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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Humble Hombres

I mean no disrespect to males.  Really. I am one myself.  But as the father of six daughters, my instincts lean towards protecting females.  Girls are far more emotionally vulnerable than guys.  Guys must learn to take it on the chin.  So, just as long as you know this is not anti-male, we can proceed.

Young women in the process of meeting potential spouses frequently consult me about a prospective candidate.  This is not due to any inherent skills or prophetic insight.  No, I am privileged to be engaged in this holy work only because ancient Jewish wisdom teaches me the correct questions to ask men and it guides me in interpreting the answers that they provide.

Here, for the benefit of women who don’t have easy access to me are three examples:

Question:  So, what sort of work do you do?
Answer:  Well….
Interpretation:   Any response starting with “well…” means unemployed.

Question:  How close are you to your family?
Answer:  My mother suffers from depression, my dad has always been a workaholic and my sister has issues, so…
Interpretation:  I’m an egotistical and insufferable person.

Question:  How do you feel about God and faith?
Answer:   I’ve always felt that religion was an intensely personal matter…
Interpretation:  I will fake an interest in God to retain your interest in me.

You great girls out there; you get the idea.  Meanwhile, I owe all you loyal readers an explanation of at least one of the timeless Torah truths that inform me in this area.

And the Lord God formed man [ADaM] from the dust of the earth [ADaMa]…
(Genesis 2:7)

This juxtaposition of man [ADaM] and earth [ADaMa] is seen again four chapters later.

And the Lord said, I will destroy man [ADaM]  whom I have created from the face of the earth [ADaMa]…
(Genesis 6:7)

God provides no information about what ingredients went into making the sun and moon or from what He built camels, cows, or kangaroos, but He does specify the material from which He constructed the human being.  It was earth.

This link between human and earth has always been viewed as significant.  For instance, early scholars retained the man-earth link by deriving the word human directly from the Latin word for earth—humus.

Similarly, the Spanish word for man is hombre, again retaining the link to the H-M of humus or earth.  Likewise, if we avoid being high and mighty and we remain down-to-earth we are seen as HuMble.   Bringing someone down towards the earth can be to HuMiliate him and we commit HoMicide when we kill him and put him in the ground.  Of course to take a victim of homicide out of the earth is to exHuMe him.

All this and more flows from the Lord’s language linking human [ADaM] and earth [ADaMa] in the first few chapters of Scripture.

But why should God remind us that we are created from Earth to which we must ultimately return?

The answer can be found in another distinction between the creation of animals and the creation of humans.

 …and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…
(Genesis 2:7)

To nothing else in creation but Man did the Creator impart His special breath of life.  This breath of God’s spiritual vitality exerts upon us all a subconscious pull towards heaven.  In the same way that a helium balloon soars away and eventually bursts in the stratosphere if not tethered to earth, we humans can also lose touch with reality if not constantly reminded that we are of the earth.

It is certainly a good thing that we are imbued with a pull towards God but it can also be problematic.  This pull can manifest itself in many ways that disconnect us from the reality of making a life for our families and ourselves right here on earth.

Have you heard the expressions “He has his feet on the ground”?  Or, “She’s so down to earth”?  These are seen as good things.  They mean the people involved remember that they are of the earth.

The questions I like to hear answered by men courting women I care about reveal whether or not the candidate is ‘down to earth’ and ‘has his feet on the ground.’  I advise those women who get the wrong answers to run for their lives.

I advise you also to run for your life.  In your case, however, I don’t mean ‘run from’ but ‘run to’.  Run to seize God’s wisdom, His tree of life.

It’s a tree of life to those who lay hold of it
and happy are all who hold fast to it. 

(Proverbs 3:18)

 I’ve collected some of my favorite down to earth lessons from God’s wisdom in my audio CD series The Biblical Blueprint Set, containing five hours of teaching from the vast reservoir of ancient Jewish wisdom.  You’ll want to hear this material again and again before perhaps gifting it to someone else.  It will help you just as it helps me stay exquisitely suspended between heaven and earth. This is how we humble humans should be.  Click here to read about the Biblical Blueprint Set.

BiblicalBlueprintSet

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For Goodness Sakes

Pssst!  Hey guys, want to know a secret?  Ever wondered why so many women love being pregnant?  Though you might consider it presumptuous that I, a man, answer this very female question, I’m actually well able to do so.  You see, it is for the same reason that many people find a journey on an airplane to be quite relaxing.  Once a TSA agent with the charm of Torquemada has inflicted his attention upon us and once we’ve endured the cattle-slaughter-house-atmosphere of the boarding process, yes, we do find the rest of the trip strangely relaxing.

Even if you do nothing else but read and snooze while on an airplane, you are still advancing towards your objective. Every minute carries you ten miles closer to your destination. To a far greater extent, even if she does nothing but eat and sleep, every minute of pregnancy brings the future mother closer to a transcendent moment.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to simulate this aspect of pregnancy?  How gratifying to know that every minute of the day is carrying you closer to your destination.  How do we ensure that each moment of our lives is an investment that lasts forever?

Since good endures forever, we need only ask ourselves constantly whether the manner in which we intend spending the next hour is good.  Naturally, the term good needs definition.  What good means to an ardent Islamic fanatic in Iraq is quite different from what good means to, say, a faithful Christian farmer and family man in Fresno.

From a Biblical perspective, good comprises four categories of action. (i)  Improving our relationship with God.  (ii)  Advancing the interests of our families.   (iii)  Advancing our financial interests.  (iv) Serving the interests of our friends and fellow citizens.

