Monthly Archives: June, 2012

Hire Me! Hire Me!

June 26th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Finding a terrific job is not easy.  One way to ruin your chances is by projecting over-confidence. While employers certainly want to know what you can do for them, being full of yourself will turn off most interviewers.  Understanding Joseph’s behavior will provide us with some specific strategies for interviews and meetings.

After failing to find satisfying interpretations to his two disturbing dreams, Pharaoh told them to Joseph. (Genesis 41:8 & 15)

Joseph explained how the dreams foretold seven years of economic abundance followed by seven years of famine.  Astonishingly, Joseph then offers unsolicited advice.  He suggests that Pharaoh hire a wise administrator (implying that he himself is the ideal candidate) to supervise the economy.

Pharaoh should have said, “Thank you, Joseph but I asked you for dream interpretation, not for advice.”

Pharaoh should have added, “Regarding your opinion of my dreams, I’ve heard many zany interpretations.  Perhaps your explanation is true; if so you’ll be rewarded. Meanwhile, return to the dungeon from which we took you.  If your interpretation turns out to be correct we’ll release and reward you.”

Instead, Pharaoh listens intently while Joseph speaks at length.  When Joseph finishes, Scripture tells us that Pharaoh and his servants liked Joseph’s ideas. (Genesis 41:37)

I would have expected Pharaoh’s courtiers to tell their monarch, “Your Highness, it’s always better to promote from within.  The people will respond more obediently if directed by an experienced Egyptian bureaucrat rather than by this arrogant Hebrew ex-convict.”

Yet they accepted Pharaoh’s appointment of Joseph.  What occurred that day which persuaded Pharaoh and his court that Joseph was special?

Let’s compare these two verses:

…and Pharaoh dreamed and behold he was standing upon the river.

(Genesis 41:1)

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream,

behold, I was standing upon the banks of the river.”

(Genesis 41:17)

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals that God told Joseph not only what Pharaoh’s dream meant but He also told him exactly what Pharaoh had dreamed in the first place.  In his dream, Pharaoh saw himself standing literally on the water of the River Nile.  Fearing ridicule when recounting his dream to Joseph, Pharaoh modified it.  Instead of reporting how he’d seen himself standing on water, he added the words ‘banks of’ saying, “I was standing upon the banks of the river.”

When Pharaoh uttered those words, Joseph softly murmured, “I didn’t know I would hear the words ‘banks of”.”  This shocked Pharaoh greatly and he confessed before his entire court that he had not, in fact relayed the dream exactly.  This proved to Pharaoh and his staff that nobody more qualified than Joseph existed.

Years later, King David revealed how God proved to the Egyptians that Joseph was chosen. Many translators struggle to make sense of Psalms 81:6. The simple meaning of the Hebrew is:

He (God) gave testimony to Joseph when he went out over the land of Egypt;

“‘Banks of’ I didn’t know I would hear.”

While we can’t expect God to give us inside information before a job interview, a successful applicant does homework and arrives prepared, knowing details about the company, the position, and how to add value. Calm confidence coupled with deep knowledge makes one appear desirable, not arrogant.  A candidate who shows that he possesses extensive familiarity with the company causes the interviewer to think, “Can we find another like him?” (Genesis 41:38)

Communicating effectively means empathetically blending three elements: ‘confidence’—I am going to get this job; ‘communality’—I’ll be part of your team; and ‘reciprocity’—hiring me will be great for us both. For family and social communication, different examples of the three elements would apply. There’s no better exercise to gain this ability than probing the mysteries of Scripture.  Tanach (Hebrew Scripture) is an anthology of conversations and interactions between God and humans, between humans and humans, and between people and their souls.  Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals the timeless truths behind the words. Possessing the Genesis Journeys Audio CD Set, on sale now, allows frequent access to its life-changing knowledge. It can improve your faith, family and financial life. Bless yourself and others with a new understanding of God’s word by exploring this resource right now.

