Monthly Archives: June, 2011


June 28th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

I can’t produce tears on demand, but neither can I stop them at will. It is often quite inconvenient when they rise unbidden.  Years ago, I found myself at a red light after having run errands which included a pick-up of library books for my children. I glanced through the opening words of Sarah, Plain and Tall, written for the 8-10 year old crowd, which explain that the father is bringing a mail-order bride to his home. Her arrival and the family’s adjustment to this Maine-bred woman provide the theme for a charming book. Quickly glossed over is the explanation that he needed a mother for his children as his wife had died in childbirth. I never got past that sentence at the stoplight and clearly that book is not what a mother in her ninth month of pregnancy should be reading.  Crying while driving is not recommended.

Sometimes the spontaneous tears are those of joy. Like many of my friends, my tears often start streaming at hearing of the birth of a baby or even at sentimental and sappy commercials. A women’s bathroom at a wedding reception which lacks copious amounts of tissues available is simply not adequately prepared for its guests.



Magical Studies

June 28th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

For high school graduates choosing their college careers, I mention that Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are among more than two hundred universities that offer courses in Jewish-Studies.

They do not teach Judaism but Judaic-Studies. They also offer ‘Environmental-Studies,’ ‘Gay and Lesbian-Studies,’ ‘Native-American-Studies’ and other hyphenated-studies courses.

But they teach mathematics, not mathematical studies. They teach chemistry, not chemical studies, and physics, not physical studies. They teach engineering rather than engineering studies, and medicine rather than medical studies.

Does the word ‘studies’ hint that it is more about a current academic fad rather than about how the world really works?

Learning how the world really works is really important. It always was important.

How many times do you think magicians are mentioned in the Five Books of Moses? If I didn’t know, my first guess would have been none! What business does magic have in God’s message to mankind? Actually, they are mentioned nine times in the Torah but only in the context of one story—the redemption of Israel from Egypt.

Magicians make their first appearance at the faintest dawn of the redemption; when Pharaoh dreams of strange events that lead to Joseph being rescued from the dungeon. (Genesis 41:8 & 24)

They appear again when Aaron turns his rod into a snake to persuade Pharaoh that he and Moses are God’s representatives. The magicians also transform their rods into snakes, though Aaron’s rod/snake swallows theirs. (Exodus 7:10-12)

When God sends the plagues of Blood and Frogs, the magicians easily emulate those plagues, convincing Pharaoh that the plagues are natural phenomena. (Exodus 7:22 & 8:3)

Then we encounter the first failure of the magicians. They try to emulate the third plague, Lice, but fail. Amazingly, instead of making excuses, they honestly inform their boss, Pharaoh, that this must be the finger of God. (Exodus 8:14-15)

The magicians play no role in the next two plagues and appear for the final time during the sixth plague. They no longer stand before Pharaoh. They have switched their allegiance to Moses—they now know the truth.

The magicians were not able to stand before Moses
because of the boils which were on them and on all Egypt.

(Exodus 9:11)

Here, as the eventual outcome of God’s triumph over Egypt is becoming evident, is the last we hear of magicians.

So who were these magicians and what are we supposed to learn from their inclusion in the account of Israel’s redemption from Egypt?

The Hebrew word for these magicians has the root CH-R-T.

Revealing meaning by reading both forwards and backwards as the Lord’s language does, when we read ‘magicians’ backwards, we have T-R-CH, the Hebrew word for trouble or burden.

How alone will I carry your burden?
(Deuteronomy 1:12)

Ancient Jewish wisdom recorded by Rabbi Nissim, the great Torah transmitter who lived in 14th century Barcelona, explains that the magicians were the cutting-edge scientists of Pharaoh’s day. True scientists help reverse or do away with the troubles and burdens of living. They find ways to help us more easily feed ourselves; they discover medical treatments, and they make machines to help us accomplish our work.

These early scientists appear in the context of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt to teach us an important lesson. They stayed rooted in reality. They were grounded and honest enough to recognize both science’s importance and its limitations.

