Monthly Archives: April, 2011

Beatrice Fairfax to the Rescue

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

Leaving aside human needs like oxygen and water, there are a host of other human wants as well. We crave affection and achievement; yearn for stability and companionship. I’ve noticed one more ubiquitous desire – a longing, particularly from women, for advice in our personal lives. While the boomer generation grew up reading Dear Abby and most modern women’s magazines have advice columns, this is not a recent phenomenon.

Just after the Exodus, the Israelites swamped Moses, turning to him for guidance. It is fair to assume that females triggered a fair number of those requests. Now, if Moses was available to answer questions today I’d also get in line, but leaping ahead a few millennia, the traditional newspaper women’s advice column goes back to 1898. The concept is credited to the New York Evening Journal editor, William Brisbane. The popularity of the column written by his protégée, Marie Manning under the name of Beatrice Fairfax, must have exceeded any expectations. Thousands of women wrote in with questions ranging from the heart-breaking to the mundane, mostly revolving around love, marriage and family. The column became so iconic that it was referenced in books, plays and songs. In 1943 in the movie Girl Crazy, Judy Garland sang the following lyrics written by Ira Gershwin in a song composed in 1930 by his brother, George:

Beatrice Fairfax – don’t you dare
Ever tell me he will care;

Beatrice certainly had staying power and name recognition!

What is the appeal of asking a stranger for potentially life-changing advice through a medium designed to be impersonal and limited? Perhaps that is precisely the attraction. In some ways, writing to an advice column is similar to buying a lottery ticket. There’s a very small chance of being noticed but the action itself fills one with hope – maybe all my problems will be easily solved! And while ‘Miss Fairfax’ and her spiritual descendants down to today’s Dr. Phil could be firm and no-nonsense in their answers, writing the letter in itself can be quite cathartic.  Certainly, utilizing the advice column venue saves the embarrassment of sharing one’s woes with someone with whom you come face to face. And sadly, not everyone has wise counsel in her life to whom she can turn.

The other day, I read a question in a Jewish women’s magazine which was answered by three columnists whom I know and respect. Each individual’s piece of advice was thoughtful, reasonable and wise yet the three responses were contradictory. How can that be?

Honestly, how can it not be? Faced with an anonymous questioner presenting a major life dilemma in a few hundred words with no opportunity for clarification, none of the respondents gave an unequivocal answer. Rather, each supplied food for thought.

Why do so many of us read these columns? Because whether the questions resonate in their specifics, all of us face confusing options in life.  The broad spectrum of answers one gleans from these columns are sometimes validating and other times challenging.

The columnists’ responses (and I include my husband and my responses in our own ‘Ask the Rabbi’ column) are not meant to tell someone what to do, with the occasional exception of directing the writer to seek professional, in-person advice. At best, they give perspective, add some useful insights and suggest avenues to explore.  They also provide a form of virtual support, reminding us that others wish us well and share similar predicaments. 

It is tantalizing to think that clear-cut solutions exist to all problems. With the possible exception of Moses, who was in a category of his own with a direct pipeline to The Advice Counselor, Beatrice Fairfax and those who follow her may be helpful, but the duty of choosing a course of action remains an individual responsibility.




Feeling Secure Yet?

April 20th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

Lately, it feels as if I go to the airport more frequently than I go the supermarket. A succession of business trips coupled with a number of family events has meant that my frequent flyer miles are skyrocketing.

This means, of course, that I have numerous encounters with TSA. It is hard to think of another experience which leaves one with less confidence in the government’s ability to handle any challenge, let alone deter terrorism. For the most part, the TSA employees I have met have been pleasant, with only a few acting as if they would have thrived as petty bureaucrats in the old Soviet Union. But pleasant and capable are two entirely different matters.

While some TSA officials are clearly interested in how little work they can do for as much money, vacation time and benefits as possible, (I’m not even counting the ones proven to have behaved criminally) others could, and would probably like to, do a professional, capable job. It seems clear that they are neither trained nor encouraged, and probably not even allowed, to do so.

On a flight last week, as my husband and I approached the metal table to go through the meaningless steps of removing shoes, taking our computers out of their cases, and making sure that we hadn’t brazenly packed any liquids, we noticed two roll-aboard suitcases on the floor at the end of the table. As we and a number of other passengers brought this to the attention of the TSA employees, it became clear that the TSA employees weren’t quite sure what to do with an actual unattended bag. What they did not do was to deem it a serious risk. The bags were first ignored and then put through the X-ray machine, in a room full of travelers.