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Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

Hello Rabbi and Susan,

I am aware that there have been various questions already been asked regarding observing the Sabbath and keeping it Holy, but my problem is the company I work for has offered me a promotion but it entails me studying on a Saturday morning. What is your stance on studying secular studies on the Sabbath?  READ MORE

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Lisa Brown’s Triple Header:

Michigan state legislator Lisa Brown hit a triple header, embarrassing me as an American, as a woman and as a Jew. Fortunately, I’m not a Democrat or she would have hit a home run. I am not linking to her words and actions because if you missed them, count yourself blessed. Suffice it to say…  READ MORE

Lisa Brown’s Triple Header

June 26th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

Michigan state legislator Lisa Brown hit a triple header, embarrassing me as an American, as a woman and as a Jew. Fortunately, I’m not a Democrat or she would have hit a home run. I am not linking to her words and actions because if you missed them, count yourself blessed. Suffice it to say, in a legislative discussion about abortion she made a crude, non-sequitur attack on fellow legislators and when sanctioned, acted as if she was Joan of Arc leading a crusade for free speech.

Her antics shamed me as an American, because despite constant contradictory proof, I still keep hoping that elected officials will be worthy of this country and that Americans will stay focused on real, rather than manufactured, issues.

As a woman, I was shamed because her behavior bolstered the argument that women are illogical and hysterical. Her rude comment, along with her follow-up actions, was totally unrelated to the issue at hand as well as being belligerent and childish. Sadly, the redeeming feature for womanhood is that many male politicians are no better.

As a Jew who keeps the Biblical dietary laws known as keeping kosher, I felt further need to distance myself from Ms. Brown. I am glad that she keeps kosher though I wish she had kept that fact out of the debate. I think that God does care how Jews eat.  However, keeping kosher doesn’t turn vulgarity into acceptable Jewish conduct. It certainly doesn’t correspond to support for America’s current approach to abortion. There’s no free pass for doing or upholding something wrong just because you do something else right. By linking kashrut to a lack of refinement, Ms. Brown demeaned the very God she obeys when it comes to food.

While Representative Brown correctly stated that Jewish law mandates an abortion if the only possible choice is between losing the mother’s life or the baby’s, that was unrelated to the bill under discussion. Furthermore, anyone who thinks that debates about abortion in America revolve around the rare times when a baby’s existence threatens its mother’s life, should probably recuse themselves from participating in American political life until they get more in touch with reality. If indeed, Ms. Brown only wants to fine-tune a stance that cherishes life from its inception, she should consider changing political parties. Unlike Ms. Brown, the overwhelming majority of Jews who keep kosher are conservative and pro-life.

Keeping kosher, like other commandments, is important because God said to do it. This means that observant Jews follow the rules whether or not they understand them. However, we can certainly look for and note the benefits that come from following God’s directives. One bonus of keeping kosher can be an added awareness of the oral aperture. Both what go in and what come out of one’s mouth matter. We are supposed to refine our words constantly to represent awareness of the unique gift of human speech. Ms. Brown’s words were unbecoming to her as a public servant and as a woman, but even more so as a Jew.

 

Happily Neanderthal

June 19th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 12 comments

Have you ever done something that seems completely ordinary to you, only to find people looking at you as if you were an apparition from Neptune? A few months ago, my husband and I were Shabbat guests of a synagogue far from our home. We were graciously befriended and hosted by a couple in the synagogue. (For info on why strangers would welcome us into their lives, see Strangers and Friends.) My husband was scheduled to speak at the buffet lunch after prayer services on Saturday. But the odd reaction was not to his words. It came about because of the buffet.  Rather than expecting my husband to line up with everybody else, I filled a plate and brought it to him.

That small gesture inspired quite a bit of comment. I regularly serve my husband at this type of event. Yes, that scenario does fit into stereotypical male/female roles and Gloria Steinem would disapprove. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it is also silly to pretend that stereotypical roles were randomly imposed rather than acknowledging that they just might match how we are created. Certainly, God made each of us unique and each marriage has its individual rhythms and rhymes. However, it was hard to ignore how  most of the men in our vicinity at the luncheon buffet were vocally envious while many of their wives were a tad uncomfortable.

Since I have joined my husband working full-time in our ministry, and since our work hours often extend way beyond an eight-hour day, cooking supper has become more difficult for me. Some of my tasks cluster in the late afternoon and early evening, frequently without warning.  On those nights, my husband cheerfully prepares dinner. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and welcome the food, but I would be just as fine if he ordered in pizza rather than cooking. This is not true in the reverse. When I cook for him, it nurtures his soul, not just his body. Similarly, when we are at a buffet, he enjoys the food more when I hand it to him. Even if he passionately loved cooking, I don’t think I would have the same emotional response to his feeding me as he has to my feeding him.

