Never Marry Your Aunt

 

One of my least favorite laws was the National Speed Limit law of 1974 that mandated 55 miles per hour as the legal maximum.  Government assured us that it would save gasoline that, back then, we were lining up at gas stations to buy at, gasp! 55 cents a gallon. Of course the law did nothing of the sort, not even cutting the country’s fuel usage by a half of a percent.  Furthermore, I was hardly the only citizen who utterly ignored that law.  While cruising at a comfortable 85 along some straight and deserted highway in Montana or Nevada I was frequently overtaken by cars whooshing by in a blur.  Finally recognizing its futility, Congress repealed the law in 1995 returning speed limit decisions to the states.

How did they come up with the 55 miles per hour number back in 1974?  I hate to disillusion you, but some anonymous bureaucrats sat in an anonymous committee and pulled the number out of the air.  I’d have theorized that perhaps a brave and anonymous bureaucrat did it all on his own but then I realized that bureaucrats only make decisions from behind the safety shield of a committee.  So it was a committee that determined the magic number to be 55.  They could also have ruled 50, 60 or even 70.  Whatever they decided would become the law.  There are other laws like this; filing your income tax return by April 15, walking barefoot through the airport metal detector, and not buying more than 16 ounces of sugary drinks in New York City.  Laws like these are proscriptive laws. Some person or group of people with authority, proscribed them to be the law.  They could have made tax day May 29, they could have said you have to strip to your underwear at the airport, and they could have made 12 ounce Slurpees the maximum allowed.

However, there is another category of laws that I call descriptive laws.  These include the law of gravity which says that anyone who steps out of a window on the twentieth floor of a building will plummet downwards to a sudden and fatal stop on the sidewalk below.  There is no bureaucratic committee that can modify that law to apply only on Mondays.  This law does not proscribe. Instead it describes how the world really works.

Boyle’s Law and Charles’ Law state that expanding gases must cool down.  These convenient two laws make refrigerators and air conditioners possible.  There is no bureaucratic committee anywhere that can repeal these laws.  They were not created at the whim of Robert Boyle or Jacques Charles.  They describe reality.

Are Scriptural laws, for instance the one prohibiting men from marrying their aunts and women from marrying their nephews, proscriptive or descriptive?  (Leviticus 18:12 & 20:19)

In other words, would violating this law result in a penalty only if caught by a law enforcement officer or is the consequence intrinsic and automatic like gravity?

The first clue is that God’s concern is clearly not genetic. If it was, the Torah would also prohibit men from marrying their nieces and women from marrying their uncles.  Yet marriages with exactly the same genetic element are permitted.

What possible reason could God have for prohibiting a man from marrying his aunt but permitting him to marry his niece?  Likewise, why prohibit a woman from marrying her nephew while permitting her to marry her uncle?  While we need to listen to God regardless of whether we understand His reasoning, we are supposed to look for underlying truths He is imparting to us.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that that most women yearn to look up to the man they marry.  Sadly, many men discover that when poor conduct costs them the respect of their wives, the marriage is challenging to sustain and very hard to rescue. (While women also need to be respected by their husbands, it is a different form of respect.) Could the law we are discussing help tilt the odds towards successful marriage?

Ideally, in a thriving society, marriages draw inspiration and guidance from ancestors.  Many homes proudly display pictures of grandparents on the walls.  How often I hear women say, “My husband’s grandfather taught him how to…”  In my own case, I know how influential my wife’s grandmother was in her life. We even named our oldest daughter after her.

With admirable multi-generational awareness in a healthy family, a patriarch or matriarch is vitally important.  Now, if a man marries his aunt, then she is one generation closer to the cherished grandparents than he is.  This makes it just a tiny bit more difficult for him to retain his wife’s respect.  After all, she is a closer link in the transmission than he is.

However when a man marries his niece or a woman marries her uncle, the husband is a generation closer to the grandparents and the family heritage.  This is admittedly a small matter, but marriage is so difficult to do well and so remarkably rewarding when it is done well, that even tiny little things can make a difference. With this seemingly random Biblical law that affects very few people, the Bible provides a practical lesson even for those of us who don’t marry relatives.  It has nothing to do with arbitrary, proscriptive rules. Instead, it describes a feature of marriage and intergenerational life we would all do well to understand.

