Posts tagged " Torah "

Is Judaism defined by one’s mother or father?

July 8th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

In the Bible, genealogies are stated mostly in terms of fathers and sons. Yet, in speaking to contemporary Jews, I am told that the determination of whether one is a Jew or not depends upon the mother’s lineage and faith.
 
Is that the Biblical standard or was that changed over time?

∼ Christopher J.

Answer:

Dear Christopher,

The Hebrew word for parents is ‘HoRiM.’  The ‘iM’ at the end denotes a plural word. There is no singular noun for ‘parent.’  Mother, yes. Father, yes. Parenthood, however, takes teamwork. Knowing this fact benefits everyone.

It encourages individuals to marry before having children and lets them know that they are depriving their children if they do otherwise. If a tragedy occurs and one of the parents is no longer alive or available to the child, then acknowledging that parenthood is a two person-two gender job allows the extended family and community to know that assistance is needed. Pretending that any and every family is equally desirable pretends to help children, while really it harms them.

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Never Marry Your Aunt

June 30th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

One of my least favorite laws was the National Speed Limit law of 1974 that mandated 55 miles per hour as the legal maximum.  Government assured us that it would save gasoline that, back then, we were lining up at gas stations to buy at, gasp! 55 cents a gallon. Of course the law did nothing of the sort, not even cutting the country’s fuel usage by a half of a percent.  Furthermore, I was hardly the only citizen who utterly ignored that law.  While cruising at a comfortable 85 along some straight and deserted highway in Montana or Nevada I was frequently overtaken by cars whooshing by in a blur.  Finally recognizing its futility, Congress repealed the law in 1995 returning speed limit decisions to the states.

How did they come up with the 55 miles per hour number back in 1974?  I hate to disillusion you, but some anonymous bureaucrats sat in an anonymous committee and pulled the number out of the air.  I’d have theorized that perhaps a brave and anonymous bureaucrat did it all on his own but then I realized that bureaucrats only make decisions from behind the safety shield of a committee.  So it was a committee that determined the magic number to be 55.  They could also have ruled 50, 60 or even 70.  Whatever they decided would become the law.  There are other laws like this; filing your income tax return by April 15, walking barefoot through the airport metal detector, and not buying more than 16 ounces of sugary drinks in New York City.  Laws like these are proscriptive laws. Some person or group of people with authority, proscribed them to be the law.  They could have made tax day May 29, they could have said you have to strip to your underwear at the airport, and they could have made 12 ounce Slurpees the maximum allowed.

However, there is another category of laws that I call descriptive laws.  These include the law of gravity which says that anyone who steps out of a window on the twentieth floor of a building will plummet downwards to a sudden and fatal stop on the sidewalk below.  There is no bureaucratic committee that can modify that law to apply only on Mondays.  This law does not proscribe. Instead it describes how the world really works.

Boyle’s Law and Charles’ Law state that expanding gases must cool down.  These convenient two laws make refrigerators and air conditioners possible.  There is no bureaucratic committee anywhere that can repeal these laws.  They were not created at the whim of Robert Boyle or Jacques Charles.  They describe reality.

Are Scriptural laws, for instance the one prohibiting men from marrying their aunts and women from marrying their nephews, proscriptive or descriptive?  (Leviticus 18:12 & 20:19)

In other words, would violating this law result in a penalty only if caught by a law enforcement officer or is the consequence intrinsic and automatic like gravity?

The first clue is that God’s concern is clearly not genetic. If it was, the Torah would also prohibit men from marrying their nieces and women from marrying their uncles.  Yet marriages with exactly the same genetic element are permitted.

What possible reason could God have for prohibiting a man from marrying his aunt but permitting him to marry his niece?  Likewise, why prohibit a woman from marrying her nephew while permitting her to marry her uncle?  While we need to listen to God regardless of whether we understand His reasoning, we are supposed to look for underlying truths He is imparting to us.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that that most women yearn to look up to the man they marry.  Sadly, many men discover that when poor conduct costs them the respect of their wives, the marriage is challenging to sustain and very hard to rescue. (While women also need to be respected by their husbands, it is a different form of respect.) Could the law we are discussing help tilt the odds towards successful marriage?

