Monthly Archives: July, 2010

Believe It or Not

July 27th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet



do you do for a living?” asked my seatmate on the flight to Dallas. “Well,” I
responded, “My wife and I create unique and terrific products that make ancient
Jewish wisdom accessible and useful to everyone. How about you?”


answered, “I’m an accountant and I can’t wait to retire.”  I told him how sorry I was to hear that and
why I wrote a book starting off with why one shouldn’t describe one’s
occupation as “making a living” and ending with why one shouldn’t retire.


both enjoyed the remainder of the flight discussing how important are the
beliefs you hold about your work. 
Extracting a Bible from my briefcase, I showed him the following account
from the book of Judges, chapter 16:


Delilah entreated Samson to share the source of his strength, he lied to her
saying that if the Philistines shackled him with wet string his strength would
fail him.    When she persisted, he lied
again.  If only she would bind him with
new ropes, he explained, he would be like other men. She continued nagging and
Samson explained that if his hair was braided he would weaken.  For the third time he lied to her.


persevered.  Finally, exasperated, Samson
truthfully said that if his head was shaven, his strength would leave.


saw that he had told her all that was in his heart

(Judges 16:18)


did she believe him?  After being lied to
three times, she should have been highly suspicious.  Yet, Delilah was so confident, that she
summoned the Philistine officers to witness Samson’s fall.


Delilah’s credulity with Jacob’s reaction to his sons:


they told him that Joseph was alive and that he ruled

all Egypt but his heart rejected it, for he did not believe them

(Genesis 45:26)


in Genesis 37, the brothers misled their father into believing that Joseph was
dead.  Not surprisingly, when they
returned from Egypt to announce the astounding news that Joseph was alive,
Jacob was skeptical. After lying, most people are not believed.


the question remains. How did Delilah recognize that Samson was finally being
honest while Jacob did not believe that his sons were telling the truth even
though they were?


Jewish wisdom points out the most important distinction between the two
examples.  Samson knew he was lying when
he gave Delilah three false explanations for his strength.  However, when Joseph’s brothers allowed Jacob
to draw the conclusion that Joseph was dead, they actually believed that to be
true.  After all, what chance of survival
did Joseph have upon being sold as a slave in Egypt?


are two kinds of liars: those who know they are lying and those who believe
their own lies.  Joseph’s brothers
believed their own lie thus Jacob had trouble discerning when they spoke truth.


knew that he was lying to Delilah those three times, which made his truthful
statement sound quite different.


machines or lie detectors are used by law enforcement agencies because people
who know they are lying have physiological reactions which can be detected.  These subtle body signals can also be sensed
by some people.  However, it is almost
impossible for polygraphs or sensitive individuals to detect a lie when the
liar believes what he is saying to be true. 
Belief is so powerful that it can even make a lie behave like the truth.


the power of belief can be harnessed for good. 
A coach uses it before a game when he helps his team believe it will
win.  To be successful, sales
professionals must believe in the quality and value of their product or
service.  To thrive in our professions,
each of us needs to believe in the value and morality of how we spend our days.
Work is not simply what we do as we aim for retirement.

One Can’t Be Undone

July 27th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

Earlier this month one more article extolling smaller families hit the newsstands – it was titled, “One and Done.” It claimed that the notion of the only child being spoiled and maladjusted was unsubstantiated; just a deeply held myth. While conceding possible societal and individual costs if one child families became prevalent, the author argued that in tough economic times, limiting family size offered great benefits.

Only relatively recently has family size became a choice so easily decided by humans. Not surprisingly, religious families tend to have more children as they view God as a third partner in family planning. As China has discovered in the aftermath of its one child policy, people are often myopic in seeing the long-term consequences of actions.

I am re-running a piece I wrote about a year and a half ago after reading reports of couples reacting to the economic downturn by choosing not  to have more children. Like so many decisions in life, there is only a small window in which to rethink fertility options.



There has been a wave of newspaper articles examining how people are cutting back expenses in light of lost jobs and economic uncertainty. Not surprisingly, most Americans are eating out less often, buying only necessities and postponing vacations and remodels. But among the budget busters, what really got me thinking was reading of those who were considering not having a second or third child because they are worried of depriving their existing child(ren).


As someone who didn’t think of checking into respective jaw sizes before marriage and thus ended up with seven children needing orthodontia, and who spent enough on diapers to feed a village, I know how expensive raising a family can be. And that is without feeling compelled to cover the costs of the latest (expensive) shoe or clothing fad, must-have gadget, or even college tuition. But on the other hand, I well know that just the basics can add up to quite a bundle and I am not immune from feeling badly when a perfectly reasonable request needs to be turned down because money only stretches so far.


