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Monthly Archives: May, 2011

Vision – Mission – Vision

May 31st, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

I used to teach Torah to an audience of Jewish atheists. They were secular and skeptical but also curious and intellectually honest. I greatly enjoyed our weekly meetings. I felt humbled when most of them embraced God and His word, becoming observant Jews.

They challenged me with great questions including this one:

The last fifteen chapters of the book of Exodus are devoted almost entirely to mind-numbing, tedious and trivial details about the construction of the Tabernacle. Considering that this Tabernacle was to be built only once, surely you’d agree that instead of fifteen chapters, these imaginary two verses would have sufficed:

1: While in the desert, Moses and the Israelites built a big, beautiful Tabernacle.

2: Those of you obsessed with detail will find fifteen explanatory chapters in an appendix at the back of this volume.

That way, the rest of us could continue with the narrative instead of being bogged down by how columns were connected and how curtains were hung.

But, no. Every chapter in the Five Books of Moses, including these fifteen detailing the Tabernacle, is an indispensable part of the comprehensive blueprint of reality we call the Torah.

Let me pick just one example out of hundreds to illustrate how the Tabernacle’s details exude practical life guidance.

In the 25th chapter of Exodus God directs Moses:

And they shall make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.

(Exodus 25:8)

The chapter concludes with instructions to make the Ark of the Covenant, the Table, and the Menorah.

God then directs how He wants the walls of the Tabernacle to be built and assembled, among other specifics.

When the construction actually begins, in chapter 35, the sequence you see will astound you.

Wouldn’t you expect the project to proceed in the same order in which it was first designed? The artisans working under Bezalel should first make the Ark of the Covenant, the Table and the Menorah. Then they should move on to the walls and assemble the structure.

That is not what happens. First they first build the walls and assemble them. Then they finally make the Ark, the Table, and the Menorah (Exodus 37).

The original order in Scripture is meant for us, not Bezalel. It is to teach each of us in every generation a permanent principle. In the design phase of a project, focus on the most important thing. Later, during execution, proceed step by step in a logical sequence.

The essence of the Tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant, followed by the Table and the Menorah. Thus they were mentioned first. The primary purpose of the structure subsequently discussed in chapter 26 was to house the most important elements.

Obviously when it was time to execute the plan in Exodus 36, they built the walls and structure first. Otherwise there would have been nowhere to house the Ark, Table, and Menorah.

Regardless of whether you are building a skyscraper, a yard shed, a family or a business, you need to wrap yourself around this rule until it becomes part of your thinking.

Don’t dream of a building until you are very clear on what its purpose will be. Later, you can lay bricks and laminate beams.

Don’t seek a spouse until you know exactly what your future family’s purpose and mission will be. Later, you can discover the best way to meet other singles.

While conceiving a business plan, focus on the large picture. What service will you provide? How will you make a profit? Without that, you will have no business. Once that is clear, you must find office space, hire help, and execute your plan in a coherent way.

Discover the Ark – the guiding principle — in your own projects. Once you have a commitment to and clear picture of your final goal, start eagerly working on the sometimes mundane and tedious steps which will lead you there.

If drawing closer to God is one of your project goals, then acquiring deeper insights into God’s Word is a logical step to take. May I suggest listening to my audio CD, Festival of Lights, which contains practical guidance which I hope is neither mundane nor tedious.

How About an Ignorance Tax?

May 31st, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

How is Memorial Day different from Presidents Day? How does each differ from Veterans Day? These aren’t variations on a riddle, but my idea for raising taxes. In my opinion we should forget about sin taxes on cigarettes or junk food; reduce business and income taxes and make up the difference with an ignorance tax.

Decoration Day, Memorial Day’s previous incarnation, began being widely observed by northern states after the Civil War and then by all Americans when it expanded to include 20th century wars. Notice the use of the word ‘observed.’ That is completely different from the word celebrate which would be appropriate for July 4th.  Yet fewer people each year actually know the difference between these unique days. Even fewer can distinguish between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  Congress eased the way to ignorance by passing the National Holiday Act, moving most Federal holidays to Monday, thereby placing the focus on a three day weekend instead of the event itself. (And while this might be slightly off topic, who decided that the apostrophes were unnecessary after the words ‘Veterans’ and ‘Presidents’?)

