What’s Your New Idea?

A professor in college once told our class that every great thought had already been expressed. If we think we have a brilliant new insight, he said, chances are that somebody already thought of it.

Do you think this is true? I'm doubtful. Just look at the twentieth century.

Einstein reimagined the universe. And changed the world.

But my professor was right in reminding us of the wisdom of the past. Sir Isaac Newton—the greatest scientist until Einstein came along—reportedly said of his discoveries, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Newton was suggesting he benefited from those who preceded him. He was not the first person, however, to use the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants.” It appears for the first time in the book of Jewish law and wisdom known as The Talmud.

In that 2000-year-old book, the Jewish sages say, “If we have found wisdom, it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants.”

We Christians and Jews are the heirs of great scholars and teachers who came before us. We stand on their shoulders.

So when we speak of faith and truth today, we do so with humility: humble in our recognition of their wisdom, and mindful that we are only the latest link in the chain of God's eternal creation.

I am humble enough to admit I need your help in spreading word about my upcoming book The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today.

My Grandfather’s Letters

See Below for a Special Invitation

As a child, I was very close with my grandfather. He grew up in Milwaukee, and was the first in his family to go to college.

After two and a half years in college, he entered medical school. He fought in World War II, came home and lived the American dream. 

One day, when my parents were out of town and I was staying with him, and we got into talking about his life and career. 

He started pulling outletters—boxes and boxes of letters. Now he lived in a small apartment, but he had saved all these boxes.

Can You Feel It in Your Bones?

The Meaning of Independence Day

The word independence in Hebrew is etzma'utIt is connected to the word etzem, which means bone. What is the connection between these two ideas—bones and independence?

The answer is found in writings of John Locke. He was the British political philosopher who most influenced Thomas Jefferson and America's other founding fathers.

Locke said property rights emerge out of our ownership of our bodies. Independence begins within our own bones.

From that truth emerges the idea of individual freedom. No one can enslave another human being because our bodies and the labor they produce belong to us.

If You Want to Be Happier, Practice Forgiveness

It's Easier Than You Think

A poor man was wandering from town to town with a heavy load of all his earthly possessions on his back.

bearing burden

A wagon driver saddled up next to him and offered to give him a ride to the next town. The relieved pauper complied.

After a few miles, the wagon driver stopped for a rest. He looked back into his wagon and saw that the man was still carrying the load on his back.

“Why are you still carrying your load? You can put it down in the wagon!”

Discover The Secret to Happiness

This is one of my daily emails. You can sign up for them by texting the word ‘Jewish' to 33444.

Do you remember that old song: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” We need that reminder sometimes.

To really be happy, however, not worrying is not enough. Here’s a better song: “Be grateful. Be happy.”


Gratitude is the secret to happiness. It pushes away negative emotions. It is is impossible to feel grateful and angry at the same time.

It also makes us more present. Author Robert Holden points out, “The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.”

Just last week I was visiting someone in the hospital. The elevator stopped on almost every floor. At each stop someone wheeled in on a wheelchair, or was lifted in by orderlies on a gurney.

How To Figure Out What You Believe

The rules and practices of Hebrew language reveals subtle truths. Hebrew, for example, has no word for “is” or “am.”

For example, you cannot say “Rain is falling.” You can only say “Rain falls” to say it is raining right now.

Another example: You can't say in Hebrew “I am tired right now.” You can only say “I feel tired right now.”

The Hidden Power of 7

Unlocking a Pattern in Life and History

Does your life follow a pattern? Do you move every ten years? Do you take a new job every five years?

Sometime we surprise ourselves when we look closely. Patterns emerge we never imagined.

It happens with nations and communities well. A recent article alerted me to a startling pattern in recent Jewish history. It centers around the number seven.

Celebrating in a Hospital Room

My friend Michele Cushat wrote a book a few years ago called Undone. She said “undone is beautiful.” That is, we can find beauty and hope even through the brokenness and struggles of life.

