Monthly Archives: July, 2011

A Great Challenge

July 26th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

“When we were young, we were taught again and again that we shouldn’t get pregnant. Now we can’t!” That plaintive wail from a childless 43 year-old woman caught my attention. Holly Finn describes the mortification and expense of countless in-vitro-fertilization procedures she endured. A little cashmere baby sweater goes everywhere with her; she bought it years earlier for the baby she hoped she’d one day have. Now Holly weeps about having the sweater but not the child. Her most excruciating experiences are being in the company of other women chattering happily about their children or with men, most of whom simply don’t get how a woman can feel about children.

Holly’s sad situation echoes the Biblical account of Rachel. When Leah repeatedly gives birth, the childless Rachel cries out in agony to her husband:

…give me children otherwise I’m as good as dead.

(Genesis 30:1)

Jacob responds truthfully, but with little emotional sensitivity:

…am I in place of God…?

(Genesis 30:2)

From this and other Biblical examples we learn that men find it almost impossible to relate to the pain of childless women.

Interestingly, the phrase “Am I in place of God?” only appears on two occasions in all Tanach (Hebrew Scriptures). The first appears above when Jacob seems to shrug off responsibility for his wife, Rachel’s, grief.

The second instance comes after Jacob dies in Egypt. Ten of his sons fear retribution from their brother Joseph for having cruelly sold him into slavery so many years earlier. They concoct a story of their late father begging Joseph to forgive them. In response, Joseph explains that though they meant to harm him, God planned it to work out for the best. His opening words are:

…don’t be frightened, am I in place of God?

(Genesis 50:19)

A permanent principle of ancient Jewish wisdom is that we must scrutinize all occurrences of rare Biblical phrases to discover hidden message that link the separate instances.

Clearly Jacob’s hurtful response to Rachel when he basically said, “What do you want me to do about it, I’m not God,” must be linked to Joseph. The son of that very Rachel uses that very phrase, “I’m not God,” to the other sons of that very Jacob.

What is the link? Nothing we ever do or even say vanishes. Its impact endures forever in one form or another. When you light a candle and let it burn down, you might think you’ve made the candle vanish. But no, in reality you converted it into light, heat, and various gases released into the atmosphere. Joseph was attempting to reassure his brothers, yet his words must have reminded them that while he might forgive them, they still need to answer to God for their actions. Jacob’s lack of sensitivity impacted the world in a way that endured, resurfacing and causing pain in the next generation.

I once witnessed high spirited bantering about corporate downsizing at a business lunch; only I knew that one of us at the table had received his pink slip that morning. Did his heart break? How often have I been insensitive to the inner pain of others? The Biblical repetition of words reminds us that as we work on improving our tennis game or losing another three pounds, we should also embrace the exciting challenge of increasing our sensitivity to the hidden pain felt by others.

An increasing number of people have been purchasing the Complete Library Pack and adding the two recommended books by other authors; Business Mensch and I Only Want to Get Married Once. In response to this trend we have compiled a Complete Library Pack PLUS bundle, which will allow even greater savings. This week is a great time to order one and get entered into our drawing. One randomly picked customer will get a full refund.

If you want to make your summer more productive, this is a great opportunity to do so. If you have a few teachings already, get the pack and bless others with the duplicate teachings. Whether your name is drawn or not, I pray you will feel like a winner after reading and listening to my books and audio CDs.

Fact or Feeling?

July 26th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

Did you watch the video online of the baby who laughs hysterically while her father rips up a rejection notice he received? How about the video of the toddler twins who are having an animated conversation in gibberish? The Wall Street Journal’s weekend paper of July 23-24th has an article entitled, ‘Why You Just Shared that Baby Video

Jonah Berger from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School studied the popularity of videos like these. He posits that our bodies undergo physiological change when we are emotionally aroused, and that makes us more likely to share information. So, when I see a video which makes me laugh or cry, get angry or swoon, I am more likely to send it on to others. The WSJ article’s author concludes that, “Although the Internet is often described as an infinite library of information, the most popular things online typically aren’t very informative.