Had the response been to immediately clear the room and call for individuals trained in bomb detection, we and thousands of other passengers might have missed our flights and pundits would have mocked the over-reaction. But if you’re not going to treat unattended baggage as a serious threat then why the constant annoying recorded announcement warning flyers not to leave bags unattended?

The public face of airport security is doing nothing more than defending a modern Maginot Line. Anytime there is a threat which comes scarily close to succeeding, they pounce on the methodology. This leaves future threats unwatched while hassling millions of harmless people in a pretense that the method (shoes, liquid) was the real threat, rather than individuals. They act like school officials who suspend a student bringing in a Revolutionary War musket for show and tell. Rather than recognizing the opportunity to make history exciting which the family heirloom presents, they focus on a rule book which dictates how to handle students carrying weapons. We all lose when official policy supersedes intelligence, let alone common sense.
Indeed, because I wear skirts rather than pants, I regularly get deemed a high-risk threat and pulled out for extra attention. While airlines, like El Al have military trained inspectors who ask you questions and make a skilled psychological assessment of the person, The United States focuses on objective checklists, playing Keystone Kops as we value political correctness above the safety or comfort of our citizens.


A Tale of Two Houses

April 20th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet


In observance and honor of the closing days
of the Passover holyday,
our offices and store will be closed from
sunset on Sunday, April 24 through

late night Tuesday, April 26.

Celebrities frequently crash and burn in flagrantly flamboyant ways. Their home lives implode and their careers slide. Other people often weather huge career upheavals by keeping their home lives strong and stable. Never underestimate how important it is to keep your house strong regardless of the storms and tempests you are fighting outside. Likewise, don’t underestimate how far a colleague’s performance could drop should he or she be undergoing the destruction of a house. This is one of the lessons of Passover being celebrated this week.

The Passover Seder’s ritual is largely based on this verse. It appears after the Exodus from Egypt has already taken place.

And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time,
‘What is this?’ you shall say to him,
‘With a mighty hand God took us out of Egypt,
from the house of bondage.

(Exodus 13:14)

To guarantee intergenerational continuity, we encourage the next generation to ask why we celebrate the Seder. We respond with three thematic elements: (i) a mighty hand; (ii) a taking out; (iii) a house of bondage.

The first, ‘mighty hand’ is often found throughout the account of the plagues. We even spot it earlier than this, back at the Burning Bush:

And I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go
except through a mighty hand.
(Exodus 3:19)

The second theme, ‘Taking or going out’ is also found many times in the Exodus story.

However, the third thematic element, ‘House of Bondage’ is new. We’ve only seen this phrase once before, eleven verses earlier:

Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day on which you went
out from Egypt, from the House of Bondage…’
(Exodus 13:3)

Later we see it again in the first of the Ten Commandments:

I am the Lord your God who took you
out of Egypt from the House of Bondage.
(Exodus 20:2)

It occurs again five times in the book of Deuteronomy.

While in Egypt the Israelites experienced the ‘mighty hand’ and the ‘going out’. But the phrase, ‘House of Bondage’ appears and is emphasized only after the Exodus is over.
We do see a different ‘house’ playing a significant role during the religious trigger that launched the Exodus; the Passover sacrifice, or the Pascal Lamb.

In one house shall it be eaten…
(Exodus 12:46)

And we see that ‘house’ being marked by blood:

They shall take some of its blood and place it on the two doorposts
and on the lintel of the houses in which they will eat it.
(Exodus 12:7)

Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals the relationship between the two houses; the Egyptian house of bondage and the Hebrew house of deliverance.

In many languages, the word house can mean a school of thought, a culture, an organization or any group of people bound by a common vision.

There were two parallel parts to the Exodus. God took the Israelites physically out of Egypt, freeing them from slavery, oppression and suffering. However, they also needed to be taken out of the house of bondage, to leave Egypt spiritually. This is much more difficult. Often, it is easier to rescue someone from a traumatic circumstance than to expunge the psychological effects of the trauma.