Similarly, when trying to escape your own Egypt by overcoming the challenges in your own life, don’t seek the latest ‘studies’. Find redemption by seeking God and His Torah. Don’t be seduced by fads, fantasies and schemes. Remain rooted in reality by balancing how the world really works with faith in God and His limitless power.

The Exodus events occupy a large proportion of the Five Books of Moses because they are the prototype for all future redemptions, both national and personal. Each verse yields practical lessons which are applicable to all of us as we confront our own burdens. I present three timeless techniques for triumphing over adversity in my audio CD, Let Me Go. Please acquire this for yourself or others in need of this kind of blessing.

P.S. Business Mensch remains on special sale for another 24 hours.


Name that Place

June 21st, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

In an act of unprecedented ostentatiousness, Gerald Guterman chartered the famous ocean liner, the QE2, along with its one thousand crew members to celebrate his son’s bar-mitzvah in 1986.

Our son’s bar-mitzvah was solemnized in a small synagogue built on the Los Angeles ocean front in the 1940s. Guterman was trying to add meaning to his family celebration by means of an extraordinary location. We were blessed to add meaning to a picturesque old house of worship by having it house our act of religious significance.

Henry Wallingford proposed to his girlfriend one night in an empty football stadium which he rented for the occasion. The loudspeakers blared romantic tunes while the giant scoreboard flashed out “Gillian will you marry me?” As soon as the astonished girl said, “yes,” waiters trotted out with two chairs and a table bearing a white tablecloth and a large bouquet of flowers. The couple was then treated to a catered gourmet meal on the fifty yard line. Henry was trying to add meaning to his proposal by means of an extraordinary location.

My sailboat on which the future Mrs. Lapin graciously said “yes” to my anxiously blurted out proposal will always be dear to my heart. The power of our commitment to God and to one another bestowed special significance on that old boat.

Our dining room table was built to have food served upon it. Nonetheless, years of Lapin family meals around it have imbued that table with such emotional resonance that sometimes, to my eyes, it seems to emit a warm glow. Meaningful human activities impart spiritual significance to objects and places.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches this by depicting a scene that begs a question:

And Jacob journeyed to Sukot…
therefore he called the name of the place Sukot.

(Genesis 33:17)

Here’s the question: How could Jacob have journeyed to Sukot when it seems that it only acquired its name after he got there? I would have written that verse, “And Jacob journeyed to a place and named the place Sukot…”

Well it turns out that the first time the word “sukot” appears in that verse it is spelled ordinarily. The last time it appears it acquires an extra Hebrew letter vav connoting an additional dose of spiritual significance.

In other words, the place may well have been called Sukot. However, because of the powerful human act of construction, the place was changed. The name acquired the extra ‘vav’ reflecting that something significant had taken place there.

In case you feel any inclination to dismiss this as a coincidence, Scripture repeats this pattern.

And they came to the valley of Eshkol
…(they) called that place
the valley of Eshkol…

(Numbers 13:23-24)

Do you see the same question? If it was called valley of Eshkol because of something they did after they got there, it should have just been an anonymous place when they arrived.

It turns out that the pattern is identical. The first word eshkol is spelled without the letter ‘vav’ but the ‘vav’ is added when they call the place by that name. This connotes the spiritual significance of what the Israelite spies did there.

Our actions do impact the world around us. When you show up regularly at synagogue or church for services, you are not only satisfying your own spiritual needs. You are making that place more spiritually significant for all the other worshippers.

When you perform an action in a certain place, you change the cosmic reality of that place. Gettysburg, Normandy and the sites of many other battles were different places because of the actions which humans performed there.

While we easily understand that we can physically pollute or clean up an area, we must know that we can also spiritually contaminate or sanctify locations. As humans formed in God’s image, we participate in the world’s creation as we interact with it.

If you haven’t already read the inspiring story of how Noah Alper took himself from poverty to $10M please order Business Mensch now, at a temporarily reduced price. A mensch is an all-round upright guy and my friend, Noah, is just that as he tells his story with startling candor and useful advice.


