Fossil Fuel Festivities

Around the world, Jews greet the holiday of Chanukah by lighting one flame. On each successive night of this eight-day festival we add one additional flame, culminating on the eighth night with a fully lit eight-flame menorah.

Among the miracles commemorated by Chanukah is that God made a tiny quantity of consecrated oil last for eight days until a further supply could be secured.  Since only one flame was involved in the original miracle, we could adequately commemorate it by lighting one candle each evening of the eight days.  Or if you prefer bright lights, we could light eight candles each night of the festival.  After all, my gracious Christian neighbors don’t keep adding to or subtracting from the attractive holiday lighting on their homes as Christmas approaches.

Surely kindling the identical array of light each night would adequately capture recollection of the original miracle by replicating it.  However, if you really do want to make each evening distinctively different, it would express more environmental sensitivity were we to first light eight candles and then one fewer on each successive night.  This would demonstrate our sad but inexorable progress toward a darker world.  Each night’s declining light would publicly proclaim that we are running out of the fossil fuels from which candles are made. (You do know that this is not my real belief, don’t you?)

What ultimate meaning do we derive from ancient Jewish wisdom’s requirement that we light one flame the first night, two the second, until night eight when the menorah’s eight candles cast out an incandescent blaze of light?

Darkness is the tragic default condition for much of humanity.  Even our live lives are frighteningly fragile and can all too easily turn dark.  One need only dwell on the problems that we all face for life to become overwhelming. Family issues, health and financial crises, even matters of personal faith.  If individual challenges are not enough, consider the state of the world.  That alone could envelop you in gloom and darkness.

With all that darkness, the pathway towards brightness and happiness is hard to find. Since it’s impossible to completely rid one’s life of problems, how does one dispel darkness?

The best way is by focusing on only one problem at a time.  If we chip away at only one challenge at a time and ensure that each passing day diminishes that problem, we see hope.  As the figure of speech goes, we see ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’  The key is to make each day even just a little brighter than the day before.  Herein lies the key to the infusion of hope that the Chanukah experience offers.

As my friend Dave Ramsey (www.daveramsey.com) teaches, if one of the causes of your darkness is debt, select one credit card and chip away at its balance.  Make each passing day a bit brighter. This will help you shine light and dispel gloom on the next area you need to confront.

If your marital life, or lack thereof, is bringing darkness, pick one small area to start improving each day. If a health or financial issue looms darkly, again, start today to better one small area.

Trying to tackle everything at once – the equivalent of lighting eight flames each night – can quickly lead to chaos. Starting with a huge chunk and despondently recognizing that you have undertaken too much is demoralizing.  Even worse is lighting eight candles, then seven, then six. You’re moving depressingly toward darkness.  Instead, find one limited area to which you can consistently add a little more light. Needless to say, seeing that one dark area brighten up a little each day equips us to confront other problem areas with optimism—an expression of light.

Celebrating Chanukah in accordance with ancient Jewish wisdom provides an annual infusion of hope and promise.  Watching that menorah become brighter each night assures me that tomorrow can be lighter than today and offers a roadmap to bring that about.

Susan and I try to dispense cheer and guideposts for successful living on our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show. We love the mail we receive telling us how you enjoy and benefit from our work. We gathered eight of your favorite shows onto two DVDs. As part of our Chanukah celebration, get both discs for the price of one. They make great holiday gifts and provide uplifting “downtime” relaxation. (For more Chanuka insights check out Festival of Lights as well as the final day of our Biblical Blueprints sale.)
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First Fruits (and sometimes Nuts)

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Here is today’s Thought Tool quiz:

Early in 1845, Henry David Thoreau, along with about twenty of his friends, began a two and a half year-long party in a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord Massachusetts.  True or False?

In 1971 Ted Kaczynski, his wife, six children, a nanny, a tutor, and three puppies moved to an isolated mountain cabin in Montana from where he later sent bombs through the mail injuring dozens of people and killing three. True or False?

Brilliant twentieth century photographer Ansel Adams, who specialized in capturing the glory of America’s national parks and other natural wonders, left a legacy of thousands of pictures depicting happy crowds enjoying their natural outdoor heritage. True or False?

With thirty members of his Rotary Club, Chris McCandless hiked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. After being awed by nature’s grandeur, he returned home to Virginia.  True of False?

Ready for the answers?  All four statements are false. (I am sure you hardly needed me to tell you that.)  Thoreau was alone at Walden Pond.  The Unabomber lived in lonely isolation for nearly thirty years.  It is difficult to find any Ansel Adams photographs containing even one human image.  In his book, “Into the Wild,” Jon Krakauer relates how McCandless hiked alone and died alone, tragically and unnecessarily.

While it is true that many families and crowds of friends enjoy the outdoors in companionship, we each tend to experience nature in our own individual way.  To some it’s the sunrise or sunset. To others it’s lambs gamboling behind their mothers in the spring.  But whichever way you experience nature, it can resemble a museum which evokes awe more than camaraderie.  I might visit an art gallery with a group of friends, but the experience is essentially lonely.

