With gratitude to God, I write these words overlooking the walls of Jerusalem just two hours before the holyday of Sukot starts and just two miles from where King David himself celebrated Tabernacles.
Yet, even while wrapped in Jerusalem’s eternal spiritual transcendence, I am typing on a first rate computer connected to high speed Internet in an air-conditioned office.
Many cities like Istanbul, Prague, and Tallinn display similar contrasts between ancient and modern. But Israel’s ever-present ancient aura is the fuel propelling the country into modernity.
With fewer than 10% of the population of her four contiguous neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, Israel’s Gross Domestic Product is about equivalent to the aggregate of those four countries. Imagine if tiny Rhode Island produced more wealth than Georgia. Instead, as you’d expect, Rhode Island’s GDP is about 1/10th of Georgia, which has about ten times the population of Rhode Island.
One explanation routinely offered for the abysmal economic performance by Israel’s four neighbors is Israel’s existence. There are problems with that excuse. One, they weren’t doing any better before 1948 or before they launched several unsuccessful wars against Israel. Two, being surrounded by enemies, the monumental costs of self-defense impose a disproportionate burden upon the tiny Jewish state.
The truth is that the four countries I named are not really doing much worse than many other countries in the world like Upper Volta, Nigeria, Romania, or Sri Lanka. It is neighboring Israel’s incandescent performance that makes them look bad. Thus, our question is not really why they are doing poorly. The mystery is why Israel is doing so well.
The world-record for the biggest-selling popular song with the oldest lyrics belongs to the The Byrds’ rendition of Turn, Turn, Turn from 1965, containing words from the third chapter of King Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes. This book, Kohelet in Hebrew, is read during this holyday of Sukot each year. It contains a credible explanation to our mystery.
A time to be born And a time to die
A time to plant And a time to pluck…
The seven verses of Ecclesiastes we’re examining (3:2—3:8) contain twenty eight events for which “there is a time.” Some events are under our individual control. Other times, we can only respond to events in our world. By scrutinizing each verse from the perspective of strong individual control, we find that verses (3:2—3:4) deal with events in our lives where we need to follow external triggers. Verses (3:5—3:7) deal with events under our control.
In Kohelet 7:8, Solomon provided the clue to the pattern he followed:
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning…
This verse tells us to look at the end of the section we are studying for a clue.
A time to love And a time to hate
A time for war And a time for peace
This verse contains both types of events. Loving and hating are decisions made by each of us. Whether our nation is at war or peace lies outside our personal choice. King Solomon teaches that our lives contain both kinds of events and we need to learn to distinguish between them.
Knowing the difference between the two is one big secret of Israel’s success. Fatalistic people deem everything in life to ‘just happen’ so they attempt little and achieve less. Foolish people imagine they can control every aspect of their lives and fritter away their time and energy fighting reality.
King Solomon’s wisdom is a great part of Israel’s stupendous success. It can do the same for you.
As I share some of the deeper mysteries of Hebrew with fluent Israelis, I have been struck by how even they are not always aware of the secrets God placed in His language. Our book, Buried Treasure: Life Lessons from the Lord’s Language explores 29 Hebrew words and the life-enhancing messages embedded in the very structure of those words. To our dismay, a fraction of the printed books did not physically meet our quality expectations. We have decided to make these available at a steep discount, but special terms apply. Please read about these books and decide if you are interested.
This week’s Susan’s Musings: Laundry Curmudgeon
I realize that there are urgent and important stories making the news or being under-reported. Nevertheless, I ask your indulgence while I vent about a seemingly minor topic.
Over the past year, our laundry has frequently piled up. We’ve often been on the road…READ MORE
Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here
I run my delivery business for 10 years. My drivers and I are always sharp and effective in doing deliveries. I put all my time and efforts into this business. I have tried different marketing tools, joined different networking groups. Unfortunately, I am stuck at the same level I was at 3 years ago. Even my best clients give me less and less business.
What am I doing wrong?
READ Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s ANSWER HERE