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Monthly Archives: August, 2010

Slip Sliding Away

August 31st, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Elegant laws of faith and physics link the mysteries of the universe to the banality of human behavior.  For instance, they explain why I find it so hard to keep my desk neat, my body thin, and my business profitable. 

If I shake a jar containing green and red marbles arranged in alternating layers, they start moving around the jar until all signs of the original layered pattern have vanished.  No matter how long I continue shaking the jar, the marbles will not return to their original layers. 

Returning to a Buick that was left in a field for a century or two, all I’d find would be a heap of iron oxide, some powdered glass and some rubber residue.  No matter how long I waited, these ingredients would never reconstitute themselves back into a car.

We are so accustomed to this one-way direction of deterioration that we accept without question that rooms get cluttered automatically but never tidy themselves.

Entropy is our word for explaining this mysterious force that tends to pull everything down to the lowest state of order.

A car is an ordered arrangement of glass, iron, plastic and other things.  Like the marbles, once disarranged, those ingredient parts will never come together again by chance.  This is the key to understanding entropy.  It is hard to create order out of chaos.  It is just as hard to maintain order in the face of the gravity-like tug toward disorder.  It requires vast energy to create order, and maintaining it consumes vast energy.  A car, a body, a family, a nation, or a corporation all take energy to maintain.

God points us in the right direction as early as the second verse of the Torah. 

And the earth was chaotic and disordered…
(Genesis 1:2)


God’s first act of creation was to convert chaos into structure. 

And God said, “Let there be light,”  and there was light.
(Genesis 1:3)


Later in putting Adam to work in the garden, God shows the importance of our human role—bringing order into the world.

What is natural?  Natural is how things would be with no infusion of intelligent energy.  A stagnant swamp is natural, a harbor is ordered.  A wild forest is natural, a factory is ordered.  Obesity and lethargy are natural, a lean and lithe body is ordered.  Selfishness and destructiveness are natural while courtesy and civility are ordered.  A gang of marauders is natural, a profitable corporation is ordered.

In each case, converting the natural to the ordered and keeping it there takes considerable human energy.  Carving a harbor out of a swamp is hard to do.  Keeping a marriage thriving and raising upright children takes great exertion. Maintaining an honest and accountable government takes constant focus.  Forming and operating a profitable business is incredibly challenging.  And in each case, any time the humans involved cut back or cease their efforts, their project slides back toward natural chaos.

When that happens, don’t ask what has gone wrong.  When the Buick lies rotting in the field nothing is going wrong, it is actually all going right.  Nature is reclaiming the car because its owner stopped caring for it.  When the weeds grow through the long grass, when the paint peels, when budgets get bloated, and when your business loses customers, this is all natural.

We humans do better when we convert the natural to the ordered.  We feel better when the lawn is mowed, when our families are flourishing and when our business grows.  Constantly projecting energy produces order. Injecting even just a little light into darkness, tidying a corner of a cluttered room, or exercising civic responsibility makes us feel fulfilled, content, and upliftingly human.


A Little Less Library

August 31st, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 4 comments

Sandy is a generous tipper. After a restaurant meal, you can count on her to leave not only money for the waiter but also a smile and a word of appreciation. Her sensitivity was developed the summer that she waited tables earning money for college.

When my own children attend a lecture or class at their synagogue they usually make a point of thanking the speaker. Their awareness was honed through years of watching their father prepare his Torah classes and realizing the amount of work that goes into a well delivered presentation.

There is nothing like first-hand experience to make one aware of the considerable work that leads to a successful activity. Even a smoothly moving line in a supermarket expresses thought and planning, but it takes shopping in a badly run store to recognize that fact.

In my case, first-hand experience led to a personal culture clash.  By nature and upbringing I am a library and used book aficionado. While there is a certain thrill in opening crisp pages, I rarely am willing to pay the premium price rather than wait until a book is more readily available. However, since my husband started writing books and especially since working with him has become my full time job, I am acutely sensitive to the difference when someone mentions to an author that he got his book from the library versus having bought it directly. It is not only the author’s livelihood which is impacted, though it certainly is.  More so, spending money on an item which has consumed hours of labor and sweat validates that effort.

