Monthly Archives: September, 2013

Up, Up and…Israel?

September 17th, 2013 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

We are in the midst of a month of holy days! As the Feast of Tabernacles begins this week, our office and store will be closed from Wednesday evening through Saturday, 8:05 p.m. Pacific Time.

This week’s Ask the Rabbi will go out Saturday night after that time.
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I write these words while gazing at the ancient walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, glowing golden in the afternoon sunshine.  The Biblical festival of Sukot,/Tabernacles starts Wednesday evening.  The streets of Jerusalem feature three signs of the approaching holyday.

(1)   Every apartment, house, restaurant and hotel is starting to sport the small booth-like structure called a sukkah.

You shall dwell in booths for seven days…
(Leviticus 23:42)

(2)   Dotted around the city are hundreds of street vendors selling lulav and etrog sets—the four species required for worship during the holyday of Sukot.

And you shall take for yourselves on the first day
the fruit of the citron tree…

(Leviticus 23:40)

(3)   Tens of thousands of Christians are arriving on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Much of the purpose of my visit to Jerusalem is to help Israelis, in government and in the private business sector, understand that America’s support for Israel is utterly contingent on American Bible-believing Christians.

I debunk the bogus theory that America supports Israel because she needs an ally in the Middle East.  If that were true, the strongest proponents of such support would be the State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House.  It goes without saying that those three pinnacles of power are blissfully unaware of any deep need for connection with Israel. If anything, they lean toward the Arab world.

Were it not for tens of millions of Bible-believing, philo-Semitic Christians who love Israel and who vote, I am quite certain that America’s attitude toward Israel would be little different from that of France or the United Kingdom.

Bible-believing Jews and Christians see Israel as a unique land.  We all see Israel as being on a higher spiritual plane.

For this reason, the Bible and Abraham’s children frequently speak of ‘going up to’ and ‘going down from’ Israel.

And Abram went up from Egypt
 (Genesis 13:1)

And God appeared to him [Isaac] and said
“Do not go down to Egypt…”

(Genesis 26:2)

…and Jacob said to his sons…
go down there and buy us food from there…

(Genesis 42:1-2)

However, when in conversation with people of other nations who may not appreciate the idea of their countries being on a lower plane, nomenclature changes to, ‘come’ and ‘go’.

For to my land and birthplace you shall go,
and take a wife for my son, for Isaac

(Genesis 24:4)

…your servants came to buy food.
(Genesis 42:10)

There is a striking exception to this sensitivity.

After insisting that he would detain Benjamin as a thief, Joseph, in his role of viceroy of Egypt, said to his brothers:

…and as for you, go up in peace to your father.
(Genesis 44:17)

Earlier, Joseph spoke just as the brothers would expect an Egyptian to speak:

And your younger brother, bring to me…
(Genesis 42:20)

By using the terminology of ‘go up’, Joseph subtly reveals himself to be part of Abraham’s family.

In response, Judah begins his poignant seventeen-verse speech (Genesis 44:18-34) containing no fewer than seven mentions of ‘going up’ and ‘going down’ referring to the journeys between Egypt and Israel.

Because this is the first time the brothers used this language in his presence, it signaled to Joseph that they now suspected he was a descendant of Abraham.  Joseph immediately broke down and formally identified himself.

Indeed, Bible-believing Jews and Christians do share a vision and a destiny part of which is that they alone, see Israel as being ‘up there’.  I am finding that Israelis are increasingly open to the idea that Jews and Christians are allies in the struggle to save civilization.

My mission continues to be bringing Jews and Christians together to defend our common values and our thirst for God’s word. Studying Bible is a shared passion and I create my books, audio CDs and DVDs to provide everyone access to over 3,000 years of ancient Jewish wisdom.

You have been most patient with our store closures over these holiday weeks and in appreciation. I hope you enjoy hours of enjoyable learning that strengthen your faith and improve your life.

LibraryPackPlus

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This week’s Susan’s Musings: Work Ethic, Anyone?

Recently, I was looking to purchase some sewing needles at a fabric store. This seemed an eminently reasonable place to shop for such an item. The store had been rearranged since my last visit, so I asked for assistance from a 40’ish female employee standing at the checkout counter with nary a customer in sight.

“Hmm,” she said. “I’m not sure where those are.”

While that didn’t seem a sufficient answer to me, she made clear that our conversation was over by breaking eye contact and flipping through a magazine. Wandering around the store, I found the needles and returned to checkout. This time, a second lane was (wo)manned as well. Both women… READ MORE

 

Work Ethic, Anyone?