Another Embarrassing Congressional Scandal

June 21st, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

Have your children ever told you that when they have children, down the road, they will make different choices than you have? That sentiment might be expressed when you ban a piece of clothing or issue an early curfew or it might be a reflective comment on the presence or lack thereof of sports, art classes or camping trips. At the ages these words are uttered, children don’t yet understand that parents would be delighted for their children to surpass them. They also don’t understand the realities of being a parent which is why the spoken or unspoken rejoinder frequently is, “Wait till you have kids of your own.”

While we can smile at the remark of a ten year old, the mentality of being smarter and more capable than those before whom we should be humble is less appealing in our politicians. This is why the most disturbing aspect of the entire Weiner imbroglio may have been captured by a paragraph on

Several sources with ties to the couple said the immediate problem for Weiner is a lack of income, especially with his first child on the way. He started working in politics right out of college, and has never worked as anything but a staffer or elected official, lacking private sector experience on his resume that will let him do much beyond being an elected official.

Pardon me not feeling sympathy for a man who degraded his office and will nonetheless get a pension, but those words highlight a serious problem. When a politician who, despite no business experience, is placed into an office where the votes he takes and policy decisions he makes impact millions of hard-working Americans, our country is at risk. Weiner is one of many officials with similar resumes, including those with more powerful positions than that of congressman.  Ideas which sound good in theory but don’t work in the real world are implemented by those who have never entered the real world.

I can smile at a seven year old who tells me, “When I’m a mommy I’m not going to tell my children when to go to bed,” or at a nine year old who says, “When I’m a daddy I’m going to always be available to play games with my children.” Years of maturing await them and the precious early years once they have a child will present plenty of time for a learning curve.

Not so with politicians. Once in office they can immediately implement ideas which cause businesses to close and jobs to be lost. The Congressional Record from June, 1992 contains an article penned by Senator George McGovern, after he had left Congress and (unsuccessfully) attempted to run an inn. The title, “A Politician’s Dream is a Businessman’s Nightmare,” tells the story in shorthand. Two sentences sum up the lesson. “I (also) wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.” McGovern’s self-examination and honesty were wonderful, but we are still electing those without firsthand experience.

There are Americans who will vote for whomever promises them the most and who have no compunction about destroying our wonderful country as long as they get theirs now. I don’t believe that most of the electorate falls in this category. But even good people fall victim when words like “fairness,” “compassion”, “help,” “children,” or “equality” are invoked, even if the ideas to which they are linked bring misery when they are translated from dreams to reality.

Without a strong economy there is no future for social policies or successful grappling with foreign policy. Senator McGovern’s revealing words should be highlighted as a warning against those candidates who offer over-reaching, grand plans.  Meanwhile, if the sources on are credible, they suggest that the biggest embarrassment of the entire Weiner affair may belong to the voters rather than to the recently departed congressman.








I Walk the Line

June 14th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

It was a clear day when I recently crossed the country, flying home after speaking at a well-known East Coast synagogue. Knowing we’d be approaching the Mississippi River, I eagerly scanned the landscape below. Right on schedule, there it was—the Mighty Mississippi, the greatest river system in North America.

From 30,000 feet I could see more than a hundred miles of the river stretching away to the south. But wait a moment! Why wasn’t it flowing in a long, straight line? Why were those great sweeping curves meandering from one side to the other? In fact, most waters ramble. Even the rivulet of rain flowing down my car windshield doesn’t take the direct route.

There are very few straight lines in nature. Sea shells and sunflowers sport spirals while leaves and petals display delicate curves. Oceans have waves while hills, lakes and valleys are contoured in sinuous arcs and turns. There just aren’t many straight lines.

However, we humans usually build straight roads, straight walls, and straight pipe-lines. Most significantly, phylacteries -Tefillin- (Exodus 13:16 and Deuteronomy 6:8) which Jewish men wear while praying each weekday morning, must comprise square boxes with perfectly straight edges.