Many of the details in the first three chapters of Genesis provide descriptions of spiritual laws that God built into male/female relationships. We can ignore or object to these laws, or we can embrace and take advantage of them (even when our government and society condemn us for doing so). We expand on many of them in our 2 audio CD set, Madam, I’m Adam: Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden. Every couple, from dating to those celebrating Golden anniversaries can enjoy and benefit by learning how God’s world really works. Today more than ever, you need to make sure that those you love get exposed to the truth. The Supreme Court can proscribe laws; Genesis describes them.

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Grab That Ox

Almost everyone can tell when a synagogue or a church is in the final stages of decline.  The impending extinction is usually caused by changing neighborhood demographics or sometimes by a leadership crisis but the signs are always conspicuous.  Diminished attendance; few young women, a sad-looking facility showing signs of neglect. A roof needing repair, walls needing paint, and missing light bulbs reflect deferred maintenance.

Similarly, a country that is losing its vitality and sliding down into decadence reveals certain characteristics that serve as an early warning system.  One surprisingly significant sign is hostility towards private citizens owning property.  It starts off subtly by stressing the rights of renters rather than owners and then gradually grows to criticize landlords, owners of commercial and industrial property and others who have successfully acquired property.  Eventually censure of property-owners turns into condemnation to justify government agencies raising property taxes imperiling ownership, and ultimately seizure of properties, always for the “public good” of course.

This pattern has nearly always accompanied the decline of empires, nations, and societies and can easily be observed today in Europe as well as in N. America.  The growth of an economically viable society under stable and limited government is in itself something of a miracle.  It is far from the natural order of things and to a great degree, depends upon a government not only refraining from confiscatory policies but actively protecting citizens’ ability to acquire and own property.

The Bible clearly reveals how emphatically God desires for people to own both real estate and movable property.

… nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But each man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree…
(Micah 4:3-4)

The prophet is not talking about people sitting under any old vine or fig tree but under their own.  Furthermore, ancient Jewish wisdom declares that the proximity of the topics of war and owning their trees in these verses suggest that violence and war are best avoided by each citizen owning property.

Not only does God want all His children to own property, but He is apparently uneasy about ownerless property.  Take a look at this:

When you encounter the ox or the donkey of your enemy wandering you shall surely return them to him.
(Exodus 23:4)

Intriguingly, the same idea is repeated with some variation later in the Torah:

You shall not see the ox or sheep of your brother wander off, and ignore them; you must certainly return them to your brother. 

(Deuteronomy 22:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches three timeless truths from these verses:

First: If you encounter obviously lost animals wandering around, you don’t have the right to ignore them.  As soon as you spot them they become your business and you are obliged to take all necessary steps to restore them to them to their owners.  God doesn’t care for ownerless property and He counts upon us to help owners retain their property.

Second: In Exodus, the second book of the Torah, we are directed to return lost property, even that belonging to our enemy.  Surely we’d have been able to figure out that if we have to treat our enemy’s property this respectfully, then we need to do so for our brother’s property.  Thus the verse mentioning brother in Deuteronomy, the fifth book, seems superfluous.  The answer is that God is teaching us that by interrupting whatever you are doing and going out of your way to return lost property to your enemy (Exodus 23:4) you can eventually transform him into your brother. (Deuteronomy 22:1)

Third: By mentioning helping one’s enemy first, God is telling us that He wants us constantly to be working on overcoming our inbuilt, unworthy natural tendencies.  A very understandable part of our beings exults at seeing our enemy’s valuable animals lost and wandering.  “That will teach him to be such a scoundrel,” we self-righteously tell ourselves.  Yet God tells us to work at overcoming our ignoble instincts.

The same applies to training ourselves never to become angry, not to be lazy, or any of the numerous other negative tendencies and instincts we possess.  They may be natural to us, but that doesn’t make them permissible.

Another area where we need to overcome a natural tendency is envy, which leads us  to equate poverty with virtue.  It is a natural instinct but a wrong one to tell ourselves that those with far more property than we have must have ‘cut corners’ and must be greedy, unworthy folks.

By remembering that part of God’s plan for human interaction demands that people own property, we can, in our own small way, help to preserve our society.  We can help curb the natural tendency of our culture, entertainment and politicians.  By remembering the Biblical approach to humans and their property, we can, in our own small way, help our synagogues and churches remain fiscally healthy and reverse the societal decline that flows from envy and hatred of those who wisely own some property.

