Posts tagged " King David "

The Mysterious Traveller

March 31st, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

In 2004, a beautiful blonde dropped out of Stanford University to start a biotech company she called Theranos. Before she was 21-years-old, she had raised hundreds of millions of dollars from some of America’s smartest and most sophisticated investors. These included ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; the owner of the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, Rupert Murdoch; and the Walton family, founders and owners of Walmart. Even then-vice-president, Joe Biden, toured Theranos and announced, “Talk about inspirational, this is inspirational.”

These investors weren’t deterred by articles questioning the technology of the company and the secretiveness of its founder. For example, the Journal of the American Medical Association was hardly reticent in expressing concern that Theranos was operating in “stealth mode”  and never published research in peer-reviewed medical journals. Their concerns were valid. Within a short space of time, Theranos was revealed as a scam and stupendous sums of money were lost.

How do smart people make such big mistakes?  This same question could be asked about all of us who have ever made bad mistakes with money, relationships or politics. It could be asked about every bright and intelligent person who carries regret for dreadful decisions.  Now, imagine if we possessed a foolproof ‘mistake monitor’ that could prevent us from making those egregious errors in life that end up being so costly.  Well, we do, but like all effective solutions, it is not a magic wand.  It takes hard work to deploy it in your life. Let’s begin.

Exodus 23:5, as usually translated, seems to be a straightforward verse:

If you see the donkey of your enemy lying under his burden,
you would refrain from helping him?— you shall surely help with him.

A deeper look shows a rather large problem with this translation. The word translated here as ‘help’ is repeated three times in the Hebrew. However, the Hebrew root,  A-Z-V  doesn’t mean help. It means ‘leave’ as in this verse: 

…therefore shall a man leave his father and mother…
(Genesis 2:24)

The Hebrew word for help is A-Z-R, not A-Z-V and leave is surely the very opposite of help. 

In II Samuel 11, King David displeased the Lord by taking Batsheva, wife of Uriah. The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to denounce King David, which Nathan did by way of a parable. He described Uriah as a poor man who had only one sheep and King David as a rich man who owned many sheep (wives).  One day a traveller visited the rich man and instead of preparing one of his own sheep for the traveller, the rich man (King David) took the poor man’s sheep (Batsheva) for the traveller. (II Samuel 12:4)

I am sure you see the colossal question: Why in the parable did Nathan introduce a “traveller”? In the real-life scenario there were only three parties, King David, Uriah, and Batsheva. Nathan tells the story as if there were four:  King David, Uriah, Batsheva, and the traveller for whom, said the prophet, the king really took the sheep.

Who is this mysterious traveller?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the traveller is the spirit of fantasy/imagination/romance that so often enters our souls. It is the intense emotional fixation we develop for something we want.  Without it, our better selves would simply and unequivocally banish the temptation.  But once that particular traveller has taken up residence in our souls, the temptation is no longer a moral temptation to be resisted.  We now rationalize and view it as the right thing to do.

David inadvertently saw Uriah’s wife bathing.  He didn’t just desire her, he ‘fell in love’ with her and even recognized with Divine insight that she was intended to be his wife. The traveller had entered his soul and fantasy/romance/imagination flourished. He not only wanted her, he actually decided to bring about that result.

Now that we know that the key word in Exodus 23:5 is not ‘help’ but ‘leave’ and that donkey is always a Biblical hint for our physical, material (versus spiritual) selves the verse more properly reads like this:

If you see the tangible reality of the tempting source of fantasy and imagination
(which is the enemy of your highest self)  lying under his burden (of harming you),
do not refrain from leaving him, you shall surely leave him.
(Exodus 23:5)

In other words, do not allow the powerfully persuasive force of emotional appeal to enter your decision-making apparatus.  It is always trying to harm you and hinder your progress. You feel tempted to make it a welcome visitor in your soul, but don’t do that. Get rid of it!

Those smart and successful investors in Theranos would never have foregone their due diligence had the company’s founder been a middle-aged man in a rumpled suit rather than a beautiful blonde in an immaculate black turtleneck.  They desperately wanted to be part of history’s first major hi-tech enterprise started by a young woman rather than by men. They fell in love. The emotional appeal of that proposition, along with her attractiveness, was easily strong enough to overcome natural caution and prudence.

Even the great King David fell victim to this dangerous tendency to welcome the ‘traveller’ into his soul.  Our challenge is to put ourselves on perpetual high alert to the peril of making important decisions once fantasy/emotional appeal/imagination has taken up residence in our souls.  That is no way to pick candidates, investments or spouses.

Touching base with yourself once a day – in writing – can banish the traveller.
Our new journal with its weekly challenge and inspiration can help.

Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges
with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

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Take Time to Make Time

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Our son celebrated his bar-mitzvah this past Shabbat, which included reading aloud in synagogue from the weekly Torah portion. His portion began with the words,  “If you walk in the way of my laws,” Leviticus 26:3.  The obvious question is why the Torah uses the word  ‘walk’?  Ancient Jewish wisdom says that this phrase is referring to Torah study.  How is walking part of studying Torah? 

We can learn an answer to this question from the behavior of King David.  David, like mothers, had many competing demands on his time.  He was the king of the nation and had national, political and military decisions to make.  He was also a Jew who carried his own personal obligation of Torah and self-development.  How did he balance the competing demands? 

