Three Wise Men

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 on for size.  I think you’ll be surprised at how precisely it accounts for your experiences in the real world. 

We read of three Bible characters whose wisdom was admired and whose guidance and leadership was sought: Joseph, Daniel, and Mordechai.  Each withstood alluring attempts to get them 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 Nebuchadnezzar.  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.

וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם

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

The underlined Hebrew root (in blue) for impure is  טמ, pronounced TaM

Ancient Jewish wisdom asks what the repetition of the root word TaM adds to the verse. The word has a second meaning—foolish. The response explains a cause and an effect.  If you take the action that makes you impure, then you will inevitably become a lessened person.  The effect is not temporary. 

The message is that yielding to bodily appetites reduces the chances of a happy and fulfilled life.  Submitting to our hedonistic urges gradually reduces our life effectiveness.  If practiced multi-generationally, it eventually produces less self-disciplined and less wise people.  The process of exercising self-restraint and saying ‘no’ to ourselves makes us more 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. Tragically, we see examples of too many people in the streets today who have been raised without God and utterly devoid of Biblical principles. They are destroying civilization as they reject any idea of “Thou Shall Not” let alone loving one’s neighbor.

Listening to God’s word not only makes you a better person, but also a wiser one. It forces us to confront ultimate issues and to face ideas that really matter.  To make the exercise as easy and enjoyable as possible we have produced a set of over 150 Thought Tools collected into three volumes and they are now on sale. This is literally a marathon run for your mind and a super stretch session for your soul.

Put wisdom on the menu for family meals.
on sale
(books available individually as well – also on Kindle)


18 thoughts on “Three Wise Men”

  1. Dear Rabbi,
    One of my dear friends just passed away from COVID-19. What are your thoughts on the after-life/heaven?
    Thank you,

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Linda–
      I am saddened for you; losing a friend is a real loss. My thoughts on the afterlife are irrelevant and no more valuable than anyone else’s but I’ll be happy to tell you what ancient Jewish wisdom tells us. Since it is clear that we comprise both matter and spirit, both body and soul, and since we know that while all material things have an end, anything of the spirit endures interminably. One cannot destroy a soul, so the afterlife, in a way we undoubtedly lack the ability to understand is a gathering of all souls eternally. By the way, there are plenty things we lack the intellect to understand. For instance, there are a finite number of stars in the universe. What would we see lying beyond the furthest star? This life is comparable to a child in utero wondering what lies ahead after that very scary transition from the dark, warm, safe comfort of his mother’s womb into the birth canal and who knows what else. A glorious eternity in the embrace of our Father in Heaven.

  2. I watch your show and always learn something. I have a question about the day of the Crucifixion. I know that Jesus was in the tomb 3 days and 3 nights because that was the sign. However, as you know tradition in the church says that Jesus died on Friday. That can’t be right. I tried to figure it out, but it is difficult for me. Please let me know what the answer is. This is important because that is the sign. If anyone challenges me, I would like to have an answer ready. Thank you so much for your program.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Beth–
      Thanks for writing and telling us how much value you find in our teachings. This makes us very happy, which makes it particularly hard to disapppoint you. You see, Beth, we teach ancient Jewish wisdom from the Bible but only from the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Tanach. Thus, I am quite unable to be of any use to you on your question. But on anything Tanach related I’d be happy to try and answer you next time.

  3. Perhaps I’m reading too much into your column, but it speaks to me of what is happening in our country right now. How people are choosing to be the worst examples of human behavior.

    I am not as eloquent with my words as you and Susan are, but when I look at all the stories from all the cities where protesting, rioting, burning, and looting are happening – I see one thing. The problem is not confined to just race. The real problem is the human heart of many – rich, poor, black, white, old, young – refusing to change. To grow, to become better. That doesn’t start with the person you’re angry at, it starts with You. You cannot force change, unless you are willing to change as well.

    My nearest city is Kansas City MO. The mayor there who took office in January has been awesome in addressing the protesters personally, acknowledging their right to do so, but at the same time saying there is no call to burn and loot. Protests there, except for one night have been largely without violence or burning and looting.

    It can be done as the Mayor there is proving. He is being the change he wants to see.

  4. Excellent lesson from God’s Word. I own your Thought Tools and highly recommend all the Ancient Jewish Wisdom we can learn and apply to our daily lives.

  5. Dear Rabbi Lapin, I imagine that most readers and subscribers to you and your teachings would strongly agree with you on this matter and that ‘adhering to Biblical faith, its rituals of restraint and its principles’ does indeed make us better people and ultimately wiser. No argument there! However, does Jewish Wisdom expound on the best way to achieve this alignment? Is it simply reading the Bible and/or meditation on God’s Word and/or another or more effective method to do these things etc? Does Jewish Wisdom (or your previous teachings) reveal the ULTIMATE way to seek God’s direction as these wise Women and Men did in your examples or do I study your books and materials for the answer!? 🙂 (BTW, I note that the Jewish writers on your site denote God as G-d in their writing here. Should I do the same in order to avoid offense?)

    1. Janet McIntosh

      Yes, you must read, meditate and pray for understanding. Learning and applying the basics ( 10 commandments ) joining a church that will help you develop physical disciplines that correspond to spiritual principles. Day by day and year by year we strive for greater success in our spiritual walk. The thought tools give you real world analogies and examples to help guide your thinking. Use them.

  6. John Thomas Themalil

    Dear Respected Rabbi, and Susan Lapin
    Thank you for this wisdom teaching, which I remember to have received from another episode of your Thought Tools.
    To help me with my Hebrew, could you please transliterate the text, if that’s okay with you.

  7. As a Christian, I enjoy the teaching side of judeasim . I like the guidance and teaching, And while I know that legalism made Jesus angry, I don’t think he wished that we would abandon the wisdom that the old testament gives us. Thank you for making this knowledge available to all.

    1. Good point David! If my understanding is correct, He (Jesus) is The Wisdom (and Word) of the Torah and Old testament?

      1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Dear Ian,
        Thanks for writing. In the immortal words of Rabbi Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry” ‘a good man knows his limitations’ so I won’t comment on New Testament matters.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear David
      Thanks for writing; I am so happy to hear that you are enjoying our teaching. I know rather little about what made Jesus angry as my specialty is the Old Testament, the Tanach. It would be hard for me to imagine that Jesus wished for Christians to abandon the Jewish teachings of the Hebrew Bible given that he was a Jewish rabbi but I would never argue over any of this with a Christian. Meanwhile keep on enjoying the guidance and teaching.

    3. No, I doubt Jesus wished us to abandon OT, since it was the ONLY Bible He had & used!!!

  8. Thank you very much for your help in sharing wisdom to your listeners. God bless you and may God have mercy on America.

  9. Bambang Dewandaru

    Dear Rabbi Daniel Lapin, shalom. I did try to order the book thought tool you mentioned, unfortunately it is not available in my country Jakarta, Indonesia.
    Are you saying since the word TaM is repeated in this one sentence thefore the second TaM acording to who means foolish.

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