Ideally, in a thriving society, marriages draw inspiration and guidance from ancestors.  Many homes proudly display pictures of grandparents on the walls.  How often I hear women say, “My husband’s grandfather taught him how to…”  In my own case, I know how influential my wife’s grandmother was in her life. We even named our oldest daughter after her.

With admirable multi-generational awareness in a healthy family, a patriarch or matriarch is vitally important.  Now, if a man marries his aunt, then she is one generation closer to the cherished grandparents than he is.  This makes it just a tiny bit more difficult for him to retain his wife’s respect.  After all, she is a closer link in the transmission than he is.

However when a man marries his niece or a woman marries her uncle, the husband is a generation closer to the grandparents and the family heritage.  This is admittedly a small matter, but marriage is so difficult to do well and so remarkably rewarding when it is done well, that even tiny little things can make a difference. With this seemingly random Biblical law that affects very few people, the Bible provides a practical lesson even for those of us who don’t marry relatives.  It has nothing to do with arbitrary, proscriptive rules. Instead, it describes a feature of marriage and intergenerational life we would all do well to understand.

Many of the details in the first three chapters of Genesis provide descriptions of spiritual laws that God built into male/female relationships. We can ignore or object to these laws, or we can embrace and take advantage of them (even when our government and society condemn us for doing so). We expand on many of them in our 2 audio CD set, Madam, I’m Adam: Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden. Every couple, from dating to those celebrating Golden anniversaries can enjoy and benefit by learning how God’s world really works. Today more than ever, you need to make sure that those you love get exposed to the truth. The Supreme Court can proscribe laws; Genesis describes them.

 

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Saving Civilization

April 14th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

It’s hardly surprising that increasing numbers of women loathe men and detest masculinity.  After all, most of their experiences with men have been only with cads, scoundrels, rogues and rakes.  They have been exploited by clowns, abused by creeps, corrupted by crooks and debased by cranks.  Only a diminishing minority of women have enjoyed the privilege of living with that rare, noble creature, the loyal, loving and devoted husband.

It is in the nature of the human male to seek multiple sexual partners.  But God issued us a challenge: Be like angels, rather than like apes.  Only an animal must follow its nature; man must overcome it.  Resist your nature and rise above it; that way you will reap the blessings of the Biblical blueprint.

In our audio CD program Madam, I’m Adam-Marriage Secrets from Eden I pointed out how the Hebrew text (Genesis 2:7 & 19) emphasizes the contrast between man and animal, which is not visible in the English translation.

But you already know all this.  When a man and woman make a lifetime commitment to one another they each benefit from the resulting stability, sensuality, and happiness.  When a wife revels in her femininity and her husband submits his masculinity to the silken bonds of matrimony, the couple and the children they create form a cocoon of security and joy.

What you may not already know, however, is that the couple that surrenders to God’s connubial concept benefits not only themselves and their children but all of society as well.  Only societies that have successfully sublimated rampant male sexuality into marriage have built civilization.

The world is filled with countless cultures but only one civilization.  A civilization eschews violence in favor of voting and replaces bullets with ballots.  A civilization respects and values its women, escorting them onto the lifeboats before the men.  It values life and protects it by advancing the study of science and medicine.  It lifts its citizens from drudgery by promoting a vibrant economy.  It prefers beauty to vulgarity and gentleness to brutality.  Its basic unit is the family.

Every society that has successfully achieved civilization has learned that indulging human desire in unrestrained fashion leads both to personal and societal calamity.  Everybody knows that overeating with no self-control is bad.  People all recognize that alcohol without moderation brings massive problems.  Yet, when it comes to sex, many feel that unrestrained indulgence is liberating and progressive.  The tragedy is that unbridled concupiscence does more to rot the fabric of a society and erode the spirit of its citizens than almost anything else.

Perhaps the most dramatic disclosure of the entire Torah was the structure of sexual restriction found in Leviticus 18 and 20.  One can but imagine the wonder with which it was greeted by both Hebrews and Hittites.  The difference was that Hebrews immediately accepted those rules as binding whereas the Hittites, along with everyone else, mocked and jeered what they saw as repressive and primitive sexual boundaries.  The Hebrews still survive.