Time and energy invested in these four activities is good, carrying lasting impact, and is thus never wasted.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the first time in the Torah that a specific letter is used to start a word, that word provides a key to the inner meaning of that initial letter.

Consider the first usage of the word good in Scripture.

And God saw the light, that it was good…
(Genesis 1:4)

 The Hebrew word for good is TOV.  Its initial letter Tet is the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, with a numerical value of nine. In ancient Jewish wisdom, the number nine is linked to pregnancy. Since TOV is the first word in the Bible to start with a Tet, it is linked to good.

 Tet = 9 = TOV = good = pregnancy

 Pregnancy fits all four categories of good actions: (i) becoming a partner in creation with God (ii) family (iii) Having children provides a worthwhile reason for gaining wealth. (iv) A well-raised and productive human being blesses the society into which it is born.

The thirteen verses containing the second appearance of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-18) contain at least one instance of every single letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Amazingly, the thirteen verses containing the first appearance of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-14) reveal one stunningly conspicuous exception.

The letter Tet is completely absent from the first commandments!

Anything good endures forever, and Moses was destined to cast down and shatter the first two tablets of the Ten Commandments.  Had they contained the letter Tet, representing the concept of good, they could not have been destroyed.  However, the thirteen verses comprising the second appearance of the Ten Commandments do contain the letter Tet, because these tablets last forever.  It is found in the Hebrew word NeTuYaH meaning ‘outstretched’. (Deuteronomy 5:15)

Therefore, in order to avoid a single wasted hour or a single wasted joule of our energy we need to strive to ensure that each waking hour is devoted to serving God, our families, our financial interests and God’s other children.

Failure to do so means looking back at wasted time and effort which can evoke the sensation of sickness of soul similar to the debilitating nausea of the first trimester of pregnancy or of a particularly bumpy plane ride.

For ancient Jewish wisdom’s unique unfolding of relationship secrets, listen to our audio CD, The Ten Commandments: How Two Tablets Can Transform Your Life. It presents the most familiar Biblical passage in ways you’ve never heard before and reveals authentic insights and practical procedures that God wants us to deploy in developing all our relationships. The persuasive truths you will learn from this audio CD will inspire you and astound your friends. Right now, save 25% off our everyday price.

10 commandments cover5

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Food and Faith

A four-week window of Jewish holy days is approaching. I understand why we will spend more time in synagogue than usual. However, we will also spend more time at the dining room table. This isn’t a concession to human frailty; it is recognition of human greatness.

Ever since the start of our lives as babes suckling at our mothers’ breasts, eating provides us with not one, but two benefits.  They are (i) physical nourishment and sustenance, and (ii) spiritual and emotional sustenance.  The link between eating and emotion is well studied.  Many of us have ‘comfort foods.’  Gloom and uncertainty are often banished by a meal that fills our heart as well as our stomach.

Have you ever wondered why so many young people nowadays suffer from eating disorders that were virtually unknown a generation or two ago?  Surely the answer is the spiritual desert in which so many young people live.  Eating disorders are more often treated by a psychologist than by a nutritionist because there is a powerful spiritual component to eating. In other words, food and faith go together.

Here is the first occurrence in Scripture of God issuing a commandment to man:

And the Lord God commanded the Adam saying, “Of every tree of the garden eat you must eat.”
(Genesis 2:16)

Many English translations get it wrong by translating, “…of every tree of the garden you shall surely eat”

The original Hebrew does not say “surely”.  Instead it repeats the commandment to eat.  Here is what the Hebrew looks like:

from all the trees of the gardenB

Reading from right to left, you will see five words.  [From all]    [the trees]   [of the garden]   [eat!]    [you must eat].

You can see that the fourth and fifth words look very similar, distinguished only by the one letter prefix ‘you must’.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God’s first explicit directive repeats the verb ‘to eat’ to tell us to perform two separate and distinct acts with every mouthful. We are to eat for both physical and spiritual reasons.  That way we extract the full benefit from every morsel of food.

Our Creator surely knew that in the future scientists could find ways to fulfill our bodies’ needs through tablets or infusions, bypassing the fruits, vegetables and grains He provided for us. No! Machines need fuel. Humans need more than that; they must eat!

How weird is it that we absorb nutrition through the same facial orifice from which our voices emerge?  Dedicated functionality seems to be God’s design. After all, we don’t smell and hear through our ears. Mouths are different.

Speech is a uniquely human function while eating is not. Sharing the same orifice reminds us to take care to eat in a uniquely human way—one that provides spiritual as well as physical nourishment. In this vein, we prefer not to eat alone and to show gratitude to God for our food by blessings before and after eating, as we’ve written on in previous Thought Tools. Festival days are the perfect opportunity to create one cohesive totality in our lives. Yes, we pray a little more. We also eat a little more, sharing that experience with God’s other children.

Some of us face the danger of thinking ourselves to be sophisticated animals, forgetting that we have been touched by God. Others of us face the danger of thinking of ourselves as angels—spiritual beings at war with our physical selves. The dining room table reveals the truth, providing a place where our true selves can shine.

We place emphasis during this month on starting our year off in the way we wish it to continue. We can’t realistically reach straight for the stars, but we can commit to reaching for growth – maybe that way we will reach the stars! Our gift to you is 25% off all individual resources in our store (use promo code GROW at checkout) and 10% off all our always low-priced sets and packages (use promo code SPEAK at checkout). Order now, before we close for Rosh HaShanah on Wednesday evening.

mandlen baking, Sept. 2014

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