In case you’re wondering what inspired me to write this Thought Tool, it was partially the fascinating questions that my wife and I receive from readers asking about economic, family and social issues.  We receive many puzzling and perplexing questions and we answer one a week.  So many of you have expressed interest in this aspect of our work that we have published an irresistible anthology of 101 of the most intriguing questions we have received. It is easy reading that packs a punch and you can get it on sale today.

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Snow White and the Bible’s 7 Year Cycle

Have you ever wondered why Snow White met seven dwarfs? Not six, not eight— exactly seven. Why do we speak of Seven Wonders of the World—perhaps there should be nine? Marilyn Monroe even starred in The Seven Year Itch.

Have you ever wondered why England celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne on the fiftieth anniversary? Forty and sixty are also nice round numbers. We make a huge fuss for a couple’s Golden anniversary—perhaps as lifespans increase we should change that to fifty-five years rather than fifty?

Both seven and fifty are embedded into the world’s psyche because of their importance in the Bible.

Six years you shall sow your field and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruit; but in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest to the land…(Leviticus 25:3-4)

The seventh year in each cycle is called the Shemitah.  Sure enough, nothing is being planted or harvested on Jewish-owned land in Israel during the current Biblical year of 5775 ending on September 13, 2015.

This parallels the Fourth Commandment of doing no work on the seventh day, the Shabbat.

Six days you shall work and achieve all your accomplishments but the seventh day is the Shabbat of the Lord your God, on it you shall do no work, not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates.  

(Exodus 20:9-10)

Ideally, Israel’s land is so sensitive that not even it should work for us on the Sabbath!  It is plainly impracticable to uproot all crops each Friday afternoon and replant them on Saturday night. By the end of six years we’ve accumulated a total of about 312 Sabbaths upon which the earth has worked.  Leaving the land fallow for the seventh year, ‘gives back’ the six years-worth of Sabbaths. If we add to that the approximately fifty-two Sabbaths of that seventh year we get 312+52 = 364 or approximately one complete Sabbatical/Shemitah year.

After seven Shemitah cycles, equalling forty-nine years, the fiftieth year is the Jubilee year, in Hebrew YoVeL.

And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years, seven times seven years and the total of the seven Sabbaths of years will be forty-nine years…And make holy the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land for all its inhabitants…

(Leviticus 25:8-10)

God’s  fifty year cycle seems to extend beyond the borders of Israel to the economies and even wars of all the world.

I’d like to introduce you to Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff.  He recognized a fifty year cycle in economics and explained to Soviet society that God’s cycle was more accurate than the Kremlin’s latest, “Five year plan.” Not surprisingly,  Stalin executed him in 1938. Yet, what he observed stands the test of time.

In economic affairs, wealth creation seems to peak approximately every 50 years.  The year 1800 gave us steam power, industrialization and mass produced cotton fabric.  1850 was the start of railroads being built in N. America, Europe, Africa and Asia and the manufacture of steel in industrial quantities.  1900 introduced high voltage AC distribution making home and street lighting affordable and the start of the chemical industry.  1950 brought plastics and the mass produced modern automobile. 2000 ushered in the computer and digital revolution.

Likewise, at the bottom of the economic graph we have a trough every fifty years.  The first modern economic crisis was the Panic of 1825.  The Long Depression was a world-wide price recession that reached its depths in 1875.  Again, just over fifty years later we saw the Great Depression with the market crashing in October 1929.  The high oil prices, unemployment and inflation of 1975 was another recession that adhered to the Kondratieff Biblical model of economic cycles.

In warfare, God’s fifty year pattern for human affairs is equally evident. In the period 1885-1890, Britain, France, Germany, and North America were all involved in armed conflicts that established or defended borders.  Twenty-five years later, World War One broke out in 1914.  Another twenty-five years elapsed until 1939 and the outbreak of World War Two.  Another twenty-five years went by bringing us to 1964 and the sad Vietnam War.  Another twenty-five years saw the first Gulf War in summer 1990.

God’s Biblical cycles of the seven year Shemitah and the fifty year Jubilee are not arbitrary numbers. Rather, they are descriptive of how God created the world.  It is as good for us to know and understand these cycles in human affairs as it is for us to know and understand the realities that God built into the world’s psyche relating to male/female relationships, communities and personal finance.  My life’s mission has been to share this ancient Jewish wisdom in a way that makes it accessible to people of every background and in a way that helps people use it to improve their families and friendships, their finances, and their faith.