One of the advantages of getting somewhat older is being able to see a larger picture. I know that young couples beginning their families measure the value of things like art, sport and music lessons; private schooling and summer camp. But, of course, it is terribly easy when we are raising children to forget that childhood and young adulthood will most likely make up a short part of our children’s lives. We too easily forget that we aren’t really raising children; we are actually taking care of children in order to raise adults. Does a man or women contemplating conception think of the yet unborn baby at forty or fifty?


Well, usually not. After all, young parents are often far from forty themselves. And projecting ahead like that would start getting into terribly uncomfortable territory, such as picturing aging, perhaps illness and dying. But the truth is that deciding to limit the size of a family is making a decision for the life of that future adult. Will he or she possibly have the entire burden of aging parents to him or herself? When his or her parents are gone will there be no one who can share old memories? Will his or her children miss having a support network of aunts, uncles and cousins? Are friends, no matter how close, the same as blood relatives?


Prosperity comes and goes. My grandparents, struggling to feed five children during the Depression, weren’t determining whether they afford karate lessons or not. They were helpless as they sent those children to bed hungry. But all five children grew and thrived. And the older they got, the closer they got to each other. Together, they dealt with the deaths of their parents and shared good and bad times with each other. Through the years siblings became an increasingly precious treasure.


My husband and I are now seeing the benefits our own seven children enjoy from having each other. Were there fights and tears and less individual attention when they were younger? Did we decide against music lessons because we couldn’t let one or two children’s interests dictate the family schedule? Certainly. But as badly as we sometimes felt when they were young, we now see them becoming trusted sounding boards for one another as they face major life decisions, we watch them take care of each other when flu or morning sickness strikes, and we get huge comfort from knowing that while we might be kept in the dark about certain antics “Big (and little) brother and sister” are watching.


Bringing a child into the world always means taking a leap of faith. We have no way of knowing what lies in wait for any individual or family. In thinking of the future, there is a razor thin line that divides being responsible and realistic from being short sighted and falsely imagining that we are in control. I don’t envy those who need to make decisions that will impact decades to come while the immediate horizon looks scary. But I do hope that young couples take a moment to reassess whether thirty years down the road what they consider to be indispensable or critical might end up being of less value than a brother or sister. 











Feud for Thought

July 26th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

One of my most important rabbinic roles during the years I
was privileged to lead the Pacific Jewish Center in Los Angeles was
peacemaker.  In order to preserve communal harmony it fell to me to
mediate between parties in dispute. 

Often these arguments were
between husbands and wives and I felt special spiritual satisfaction at
bringing these to an end. Restoring tranquility to a home is a momentous
mitzvah. (A God-given obligation)

Frequently these
disagreements were of a business nature.  Most members of our community
strongly preferred to resolve business disagreements by means of rabbinic
mediation rather than by recourse to law suits. 

Ancient Jewish wisdom
emphasizes that it is impossible for a society to enjoy an active economy without
occasional disagreements. Since creative people need to interact with others,
disagreement is inevitable.  For society to benefit from extensive
commercial interaction, it needs to have mechanisms of dispute
resolution.  For us, in our Southern California beachfront community, that
mechanism was largely me.

As you can imagine, this
brought me blessing because I had the honor of repairing relationships. 
Additionally, oiling the wheels of commerce compelled me to become fluent and
practiced at those parts of ancient Jewish wisdom dealing with business law.

It is important to resolve
minor disputes before the tiny squabble becomes a feud that endures for years
or even for generations as with Kentucky’s Hatfields and McCoys or
Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet.

The importance of preventing
a minor problem from turning into a multi-generational feud is one of the many
marvelous examples of a powerful Biblical principle that is entirely invisible
without access to the Lord’s language.  In other words, if you knew no
Hebrew and depend upon the English translation, you’d never spot the following

In Genesis 13, we read how
Abraham and his nephew Lot both possessed considerable flocks but sadly, their
shepherds quarreled. 

there was a quarrel between the shepherds of Abraham’s flocks

 and the shepherds of
Lot’s flocks…..

(Genesis 13:7)

Abraham said to Lot, ‘Please now, let there not be a quarrel

between me and you and
between my shepherds and yours…’


Why in the following verse
did Abraham suggest that Lot move to another city?  Isn’t this a
needlessly dramatic solution to a small squabble among a few shepherds?

