Love Your Neighbor – Really?

One of the most frequently recurring questions that I am asked is this:  “Rabbi Lapin, I try to live my life as an upright and decent person and I try to make my decisions according to the Biblical code of good and evil but I often feel exploited.  Sometimes relatives count on my good nature as they ask to stay at my home for lengthy visits while they tour nearby vacation areas.   Other times co-workers ask for favors that go way beyond normal collegial cooperation.  I am at my wit’s end because I know they view me as a God-fearing, kind and compassionate Christian.  They assume that since I love them, I must agree to their requests. Sometimes, though, I find these requests excessive and I feel resentful.  I don’t see how I can refuse without appearing unchristian but I don’t like feeling resentment. How can I reconcile my self-expectations of love with those of other people in my life?”

Let’s face it. Loving others isn’t always easy.  Even loving one’s friends and relatives can sometimes be a bit demanding.  This is especially true when things begin to resemble a bottomless pit.  Imagine your neighbor borrowing your lawnmower in the name of your love for him, then demanding your hedge trimmer before he hosts a late night noisy party, always confident of your obligation to give him endless love.  When is enough, enough?

I sympathize.  The Bible does demand much from us.  What are we to do when others latch onto our moral commitment to behave agreeably and exploit it?  Well, today I want to do more than sympathize.  I want to provide you with a solution to the dilemma created by your faith and dedication to God’s word.

Clearly the one specific Bible verse causing this consternation is:

…and you shall love your friend as yourself, I am the Lord.
(Leviticus 19:18)

This verse appears problematic because a casual reading of it could imply that whenever I love myself enough to get me an ice-cream, I need to get you one too.  And you, and yes, you too!   Does it mean that when you purchase a lovely new outfit, you should buy one for each of your friends and neighbors as well?   Upon reflection, that does seem ridiculous, but if it is what the Scripture says, well…

Happily ancient Jewish wisdom comes to the rescue pointing out that the Hebrew text actually reflects that you must love your friend just as you would expect him to love you.  No more and no less.

In other words, would I expect my friend or neighbor to buy me an ice-cream whenever he gets one for himself?  No, of course not.  Would you expect your friend to get you a pretty new dress whenever she got one for herself?  No, of course you wouldn’t.  The message is clear; do not expect more love than you would deliver in the same circumstances.

Once we learn how to overcome the problem of limitless expectations on the part of those we love, learning how to love those among whom we live is very worthwhile.  It can help us love others once we realize that loving someone else “as yourself” does not mean you ought to love him as much as you love yourself, but as much as you’d expect him to love you.  Do things for other people in the name of your love for them, to the extent that you would expect them to do the same for you.

As soon as we apply these reasonable limitation on expectations, we can love fearlessly.  However we must remember why we should indeed love our friends at all.  The concluding phrase of Leviticus 19:18,  “I am the Lord,” reminds us that we are all God’s children and as such, we are all brothers and sisters and by that relationship, worthy of one another’s love.

One way to show love for each other, as well as to celebrate our being created by God, is to properly use the gift He uniquely gave to human beings – speech. When we speak rudely or use foul language in a public area, we are stating a lack of care for others.  When we use profanity among our friends and family, we degrade ourselves and them. In the process, as we show in our audio CD, Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak, we damage our economic chances as well as our opportunities for lasting love. An hour listening to this CD can change your future.

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Find Yourself in a Fish

What a blessing it is to bounce out of bed each morning on fire to fulfill one’s purpose for living.  One of the most potent antidotes to feeling low, miserable and even depressed is having a purpose, knowing it, and passionately propelling oneself towards it.

As an ardent boating enthusiast, I find the behavior of the Bible’s most famous mariner, Jonah, to be quite baffling.  At the height of a furious storm that threatened the very survival of their ship, the terrified sailors cast their cargo overboard to lighten the vessel.  Obviously, during such a tempest the safest location is high up on the struggling vessel from where escape might at least be possible.  That is why lifeboats are found on the upper deck.  Nobody in his right mind would voluntarily remain far down in the belly of the boat.