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Adam, Moses and Air-Conditioning

More than a quarter million Bangladeshis were killed by a typhoon in November 1970.  Horrifying!  But wait, twice that number of Americans were killed by an influenza virus in 1918.  In the summer of 1995 excessive heat killed over 700 Americans while in the same year severe cold or hypothermia killed more than 2,000.  I am not trying to list a catalog of calamities; I want to explain how the world really works by posing an important question.

Why would God create a world filled with frequently fatal meteorological events, disease and intolerable heat and cold?  Why couldn’t God have just made the entire world with the mild weather of coastal British Columbia and with no germs or viruses?

Ancient Jewish wisdom answers this question.

In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, the words for not good are Lo Tov.

Tov  Lo

                                                                        לא טוב

good   not

 This phrase occurs only twice in the Torah.  It appears first in Genesis 2:18 when God declares,

It is not good for man to be alone.

The phrase appears again in Exodus 18:17, when Moses’ father in law criticizes Moses for not delegating and trying to do all the teaching by himself.

And Moses’ father in law said to him, “What you are doing is not good.

In Genesis, God is not speaking only in the context of Adam’s future matrimonial prospects. Moses’ father-in-law is repeating the same message, even for his son-in-law who has the closest relationship with God. It is never good for people to be isolated from other people. The message in both places is: Find ways to collaborate and you will thrive, but alone you will perish.

Like any parent, our Father in Heaven wants His children to relate to one another with love and concern rather than indifference.  Imagine a father wanting his three children to remain connected to one another always.  He might bequeath to each just a part of the combination to activate a safe into which he had placed their inheritance.  This way they would need to cooperate in order to acquire their legacy.  Similarly, our Father in Heaven has incentivized us to cooperate and collaborate.

Think of being parachuted down onto a remote uninhabited desert island.  It is a fine tropical island with the drawback of very high temperatures.  It is almost unbearably hot on that sun seared beach.  However, you are not dismayed because back home you were a successful heating/air conditioning technician so you determine to build yourself a little air conditioned beach shack.  How long will it take you to build a working air conditioner?

The answer, of course, is that you never will.  On this island there is nobody making and selling sheet metal. The same goes for rubber tubing, compressors and condensers.  Not to mention that there is nobody generating electricity.  All the wonderful appliances and devices that make life comfortable and even possible only come about through human cooperation.   In other words, God incentivized us to connect, communicate, cooperate, and collaborate.  It is as if He is saying to us, “My children, I have created a world with tough challenges.  Here’s your choice:  Learn to get on together or you will live short and painfully unpleasant lives.”

In 1953, a flood drowned nearly 2,000 Dutchmen in the Netherlands.  Why has no subsequent North Sea flood done anything similar?  Because immediately following that disaster, the Dutch got together and pooled capital and engineering know-how to build the world’s largest land reclamation project ever.

One family alone can never protect itself from an epidemic.  However, when millions of families pool their capital and expertise, over time they come up with a vaccine against the rampaging disease.  Far more successful small businesses are launched by partnerships and teams than by one entrepreneur laboring alone.

By highlighting that the phrase Lo Tov — it is not good — appears only twice in the Torah and that both occurrences involve someone disconnected from others, we learn a vital life lesson.  The good things in life come when we are not alone.  Connecting, communicating, cooperating and collaborating with others allows us to achieve far more goodness than we possibly can alone.

There is considerably more ancient Jewish wisdom highlighting not only the infinite range of potential that more and better connections can unleash in your life but also practical strategies to make that happen.  I have collected the best of these and made them available for you to employ in your social and business life in a 2 CD audio package entitled  Prosperity Power—Connect For Succe$$.  (Check out the instant download option which is on sale.) Listen while you commute or exercise or even as you doze off in bed.  It is material you need to hear more than once.

Whether as a gift for someone who’ll realize how important they are to you or for yourself, this program will not only teach you things you didn’t know about the Bible and about human connection, but it will also help you transform yourself  into a vastly improved connector.  That is good for your finances, it is good for your health, and it makes our Father in Heaven smile. And that is really good.

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Earth, Water and Fire

Knowing how the world really works helps you live in it more easily and more successfully. One major permanent principle is that the world works on an integrated plane of physical and spiritual unity.