Israel was warned:

Like the behavior of the land of Egypt, where you lived, shall you not do; and like the behavior of the land of Canaan, where I bring you, shall you not do…

(Leviticus 18:3) 

  Ancient Jewish wisdom clarifies how the context makes clear that God is referring to sexual promiscuity.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the additional sexual restrictions circumscribing exactly who priests may marry (Leviticus 21) are not random restrictions but rather these rules contribute to the elevated status of the priests.  In other words, marital and sexual boundaries refine and advance men toward achievement while limitless licentiousness degrades men and lowers them to lethargy and indolence.

One of the greatest anthropologists was the early 20th century, Oxford and Cambridge scholar, Joseph Daniel Unwin.  He devoted his life to studying more than eighty different cultures which existed over a 5,000 year period and discovered an inviolable rule.  The more sexual restraints a culture practices, the higher its level of cultural, scientific, and economic achievement.  His magnum opus, Sex and Culture published in 1934, reveals the results of his research, including gems such as these:

“The whole of human history does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilized unless it has been absolutely monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs.”

In other words, the Judeo-Christian Biblically-based model of sex being confined to marriage is essential for the development of civilization and for its endurance.  Though Unwin captured this Biblical truth he did make one mistake.

He correctly argues that as societies become prosperous they become increasingly lax about sexual morality causing them to lose cultural cohesion and become confused about their purpose.  He died in 1936, so he never lived to see America as the latest society to prove his point.

Where Unwin errs is that he claims that the process is irreversible.  The truth is that Israel’s many failures brought it close to extinction but a religious revival always saved the day.  This can be the way back to national vitality for the US also.

You have a part to play in helping restore the culture you live in and one highly effective way to do so is by helping others access traditional, Biblical messages about relationships.  Rather than being relics of the past, these virtues are the path to the future. I encourage you to share the book Hands Off! This May Be Love with your pastors and friends. Most importantly, share it with the children you love.

Hands Off Cover final

 

 

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.

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You’re a One Hit Wonder, Jezebel

February 10th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you ever found yourself entranced by the video game, Angry Birds?  You might have thought that the stock of the company, Rovio, that started with the launch of that strangely addictive activity would be soaring as high as its colorful avian projectiles.  Not so; in fact it never came up with any subsequent games even remotely as popular.

That Thing You Do” was a moderately successful 1996 movie about a teen-age band in a small Pennsylvania town that achieves stardom with their eponymous hit song.  It was their first and last hit.  It was pretty much also the first and last directorial of well-liked actor, Tom Hanks.

You know those hideous rubber shoes that come in fluorescent colors? Well, the company that innovated that particular fashion accessory once enjoyed a stock price of about $70 but for years it has hovered around $10.  Those shoes apparently were the company’s only achievement. Since then profits have plummeted.

There was a time when over 4 million people had a television watching device called a Tivo, made by a company of the same name.  At its peak the company stock sold for about $60, but for quite a while it’s been down around $10.  The brains who came up with that innovative TV accessory have not come up with anything else and meanwhile viewers have fled Tivo for newer alternatives.

Let’s not even look at Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s Cubes or Pet Rocks. We’ve seen any number of one hit wonders that come out of nowhere, capture everyone’s attention, then just as quickly turn into attic clutter.  It even happens to people.

Meg Whitman took the reins at eBay in 1998, where she soon took it public and made it one of the most valuable companies on the Internet.  After ten great years at eBay she ran for governor of California, losing to career politician, Jerry Brown, in November 2010.  Hewlett Packard then picked her to head the giant computer company.  Things haven’t gone well.  HP stock is way down.  Bloomberg LP dubbed Meg Whitman the most underachieving CEO.  Another one hit wonder?

Ron Johnson was hired by Steve Jobs to create those sleek gadget-filled Apple stores.   Opening 300 stores with incredibly high average sales per square foot, Ron made Apple Stores the top American retailer.  Johnson seemed a miracle merchandiser but he was really a one hit wonder.  He next signed up as CEO of J.C.Penney. Seventeen months later, the giant retailer was in ruins and Ron Johnson was fired.

In general, it seems a far better plan to build a company on an ethos of constant improvement and innovation than basing strategy upon one individual or product with early stupendous success. It is certainly better to consistently provide attention and create good memories with children rather than providing one spectacular vacation week a year.