September 17th, 2013 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

Recently, I
was looking to purchase some sewing needles at a fabric store. This seemed an
eminently reasonable place to shop for such an item. The store had been rearranged
since my last visit, so I asked for assistance from a 40’ish female employee
standing at the checkout counter with nary a customer in sight.

“Hmm,” she said. “I’m
not sure where those are.”

While that didn’t
seem a sufficient answer to me, she made clear that our conversation was over
by breaking eye contact and flipping through a magazine. Wandering around the
store, I found the needles and returned to checkout. This time, a second lane
was (wo)manned as well. Both women looked decidedly nervous that I might
approach them.

One quickly
stammered, “I haven’t started my shift yet,” while the other, my original
helper, said, “My machine isn’t working right.”

“Is it possible to
buy something?” I asked.

“Maybe he can help
you,” said my non-electee for employee of the month, pointing at a young man
helping someone at the custom framing counter.

While the thus
anointed employee wasn’t supposed to handle regular purchases, taking pity on
me, he did so.

Another incident,
shortly thereafter, showed me a contrast as strong as one finds in the popular
children’s book, Richard
Scarry’s Book of Opposites
.  Unlike the book’s series of
contrasting pictures, for example one showing a tall tower of blocks and the
other a short, piddling one, I saw strong contrast between various salespeople
and tradesmen.

My husband was
speaking in Denver and we used a taxi app to find a ride to a friend’s house.
While we were still in our hotel room, the driver called to let us know he was
downstairs and to assure us that there was no need to rush; he would wait for
us. When we came outside, a 40’ish male driver was standing outside his yellow
cab. He proceeded to open the car doors for us as if he was a limousine
service, closing them after we were seated. Although the ride was short, by the
time we arrived at our destination we felt so well taken care of that we wanted
his number in case we needed further rides. Before we could ask, he offered us
his card, with his profession proudly listed across the top—transportation expert.

Over the next few
days, the contrast continued. A young helpful hotel worker who went above and
beyond his job description when he saw us struggling with cumbersome luggage
was counter-balanced by a waiter who couldn’t seem to remember that we had
placed an order and told us that the kitchen was out of items. Meanwhile, a
nearby waitress cheerfully served those treats to diners who arrived after us.
I contrasted the behavior of a gracious and warm bank employee with an
irritating encounter at a TSA checkpoint

The tally of good and
bad customer service fit no pattern of gender, race, country of birth, or age.
What it did make clear to me is how unemployment figures, labor statistics and
poverty analysis cover up more than they reveal.  Our taxi driver might be
a laid-off lawyer who is driving a cab until his chosen field picks up. Maybe
he simply loves driving and constantly meeting new people. Either way, if I had
a company in Denver, I would have asked him to come in for an interview in the
hopes that we could find a slot for him. If he is committed to driving and
wants to increase his income, I would lay odds that in a few years (if
government regulations don’t prohibit) he will own a fleet of cabs or be
earning serious money as a personal driver for one or more people who want
flawless service.

Our lackadaisical
waiter and my fabric store women should be replaced as soon as possible if the
establishments that hired them want to stay in business. If those two people
then lament the high unemployment rate or other external factors as the cause
of their difficulties, they will be missing the point. Raising the minimum wage
or agitating for better working conditions won’t help them be successful. By
providing federally protected union employment, the government is reducing the
chance of a TSA position being a stepping-stone to greater work and instead
encouraging any bullying tendencies the agents might have. When all is said and
done, different people ostensibly doing the same job often deserve different salaries.

I cringe every time
politicians talk of the importance of sending more kids to college. Even
ignoring the troublesome academic content and social environment, four years in
a service or sales job, serving others cheerfully, respectfully and competently,
would do more to bolster future success for most young adults than university
can. Do we make a mistake lumping people into earning categories, such as
“fourth year teacher,” or “new unionized construction worker”?  By making
it more difficult for businesses to hire and fire whomever they please, and to
decide freely what to pay, are we being less helpful to people, whose souls
crave productivity? Are we also harming society, which falls apart when too
many people feel entitled to jobs and money, rather than proudly earning them?

P.S. My husband and I
are hosting the Ancient Hebrew Wisdom Experience in Dallas, this October. Aside
from sessions on business and making money by my husband and others, I’m going
to be speaking as well. My husband and I are doing a multi-hour presentation
focusing heavily on marriage wisdom from the Bible. You can find out more by
going to www.ancienthebrewwisdom/event. I’d love to see you there!

Don’t forget to check
out our super-special
sale

before we close for Sukot.
(discount applied at checkout)
 

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Do You Hear Me?