So, despite the fact that both my purse and bookshelves audibly groan on a regular basis, in the last few years, when a book impacts my life, I find myself more willing to purchase it, even if as a gift for someone else. Like Sandy’s gesture to the waiter, it’s my way of acknowledging how much I benefitted from someone’s willingness to work.

(If you would like to find out more about my husband’s books and our audio CD programs, you can find them here.

Don’t Call Me Mom – originally posted Feb. 12, 2009

August 29th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Is it just me, or do some of you also cringe when you see ads for pet food where the cat or dog looks soulfully into the camera and says something along the lines of, “Mom, this food will keep me healthy and strong. Will you buy it for me?”

Mom? When did pet owners turn into parents? Was it some time after parents turned into friends and asked their children to call them by their first names? What kind of weird world is this where you imagine your cat calling you Mom while your child calls you Stacy?

Like most mothers, I was absolutely thrilled when each of my children started saying Mommy. (A word to the wise here- I know some mothers who work very hard on making sure their child first learns to say Daddy. Isn’t that what you really would prefer to hear at 3 a.m.?) And at around age three each of them experimented with calling my husband and me by our first names, which we laughed about privately while we made sure they knew that was unacceptable.

Then, over the phone one day, a young man who had recently become engaged to our daughter, called me Mom. I’ll admit to feeling some very weird sensations at hearing that word come from the mouth of someone whom I barely knew. I mean, I knew my own children for quite a while before they called me that! But, of course, he was doing the absolutely right thing. My own future mother-in-law, many years earlier, had me use the word Mom in every sentence I spoke to her until it sounded natural to both of us. In succession, three more sons-in-law call me Mom, and in each case I am delighted to answer to that name.

But I draw the line at four legged creatures. Those ads don’t strike me as cute nor do they pull at my heartstrings. They instead make me both recoil and feel troubled at a world which is actually getting more and more confused each day. Warm and loving relationships can and should exist between people and animals. But years ago, radio host Dennis Prager mentioned being astounded at how when talking to students, many said that if their pet was drowning as well as a stranger, they would save the pet. They were quite sure they were making the moral and correct choice.

Suggesting that owning a pet is the same as being a parent doesn’t make the animal any happier; but it does devalue the mother/father/child relationship while diminishing the value of all human life.

Should I or Shouldn’t I?

August 24th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

“My parents forced me to continue with piano lessons for four years. They ruined my enjoyment of music.”

“I get so much pleasure from sitting down and playing. I’m incredibly grateful that my parents insisted that I stick with my piano lessons.”

Well, which is it? If you are a parent with a child tearfully pleading to stop piano lessons, how do you know what he or she will say years down the road? You don’t, of course.

A good friend of mine faced a dilemma. Her son’s Little League team had an important game taking place at the same time as a momentous family occasion. Which should he attend? Because of the type of family event both her husband and son acknowledged that it was her decision to make. After weighing up all the sides, the baseball team came in second. Was she right or wrong?

The whole point of being human is that we don’t know the answers to these questions. Since the day that Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, our actions are almost never 100% right or 100% wrong. We can ruminate, ponder, ask advice and stress when we have a decision to make. But in the final analysis while we can hold conflicting thoughts in our mind, our actions must go one way or the other. Since we can only play out one script, even years later we often don’t know what would have happened had we chosen the alternate path.

When she was around five, one of our daughters found decision making almost impossible. She was paralyzed by indecision. One time, she was invited to a friend’s house but knew that our family was going out for pizza. Instead of seeing two fun options, either one of which would make for a lovely afternoon, she saw that no matter what she chose she would be missing out on something. As she matured, she learned to focus on the positive side of the choices she made rather than dwell on the negative.

In talking to young men and women who are searching for life partners, a common concern that surfaces is, “What if I meet someone more suited for me once I have made a commitment?” That way of thinking, of course, ensures never getting married. Surely, one of the signs of being mature enough to marry is being able to control one’s thoughts and concentrate on what is, rather than what might have been. Perversely, trying to keep all options open usually guarantees ending up with nothing.