The Israelites needed to be freed from the long-lasting psychological effects of slavery. On that special night of the Exodus, God began the process of taking us out of the Egyptian house of bondage by re-consecrating family integrity. Each family gathered inside its own house with its own Pascal Lamb, signaling the rebuilding of the family – blood relatives – as the primary group. The house of deliverance can overcome the house of bondage. That is not a one-time deliverance but instead is a battle each generation needs to fight, including in our own times.

I encourage you to embark on a program of consecrating your own house of deliverance by recommitting yourself and your family to a program of regular Bible study together. If you do not already possess my super-value Library Pack, now might be an excellent time to rectify that during our 15% off Passover sale. (See details on right).


A Passover Song

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

Guests constantly visit my study and though I talk to them, sometimes quite loudly, they are strangely invisible to everyone else. One frequent visitor is my father. His presence helps me prepare speeches. When the ideas flow too slowly or I find myself struggling to memorize a difficult paragraph, I invite him in. He knows how hard it is but he nods encouragingly and tells me that he often used to encounter similar challenges.

Sometimes Orville and Wilbur Wright join me. They’re an interesting pair. I invite them whenever I find myself falling into the trap of envying others. I eavesdrop as they mutter to one another about Samuel Langley who was given $50,000 by the United States War Department to build a flying machine. In 1903, $50,000 was a lot of money! When Langley’s contraption crashed into the Potomac, he gave up. Orville and Wilbur remind me that they persevered year after year, crash after crash, while others got the press and the awards. In December 1903, the Wright Brothers succeeded.

Another favorite companion is Ernest Shackleton. Though he usually glowers at me, whenever I feel weak his visits strengthen me. When his ship, Endurance was crushed by ice on his Antarctic expedition, he and his men suffered unimaginable hardship and deprivation. With considerable self-sacrifice, Shackleton brought every one of his men to safety.

Imagination is a wonderfully useful tool and developing it allows you to entertain your own visitors, as I am sure you do. Bringing them into your life allows you to draw inspiration and courage from them.

Do I need to know every detail of each exhausting attempt made by Orville and Wilbur? No, of course not, just as I do not need to know the gruesome details of Shackleton’s frostbite. Just the fact that the Wrights made a heavier-than-air flying machine, and that Shackleton brought real meaning to his ship’s name is enough to strengthen my resolve.

Next Monday night, at the Passover Seder, we will detail God’s goodness to the Israelites in a song of fifteen stanzas. Each stanza concludes with the words, “It would have been enough for us.”

For instance, we sing, “Had God given us the Egyptians’ wealth but not split the Red Sea—It would have been enough for us,” and, “Had God brought us to Mt. Sinai, but not given us the Torah—It would have been enough for us.”

This makes absolutely no sense, does it? After all, had God given us wealth and then not split the Red Sea, the Egyptian army would have overtaken the Israelites and quickly recovered their wealth, not to mention their slaves. The whole point of going to Mt. Sinai was to receive the Torah. How can we possibly sing, Dayenu—it would have been enough for us?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the song is meant for us today. It isn’t a historical recollection of 3,323 years ago. In those days, they needed the Red Sea split in order to escape their tormentors. However, for the purpose of inspiring us today and allowing us to draw on the power of those events, recollecting each isolated instance of God’s goodness is enough.

Similarly, details of what the Wright brothers did and what Shackleton accomplished are way beyond what I need in my study when I seek added fuel to overcome the obstacles I encounter in my own work. Bringing their basic stories to mind suffices for me, though for their own lives every last ounce of resourcefulness and perseverance was needed.

During his frequent visits, my father reminds me of one additional truth that makes all the difference. We never need to stand alone facing the future fearfully. God is with us; we only need invite Him in. And it is easier to bring Him into my study than those other guests because it takes no imagination at all.

May I encourage you to shop now before our store closes for the holyday by offering $5 off any order. (Enhance your Passover with Let Me Go for under $5!) Use the promo code SAVE upon check-out, and stock up on learning and inspiration.


Luv Ya!

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

I hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings, but except for a select few readers, I don’t love you.

When I first moved to Los Angeles many years ago, I noticed that people routinely said, “See you later,” instead of saying good-bye as they would in my native state. I quickly discovered that this was a meaningless phrase rather than a statement of intent. Over the last few years, it seems that “Love you” or “Luv ya” has become the closing statement to almost all conversations.

