciation of bugs as food.  Bear with me as I walk you through more verses on this topic than you might have expected.  And they are all from the same single chapter in Leviticus.

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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.

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