Three Wise Men

September 2nd, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

What if I told you that you could change how intelligent you are–or your children will be? Perhaps you’re saying, “That’s ridiculous. IQ is immutable and unlikely to be altered by one’s behavior. Or maybe you’re saying, “I don’t know, but if it’s true sign me up!”

However you may have reacted, I hope you’re intrigued enough by this proposition of ancient Jewish wisdom to try it out for size.  I think you’ll be surprised at how precisely it accounts for your experiences in the real world. 

We read of three men whose wisdom was admired and whose guidance and leadership was sought: Joseph, Daniel, and Mordechai.  Each withstood alluring attempts to get him to abandon restraint.

Watch Joseph as his employer’s wife, by all accounts a most attractive woman, tries to seduce him.

…after these things, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, lie with me.  But he refused… ‘[saying] because you are his wife, how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’  And she spoke to Joseph day by day but he did not listen to her to lie with her or be with her. 
(Genesis 39:7-10

Soon after, we find that Joseph’s wisdom and leadership qualities become evident to all.

And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find anyone like this man in whom the spirit of God is’?  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘In as much as God has shown you all this, there is none so smart and wise as you are you shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled.’
(Genesis 41:38-40)

We encounter Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in the court of King Nebuchadnezar.  The Babylonian King, intending to entice them into the Babylonian aristocracy, arranged for them to be fed his royal, but unkosher, food. 

And the king appointed them a daily portion of the king’s food, and of the wine which he drank; and to bring them up during three years, that at its end they might stand before the king.  Among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
(Daniel 1:5-6)

Refusing to surrender their Hebrew identity, the four heroes requested a purely vegetarian diet (which is by definition kosher).  The king’s steward, nervous about disobeying the king and being held responsible for the four Jews not looking well fed, hesitated.  Daniel made this suggestion:

‘…test your servants, I beg you, ten days; and let them give us only vegetables to eat, and water to drink then let our faces be looked upon before you, against the faces of the other young people that eat of the portion of the king’s food; and according to what you see, deal with your servants’.  So he consented to them in this matter, and tested them ten days and at the end of ten days their faces appeared better in appearance…
(Daniel 1:11-15)

After resisting the appeal of the king’s food, Daniel and his colleagues became recognized for wisdom:

And the king talked with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah…in all matters of wisdom and understanding that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.
(Daniel 1:19-20)

Finally, we meet Mordechai who refused to bow to the wicked Haman. Each day, courtiers tried to persuade Mordechai to submit.

It came to pass as they spoke daily to him and he did not listen to them, that they told Haman…And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow, nor did him obeisance, then was Haman full of wrath.
(Esther 3:4-5)

Though it would have been so much easier to submit to Haman, Mordechai stood firm, loyal to his spiritual identity.  Not surprisingly, as the book ends, we read:

And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordechai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?..Mordechai the Jew was next to King Ahasuerus…
(Esther 10:1-2)

What phenomenon is playing out in all these cases? Leviticus 11:43 sheds light.

ולא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם

…nor shall you make yourselves impure with them [forbidden non-kosher foods] that you should be made impure by them.

The underlined Hebrew root for impure is  (טמ(א, pronounced TaM(eh)

Ancient Jewish wisdom asks what the repetition of the root word TaM adds to the verse. The response is that in addition to impure, the word also means unintelligent, dull  or– dumb. In fact, T’ and ‘D’ are both dental consonants, produced by placing the tongue behind the upper teeth causing considerable etymological ambiguity between these two letters.  Many scholars believe that the English word ‘dumb’ derived from the Hebrew source TaM. 

IMPURE      =         טמ             =             DUMB

The message is that yielding to pressure, including bodily appetites, reduces the chances of a happy and fulfilled life.  What is more, submitting to hedonistic urges gradually makes one stupid.  If practiced multi-generationally, it eventually produces very dumb people.  The process of exercising restraint and saying ‘no’ makes people smarter and better suited to leadership.

In other words, adhering to Biblical faith, its rituals of restraint and its principles, is a key to wisdom, leadership and success.  This is an inconvenient truth because so many who have cast their lot in with the camp of the secular fundamentalists, America’s current government-sponsored religion, are dismayed to discover the very real and practical benefits of the twin Biblical faiths, Judaism and Christianity.

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Ted says:

OK, now I’m totally confused. In your podcast on SoundCloud, “Ep 32 | Dealing With Death & How to Build Your Own Culture of Life”, at location 01:01:57 to 01:02:05, you state, “The Hebrew word is TaM(eh), and it absolutely does not mean unclean, it absolutely does not mean impure”. Yet “impure” is the word you emphasize as the meaning twice in today’s study, “Three Wise Men”. Maybe I have just become too TaM (dull or-dumb) to understand these things. But maybe, just maybe, you can help me understand. Thank you.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Congratulations Ted–
Excellent catch! Don’t worry, you’re not becoming too TaM; on the contrary, you’re exhibiting great wisdom. In this Thought Tool to which you allude, I did translate TaMe as impure although it is an appalling translation as I indicated in the podcast about an hour in. As I explained there, the true sense is an overwhelming yet subconscious awareness of death and death’s main drawback–choicelessness. Also eating anything you feel like or sleeping with whomever you feel like whenever exhibits the same choicelessness. Eventually, humans who constantly indulge with no restraint become ever less capable of resisting and along with that, they suffer a grievous loss of wisdom. This is of course precisely what the Thought Tool was about. So why didn’t I give the same explanation for TaMe in the Thought Tool that I provided in the podcast? Only because I try to keep Thought Tools well under 1,000 words for quick and easy reading and the full explanation would have added too many words and been slightly off topic. I also assumed nobody would notice. Boy! Was I wrong! I better go on a diet.