There are other routines of our marriage where the reverse model reigns. My husband does various things for me, not because I can’t do them myself, but because his doing it expresses devotion. When I take out the garbage, the garbage is taken out; when he takes it out (without being asked), I perceive it as a token of affection.

Feminism has implanted itself so sturdily in our society that we often don’t even realize that what we have come to see as normal, very well may not be. I know any number of couples who divide economic and home duties without any recognition that, generally, men and women value things differently.  When babies come along, these couples meticulously strive for each adult to be half mother/half father rather than challenging the latest politically correct dogma by recognizing that mothers and fathers are actually two different creatures.

As a guest at the buffet luncheon, I didn’t turn cartwheels on the tables or snatch other diners’ desserts. Yet by serving my husband, I seemed to breach the decorum and acceptable behavior pattern in perhaps an even more disquieting way.

Holistic Healing

June 19th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Belief plays an essential role in healing.  Having confidence in my doctor when he assures me that I am doing fine encourages a more rapid recovery than if that spiritual factor is absent.

I wasn’t surprised to read an article in BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, revealing that about half the doctors in the United States, Denmark, Israel, and the United Kingdom dispense placebos.

The great 19th century American psychologist William James wrote of the efficacy of these chemically inert prescriptions.  Placebos are particularly effective in pain management activating the same regions of the brain as opiate-drugs. Brain scan research reveals a common neurological reaction to both placebo-induced pain relief and narcotic-induced analgesia.  Indeed, the body’s health and physical well-being flows from the brain, the mind, and the soul.

Ancient Jewish wisdom assures that our physical bodies and spiritual souls are welded into one.  Bodily realities impact our souls.  More importantly for health purposes, spiritual realities impact our bodies.

This physical-spiritual parallelism is revealed in our physical bodies. God placed male genitalia externally while concealing those of the female, corresponding to spiritual differences between men and women.  Men are innately more sexually aggressive while women more naturally possess reticence.  Advertisements for menswear simply don’t mention modesty while it is quite common in female fashion.

Our eyes project an upside-down image of whatever we see onto our retinas.  The spiritual reality thus highlighted is that our eyes are untrustworthy.  What organ is chiefly responsible for stuff you’ve bought and don’t really need?  Are sales catalogs heavier on words or pictures?  Why are home shopping programs found on television, not radio?

God placed our balance mechanism in our ears.  Evolutionarily speaking, this makes little sense.  Our heads are in constant motion. The only reason you don’t lose your balance when you tilt your head is the equivalent of thousands of lines of software compensating for your head’s motion.  Evolution should have ensured that our balance mechanism would be in our shoulders or hips.

However, God’s design teaches the spiritual lesson that we can better retain our balance in life by relying more on information we gain through our ears than that which we gain through our eyes.  I am only half joking when I say that any man looking to marry should talk to a woman on the telephone before meeting her and allowing his eyes to become blinded by her beauty.

Our bodies are symmetrical externally about our vertical axis.  However, internally, there is little symmetry.  Our heart, liver, pancreas, spleen, appendix, kidneys, and even lungs are not symmetrical. This teaches us that while externally we find comfort and beauty in superficial order, in the world of the spiritual and invisible, a far more complex elegance exists.

When it comes to our health, ignoring the spiritual can literally be fatal. When Moses’ sister, Miriam, gossiped about her brother, God punished her with a skin malady (Numbers 12:1; 10). While often incorrectly translated as leprosy, Leviticus chapter 13 makes clear that Tzara’at is not a physical disease.  That chapter introduces the idea of psychosomatic disorder, when the body sickens because of a non-physical problem.  Naturally, Miriam was healed, not by medicine but by her brother’s prayers and her atonement. (Numbers 12:13) While we do not share Miriam’s closeness to God and cannot expect the direct Divine punishment or forgiveness that took place in the Exodus generation, we can add these four steps to our ordinary health maintenance procedures.

  • Meditate daily on the miraculous unity of body and soul.
  • Establish a trusting relationship with a doctor who views you as both body and soul.
  • Feel spiritually worthy of health, and consider areas of spiritual self-improvement along with physical care.
  • Enlist prayer; your own and that of loved ones.

According to ancient Jewish wisdom, the body/soul connection is magnified in the forty days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Prepare yourself for this annual opportunity, which commences mid-August, by absorbing the teaching in our Day for Atonement audio resource. May God provide a complete healing of body and soul to all who need it.

