When Noah and Abraham Met

I know a lawyer who really wishes that he was a rabbi.  I also know a rabbi who really wishes he was a doctor.  Have you met the plumber who really wishes he was a poet or the bookkeeper who really wishes she was a ballerina?  The lawyer is doing nothing to change his profession and neither is the rabbi. The plumber only dreams of writing and the bookkeeper only dreams of dancing.

Do I hear you say, “No harm in fantasy”?  Wrong! Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that fantasizing makes us less happy with our reality.  Remember that lawyer harboring secret rabbinic dreams? Well, he’s less effective at his work.  That rabbi daydreaming of replacing his dark suit with green scrubs has no passion for his profession.  Deep down that plumber is dissatisfied with fixing faucets and as for that want-to-be ballerina, her clients get less of her enthusiasm than that faded old tutu in her closet.

Lingering thoughts of roads not traveled infiltrate all our minds, so how do we generate focused passion for what we actually are doing?

Let’s become flies on the wall for what must have been one of history’s most extraordinary meetings. First, we need a little Genesis arithmetic. Let’s say Adam was created at the beginning of year 1 and died in year 930.  (Genesis 5:5)

Ten generations later, Noah was born in the year 1056 and died in the year 2006 at the age of 950 years-old.  (Genesis 9:29)  Meanwhile, in the year 1948, Abraham was born, which means that at the time of Noah’s death, Abraham was 58 years-old.

Do you think it feasible that Abraham, a spiritual seeker, would not have sought out the elderly Noah?  It is impossible to fathom Abraham not seeking a meeting with the man whom God had directly instructed to build the ark and who was the living ancestor of everyone on earth.

What did they discuss?  They might have commiserated about their wayward sons, Ham and Yishmael.  That is merely conjecture, but they certainly must have discussed how and if they share their intimate relationship with God with other people.  Noah, presumably, would have argued against trying to influence others to recognize God.  When God warned of the impending destruction of humanity, Noah neglected the opportunity to attempt to persuade the population away from their wicked ways.  He merely built an ark and saved himself and his family.

Abraham, by contrast, chose another path. As his future unfolds, we see that he never missed an opportunity to talk to people about God.  He regularly invited strangers into his tent for a meal during which he shared his faith.  Unlike Noah who silently accepted God’s decree on humanity, Abraham argued with God in an attempt to save the inhabitants of the doomed city of Sodom.  Noah kept his relationship with God to himself.  Abraham went in a different direction.

Which man was more successful?  To be sure, Noah saved his family but Abraham launched a movement of God fearing and Bible believing people numbering in the millions, that even after the passage of thousands of years, endures to this day.

Talking enthusiastically about your work not only signals your passion but it also serves to augment the passion and professionalism you feel. Along with sharing what you do, here are nine more ways to increase your pride, passion and professionalism.

1.    seize responsibility and accept accountability for your work
2.    be punctual and reliable in all your work commitments
3.    be consistently pleasant and polite in all work encounters regardless of your mood
4.    speak and write like an educated adult
5.    be sufficiently serious as frivolity is not professional unless you’re a paid comedian
6.    dress with dignity
7.    expand your skills and improve them constantly
8.    never yield to your anger
9.    deliver more than expected

So banish those daydreams and enjoy whatever it is you do by becoming ever more professional about it.  Of course if you really mean to make a major life change, then don’t just dream of doing it; do it.  But if you are retaining your current occupation, you’ll discover unsuspected delights by embracing professionalism.  These delights will far exceed anything available through fantasies and daydreams.

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Power of Purpose

The international accounting giant, Deloitte, recently spent over $300 million educating its 50,000 American employees about its purpose.  This sounds a little touchy-feely for the world’s largest audit, tax and consulting firm.  They spent so much money in this way because they determined that companies that instill a strong sense of purpose in their people enjoy greater long-term success.  Deloitte felt confident that instilling a sense of purpose in their own people would better position them to do the same for their clients.

In Deloitte’s own words:

“What companies do for clients, people, communities, and society are all interconnected. A culture of purpose ensures that management and employees alike see each as a reason to go to work every day.”

When paraphrased for families, wouldn’t it be equally true?

“What a family does for its members, neighbors, community, and society are all interconnected. A culture of purpose ensures that parents and children alike see each as a reason to contribute to the family every day.”

But how exactly does one go about infusing businesses or families with a sense of purpose?  One of history’s most profitable and enduring enterprises is surely the people of Israel.  Lessons can be learned from its launch.