Corinna Goold says:

I’m so glad Ted asked the question. I loved hearing your explanation of tameh during your podcast, Rabbi. It has been misunderstood and mistranslated, therefore unfortunately, the meaning has not had the opportunity to have the highly positive impact a true understanding brings. I can definitely see the correlation between the podcast explanation and this Thought Tools explanation. I thank you Ted for asking for a further explanation and as always, I thank you Rabbi. I find myself saying “Rabbi Lapin was just talking about this!” in so many of my conversations. Thank you for being a clear and concise transmitter of Torah, and always willing to dive deeper when understanding is muddled.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Corinna-
For letting us know we bring you value. We just love hearing that.

Dixon says:

Thanks. Are you saying that indulging in some foods may cause one to be dumb? Is it the foods or the practice?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Dixon–
I am sure that it is not the specific foods but it the constant act of indulging and yielding to bodily appetites, and not only that for food. Yes, shockingly, always doing what you ‘feel’ like doing impacts the mind and soul. But that isn’t really so hard to see, is it? Although, needless to say, secular academics would unhesitatingly reject this correlation. What is sadly evident from social observation in both the UK and the USA is that multi-generational cultures of sexual and gastronomic indulgence do correlate with declining intelligence.

Gelam George Ginwi says:

Thanks for the wonderful stuff for reflection this morning. Restraint had seemed very much like deprivation to me or to make deprived. Now I’ve learned a great lesson – it transforms me into someone even smarter and wiser. Imagine how much sanity will be potraired if one practices restraint in the home, at the work place or in any other social encounter ! ! Every effort is worth making towards acquiring this great habit/attitude that the three wise Jews exhibited.
Thanks from Douala, Cameroon. I’ve been enjoying your reflections much so far.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Gelam George–
We’re happy to know you’re reading us there in Cameroon. Do you also by any chance hear the podcast? How about our TV show?
The critical piece of information is just how you express it–restraining bodily appetites increases wisdom.

Gelam George says:

Thanks for reading my comment dear RDL . I’ve been reading you more than tuning to your podcast or TV show. However, I’ve tried and they are great. Hope I shall enjoy them in addition to reading you. We are BLESSED !

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Excellent, Gelam George,
We’re looking forward to hearing from you again in the future

Carl August Schleg says:


Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

You’re welcome, Oh my Disciple

Al Hoffman says:

“You are what you eat”, equals,” You are what you think. ” So, be ,”rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” Thank you for letting me share again. Review of portion weekly in text gives ideas for what to do with life. The care of what we take in.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Al,
You omitted the most important aphorism of all—You think in accordance with how you act.

Paul Elder says:

My Dear Rabbi, as one who has occasionally faltered, I think of all the people I know who say they go to synagogue or church to ‘be fed’ And I say you do that at home with your bible. I want to go somewhere Where I am challenged to do what is right. You have done that this day, Thank You

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Paul–
What a nice way of putting it. You have made my day. Thank you.

celesta says:

Great insights, as always, into God’s mighty Word and Wisdom, Rabbi Lapin,
I am sure that is why “…when Jeshurun waxed fat, she kicked…”, and when tubby Eli wouldn’t stand for righteousness & enforce it in his sons, he lost the ability to perceive God’s voice clearly, and finally ended up with a broken neck and a missing Ark. All spiritual in nature of course, but there are natural parallels that do apply to certain extents. Spiritual “fat” for sure clouds your heart and your innards, as oily wax buildup in your ears cuts down your ability to hear clearly. The parallels in the natural are much to be heeded, and tended to, in the spiritual first! Three great wise men for sure! Also Mordechai was able to fast for 3 days (which really isn’t too long), some people today can’t, or I should say won’t, fast for a meal. Of course excepting for those with medical conditions. Thank you again!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks for writing Celesta-
We enjoyed your comments. We fast six times a year. No food, but also no drink. Real fasting.

Dumisa says:

This is gold, wow!

Thank you so much for your God-infused insights into scriptures.

More blessings to you and your family Rabbi 🙂

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Dumisa
Much appreciated.

Lacey says:

Hello Rabi Lapin,

This post is great, and the end of this article REALLY caught my eye!

In the “P.S” for your speaking engagement, you mention “As someone who consistently recommends that employees should start their own part-time businesses…”

That is a very new thought to me. I am also a newer subscriber to your blog, so I do not know if you cover this topic regularly, however, I would like to find out more about your idea behind that statement. Do you have any recommended books or resources?

Thank you!

Susan Lapin says:

Hi Lacey and welcome to our site. I would recommend taking a look at the two books in our Financial Book Package We have a number of resources that explain money and business and give Biblical underpinnings and practical advice, but those are a good starting place.

Lacey says:

Thank you Susan!

We would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment.

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