We all do best when we realize that “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back” works fine when choosing a toothpaste and not at all when choosing those things that truly matter. As I try to remind myself, cultivating an attitude of counting one’s blessings rather than constantly tallying what went wrong is the way to go. It will count for far more than the actual piano lessons in determining whether or not we enjoy music.

As mere humans, we are not omnipotent and can never know that any decision we make is absolutely the best. But one of the gifts of faith is the ability to live with our decisions, moving forward and making the best of every moment granted us.

 

 

City of Peace?

August 24th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

As a youngster who loved
woodwork, I remember once announcing to my mother that I was about to build her
a spice rack.  After a few hours of sawing and gluing, I realized it
looked more like a doll house so I asked mom if she’d mind having a doll house instead. 
It later became clear to me that it was actually a bird feeder.  Happily
it turned out that mother really did need a bird feeder.

Each decision I made
about where to cut my planks modified the eventual outcome of my project. Each
hasty cut modified it further.

Real life resembles my
childhood woodworking efforts.  We start off with vague hopes and plans
but real life intrudes.We fall in love, we marry, we have children and become
involved in a job. You once wanted to be a single fireman in Fresno? 
Well, you’re now a mechanic in Miami with a wife and five children.  And
the trick is being as happy with your life as mom was with her bird feeder.

We humans can never know
the end outcome. Though we are partners in shaping our futures, we cannot flawlessly
design and execute our life blueprints. We can only try to do right and then
accept the result, living each day happily.  Ancient Jewish wisdom
emphasizes this life tool by showing that just like our lives, even the name of
Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, was not set in stone from Creation but was shaped
by future events and actions.

Jerusalem is mentioned
by name over 600 times throughout the books of the Tanach, (the Hebrew
Scriptures) but not one of those mentions can be found in the Torah, the Five
Books of Moses.

Instead, Jerusalem is
referred to by other names.

And Malki-Zedek king of Shalem, took out bread and wine…
 (Genesis 14:18)

How do we know that
Shalem (Salem), which means both peace and completion refers to the future city
of Jerusalem? Well, King David announced that the Temple would be built there:

And His tabernacle shall be in Shalem

and His dwelling place in Zion…
(Psalms 76:3)

Another name for
Jerusalem is Moriah as we see from these two verses:

And He said, take your son, your only son,

 whom you love,  Isaac, and go to the land of
Moriah…

(Genesis 22:2)

 

And Solomon began to build the House of God in Jerusalem,
at Mount Moriah where God appeared to David his father…

(II Chronicles 3:1)

The first time that
Jerusalem is ever mentioned by the name with which we are familiar, is in the
book of Joshua:

And it was when Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem,

 heard that Joshua had conquered Ai…
 (Joshua
10:1) 

Did you notice that both
rulers of Jerusalem that we have so far encountered have the word zedek,
meaning justice, in their names? Malki-Zedek and Adoni-Zedek.  Another
person identified as a king in Jerusalem also has zedek, in his name.

Zedek-iah was twenty one years old when he began to reign;

 he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem…
 (II Kings 24:18)

Jerusalem, pronounced in
Hebrew as Yerushalayim, implies a place of Divine peace and completion. Peace
and completion are based on a Godly vision of justice. Peace seldom arrives
through cowardice and appeasement. Peace is the result of doing the right thing
and securing a just completion.  Sometimes the only avenue to real peace
leads through the pain of conflict because a peace without justice is no peace.
It is merely a temporary cease-fire.  The name Jerusalem couldn’t be
bestowed on that special place until the Israelites arrived in the land and
under Joshua’s leadership followed God’s commands. 


 

Eagerly Awaiting Enthusiasm

August 17th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you ever found yourself yelling into the telephone? You are trying to resolve a problem or update some data when you get lost in the automated phone labyrinth. When I hear myself shouting at top volume, “I said ‘speak to agent’” I know it is time to hang up.

