Posts tagged " Jacob "

What kind of role models are these!

February 21st, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 30 comments

My wife and I love listening to your podcast.

I have a question that no Rabbi has been able to answer to my satisfaction. (It could be that they have answered the question accurately but it never resonated with me.)

It’s about Jacob and his children. Jacob is revered by us and his children were given the privilege of having tribes named after them. What bothers me is that these were not nice children. Judah had a terrible mean streak and was known to hang out with women of ill repute. His brothers sold a brother into slavery. They lied to their parents, they wiped out entire cities for revenge. (If I was Jacob’s neighbor my kids would have been under strict instructions to avoid them at all cost!)

Where does the reverence for Jacob’s children come from and why do rabbis insist on calling them righteous?

Cliff

Dear Cliff,

We’re not sure we can answer this question to your satisfaction, but we are going to try and contribute perspective which we hope you will appreciate.

Recently, a book about a complicated woman, Dr. Anne Spoerry was published.  (In Full Flight by John Heminway)  She fought the Nazis while part of the French Resistance. She was betrayed and sent to a concentration camp where she collaborated with the Nazis in monstrous crimes against other captives.  To escape war crime prosecution, she fled to Kenya and spent the rest of her life saving the lives of thousands of Africans.

To the Africans whose lives she improved and saved while working devotedly on that continent she is a heroine. The concentration camp internees who saw her as a sadistic torturer viewed her very differently. A snapshot of her work for the Resistance before she was sent to a concentration camp would reveal another aspect of her personality. We haven’t read the book yet, but we surmise that Dr. Spoerry was an incredibly powerful and complex woman. We may never know the truth about her feelings, motivations and even her actions but her life does serve as a reminder that God created humans as amazingly complicated beings.

What does this have to do with Jacob’s sons? The Torah consistently presents complex pictures of human beings. It is not a history book, but a guide to life. If the people in it were one-dimensional saints or sinners it would not be useful to us because that is not how any of us really are. The Torah teaches that the greater a person is, the greater is his capacity both for good and for evil. In fact, ancient Jewish wisdom, based on the following verse, teaches that anyone who is great enough to accomplish exceptional things will, by definition, do some wrong things as well.   “There is no righteous man on earth who does only good and never sins at all.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

Jacob’s sons were establishing a movement that, to our day, exerts tremendous influence. They were powerful people given a powerful heritage. We disagree that Judah wasn’t a nice person. He failed to live up to his own standards and picked himself up and tried again. He candidly acknowledged his errors and demonstrated remarkable courage with Joseph in Egypt. In doing so he made it easier for the rest of us to follow suit.

It’s also worth remembering that Jacob and his family didn’t live in a small and wholesome LDS town in Utah or in a church-centric community in Oklahoma.  They lived in a world yet unimpacted by Judeo-Christian values.  Their neighbors behaved barbarically and inflicted cruelty upon one another.  There was no civilized alternative to Jacob’s sons wiping out the men of Shechem.  It wasn’t simply revenge for rape. It was a process of civilizing the world.

None of the other actions you mention such as the brothers selling Joseph or Judah’s visiting a woman he thought to be a prostitute can be fully explained in this response. They’d need more space and time.  Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to treat the narrative like a modern fiction story. There were elements of good and bad in all the actions. Often, the right thing to do inevitably has aspects that are damaging and those who do wrong often have good inside them as well.  Like us, the brothers had to deal with circumstances that are multi-faceted and complicated.

Through their successes and failures they maintained their allegiance to the God of their fathers and to His greater picture. They strove to improve and pass on to their children a call to become greater. They were men of a caliber that we can’t begin to comprehend but the emanations from them still lend strength to us.   These are some of the reasons their descendants were called ‘the Children of Israel” and why the word Jew is proudly derived directly from the name of the fourth son, Judah.

We hope that at least some of what we tell you here resonates. 

Cordially,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*   *   *   *
Explore this week’s specials

Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel
Boost Your Income: 3 Spiritual Steps to Success

Boost Your Income Download

Talk about a paradigm shift! This teaching really opened my eyes as to how to
tap into financial increase.
  June G.

 

Ignore that STOP Sign

September 4th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 8 comments

Don’t we all start out with optimistic plans? We are going to accomplish great things, be great spouses and parents, build our businesses and ever so much more.  Yet, somehow, we sometimes find ourselves still single, still yelling at our kids, still working at a dead-end job struggling to make ends meet. We haven’t made the impact we hoped to on our communities, family or friends. Perhaps a Hebrew word can move us back on track.

Just before Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh, God threatens Moses for neglecting to circumcise his son.  God would have terminated Moses’ career, had Moses’ wife, Tziporah, not intervened.  (Exodus 4:24-26) What is going on?

We get a clue from the language used in and around this event:

(more…)

Were a third of Jacob’s sons illegitimate?