Wrong!  There is much
more to the story.  The Hebrew word used for quarrel in verse 7 is different
from the slightly longer Hebrew word used for quarrel in verse 8.

Take a look at them here:

             Gen. 13:7 

                                                  Gen. 13:8

The shorter word ReeV is the simplest word for quarrel.  It means just
that – a quarrel.  However, the longer word, MeReeVaH has 2 extra
letters.  A letter ‘Mem’ in front (read right to left) and a letter ‘Hay’
at the back.

Those of you who took our
Holy Hebrew!—Learn to Read Hebrew course already know the meaning imparted to a
word by these two letters. 

(If you didn’t, don’t
Holy Hebrew! is coming up again in a few weeks)

“Hay’ changes the gender of a
noun to feminine.  This means that the thing or idea described by the noun
has the feminine capacity to give birth.  The ‘Mem’, shaped like a uterus
also conveys the idea of transforming a concept (conception) into a reality

A masculine argument ReeV
cannot give birth.  A female argument MeReeVaH has the capacity to give
birth to future generations of argument and feud.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches
us that this wasn’t an unimportant quarrel. Each man’s shepherds acted in ways
that reflected their boss’s core values.  Abraham understood that he and
Lot disagreed on basic business principles.  This isn’t merely a child’s
Bible story.  It is mature guidance for busy adults.  Abraham is
teaching us to spot small arguments with the potential to become major feuds
and to take whatever action is necessary to preserve relationships and protect
harmony among people.

People hang out with, and do
business with people they like and trust.  Don’t allow fights to
fester.  And don’t delay learning to read Hebrew and spotting valuable
Bible insights yourself.  

With Charity for All? Not Exactly

July 13th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments


Economists and politicians can debate whether extending unemployment benefits is a needed crutch in hard times or whether doing so discourages too many people from searching wholeheartedly for work. Society, though, might gain from a different approach.

It is an approach that I believe the author of the words, “with malice toward none; with charity for all,” might have appreciated.   In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln hopes that the nation will care for the widows and orphans of those men who died in battle. But in other writings he emphasizes that charity (which in itself is quite a different word than today’s usage of entitlement or benefits) is not an automatic good.

In December, 1848, Lincoln wrote his father a letter saying that he was “cheerfully” sending him a requested $20. But there was another letter written to his stepbrother on exactly the same sheet of paper!  In that one, he refused his stepbrother’s application for money, suggesting that a “defect in (his stepbrother’s) conduct” would make the loan a waste of money.   

By necessity, government makes broad-spectrum decisions. It divides people into categories and then makes rules affecting large numbers.  It can only look at bodies, not at souls. Government can never know that two people will react differently to exactly the same stimulus.

Leaving aside those who deliberately abuse the system and even those who take taxpayer money without any compunction or regret, each person who is out of work or who has fallen on hard times is a complex individual. The great flaw in the government forcing one citizen to transfer money to another is that the coerced action negates the humanity of both.

By inserting itself into human interactions, the government removes the potential of charity, which is an action that is unique to humans, not to institutions. It takes away the possibility that Abraham Lincoln had, of ending his letters to both his father and stepbrother with the word ‘affectionately,’ opting to do what he felt would bring greatest benefit to both men. Perhaps most harmfully, by inserting itself as the primary resource, government shatters relationships and human interactions, impoverishing us all.



How Do You Spell Greatness?

July 13th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet


My brother, David, regularly gets letters and emails intended for me. And I frequently find myself introduced as Rabbi David Lapin. For some reason, the name David sticks in people’s minds more than the name Daniel.  For a while I got so tired of being called David that I considered going to court to have my name changed to Ferdinand or Montgomery.


The corrections column in newspapers and magazines routinely inform us that articles misspelled someone’s name or labeled a picture incorrectly.


That is because magazines, papers and people are fallible. But when Scripture wrongly identifies someone or ‘misspells’ someone’s name, something altogether different is occurring.


After David kills Goliath, King Saul rewards the young hero by marrying him to Saul’s daughter, Michal. As those of you who have read the Book of Samuel know, in a way that it is inappropriate for fathers-in-law to behave, Saul tried to kill David. What happened while David was on the run?


And Saul gave Michal his daughter, David’s wife,

to Palti, the son of Layish, who was from Gallim.

