Posts tagged " Passover "

Recite, Repeat, Rejuvenate

April 14th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

Very early in the Passover Seder we ask a question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” followed by four examples of unusual behavior. This section is often inaccurately called “The Four Questions.” From there, we annually follow the same program, reading, singing and/or chanting the same words, eating the same foods and doing the same actions as our ancestors. Yet, if that is all that you do, there is every chance that your Seder can become an uninspiring chore. It may foster warm family feeling, but do little for one’s relationship with God.

The test of a truly successful Seder, is one that indeed is exactly like every previous one in its details, but that is breathtakingly groundbreaking in terms of the discussion, questions, debate and insights. What a wonderful model for any family, group or country that wants to survive and thrive over the long term. If you break away from the core requirements, you lose your connection to the past,  becoming something new rather than a continuation of your past. If you cling so narrowly to the past that you can’t explore new avenues and see things with fresh eyes, you become a fossil.

May we all have the wisdom to know when to cling tenaciously to the past and when to fearlessly forge the future.


From Stress to Salvation: A Passover Story

April 12th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

To the dismay of my parents and the bewilderment of my wife Susan’s parents, some years back we sailed our family from Los Angeles to Honolulu on our small sailboat. We spent nearly a year in preparation. Susan planned the meals for the entire voyage and wrote down where each item of food was stored, while I strengthened the vessel and polished my celestial navigation skills. We departed on the fourth of July and by mid-month we were about a thousand miles from the West Coast and the same distance from Hawaii.

That night, as usual, I measured our water supply and in an exhausted state from too many hours on watch mistakenly determined that we had only one more day’s water left. In a terrible panic, all I could think about was how would I keep my family alive till we reached Hawaii. In my mind that became the only problem.


Is There Food in Your Purse?

April 4th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

As the rabbi of a large congregation, my father attended many weddings and bar-mitzvahs.  My mother usually accompanied him and on rare occasions I got to go as well.  I always assumed that when this happened, I was being rewarded for good behavior.  It wasn’t until years later that my mother confided that the times when I was taken along were when the babysitter positively refused to have me at home.

While attending one particular bar-mitzvah with my parents when I was about ten years-old, I clearly remember spotting a woman surreptitiously sweeping some cookies off the table and into her rather capacious purse.  I instantly realized that she was harboring a fugitive to whom she needed to get food.  My fevered mind needed to know whether her fugitive was a criminal or a hero.  Clearly the only way to find out more was to place her under my diligent surveillance for the rest of the afternoon.  I observed her sneaking some fish and fruit into her bag.  Sooner or later, I would surely catch her leaving  the hall and by following her I would determine the identity of the person she was hiding.


Get a Good Mood from Food Dude

April 26th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Food is fuel, isn’t it? A meal for a human is the equivalent of adding wood to our fireplace. After all, our body temperature must be maintained at about 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Just as a home furnace converts firewood, coal, oil, or natural gas into heat, so do our bodies convert food into heat. Naturally we feel cold when we are famished.

But if food is just fuel, why do we crave steak and fries today; eggplant parmesan tomorrow, and spinach quiche the next day? Why don’t we want celery and peanut butter every day? After all, we don’t fuel our fireplaces with wood today and coal tomorrow.   Clearly something else is going on. Food is far more than merely fuel. (more…)

Passover’s 15-Step Program

April 1st, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Countless people will soon be observing a Passover Seder.  There are many important aspects to running an effective Seder, but perhaps the most important and the least known is that the Seder, meaning order, is an arrangement of fifteen indispensable steps from start to finish.  In order to explain this to you, I must first explain the significance of the number fifteen.

The periodic table arranges into a grid all the chemical elements out of which the entire universe and its contents are comprised.  These elements of creation are laid out in the order of increasing number of protons in their nuclei.  Thus, for instance, the first element, hydrogen, has one proton in its atomic nucleus while the 92nd,  uranium, has 92 protons.

The fifteenth element, with yes, 15 protons, is phosphorus which has the distinction of giving off light.  It is from this element that we derive the term phosphorescence to describe anything that gives off light without being burned.  Phosphorus was used not only in the manufacture of early matches but also to make luminous watch dials in the early 20th century.

It is interesting that the fifteenth element radiates light because the fifteenth generation from Abraham was King Solomon who radiated light in the form of wisdom.  We still use the phrase ‘seeing the light’ to suggest becoming wise.  The final few verses in the Book of Ruth detail the ten generations from Peretz to David, the father of Solomon.  From Genesis we know that Abrahm, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah, were the four generations leading to Peretz for a total of 15 generation from Judaism’s founder, Abraham, to Solomon’s building the Temple, the domicile of Divine light.