…for I am the Lord, your Healer.

(Exodus 15:25)

(Clash of Destiny sale extended for one more week.)

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This week’s Susan’s Musings: Happily Neanderthal:

Have you ever done something that seems completely ordinary to you, only to find people looking at you as if you were an apparition from Neptune?

A few months ago, my husband and I were Shabbat guests of a synagogue far from our home. We were graciously befriended and hosted by a couple in the synagogue. (For info on why strangers would welcome us into their lives, see Strangers and Friends.) My husband was scheduled to speak at the buffet lunch after prayer services on Saturday. But the odd reaction was not to his words…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

Hello Rabbi and Susan,

If a child say 2yrs. old or younger dies and his parents are not believers, does the baby go to hell because of the parents’ lack of faith? I was asked this question.  READ MORE

Strangers and Friends, originally published Oct. 14, 2009

June 19th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

It’s not unusual these days to hear someone boast that they have more than 1,000 friends. Of course, they have never met these buddies as they are Internet “friends”. Given the opportunity, most people might even be horrified at the idea of actually meeting many of their “friends”.

We have an alternative way of making friends. It’s called travel. My husband and I just spent a few nights as guests in the apartment of people we didn’t know. Naturally, after staying at their home they are no longer strangers. Over the years we have experienced the other side of the coin, hosting scores of unfamiliar visitors at our own home.

You see, Sabbath-observant Jews don’t drive for 25 hours, from just before sunset on Friday or a holyday’s onset, until about an hour after sunset on Saturday nights or the holyday’s end. Sharing in a family event means that all the guests need to stay within walking distance of the festivities. Because most people who pray at a specific synagogue live within a walking distance radius, communities spring up around the house of worship. When someone in a community has a celebration, the neighbors accommodate their guests. In different circumstances, if you are on a business trip or have missed a plane connection and you can’t make it home before the Sabbath, or if you are visiting a town for a medical procedure, finding a place to stay in a religiously observant neighborhood is highly desirable, if not a necessity.

It is not at all unusual for us to get a call from one of our children asking if their neighbor’s aunt’s son-in-law’s business partner can stay with us for Shabbat. Sometimes a reticent voice is on the phone, timidly putting out a feeler having heard that we live in the area its owner needs to be in over the weekend. Most synagogues have a volunteer who fields calls from those coming from out of town and needing a place to stay. Shabbat is a home centered happening.

Over the years we have met hundreds of interesting people who have added spice and variety to our Shabbat day and table. While we did have two unpleasant encounters that left us eagerly anticipating the day’s end, those experiences have been far outweighed by positive ones.

Stories abound of marriages and business partnerships that have resulted from these types of guest situations, and of course each guest becomes a potential host when you find yourself in his or her neck of the woods.

In our case this past week, our daughter Rena and her husband Yoni invited us to spend the holydays of Shmini Atzeret and Simhat Torah with them. While their apartment could accommodate us, it couldn’t do so terribly comfortably. So, they asked their new neighbors to put us up. As Sabbath hospitality system veterans, this couple readily agreed and graciously welcomed us. Should they ever visit the northwest, we hope to be able to reciprocate.

Many people look at laws such as the no-driving-on-Sabbath rule as restrictive and oppressive. For those of us who opt into the system these laws are seen as opportunities. This particular one is an opportunity to forge new friendships and expand one’s circle of acquaintances in a far more meaningful way than a click of a computer button can yield.

 

 

It Can Happen to Anyone

June 12th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

One day you’re on top of your game and the next you’re not.  It can happen to anyone. All of a sudden the simple day to day tasks that must be done loom as gigantic obstacles.  You’re overwhelmed with self-pity and hopelessness.  You are your most important asset and you’re letting yourself down.

Watch how one of history’s greatest men, Moses, overcame this challenge.

Only three months after God miraculously took the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses discovered them worshipping a golden calf.  He punished the people, then begged God for forgiveness on their behalf. (Exodus 32)

As a real leader, Moses cared deeply about the children of Israel.  Though the Israelites grumbled about him, he continually advocated on their behalf.  They complained about water and Moses prayed to God. (Exodus 15:24-25)

Later, when they complained of hunger, Moses again interceded on their behalf.  Even his expressions of anger were in order to educate them and improve their behavior. (Exodus 16:20)

Moses fully engaged with his people.  He constantly sought to provide whatever they needed while caring for them, teaching them and guiding them.