We all know the meaning of English expressions such as ‘keeping to the straight and narrow’ and we might remember Johnny Cash’s 1950s song, I Walk the Line. One source for the metaphor of walking the line is:

The roadway of the righteous is turning away from evil…

(Proverbs 16:17)

Furthermore, the theme of following the line without deviating is seen here:

And you shall guard yourself to do as the Lord your God commanded you;

you shall not stray to the right or left.

(Deuteronomy 5:29)

The implication is that humans need to know exactly where we stand. Straight lines are best whether you are plotting your position on a map or probing your moral outlook.

Our challenge is to know where the line lies. One way of exploring this is to ask, “Is what I am doing right?” Follow this question up by asking another—“Says who?” It triggers a wonderful dinner table conversation for one’s children too. Who is our ultimate arbiter of what is right? When we say, “Let’s do the right thing,” what exactly do we mean? In this way we can test ourselves and help locate our moral coordinates.

Ancient Jewish wisdom relates that God subjected Abraham to a total of ten tests. The last one was the command to sacrifice Isaac.

And it was after these events that God tested Abraham…

(Genesis 22:1)

This is perplexing. Wouldn’t God already have known of Abraham’s righteousness? Why still another test?

As usual, the clue lies in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word for test, NeS, is exactly the same as the Hebrew word for banner or flag as seen here:

He will raise a banner for far-off nations…

(Isaiah 5:26)

God wasn’t ‘testing’ Abraham as much as He was providing Abraham with a banner to display for his own moral growth and as a flag to flourish for his descendants.

Nature may do its thing but we are to rise above nature. While nature’s curves and meanders are beautiful and can point us toward their Creator, our duty to that Creator is to walk the line He set. We need to constantly remind ourselves that humans are different from animals and the natural world because we are touched by the finger of God. Physically we can ramble and enjoy byways, but spiritually we must find the straight line that we must walk and walk it even in the face of temptation.

I truly appreciate how many requests we get for past Thought Tools. However, our office staff is stretched quite thin. Please do us and yourself a favor and acquire the two books which comprise the Thought Tool Set. You will have dozens of Thought Tools easily accessible for you, your family and friends. As with all Torah learning, you will find that as you grow you see new dimensions and depth in God’s word. It also makes a great teacher appreciation or hostess gift and is available online this week at a reduced price.


Hidden Neighbors

June 14th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

About a year ago, my friend Judy recommended a book to me, which I finally got around to reading. It is the story of an Egyptian Jewish family forced to leave their, multi-generational, extremely comfortable life in Egypt when Nassar came to power. (One family among the thousands of Jewish refugees from Moslem countries who are never mentioned because the world-wide Jewish community took responsibility to resettle them rather than move them to camps where they could be kept in abject poverty and taught terrorism skills.) For most of the book the story gave intriguing, though sometimes disturbing, insights into a culture that was tremendously different from the one in which I was raised, despite that fact that on the surface both were observant Jewish families.

Over the centuries, Jews have been scattered to the four corners of the earth. While some communities shrivel or vanish through assimilation, expulsion or murder, the survivors who move on to new places bring with them myriad cultural nuances. If they stay faithful to the Torah (which unfortunately most do not), core observances remain, but with ‘twists’. While you would get kosher food whether you dined with a family whose roots over the past centuries were in Hungary, Egypt or India, the dishes at the Shabbat table would be completely different. The types of meat or fish featured, whether the dishes are spiced with paprika or cardamom and many rituals would reflect the family’s background. While everyone would know Hebrew prayers, the conversational language of the immigrant generation might be Yiddish or Ladino, Arabic or Farsi. Strikingly, each community’s religious values and social ethics would be a conglomeration of Torah-directed conduct intertwined with, and frequently distorted by, their host country’s general culture. Since the protagonists of my book immigrated to New York, a city where most previous refugees had been from Europe, they were a minority within a minority.