 A certain unnamed young person I know was placing a food order over the phone and after hanging up realized that she had told the employee taking the order, “luv ya,” instead of goodbye. Now loving all humanity is a wonderful sentiment, but as a practical policy it is futile. If we start playing semantic games explaining that there are lots of types of love and different degrees of love, and we can love everyone, all we have done is render the word meaningless. There certainly are different types of love, but saying you love someone should partner with an action showing that love. I have friends who tell me they love the people of (fill in the blank with a suffering region of the world). They go on missions to orphanages in that country, give charity and remember the people there in their daily prayers. They have earned the right to use the word ‘love’. The high school junior who says ‘luv ya’ to her science lab partner as the class ends and then spends lunch hour making fun of that partner’s outfit, has not. I’m quite ready to have a little less talk of love and more of what used to be understood as common courtesy.

Love isn’t necessary for a world filled with more respect towards all others. We don’t need to love someone not to push in front of them or not to honk our horns if they take an extra two seconds to go on green. We can donate to charity without loving the beneficiaries and we can help someone pick up their dropped parcels simply because it’s the right thing to do.

Rather than seeking a world filled with more love, perhaps we need a world filled with more limited but more serious love, such as that between spouses or parents and children. My bond with my husband is exclusive, my attachment to my children is unique and relationships beyond those emanate in co-centric circles with decreasing degrees of affection and commitment.  In those close relationships, the word love is nice, but it doesn’t substitute for actions. For relationships outside of that circle, civility and kindness would be ample.

When my in-laws left our house after a meal, my father-in-law used to thank me for each dish. He would mention the soup, the main course, the side dishes and the dessert instead of just complimenting the entire meal. He taught thousands of his students that saying thank you for everything is the same as saying thank you for nothing. Similarly, professing love to anyone and everyone strips it of all meaning.

See you later!




Change a Diaper – Semper Fi

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

The mother raising five youngsters is constantly cooking, cleaning, and comforting. Why? Because she believes that transforming these five little people into the best adults they can possibly become is her Divine purpose. That is why she proudly identifies herself as a mother.

Why does the Marine corporal face fearsome conditions with calm fortitude? Because he knows his purpose. That is why he proudly identifies himself as a Marine.

Similarly, someone in law enforcement might announce “I’m a cop,” and someone in a fire department calls himself a fireman. These are not merely occupations—they are purposes. Many doctors feel the same way when they say “I’m a doctor,” as do some lawyers.

Almost every choice confronting a mom or a Marine can be decided by weighing it up against orders, mission, and purpose. Even chores that seem mundane or menial are part of a greater goal.

However, for those of us who are neither moms nor Marines, life can be a little more confusing. We have our work, certainly, but it may not be our purpose. I may take pride in being a dentist, a driver, or a sales professional, but that doesn’t define me. Yet having a purpose makes navigating life’s choices so much clearer.

Once there lived an unimpressive individual named Sheva the son of Bichri who launched a rebellion against King David (II Samuel chapter 20). The king sent his general Yoav to kill Sheva who was hiding in a city close to the Jordan River. Yoav built a ramp against the city wall and began destroying the wall. Just then a mysterious old lady came out and summoned Yoav. She said to him, “I want you to listen to me,” and Yoav assured her that he was paying attention. She explained that Yoav was wrong to attack the entire city; he should have given them the opportunity to hand over Sheva. General Yoav quickly apologized. The elderly lady promised to send Sheva’s head to Yoav. She returned into the city and soon thereafter, Sheva’s head was delivered and the city was saved.

What made a powerful general apologize to an old lady and change his battle plans? Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this venerable woman was a daughter of Asher, a granddaughter of Jacob, and she quoted to General Yoav this law from the Torah.

When you approach a city to make war against it,
you shall call out for a peaceful surrender.
(Deuteronomy 20:10)

In the face of this authoritative declaration, General Yoav stood corrected. As a general in King David’s army, his highest authority was God and His word. Yoav knew his purpose.