About a year after these events, a year during which God sustained the Israelites with the daily ration of miraculous manna, the people again complained.  (Numbers 11:4-6)

This time, instead of engaging with Israel, correcting their behavior and asking God to solve their problem, Moses seems overwhelmed by the challenge.

Moses said to God, ‘Why have you afflicted your servant? Why have I not found favor in your eyes, that you place the burden of this entire people upon me?’ ‘…From where should I get meat to give to this entire people…’ ‘I am not able to carry this entire people alone, because it is too heavy for me.  If this is how you deal with me, then kill me now…let me not see my failure.’

(Numbers 11:11-15)

God assures Moses that the next day He would supply more meat than the people could eat.  Instead of joyously conveying this to his people, Moses doubtfully asks how God could supply enough meat for so many. (Numbers 11:21-22)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Moses suffered a temporary crisis of confidence.  In a lapse from his customary assertive leadership, he felt weak and hopeless.  Unsure of himself, he even momentarily doubted God’s power to help him! Yet we know that he recovered because he successfully led Israel for another 38 years.

How did Moses rise above his negative mood?  By acting in exactly the opposite way to how he felt. The main characteristic of pessimism is feeling small and inadequate to the challenges facing us. When we are insecure, we tend towards pettiness. Yet, only a few verses further in Numbers 26-29, we meet two interlopers named Eldad and Medad who threaten Moses’ position. Even Joshua pleaded with Moses to destroy them. Yet Moses rose above the annoyance of these two men and reacted with bigness.  Rather than resenting them, he judged them favorably. His magnanimity banished the depressed feeling and he returned to his usual strength.

In the same way, each of us can help ourselves when what Winston Churchill called his “Black Dog” strikes us.  The remedy is to act in a way that enlarges us. Rather than acting small because we feel small, we can behave in a way that indicates greatness. Our feelings will rise to match our actions.

While everyone has emotional setbacks, the severity is lessened when we are confident in who we are. If we aren’t true to ourselves, we cannot lead others or ourselves with conviction. We are at a disadvantage among those who see Jews and Christians as ‘the enemy’, if we don’t fundamentally claim our heritage. The timeless truths I disclose in my 2 audio CD set, Clash of Destiny: Decoding the Secrets of Israel and Islam are both chilling and a source for optimism. They are spiritual weapons you need if you wish to feel optimism and confidence rather than depression and hopelessness when faced with implacable foes. Available at a reduced price this week, listen to this resource and join in leading our society towards a peaceful and productive future.

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Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

I am a single woman of 41, never had any serious relationship but always dreamed of love and never found it. I came to a new congregation and I fell deeply in admiration with my rabbi’s wisdom. We had some very insightful debates on Jewish issues, and he expressed that he considers me a very special and beautiful soul and mind.

Nonetheless, I feel he might also feel a deeper attraction for me, and I am very much afraid that my deep admiration for him might turn into something else. But he is married, of course. I know I should avoid any contact and flee from the possibility of sin, but at the same time, it is really hard for me to finally find such a light and have to withdraw from him because the want of each other’s light could go out of control (but also could not).

What should I do? READ MORE

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Wisconsin’s Window of Opportunity:

Last week’s exit polls were off by so much that throwing a dart while blindfolded might have more accurately predicted the results of Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin race.  However, now that it is over, along with similar votes in San Jose and San Diego, CA that introduced balance into public sector union strong-arming, I would like to step back and take a broader perspective…READ MORE

Wisconsin’s Window of Opportunity

June 12th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

Last week’s exit polls were off by so much that throwing a dart while blindfolded might have more accurately predicted the results of Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin race.  However, now that it is over, along with similar votes in San Jose and San Diego, CA that introduced balance into public sector union strong-arming, I would like to step back and take a broader perspective.

To the best of my knowledge, citizenship is no longer taught in schools.  The concept of good citizenship is easy to pervert, for example by suggesting that a good citizen turns in his neighbor for driving in the carpool lane with fewer than the required number of passengers. Doing so makes one a snitch and government stoolie, not a good citizen. Being a good citizen means learning, understanding and upholding the principles upon which the society is built, even –and here is the important point –when they do not benefit the individual doing so.