But Jonah descended down into the bilges of the ship, lay down and fell fast asleep.

(Jonah 1:5)

 Clearly this was a man without a worry in the world.  But don’t envy him.  Only the dead have no worries.  And that’s the clue.  To Jonah, dying was not that different from his living existence.  Jonah was an avoider of challenges.

God elevated Jonah and made him His prophet.  God dispatched him on a challenging mission to Nineveh.  Instead of confronting the challenge, Jonah elected to avoid it attempting to escape to Tarshish.

Jonah represents you and me.  He represents leaders in politics and in business.  He represents parents and preachers.  Jonah had been given a life mission by God.  Just like each of us, he had been given the gift of a real purpose for living.

From each of us, God expects specific performance and achievement in some specific mission.  After all, if God is to be taken seriously then He must be taken personally too.  We must each distill our own life experiences and our own spiritual adventures into the essence of what it is that we alone have been created to achieve.

Life itself demands no less, but the search is challenging, even dangerous, and the mission once found is always formidable.  Having problems and worries is a barometer of life. Confronting them is the elixir of immortality.  But Jonah preferred escape.

In reality, only one escape exists: view life as meaningless and seek solace in entertainment.  Distract ourselves to death.  Jews are fond of the toast, L’Chayim—to life!  What that really means is ‘affirm life’.  But the only way to affirm life is by embracing your moral mission with all its challenges.

Attempting escape means choosing an empty alternative and abandoning your own great moral challenge. It means a life in which the dull gray monotony of existence becomes almost indistinguishable from death.

Jonah tried to abandon his Divine destiny.  Instead of traveling to Nineveh as commanded, he attempted to evade his whole purpose for living by escaping to Tarshish.  Since evading one’s mission is an embrace of death, it is no wonder that Jonah was content to die in the sinking ship.

When we try to avoid our mission, it is not because we consider the attempt to be futile.  It is because nothing has awoken us.  Only one thing could awake Jonah to his destiny and help him find his redeeming mission in life:  three days in the belly of that fish.

It was an unimaginable place of wet darkness where Jonah huddled among the giant pulsing organs of life.  Was this living cave to become a grave—the end of his life, or was it to become a womb—the start of his real life?  It could have gone either way.  The choice was Jonah’s to make.

The one time in the Jewish calendar that the book of Jonah is read in synagogue is late in the afternoon on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  As the sun starts setting and the day of fasting is ebbing away, we read:

 Jonah left the city and sat at the east of the city.  He made himself a booth there…

(Jonah 4:5)

 It is quite impossible to read that verse without thinking of the Festival of Sukot, (sometimes called Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths) that commences just five days later.  The book of Jonah read on Yom Kippur actually hints at the forthcoming Sukot.

As if to parallel that chronology, of all the many laws governing conduct during the Day of Atonement, the final regulation, the last word as it were, is that Jews should commence building their booths for Sukot immediately following the conclusion of the fast.

The idea is that every day is connected to its yesterday and its tomorrow.  Rosh HaShana, New Year, is linked to Yom Kippur by the Ten Days of Repentance.  In turn, Yom Kippur is linked to the next holy day, Sukot by the final reading of the day, the Book of Jonah.

It is interesting that much of the ancient Jewish wisdom surrounding Jonah is disclosed in the tractate entitled Booths.  (Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah Chapter V)  It is there that we discover Jonah’s identity and origins.  It turns out that he was the son of the widow who was Elijah the prophet’s landlady in the first book of Kings, chapter 17.   The lad had died and, in response to the entreaties of his bereaved mother, Elijah brought him back to life. Later in his life we encounter him as the prophet Jonah.  This helps explain why he seemed so fearless of dying during the storm.  After all, he had died once before and had been resuscitated once before—by Elijah the prophet.