In Jewish numerology the number fifteen always signifies the fifteen steps necessary for the attainment of a lofty objective.  In Solomon’s Temple, there were fifteen steps leading up towards the Holy of Holies. The priests sang one psalm on each step as they ascended.  Thus we find fifteen psalms that open with the words, “Song of The Steps” (Psalms 120-134)


Similarly, the Passover Seder comprises fifteen separate agenda items, each of which is a necessary step from where we are now to where we hope to arrive by the Seder’s conclusion.

1.  Kadesh.  The blessing over the first cup of wine. The word means sanctification.  It also means separation which is a necessary first step in sanctification. We are separating and sanctifying the time we shall spend in the Seder from all other time.

2.  U’rechatz.  Washing the hands.  The primary organs for moving food from the world into our bodies are our hands.  By pouring water over them, we dedicate them in purity even though we utter no blessing at this point, elevating the physical act of eating to a spiritual purpose.

3.  Karpas.  Dipping a vegetable that grows underground into salt water and eating it.  We start off the evening acknowledging that we are from the earth and its oceans and to the earth we shall return.

4.  Yachatz.  Breaking the middle of the 3 special matzohs in half and putting one half aside for step number 12 later on.  The only way to grow is to recognize our flaws which is, in essence, the breaking of our egos.

5.  Magid.  Reciting the story of the Exodus from the Hagadah.  What distinguishes us from animals incapable of growth is our ability to speak.  This part of the Seder is exercising our ability to communicate by means of stories, questions and answers.

6.  Rachtzah.  Washing the hands again.  However, this time, on account of our already having ascended through the first five steps, we merit to bless God as we further sanctify our hands before the meal.

7.  Motzi.  The usual blessing over bread.  Although we use a substitute, matzoh, for Passover, we thank God for giving us the ability to eat, not just the fruit and vegetables of the earth but also the unique human food, bread.

8.  Matzoh.  The blessing over the matzoh.  This is the first taste of matzoh, the main food of the Seder and further suggests our willingness to subdue our egos by getting rid of all the ‘hot air’ that differentiates bread from matzoh.

9.  Maror.  Eating the bitter herb.  A mouthful of horseradish which leaves us gasping for breath with our eyes streaming emphasizes that unless we acknowledge that our past mistakes were indeed mistakes that have caused pain, growth is impossible.

10.  Korech.  Eating a matzoh bitter herb sandwich.  Our pure souls unencumbered by pompousness and arrogance unified with acknowledging yesterday’s painful mistakes is the perfect recipe for growth and transformation.

11.  Shulchan Oreich.  The set table at which we now eat a festive meal.  We don’t merely open a few cans of cranberry sauce or gobble up a mass produced hamburgers. A set table signifies that we do not eat merely for survival as do animals.

12.  Tzafun.  Eating the Afikomen.  That half of the middle matzoh put aside earlier in step 4 is eaten as the dessert.  The final taste in our mouths is not chocolate mousse or brandy flavored crepe suzette but the plain basic matzoh with which we began the evening’s process.  We never lose sight of what really matters.

13.  Bareich.  Grace after the meal.  At a time when we feel full and sated, it would be so easy to forget He who gave us the food.

14.  Hallel.  The section of the Seder in which we praise God.  After having worked our way through the first 13 steps, we know that we have made progress but we herein acknowledge that in the final analysis it is all up to God.

15.  Nirtzah.  Acceptable to God.  Here we reflect that through God’s love and acceptance of our imperfections and our efforts we achieve true spiritual transformation. Our fifteen steps are done and we feel the ever present light of the Almighty shining brightly enough to carry us through the entire year until we are privileged to do the Seder again, ideally in Messianic times, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

This ‘fifteen-step program’ leading to authentic transformation is one of many growth opportunities Passover presents. More  appear in earlier Thought Tools, including those found in our Thought Tool Set. This time of year is particularly attuned to spiritual growth. Make the most of it.


Yes, Boss!

March 19th, 2013 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Our office and store will be closed from sunset Monday night 3/25 Pacific Time through an hour after sunset Wednesday night 3/27 in obedience to God’s command to not work on the festival days of Passover.  We appreciate your patience.
Please look for your Thought Tool one day later than usual.