It is not a coincidence that far more money is made, and far greater wealth created, in the crowded confines of cities than in the open spaces of nature.  Almost by definition, the great outdoors is uncrowded while making money requires considerable contact between humans.  I make money when other people who know me, like me, and trust me invite me to serve them with my good or services.  That is certainly more likely to happen when my focus is people and connection than when I revel in the splendid isolation of the wild.

This helps us understand a perplexing puzzle found in Deuteronomy 26.

We’re told that when Israel enters its land everyone should bring his annual first fruits to Jerusalem. There, he should place his basket before the priest in the Temple. He then recites a proclamation.

Wouldn’t you suppose that in appreciation of nature’s bounty the grateful farmer might recite verses praising nature and its miraculous processes? For instance, you might have expected those who brought their first fruits to articulate verses like these from Psalms.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving sing praise upon the harp to our God who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass grow on the mountains.
(Psalms 147:7-8)

Yet those bringing their first fruits to Jerusalem must utter a different passage:

An Aramean tried to destroy my father, who then went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous; But the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us terrible slavery.  And when we cried to the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression and brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesomeness, and with signs, and with wonders.  And he has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land that flows with milk and honey.  And now, I have brought the first fruits of the land.  
(Deuteronomy 26:5-9)

Why a condensed history lesson rather than a song of nature’s bounty?  History bonds us to those who came before us and to those who will follow us.  Moreover, emphasizing shared history bonds us to others as we gather to celebrate anniversaries, holidays and memorial observances.  If we are celebrating the sustenance we enjoy, then it is far more appropriate to celebrate our connection to people, both living and long gone, than to sing of nature.

Yes, nature provides valuable solace and rejuvenation. However, as a model for existence, God wishes for us to live among others. Keeping our histories alive is a sure way to retain the nourishment of connection. Not surprisingly, God blesses those who follow His wishes in this respect with the enormous blessing of sustenance and abundance.

Next week, Jews will gather to celebrate Chanuka. It is a blueprint for the present as well as a history of the past, with important life lessons for all of God’s children. We collected some valuable insights in our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. You can get it alone or enjoy substantial holiday savings and hours of life-enhancing learning when you order it as part of our Biblical Blueprint Set. And yes, listening with others amplifies the benefits.

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Sunflowers, Science and Society

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…   What comes after 55?  That’s right! 89 is the correct answer.  Each number is obtained by adding the two preceding numbers.  This series of numbers is called the Fibonacci sequence and is a little different from common arithmetic or geometric series like 3, 6, 9, 12… or 2, 10, 50, 250…

Amazingly, Fibonacci numbers provide a bridge between mathematics and nature.  The way that branches are arranged around the trunk of a tree corresponds to this series.  Similarly, the arms of a spiral galaxy and the number of right-handed and left-handed spirals in the sunflower correspond to Fibonacci numbers, as do the spirals on many mollusk shells.

Western training has carried specialization to such an extreme that poets and physicists barely share a common language.  We assume that God and faith have nothing at all to do with biology and chemistry.  We assume that law and justice have little to do with morality and certainly nothing to do with God.  Yet, a curious juxtaposition of verses in Deuteronomy seems to suggest an entirely different model.

The sixty-eight verses from Deuteronomy 16:18 all the way to Deuteronomy 19:21 detail God’s model of a functioning judiciary.  John Locke, one of the most important philosophical influences on the American Founding, depended heavily upon this and other passages in the Torah, which he studied in the original Hebrew.  Much of America’s legal system is based on these very ideas.

This passage contains directions on setting up courts of law as well as law enforcement agencies.  It warns against bribing judges and specifies the laws of evidence. It mentions the role of a monarchy and the independence of the judiciary.  It describes how a civilized nation deals with murder in its midst and it differentiates between accidental homicide and premeditated murder.  It deals with land laws and boundary disputes and it discusses perjury and its punishments.

Yet, in the midst of such secular sounding topics come words that seem completely out of context.  Just after we read the inspiring words “Justice, justice shall you pursue… (Deuteronomy 16:20) we find this:

You shall not plant for yourselves an idolatrous tree—any tree—near the altar of the Lord your God…You shall not slaughter for the Lord your God an ox or lamb in which there is a blemish…
(Deuteronomy 16:21—17:1)

One can almost hear the cries of outrage from modern western legal scholars.  “Church and state should be rigidly separated,” they yell.  “We’re talking about laws and jurisprudence; don’t drop in verses about idolatry and sacrifices to God.”  One can almost hear their point.  After all, why would we intersperse important principles about judges and witnesses, murderers and thieves, with ritual rules about altars and blemished sheep?

The connection between religious ritual and legal structure is quite consequential.  The entire legal authority of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish people’s Supreme Court that only functions when situated in the Temple, comes from these words:

And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather me seventy men from the elders of Israel…take them to the Tent of Meeting and have them stand there with you.  I will descend and speak with you there and I will increase some of the Spirit that is upon you and place it upon them…’
(Numbers 11:16-17)

We can now more clearly understand why the sixty-eight verses about law and justice contain references to how the litigants and the plaintiffs in a lawsuit must appear not only before judges, but also before God and priests. There is a seamless unity linking law and faith, joining judges to priests and connecting jurisprudence to God.