September 10th, 2013 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

It makes sense to live life cautiously.  Rational thought precludes taking risks.  Reason suggests that we carefully weigh all options and avoid stepping onto any path whose outcome cannot be clearly seen.  This safe approach reduces the likelihood of wasting one’s time and money, or harming one’s health.  It certainly has merit.

However, if the Wright Brothers, Alexander Fleming, and Guglielmo Marconi had followed this approach, we might travel only on slow boats, trains and cars.  We might succumb to bacterial infections, and communicate only by means of slow signals sent down copper wires.  Those pioneers acted riskily, expending time, money, and health.

Of course there are times for careful analysis before acting.  But as societies slowly decline and lose their vitality the equally important corollary often gets forgotten—there are also times for instant action.  One of the conspicuous characteristics of a degenerating, decaying people is much talking, endless conferences and symposiums, exhausting analyses, conferring, debating, reviewing and evaluating.  But not much action.

For this reason, we usually see more acts of heroism earlier in nations’ histories than later.  Once affluence has led to decadence, heroism becomes rare.  After all, few acts of heroism make sense when subjected to sustained scrutiny.

The Hebrew calendar provides a special day, an annual booster shot reminding us to keep our action instincts ready, lubricated, and powered-up.  This special day is called Yom Kippur, often translated as Day of Atonement.

It is the day on which Moses descended from Mt. Sinai after spending forty days writing the second set of Tablets.  (Exodus 34:28-29).  Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that the transformative moment for the Jewish people was their unconditional acceptance of the Tablets of the Law.  They didn’t ask what is written in it.  They didn’t hold symposiums to assess its value to an emerging nation.  They didn’t debate, deliberate or discuss it.

What they did do was instantly react with unconditional acceptance.

Long before they could possibly have read the approximately 80,000 words in the Torah they said:

All that God has spoken we will do and obey.
(Exodus 24:7)

Most translations of the original Hebrew verse use pretty much the same words I just used.  There is only one problem:  it’s not what the Hebrew says.

What the verse literally says is, “…we will do and hear.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the word ‘hear’ often means ‘understand.’   When a father yells at his child, “Clean up your room; do you hear me?” he is obviously not asking his youngster if he is talking loudly enough.  He is really asking, “Do you understand me?”

Furthermore, there is no word in Hebrew for obey.  In a book containing over six hundred of God’s rules and regulations wouldn’t you have expected to find the word ‘obey’ occurring quite frequently?

Regular Thought Tool readers know the significance of words not existing in the Lord’s language.  For now, suffice it to explain that the word obey doesn’t exist in Hebrew because it implies mindless following of orders and God doesn’t want mindless ‘obedience’ from us.

Instead, He wants us to struggle to integrate doing and understanding so we reach the height of always being able to think while we act and act while we think. He wants us to integrate the two. Action should lead to understanding and understanding leads to action. Neither should exclude the other. Students of Scripture don’t need to choose between, “He who hesitates is lost,” and, “Look before you leap.” They only contradict one another if they remain separate.  The fascinating response of the Israelites is that they will both act and understand, though in this case, action takes the lead. Yom Kippur, linked to the giving of the Torah, reminds us of Israel’s transformational response.

Among the self-analysis featured on Yom Kippur we examine how we use the gifts of time and speech. Among other topics, in our five audio CD Biblical Blueprint Set, we explore how understanding and improving in these areas not only pleases God but also benefits our lives. Get Day for Atonement by itself or acquire it as part of the whole set.

Day for Atonement front coverBiblicalBlueprintSet_____________________________________

This week’s Susan’s Musings: Hollywood Racists-Whatever That Means

Well-known TV actor and former president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ed Asner, gave us a peek into why the terms racism and racist should be deleted from our vocabulary. Mr. Asner was honest enough to acknowledge that Hollywood’s silence regarding the president’s proposed military action against Syria, raised questions.

Where were all the voices who stridently opposed military action when George Bush was president? While Asner raised a number of reasons, one in particular… READ MORE

Hollywood Racists – Whatever That Means

September 10th, 2013 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

Well-known TV actor and former president of the Screen
Actors Guild, Ed Asner, gave us a peek into why the terms racism and racist
should be deleted from our vocabulary. Mr. Asner was honest enough to acknowledge
that Hollywood’s silence regarding the president’s proposed military action
against Syria, raised
questions
.  Where were all the voices
who stridently opposed military action when George Bush was president? While Asner
raised a number of reasons, one in particular revealed the damage being done to
our society by the constant focus on race.

