The Write Way

In our age, when electronic communication has all but supplanted ink on paper, it is easy to overlook the great value of a handwritten letter.  Precisely because it is so effortless and inexpensive to dispatch messages, the value of an ink on paper letter has risen even higher. In an age when we communicate online with all our friends at once, a handwritten letter emphasizes, “I really care about you.”

History gifts us with letters between John and Abigail Adams as well as Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine.  Written with ink on paper, the letters reveal warmth of feeling and closeness that the men’s political nemeses probably never suspected they possessed. Letters between parents and children, friends, and even business acquaintances give us glimpses into multi-faceted lives otherwise too easy to dismiss with stereotypes and generalizations.

The handwritten word lets us forge relationships while hasty, impulsive electronic communication often serves to sever them. Let’s take a lesson from the years preceding the Flood.

And it was, when man began to increase…
(Genesis 6:1)

ר י ב                         ל ר ו ב

to increase                  quarrel


V o R al                           V i R

 In Hebrew, the word for “increase” is ‘laRoV’. The word is similar to the word for quarrel, ‘RiV’. In Hebrew, words that share core letters beg to be examined together. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that this phrase doesn’t refer to population size. It is describing people who have lost a shared moral framework and see each other as rivals rather than partners. Ten friends is a stimulating group; ten random people is an annoyance; ten enemies is a mob. Genesis 6:2 goes on to say how women  became the victims of this lack of fraternal feeling. Economically, sexually and socially, things rapidly went downhill from there.              rapidly

Now is an appropriate time to make sure that you are building real relationships. Writing handwritten letters is one helpful tool. Here are five tips:

1.   Obtain a nice fountain pen rather than using the promotional ballpoint pen from your last hotel room.

2.   Acquire some good quality notepaper rather than using an 8 ½ X 11 piece of white paper you removed from the copier machine.  Get matching envelopes.

3.   Keep pen, paper, envelopes and stamps together in some handy location so that when you consider writing a letter, you can instantly follow up with the action.

4.   Write alone and in silence, far from your computer and phone.  You’ll enjoy seeing how pen and paper stimulate your brain once you’ve banished the electronics.

5.   Think about what you wish to achieve and plan an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.  Write a draft; hone it and write a final copy.

You’ll get better and better at handwriting letters; your penmanship and style will both quickly improve.  Don’t allow thoughts of posterity to inhibit you; not all your letters will be worth keeping and not all will be kept.  Every now and again, you’ll write a gem that will show up years into the future and bring delight to others. 

22 thoughts on “The Write Way”

  1. Dear Rabbi, Because you are my Rabbi, I do indeed have questions for you. In Leviticus 20:22 , it says “Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.” What does that mean??
    And in Leviticus chapter 25, it speaks of the land having a year of rest, and also a Sabbath of rest?
    What does this mean to us today?
    I love your show. So much ancient Jewish wisdom. I glean so much from it.
    Thank you, Diana

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Diana–
      I know there is a disconnect between being ‘your rabbi’ and my limited ability to respond to the many questions we receive. For now, suffice it to say that those verses to which you allude apply only to the Land of Israel. What they mean to us today in other lands is that our relationships with the land on which we live is not only material. In amazing ways, the land is impacted by our spiritual condition as a group.
      So happy you watch our ancient Jewish wisdom tv show

  2. Govindarajulu A

    Vav what a friend you are brother,i really enjoying your thought tools,thank you so much. A brother namely Govindarajulu A from India.Yeshua is Lord of all

  3. Hello Rabbi, so blessed by your letters, videos and podcasts. I would like to ask regarding the first fruits. Do I need to give or offer everything I earn or the first pay to God just like what Israel did after they conquered Jericho? Or just some of it? I’m a little bit confused because the Bible says “some” in Genesis 4:3-4 “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,”. The Bible also says “all” in Proverbs 3:9 “Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops;”. If you could help me in my decisions when to give all or some, it will really help me a lot.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Bruce–
      I am bothered by the disconnect between being ‘your rabbi’ and my limited ability to answer the many questions we receive. In short, first fruits applies only in the land of Israel. So, today here in America, we give a tithe or more on all our earnings, rather than any first fruit offerings.

  4. Wonderful! My sister in law and I have often commiserated about the failure of schools to teach penmanship and simple letter writing skills. We both enjoy sending a receiving letters and notes and, though I no longer expect them from some quarters, thank you notes, written invitations, and so forth, from extended family members are cherished.

    Over the years, I’ve lost some of my most treasured possessions – not rubies or pearls – handwritten letters from my Grandmother, my Mom, and my Dad. I still have a few and take them out to read occasionally. Oh, the memories of shared love with my beloved family they bring back.

    Thank you for this musing. I think it might be time to pull out those letters again. Then, I think I will send notes to my dear great niece and great nephew. Blessings to you both and your entire family.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Joyce
      among the many good things GICs (Government Indoctrination Camps formerly known as public schools) no longer teach is how to compose and write a gracious thank you note. others are how money works and how male/female relationships work (the real thing not just the plumbing) Damage and destruction result.
      Hope you can encourage the younger members of your family to write again.