Grasping these connections accustoms us to question western training that compartmentalizes everything.  With this insight, it becomes so much easier to see how a friend’s tattered relationship with God impacts behavior.  Recognizing the role of religion in marriage becomes simple. Today, society urges us to think that God and our personal and legal interactions with others aren’t related. They want us to pigeonhole things just as before Fibonacci, flowers and mathematics were viewed separately. That is not how the world really works.

As we head into a festive season, I encourage you to shop our ‘bursting with books’ sale. All of my hardcover books are temporarily only $15 while the softcover ones are $9. Take this opportunity to give gifts of true meaning that can immeasurably add value, joy and growth to your life and the lives of your loved ones. (Available on Amazon too)

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Action Man

Have you noticed how many men seem allergic to something broken?  Often a man acquires a new car and the first thing he does is lift the hood to see if anything needs doing.  Perhaps he installs a police-radar detector or buys safety valve stem caps for his tires.  Here’s the secret: for men, engagement means action and action means engagement.  For men, connecting with someone or something usually involves action.

For a man to be happy at work, he needs to be recognized for solving problems.  The uniformed services attract men partially because they are action oriented. Men meeting one another shake hands, fist bump, slap one another’s shoulders or hug boisterously.  Women connect just as powerfully but a delicate kiss precedes the important, non-physical, animated conversation.  For women engagement often means talking.

If you still remain in any doubt on this male female distinction, just watch how much more actively and physically little boys play with their peers than little girls with theirs.  Or notice how women in marriage seek more conversation while men would like more physical interaction. Both want to engage with their spouses; each gender goes about it a little differently.

Young men who are perhaps insufficiently active in their business lives sometimes undergo dramatic change upon marriage.  God created males in such a way that it is impossible to enjoy ultimate connection with a wife without action on the part of the male.  This reality can spread benefit to every part of their lives, particularly financial.

Isaac, the first born Jew, appears in the opening verses of Genesis 21.  Strangely, for the longest time, we don’t see him doing anything or even saying anything.  Finally, when he is in his thirties, comes the seminal binding of Isaac upon the sacrificial altar. At the age of 37 for the very first time he speaks, asking, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” (Genesis 22:7)  Immediately after this comes Sarah’s death and burial.  There is a greater obligation upon a child to mourn and bury a parent than upon a man to bury his wife, yet Isaac is missing in action.

Next come selecting a wife for Isaac and, once again, the man of the moment is nowhere to be seen.  Abraham arranges all with Eliezer who subsequently finds Rebecca and brings her back (Genesis 24:1-61).

Finally, Isaac returns from a journey and goes out to the field to pray (Genesis 24:62-63).  He sees Rebecca and springs into action.

And Isaac took (Rebecca) into the tent of his mother, Sara, and he married her and she became his wife and he loved her…
 (Genesis 24: 67)

Isaac then becomes active, burying his father, Abraham, just as we’d expect.  He prays for his wife and they have two sons Jacob and Esau.  He relocates his family to Gerar, digs wells, and initiates a special blessing to his sons fifty-seven years before his death.  He sends Jacob away to Rebecca’s family and lives until 180, whereupon his two sons bury him.

What suddenly caused Isaac to become so active cementing his place as the second of the three forefathers of Israel?  The process of becoming a husband and a father changed him.  Indeed, Abraham sought out a wife for him but Isaac alone embraced Rebecca, brought her into the tent of his late mother, loved her and fathered her two sons.

I have often discussed how God built our bodies to reflect our spiritual realities.  I have explained about eyes and ears, and taught on the internal asymmetry and external symmetry of our bodies. Now, I will point out how God made human males sexually distinct from virtually all other male mammals.

Reproduction is made possible in almost every mammal male— including gorillas and baboons— by means of a rigid bone, called a baculum, which facilitates the mating process.  However, for human males no such material aid exists. Mating depends entirely upon the spiritual desire the man feels for his wife.  God wanted human male/female connections to be so much more than biological.  If reproduction is the only goal, a rigid bone coming into play is immensely useful.  However, if God’s main goal is for authentic connection on every level to take place between a man and woman, then a baculum would detract from the relationship, making it merely physical.

God’s design of the human male without a baculum ensures that the man is fully invested in the connection.  His mind can’t be elsewhere; if it is, there will be no connection.  He cannot be distracted or uninterested; if he is, there will be no connection.  Connection and engagement are linked to action.  That action only become possible if authentic connection exists. (In the case of rape or a prostitute or hook-ups, the sinful connection may be one of anger, scorn or selfishness, but it still takes the man’s total and complete attention.)

This connection between action and marriage that helps pinpoint Isaac’s becoming active, also explains the remarkable correlation between men, their marital status, and the amount of money they make.  In the United States, single men of every background are the poorest demographic in society.  Married men tend to be active and engaged and few things are better indicators of wealth creation.

Many more astounding connections in our amazing world are found in ancient Jewish wisdom.  Now is an excellent opportunity to gain access to some of this material with our Thanksgiving offer of free shipping in the U.S. for any online order over $75 when you use the promo code SHIP.

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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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