I had quite a shock when the author, a child at the time the family fled Egypt, spoke about the neighborhood to which her family relocated. The street names, train stations and landmarks were all very familiar. It turns out that we grew up a few blocks from each other. Since feet and buses were the main forms of transportation, we likely passed each other more than once. She even went to the same high school as my best friend.

Not only did we not meet, but I was never aware that there was a community of Egyptian Jewish refugees in the neighborhood. I had Italian-Catholic friends and Jewish friends of all levels of observance including those whose parents had come from Syria, but somehow this author’s family and compatriots’ journey never registered. It was quite an uncomfortable discovery to realize that I was completely blind to an entire group living –and struggling- so near to me.

So often, we, as individuals, as a nation, as human beings, step forward to help victims of natural disasters, terrorism or illness.  But the prerequisite to helping is awareness. Some people or events get a great deal of publicity, and good people respond. But this book reminded me that there are always those in our immediate vicinity whose travails don’t have the numbers or timing or ‘allure’ that forces their plight to our attention. They may suffer no less than others, but the onus is on us to search for them rather than wait for them to be thrust upon us as they make headline news.











Markets and Minarets

June 9th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

You’ve seen the photographs of Moslem mobs surging through the streets in Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, and India with blood pouring down their faces. They lacerate their scalps with razors, knives, machetes, or zanjeers (five sharp double-edged blades connected to a wooden handle by steel chain). This painful self-mutilation is dedicated to the Muslim holiday of Ashura.

I can’t imagine that scene of frenzied fanatics with blood streaming down their faces occurring in the synagogue I spoke at in Baltimore yesterday or in the church I recently addressed in Dallas. It is surely no coincidence that we don’t find these scenes occurring in Judaism or Christianity but we somehow accept them as part of Moslem culture.

When a group of people, a business, a tribe, a family or a nation is hyper-aware of a momentous action performed by a founder many years earlier, it impacts the present. For instance, we remember America’s Founders, their sacrifices and their deepest beliefs. Many of us vote the way we do over taxation, the role of faith, and foreign wars because of our understanding of how our forefathers lived and died in the early years on this continent.

In exactly the same way Christians conduct their lives in ways tremendously influenced by the powerful actions of Jesus and Jews conduct their lives in ways tremendously influenced by the powerful actions of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Why should it puzzle us that Moslems conduct their lives in ways influenced by the powerful actions of one of their forebears, Abraham’s son Yishmael? Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that Yishmael proudly boasted to Isaac of enduring self-inflicted pain during his auto-circumcision. Why should it surprise us that his spiritual descendants are equally proud of their ability to endure self-inflicted pain?

The buildings a culture constructs are not random. We can still spot architectural representation of that Islamic pride in their founder’s self-circumcision in that ultimate phallic symbol, the minaret.

There is nothing reprehensible about this. Every minaret on the Islamic skyline is nothing other than a culture manifesting one of its earliest defining moments, Yishmael’s circumcision, and enlarging it into a monument for its own sense of place and home.

Regardless of what you may think of Islam and some of its customs, there is no denying that this level of dedication delivers considerable power to its practitioners. Similarly, Christians and Jews can passionately power their lives with deep commitment to their respective histories. Fortunately, the God of Abraham instructs us for lives of joy and life rather than pain and death.

For instance, ancient Jewish wisdom’s emphasis upon the vast wealth of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can help us all generate increased income in our business enterprises.
Take a careful look at this verse:

He who works his land will have enough bread…
(Proverbs 12:11)

You need three snippets of ancient Jewish wisdom for Solomon’s insight to penetrate your heart and transform your wealth-creating abilities.

1: “Bread” means money just as it does in colloquial slang as in
“Got any bread on you?” or “Can you lend me some dough?”

2: “his land” means his occupation; how he earns money by helping other human beings.

3: The underlined phrase, “He who works” translates the Hebrew word OVeD. However, translation deprives us of an equally valid and important secondary pronunciation of that same word—EVeD which means “He who is a slave” (to his land).