Since these days have become prime shopping days, my idea is that every consumer should take a quiz based on the day’s specific theme. Sales tax for that day should be levied based on how well one does on the quiz.  Score high and pay little; score low and pay a lot. Rather than going into government coffers the money should be matched with a recipient charity which exemplifies the day’s focus. Those with perfect scores get to choose the charity.

If you want to bone up on some facts in anticipation of the test, or more importantly wish to spend a few minutes experiencing a minute bit of what every American should have felt on Memorial Day, I recommend watching this video. Each grave represents not only a soldier, but also a family to whom we all owe heartfelt gratitude.

 

 

 

 

Park Day – For Children Only?

May 24th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

Did you participate in last week’s designated “Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day”? While it may not have the visibility of Groundhog Day or the appeal of National Doughnut Day (the first Friday in June), you might have seen an article promoting it in the Wall Street Journal. Lenore Skenazy, who conceived of the day, is an outspoken advocate of raising “safe, self-reliant children (without going nuts with worry)”. 

Having undergone my own, very minor firestorm when I made positive comments about teenager Abby Sunderland’s solo boat trip, (see Outrage and Split Opinion) I wasn’t surprised when Lenore’s article precipitated vehement, opposing letters to the editor. As Lenore regularly highlights in her blog, Free Range Kids, media preoccupation with tragic stories has led to a cultural mood of fear. While acknowledging that horrific things do sometimes happen, she, rightly in my opinion, posits that living in a climate of fear, hovering over our children and restricting their independent movement has severe negative repercussions as well.

Right now, that’s easy for me to say. I have no eight year olds to send to the park or eleven year olds whose maturity I need to gauge to decide whether a babysitter is necessary or not. I do have vivid memories of panicked thoughts the first few times my husband and I did leave our children home alone and of forcing myself to be calm when my ten year old daughter and her similarly aged friend circumnavigated our island by bicycle.  There were a myriad of other times when I tamped down my concerns and allowed my children to roam.

In addition to a media that thrives on bad news we have a litigious society which stresses that when bad things happen someone must be blamed. We also have a political atmosphere which encourages government officials to manipulate tragedies providing them with even more press. Even technology undermines parental fortitude. Our daughter did her multi-hour bike ride in pre-cell phone days. The same trip today would be less unnerving for me not only because she could call if there was a problem, but I would probably ask her to check in regularly. The fact that you can be in touch breeds a need to be in touch. Unfortunately, that very ability to instantly communicate would subtly negatively impact the adventure and growth opportunity of such a trip.

We all have different definitions of the word hovering, based on tangibles and intangibles such as where we live, experiences we’ve undergone and our own psychological make-up. One of the reasons my husband and I chose to raise our children where we did was to provide as safe a place as we could for their activities. There were and are no guarantees, but even if we (o.k., I) were somewhat nervous when our kids played in the wooded acres near our home for hours without adult supervision, we had shouldered the responsibility of picking a location that we could reasonably assume to be safe. I was not so sanguine about other pursuits. Despite having full confidence in my son’s maturity and prowess, and recognizing that it filled a psychic need, I used every guilt-inducing tactic I could summon to encourage him not to ride a motorcycle. And the fact that he was an adult in the eyes of the law didn’t lessen my interference.

All is not lost if you missed “Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day,” or were wary of participating. Over the summer you can slowly disengage from your child’s activities so that by the time “Collect Rocks Day” rolls around on September 16, you wait calmly at home while your child fearlessly and independently celebrates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never Trust Whitey

May 24th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

With his fascinating story, The Case of the Colorblind Painter, neurologist Oliver Sacks impelled me to utter a blessing thanking God for my ability to see color. Thank you Dr. Sacks; you taught me something new.

After becoming abnormally colorblind after a car accident, even ketchup became inedible for this painter because of its unappetizing, dark black appearance. More seriously, he stopped socializing. People’s skin, even his own wife’s, appeared a repulsive and abhorrent gray.

Seeing things only in shadings of black, white and gray robs us of the limitless nuance and subtlety God built into His world. Individual hues merge together, making distinctions meaningless.

Being unable to see distinctions in more important areas than color makes unhealthy moral decisions more likely.

Let me introduce you to a seemingly innocuous Biblical character, Lavan. He was Jacob’s father-in-law, yet, during the Passover Seder, we thoroughly condemn him as wicked.

What is Lavan’s background? Abraham had two brothers, Nachor and Haran (Genesis 11:26).

Nachor had a son, Betuel (Genesis 22:22). Betuel had two children, Rebecca and Lavan (Genesis 28:5).

