Vital Values

On July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, two of the men most instrumental in its drafting died. Former presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died within a few hours of each other.

To me, it was God linking these two statesmen for all time.  I can just see them approaching the Throne of Glory, arms around one another’s shoulders in eternal bonds of brotherhood.

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse transmitted the words, “What hath God wrought,” (Numbers 23:23) from Washington to Baltimore using electrical pulses and his Morse Code.  That year, May 24 fell on the Bible holyday of Shavuot/Pentecost, which this year begins after sunset a week from tonight, on May 30th.

Serendipitously, Shavuot, the anniversary of the day upon which God gave His message to mankind through Moses on Mt Sinai, was the first time in the history of humanity that people thousands of miles apart could communicate almost instantaneously.  Of course, for those of us who believe that serendipity or coincidence are simply words that people use to mask God’s involvement in the world, the date of the telegraph’s launch is striking.

What lesson did the Lord intend when He guided Morse to give the world electronic communication precisely on the Festival commemorating His bestowing upon us the Ten Commandments?

In true rabbinical fashion, I will answer the question by asking three others.

What words can the pacifist professor of philosophy utter to engage the vicious predator with cold eyes and no conscience who has just put a gun to the professor’s head?

What meaningful dialogue can possibly flow from a meeting between the president of Planned Parenthood and the Pope?

Wouldn’t it waste your time to eavesdrop as a Bible believer debates a militant atheist?

All these encounters are between people who don’t speak the same language.  Because they share no matrix of meaning there is little basis for communication. While the feathers may fly and the fireworks might be sensational, nothing of true consequence is likely to emerge.

It’s no coincidence that Samuel Morse’s breakthrough communication technology debuted on the very day upon which God presented His ultimate system of values to the world. The message is clear. To put it starkly: There cannot be lasting creative communication and collaboration between people who do not share values.

Marriage with a very attractive individual, but one with whom no ultimate values are shared, enjoys very little probability of long term success.

Diversity of values is no asset in a business, particularly in a smaller entrepreneurial endeavor.  The effective business professional will hire associates who possess the necessary skills and drive. However, just as importantly, they must also share the company’s value system, set by the founder.

Families should not expect their children to receive the education they anticipate at schools and colleges that do not share the family’s value system.

Values must precede all else. For this reason, Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt to its own geographic and spiritual destiny in Jerusalem has a date at Sinai as its pivotal point. The quest for independence and development can only succeed when the people are fortified and fashioned by their common value system, the Torah. The Exodus would be pointless were it not followed by receiving that explanation of reality.

The upcoming shared anniversary of both the telegraph and the Torah reminds us to communicate our value system effectively to our families and our social and business organizations.  It is far more productive and far less stressful to live with and direct a group of people who share common values and vision.

Adapted from Thought Tools, May 23, 2012


4 thoughts on “Vital Values”

  1. Thanks so much, Rabbi. You are reinforcing what I just re-read in the work of the late great Stephen Covey, who taught the importance of weaving together one’s business and personal life, that the one could not truly be excellent if the other was falling apart. He stressed the importance of being “principle centered, character based, and values driven”. By principles he meant the Ten Commandments, and good character in American success literature goes back to Benjamin Franklin. The values flow from those principles. In negotiating, it must be “win/win or no deal”, meaning at least a certain amount of shared values. And we have just seen an American president fly from Saudi Arabia directly to Israel and leave a note in the Wailing Wall. “What hath God wrought”, indeed!

  2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Dear Deb–
    Yes, I visited with Stephen Covey quite often in his Utah office and he did get it.
    Now if said American president kept his word and moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, we’d really get places.

  3. Gene in Texas

    I often think that, depending on what my kids choose, they might not need college. Your point that shared values is a prerequisite hits home.

    We pay to send our kids to a Christian school. I suppose we pay at least twice. Once the government confiscates the first we pay the second to a private company to do the job right with Christ at the center and that other stuff taught as THEORY.

    My experience in college was seven years of torture. (2 years-aircraft mechanic plus 5 years-bachelors Petroleum Land Management) I found almost nobody who shared my values except teachers or other adults. I worked part time throughout those years.

    And earning a living develops me MUCH more than taking a class.

    My kids don’t need to Shake off the indoctrination and endure the mediocre challenges that universities require.

    Now if I could convince my wife that skipping college is good for some careers.

    Thank you Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin for everything you do.

  4. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Dear Gene–
    Thanks for writing. I constantly advise young people to decide the issue of college or university with great caution. If the person requesting my guidance is embarking on a degree in science, technology, mathematics, computer coding, finance/accounting or something similar that IS LINKED TO OBJECTIVE REALITY, I am encouraging. If the degree is to be in comparative literature/art/religion, sociology, or anything with the word ‘studies’ appended (like gender studies etc) in other words, where reality cannot contradict a doctrinaire and foolish professor, I urge the person rather to get a job than waste four years of their lives.
    You seem to have arrived at the right answers already. Well done!


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