Where in ancient Jewish wisdom is this principle taught?  It’s time to revisit I Kings 18 & 19.

The wicked king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel led Israel into idolatry, worshipping the Baal.  God’s prophet, Elijah, challenged four hundred and fifty false prophets to have their god bring fire down to their sacrifice. They failed while God brought fire which consumed Elijah’s sacrifice.  This signaled a colossal defeat for Ahab and Jezebel which was compounded when Elijah brought a rainfall, ending a devastating drought.  This was the end of the false prophets and Israel returned to the Lord.  This has to have been the triumphant high point of Elijah’s life.

Then two astonishing things happen.  First, Jezebel sends a message to Elijah promising to kill him on the next day.  Second, Elijah falls into utter dejection.  He flees into the desert and prays for God to take his soul.

If Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah why didn’t she just do it today? Why telegraph her intentions of killing him tomorrow?  Furthermore, with his stunning success over the Baal and bringing Israel back to God, why was Elijah so depressed?

The clue is the verse that directly follows the queen’s threat.

And he [Elijah] saw and he arose and went towards his soul…
(I Kings 19:3)

 

The words are not, “and he heard,” the threats of the queen and he fled “for” his life.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Elijah “saw” as we today say, “Oh, I see…,” meaning I understand.  Elijah understood what the queen was saying.

He correctly understood her message to mean, “Elijah, I can’t kill you today because today you won. You produced an incomparable miracle.  You’re a big hero. Today.  However, if you think the effect will last, you’re terribly mistaken.  Tomorrow the people will forget what you did.  They will return to idolatry and then I will kill you.”

After a lifetime dedicated to keeping Israel attached to God, Elijah felt defeated.  He feared that Jezebel was correct and that the effects of his work would be short-lived.  He didn’t flee for his life; she wasn’t about to kill him.  He went towards his soul, convinced that his work in this world was done and ready to die.

One massive miracle that demonstrated God’s power would have no lasting impact.  Indeed, one fantastic and flamboyant triumph seldom has lasting value.  But Elijah was nonetheless wrong. His life was not just one pyrotechnic extravaganza.  It was the accumulated collection of a long list of accomplishments growing in significance.  As a result, his effectiveness lasts forever.  He never actually died.

…and Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
(II Kings 2:11)

When hiring an associate we can use this wisdom by seeking a candidate with a record of steadily increasing responsibilities and achievements rather than someone with an early meteoric rise.  When building a business enterprise we can plan for an airborne future rather than a flamboyant takeoff followed by a flameout.  When raising a child we must provide a consistent environment of attention rather than occasional extravagant treats amidst benign neglect. Avoid being a one hit wonder.

Many permanent principles like this one govern our relationship to money; making it, spending it, saving it and growing it. Fortunately over the past twenty years I gathered those many timeless truths from the Torah and now condensed them into two books, Thou Shall Prosper and Business Secrets from the Bible.

Make a change and enhance your 2015 finances by making this set a part of your strategies.  It could also bring about significant change in the financial fortunes of someone you love.  I am sure your gift would be well appreciated.

Financial Book Package

 

You Want the Last Word?

January 6th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Has one of your children ever approached you with a long litany of complaints?  Your offspring begins detailing his grievances, some of them more perceived than real.  You gently interrupt to contradict the mistakes.

Perhaps it’s a friend or professional associate.  The instinct to defend ourselves against what we feel is an illegitimate allegation is all but irresistible.  The problem is that whether child, friend or business acquaintance, the odds are that the real resentment is only going to be mentioned at the very end.

By interrupting the catalog of charges and objecting to the first or second accusation, we never actually get to hear the climax, the main issue that brought about the confrontation in the first place.

The Torah also builds to a climax in its final lines.  The closing verse suggests that the entire book fulfills its purpose through the people of Israel.

And in all the mighty hand and all the awesome sight which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel.
 (Deuteronomy 34:12)

But, the Torah comprises five books.  Listen to the closing verse of the fourth book of the Torah:

These are the commandments and judgments which God commanded by the hand of Moses to the Children of Israel on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan near Jericho. (Numbers 36:13)

Again, we find Israel highlighted in this climactic final verse of Numbers.  To explore the possibility of a revealing pattern, let’s examine the last verse of the third book of the Torah:

These are the commandments that God commanded Moses for the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai.
(Leviticus 27:34)

Still, we’re not yet done.  Let’s see how the second book ends:

For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, through all their travels.
(Exodus 40:38)

That would seem to settle it.  The climax of each book seems to emphasize the Children of Israel.  Perhaps just as a matter of course, for the sake of completion, we’ll check the final verse of Genesis as well, but with every confidence that the pattern will be maintained.  Or will it?