Right now, automated answering devices seem to be paragons of compassion and individualized attention compared to government in Washington. I don’t think I am alone in my frustration, feeling that I know who I do not trust, but having little faith that things will change no matter who is elected. The quagmire is so deep; the quicksand of the political culture so slimy that I feel it will entrap and consume even the most upright, best-intentioned and clearest thinking candidates. Truthfully, I think it would be a depressing exercise to figure out how many politicians fit that description in the first place.

On his radio show a few weeks back, my husband asked listeners what three agenda items the Republican Party could offer that convert them into enthusiastic voters for that party’s candidates rather than just voting against the Democratic choice.

His question got me thinking about what type of statements would ramp up my enthusiasm. I realized that at this point, I am seeking more than policy statements such as “lower taxes,” “immigration reform,” or “responsible and transparent government” because those promises are too vague and have been offered and broken too frequently.

I am really looking for a commitment to bold measures, counterpoints to the bold measures the Democrats have put in place since the last Presidential election. I crave the assurance that starting at the end of January I will actually see stark and tangible differences; a bloodless revolution, if you will.
In 1994, Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America captured the imagination and crystallized the dreams of so many Americans. As the Republicans drifted from these principles, they lost the trust of those who had voted for them. But the idea of articulating principles was a good one.

I do think that if the Republicans ran on a bold platform that expressed trust in Americans rather than a “we the ruling class knows what is best for you” philosophy they would find voters willing to follow them. Wouldn’t that be a better strategy than just hoping voters run away from their political opponents?

Here are three of my suggestions:

1) One idea; one vote. There should be no unrelated pieces of legislation tacked onto bills.

2) Each and every piece of legislation should have as part of it a concrete cost and achievement goal for every twelve month period following its enactment into law. If either the budget goes too high or the results don’t match the pledge, the legislation would need to be voted on again at the end of that period.

3) Any representative or legislator who cannot pass a detailed test on all the contents of a piece of legislation cannot vote on the legislation.
And as a bonus added measure I would love to see two more suggestions floated:

1) Congress should meet in Washington for two weeks every other month while working most of the time from their home states and districts. With modern technology there is no reason for our elected officials to be removed from constituents so that they come to value and align with their fellow politicians rather than those who voted them into office.

2) All legislation must apply equally to all elected and appointed officials. No more passing laws while exempting Congress from the effects of that law.

Drastic measures? Yes, and there are probably many better ideas. But wouldn’t the debate on these types of suggestions be worthwhile? At the moment I see some innovative individuals scattered around a Republican Party that is moribund and directionless. Although the Democratic Party’s ideas are proving disastrous on a daily basis, fervently held bad ideas win out over nothingness each and every time.

You Made Me

August 17th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

A few years ago, a large construction company was uneasy about having to change managers in the middle of an important project.  They consulted me after they placed Jennifer in charge of developing the new financial controls system.  I soon discovered that though she was familiar with the work plan and project definition, she was convinced that the venture was already a month behind schedule.

After warning the board of directors that the job would fall even further behind as Jennifer got up to speed, I advised them to grant her the authority to reset expectations and schedules. Only then could she take ownership of the project.  Without exercising authority, Jennifer would never feel truly responsible.

It is not only in business that authority must be granted. Occasionally fathers and mothers also forget this lesson.  Parents sometimes try to share a hobby that they nostalgically remember from their youth.  However, they turn their child into a spectator rather than a participant when they make all the decisions themselves.  When the child loses interest and abandons the project, the parent is disappointed.

It is appropriate for parents to expect children to participate in some of the household’s chores.  The results are invariably best when some decision making power comes with the job.

Though it is hard for many to do, whether at work or in the family, it is vital to grant authority so that subordinates or one’s own children begin to assume responsibility.  Without an opportunity to properly assume ownership of an undertaking, not only won’t people see the job through but they will also often resent otherwise wonderful opportunities.

For a compelling instance of this timeless truth, listen to Adam’s response to God’s challenge:

…Have you eaten from the tree that I prohibited you to eat from?
(Genesis 3:11)

Adam responds:

…the woman whom you gave me, she gave me from the tree and I ate.
(Genesis 3:12)

Adam could merely have responded, “The woman gave me from the tree and I ate.”  God would have known which woman Adam meant; after all there was only one in existence.  Why did Adam stress, “the woman whom you gave me”?