  5. Love you guys, you help me so much and I watch your program as often as I can. You have beautiful hearts!!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Bonita–
      So happy to hear you watch our TV program
      You are kind to judge us as having beautiful hearts but it is more important to judge whether we have beautiful actions. And that question, we must leave in the Hands of He who Judges all things.

  6. Patricia McLaughlin

    Dear Rabbi,
    I wrote a letter to a dear friend. We usually chat on the phone and send texts back and forth. I had some items I wanted to send her so I included a letter, she was touched by the items I sent her but commented on my beautiful handwriting. It uplifted me but also made me feel sad because we talked about how no one writes letters anymore. We also talked about penmanship and how that seems to be a lost art. So it goes, but I hope more people will read this and take the time out of their busy electronic days and write a letter. It is a little gift. I so enjoy reading your teachings.
    PS I wish I could have written this! 🙂

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Lovely letter, Patricia,
      And we imagined receiving it on linen paper in your elegant handwriting. Thank you.
      I hope you also get to see our tv show occasionally here:
      I think as a people we shall ultimately pay the price for our GICs being so obsessed with teaching children modern communication technologies that they neglect to teach them ancient communication technologies. A pen on paper draws forth more elegant composition from our souls than ever did a keyboard guiding electrons.

  7. I am looking forward to purchasing many of your mentioned books. I actually have so many that I haven’t been able to read yet. But yours are at the top of my list.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Debbie-
      and as an earlier commenter wrote, unread books are like blocks of wood. But upon reflection I am not sure I agree. After all, unlike blocks of wood, unread books on my shelf still inspire me and still draw me towards themselves. And having our books on your shelf is far closer to reading them than not even having them at all!
      Onwards and upwards

  8. Is this why cursive has been eliminated from many elementary schools because of the usage of the internet? I ordered a workbook that helped my son learn cursive tracing the large and small caps of the alphabet. Cursive, as I understand it, is said to stimulate the brain cells while the hand is in motion. Progressive education started over a hundred years ago with the industrialization age coming onboard and many educators felt a curriculum of the classics such as shakespeare and latin were of no use. I think religion was pretty much eliminated along the way too. I understand that studying robotic engineering is definitely a field that has a big future but taking away the classical education element is a mistake. Common core one size fits all curriculum as such. Any opinions would be appreciated Rabbi.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      We agree John–
      Teaching children technologies like how to use a toilet or a tech tablet is useful, of course. However, inculcating self-discipline, morality, and a hunger for wisdom is also useful and important. Perhaps much more important. Writing with a pen on paper draws forth far more creativity from our souls than clacking away on a keyboard. Cursive is more helpful than printing for this purpose as it echoes the continuous process of creativity that has us leaping from idea to idea as cursive allows us to move from letter to letter without interruption.
      So called educators like John Dewey, Horace Mann, and other destructive zealots replaced the quest for wisdom with the mechanized production of socio economic cogs for the machinery of the state

  9. Carole Carrara

    I’ve gotten to books one for each of my grandchildren in which I can record my thoughts and things that I did when I was a child, things about their grandparents. What I liked and what I did not like and the list goes on. Unfortunately the public, or should I say the governmental school system, no longer teaches cursive writing. A couple of years ago I gave my granddaughter a birthday card with some words in it, Words of Love. She looked at the card, looked up at me, and said Grandma I can’t read this we didn’t learn cursive in school. I was shocked and horrified. It seems to me that if you can’t read cursive, you also can’t read many of our historic documents that are written and not typed out in the font of the day. Do you think that’s the reason they don’t teach cursive anymore? If you can’t read it, you don’t know what it says, or even what it means for you. Sometimes I send a handwritten letter to some friends in England telling them that it’s just nice for you to be able to read a note from across the ocean. They agreed. I do think handwritten notes are going to go the way of spats, wired corsets, powdered wigs and carriages. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it may not be as lasting.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Carole–
      actually we don’t think that handwritten note are going to vanish any more than polite manners and vulgarity free conversation are going to vanish. Sadly society is being polarized, not by race, gender or class but by those for whom these ‘old-time’ values are vital and those who view them as repressive obstructions to progress.

  10. Interesting indeed Rabbi. Reminds me of the following phrase: “The pen is mightier than the sword” a metonymic adage, coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. That was then, this is now. What would that author think of this age of email and social media now?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Lisa–
      In Bulwer-Lytton’s formulation, I don’t think it matters whether the words carrying the power he described are composed by pen on paper or by electrons on a screen. His point stands which is that ideas do ultimately drive the sword; and ideas are carried by words inscribed by pens. He knew of no other way to write other than pen on paper. I am sure he’d agree that in whatever way they are brought into existence, ideas are more powerful than armaments. The latter are usually put to work in service of the former. It is the idea of socialism that drove the destructive 20th century revolutions in Cuba, China, Russia and across Africa. Bulwer-Lytton would possibly think that his words are even truer today when huge numbers of people can be reached so quickly and easily and ideas can be so widely promulgated with email and social media. It is not an accident that the earliest electronic writing programs from 40 years ago were named things like Wordstar, Electric Pencil, and so on.

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          You’re welcome Lisa
          thanks for encouraging us with your notes.

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