And Joseph died at 110 years old and they embalmed him
 and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
 (Genesis 50:26)

Oops!  No mention of Israel.  Just when it seemed so clear.

But wait!  By the end of Genesis, there is no People of Israel.  There is only Jacob and his family living in exile in Egypt.  It follows that having no mention of the People of Israel in the final verse of Genesis makes perfect sense.

This begs the question. When did the People of Israel come into existence?  Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that Israel became a people when it acquired a national mission.  In other words, the first time God issued a commandment to the people of Israel is the moment when they emerged onto the stage of world history.

Here is the first commandment issued to the nascent nation:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.”
(Exodus 12:1-2)

Ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that in some ways, this twelfth chapter of Exodus represents the real beginning.  In this case, the first section of the Torah would really end with these words:

…but God strengthened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not send out the Children of Israel from his land.
(Exodus 11:10)

To the extent that this approach provides an alternate picture of the Torah, the first book, comprising Genesis and the first eleven chapters of Exodus also ends with a mention of the word Israel. God’s revelation, the Torah, emphasizes as a climax the emergence of the people of Israel to help the world replace barbarism with civilization.

We see that the final words often reveal the real purpose of the entire communication.  As hard as it is to hear complaints, particularly with family, try to nod encouragingly without interrupting in order to be able to hear the entire list.  The climax will probably only come just before your interlocutor finally falls silent.

That is then an excellent time to repeat the main complaint with the words, “So do I understand that you are chiefly unhappy because I (did) (said)…etc.?”  Then you should say, “I can tell that you have been thinking about this for a while and I am going to take a day to digest all you’ve said; is it okay if I get back to you tomorrow?”

In this fashion, you not only secure yourself some time to think carefully, but by the next day, the emotional tensions will largely have dissipated and the resulting conversation is likely to bring the rewarding result of rescuing the relationship.

And those closing words are the climax of today’s Thought Tool.

Start the New Year with the resolution of more Bible study through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom. A deeper look into Genesis will provide insights to improve your relationships with God, your family and community. Our Genesis Journeys audio CD package contains eight hours of teachings sure to get 2015 off on the right foot.

Genesis Journeys

 

Action Man

November 25th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you noticed how many men seem allergic to something broken?  Often a man acquires a new car and the first thing he does is lift the hood to see if anything needs doing.  Perhaps he installs a police-radar detector or buys safety valve stem caps for his tires.  Here’s the secret: for men, engagement means action and action means engagement.  For men, connecting with someone or something usually involves action.

For a man to be happy at work, he needs to be recognized for solving problems.  The uniformed services attract men partially because they are action oriented. Men meeting one another shake hands, fist bump, slap one another’s shoulders or hug boisterously.  Women connect just as powerfully but a delicate kiss precedes the important, non-physical, animated conversation.  For women engagement often means talking.

If you still remain in any doubt on this male female distinction, just watch how much more actively and physically little boys play with their peers than little girls with theirs.  Or notice how women in marriage seek more conversation while men would like more physical interaction. Both want to engage with their spouses; each gender goes about it a little differently.

Young men who are perhaps insufficiently active in their business lives sometimes undergo dramatic change upon marriage.  God created males in such a way that it is impossible to enjoy ultimate connection with a wife without action on the part of the male.  This reality can spread benefit to every part of their lives, particularly financial.

Isaac, the first born Jew, appears in the opening verses of Genesis 21.  Strangely, for the longest time, we don’t see him doing anything or even saying anything.  Finally, when he is in his thirties, comes the seminal binding of Isaac upon the sacrificial altar. At the age of 37 for the very first time he speaks, asking, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” (Genesis 22:7)  Immediately after this comes Sarah’s death and burial.  There is a greater obligation upon a child to mourn and bury a parent than upon a man to bury his wife, yet Isaac is missing in action.