…thus said the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. (Exodus 9:1)

And Pharaoh’s servants said to him…Let the men go, so they may serve the Lord their God; don’t you realize yet that Egypt is destroyed?
(Exodus 10:7)

…Pharaoh…said to them, Go, serve the Lord your God, but who exactly is going? (Exodus 10:8)

And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds
(Exodus 10:9)

[Pharaoh said]…go now only you who are men and serve the Lord; because that is what you wanted to do…
(Exodus 10:11)

And Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds stay…
(Exodus 10:24)

God planned to take the entire people of Israel out of Egypt—the young, the old and the middle-aged along with their material wealth in the form of livestock.  Pharaoh’s courtiers advised him to placate the God of the Hebrews by releasing part of the people, the men, males between twenty and sixty.

Considering that advice, Pharaoh asked Moses to clarify exactly who would go.  Moses answered unequivocally that it would be everyone as well as their possessions.  Pharaoh tried to limit the group to the men by arguing that only they are needed to worship God.  Moses rejected that offer and inflicted more torment upon Egypt.  At this point, Pharaoh made one last attempt to prevent an intact people launching their destiny by trying to restrict their economic freedom through retaining their livestock.  This offer was also rejected and after the final plague, an Israel left Egypt with all its population and all its possessions.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Pharaoh knew that Egypt was finished. His goal was to prevent Israel from becoming a powerful nation that would dim the luster of his legacy.  The best way to do that would be by depriving this incipient nation of its past (the elderly), of its future (the young), and of its economic vitality (the animals).  Pharaoh correctly knew that a bunch of people whose focus was only on today would soon be gone and forgotten.

This is manifestly true for a family which gains its sense of purpose from its past and from its future.  A home filled with the rambunctious noise of little children while also possessing the seasoned presence of wise grandparents automatically is fueled forward with a sense of purpose.

Likewise, a business is propelled forward by a sense of purpose gained by making its past and its future just as important as its present. Expanding its employees’ vision to encompass everything from its founding to its tomorrow makes their work today more satisfying and successful.

Few sections of Scripture are as well-known and underappreciated as the Exodus. These chapters are not only the story of Israel’s redemption thousands of years ago, but they also hold many keys to our individual redemption from difficult, stressful and trying times. We recorded Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt so that we could share these strategies, providing hope and direction. Available by mail or instant download, we pray it will bless your life.

Let Me Go, smaller

 

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

It’s hard being an entrepreneur and making a success of a start-up business.  You have to do everything yourself.  Keep the books.  See an important customer.  Talk to a supplier in a different time zone.  Decide on the look of a webpage.  And I haven’t even begun a detailed list. It is easy to become overwhelmed.

It’s just as hard being a mother effectively raising a boisterous family.  Running a home is very similar to running a small business.  There are chores to be done and errands to run.  You’re in charge of your children’s education (yes, even if they attend school, the buck stops with you not their teacher). You’re in charge of your family’s health and general welfare.  There is inventory to maintain. (What! No more Sunny Snaps cereal?) There are clothes, toys and appliances to look after or replace.  And this is not close to the complete list. It’s hard to know what to tackle when.

Success is achieved when both entrepreneur and mom manage to replace chaos with order.  Sanity is retained when instead of futilely flailing around we institute organization and structure.  The enemy is randomness and happenstance.

Viewing the world in which we live as random and haphazard is equally unhelpful.  God cautions us not to relate to Him in a casual and mindless fashion.

And if you will … walk casually [KeRi] with me, then I will walk casually [KeRi] with you also in fury…
(Leviticus 26:27-28)

(For more insight to these verses please revisit Thought Tools Volume 5 Issue 8, Cancel Cruise Control.)

The root of the Hebrew word for casual and haphazard conduct is K-R.

For instance, the main two Biblical villains who adhere to a random worldview are the prophet Bilam and King Balak. Together they conspire to curse Israel.  Here are four mentions of the K-R word for random happening that appear in their story.

…perhaps God will happen by me…
(Numbers 23:3)

So God happened by Bilam…
(Numbers 23:4)    

…and I might happen to encounter the Lord over there…
(Numbers 23:15)    

And the Lord happened to appear to Bilam…
(Numbers 23:16)

As always, in Hebrew whenever one Hebrew word appears to possess two meanings, we can be sure the two meanings are closely related.

The Hebrew root K-R not only means random, it also means cold and ice.

He casts forth his ice like morsels, who can stand before his cold?
(Psalms 147:17)

randomness & disorder  =   KR  =  cold & ice

It follows that ancient Jewish wisdom is telling us that randomness and disorder are closely connected to cold and ice.