The lesson to be learned is that there are three avenues to finding our mission and thrilling to our purpose.  First, dark and frightening days in the belly of the fish – tough experiences – have the potential either to bury us or birth us anew. Second, relating deeply to the interconnectedness of days.  If today lacks clarity, know that tomorrow will soon arrive. Finally, rebirth is possible.  The old Jonah died in that fish, just as he did as a lad.  In both cases, he was restored.  Finding our purpose is the same as being restored to life.  And bounding out of bed each morning is a joyful reaffirmation of the life you live.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, contains more life affirming messages to help us maximize our time on earth. Discover them in our audio CD Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity.

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You’re a One Hit Wonder, Jezebel

Have you ever found yourself entranced by the video game, Angry Birds?  You might have thought that the stock of the company, Rovio, that started with the launch of that strangely addictive activity would be soaring as high as its colorful avian projectiles.  Not so; in fact it never came up with any subsequent games even remotely as popular.

That Thing You Do” was a moderately successful 1996 movie about a teen-age band in a small Pennsylvania town that achieves stardom with their eponymous hit song.  It was their first and last hit.  It was pretty much also the first and last directorial of well-liked actor, Tom Hanks.

You know those hideous rubber shoes that come in fluorescent colors? Well, the company that innovated that particular fashion accessory once enjoyed a stock price of about $70 but for years it has hovered around $10.  Those shoes apparently were the company’s only achievement. Since then profits have plummeted.

There was a time when over 4 million people had a television watching device called a Tivo, made by a company of the same name.  At its peak the company stock sold for about $60, but for quite a while it’s been down around $10.  The brains who came up with that innovative TV accessory have not come up with anything else and meanwhile viewers have fled Tivo for newer alternatives.

Let’s not even look at Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s Cubes or Pet Rocks. We’ve seen any number of one hit wonders that come out of nowhere, capture everyone’s attention, then just as quickly turn into attic clutter.  It even happens to people.

Meg Whitman took the reins at eBay in 1998, where she soon took it public and made it one of the most valuable companies on the Internet.  After ten great years at eBay she ran for governor of California, losing to career politician, Jerry Brown, in November 2010.  Hewlett Packard then picked her to head the giant computer company.  Things haven’t gone well.  HP stock is way down.  Bloomberg LP dubbed Meg Whitman the most underachieving CEO.  Another one hit wonder?

Ron Johnson was hired by Steve Jobs to create those sleek gadget-filled Apple stores.   Opening 300 stores with incredibly high average sales per square foot, Ron made Apple Stores the top American retailer.  Johnson seemed a miracle merchandiser but he was really a one hit wonder.  He next signed up as CEO of J.C.Penney. Seventeen months later, the giant retailer was in ruins and Ron Johnson was fired.

In general, it seems a far better plan to build a company on an ethos of constant improvement and innovation than basing strategy upon one individual or product with early stupendous success. It is certainly better to consistently provide attention and create good memories with children rather than providing one spectacular vacation week a year.

Where in ancient Jewish wisdom is this principle taught?  It’s time to revisit I Kings 18 & 19.

The wicked king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel led Israel into idolatry, worshipping the Baal.  God’s prophet, Elijah, challenged four hundred and fifty false prophets to have their god bring fire down to their sacrifice. They failed while God brought fire which consumed Elijah’s sacrifice.  This signaled a colossal defeat for Ahab and Jezebel which was compounded when Elijah brought a rainfall, ending a devastating drought.  This was the end of the false prophets and Israel returned to the Lord.  This has to have been the triumphant high point of Elijah’s life.

Then two astonishing things happen.  First, Jezebel sends a message to Elijah promising to kill him on the next day.  Second, Elijah falls into utter dejection.  He flees into the desert and prays for God to take his soul.

If Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah why didn’t she just do it today? Why telegraph her intentions of killing him tomorrow?  Furthermore, with his stunning success over the Baal and bringing Israel back to God, why was Elijah so depressed?

The clue is the verse that directly follows the queen’s threat.

And he [Elijah] saw and he arose and went towards his soul…
(I Kings 19:3)

 

The words are not, “and he heard,” the threats of the queen and he fled “for” his life.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Elijah “saw” as we today say, “Oh, I see…,” meaning I understand.  Elijah understood what the queen was saying.