Next come selecting a wife for Isaac and, once again, the man of the moment is nowhere to be seen.  Abraham arranges all with Eliezer who subsequently finds Rebecca and brings her back (Genesis 24:1-61).

Finally, Isaac returns from a journey and goes out to the field to pray (Genesis 24:62-63).  He sees Rebecca and springs into action.

And Isaac took (Rebecca) into the tent of his mother, Sara, and he married her and she became his wife and he loved her…
 (Genesis 24: 67)

Isaac then becomes active, burying his father, Abraham, just as we’d expect.  He prays for his wife and they have two sons Jacob and Esau.  He relocates his family to Gerar, digs wells, and initiates a special blessing to his sons fifty-seven years before his death.  He sends Jacob away to Rebecca’s family and lives until 180, whereupon his two sons bury him.

What suddenly caused Isaac to become so active cementing his place as the second of the three forefathers of Israel?  The process of becoming a husband and a father changed him.  Indeed, Abraham sought out a wife for him but Isaac alone embraced Rebecca, brought her into the tent of his late mother, loved her and fathered her two sons.

I have often discussed how God built our bodies to reflect our spiritual realities.  I have explained about eyes and ears, and taught on the internal asymmetry and external symmetry of our bodies. Now, I will point out how God made human males sexually distinct from virtually all other male mammals.

Reproduction is made possible in almost every mammal male— including gorillas and baboons— by means of a rigid bone, called a baculum, which facilitates the mating process.  However, for human males no such material aid exists. Mating depends entirely upon the spiritual desire the man feels for his wife.  God wanted human male/female connections to be so much more than biological.  If reproduction is the only goal, a rigid bone coming into play is immensely useful.  However, if God’s main goal is for authentic connection on every level to take place between a man and woman, then a baculum would detract from the relationship, making it merely physical.

God’s design of the human male without a baculum ensures that the man is fully invested in the connection.  His mind can’t be elsewhere; if it is, there will be no connection.  He cannot be distracted or uninterested; if he is, there will be no connection.  Connection and engagement are linked to action.  That action only become possible if authentic connection exists. (In the case of rape or a prostitute or hook-ups, the sinful connection may be one of anger, scorn or selfishness, but it still takes the man’s total and complete attention.)

This connection between action and marriage that helps pinpoint Isaac’s becoming active, also explains the remarkable correlation between men, their marital status, and the amount of money they make.  In the United States, single men of every background are the poorest demographic in society.  Married men tend to be active and engaged and few things are better indicators of wealth creation.

Many more astounding connections in our amazing world are found in ancient Jewish wisdom.

Chatter is Cheap

October 14th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

In social settings, one sometimes hears people babbling about the marvelous things that they are going to do.  In the business environment, it is even more unsettling to hear an entrepreneur making public pronouncements of forthcoming achievements.  Anyone with even the most basic understanding of how the world REALLY works knows that saying a lot in advance of actually doing anything is a bad sign.

Ancient Jewish wisdom warns against promising much and delivering little or nothing.  This is described in the account of Abraham who wants to acquire a burial place for his beloved wife, Sarah, from the landowner, Ephron the Hittite,.

Abraham offers to buy the cave of Machpelah for its appropriate monetary value. (Genesis 23:9)

Ephron responds by magnanimously assuring Abraham that he can have it for free. (Genesis 23:10-11)

Yet as the conversation progresses (Genesis 23:15-16), Ephron insists on 400 pieces of silver, which Abraham promptly pays.  According to the Code of Hammurabi (from approximately the same period), the average annual household income then was five pieces of silver.  Compared to American averages today, Ephron asked the equivalent of $3M-$4M for a field and a cave. His generous talk was just that – talk.

Scripture also offers an example where someone delivers far more than he promises.

Abraham offers water and bread to the three angels, whom he mistakenly assumes to be men.  (Genesis 18:4-5)

However, what he actually brought them was far more lavish: many cakes baked with a large amount of fine flour, a calf, butter, and milk. (Genesis 18:6-8)

Regarding these tales, ancient Jewish wisdom offers a much-quoted aphorism, “Say little and do much.”  It is easy to read this as good proscriptive advice.  Be like Abraham who delivered much more than he promised, and not like Ephron who promised more than he delivered.  However, there is more to this popular saying.