Please be aware that someone is sending emails, pretending to be from me,  trying to sell disreputable products and services.  We do not allow our email list to be used for anything but the ancient Jewish wisdom and Biblical resources that we ourselves publish.  Any email offering you anything else is spam and not from us.  We are now blessed with aggressive, competent legal and technical support that is working on identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators. Meanwhile, please delete any emails claiming to be from me or Thought Tools that promote non-Biblical products or services that are not found on our web store at This has been an immensely aggravating episode for us and if you have received any of these illegal emails, I am truly sorry for the inconvenience you’ve endured.


A friend’s new assistant didn’t arrive at the office until 11am and began packing up to leave at 2pm!  “Didn’t we agree you’d work all day today?” he asked.  “Yes,” she replied,  “but I have to think of me.”  She seemed surprised to be fired.  This wasn’t the first story of its kind that I’d heard.  Why are so many people clueless about a job?

We have all become so obsessed with freedom, rights, and choice that we’ve forgotten how much of our success and happiness is owed to restraint, duties, and rules.  Learning to place ourselves under authority is one message of Passover. Today’s educational system largely fails to teach this important skill so necessary for obtaining and keeping a job.  By contrast, the military does a splendid job teaching that the only way to get to give orders is to learn first to accept them.  The road to promotion leads through obedience.

Many mistakenly believe that Passover celebrates liberation.  But Moses never told Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”  God’s message really was, “Let my people go so that they may worship me in the desert.”  God did not free the Jews from being servants; he just freed them from being servants to Egypt.  Henceforth they were to be servants to Him.

Being enslaved by a man or a government makes less of us.  However choosing to be a servant of God transforms us into free and independent champions. Passover celebrates accepting God’s rules rather than rejecting the idea of having a boss.

Passover is an annual inoculation against a false idea. We could think that people would thrive if left to their own devices, without any external system of rules. Like the small child who yells, “You’re not the boss of me,” too many adults think that freedom means indulging every personal desire.

Being enslaved by Pharaoh served a vital function.  It taught the embryonic Jewish people how to take orders.  Thus, Passover celebrates the years of Jewish slavery as much as it does the exodus from Egypt. While the Egyptians were certainly responsible for their cruel behavior, Jews from then on recognize that the experience was a valuable one. The slavery had a purpose, teaching that all people are enslaved.  One’s only choice is whether to be enslaved to God’s rules or to a variety of bizarre human ideologies.

On this Monday night, we’ll celebrate the Passover Seder.  We will pore over a lengthy and detailed account of the Exodus, taste tear inducing bitter herbs with matzoh and solemnly drink four cups of wine to commemorate both slavery and redemption.

Paradoxically, true independence comes not through the abolition of all rules but through the acceptance of Divine rules.  Moses did urge Pharaoh to let the people go.  Not to free them from all authority, but to allow them to serve the One Authentic Authority.  This way, by bringing rules and structure into their lives they would gain real freedoms and choices.  What marvelous training for a job as well as for all of life itself.

This idea, like so many other valuable ones, flows directly from Hebrew. Our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, explores more than twenty-five words that hold wisdom for your life, even if you can’t read one letter of Hebrew. Get it on sale right now. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a word can make.

Also available on Kindle and Nook!


Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here

Dear Rabbi,

Why is Wisdom referred to as female in gender in the book of Proverbs?


Read Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Cleaning and Loving It

I have a friend who gets little pleasure from cooking. It is a reality of life for her rather than a tactile, sensual experience. That is, unless she is cooking for the Sabbath. When she does that, the activity is infused with meaning and importance and changes from an annoying necessity into a higher calling.

I feel somewhat the same about cleaning…READ MORE

Thought Tools April 10, 2012

April 10th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

A certain Passover image is burned into the memories of many American Jews. They remember Grandpa droning his way through the standardized text of the Seder (Passover evening program) while his children make a dutiful effort to listen. His grandchildren succumb to abject boredom.

Today, that picture has become rare. Those grandchildren have grown up. Some have utterly abandoned observance of Passover while others take it very seriously. The latter correctly understand the Passover Seder to be full of vital life lessons.

After being enslaved by the Egyptians for more than two centuries, no Hebrew even remembered what freedom meant. Their slave status was natural. Just as natural, in fact, as it is for each of us to accept our ‘Egypt’ as natural.

“Our Egypt?” you ask. Yes, our slavery to whatever circumstances 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.

Our audio CD Let Me Go teaches three vital strategies for escaping the invisible forces that restrain you from reaching your dreams. A peculiar phrase used in the description of the Exodus guides us towards a fourth 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 Bible substituted the past tense:

…and the Children of Israel went out with a high hand.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the present tense actually used 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 – present tense.