Quite frankly, this isn’t news. When the Bible, which predates the Internet by quite a bit, says, “Do not turn after your hearts and after your eyes,” God is warning us how easy it is for us to be swayed by our emotions. Despite the shocking lack of Youtube at the time, we are even warned that our eyes are more apt to mislead us than our ears. Since this is a Book which never goes out of date, it isn’t surprising that some of the messages are even more applicable for our time than they might have been centuries earlier.

But, of course, knowing something and internalizing its message are two different things. Countless studies may show that raising the minimum wage reduces the chances of those most needing a first job getting one, but an interview on the news with a woman struggling to feed her family on her minimum wage salary will trump unadorned statistics. This, I believe, is the challenge that political conservatives face. The president likes to paint word pictures with which to sway emotion. The millionaire boarding his private jet may be completely irrelevant to the country’s economic malaise – or he may actually be the potential job and industry creating solution – but if enough people get jealous and angry at the thought of someone having so much more than they do, that emotion will spread and determine how they vote. Conservatives like dealing with facts and reality way more than liberals do.  When they try to play the, “facts are irrelevant; let’s get people’s emotions involved,” they do it less successfully than their opponents. Often, they end up looking silly. Instead, conservatives need to learn to express facts in ways that invoke feeling. Emotions without facts are demagoguery. Facts without emotion are a losing hand.

 

 

Mr. Nobody

July 19th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

Not too many years ago, when our house was blessedly full of children, I sometimes got overwhelmed. On occasion (more infrequently than they remember it being) I would inform the kids that I was heading off to Iceland and go to my room. They pretty much knew that I was unavailable except in dire emergency.

Well, the kids aren’t here right now, but I am daydreaming of Iceland. Once again, the things that are overwhelming me are blessings for which I am grateful, but I haven’t had the time or presence of mind to put fingers to laptop and compose a Musings. Among other things, I am thrilled that our assistant at AAJC and www.Rabbidaniellapin.com got married last week, but I am temporarily wearing her hat and it is rather large-sized. I am also delighted that our daughter’s wedding is only a few weeks away but with invitations already behind schedule and many other needed tasks, the days are simply not long enough.

I am reprinting a Musing that ran in August 2009, which I hope you will enjoy.

Last Tuesday, I gave up the search for my missing ice cube trays and finally bought new ones. Now, you might be thinking, “I’ve heard of lost socks. I know about lost library books. But ice cube trays?” Let me explain.

Each year when I prepare my kitchen for Passover, I empty out certain shelves, drawers, and the fridge and freezer to make room for the Passover items. Every year, after the holiday, when it is time to turn the kitchen back to its normal functioning at least one item can’t be found. One year it was the refrigerator magnets, another year a certain spoon went astray, but this year’s wandering items were two ice cube trays.

Considering that I could replace the two for less than five dollars and that I value my time at something more than that per hour, there is no rational reason for my having spent vast quantities of time searching for the trays. But, I did.

After all, it was totally unreasonable that they weren’t showing up. I certainly didn’t hide them as part of a self-imposed scavenger hunt nor did I deliberately seek out an obscure niche. They had to be in some perfectly sensible and easily accessible place.

I finally spoke to my wise and experienced aunt who articulated what I knew all along. “The only way to find the trays is to buy new ones.” At that point I threw in the towel and headed out to Target.

Not surprisingly, the next day my daughter, Tamara, opened a kitchen drawer that we access at least five times a week and pulled out the old ice cube trays. I have no idea what natural law we triggered or what elves with a perverted sense of humor invaded my kitchen, but Tamara is walking around quoting “Mr. Nobody,” a poem from our homeschooling days. It begins:

    I know a funny little man as quiet as a mouse,
    He does the mischief that is done in everybody’s house;
    No one ever sees his face, yet one and all agree
    That every plate we break was cracked by Mr. Nobody.