June 6th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 28 comments

Deuteronomy 23:3 says that a bastard is not part of the assembly unto the 10th generation.  How can that be when half of Jacob’s sons were born to his concubines and became the heads of tribes?

Peggy

Dear Peggy,

If you are not a lawyer you may not know the difference between manslaughter, 1st degree murder and 2nd degree murder. If you aren’t a gourmet chef you may not distinguish between Hungarian paprika and Spanish paprika. Yet, in the courtroom or a five-star kitchen a great deal may hinge on those distinctions.

The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 23:3 is mamzer. It is generally mistranslated as ‘bastard’.  This is not what the term means. Mamzer is a technical term that refers to the very rare case of a child of a man and a woman who are not allowed to marry, such as siblings or a married woman and someone other than her husband. So, for example, while the Torah much prefers children to be created within marriage rather than outside of that holy covenant, the child of an unmarried couple who are legally able to get married but did not do so, is not a mamzer.

(more…)

Where Did I Hear That?

April 18th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 12 comments

“When we were young, we were taught again and again that we shouldn’t get pregnant. Now we can’t!”

That plaintive wail from a childless 43 year-old woman caught my attention. Holly Finn describes the mortification and expense of countless in-vitro-fertilization procedures she endured. A little cashmere baby sweater goes everywhere with her; she bought it years earlier for the baby she hoped she’d one day have. Now Holly weeps about having the sweater but not the child. Her most excruciating experiences are being in the company of other women chattering happily about their children, or with men, most of whom simply don’t get how she feels.

Holly’s sad situation echoes the Biblical account of Rachel. When Leah repeatedly gives birth, the childless Rachel cries out in agony to her husband:

…give me children otherwise I’m as good as dead.
(Genesis 30:1)

(more…)

Rowdy Red or Benign Blue

May 31st, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

It was on election night November 2nd, 1976, when President Ford was being challenged by Jimmy Carter that NBC television showed us our first blue/red electoral map. The blue was Republican and showed the 27 states won by Ford, while red was Democrat. It was only in the 2000 Bush-Gore election that the colors were switched. Since then red shows states and counties voting Republican while blue stands for Democrats.

This was a cunning reversal of the usual convention of red symbols standing for left-leaning revolutionary movements while conservative parties in almost every country used blue. After all, the color red was emblematic of communism and still reminds us of the Soviets. You might remember the Cold War cry of the American left, “Better red than dead!” (more…)

Make Meetings Matter

January 16th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

In early January we tend to focus on the future. Yet, while New Year’s resolutions are not about reexamining last year’s failures, it is important to remember that there is no moving forward if we fail to integrate our past realities with our future plans. Our past realities shouldn’t haunt us and hinder us. But we do well to recognize them, adjust for them where necessary and reject the notion that they have the power to keep us anchored in an unchangeable present.

What is one of the most powerful tools for moving forward? Make meetings matter. (more…)

Mugging or Mayberry

December 9th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

As the rabbi of a fledgling synagogue in Venice, CA, one of my first goals was to build a school. Recognizing that a stable community needs a place to celebrate and pass along its values, Susan and I spent the summer after our marriage recruiting students for an enterprise that, as of yet, had no teachers and recruiting teachers for an enterprise that, as of yet, had no students.

One father’s reaction disturbed us greatly. He conceded that the local public school his six-year-old was slated to attend wasn’t safe. Nonetheless, he told us that he was committed to sending his son there. “I know he will get mugged for his lunch money and he may get roughed up a bit but I want him to live in the real world.” (more…)

Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker

March 22nd, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

When asked what the “Gerber” brand means, most moms would say ‘baby food.’ This is partly why Gerber’s foray into selling Buster Brown clothing, strollers, and insurance was doomed. Gerber lost sight of its specialty. It was not the only famous brand to forget its identity.

Contributing to Sears’ demise was confusion about its specialty. By the 80s, Sears was selling not only Craftsman tools, clothing, and home appliances; it was also selling insurance, commercial real estate, stocks and computers. Would you go to an eye doctor who repaired lawn mowers in the back room?

Early Americans were influenced by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. The book explains the importance of specialization. It is easy to see how specialization increases production and hence wealth. Six cobblers working independently will never make as many shoes as they would make collaborating with one another. If one makes only soles while another makes uppers while a third stitches them together and so on, productivity will soar as each specialist discovers better and faster ways to accomplish his own task. As a result, each person will take home far greater pay than he would have working alone. Then he can use his wages to buy clothes and food from other specialists.

It is easy to spot the trend toward specialization as societies evolve and develop increasingly sophisticated ways for humans to diminish the drudgery necessary to earn a living. Department stores give way to niche retailers, the corner garage offering full care for your car yields to Jiffy Lube and brand-specific repair centers.

This is exactly how the good Lord planned life for His children. He created a world in which His children would connect with one another and become preoccupied with one another’s needs. How better to accomplish this than to reward us with greater income provided we replace the model of working alone by the ideal of collaboration? God placed us in a world in which many people cooperating with one another within a mutually agreed-upon moral framework will vastly outperform those same people trying to make a living in isolation.