My husband and I have a friend who attended university in a liberal center of the country, populated by many students. When rent control was on the ballot, he would have saved substantial sums on housing if that type of legislation passed.  Nonetheless, he understood that rent control usurps private property rights and eventually destroys communities. It helps a few (frequently not those who are touted as the beneficiaries) at the expense of harming society in general along with mocking the foundational values of the country. For these reasons, he voted against the law, while the majority of his classmates looked only at how much more cash they would have available, and voted for it. His admirable vote was that of a good citizen.

When it became clear that the electorate in Wisconsin supported Gov. Walker, I was relieved. That vote is a bright spot in a rather dismal picture. The retention of a competent governor and a message to union bosses is certainly a good step. If the vote was the result of the majority understanding the fundamental principles involved rather than simply expressing frustration with a poor economy, the cause for optimism would be far greater.

I don’t claim vast historical knowledge. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Americans respond so emotionally to injustice that they often alleviate one difficulty while germinating another. Was it unacceptable that early presidents and retired civil servants lived in poverty during our country’s younger days? Yes.  Are current presidential and congressional pensions and perks (with Congress voting for its own benefits) stratospheric and unjust to the citizenry? Yes.

Did some (not all) businesses take unconscionable advantage of those seeking employment? Yes. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and subsistence wages at some companies were real. Has the power that was granted to unions in response to those horrors ceased being the solution and become a hindrance to economic progress? Yes.

Are there serious flaws in the American health care system? Yes. Will Obamacare solve the problems ensuring a first-rate medical system available to all? Not a chance.

The examples of well-intentioned legislation transforming into predatory, monstrous and destructive malignancies that damage both individuals and society, are plentiful. Last week’s resounding votes suggest that now is the time for education. With increasing numbers acknowledging the failure of liberal policies, people are open to understanding core truths about how successful societies operate. If all that happens next November is that Republicans are elected, America will probably be better off in the short-term, but a unique opportunity will have been squandered. One way we will know how transformational the next few months are is by seeing whether the candidates’ abilities extend beyond being elected. Can they take advantage of a rare moment in time and dramatically and convincingly articulate a vision of truth that runs counter to the direction this country has followed, for which both political parties and shortsighted citizens share the blame? Are Mr. Romney and other office-seekers worthy of representing my rent-control-opposed friend? Let us keep them accountable as well as pray that they are.

 

 

Soda, Shanghai and Slippery Slopes

June 5th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 9 comments

At first, I thought the appropriate reaction to Mayor Bloomberg’s suggested ban on mega-ounce drinks was to roll one’s eyes and be grateful for not living in NY.  After all, “I may not drink super-sized carbonated beverages but I will defend until death your right to do so,” just doesn’t have the same force as the original slogan. However, my attention ratcheted up when a Wall Street Journal sentiment tracker analyzed the conversation on social media and noted that 64% of the online buzz supported the proposed ban.

What are the tweeters saying? Is it, “I’m out of control, please help me Mayor Bloomberg,” or is it perhaps, “Those unwashed, ignorant masses aren’t capable of running their own lives. We elite have to force them to make the right decisions.” Assuming that social media trends young, it seems fair to ask if the words, ‘personal responsibility,’ and ‘individual freedom’ have little meaning for the Facebook generation.

I am reading a truly horrifying book; it is so disturbing that I can only read a bit at a time. In Life and Death in Shanghai, Nien Cheng details her experiences during the 1960’s and ‘70’s in China under Chairman Mao’s regime. As I have been reading, I have been continually asking myself, “Could this happen in America?” How close or removed are we from a cult of personality dominating a culture, from allowing a central government to define what is good and moral, and from giving tacit approval to youth to revel in their ability to terrorize and victimize fellow citizens?

Sadly, events of the past few years including the quasi-deification of candidate Obama by mainstream media and police passivity in the face of rioters and criminals who are motivated by leftism, is not reassuring. It would be ridiculously far-fetched to think that Mayor Bloomberg is an evil megalomaniac or that he envisions re-education camps for those who enjoy too much Coke. In fact, if the government assumes the responsibility of paying for its citizens’ health care, then his proposal may be futile, but it can be defended. The soda issue is a sideshow reflecting a major challenge. How can we help more Americans understand that sincere and well-intentioned policies can cause greater damage than obesity? Is it possible for a generation that is shamefully ignorant of history to comprehend that a government that supplies your needs also controls your life?