I imagine that there is some moral lesson to extract from this episode, but it truly eludes me right now. I am too busy pulling out sweaters from the back of the closet as the heat wave that made finding the ice cube trays so imperative, has broken.

They Diss’d Sam

July 19th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Last night Susan made one of my favorite dinners—tofu, salad, and celery sticks with peanut butter. C’mon, you know that was a joke, right? Actually, Susan made marinated steak with baked potatoes; I’m easy to keep happy. After dinner I said, “Thank you so much. That was a wonderful steak.” But I wasn’t happy.

Why wasn’t I happy? I didn’t quite know until, suddenly during the night, I awoke with the thrill I always get upon realizing that my soul has been working hard while I’ve been asleep. I knew what was worrying me.

It wasn’t my steak that was wonderful; it was my wife who was wonderful. The dinner I enjoyed was the result of my having a wonderful wife. Saying, “That was a wonderful steak,” was meaningless. Lying awake last night I realized that what I should have said was, “You are the most wonderful wife; thank you for making my favorite dinner again.”

I fell back asleep bothered by my failure. Sometimes I wish my soul wouldn’t work so hard.

Many of us do the same at home and work. “Thanks for such a comprehensive report,” is not nearly the same as, “You are the best assistant imaginable, nobody else could have created that report.”

Doug Conant, the CEO who, during the past ten years literally turned around the failing Campbell Soup Company, spends about an hour each business day writing personal notes thanking some employees and congratulating others for their achievements.

Now you already knew that people love getting praise. I utterly reject the notion that humans are merely the result of evolutionary biology, but it’s true that the brain chemical, dopamine which produces enjoyable feelings, is released when we receive praise. Still, who says that just because you enjoy praise, I am obliged to pander to you and provide it? Maybe you should just grow up and learn to live your life without praise.

Look at the great prophet Samuel’s life. It is clear that his main function was not foreseeing the future or prophesying but instead bringing peace by judging conflict and the normal disagreements that occur when normal human beings live and do business together.

And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.
He did an annual circuit …and judged Israel in all those places.
He would return to Ramah where he lived and there he judged Israel…
(1 Samuel 7:15-17)

We see the same emphasis a few verses later when the people approach Samuel.

They (the Elders of Israel) said to him (Samuel)
‘You’re old and your sons do not walk in your ways,
now appoint us a king to judge us like other nations.
(I Samuel 8:5)


And this was terrible in Samuel’s eyes—
because they said ‘give us a king to judge us…’
(I Samuel 8:6)

Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that Samuel was deeply saddened because they were rejecting him in his own area of specialty, judging. Had the people said, “Give us a king to rule us” he wouldn’t have been nearly as upset. Samuel felt totally unappreciated. If the great Samuel needed recognition and God comforted him when he didn’t receive it, we too can freely acknowledge our own need. We must also acknowledge our obligation to recognize and praise others.

Here is the key. Giving people praise is not a nice thing; it is the moral thing. Recognition is part of a person’s dignity and is his or her right.

Yes, it is hard to praise another person, mainly because doing so implies making yourself a bit smaller. But humbling oneself is a powerful character builder and long-term success in both personal and professional life is often the reward of the strong character. There is no better character-building program than that which God built into His Message to mankind.

Many more character and relationship building tips fill my double audio CD set, Prosperity Power: Connect for Success. It is packed with practical ways to increase the number and quality of your interactions with others in lessons that spring from the Bible. For only $10 for online orders this week, it’s a terrific investment in your financial future.

I May Not Agree with What You Say…

July 12th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

My soon to be eight year old grandson has taken to peppering his conversation with phrases like, “Golly” and “That’s swell”. This is not surprising for those of us who know of his fascination with the Hardy Boys series. He is an avid reader and books expand his vocabulary (sometimes amusingly) as well as his knowledge of geography, history and so much more.

But danger as well as treasure can lurk in books.  While the Hardy brothers with their sense of responsibility, honesty and respect for law are welcomed into his home, his mother, the doorkeeper, keeps some other books out. Recently, supervision of reading material was a hot topic on a homeschool web discussion group to which she and I both belong. The fascinating and provocative exchange of ideas that shot across cyberspace is one of the reasons I stay on this group even though my own homeschooling days are over. 