As we meet Lavan, he is usurping his father’s role. When Abraham’s servant, Eliezer arrives at Betuel’s house after meeting Rebecca at the well, it is Lavan who takes charge. He steps forward rather than allowing his father the prerogative of welcoming a guest into his home (Genesis 24:29-33).

Lavan, once again blurring his relationship with his father, authorizes his sister’s marriage.

And Lavan and Betuel answered and he said, “This matter is from God.”
(Genesis 24:50)

Ancient Jewish wisdom stresses that Lavan is mentioned before his father indicating that he obnoxiously preceded him. Furthermore, the Hebrew word for “answered” is in the singular; VaYa’AN. We would have expected the plural, VaYa’ANU, since both son and father responded. This grammatical hint informs us that Lavan rudely pushed his father aside and assumed full authority.

In a later verse even Jacob identifies Lavan as the son of Nachor, his grandfather rather than his father Betuel.

“Do you know Lavan the son of Nachor?” They replied “We know him.”
(Genesis 29:5)

It seems that it was universally known that Lavan identified himself as interchangeable with his father.

Lavan also thinks of his children as interchangeable.

After agreeing to allow his daughter Rachel to marry her cousin Jacob, Lavan ruthlessly replaced her with her sister, Leah (Genesis 29:23).

Lavan also regards the property of others as interchangeable with his own, keeping the entire flock under his control, though Jacob unquestionably deserved compensation. Later, he reluctantly agrees to the separation as an alternative to losing Jacob’s outstanding services.

Finally, so committed is Lavan to the utter blurring of everything that he even considers God to be interchangeable with false deities.

Let the God of Abraham and the gods of Nachor judge between us…
(Genesis 31:53)

With the stunning consistency that is the hallmark of God’s message to mankind, Lavan’s name perfectly captures his essential flaw. The Hebrew word lavan means white whose essence is made up of a mixture of all colors. Just as raindrops split ordinary white sunlight into its constituent rainbow colors, the reverse is also true; all colors combine to form white. Lavan suffers from moral color blindness.

Erasing the countless nuances of life can lead to great social peril and it is the foundation of Lavan’s wickedness. When your God isn’t special, when family roles aren’t special, and when other people’s property is indistinguishable from yours, life goes wrong. On a large scale, this type of thinking leads to socialism with all its destructive pathologies and the dull, drab, grayness which socialism always produces.

Like you, I sometimes despair when I see how dangerous ideas are camouflaged and naively embraced by well-intentioned and idealistic people. Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel is my attempt to share the Bible’s blueprint for how the world really works, and the processes which seduce good people to support perilous leaders and policies. I know that thousands of you own one, but I urge you to stock up on additional copies and bless others with its urgent message. Take advantage of the 48 hour sale price and help change hearts with this dynamic two audio CD set.

Love that Counts

May 17th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

This coming Sunday is Susan and my wedding anniversary. Whenever I say her name an irrepressible surge of ecstatic appreciation wells up in my heart. My gratitude for the love she lavishes upon me and for the delirious joy I feel in her company is exceeded by the adoring amazement I feel about her agreeing to marry me in the first place.

We married on May 15th. In that year it corresponded to the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.

The 18th of Iyar is a special day—Lag B’Omer. The Hebrew acronym ‘LaG’ is made up of two Hebrew letters Lamed and Gimel, numerically 30 and 3 respectively. Lag B’Omer simply means the thirty-third day of the Omer.

We count the forty-nine days of the Omer from the second day of Passover, until we reach Shavuot—Pentecost— the fiftieth day. (Leviticus 23:15-16). This counting process retraces Israel’s spiritual journey from the Exodus to Mt. Sinai.

Just like twelve step programs for self-improvement such as Alcoholics Anonymous, this is a forty-nine step self-improvement program from slavery’s dark dependence to the dazzling incandescence of the Ten Commandments which God presented to Israel on Pentecost.

The harsh regime in Egypt shattered relationships. The stressful conditions damaged marriages and friendships. Over the seven week period culminating at Mt. Sinai, a healing process took place. Unfortunately, today we no longer retain the progress made in that year of the Exodus. This requires us to repeat the self-improvement process every year. The counting of the Omer is a time of cosmic sensitivity to how we relate to each other and our continual need for repair saddens us.