This phrase is not only proscriptive; it is also descriptive.  If you say little, you will end up doing much.  On the other hand, those who do a lot of talking will end up achieving far less than they could.  Why should that be?

Whether you are building a skyscraper or baking a cake, you start by assessing your resources.  Do you have the money, the manpower, the raw material and everything else needed for successful completion of the project?

It is important that none of these resources is wasted.  Each must be put to productive use.  Similarly, in all projects there is also a finite spiritual energy and will with which to get the job done.

One way of wasting and dissipating that will and spiritual energy is to talk about it more than necessary.  By talking less, you will achieve more.

For example if you have just enough gas in your car’s tank to reach your destination, it makes no sense to leave the car idling for ten minutes before you even depart on your journey. You now will have less fuel than you need to reach your target.

Imagine an athlete staying up and socializing the entire night before an important challenge.  He would do better to harness all his resources for the upcoming contest.

Similarly, the act of chattering endlessly about your deepest ambitions is a sure way to have less energy and determination available to achieve those goals. Being productive is difficult enough without needlessly squandering your spiritual resources.

One reliable technique to avoid energy-eroding chatter is making sure you devote regular time to absorbing worthy material.  Think about it.  The chief difference between me today and me yesterday are the ideas I have absorbed.  Our famously popular library pack comprises 19 different books, DVDs and audio/visual resources. It is an absolute treasure trove of ideas.  We are heading into the final holy days of this special month in the Jewish calendar.

LibraryPackage with BSB, April 2014

For Goodness Sakes

September 30th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Pssst!  Hey guys, want to know a secret?  Ever wondered why so many women love being pregnant?  Though you might consider it presumptuous that I, a man, answer this very female question, I’m actually well able to do so.  You see, it is for the same reason that many people find a journey on an airplane to be quite relaxing.  Once a TSA agent with the charm of Torquemada has inflicted his attention upon us and once we’ve endured the cattle-slaughter-house-atmosphere of the boarding process, yes, we do find the rest of the trip strangely relaxing.

Even if you do nothing else but read and snooze while on an airplane, you are still advancing towards your objective. Every minute carries you ten miles closer to your destination. To a far greater extent, even if she does nothing but eat and sleep, every minute of pregnancy brings the future mother closer to a transcendent moment.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to simulate this aspect of pregnancy?  How gratifying to know that every minute of the day is carrying you closer to your destination.  How do we ensure that each moment of our lives is an investment that lasts forever?

Since good endures forever, we need only ask ourselves constantly whether the manner in which we intend spending the next hour is good.  Naturally, the term good needs definition.  What good means to an ardent Islamic fanatic in Iraq is quite different from what good means to, say, a faithful Christian farmer and family man in Fresno.

From a Biblical perspective, good comprises four categories of action. (i)  Improving our relationship with God.  (ii)  Advancing the interests of our families.   (iii)  Advancing our financial interests.  (iv) Serving the interests of our friends and fellow citizens.

Time and energy invested in these four activities is good, carrying lasting impact, and is thus never wasted.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the first time in the Torah that a specific letter is used to start a word, that word provides a key to the inner meaning of that initial letter.

Consider the first usage of the word good in Scripture.

And God saw the light, that it was good…
(Genesis 1:4)

 The Hebrew word for good is TOV.  Its initial letter Tet is the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, with a numerical value of nine. In ancient Jewish wisdom, the number nine is linked to pregnancy. Since TOV is the first word in the Bible to start with a Tet, it is linked to good.

 Tet = 9 = TOV = good = pregnancy

 Pregnancy fits all four categories of good actions: (i) becoming a partner in creation with God (ii) family (iii) Having children provides a worthwhile reason for gaining wealth. (iv) A well-raised and productive human being blesses the society into which it is born.

The thirteen verses containing the second appearance of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-18) contain at least one instance of every single letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Amazingly, the thirteen verses containing the first appearance of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-14) reveal one stunningly conspicuous exception.

The letter Tet is completely absent from the first commandments!