The answer is that each morning instead of just waking up and starting to tackle his to-do items, King David would go to the Torah study hall to gather his thoughts.  There, in the study hall, he would organize his schedule for the day and decide how much time to devote in each part of the day to each of his responsibilities.  By making these scheduling decisions in the inspiring atmosphere of the study hall he was able to prioritize more effectively and leave more time for Torah study in his day than he would otherwise have had.  So in essence, walking to the appropriate place to plan his schedule led to more spirituality in his day. This is one of the reasons that walking in the ways of God is the introduction to this section of the Torah.

You and I probably can’t go to a study hall as we plan our day each morning with our cups of coffee.  But we can learn not only the importance of planning our days and schedules but doing it within the context of a spiritual connection. This will help us align our priorities correctly and schedule accordingly.  For me, spending time each morning, not just praying, but taking a few minutes in my room for what my children call, “Mommy’s private prayers,” gives me a chance to connect to God, orient, and center myself, and think through my day with my head in the right space.  When I come out from my private time I feel more prepared to tackle the many items on my calendar for the day wisely and well. 

We can all learn this lesson: taking the time to plan our daily schedules within a context of connection to God will enable us to focus on what is truly important to us and must be in our schedule, and which items can be dropped or delayed on each day.

What an overreaction!

June 22nd, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

“What an overreaction!” This exclamation came from a man who consulted me about some business problems. He was alluding to a former customer of his who angrily left him for a competitor and also bad-mouthed him to others. “We were late on a delivery and off he went on a rant,” he continued. “What an overreaction!”

My gentle questioning revealed that my client had not personally called the aggrieved customer to apologize nor had he offered any kind of compensation. But what was far more interesting was that I discovered that this occurrence was not the first time my client had delivered appalling service to this customer. It was not even the second time. It was the third. (more…)

How could Boaz do such a thing?

October 15th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 1 comment

Question:

God said the Moabites could not join with the Israelites yet Ruth was a Moabite. Did Boaz disobey, and what happens to Obed, Jesse and David?
It is difficult to believe Boaz did anything against God’s will.

∼ Vanaly P.

Answer:

Dear Vanaly,

There is a theme that runs through King David’s life of the despised becoming the elevated. He expresses this in Psalms 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone.”

(more…)

No Thank-you

November 23rd, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

My wife and I love receiving the thank-you notes a friend sends whenever she is a guest at one of our Shabbat meals. Unlike typical thank-you cards, hers detail the experiences at our table.  She mentions the delicious food, the scintillating conversation, and the stimulating company.  (I am quoting from a recent note she sent!)

My late father, the great rabbi, A. H. Lapin often said that saying, “thank-you for everything,” really means thank-you for nothing.  What he was getting at was that merely mouthing the words ‘thank-you’ is an inadequate response to the good we have received.  As the beneficiaries of good we ought to reciprocate with something more substantive than just disturbing a few air molecules as we vibrate our vocal chords into projecting two routine syllables.

A small gift or hand-written card is wonderful. At the very least, we ought to detail the precise benefits we derived and for which we are expressing appreciation.

Ancient Jewish wisdom points out something rather remarkable.  In the entire Torah, nobody says thank-you.  Adam doesn’t thank God for Eve; Abraham never thanks God for his son, Isaac, and Noah neglects to thank God for saving him from the flood. While the Israelites do sing a song of praise to God after their deliverance from Egypt, they never actually say the words, ‘thank-you’.

The word used in modern Israeli Hebrew for thank-you, todah, does not appear in the five books of Moses other than as the name of a specific gratitude offering:

And when you offer a Thank-you offering to the Lord…
(Leviticus 22:29)

This constitutes a valuable clue in our attempt to unravel the deeper meaning of thank-you.  It turns out that merely mouthing ‘thank-you’ is not part of God’s Biblical blueprint.  It is preferable to do an action reflecting your gratitude.

Or, at the very least, specify the details about which you are grateful, as we see demonstrated in Psalm 136.  King David says thank you to God but he doesn’t stop there.  He goes on for 26 verses specifying what acts of God he so deeply appreciates. Here are some of the verses.

Give thanks to God; for he is good;
for His loving kindness endures forever. (Verse 1)

To Him who with wisdom made the heavens;
for His loving kindness endures forever. (Verse 5)

To Him who made great lights;
for His loving kindness endures forever… (Verse 7)

The Jewish holyday most associated with giving thanks is Chanukah for which the liturgy explicitly prescribes expressions of gratitude to God.  I don’t consider it a coincidence that Chanukah and Thanksgiving often fall out within days from each other, as they do this year.

Appreciating the people around us is one way of appreciating God as well. After all, imagine the terrible loneliness if God didn’t provide us with a world full of potential friends, partners and companions.

This Thanksgiving, let’s not only give thanks to God but also to our family and friends, to our spouses and siblings.  Maybe even to our employers and fellow workers who all help to make it possible for us to live abundantly. What a marvelous time to practice King David’s lesson by joyfully specifying the benefits we derive from these relationships. Let’s give thanks for those things we easily take for granted and only notice when they are missing.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by people’s reactions.  You’ll be even more surprised to discover how uplifting it feels to appropriately deliver appreciation.

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