Ancient Jewish wisdom answers this perplexing question.  As you can imagine, Adam was infatuated with Eve.  Her arrival utterly transformed his life, filling it with passion and creativity.  Yet, on some deep level which emerged during this crisis of disobedience, Adam resented not having a voice in choosing his life partner.  This emerged in his words, “the woman whom YOU gave me.”

“This wasn’t the wife I chose for myself,” he is saying.  “You made me marry her.  So, what did you expect, God?  Look what happened!”

Obeying our parents’ wishes is a big part of the Fifth Commandment.  One exception, however, is if they try to tell us whom to marry.  (It is a really good idea to heed parents or friends when they tell you whom NOT to marry!) The reason is that marriage is tough enough without having a spouse who hasn’t ‘bought-in’ or ‘taken ownership.’  There are too many challenging moments, particularly early in a marriage when one or both partners might silently say, “If only I hadn’t listened to my parents; they made me marry this person.”  Every married individual needs to know that he or she made the decision freely to marry and therefore is responsible for that decision.

Whether in business or family, withholding authority stunts people’s growth, blocks achievement and is downright disrespectful.  Both children and employees reach full potential when they are gradually granted increasing authority to match the increased responsibility they assume.

Gentleman Lessons – originally pub. Nov. 13, 2008

August 16th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

“Gentlemen chew with their mouths closed.”

“Gentlemen don’t interrupt other people when they are talking.”

My four and five year old grandsons are giving me a rundown on their “gentlemen lessons” Their father, an authentic southern gentleman, imparts these bits of wisdom at the supper table. While the boys may not always live up to the ideal, they are forming a picture of proper behavior.

The other night, I witnessed another “gentleman lesson” being taught while watching a black and white episode of the old Leave it to Beaver television series. As a junior in high school, Wally Cleaver was maneuvered into escorting a less than popular young lady to a school dance. He was an unhappy camper, worried that his friends would give him a rough time.  His father explained to him that a gentleman’s only concern should be that his date has a good time. His own discomfort is unimportant.

I often hear pundits disparaging the “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” and “The Donna Reed Show” version of America. It is true that the image of an all white America where woman clean house in pearls and high heels may never have been an accurate depiction of the country. And the lives of the fictional characters portrayed may have been worlds away from the actual lives of the actors.

Nevertheless, I don’t think we should allow those shows to be so easily dismissed.

Is there any parent of a girl; white, black, Asian, or Hispanic, who doesn’t think it’s a good idea for boys to be taught to focus on a girl’s dignity and happiness rather than their own desires? Is it wrong to hold a picture of regular family dinners as a desirable goal, even if you are a woman who holds down a job outside the home? Isn’t it good for parents to be reminded that they, not the schools, not the community and not even their religious guides, have the responsibility of teaching morals, good character and proper behavior to their children?

I’m not a big fan of spending time watching TV. And the generation raised on these wholesome shows didn’t translate what they saw into how they lived their own lives. But I think might be a good idea for parents to watch a few hours now and then and be reminded that when you have children you have chosen a career and imparting upright values never goes out of date.

Repetition Reveals Reality

August 10th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment


James Bond knew it.  Sherlock Holmes knew it.  Even Lieutenant Columbo on the NBC show from the 70’s knew it.  There are no coincidences in life.  If these famous agents and detectives repeatedly spotted someone in their vicinity, they were being followed.  If the same gun was used at separate crime scenes, the crimes were linked.  When something occurs repeatedly, there is usually a useful message waiting to be recognized.  However, we don’t always get it.

You might have heard someone exclaim in exasperation, “That always happens to me!”   Maybe you have noticed repetitive patterns in your own life.  For instance, someone I know is frequently late for meetings and appointments.  He is quite certain this is always because of unexpectedly bad traffic.  A woman I know seems to lurch from one domestic crisis to the next and attributes it to bad karma—whatever that means.  A fellow boater has encountered rocks six times in six summers.  In each case the rocks won and his boat lost.  In each case he blamed bad luck that comes his way because long ago he changed his boat’s name.