 (I Samuel 25:44)


After Saul’s death, David reclaims his wife from the man to whom Saul had given her.


And David sent messengers to Ish Boshet,

Saul’s son, saying deliver me my wife, Michal……

And Ish Boshet sent and took her… from Paltiel the son of Layish.

(II Samuel 3:14-15)


Notice his name changes from Palti to Paltiel. Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that this isn’t an editing mistake.  The two letters that change Palti to Paltiel compose one of God’s names. God is inserting Himself into Paltiel’s name.


People are not born great. Greatness comes as individuals respond to circumstances in their lives. Many people display greatness by exhibiting commitment and integrity in daily situations in their work and family lives. Others find themselves playing on a larger stage. 


This was the situation in which Palti found himself. He was singled out by his king and given Michal as a wife. He had every reason to assume that her marriage to David had been annulled and that all the money, prestige and favors that come to members of the royal family would now be his. 


Yet, from the day Saul sent her into his house until the day that Ish Boshet took her away, Palti never laid a finger on Michal.  Despite King Saul’s approval, Palti recognized that neither Michal nor David’s wishes were being considered.  For acting with such holy integrity and self restraint, he merited a Godly name. 


Paltiel was not born into a prestigious family. He did not distinguish himself in battle or by amassing great wealth. Like most of us, he was an ordinary person. But when he faced temptation and challenge, one that took place behind closed doors, he triumphed so magnificently that God singled him out and shared His name with him. The self-control Paltiel showed was evidence that in hundreds of ways through his lifetime, he had strengthened his self-discipline muscle. That type of greatness is available to us all. 


Names matter. Biblical names matter even more. Every name in Scripture has a meaning; one that isn’t usually evident from the English wording. When a Biblical name changes, a “story behind the story” is being transmitted.


Sometimes, the spelling of a name changes as it is used in different places. The name sounds the same when said aloud, and the change is completely hidden when it is transliterated into another language. It can only be discerned by reading the original Hebrew. We look at some of those instances and the hidden message being taught in Holy Hebrew!, a program about which I am incredibly passionate. I look forward to sharing the next Holy Hebrew! journey with you.



Eat + Speak = Persuade

July 8th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Courting couples often dine together in romantic, candlelit restaurants.  But almost everyone who has become acquainted with a potential partner over a meal knows that the food is of secondary importance compared to the conversation.  It is through speech that men and women gain an impression of each other’s personality. Fascinatingly, studies show that early in a relationship the man talks more than the woman. The man who cannot keep the conversation going will most likely not get a subsequent date. 


When a Hollywood producer tells an agent, “We must do lunch sometime,” the correct response is not, “Great, I enjoy eating pâté de foie gras.”  Instead, the agent will typically say, “Yes, we have much to discuss.”


In 1943, even before the end of World War II, a prominent French businessman and diplomat, Jean Monnet, wrote that, “There will be no peace in Europe if the States rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty…….The countries of Europe…must therefore form a federation… that would make them into a common economic unit.”


Over several years, Monnet convened many meetings, not in an office building, but in his Brussels home. He purchased the home chiefly because it possessed a large dining room.  He explained that the formidable challenge of bringing together nations that only yesterday were mortal enemies could best be achieved by meeting over meals.  Thus by encouraging factions to speak while they eat, Jean Monnet became the father of the European Economic Community.


The dating couple, the Hollywood agent, and Jean Monnet all knew that talking is more powerful when combined with eating.  Additionally, the host of the meal enjoys enhanced persuasive influence. This is why the man usually pays for the date and why business professionals often wrangle for the lunch check.


By bringing food into a story that doesn’t seem to require it, ancient Jewish wisdom teaches how much more effective it is to talk to someone who is eating your food.  See the eighteenth chapter of Genesis.  Abraham’s entire life mission was bringing pagans to God.  Once, when visited by three angels whom he mistook for idolatrous strangers, Abraham first fed them before commencing the conversation he hoped would convert them to Belief. 


Abraham’s servant Eliezer knew this secret. On a mission to bring back a wife for Isaac, he arrived at Rebecca’s home where her brother, Lavan, set food before him.  Eliezer, knowing that he and Lavan were soon to be adversaries in the forthcoming discussion about Rebecca leaving home and accompanying him back to the house of Abraham, declined to eat until after the negotiation.


He said:


I will not eat until I have spoken my words.

(Genesis 24:33)


He did not want to be disadvantaged by eating Lavan’s food.


Why does dining together make you more susceptible to the words of your host?  I’ll answer that question by asking another.