“A lot of people don’t want to feel anti-black by being
opposed to Obama,” he said.

What an amazing statement! If, My online dictionary states,
racism is, “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various
human races determine cultural or individual achievement.” By refraining from
speaking out as anti-war activists not because they believe the president’s
recommendation is good, but only because of his race, Hollywood stars are
branding themselves as racist. What a moment of clarity as to the inherent
hypocrisy of liberal convictions!

While the actor probably spoke without spending too much
time deliberately choosing his words, they are revealing. He didn’t say that
his peers were afraid of being branded as racists if they openly opposed
Mr. Obama. He said that they were worried about feeling anti-black. Knowingly
or not, he is acknowledging that the bludgeon of racism has become an attack
weapon, to be wielded only against those the liberal media and Democrat
politicians want to destroy. Hollywood’s liberalism along with its money and
influence shield its members in good standing from that charge.

What he is, probably unintentionally, implying is the
emptiness of understanding that many in Hollywood possess. They actually don’t
know what racism is, to the point of worrying that taking a
principled stand on an issue that has nothing to do with race might change
their very essence. Robotically, they know which way to vote or which
politicians to support, but they don’t actually recognize that it is just as
racist to say that, by definition, everything a black president does is correct
and noble, as it is to say the opposite. They don’t really believe in the words
of Martin Luther King, that people, “not be judged by the color of their skin,
but by the content of their character.”

Like the little boy who cried wolf, liberals have corrupted
the language of racism through misuse and overuse. Would you support a move to ban
the word until it can be used again with precision and honesty?

 

Time for Happiness

September 3rd, 2013 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Susan and I wish you all a Shana Tova U’Metuka, a sweet and wonderful year, as we celebrate Rosh HaShana, the head of the year 5774.  Our office and store will be closed as we observe this holyday starting this Wednesday evening and continuing through Saturday  8:30 p.m. Pacific Time. This week’s Ask the Rabbi will go out Saturday night after that time.

This past Shabbat I enjoyed serving as guest rabbi at an Orthodox Jewish congregation of lovely people in Denver.  Since the High Holy days of the Jewish calendar begin with Rosh HaShana (literally “Head-of-The-Year”) this Wednesday night, greetings flew to and fro.  “Shana Tova,” (have a good year) some folks said; others wished their friends, “Have a happy new year.”

Being happy is meant to be a purposeful decision we make. Being happy is our decision and our responsibility.  It’s not the responsibility of our parents, friends or family.   Be happy, God commands us, regardless of circumstance.  (Deuteronomy 16:15)

To my Denver audience I explained that on both occasions when the Torah mentions Rosh Hashana, it fails to speak of new year.

Speak to the Children of Israel saying, in the seventh month, on the first
of the month, you shall have a
rest day, a remembrance with shofar blasts, a holy gathering.
(Leviticus 23:24)

In the seventh month, on the first day
of the month, you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no work,
it is a day of shofar sounding for you.
(Numbers 29:1)

The day is identified only as a day for blowing  the shofar, a ram’s horn.

The Rosh HaShana synagogue service revolves around one hundred blasts of the shofar.  In general, Judaism seems to value sound above sight.  Music is more esteemed than the visual arts.

In fact, the Torah warns against trusting eyes, much preferring what you hear to what you see.

…that you don’t detour after
your heart and your eyes,
which incline you to go astray.
(Numbers 15:39)

…hear, Oh Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears today…
(Deuteronomy 5:1)

God indicates that ears are a better avenue for trustworthy information than eyes.  But there is another difference between ears and eyes.

What happens if we press ‘pause’ while watching a movie?  We see a freeze-frame—a still picture with actors frozen in whatever postures they were in at the instant that ‘pause’ was pressed.

We can slice an instant of video, disconnected from the moments before and after and still retain a meaningful visual image.

However, with sound it is different.  If we press ‘pause’ while listening to a CD of a song or a speech all we hear is silence.  Sound is meaningless when disconnected from the moments before and after.

Rosh HaShana is also known as, “The Day of Memory.” Nobody with zero memory could hear a tune.  All he’d hear is a sequence of disconnected notes.  Despite having no memory, the same handicapped human could easily see a painting, picture or statue.

Hearing also helps to connect us to others. If you had to make a horrible choice between only having sight or only having hearing, many people might instinctively choose sight. Yet ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that not hearing is a worse affliction. Blindness isolates one from things, but deafness isolates one from people.