Omer counting is strongly associated with Rabbi Akiva, the great sage executed by the Romans for teaching Torah. He emphasized the Torah’s cardinal rule:

…Love your friend as yourself…
(Leviticus 19:18)

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that over the years, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died during these sad days of counting the Omer. Rabbi Akiva’s brilliant students are charged with being negligent about loving and respecting each other. They failed to live by the credo of their teacher.

The deaths always ceased on the 33rd day of the Omer, the 18th of Iyar. Not coincidentally, the 33rd word of the Torah is the Hebrew word TOV or ‘good’.

And God saw that the light was good…
(Genesis 1:4)

That word TOV comprises the three Hebrew letters ‘tet’, ‘vav’, and ‘vet’ with the respective numerical values 9, 6, 2. This totals 17, or exactly the number of days from Lag Ba’Omer to the holyday of Shavuot (33+17=50). In Biblical nomenclature, the number 33 is always associated with good.

The first Biblical mention of something being ‘not good’ concerns a lack of relationships:

…It is not good for man to be alone…
(Genesis 2:18)

This time from the Exodus to Lag B’Omer sadly recalls our failure to love and appreciate others. Thus it is obviously incompatible with marriage, so weddings do not take place during this period.

The first day upon which marriages are permitted is the 33rd day of counting, Lag B’Omer. This day has become one of the most popular dates for Jewish weddings in all the year.

It’s easy to assume that in the period leading to receiving the Torah on Mt Sinai, we should be focused only on our relationship with God. But we’d be wrong. Counting the Omer teaches us that we cannot have a relationship with God while ignoring or devaluing our relationships with other people.

Feeling and showing love for others is the very fuel of friendship. Showing love nourishes relationships. Whether in business, parenting, or education, if people don’t know that you care they won’t care what you know.

My thanks to so many of you for showing your love by using the ‘forward to a friend’ button to share my Torah teachings. In honor of our anniversary Susan and I are offering an 18% discount (online only) on two fabulous resources; the book, I Only Want to Get Married Once: Dating Secrets for Getting it Right the First Time and our audio CD set, Madam, I’m Adam: Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden. Help yourself – or someone you love – work on life’s most important relationship.

Out of Tune

May 17th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

My youngest daughter is pragmatically deciding whether to continue college or rather to get certified in an area that interests her. She is part of a generation that knows that college attendance and education are not necessarily synonymous. In her experience and that of her siblings, they are frequently polar opposites. For this reason, she is weighing student debt vs. the repercussions of not getting a B.A., rather than knowledge vs. ignorance.

My tongue-in-cheek career suggestion this weekend is that she set herself up as a political advisor. After both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich gave speeches which pretty much shot themselves in the ballot box immediately after announcing their candidacies, it is clear that there is a need for wise guidance. Being out of touch with voters is a bipartisan failing. Did no one suggest to the Obamas that many Americans find certain lyrics offensive and that perhaps kicking off a campaign season by inviting the rapper, Common, to the White House was not going to endear them to swing voters?

I have never been invited to be part of a political focus group but I have noticed that no presidential Republican candidate who has not won my support has won an election. While I admired some of them, such as Bob Dole, as individuals, I thought that he and a number of more recent candidates would not make good presidents. Unfortunately for the Republican party, I don’t find that the fact that their opponents will do more damage to the country a compelling reason to donate to, canvass for, or even vote for their nominee.

So far, certain music titles seem to fit this election cycle. President Obama personifies singer Toby Keith’s, “I Want to Talk About Me,” and the Republican side is dominated by those who can share as their own slogan Dierks Bentley’s, “What Was I Thinking?” Surely, there’s someone who can strike a more inspiring note, perhaps Train’s song title, “I’m About to Come Alive.”

Loving Limits

May 10th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

During the past year or so, despite the recession, I have been noticing quite a few companies reporting excellent earnings. Upon reading their reports it became clear that many of them achieved this without increasing sales revenues. Instead, it was rigid cost discipline that allowed these firms to post profits. Many families have followed a similar culture of frugality. They are enduring a depressed economy not by generating larger incomes but by ruthlessly cutting their expenses.

Things will improve and the tough times of 2008—2012 will eventually fade away, though for many of us painful memories will linger. But maybe that is not all that will linger. While reaching for the stars, an awareness of restraint is healthy. It is good to balance the belief that we can do anything and have everything with a subtle sense of limitations.

The affluent Beverly Hills family that raises its children with no obligation other than to accept the keys to a new car on their sixteenth birthdays seldom sees a more successful younger generation than those who raise their children fully aware of budget realities.