A wedding ceremony I performed a few years ago reminded me of this truth. The bride was a friend of friend. She called to tell me that she was engaged. They had a wedding date set for the following June. Would I be available? Sure, I replied.

But, there's more, she said softly. My mom is dying. She has pancreatic cancer. She insists we not change our plans for the big ceremony in June. But, she asked, could I come to her hospital room and perform a wedding ceremony. Her mom would have a chance to see them married.

Of course, I said. We set a date. When the time came, I went over to the hospital. I wore my usual office attire: a striped button down shirt, grey pants, loafers.

When I got to the hospital room, I quickly realized my error The bride stood outside the room in her wedding gown. The groom beamed next to her in a tuxedo.

At least twenty-five friends in suits, ties, dresses, make up, crowded the hospital room. They stood around the mom's bed.

A hospital worker had brought in an electric keyboard and began playing. Four men brought in a canopy covered in flowers. The bride and groom entered to music and song.

Overwhelmed with emotion, I had trouble beginning the ceremony. We succeeded, however, in getting through it. By the end, there was not a dry eye in the room. The applauses bristled with a mixture of joy and sadness, hope and pain.

We knew life had just given us a rare moment of beauty amidst tragedy. About three weeks later the bride's mom passed away.

The bride did not have to do what she did. She could have remained angry at life, distancing herself from feelings of love and commitment because of what happened to the person she loved most dearly.

Jewish tradition, however, offers us the opposite view. We take life seriously because it is uncertain. Life's uncertainties make it all the more precious and valuable.

You will find more ways of experiences those precious and valuable moments in The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today. It's the first book to explore Jewish teachings on happiness for people of all faiths, and it just became available for pre-order.

Missing God

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Have you ever waited for a friend at a restaurant? As you waited, did you focus on the people entering who were not your friend? 

missing god

A man walked in. You looked up. Not him. 

A couple walked in. You looked up. Not your friend.

When we wait for someone, our minds are focus on their absence…on the absence of the person we await. They are constantly on our mind even though we cannot see them.

French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre used this analogy to describe how many people think about God. In His seeming absence, God becomes more present.

Consider your own life? Was it is when you felt down, frustrated, that you thought most about God.

Perhaps God's presence becomes more acute as we urgently search for Him. Perhaps the struggle helps us become more conscious of God's ways.

The biblical Jacob knew this truth. He struggled with the angel until it blessed him. So do we.

Struggle and real happiness are not at odds. In fact, real struggle often leads to deeper meaning and satisfaction. Discover why in The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today.

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

I recently celebrated the birthday of a 90 year old friend. A party gift was the front page of the NYT on the day of his birth.

The headlines: Conflicts overseas. Economic uncertainties at home. Many of the same headlines would resonate on today's front page.

At the same time, think about how much our lives have changed. We live almost 40 years longer. We communicate instantly with people on the other side of the world. We wear watches with more computing power than existed in all of the 1950s.

These dramatic changes will only accelerate. That's the thesis of a book I'm reading called The Truth About the Future. The opening quote is from Yoga Berra—”The future ain't what it used to be.”

In other words, the future we imagined 20 years ago is not the future we will experience. We will not age in in the same way, as wearable technology will help doctors identify and treat diseases in their very early stages. We will not work in the same way, as robots replace almost any job filled with repetitive tasks.

We will not travel in the same, as self-driving cut down on driving deaths, parking spaces, and the dreaded long commutes. We will not even dress in the same way, as clothing can help monitor our health and alert us when something goes wrong.

Of course these changes are scary. And potentially dangerous. But so is every dramatic transformation.

That's why faith and the values we find in the Bible is so critical. When the path is confusing, the map becomes more important.

The map I keep in front of me every day is a prayer called the Eilu Devarim. It reveals the ten practices—rooted in the Bible—that make for a happy and meaningful life.

My next book—which just became available for pre-order—reveals them as it tells my own story of discovery.