We can now understand the meaning of Solomon’s advice. Don’t just work, but choose to commit to work as completely as a slave is forced to commit to his toil. Our required devotion to our faith, our families and even to our political freedoms is obvious, but Solomon’s advice stresses that work also needs total dedication. Don’t just work but passionately throw yourself into your labors, just as the Hebrew founding fathers did.

I appreciate all of your comments on my TV and radio appearances on Glenn Beck’s show this week. Because our store was closed for two days, we are extending the sale on Clash of Destiny through the weekend. We need great wisdom to direct our future and understanding the roots of the conflict is an essential starting place.


Congressman, You’re Not Four Anymore

June 9th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

I am writing this blog on Tuesday before the start of the holyday of Shavuot (Pentecost). It will not post until the holyday ends late Thursday night. Congressman Weiner may well have resigned by then. Nonetheless, I  think the point will still stand.

The economy is tumbling and dictators in the Middle East are massacring their subjects. Iran is acquiring nuclear power and in general, crises are looming on the horizon. Does it really matter if a New York congressman is a creep and a liar?

Actually, it does. There are difficult decisions to be made in America today. Those decisions direct members of the military to risk their lives, encourage or discourage citizens from starting or growing their businesses and affect the daily lives of millions. It matters a great deal whether members of Congress are people of integrity who serve this nation or whether they are arrogant, self-centered individuals who see the electorate as a group to be manipulated for their own benefit.

I think that Congressman Weiner has been reading too many parenting books. He seems to be fixated on two, sometimes abused, parenting credos. The first states that when your four year old does something wrong, but truthfully admits his actions, you should praise him for his confession and minimize the consequences. Your goal is to encourage honesty. Wise parents understand two things. Firstly, confessing doesn’t totally cancel out all behavior. If it did you would raise a very badly behaved but honest child. Secondly, a child who confesses to eating cookies because you walk out of his room carrying the empty cookie box is not being honest; he is feeling trapped.

The second parenting credo states that you should emphasize disapproval of the action, while making sure the child knows he is good. That’s great for a four year old, but as we mature our actions really do shape our characters. At some point, if their behavior is despicable, adults forfeit being considered good people.

 Mr. Weiner isn’t the only one looking bad here. The ethics probe for which Nancy Pelosi is calling also misses the point. When politicians exhibit serious character flaws and lie to those who put them in office, legalities are not the issue. If laws were broken then jail time and fines are in order. But serving in Congress is a privilege which demands a higher bar.

When Democrats behave despicably there is always a rush to say, “Well, it happens on both sides of the aisle.” That statement is true. But there is a difference. I have been disappointed in the Republican Party more than once, but I am proud that Republicans urged President Richard Nixon to resign. While I think Republicans fold too quickly under biased media pressure when foolish comments or innocent words are twisted, I think it right that Republicans insist that politicians of their party, like Christopher Lee or John Ensign, resign when they behave unethically and immorally. Too often, Democrats express shock and indignation and then fall back on legalities and time-delaying tactics like ethic probes.

Nancy Pelosi, the mainstream media and, indeed, all Democrats who don’t place unrelenting pressure upon Mr. Weiner to resign are revealing their own lack of integrity and their inflated sense of self-importance. They are showing a disdain for voters while displaying an attitude which views themselves as a powerful ruling class separate from regular Americans. In this world, wives and children are props which help election efforts. Promoting family values and talking about empowering women is a political tool, not a value. If the price of keeping one of their own in office means a diminishing of faith in Congress’s integrity and wisdom, so be it. With enough of their own type in office they can pass legislation which entrenches their own positions no matter how it affects most Americans. They trust in the folly of the American people to keep on believing in them no matter how frequently their hypocrisy is revealed.

When the general belief is that all politicians are cheats and liars, an attitude that Mr. Weiner’s presence in Congress nurtures, we are crippling a vital leg of our civilization. When there is a feeling that our government is “by the politicians and for the politicians,” American loses. That places us in a weakened position to deal wisely with critical matters like terrorism and the economy.

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