We need air, water, and food. These trend towards the physical end of the scale.  We also need love and loyalty and we depend upon courage and commitment.  These exist towards the spiritual end of the scale.

That connection between spiritual and physical is revealed in the words, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.”  This is not a description for creating a universe in six easy steps.  After all, what is heaven? Where is it?  This initial statement discloses that understanding the universe is possible only if you first see that the world comprises the spiritual—the intangible HEAVEN—along with the physical—the tangible EARTH.

That is why the first verse of Genesis opens with this vital communication.  After all, the Bible is not a collection of historical legends and primitive myths, but instead it is a roadmap to reality. You can’t move forward until you fully absorb the real life implication that the invisible spiritual reality is just as important as the visible physical reality.

The second verse continues by announcing that the earth was chaotic and disordered.  Furthermore, darkness lay upon the face of the deep.  Verse two ends by disclosing that God’s spirit wafted upon the face of the water.

Let’s take a closer look at the various natural phenomena mentioned in the Bible’s first two verses.  Heaven and earth?  Yes, God created them.  Next comes darkness. This doesn’t need to be created because it is the natural condition in the absence of light and light doesn’t appear until verse three.  We next encounter the water upon which God’s spirit wafted.  Water?  Where did that come from?  When exactly was water created?

This is one of those instances where the Hebrew words make all the difference.  You see, the fifth word of the Hebrew Bible is ‘heaven.’  This is what it looks like:

שׁמים    =    heaven

Here are another two important words in the Lord’s language:

מים      =     water

אש      =      fire

One of the amazing things about Hebrew letters is that their shapes are not random hieroglyphics.  Their form profoundly relates to their meaning.  The letter shin, the second letter of the word fire, the   ש resembles a fire with tongues of flame leaping upwards.  Thus this letter shin is always associated with the idea of the energy and power represented by fire.

Perhaps you do not read Hebrew, but even if you regard letters as just symbols, you can see that if we write the Hebrew word for ‘fire’ followed by ‘water’ we get something that looks remarkably like the word for heaven.

אשמים    fire + water

שמים    heaven

That extra letter is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, alef, possessing a numerical value of one.  When you multiply anything by one, you are left with the original value.

1 x 493 = 493.

  1 x   27  =  27.

 1 x  orange  =  one orange

With this understanding,   1 x (fire + water)  =  שמים

Ancient Jewish wisdom stresses that just as we study the paintings of an artist to get to know and appreciate that artist, we should study God’s creations to get to know and love Him.  The best way to study His world is by exploring the fields of physics, chemistry and mathematics. These simply explore the rules God built into Creation.

Admittedly there are many who study these fields and remain blissfully unaware of the Creator, just as there are many who enjoy works of art and music knowing nothing of how they came into being.  But for those intent on growing closer to the Creator, studying the natural world is an elegant pathway.

It therefore makes sense to ask why fire and water make up the word for heaven.  It should immediately strike us that both fire and water can be lifesaving as well as destructive.  Fire, or as it is sometimes called, energy, keeps us warm, allows us to cook our food, and provides alternatives to walking or riding an animal.  However, it is also capable of wreaking havoc and destruction.  Similarly, water is the essence of life but floods drown and destroy human habitation.

Spiritual power, symbolized by the ‘heaven’  in Genesis 1:1 is life-saving while also possessing destructive ability.  Adolf Hitler deployed enormous spiritual power that converted bus drivers, professors, and engineers into brutal and sadistic savages.  People who destroy their bodies with alcohol or drugs are seeking spiritual solace though in the wrong place.  Spiritual power helps men and women commit to monogamous marriage and to their children.  When humans engage in economic productivity and create wealth, that too requires the deployment of spiritual power.

There is no better way to grow one’s spiritual power than by studying the thousands of verses that follow after, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.”  One of the beautiful aspects of God’s wonderful world of human economic interaction is that after a transaction, both buyer and seller are happier than they were before.  It is therefore in the spirit of making both you and me happier that I tell you of my recent book Business Secrets from the Bible.  This is an invaluable resource for anyone hoping to escalate their ability to create revenue.  Yes, create it. And why I said, ‘create’ rather than ‘get’ is one of the forty secrets for financial abundance that I present in this truly invaluable work.  It’s an obvious and appreciated gift for both grads and dads, so take advantage of our Jump into June Sale and order it now.

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