Each and every one of us can surely examine our own lives for repeating patterns of undesirable events.  The value comes when we then honestly ask ourselves what is really responsible for those things happening.  Examining those repetitive events may reveal something vitally important about the reality you have created in your life.

Through studying Scripture, we are trained to become adept at spotting repetition.  When a word is central to understanding a certain passage, God highlights this for us by repeating the same word seven times. In ancient Jewish wisdom, seven implies a complete unit.  For example, we have seven colors of the rainbow, seven days of the week, seven weeks between Passover and Pentecost, and so on.

Additionally, the number seven in Hebrew is the same word as the Hebrew word for feeling satisfied and complete.

There are literally hundreds of examples of how God inserted the code of sevens into the Five Books of Moses.  Here is an amazing one.

We might think that the number ten reveals an essence of the Ten Commandments. However, an exploration of the sections of the Bible dealing with the Ten Commandments shines a different light on the matter.  

We read about these commandments for the first time in the last verse of Exodus 31. The word ‘tablets’ appears twice in that verse.  The word ‘tablets’ appears five more times as the story unfolds. (Exodus 32: 15-19)  Shortly thereafter, Moses smashed these tablets.

God instructed Moses to prepare another set of tablets and would you believe it! In the account of the second set; the word ‘tablets’ also appears seven times. (Exodus 34)

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses recounts the events of the past forty years in the desert.  Would you be surprised to see that the code of sevens is followed here too?

Sure enough, Moses tells about the first set of tablets mentioning the word ‘tablets’ exactly seven times. (Deuteronomy 9:9-17).  When he recalls how he smashed those tablets and made a new set, he again mentions the word ‘tablets’ seven times. (Deuteronomy 10:1-5)

In Scripture, this Divine Message is seldom referred to as the Ten Commandments but as you can see, it is called the Tablets (implying two-ness) twenty-eight (4 X 7) times.  This tells us that the ‘two-ness’ of the tablets was more important than the ‘ten-ness’ if you get my drift.

Through this method of seven-fold repetition, God directs us to look in a different direction. Focusing on repetition in our own lives can lead us down a more productive path of self-examination.

Searching for More Bibs

August 10th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you seen those “Where are they now?” notices on your computer? They refer to the cast of a TV show that has been off the air for a while. If you are avoiding work you can spend too many minutes catching up on the lives of people about whom you would otherwise never think.

Re-reading the blog post below and noticing that it is almost three years old made me ask the same question, but about women I truly care for and with whom I speak regularly.

We are still working. We are still involved with our families. But as the collective number of married children with their own children increases we face a new dilemma. The conflict between home and work is now a multi-generational one.

I was fortunate to have four grandparents living near me through most of my childhood. My maternal grandmother, I was sure, had three modes of existence.

1) Waiting for me to visit
2) Being thrilled that I was visiting
3) Getting ready for my next visit.

I was extremely irritated to discover any number of cousins who thought that the homemade cookies and the welcome mat were actually meant for them. Furthermore, I never connected the volunteer work my grandmother did or the friends I occasionally heard about with the concept that there might be something other than me as the pivot point of her life.

It was a wonderful feeling and was my default understanding of grandmother-hood. My grandmother did not ever, ever say, “I would love to hear your story but I have a call coming in a few minutes so can I call you back,” or “I can’t wait for you to visit, but now just isn’t a good time.”

Not so for my friends and me. Not only do many of our children and grandchildren live in different states and even countries from us, but we face a simple reality of needing to produce income. This takes a serious time commitment. We are simply are not as available to our families as we would like to be.

While I am grateful for having been a stay-at-home mom, I admit to not having thought about the desire to be a stay-at-home (granted, with children all over the place, I don’t even know whose home that would be) mom of grown children and a stay-at-home grandma. I am blessed with work I love, but my paycheck has a fair amount of longing tied to it.

My well-worn bib collection has long ago been thrown out. Hopefully, in the years to come I will be able to start a frequently used second-generation one.