Second, the Hebrew word used for high is 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.”

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. 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. 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.

It is easy to descend into Egypt while searching for a life mate. I want you all to have the book, I Only Want to Get Married Once by a wise and experienced Jerusalem-based relationship coach. You or someone you love urgently needs the crucial guidance given here – and it’s only $10 online this week! Leave behind your status quo or help someone else do so!

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Beware the Misguided Majority

A Tale of Two Houses

April 20th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet


In observance and honor of the closing days
of the Passover holyday,
our offices and store will be closed from
sunset on Sunday, April 24 through

late night Tuesday, April 26.

Celebrities frequently crash and burn in flagrantly flamboyant ways. Their home lives implode and their careers slide. Other people often weather huge career upheavals by keeping their home lives strong and stable. Never underestimate how important it is to keep your house strong regardless of the storms and tempests you are fighting outside. Likewise, don’t underestimate how far a colleague’s performance could drop should he or she be undergoing the destruction of a house. This is one of the lessons of Passover being celebrated this week.

The Passover Seder’s ritual is largely based on this verse. It appears after the Exodus from Egypt has already taken place.

And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time,
‘What is this?’ you shall say to him,
‘With a mighty hand God took us out of Egypt,
from the house of bondage.

(Exodus 13:14)

To guarantee intergenerational continuity, we encourage the next generation to ask why we celebrate the Seder. We respond with three thematic elements: (i) a mighty hand; (ii) a taking out; (iii) a house of bondage.

The first, ‘mighty hand’ is often found throughout the account of the plagues. We even spot it earlier than this, back at the Burning Bush:

And I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go
except through a mighty hand.
(Exodus 3:19)

The second theme, ‘Taking or going out’ is also found many times in the Exodus story.

However, the third thematic element, ‘House of Bondage’ is new. We’ve only seen this phrase once before, eleven verses earlier:

Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day on which you went
out from Egypt, from the House of Bondage…’
(Exodus 13:3)

Later we see it again in the first of the Ten Commandments:

I am the Lord your God who took you
out of Egypt from the House of Bondage.
(Exodus 20:2)

It occurs again five times in the book of Deuteronomy.

While in Egypt the Israelites experienced the ‘mighty hand’ and the ‘going out’. But the phrase, ‘House of Bondage’ appears and is emphasized only after the Exodus is over.
We do see a different ‘house’ playing a significant role during the religious trigger that launched the Exodus; the Passover sacrifice, or the Pascal Lamb.

In one house shall it be eaten…
(Exodus 12:46)

And we see that ‘house’ being marked by blood:

They shall take some of its blood and place it on the two doorposts
and on the lintel of the houses in which they will eat it.
(Exodus 12:7)

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals the relationship between the two houses; the Egyptian house of bondage and the Hebrew house of deliverance.

In many languages, the word house can mean a school of thought, a culture, an organization or any group of people bound by a common vision.

There were two parallel parts to the Exodus. God took the Israelites physically out of Egypt, freeing them from slavery, oppression and suffering. However, they also needed to be taken out of the house of bondage, to leave Egypt spiritually. This is much more difficult. Often, it is easier to rescue someone from a traumatic circumstance than to expunge the psychological effects of the trauma.

The Israelites needed to be freed from the long-lasting psychological effects of slavery. On that special night of the Exodus, God began the process of taking us out of the Egyptian house of bondage by re-consecrating family integrity. Each family gathered inside its own house with its own Pascal Lamb, signaling the rebuilding of the family – blood relatives – as the primary group. The house of deliverance can overcome the house of bondage. That is not a one-time deliverance but instead is a battle each generation needs to fight, including in our own times.

I encourage you to embark on a program of consecrating your own house of deliverance by recommitting yourself and your family to a program of regular Bible study together. If you do not already possess my super-value Library Pack, now might be an excellent time to rectify that during our 15% off Passover sale. (See details on right).

Fifty Pounds of Potatoes, Fifteen Dozen Eggs…

April 13th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet


At the end of the meal, after proclaiming in a loud voice, “Thank you HaShem (God); thank you Grandma,” three year old Eli noticed that everyone at the table was looking at him. He explained to the group, “I like to thank both those guys.”

Which pretty much sums up our Passover. With God’s blessing, we had all our children and grandchildren around the holyday table for the first time in a number of years. While I spent many hours preparing the food for the seventeen to nineteen people at each meal of the eight day celebration (including ten festive meals), it truly was a labor of love.