Why did the world’s Bible-based societies lead the march toward specialization by innovating the corporation and the industrial revolution? Perhaps because Scripture reveals how the founding of the people of Israel was rooted in specialization.

Jacob, or Israel, became the father of the ‘children of Israel.’ At the end of Genesis, Jacob assigned a specialized role to each son. Levi was to take care of temple worship, Zebulon was to develop expertise in shipping and trade, Issachar was to provide the scholars and educators, and so on. As each brother and his descendants specialized, thus becoming dependent upon all the others, the nation emerged.

Later, at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses reaffirmed the concept of specialization for each of Israel’s tribes. While individuals had different talents and strengths, the idea was being set in place for all time that specialization linked with mutual dependence and cooperation produces a strong nation.

One person completely on his own will not live as well as he would as a member of a family. A nuclear family lacks the power of an extended family. A tribe is greater than a family, but a nation made up of large numbers of interdependent people with a common set of expectations and obligations will achieve vastly more. A frequently ignored and invisible network of connectivity and cooperation makes possible so much of what we often take for granted. Moreover, we need to know that this vast enterprise of millions of people cooperating needs more than a legal system to sustain it. Laws reflect moral and ethical beliefs; they don’t form them. Jacob and Moses’ blessings instilled in the Jewish people the idea of specialization under an umbrella of widely accepted core beliefs.

My book, Thou Shall Prosper: The Ten Commandments for Making Money teaches you how to deploy this strategy, along with many others, to survive and thrive under widely disparate circumstances. For a limited time we are making this book, which has transformed the financial realities of so many families, available (web orders only) at the lowest price we have ever offered.

Often Charming – Always Dangerous

April 20th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Back in the 1970s, Jim Davis, a good and deeply religious man, felt he could safely go into business with his flamboyant roommate at Baylor University, Allen Stanford.  In early 2009 Stanford Financial collapsed in scandal.  Today, Davis is a ruined man.

 

A long time ago, I entered into a business transaction with someone whose moral flexibility included listing his dog as a shareholder in his company.  While I didn’t know that fact when we worked together, there were clues to his character that I should have noticed. Happily we parted ways before his little empire fell apart and he was incarcerated.  However, I did lose a lot of money and worse than that I felt incredibly stupid because I had long since been taught the transcendent truth of this Torah tip:

 

You will seldom emerge unscathed after involving yourself with someone whose values do not match yours.

 

Consider this verse:

 

And when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of Lavan,

his mother's brother, and the sheep of Lavan, his mother's brother,

and Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth,

and watered the sheep of Lavan, his mother's brother.

(Genesis 29:10)

 

A look at Genesis 24:29 shows that the family relationship reiterated above is correct.  That doesn’t explain why we needed to be told this three times.

 

The question intensifies as we watch what happened a few minutes later when Jacob met Rachel, the daughter of Lavan (his mother’s brother!)

 

And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother,

and that he was Rebecca's son and she ran and told her father.

(Genesis 29:12)

 

So, after Scripture firmly establishes in verse 10 that Jacob was Rachel’s first cousin, Jacob now lies to Rachel saying he is her uncle!  Then he immediately trips himself up with a contradictory statement when truthfully adds that he is Rebecca’s son.

 

At this point we have only three possible explanations for both the triple recurrence of “his mother’s brother” and Jacob’s seeming lie.

 

(i)   The Torah was written for people with really, really, bad memories.

(ii)  The Torah’s editor did an extremely sloppy job.

(iii) Every letter in the Torah, let alone every phrase, can reveal deep and valuable insights into how the world REALLY works.

 

 

In the context of verse 10 which emphasized the real relationships, it is not plausible that Jacob is merely discussing blood relationships.  He is discussing something far more important, namely morality, character and integrity.

 

Ancient Jewish wisdom fills in the pieces and provides practical life tools along the way.  You see, not detailed in the written text is Jacob’s immediate proposal of marriage to Rachel.  (For heaven’s sake, he’d kissed her already in verse 11!) 

 

Rachel responded by explaining that her father, Lavan, was a notorious rogue who would endeavor to cheat Jacob in any marriage negotiations. 

 

Jacob attempted to reassure Rachel by saying, “Hey, I’m capable of being your father’s brother.  I’ll be as canny as if I was his brother.  However, never fear, deep down I am the son of the righteous Rebecca.”

 

And to paraphrase the sad closing words of ancient Jewish wisdom’s explanation—Lavan succeeded in cheating Jacob into 14 years of hard work anyway.  This is not merely a poignant afterthought—it is the very point of the entire story:

 

When you become involved with someone possessing fewer moral scruples than you, you will lose.  No matter how clever you think you are, any interaction – business, social or romantic – with someone whose moral threshold is lower than yours will eventually bring pain.

X