He correctly understood her message to mean, “Elijah, I can’t kill you today because today you won. You produced an incomparable miracle.  You’re a big hero. Today.  However, if you think the effect will last, you’re terribly mistaken.  Tomorrow the people will forget what you did.  They will return to idolatry and then I will kill you.”

After a lifetime dedicated to keeping Israel attached to God, Elijah felt defeated.  He feared that Jezebel was correct and that the effects of his work would be short-lived.  He didn’t flee for his life; she wasn’t about to kill him.  He went towards his soul, convinced that his work in this world was done and ready to die.

One massive miracle that demonstrated God’s power would have no lasting impact.  Indeed, one fantastic and flamboyant triumph seldom has lasting value.  But Elijah was nonetheless wrong. His life was not just one pyrotechnic extravaganza.  It was the accumulated collection of a long list of accomplishments growing in significance.  As a result, his effectiveness lasts forever.  He never actually died.

…and Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
(II Kings 2:11)

When hiring an associate we can use this wisdom by seeking a candidate with a record of steadily increasing responsibilities and achievements rather than someone with an early meteoric rise.  When building a business enterprise we can plan for an airborne future rather than a flamboyant takeoff followed by a flameout.  When raising a child we must provide a consistent environment of attention rather than occasional extravagant treats amidst benign neglect. Avoid being a one hit wonder.

Many permanent principles like this one govern our relationship to money; making it, spending it, saving it and growing it. Fortunately over the past twenty years I gathered those many timeless truths from the Torah and now condensed them into two books, Thou Shall Prosper and Business Secrets from the Bible.

Make a change and enhance your 2015 finances by making this set a part of your strategies.  It could also bring about significant change in the financial fortunes of someone you love.  I am sure your gift would be well appreciated.

Financial Book Package

 

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Be Holy!

One of America’s most pressing problems is the spread of secularism.  The reason that swelling secular sentiment imperils us all is because beliefs have consequences.  The consequences occur when people act upon their beliefs.

Powerful ideas can be false and lead to great evil. When enough people believe in a powerful idea, subsequent social and political trends march in step with that idea.  It was a political genius who thought up the idea of advancing homosexuality by labeling everyone who considered it sinful, as  hateful and intolerant.  When enough people adopt that idea politicians and pundits sense the groundswell and can be counted upon to help validate same sex marriage.

Change people’s hearts and you change the way they vote. One of my regular radio mantras is, “Politics is nothing other than the practical application of people’s most deeply held beliefs.”  Secularism uses emotionally charged words and slogans to promote itself . Even if you are not religious yourself, you should be very scared of a secularized culture.

The American poet, T. S. Eliot who won the Nobel literature prize in 1948, put it this way during a speech at Oxford University in 1939.

“As political philosophy derives its sanction from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality. ”

Belief in secularism leads inevitably to results that contradict reality.  Often, good people don’t foresee the calamitous consequences of secularist policies.  One way to clarify where one best fits is to ask oneself which of the following two choices in each of the three sets comes closest to how one feels.

A)

  • Humans arrived on the planet by a process of unaided, materialistic evolution.  It follows that humans are no more than sophisticated animals.
  • God created us in His image and placed us here. Humans are unique creatures touched by the finger of God.

 

B)

  • There is no outside source of wisdom and truth. People should look into their own hearts for moral guidance. 
  • People are born knowing no more about morality than about calculus.  Most of us are born with an appetite for evil, and we find good by knowing God, loving Him and obeying His Word.

 

C)

  • The ‘g’ of government is nearly always good while business is nearly always bad.  Without government regulation, business would run amok. Driven by greed, business relentlessly exploits employees, customers, and the environment.   
  • The ‘G’ of God is always good. Business is about serving customers and customer service is related to worship service because serving His children is closely related to serving Him.  Business has less potential to tyrannize than government because you can choose not to give your money to a business.  