Brain Flame

June 5th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Imagine a room full of shouting people; walls plastered with large sheets of paper covered with scrawls. What is it?  A kindergarten for children with poor social skills?  No, it is a typical brainstorming session.

Originated in the 1940s by advertising man Alex Osborn, brainstorming with its freewheeling tossing out of ideas and absence of criticism, is controversial. Some swear by its effectiveness while others dismiss it as nothing more than entertainment for executives.

I frequently facilitate corporate brainstorming sessions and I’ve also done some rewarding ones with my family. They can work well. However, a certain Torah principle must be followed.  Once ideas and solutions have emerged during the fun period, you’re only halfway through.  The tough process of analyzing, critiquing, and reconciling conflicting ideas must be tackled or the first part was a waste of time.  Expecting to achieve insight without hard work ignores reality.

The Torah is divided into 54 Sedras each with its unique name. A Sedra encompasses a number of Biblical chapters. The chapters as we know them are not part of ancient Jewish wisdom. They were put in place by Archbishop Langton during the 13th century. While they are useful for locating verses in Scripture, they occasionally distort God’s intended divisions. Sometimes, Stephen Langton even presented one chapter as bridging two different Sedras. Analyzing the original Sedra divisions and their names is a worthwhile endeavor. For instance, only six Sedras have names of people in their titles; 3 who were not Jewish and 3 who were.  In each group, two are righteous and 1 is wicked.  Noah, Yitro, and Balak comprise the first group while Sarah, Pinchas, and Korach make up the second.

Two other Sedras have very similar names.  Tetzaveh, the eighth Sedra of the Book of Exodus, means “You shall command.”  Tzav, the second Sedra of the Book of Leviticus, is the instruction “Command!”

The similarity in name leads us to compare the two. We see that both mention a continuously burning flame (Exodus 27:20 & Leviticus 6:5). Exodus speaks of a continuous flame in the candelabrum, the menorah, while its Leviticus counterpart refers to perpetual flame upon the altar.

Well, which is it, menorah or altar?  Actually, both, but their appearance in similar sounding Sedras directs us to examine them together, revealing useful information. In Jewish thought, the menorah and its light always represent education and wisdom.  Even in English we use the word “enlightened” to mean educated.  When we say, “She’s a bright girl,” we mean that she is smart not that she glows in the dark.

The altar, on the other hand, represents sacrifice. The word has an undeservedly bad reputation. Instead of equating it with martyrdom and suffering, think of it as an offering one is fortunate to make.  Nothing of value can ever be achieved if nothing of value is invested.

The light of the menorah isn’t about I.Q. The world is full of high I.Q. but incredibly foolish people. It instead reflects a deep comprehension of how the world really works. Gaining that wisdom, whether it is in relation to one’s marriage, children, society or business demands willingness to work hard, passing up ephemeral ‘quick fixes’ and sacrificing present relaxation and fun for future gain.

The connection between the two eternal flames reveals that becoming wise always involves sacrifice.  Studying Mathematics, History, Accounting or Physics is much harder than studying Social Studies, Gender Studies, or Middle-Period Etruscan Pottery. As too many recent graduates are discovering, it is also much more valuable.  Serious students of truly enlightening courses will have far less time for partying than fellow students coasting through fluffy, insubstantive programs.  If you’re not willing to sacrifice, you won’t gain a real education. The flames of both the menorah and the altar are inseparable.

Celebrate your graduate’s achievements, a young couple’s marriage or Father’s Day with a truly useful gift. My book, Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money, is not a ‘fun’ read, but it provides a practical program of specific strategies for transforming your financial life. We are extending the online sale for another week with the prayer that it will bless you or someone you love.

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This week’s Susan’s Musings: Soda, Shanghai and Slippery Slopes:

At first, I thought the appropriate reaction to Mayor Bloomberg’s suggested ban on mega-ounce drinks was to roll one’s eyes and be grateful for not living in NY.  After all, “I may not drink super-sized carbonated beverages but I will defend until death your right to do so,” just doesn’t have the same force as the original slogan. However, my attention ratcheted up when…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

In the book of Genesis, when the three visitors visit Abraham, it seems to me he really goes out of his way to welcome them and make a meal for them. Was that customary back then or did he know that those three men were someone special?  READ MORE