Why do we absorb nutrition through the same facial orifice from which our voices emerge?  After all, we don't smell and hear through our nostrils.  Dedicated functionality seems to be God's design.


As a religious person, my first reaction to that question is to seek God’s spiritual insight. In this case having one organ with two distinct purposes expresses our dual nature.


Eating is a completely physical activity we share with animals while conversation is entirely spiritual.  Animals don’t talk and angels don’t eat.  When we humans talk while eating, we tacitly acknowledge our fundamental human predicament of being awkwardly suspended somewhere between the angels and the apes. 


Sharing challenges, be they mountain climbing, military campaigns, or marathons, brings us closer together.  When we share a meal and conversation with someone, we tacitly share the challenge, the uniqueness and the excitement of being human.  We feel closer and the guest feels especially warm towards the host who made this experience possible. Understanding the connection between eating and speech helps us know how the world really works.



Split Opinion

July 6th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments


Well. You certainly had a lot to say!  When I wrote about 16 year old Abby Sunderland’s solo boat trip, I didn’t realize how passionately many of you felt on the subject – and how your opinions would fall on both sides of the issue. Assuming that Abby’s parents were loving and conscientious, I suggested that they made a responsible decision in letting her attempt her, eventually aborted, around the world trip.


Some of you agreed and appreciated my arguments. Others, both landlubbers and sailors, vehemently disagreed. Clearly, the topic resonated with parents, and since many readers whom I highly respect thought I was way off in my analysis, I decided to give it a second look. However, I ended up in the same place.


Let me be clear. I am delighted that none of my children wanted to attempt such a trip. But then, solo sailing is neither part of our family culture nor were our children trained for such a voyage. On the other hand, there was a period in his teens that my son did consider assembling a crew and heading off for Australia. It would have been pretty hard to crush his plans considering that my husband and I took three children under the age of three sailing from Los Angeles to Honolulu.


 Let me be clear about this. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, the closest I came to an ocean voyage was the Staten Island Ferry. But making a Pacific crossing was a lifetime aspiration of my husband’s and one that he was competent to achieve. While I joke that I can’t believe my mother or mother-in-law let us go, realistically we were probably in more danger each time we strapped our children into their car seats and went to the park. Crossing the Pacific may be less common than driving, but the chance of a random disaster for a well prepped boat, isn’t actually that great.  My husband spent years honing his sailing skills. I spent fewer but substantial time becoming familiar with our boat, we planned the specific voyage for over a year and we brought along other experienced sailors (who did double duty as baby watchers).


A number of sixteen year olds, including Robin Lee Graham whose adventure was documented by National Geographic magazine and more recently Abby’s brother have successfully solo navigated around the world. Obviously, it isn’t something lightly undertaken, but I still don’t see it as an automatically reckless activity. Statistically, there may well be more risk in a sixteen year old driving in many localities.


My close friend, Diane Medved (Searching for Bright Light) wrote the following:


I disagree with you, though on your support of Abby Sunderland’s solo journey.  It was dangerous beyond just “testing herself.”  I remember the movie Bofinger where the very stupid actor is asked to run across the freeway, which he did.  Wanting to do something extraordinary is fine, but I do think the word “prudence” has some relevance.  I don’t want my kids to take risks with their lives.  So I tell them to wear their seatbelts in the car, even if they feel fettered.

Sorry, but I don’t accept the analogy. Running across a freeway is all risk and no reward. It is a no-hard-work required way to flirt with danger for the sake of flirting with danger. Sailing solo around the world is more in league with mountain climbing or stowing away on Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic exploration as nineteen year old Percy Blackborow did.

I have no desire to attempt such a thing and am relieved if my children have no such desire, but those who do often turn out to be the ones who push our societies forward and serve as leaders when we face dangerous times.

I wear a seat belt and would take driving privileges away from my children if they didn’t wear their belts. At the same time I do believe that our society is overly obsessed with trying to remove any chance of physical harm at the cost of focusing too much on that and too little on spiritual dangers, including the crushing of a child’s spirit. In addition, some people feel the need for excitement and physical challenge more strongly than others. I believe that if you don’t give those with that craving a wholesome outlet for that God-given sensation, they will act out that need in unhealthy ways.

So, with appreciation to those of you who let me know your attitudes on the subject – and I do especially appreciate when you “talk” to me through the comment box at so that others can join the dialogue as well – I stick with my thumbs up for Abby and her parents.




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