As these three examples of secular belief have become more and more accepted, they have significantly changed the way we lead our lives.  Yes, beliefs do have consequences and in these examples, not for the better.

Take the first belief, that humans are really nothing more than sophisticated and evolved chimpanzees.  It follows from this that like all other animals, humans are also incapable of true creativity.  If I seize a banana, there is naturally one less banana available for you.  The zookeeper must supervise distribution of bananas among all the primates.  Thus, redistribution of wealth and complete economic equality become ultimate values to be achieved by confiscatory levels of taxation aimed at those chimps with too many bananas.  Have you noticed how ‘rich’ has become a pejorative in America?

The second belief is that nobody else may tell you what is moral or immoral, good or bad.  That is for you alone to decide.  Among the consequences of this belief is that villains are seen as virtuous or at least blameless while the truly virtuous are portrayed as villains..

The third belief, that government solves problems while business creates them, encourages governments to increasingly tax business in order to fulfill its own unkept promises.  Furthermore, government schools teach your children to believe the worst about how you earn your living.  Know-nothing street rioters protest an economy they don’t even begin to understand.  All they know is that profit equals plunder and business is bad.

Yes, beliefs do have consequences and when wrong-headed ideas become popular we all suffer.  One might think of those who promote these evil ideas as fellow travelers crossing a dangerous ocean with us on a small ship.  To our dismay, we notice some of them drilling holes through the hull.  In response to our horrified protests, they insist that they are merely drilling holes under their own seats.  In other words, they wrongly claim that their beliefs are nobody else’s affair. Ancient Jewish wisdom explains this is why the entire nation of Israel was told to be holy.

Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, Be holy…
(Leviticus 19:2)

We can certainly protest the consequences of secularism.  We can campaign against increased taxation.  We can wring our hands at soaring rates of illegitimate births even as we know that many of today’s babies without fathers are tomorrow’s children without futures.  We can object to our schools collaborating with homosexual recruitment programs and encouraging sexualized lifestyles for fifteen-year-olds.

However that is locking the barn door after the priceless racehorse has escaped.  A better target for our energies would be the bad beliefs in the first place that led to these undesirable consequences.

The best way we can all help defeat false and evil ideas is by promoting true and good ones and nowhere are they more easily found than in the Book that created civilization and must now come to its defense.  That’s right; let’s spread the Biblical blueprint to banish the sordid scourge of secularism.  Let’s combat secularism with life-affirming Bible-based Judaism and Christianity.

Current cultural trends make my two CD audio program with study guide, The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah, look prescient. This is an amazing tool to help you see and combat the results of secularism. I implore you to equip yourself with this ammunition.

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The Pen Is NOT Mightier than the Sword

If the pen really was mightier than the sword, the idiom would be unnecessary.  Nobody says, “Atom bombs are stronger than paper clips” or “Ferraris are faster than Fiats.” Most simple slogans are untrue.  “He who hesitates is lost” is contradicted by “Look before you leap.” “Out of sight, out of mind” is contradicted by “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

 The truth is usually a composite of the two extremes.  One must balance too much hesitation with too much impetuousness.  One can miss those who are far away but after a while one can also forget them.  Similarly, sticks and stones can break bones but words written by a pen cannot.  Yet there are certainly times when the long term impact of words is greater than that of guns.  Sometimes victories are brought about by bullets but other times they are won by ballots.

Because we’re all imperfect humans, our emotions can propel us toward ill-considered action rather than thoughtful words.  The little boy in the playground pushes or punches rather than inviting his antagonist to a symposium on mediation.  The crying wife drives many a husband to action, as he tries to fix the problem rather than listen to his wife explain her sadness.  The business professional might impose his will rather than negotiate what could have been a superior solution.

At times even when action is the wrong solution, the intensity of our feelings can nonetheless still push us towards doing something instead of saying something.  By the way, when a bad boss has provoked you into walking out and yelling, “I quit,” you have actually used action not words.

Wouldn’t you like to know how to make sure that you use words even when your emotions are trying to make you lash out with an action you’ll later regret?  The answer lies in a Biblical mystery.