Our ability to make sense of sound depends on continuity of time.  And continuity of time is exactly what helps us be happy.  Living in a sliced instant of disconnected time means that the pain, sadness or humiliation we now endure overwhelms us with its sense of permanence.  We remain frozen in our agony.  Hearing the shofar blasts vibrates our souls into a visceral awareness that the instant is not all-important.  Tomorrow the pain will be gone, so be happy today.

Rosh HaShana does not stand as a day isolated from the rest of our year.  It is a time when our prayers focus on how our own conduct impacts our connection with God, our world and with all humanity.

May God grant us all a year of good health and prosperity.  And happiness?  Well, that is, of course, your choice.

I don’t want to leave you with a reminder to ‘be happy’ without also offering an ancient Jewish wisdom technique for increasing happiness.  Here it is: Growth.  Find a program of growth and self-improvement, both physical and spiritual.  I can’t help you lose weight, but I can offer you a fantastic launch pad for spiritual growth—our audio CD program, Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity.

Day for Atonement front cover

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This week’s Susan’s Musings: New Year Labor Pains

Childbirth is a routine occurrence —until it isn’t. Like marriage and birth; like illness and death, we intellectually know that thousands of people share these events on any particular day. Yet, when we are a principal participant, the world shrinks to encompass little more than ourselves. This week begins the year 5774 on the Jewish calendar. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that during this period… READ MORE

New Year Labor Pains

September 3rd, 2013 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

Childbirth is a routine occurrence —until it isn’t. Like marriage and birth; like illness and death, we intellectually know that thousands of people share these events o­n any particular day. Yet, when we are a principal participant, the world shrinks to encompass little more than ourselves. This week begins the year 5774 on the Jewish calendar. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that during this period, God decides the fate of mankind for the coming year. Which individuals will be born, which will die; which will have ample resources, which will endure poverty; which nations will face war, which will enjoy peace. While prayer, charity and repentance can always change a bad decree, it is easier to affect the coming year during this time of judgment, rather than to change an edict once it has been issued.

For Jews who are in tune with this reality, preparations for the start of the year begin a month earlier, with added reflection and self-analysis. I daresay that even for those of us who believe implicitly in the importance of this time of year, sustaining this serious attitude while dealing with everyday life is difficult. Summer vacations, earning a living, laundry and the myriad other items that make up our days push deeper contemplation to the edge of our internal radar screens. Even on the first two days of the New Year, the holyday of Rosh HaShana, with its special prayers, foods, and customs, concentration isn’t easy. I have the feeling I am not the only one whose mind strays to scanning the outfits of the women praying next to me and thinking of what is on the luncheon menu despite the penetrating sounds of the shofar issuing their clarion call. I worry that intensity of my praying is a faint echo of those of my grandmother and mother’s.

One year stands out in my mind as a time where I was more in tune than usual. Twenty-five years ago, I was nine months pregnant as the new year began. For me personally, little focuses my mind more than conception, pregnancy and birth. No matter how many statistics show the likelihood of a healthy delivery and a healthy baby, the transition from not being pregnant to being pregnant, and from being pregnant to holding a newborn is momentous. Up until the second of conception, a new baby is an idea. After that second, he or she is a real being with his or her own set of DNA, indelibly mapping out certain details of the new life. For the next nine months, particularly if you hold back from discovering the baby’s gender, the baby slowly becomes more real, yet it is still, “a baby,” rather than “this specific baby.” The blue-eyed, baby girl of your imagination can actually be a brown-eyed boy. The healthy baby one yearns for can be born needing urgent intervention or lifetime medical assistance. While all our lives can be upended at any time, awareness of that volatility hovers over pregnancy.

My labor began during the period known as the “ten days of repentance” that start with Rosh HaShana and culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  It is a time to “walk the talk.” Having started a new year, we have a few days to incorporate our resolutions and prove our intentions before the Book of Life is sealed. As my contractions crested, I was exquisitely aware of needing God’s grace for life to continue, and His blessing for it to include health, peace and prosperity. Unlike my other deliveries, I found myself welcoming the associated pain, praying during each contraction that He would accept this healthy, fruitful pain in place of any other slated for myself or those I love.

My husband and I look forward, with gratitude, to spending this Rosh HaShana with the end product of that particular delivery as well as with her husband and child. I wish all my readers a year filled with abundant blessing and should there be pain, may it be brief and may we see its hidden blessing and link to joy with as much clarity as with the pains of childbirth.

 

If you would
like to hear the sounds of the shofar here is a link.


If you are interested in finding out more about
this time of the year,
I suggest listening to our audio CD, Day for
Atonement
.

Day for Atonement front cover