The company indulging in grandiose spending might practice profligacy with apparent impunity while the economy is booming. But when the tide turns, as it always will, management will lack the skills and character necessary for coping in a recessionary climate.

On the threshold of entering the Promised Land, ancient Israel could hardly have been riding higher. Forty years earlier they had seen their tormentor, Egypt’s Pharaoh, wiped out. They had defeated their enemy Amalek, received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and successfully completed a forty-year desert journey. The land lay before them, triumph was assured and the future looked limitless.

Moses the beloved teacher and leader of Israel had one final task. He was to bless his people. (Deuteronomy 33:6-24)

Fortunately, Moses didn’t have to pull his blessings out of the air. There was a heritage of blessings which had been passed down by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not surprisingly, the blessings that Moses delivered to the twelve tribes in Deuteronomy were an echo of those delivered by Jacob to his sons. (Genesis 49:2-27)

After blessing each tribe individually, Moses blessed the people in its entirety:

May Israel live alone securely, the fountain of Jacob
shall be upon a land of grain and wine,
and his heavens shall drop down dew.

(Deuteronomy 33:28)

This blessing echoed that which earlier Isaac bestowed upon Jacob:

May God give you of the dew of the heaven
and from the fat of the land and plenty of grain and wine.

(Genesis 27:28)

But wait! Isaac’s blessing to Jacob contains six elements: dew, heaven, fat, land, grain and wine. Moses’ blessing to Israel contains only five of these elements. Why did Moses omit fat?

Ancient Jewish wisdom provides an incandescent clue. Notice that Moses precedes his blessings of the individual tribes with a special name for Israel, Yeshurun.

He was a King in Yeshurun…
(Deuteronomy 33:5)

As the closing of these blessings we find:

There is none like the God of Yeshurun…
(Deuteronomy 33:26)

This term for Israel, Yeshurun, only occurs three times in all the Torah.

The word’s other appearance is when Moses delivers sad prophecies about Israel’s behavior in the future:

Yeshurun became fat and kicked (rebelled)…
and it deserted God its Maker…

(Deuteronomy 32:15)

What scintillating clarity! We see that fat connotes luxury and that luxury easily slides into moral rebellion and spiritual failure. For this compelling purpose, just before they enter the Promised Land, Moses blesses them but omits the word ‘fat.’ On the eve of Israel’s triumph, Moses introduces a note of restraint. Long-term survival depends upon being able to live with restraint and limit.

May God offer you every blessing along with the wise restraint to enable you to live within the limits that keep you faithful to His teachings.

We have been trimming our own expenses, but I’m afraid that the cost of producing our Torah teachings has risen. Next week, the price of the Genesis Journeys Set will be going up. Use this opportunity to acquire these four 2-audio-CD packages before that change is introduced.

Five Minutes

May 10th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

In five minutes I can write a warm note to a friend letting them know that I am thinking of them. In five minutes, I can check if my bank and I have the same balance for my account. In five minutes I can recite a chapter or two of Psalms or unload the dishwasher or do any number of other grand or trivial actions. Or in five minutes I can play an inane game on my cell phone. Guess which activity has been most common lately?

My obsession started innocently enough. On one of our business trips, by the time our flight landed I was tired and benumbed. My job was to wait with the luggage while my husband set off to claim our rental car. It seemed a good time to become more familiar with my newly acquired BlackBerry (see BlackBerry Bamboozlement) and quickly enough I stumbled upon the ‘games’ icon. That probably wasn’t exactly what my husband had in mind when he wanted me to explore my new phone, but the next fifteen minutes allowed me to get the hang of one game and begin to master the first three levels. That left 31 levels to conquer.

Having a healthy dose of competitive spirit – even if I’m competing with myself – I continued to enjoy a close relationship with my phone when faced with odd moments of empty time. My husband needed to run into the post office to pick up a parcel? No problem. My computer didn’t shut down properly and needed to run a check before restarting? Hooray!

However, as my proficiency increased and I notched more levels on my belt, playing the game took longer and longer. That was the point where I found myself rationalizing that I needed some down time during my work day or that I would run an errand just as soon as I had a successful few game rounds. While clearly minor as far as vices go, it still became clear to me that devoting swathes of time to increasing thumb dexterity was not admirable. A crack-down with definite parameters was clearly in order. Was I becoming an addict?