At the burning bush, for about 35 verses God argues with Moses, persuading him to take on the mission of bringing Israel out of Egypt.  God promises him that Pharaoh and the Israelites will listen to him. God gives him wonderful signs to impress the Egyptians. After God’s many assurances, Moses finally yields basically saying, “Okay fine, go ahead and send whomever you wish; I’ll do it.”  (Exodus 3:4-4:17) 

Would you not have thought that the story would have ended quite soon with the triumphant march of Israel out of Egypt?  Yet in fact, what happens is quite the reverse. The plight of the Israelites is worsened by Pharaoh oppressing them further. As a result of Moses’ agitation, the Children of Israel must deliver the same quota of work while scavenging for their own raw material. (Exodus 5:18)  At the burning bush, God gave Moses no inkling that all would not proceed smoothly.  Something went wrong.

To add to the mystery, after this dreadful disappointment, Moses twice tells God that Pharaoh will never listen to him on account of his speech impediment.  Twice he uses the Hebrew term “Aral Sefatayim” explaining that Pharaoh will not listen to him because he has ‘sealed lips’(Exodus 6:12 & 6:30)

However, back at the burning bush, Moses used different terminology when he said, “…I am not a man of words…”  (Exodus 4:10)

Why did Moses use two different phrases to refer to his speech?

The answer lies in the remarkable conversation Moses had with God at the burning busy.  God said, “I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and you shall take my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)

Moses responds, “…when I come to the Children of Israel…” (Exodus 3:13)  Had Moses been talking to a human boss, he might have heard this:  “Are you deaf, Moses?  What do you mean asking me about going to the Children of Israel? Did I tell you to go to the them? No! I said quite clearly, ‘Go to Pharaoh – not the Children of Israel.  Just do what I tell you!”

But Moses was talking to his Heavenly Boss.  If we ignore His word, God allows us to proceed along the path of our own desires.  God basically said to Moses, “Well, okay, if you insist, go ahead and try it your way.”  It was only later, once Moses’ approach had failed and Israel was even more miserable than they had been that God eventually said to Moses, “Okay, let’s try it my way now. This time, go to Pharaoh like I originally told you.”  (Exodus 7:2)  This time Moses obeyed (Exodus 7:6) and the process of the Exodus was under way.

When Moses originally demurred by saying, “I am not a man of words,” he was not referring to any speech impediment.  He was really saying to God, “Hey, I’m not a man of words; I’m a man of action.  I’m the guy who killed an Egyptian for harassing my brethren. (Exodus 2:12)  I did not engage him in a discussion about the root causes of Egyptian anti-Semitism. Don’t send me to talk to Pharaoh.  Let me go to the people of Israel and stir up a great national revolution.  We’ll take our freedom by force; by the people throwing off their yoke of Egyptian oppression. I want action not words.”

God knows that Moses must discover for himself that this redemption has to come from God not from a people’s liberation movement.  Real redemption will come through following God’s words.

Sometimes we too must learn our own painful lessons by trying avenues that fail.  We can save ourselves much heartache by doing the right thing first.  This passage can help provide us with the necessary strength.

The pen is surely mightier than the sword when it is God’s pen and the words are His Book.  Many times throughout history, people brandishing the Bible have beaten superior forces that knew nothing of the Bible and cared less.  Our purpose in making these Thought Tools available to you is to enable you to deploy Biblical power and its ancient solutions against the modern problems that plague your life.

If you think you might benefit from a slightly more concentrated dose of Thought Tools, I have just the thing for you.  If you’d like to be able to have about a hundred of our Thought Tools on your bookshelf or your bedside table right now rather than seeing them one-at-a-time each week, this is all you need to do:

Order either Thought Tool Volume I or Thought Tool Volume II (better yet, save money by buying the set!).  If we see that this has value to you, we’ll go ahead and issue the next two volumes of Thought Tools as well.  Your order will not only provide you with a source of inspirational and practical information but it will encourage us to continue publishing them in book form. Enjoy!

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