Remember when the sailors inquired of Jonah ‘What work do you do? Where do you come from? What passport do you carry? (Jonah 1:8) His answer seems strange but it satisfied them. He didn’t say I’m a photographer from Poland” or “I’m a prophet from Israel.” All Jonah said in response was, “I am a Jew and I fear the Lord God who created sea and land.” That was all he had to say. This told them that Jonah had a purpose. If he was avoiding it, that would explain the cause of the storm. Being a general and being a prophet were Yoav and Jonah’s ways of serving God; a tool for achieving their purpose.

In my 2 audio CD set, Prosperity Power: Connect for Success, while giving practical tips on becoming more financially successful, I repeatedly stress the importance of truly understanding that one serves God by serving His children, whether as a general, a prophet or a cab-driver. Truly integrating your job and business with a higher purpose transforms the hours you spend working. Listen to this audio CD carefully while you drive, exercise or before going to sleep. Let the ideas sink into your soul.
We all have one, primary decision to make. Do I direct my life on the basis that God conveyed a message to mankind through Moses on Mt. Sinai or not? If yes, we have our purpose. Regardless of how we earn our living, we know what to do and why to do it.


Channeling John Adams

April 5th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 11 comments

Every once in a while, I write something which says exactly what I hoped and wanted to say. More frequently, my words fall short of my thoughts and feelings. This reality makes me very grateful for those whose writings resonate with me as did John Bolton’s piece on American intervention in Libya. I was finding it difficult to articulate my concerns about the president’s actions last week without sounding as if I was either heartless or reacting to President Obama rather than to his deeds. Avoiding the topic altogether in my blog, as I did, meant that I didn’t write anything fragmented, foolish or glaringly incomplete, but at the price of staying silent. Being able to link to Ambassador Bolton’s piece and say, “Yes, that’s what I think,” is a great gift. 

This week I seem equally tongue tied, but I don’t want to punt again, so I offer these thoughts about President Obama’s reaction to the murders at the United Nation’s mission in Afghanistan. While he strongly condemned the killings, he also deplored Terry Jones’ Koran burning. Now I have no desire to defend Terry Jones, but rather than nodding in agreement with the president’s comments, I found myself bristling. 

What disturbs me so much about President Obama’s statement, “The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry,” is two-fold. Firstly, as leader of the United States, his position is to uphold the Constitution. That means that he should proudly defend the right of Americans to be intolerant and bigoted, let alone foolish and stupid.  By uttering that sentence rather than just condemning the violent attacks, he presented an opening for suggesting that the murderous reaction might be somewhat understandable. (General Petraeus’ comments, if anything, were even worse). 

I don’t think he actually believes his own words. If he did, his proclamation on this event needs a follow up public announcement urging Trey Parker and Matt Stone to voluntarily pull their Broadway play, The Book of Mormon, mocking Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church. Or perhaps he could point to his condemnatory words when Andres Serrano’s award-winning ‘piece of art’ (1986) Piss Christ, featuring a crucifix immersed in urine, offended Christians (and used their tax dollars to do so). If he missed commenting on that brouhaha, in the intervening years there have been dozens if not hundreds of similarly offensive anti-Christian actions on which he could have stepped forward, either in his role as community activist, senator, presidential candidate or president.  How about using the bully pulpit right now to label as bigoted and intolerant Democratic Hollywood donors who routinely ridicule religion and religious people ? Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

 Whatever flaws may have existed in John Adam’s presidency, his pre-Revolution defense of the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre – misleadingly and provocatively named so by his cousin Sam Adams – was an act of integrity. Risking his own prosperity and reputation he defended the accused Englishmen, despite his personal antipathy for the King’s rule. 

Unlike John Adams’ actions, President Obama’s words ring hollow. Is he willing to state that desecration of Christian religious texts and icons is an extreme act of intolerance and bigotry?  How about denouncing repeated Moslem smears against Judaism? Just a few weeks earlier, President Obama spoke against bullying, saying,” And when you’re teased or bullied, it can seem like somehow you brought it on yourself – for being different, or for not fitting in with everybody else… As a nation we’re founded on the belief that all of us are equal and each of us deserves the freedom to pursue our own version of happiness; to make the most of our talents; to speak our minds; to not fit in; most of all, to be true to ourselves.” 

 America is different from and doesn’t fit in with the Moslem world. Our citizens are free to speak and act in ways that many other countries outlaw, and that freedom extends to Terry Jones as well.  Opposing behavior which insults a religion only when the members of that religion react violently, is both kowtowing to bullies and un-American.





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