Posts tagged " Ten Commandments "

Get Ready for Mother’s Day

January 8th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 5 comments

Mother’s Day is sacrosanct. It is almost a law of nature. Nobody dare disparage the purchase of those boxes of chocolate and the saccharine-flavored greeting cards that accompany them. Few would discourage dragging mom out to a crowded restaurant for that obligatory Mother’s Day meal. Were I to  question its value as a revered date on our calendar closer to its date in May, I would be excoriated for blasphemy. This week however, my Thought Tool can be welcomed as, oh say, research.

You see, here is what bothers me about it: Most would agree that the Ten Commandments lie at the core of Western civilization. Well, the Fifth Commandment doesn’t instruct us only to honor our fathers and mothers on two special days each year, does it? No, the Commandment is valid for 365 days each year and 366 in leap years.

My wife and I have always suspected that observance of an annual Mother’s Day or Father’s Day actually diminishes observance of the Fifth Commandment. Not wanting to run the risk of that happening, we just declared from our children’s infancy that in our home, every day would be Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

To my relief, our children accepted this, but on growing a little older, they inquired about another verse found early in the 19th chapter of Leviticus.

Everyone should fear his mother and father.  
(Leviticus 19:3)

Contrasting this with that Fifth Commandment which did so much for our family’s lifestyle, they asked, “Why reverse the order of father and mother?” In the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and mother” but in Leviticus, “Fear your mother and father”.  Does the Bible instruct us to honor our fathers more than our mothers but to fear our mothers more than our fathers?

Of course not! The Bible never asks us to do the easy and the natural. In fact, its very greatness is how it introduces us to the revolutionary idea that makes Western civilization possible. Namely that it is not only possible, but vital that we overcome nature, particularly our own. Behaving naturally is not the goal, dominating our nature is.

Toilet training a young child is an early time this lesson is administered. Don’t relieve yourself when it would be natural to do so, just as animals do. Be unnatural. Hold it in until an appropriate time and until you’re in an appropriate place. Behaving naturally is not the goal; dominating our nature is.

Although many in America consider it uncivilized to eat without first saying a blessing of gratitude for the food, it would be hard to find instructions about grace before meals in the Bible.  However, in the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy we are clearly instructed to give thanks after eating.

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

Ancient Jewish wisdom assures us that most of us feel considerably more spiritual and holy when hungry. (This dictum must be related closely to the one about no atheists in foxholes!) Fasting is necessary to observe the Day of Atonement because it puts us in the mood to atone. Since hunger induces piety, it is completely natural for all normal, sensitive humans to say grace prior to satisfying their hunger. Thus, we can be counted on to do so without instruction. What is unnatural is for the satiated diner with bulging belly, to pause prior to staggering away from the table in order to express profound gratitude to the Creator. That is an amazingly unnatural feat and it is precisely what is demanded of us.

Similarly, most of us feel a natural respect toward our mothers while we feel a natural fear of our fathers. I know that as a child, I much preferred my frequent mischief to be discovered first by my mother. Thus the Fifth Commandment teaches us the unnatural. Honor your father as much as you would naturally honor your mother. Then, in Leviticus, fear your mother just as much as you naturally fear your father. In other words, always strive to be far better than nature dictates. Behaving naturally is not the goal, dominating our nature is.

Mother’s Day may be part of nature, but it is unnatural and far more desirable to make today and tomorrow, and yes, everyday, just as much a Mother’s Day as will be May 12th.  If you do this really well, perhaps good, old Mom will let you off that dreadful Mother’s Day lunch.

Another question on which the Bible gives us guidance is which relationship gets priority:  our spouse or child. Early in Genesis, we find advice that differs for men and women. We discuss this and many other tips for marriage in our audio CD, Madam, I’m Adam: Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden. Right now, both the physical and download versions are on sale.

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Ditch the Doldrums

May 23rd, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

There are many life-metaphors to be found in the wonderful world of boats. Boats and people both embark on journeys and both can reach their destinations or sink.

When a boat is in the doldrums it is in that notorious windless zone near the equator. Old-time sailing vessels were often stuck there for weeks.  When a person is listless and despondent, he is also said to be in the doldrums.  But there is one major difference. While sailboats must await changing weather, humans have the miraculous capacity to bring about change in their lives themselves. 

Being marooned in stagnant circumstances is enough to make anyone miserable.  Change, growth, and progress are amazingly effective antidotes to depression. Most of us feel energized and optimistic when taking actions to improve our lives. Often, the changing calendar serves as a useful catalyst. But wait!  What’s the point?  We all know that most New Year resolutions fade away by spring.

One way to retain resolutions is to feel authentic, durable excitement in our souls about the spiritual magic of change.

Isn’t it rather strange how God introduced Himself to humanity on Sinai 3,330 years ago? 

I am the Lord your God who…
(Exodus 20:2)

Who did what?

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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.