Anything good endures forever, and Moses was destined to cast down and shatter the first two tablets of the Ten Commandments.  Had they contained the letter Tet, representing the concept of good, they could not have been destroyed.  However, the thirteen verses comprising the second appearance of the Ten Commandments do contain the letter Tet, because these tablets last forever.  It is found in the Hebrew word NeTuYaH meaning ‘outstretched’. (Deuteronomy 5:15)

Therefore, in order to avoid a single wasted hour or a single wasted joule of our energy we need to strive to ensure that each waking hour is devoted to serving God, our families, our financial interests and God’s other children.

Failure to do so means looking back at wasted time and effort which can evoke the sensation of sickness of soul similar to the debilitating nausea of the first trimester of pregnancy or of a particularly bumpy plane ride.

For ancient Jewish wisdom’s unique unfolding of relationship secrets, listen to our audio CD, The Ten Commandments: How Two Tablets Can Transform Your Life. It presents the most familiar Biblical passage in ways you’ve never heard before and reveals authentic insights and practical procedures that God wants us to deploy in developing all our relationships. The persuasive truths you will learn from this audio CD will inspire you and astound your friends.

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Let’s Get Together

July 9th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

In the 1961 movie The Parent Trap as well as in its 1998 remake, two young girls at a summer camp loathe one another until they discover that they are really twins.  They then collaborate in a plot to bring their divorced parents back together again.

The movie worked well partially because of the genuine love that grows between the two girls even before they hit on the idea of restoring their broken family.  Authentic unity based on real connection can greatly further shared interests.

By way of contrast, when George and Sandra started dating they saw shared preferences, such as choosing the same dish at a restaurant, as a thrilling indication that they were meant to be together.  But in spite of liking the same food and having similar tastes in music and entertainment, their romance didn’t last long.

In the Middle East, two notorious groups, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, often act in concert and with all appearances of unity based on their shared hatred of Israel.  However they have fought one another before and will fight again.  An illusion of unity based only on shared interests can mislead both individuals and groups.

Seven weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai in order to receive the Ten Commandments.

In their long journey through the desert, the Israelites camped many times.  With one exception, the Hebrew verb used for this camping is in the plural.  They, meaning many people, camped.  There is only one exception in which the singular verb is used:

…then Israel camped (singular) there by the mountain.
(Exodus 19:2)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that their submission to God and their eagerness to accept His Law unified them in a unique fashion. Hence the verb camped appears in the singular.  They camped as if they were one person, an utterly united people.

However, there is another interesting example of unity.  Perplexingly, their Egyptian pursuers were also unified:

…and the Children of Israel lifted up their eyes and behold Egypt is traveling after them…
(Exodus 14:10)

The verb traveling appears in its singular form. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the Egyptians were also unified by their shared mission to capture the Israelites.

Israel’s unity leads to their becoming God’s people, winning their land and lasting destiny.  Egypt’s unity leads to drowning in the Red Sea, death and oblivion.  What is the difference between the two unities?

In the case of Israel, (Exodus 19:2) the Hebrew verb “and he camped” VaYiCHaN implying unity, appears before the word Israel.

However, in the case of Egypt, (Exodus 14:10) the Hebrew verb ‘is traveling’ NoSeA implying unity, appears after the word Egypt.

In other words, just before receiving the Ten Commandments, Israel was unified in preparation for their mission of receiving the Torah. The unification preceded their national identity and its mission.  Egypt’s national identity and its mission of hauling Israel back into slavery was the cause of its unity.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that love that is dependent upon some outside factor is temporary.  Once the outside factor no longer exerts its influence, the love vanishes.  However, love that is genuine lasts and imparts durability.

For this reason, Biblical marriage is based on commitment producing love rather than hoping that love will bring commitment.  Love based on attraction may or may not bring constant commitment but commitment will almost always bring lasting love.

Similarly, business partnerships between parties that feel real respect and affection for one another do better than those that are based only on shared interests.  Families whose members are bound by nothing but socio-economic commonalities are not the same as those bound by ties of deep love and filial obligation.

Thinking that there is a deep bond of affection, only to find that there isn’t one causes much heartbreak and disillusionment. Summer and the fall season frequently herald new living circumstances and making new acquaintances. Our store carries two books, Hands Off: This May be Love and I Only Want to Get Married Once, by acclaimed authors because we think that the easily accessible, often humorous wisdom in these books is so valuable. We urge you to read them and share them with others, especially young people who have the opportunity, with your help, of choosing smart, successful relationships.

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