There is something both spoiled and embarrassing about patting myself on the back for limiting a pure time-wasting diversion. Yet the lure of an activity which demands complete attention (thereby blocking out all “I should,” “I need to,” and “Do I think…” thoughts) with no consequence for failure is quite real.

I don’t think I am alone in finding that technology has made it ever so much easier to waste time. Unlike my game which is easy to classify as frivolous, many online links can truthfully be classified as educational and informative. The sheer number of them, however, is overwhelming. One could easily spend hours a day watching worthwhile video clips, reading valuable articles and communicating with people important in one’s life. No matter how fascinating and awe-inspiring it is to watch newly hatched eagle chicks via a web cam placed in their nest or to see the birth of a baby giraffe, the bottom line is that these are diversions from what one should be doing.

In response to so much instantly-available material, some of my friends have self-imposed web-surfing blackouts or allow themselves to check personal email only once a day. For many of us, time-guzzling activities are the latest frontier needing a “just say no” policy.

 

Just Tell Me What to Do

May 3rd, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you ever wished you had access to an all-knowing oracle; a kind of magic 8-Ball? Silly question! Of course you have. Who hasn’t?

Should you quit your job and start the business you’ve always dreamed of? Easy—ask the oracle. Is the person courting your daughter someone she’ll grow to love and respect? No problem—ask the magic 8-Ball. Should you undergo the slightly risky medical procedure or take your chances waiting to see if the symptoms fade away? Simple—check in with your secret soothsayer.

The seductive allure of having a reliable authority to answer life’s most frightening questions is almost irresistible. This is why so many people yearning for certainty ask religious leaders, psychologists and counselors for decisions rather than guidance. While legitimate consultants and advisors fill a vital role, too many people want someone else to make decisions for them in their personal and business lives, and then to take responsibility for that decision. This has led to the emergence of large numbers of bogus ‘experts’.

It is clear that regardless of how strongly we feel the temptation of inviting someone else to make our life decisions, it is far from what God intends for us. So often, things to which we feel strong attraction are wrong, and so it is with this.

Ancient Jewish wisdom refers to this unhealthy desire to place our life’s decisions in another’s hands as consulting Ov and Yidoni.

So strong is God’s disapproval that within only 34 verses of Leviticus, we find not one, not two, but three warnings against Ov and Yidoni.

Do not turn to the Ov and Yidoni…

(Leviticus 19:31)

A person who turns to the Ov and Yidoni…

I will cut him off from his people.

(Leviticus 20:6)

A man or woman who practices the Ov or Yidoni shall surely be put to death…

(Leviticus 20:27)

Ancient Jewish wisdom offers this tip: To better understand a particular section of Exodus, Leviticus or Numbers, study Moses’ encapsulation of that same matter in Deuteronomy.

There shall not be found among you those who inquire of the Ov and Yidoni…

(Deuteronomy 18:11)

Continuing from there we find a remarkably short five word verse:

You shall be (TaMiM) with the Lord your God.

(Deuteronomy 18:13)

It seems from this that seeking answers from Ov and Yidoni negates being TaMiM with God.

But wait! That exhortation to be ‘TaMiM,’ precisely matches what God directed Abraham about four hundred and forty years earlier:

…and God appeared to Abram and said to him,

‘I am God Almighty, walk in front of me and be (TaMiM).’

(Genesis 17:1)

Those of you who have been studying with me for a while know that Hebrew words don’t translate directly into English, and TaMiM is one of those words. To help understand it, we can use another unique Hebrew characteristic. Many key words in the Lord’s language mean one thing reading forwards and the diametric opposite when read backwards.

TaMiM is plural; its singular is TaM. Reading TaM backwards, we have the word MaiT meaning death. (The end of a chess game is when your opponent’s king is finished, or dead. We call that check mate or dead king. ) This gives us insight into the word TaMiM. TaMiM is an affirmation of life which entails using our God-given capabilities to make choices. Turning to oracles or soothsayers rather than struggling within ourselves to choose the right path is a rejection of the life factor God implants in us.

We all have the same option as Abraham did, actively to make those choices which keep us TaMiM with God. Jews are now formally counting days till the anniversary of receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). What better way is there to set our sights on making correct choices than to study those two tablets which contain within them the principles with which we can best maximize our relationships with other people and with God. There is more in those few verses than you ever suspected. Make a choice to explore God’s instructions for humanity with my audio CD, The Ten Commandments: How Two Tablets Can Transform Your Life.