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Nothing Trumps Your History

November 9th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 24 comments

When democracies vote, citizens hope to elect leaders whose values align with their own.  The problem is, how do you know?  One clue is to pay far more attention to what they have done over the years than to what they say.  Interestingly, in America’s recent election, the news media along with their attendant opinion-generators focused exclusively on the candidates’ words.  In one case to ignore prior misdeeds, and in the other to ignore prior accomplishments.  What is wonderful about raising children is that they pretty much ignore what parents say but derive their sense of values entirely from what parents actually do.  A man I know understands this well: here is his story.

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My son has autism and can’t connect with others

August 25th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 25 comments

Question:

I have been listening to your podcasts & have found them to be very informative & fascinating. I just listened to your episode of 2/20/16 about Jewish attitudes towards money, business, etc. I was saddened, though, as I heard you discuss the 10 Commandments in terms of God’s 5 Commandments about “connections”. I am the mother of a young adult autistic son who has never been (and most likely will never be) able to connect to people well enough to make a friend, hold a job, or lead what society considers a productive life.

As a Catholic Christian, I believe my son has dignity as a child created in the image of God. The inability to connect with others, though, is central to what it means to be autistic. It is a heartbreaking & serious lifelong condition that limits his ability to be a part of the world around him.

As you quoted from Genesis, God said,” It is not good for man to be alone,” but this is my son’s reality. How does Jewish wisdom respond to the unique challenges associated with autism? With autism becoming so much more prevalent, I wonder if you might address this topic for me & other families living with autistic family members.

Thank you so much & God bless you & your work!

Ann R.

Answer:

Dear Ann,

Thank you for trusting us with such a sensitive question. We completely agree with you that your son’s life has intrinsic value and dignity by virtue of being created in God’s image. (more…)

Repetition Reveals Reality

August 10th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment


James Bond knew it.  Sherlock Holmes knew it.  Even Lieutenant Columbo on the NBC show from the 70’s knew it.  There are no coincidences in life.  If these famous agents and detectives repeatedly spotted someone in their vicinity, they were being followed.  If the same gun was used at separate crime scenes, the crimes were linked.  When something occurs repeatedly, there is usually a useful message waiting to be recognized.  However, we don’t always get it.

You might have heard someone exclaim in exasperation, “That always happens to me!”   Maybe you have noticed repetitive patterns in your own life.  For instance, someone I know is frequently late for meetings and appointments.  He is quite certain this is always because of unexpectedly bad traffic.  A woman I know seems to lurch from one domestic crisis to the next and attributes it to bad karma—whatever that means.  A fellow boater has encountered rocks six times in six summers.  In each case the rocks won and his boat lost.  In each case he blamed bad luck that comes his way because long ago he changed his boat’s name.

Each and every one of us can surely examine our own lives for repeating patterns of undesirable events.  The value comes when we then honestly ask ourselves what is really responsible for those things happening.  Examining those repetitive events may reveal something vitally important about the reality you have created in your life.

Through studying Scripture, we are trained to become adept at spotting repetition.  When a word is central to understanding a certain passage, God highlights this for us by repeating the same word seven times. In ancient Jewish wisdom, seven implies a complete unit.  For example, we have seven colors of the rainbow, seven days of the week, seven weeks between Passover and Pentecost, and so on.

Additionally, the number seven in Hebrew is the same word as the Hebrew word for feeling satisfied and complete.

There are literally hundreds of examples of how God inserted the code of sevens into the Five Books of Moses.  Here is an amazing one.

We might think that the number ten reveals an essence of the Ten Commandments. However, an exploration of the sections of the Bible dealing with the Ten Commandments shines a different light on the matter.  

We read about these commandments for the first time in the last verse of Exodus 31. The word ‘tablets’ appears twice in that verse.  The word ‘tablets’ appears five more times as the story unfolds. (Exodus 32: 15-19)  Shortly thereafter, Moses smashed these tablets.

God instructed Moses to prepare another set of tablets and would you believe it! In the account of the second set; the word ‘tablets’ also appears seven times. (Exodus 34)

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses recounts the events of the past forty years in the desert.  Would you be surprised to see that the code of sevens is followed here too?

Sure enough, Moses tells about the first set of tablets mentioning the word ‘tablets’ exactly seven times. (Deuteronomy 9:9-17).  When he recalls how he smashed those tablets and made a new set, he again mentions the word ‘tablets’ seven times. (Deuteronomy 10:1-5)

In Scripture, this Divine Message is seldom referred to as the Ten Commandments but as you can see, it is called the Tablets (implying two-ness) twenty-eight (4 X 7) times.  This tells us that the ‘two-ness’ of the tablets was more important than the ‘ten-ness’ if you get my drift.

Through this method of seven-fold repetition, God directs us to look in a different direction. Focusing on repetition in our own lives can lead us down a more productive path of self-examination.

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