To an outsider, the group would seem to be homogeneous; Jewish mothers and fathers who approach homeschooling from a Torah perspective. However, even within those parameters, differences emerged. Members passionately (homeschoolers tend to be passionate about anything having to do with their children) explained why they do – or don’t – allow their children to read various genres of literature; what types of books they prefer; and how strictly – or leniently – they impose their views on their children.

Despite the variety of opinions, respect for each other’s ideas permeated the conversation. Just the opposite took place when the Wall Street Journal’s children’s book reviewer, Meghan Cox Gurdon, wrote an article criticizing how dark young adult literature has become. While her point seemed a no-brainer to me since I long ago learned to steer clear of much of current young adult literature, it provoked a firestorm of controversy. As she wrote in her follow-up article, “If the American Library Association were inclined to burn people in effigy, I might well have gone up in smoke these past few days.” Many who disagreed with her engaged in personal attacks on her intelligence and character rather than her ideas. 

The contrast between the conversation on my homeschool group and the one sparked by the Journal article was stark. The fact that so many of the belligerent participants were young adult authors, librarians and teachers, seemed to me to be one more reason not to entrust one’s children to their influence. While, to their credit, some later offered apologies for their ad-hominem assaults, the vehemence and nastiness of the offensive suggested that Ms. Cox Gurdon was quite accurate when she said in opposition to crude and violent literature, “Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.”

 

Ham-I-Am

July 12th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

“You look at the sun three times a week?” asked George’s optometrist incredulously. George explained that counting sunspots was his hobby and he depended upon his eye-care professional to keep his vision healthy.

“I can only keep your eyes healthy, George, if you follow the rules,” insisted his doctor.

How ridiculous of George to keep looking at the sun and expecting his doctor to fix his eyes. Many of us harm our lives because we do not know how the world really works.

Here are two rules of reality that are helpful to know.

1) Regardless of how much we possess, we are created with a drive to want even more.
2) Our actions can unintentionally harm our children’s lives.

We learn these two timeless truths by solving a pair of perplexing puzzles in the Biblical account of Noah.

First:

The sons of Noah who emerged from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japhet,
and Ham was the father of Canaan.

(Genesis 9:18)

Four verses later-

Ham, the father of Canaan saw his father’s nakedness…
(Genesis 9:22)

Who cares that Ham was the father of Canaan? Why not also tell me who Shem and Japhet’s sons were? Furthermore, did we need a reminder of the relationship after only four verses?

Second:

Ham did something that the text (Genesis 9:22) refers to as “seeing his father’s nakedness.” Then, Noah awakens and utters a dreadful curse against Canaan.

And he said, “Cursed is Canaan…”
(Genesis 9:25)

Why would Noah punish Ham’s fourth son rather than the miscreant himself? How did a sleeping Noah even know what Ham did?

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the Torah uses euphemistic language. Ham’s terrible crime was castrating his father.

Why? After the Flood, God instructed Noah to be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 9:1) By making sure there would be no more sons, Ham wanted to guarantee that he would inherit 1/3 of the world rather than only 1/4.

So, Ham prevented the birth of Noah’s fourth son and Noah harmed Ham’s fourth son. But that’s not fair!

The Torah is teaching us two lessons we need to know.

1) Even someone who owns as much as 1/4 of the entire world desires more.
2) Everything we do either helps or harms our children.

Scripture is far more than a history book; it is a guidebook to the world. It may not seem fair that parents’ misdeeds damage their children. But it is how the world works. As the Ten Commandments state, when we do something really bad , it impacts our children, our grandchildren and perhaps even our great-grandchildren. (Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9) Bernie Madoff’s children and grandchildren had their lives forever changed by the actions of the notorious swindler.

Knowing these rules truly benefits us. We can channel our own drive for desiring more into positive enterprise, thus using it constructively. We can also understand human nature better, thereby interacting more effectively with others.