Modern physics uses the word entropy to describe the extent of randomness and chaos.  Entropy and its relationship to cold and ice only began to be fully understood through thermodynamics in the 19th century (Boltzmann 1877) and through statistics in the 20th century (Shannon 1948). Clearly chaos and coldness are closely connected in terms of entropy generation; a fact which 3,000 years ago, was known only to God.   This is one of many reasons that I call Hebrew the Lord’s language.

Oddly enough, in English we might say to the harried mom and overwhelmed business professional, “Your enemy is chaos and disorder, stay cool!”  Categorize your tasks under various headings that might correspond to the job description of employees, were you to be hiring them.  For example, accounting, sales, maintenance, inventory, and so on.  That way, you can put on the appropriate hat and tackle only the tasks in that category before changing hats and moving into another ‘department’. Stay cool, whether you’re a mom or a business professional, the lives of many depend upon you.

Hebrew contains mysterious and thrilling revelations about how the world REALLY works. Our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language goes into almost three dozen of these words in depth. It provides practical guidance and ‘aha’ moments both for those who can’t read a Hebrew letter and for those who are fluent in the language. Let God talk to you in His own words. At this week’s sale price, you can get one for yourself and delight some loved ones as well.

Burt2

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Mountains and Molecules

My children constantly fascinate me when we hike in breathtakingly beautiful British Columbia during the summer. Some of them visibly thrill to the vast vistas and magnificent landscapes revealed as we crest a hill.  Others seem oblivious to the large scale spectacles but will stoop to pick up a pebble which can absorb their attention for twenty minutes.  Similarly when boating, one child gazes endlessly at the wave pattern stretching to the horizon.  Meanwhile, her sister lies on her tummy on the edge of a dock peering down at a school of tiny fish darting around as if being signaled by an invisible choreographer.

We learn much from the patterns of larger arrangements such as the earth’s upheavals that created the mountain ranges and the erosive forces that carved majestic canyons.  However it is just as important to understand the microscopic forces that help atoms to form molecules and the characteristics that shape those tiny molecules into complex substances.

Just as understanding both the macro of mountains and the micro of molecules helps us relate to physical reality, so understanding both the macro and the micro of the letters, words, and texts of the Bible helps us relate to spiritual reality.

Whenever we probe the inner meaning conveyed by a word or letter in the Lord’s language as we often do here in Thought Tools, we are exploring the micro.  However, when we examine patterns that reoccur in different parts of Scripture we are allowing the macro to reveal its secrets.

Let’s wrap our souls around four famous parallels linking God’s Garden of Eden with the desert Tabernacle and its successor, the Jerusalem Temple, both constructed by humans.

1.   God walks in both the Garden of Eden and the Tabernacle.

And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden…
(Genesis 3:8)

And I will set my tabernacle among you…And I will walk among you…
(Leviticus 26:11-12)

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2.  Water flowed out of the Garden of Eden and also out of the Temple.

And a river went out from Eden…
(Genesis 2:10)

…and a fountain shall issue from the house of the Lord…
(Joel 4:18)

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3.   Cherubs appear in both places to guard and protect.

…and he placed cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden…to guard the way to the tree of life.
(Genesis 3:24)

And the cherubs shall stretch out their wings on high to cover the covering with their wings…
(Exodus 25:20)

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4. Special garments [ketonet] are required in both places

For Adam and for his wife the Lord God made leather coats [ketonet]…
(Genesis 3:21)

And these are the garments which they shall make…an embroidered coat [ketonet]
(Exodus 28:4)

Recounting the four parallels, we see:

1   God walks in His garden and in the places we create.
2   Water flows out of His garden and out of the places we create.
3   Spiritual forces protect the way to the Tree of Life and to the Tablets of the Covenant.
4   God made clothing for humans in His garden; we emulate Him in our holy places.

Today, in our current conditions, we are obviously unable to locate the Garden of Eden let alone enter it.  However, God did provide us with blueprints to create our own substitute.  Moses and the Israelites used them to build the Tabernacle and later Solomon used them to create the Temple.

As long as we recognize that both the Tabernacle and the Temple were human replicas of the Garden of Eden, we too become capable of erecting our very own Garden of Eden substitutes right in our own homes.  We merely need note the four parallels.

One, our homes must be places where God walks and we walk with Him.  We don’t sit with Him or stand with Him, we walk with Him.  Meaning we and our families are on the move; we are never in exactly the same (spiritual) place.

Second, water, (associated with spiritual sustenance in Torah nomenclature) must flow out of our homes.  By regularly inviting guests to share our meals and participate in the uplifting conversation that suffuses our dining tables we encourage our ideas to flow and spread.

Third, we must ensure that spiritual forces are in place to protect our most cherished attributes, namely our faith and our families.  With the same enthusiasm that we invite the right people to enter, enjoy and contribute to the atmosphere of our homes, we must also keep out those people and influences that could harm it.