Here Comes the Promotion; There Goes the Marriage

May 3rd, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

All right. That wasn’t exactly what the large letters at the top of April 28’s Wall Street Journal declared, enticing one to read the related article in the Personal Journal section. It was actually “Here Come the Baby; There Goes the Marriage.” But wouldn’t my suggested title work as well? How about any of the following:

 Here Comes the Mortgage; There Goes the Marriage

Here Comes the Illness; There Goes the Marriage

Here Comes Real Life; There Goes the Marriage

 Statistics cited in the article claim that, “About two-thirds of couples see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child.”  Counseling services, psychotherapists and classes are stepping up to help married couples keep the lines of communication open during this stressful period. 

I don’t know many people who buy a car based only on how the car performs in good weather and great roadway conditions. We want to know how the car holds up in stop and go traffic, on pot-holed roads and in a collision. When we buy clothing we want assurances that our new dress won’t look good only when it is new but also after repeated laundering. A teacher’s mettle is tested around children who aren’t ideal students and a doctor who handles strep throat flawlessly but who falls apart when a patient has more complex symptoms isn’t a very good doctor. 

Why are we surprised when couples who are happy before their marriages hit the inevitable bumps in the road, struggle once complicated and messy real life kicks in? Until the marriage is tested, whether by negative occurrences such as job loss or the death of a parent, or by joyous occasions like the birth of a child, getting a job promotion or a monetary windfall, the marriage is still in the show room or on the hanger. Taxing events do stress marriages, but they often reveal fault lines which up till then were camouflaged. 

I’m not minimizing the upheaval that arrives with a new baby, particularly the first-born. But I question how out of touch with reality young couples are if they need to spend hundreds of dollars to be taught that keeping lines of communication open and making sure to have non-child-focused time together is important.  Could it be that the base assumption so many bring into their marriages – this marriage is about making me happy – is wrong? 

In college, I took a course on the immigrant experience in America. Our term project included interviewing an immigrant, and I took the opportunity to chat with my grandmother. At that point, she and my grandfather had celebrated close to sixty years of marriage and in my eyes their relationship was as solid as the heavy, wooden armoire in their guest room.  The atmosphere in their home was peaceful and joyful.  With the self-centeredness of youth, I assumed it was naturally that way. 

As my grandmother answered my questions, I remember being dumb-founded as she uncovered memories from years long past. At one point, she recalled how, early in their marriage, her father-in-law arrived from Europe to stay with them. He was a difficult man, and almost as an aside, my grandmother said something which granted me marriage wisdom I never forgot.  She said, “That was a difficult year. I guess if it was today, we would just have gotten divorced. But who knew from that then?” 

While my great-grandfather went back to Europe, the years that followed were full of different challenges.  Intense poverty during the Depression and my mother’s contracting polio were among other trials they faced. My grandparents watched three sons go to war and while they rejoiced in their safe return, the end of the war brought with it the knowledge that their parents, siblings, nieces and nephews in Europe had been murdered by the Nazis. 

I’m sure there were extended periods of time when there wasn’t one ounce of energy to give to the relationship. There certainly wasn’t the 1920’s equivalent of $500 for six sessions of pre and post baby counseling. There was, however, something more than divorce just not being common. There was commitment, a long-term view and an attitude that stressed the marriage rather than self. There was faith in God, belief in family, and gratitude for what one had rather than yearning for what was missing. There was a maturity that understood that some days, months and even years were going to be hard and that asking oneself constantly, “Am I happy?” was a foolish thing to do. Paradoxically, over the course of a long marriage where the basics of commitment and responsibility were sacrosanct no matter what one’s feelings, the joyous times far outweighed the tough ones.

I’m a big believer in actively working on one’s marriage (see my husband and my audio CD, Madam, I’m Adam) and while it would be best to work on it consistently from day one, if a life-changing event spurs effort, that’s great.  Could it be though, that too many marriages fail not because they are fatally flawed, but because constantly taking the temperature of one’s happiness is an exercise that encourages dissatisfaction and short-term thinking? 

I wasn’t surprised when the article noted that, while the decline in marital satisfaction in the five years after a baby’s arrival was lower in those who had pre-baby couples counseling, the divorce rate among those who underwent counseling and those who didn’t was the same.  Counseling that is geared to facilitating a healthy relationship is wonderful, but if it reinforces the unrealistic expectation that you can eliminate the tough periods and  that constant smooth sailing is possible it just might make more problems than it solves.