We can behave in ways that give our children advantages rather than disadvantages. We can also structure our society more wisely. Instead of recognizing that children thrive in stable, two parent families, we normalize alternative arrangements. Instead of helping individual children overcome tough challenges we pretend that all situations are equivalent. In doing so, we encourage damaging conduct.

People can and do often overcome the effects of their parents’ mistakes, but one of the strongest human impulses is to protect our children. God created the world with this parent/child connection to encourage us to behave properly, ever aware of our present and potential children.

As much as we like to believe that our actions are our own business, this simply isn’t true. Our behavior yesterday will even impact the lives of children we may bring into the world tomorrow.

Teaching reality as it is, rather than as how we would like it to be, is one major gift the Bible offers. There are many more reality lessons from Noah which I present in my 2 audio CD set, The Gathering Storm. It is this week’s highlighted (and discounted) teaching. I’d like you to have it.

P.S. Perils of Profanity remains at half-price for another 24 hours only!

A Modest Proposal

July 5th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Here’s a proposal: Governments concerned about climate change, carbon emissions, and mankind’s assault on the environment should ban above-ground buildings. In fact, the United Nations should require all new construction to be below ground.

Instead of building up, let’s build down!

After all, a conventional 30 floor building can require a 100 foot deep excavation for its foundation. Putting the entire building underground requires excavating only a bit more, say, 400 feet. Here are a few of the advantages to this kind of downwards development:

• Immune to terrorist airplane attacks.
• Considerably less expensive to construct.
• Uses less energy to heat in winter and cool in summer.
• Needs only a small entrance lobby and drive-in ramp at ground level. The building’s footprint can be covered with grass or used to grow crops. Entire cities could be made almost invisible!
• Does not interfere with birds’ migratory patterns.

Some will point out that my buildings lack windows but many people already work in rooms without them. Excellent air conditioning can provide fresh air. Large LCD screens can take the place of windows, depicting attractive scenes to suit the room’s occupants.

Claustrophobic, you say? Well, not too long ago, experts assured us that nobody would be willing to be hermetically sealed in a long aluminum cylinder for twelve hours while hurtling across continents. Yet, today we take long trips on jetliners for granted. People would quickly become accustomed to taking the elevator down rather than up when going to work or coming home, especially if the rent they are paying is a fraction of what it had been in their old-fashioned skyscrapers. It just makes too much sense not to catch on.

The only reason I can think of for why my obvious idea hasn’t become widely acclaimed is that God created us with a spiritual instinct to aspire upwards not downwards.

For thousands of years, those of us who view the Bible as God’s message to Mankind have recognized God as Omnipresent. He is everywhere. He is with us wherever we work, play or pray.

Am I God only from nearby, says God; and not God from afar…
Do I not fill the heaven and the earth?

(Jeremiah 23:23-24)

And yet, it is the Bible that encourages us to associate heaven with God more than we’d associate say, the oceans with Him.

According to ancient Jewish wisdom, early Biblical mentions of heaven identify it as the repository of ultimate spiritual power and the place representative of God. While God created both heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1), only the earth, representing the physical and material world is in a state of chaos (Genesis 1:2). Heaven is perfect.

Because of these and many other Biblical references that have crept into our religious consciousness, we raise our eyes upwards in prayer, towards heaven.

I think this is why we build upwards, expressing our deep, subconscious desire to reach toward heaven and become closer to God. Yes, it is more expensive and dangerous to build upwards but civilizations that love God will never settle for living underground. It is not an issue of cost and convenience.

Those aspiring to God’s model of civilization recognize heaven as the aspiration of all who love life and see the subterranean world as being dark, sinister, and deathlike. Horror movies thrive on mutant creatures that live underground. Those who recognize Adolph Hitler’s pagan leanings aren’t surprised that he was obsessed with the Wagnerian musical drama, The Ring of the Nibelung, with its dark subterranean dwarfs.