Fourth, and finally we must always, even in the privacy of our home, clothe ourselves in the garments of human dignity. Clothing is holy because God bestowed it upon His children as a way of distinguishing us from the animal kingdom.  Almost all of us look better clothed than naked and for all of us, being clothed protects our sense of self.  This is why the first thing Nazi concentration camps did to Jews upon their arrival was strip them naked.

It is all too easy to figuratively ‘let ourselves go’ when we’re at home.  It is so tempting to slide into poor behavior, abysmal manners, inadequate clothing and other unwholesome self-indulgences when we’re in our own homes.  In reality, in order to build our own Garden of Eden we need to resist these allures.

It is never too late to turn our own home into a Garden of Eden, a Tabernacle, or a Temple.  The rewards are incalculable and more than worth the effort it takes.  Keep both the mountain and the molecule in mind.  The former is the larger vision for the kind of home you’d like to live in while the latter is the list of four details we have covered here.

Grasping the incredible patterns that God placed in Scripture brings bountiful blessing. These patterns affect our lives to this day. Listen to Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel and hear how ancient Jewish wisdom reveals human tendencies and weaknesses that shed light on current events, amazingly, even including the administration’s response to Ebola.

 Tower of Power:

Decoding the Secrets of Babel

 

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Chatter is Cheap

In social settings, one sometimes hears people babbling about the marvelous things that they are going to do.  In the business environment, it is even more unsettling to hear an entrepreneur making public pronouncements of forthcoming achievements.  Anyone with even the most basic understanding of how the world REALLY works knows that saying a lot in advance of actually doing anything is a bad sign.

Ancient Jewish wisdom warns against promising much and delivering little or nothing.  This is described in the account of Abraham who wants to acquire a burial place for his beloved wife, Sarah, from the landowner, Ephron the Hittite,.

Abraham offers to buy the cave of Machpelah for its appropriate monetary value. (Genesis 23:9)

Ephron responds by magnanimously assuring Abraham that he can have it for free. (Genesis 23:10-11)

Yet as the conversation progresses (Genesis 23:15-16), Ephron insists on 400 pieces of silver, which Abraham promptly pays.  According to the Code of Hammurabi (from approximately the same period), the average annual household income then was five pieces of silver.  Compared to American averages today, Ephron asked the equivalent of $3M-$4M for a field and a cave. His generous talk was just that – talk.

Scripture also offers an example where someone delivers far more than he promises.

Abraham offers water and bread to the three angels, whom he mistakenly assumes to be men.  (Genesis 18:4-5)

However, what he actually brought them was far more lavish: many cakes baked with a large amount of fine flour, a calf, butter, and milk. (Genesis 18:6-8)

Regarding these tales, ancient Jewish wisdom offers a much-quoted aphorism, “Say little and do much.”  It is easy to read this as good proscriptive advice.  Be like Abraham who delivered much more than he promised, and not like Ephron who promised more than he delivered.  However, there is more to this popular saying.

This phrase is not only proscriptive; it is also descriptive.  If you say little, you will end up doing much.  On the other hand, those who do a lot of talking will end up achieving far less than they could.  Why should that be?

Whether you are building a skyscraper or baking a cake, you start by assessing your resources.  Do you have the money, the manpower, the raw material and everything else needed for successful completion of the project?

It is important that none of these resources is wasted.  Each must be put to productive use.  Similarly, in all projects there is also a finite spiritual energy and will with which to get the job done.

One way of wasting and dissipating that will and spiritual energy is to talk about it more than necessary.  By talking less, you will achieve more.

For example if you have just enough gas in your car’s tank to reach your destination, it makes no sense to leave the car idling for ten minutes before you even depart on your journey. You now will have less fuel than you need to reach your target.

Imagine an athlete staying up and socializing the entire night before an important challenge.  He would do better to harness all his resources for the upcoming contest.

Similarly, the act of chattering endlessly about your deepest ambitions is a sure way to have less energy and determination available to achieve those goals. Being productive is difficult enough without needlessly squandering your spiritual resources.

One reliable technique to avoid energy-eroding chatter is making sure you devote regular time to absorbing worthy material.  Think about it.  The chief difference between me today and me yesterday are the ideas I have absorbed.  Our famously popular library pack comprises 19 different books, DVDs and audio/visual resources. It is an absolute treasure trove of ideas.  We are heading into the final holy days of this special month in the Jewish calendar. In the few hours left before we close for the Festival of Rejoicing with the Torah, we would like to offer you an additional 10% off the always-low price on this treasure. Thank you for your patience.

LibraryPackage with BSB, April 2014

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