This is not to say that it also wasn’t a lot of work. The planning started weeks in advance with a lot of unknowns. Would we have a very pregnant daughter at the table or a post-partum one? Or maybe the eagerly awaited family member would arrive during the festivities? Would we have a sparkling new and large kitchen to work in as well as extra bedrooms available or did the east coast winter snowstorms put another daughter’s planned move into a new home behind schedule?

Well, we are still waiting for the baby and about two weeks before Passover it became clear that a tiny kitchen would have to suffice and that we would need to impose on generous neighbors for beds. We rented an extra refrigerator, bought a counter top convection oven and moved the organizing/cleaning/shopping/cooking countdown into high gear.

Is Passover an easy holyday to make? No. But it is hard to think of anything that is worthwhile which doesn’t entail great effort. While this year had its specific complicating factors, other years have featured my own newborns, ovens and refrigerators that conked out, and a variety of other family and technical hurdles to overcome.

Still, while I appreciate the times we have spent Passover at friends or relatives as well as the availability of hotel Passover programs, my favorite years are like this one, when we are blessed enough to have the strength and time to do all the preparations and gather our family around our own table. The “easy” Passovers, when others do the work, can be wonderful, but they always feel a bit “Passover style” to me rather than the real thing. Not only are the weeks of preparation an intrinsic part of the celebration, but while the food may be delicious elsewhere, it doesn’t include those items whose smell and taste trigger the explosion of Passover memory receptors.  And had anyone other than I done the cooking, I would have missed out on my grandson placing me in such illustrious company.

As my mother always said at the holyday’s end each year, “May the same hands that put the Passover dishes away this year take them out again next year.” Amen.


Passover and…Sex?

March 16th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Movie screens suggest that sex is public and everyone’s business.  However, just try criticizing sexual misbehavior and you will be quickly told that sex is private and none of your business.  So, which is it?


It’s actually neither, or maybe we should say both.  Sex should be private but it is everybody’s business. 


Society rightly cares about what people do in their bedrooms.  Polygamy, promiscuity, incest, homosexuality and adultery have broad social consequences.  It is naïve to believe that, “What people do behind closed doors is only their own business.”  Reality demands that we acknowledge the genuine psychological, emotional, economic and civic consequences of these unions.


But nowadays many accept the strange notion that sex is nobody else’s business.  Fortunately, the holiday of Passover reminds us that this is untrue.


Exodus chapter 12 informs us that the Seder in Egypt included eating the Passover lamb.  There were rules surrounding that original Biblical Seder which can offer guidance for our times.  Three of these rules were:


(i)   Each family gathered to eat its own lamb; 

(ii)  The lamb’s blood was painted on the doorposts of each home;

(iii)  Males participating in that Seder had to be circumcised.


Years of slavery in Egypt damaged Jewish family life.  For its very first ritual as a nation, God gathered the Israelites, not into political, tribal, gender, or labor groupings but into individual families. By asserting the bond between husband, wife and children, God was reestablishing the importance of the family as society’s fundamental element. Hence, rule number one.


Painting blood onto the front door informed the world that behind that door lived a unique group of people.  Behind that door a man and woman engage in physical intimacy and behind that door they raise the children who, spiritually through adoption or physically through birth, are the fruit of that special union. That bloody door symbolized a boundary between the home of one’s blood family and the rest of society.  It reminds us today that the bonds uniting a family are entirely different from the bonds uniting a labor union or a tennis club.  Thus, rule number two.


Finally, being an uncircumcised Jew is incompatible with Passover because God did not take disparate individuals out of Egypt; He took a nation composed of families. All families and all societies thrive when everyone recognizes that sex is everybody’s business. When a baby boy is circumcised, there are two main requirements:  The procedure must be conducted during daylight and preferably in the presence of many people.  Thus every Jewish male knows that in broad daylight before other members of his community, a sign was placed upon his genital organ to remind him that what he does with it will always concern the community.


Society flaunts sex publicly while claiming it is private. Yet the truth is that sex is a private act with immensely powerful public impact.  Passover reminds us that how a country treats sex and family impacts every aspect of its existence.  Mishandling this volatile area can jeopardize a nation’s vitality, economy, and culture. The same is true within families.  There is a wise and Biblical way to teach the next generation about sex and family, and many wrong ways.  Families thrive when it is done correctly and are imperiled when it isn’t.  Pretending that sex is nobody’s business can wreak havoc.