We humans have only so many years to improve this world and our own lives. We can avoid foolish ideas such as the one I offer above by paying attention to God’s User Guide to the world. Studying it provides us with both heavenly and earthly paths through life.

As we move outdoors this summer, let’s remember to provide protection for our souls as well as for our bodies. Profanity pollution is so widespread that I am making my audio CD, Perils of Profanity available at half price online. Find out how avoiding profanity even increases economic prosperity and romantic opportunities. Listen to it yourself and provide those you love with its armor.

Thirty-two Hours and Twenty-Five Years

July 5th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

The younger children in our family occasionally went on “run-aways”. Their second oldest sister, Rena, would take them out, one at a time for a few hours, boarding a bus for our small city’s four-block downtown area. There, they would wander around carefree, leaving chores and schoolwork behind. Each journey included a stop at the ice cream shop and bead store; other venues were optional. As the afternoon ended the girls would return home ready to get back to their responsibilities.

My husband and I just went on our own “run-away”. For thirty-two hours we left work entirely behind and drove to Vancouver, British Columbia. Our first trip to Vancouver was back in 1986, when our eldest child was five and we had not yet met our youngest few children. That summer boating trip established the coastal waters of British Columbia and the Canadian Gulf Islands as our vacation destination of choice. Whenever we could, we returned, often spending Shabbat plus a few more days in Vancouver. For those lucky Vancouverites, life probably has its normal worries and stresses, but for us, the city is wrapped in an escapist glow

Recently with barely more than a day at our disposal, my husband and I were attracted to the city as powerfully as a child is to the first ice cream truck coming down the street in summer. Arriving late at night, we eagerly anticipated what we knew had to be the next morning’s first activity. Biking around the Stanley Park seawall beckoned. Renting bicycles for two seemed ridiculously easy compared to all those years when we rented twelve for our own family and the single friends accompanying us on our trip. As we eased onto the park’s path, my husband and I began two hours of cycling which spanned twenty-five years of memories.

Vancouver’s physical beauty is awe-inspiring. Blue water and majestic tree-filled mountains proclaim God’s creative powers and recalled our thrill as parents sharing these blessing with our children. Each landmark we passed – the 10 o’clock cannon, the beaches peeking out as the tide withdrew, the children’s water park complete with a kids’ dryer – evoked memories of years past. Riding under Lion’s Gate Bridge reminded us of many a Friday when we timed our boat’s arrival to coincide with slack tide at the narrow entrance to Vancouver Harbour, dough for the Shabbat challah rising in the galley.

We passed the turn-off to the aquarium where our family had participated in an after-hours’ sleepover, dozing feet away from the killer whales’ whooshing circuits.  Our children grew along with the belugas, otters and seals, many of whom they greeted with recognition as we pre-paid admission on Friday so that we could spend long Shabbat afternoon hours in their presence.

Beyond the harbor lay cities, bays and islands whose names stir up countless joyous memories. Ganges, Keats Island, Plumper Cove, Telegraph Harbour, Tod Inlet…these were the places where our children learned to sail and swim, to gaze transfixed at huge starfish, to thrill at the sight of a wild orca. Here they grew to feel capable and competent as they navigated the waters, reading charts and coping with tidal variations, currents and the ever occurring unexpected. Here is where concentrated and isolated time in a small, floating space cemented our family bonds.

As we continued biking, leaving the park and heading to False Creek, the two of us were accompanied not only by recollections of our children, but of the several single young women from our synagogue who used to sail with us, providing much needed extra pairs of hands and eyes.  We spent long summer evenings discussing marriage and family with these girls.  One has just welcomed a second grandchild with the husband whose visit on board we orchestrated hoping that romance would blossom, and the other, along with her own husband and seven children, was hosting our youngest as she settled into a new job in Southern California.

Sometimes, life’s to-do lists seem overwhelming. I am overflowing with gratitude to God for my thirty-two hour “run-away” with my husband during which we recalled so many blessings He has granted us over the years, not least of which are blissful surroundings He created that nourish our souls.