Monthly Archives: November, 2011

Worth Their Weight

November 29th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

It is entrapment, pure and simple. My local bookstore has beautiful, hard-cover, classic books for sale for under $5 (using my 30% off coupon).

Titles like Swiss Family Robinson and Little Women coquettishly peek from the shelf, enticing me to come closer. A quick calculation tells me that my eldest grandson won’t appreciate the Wyss father and son collaboration just yet and that my oldest granddaughter is at least eight years away from enjoying Louisa May Alcott.

Mustering immense self-control by picturing my husband’s response if I was to walk in with these purchases, I regretfully leave the volumes behind. Our latest marital agreement is to give away or throw out two books for each one we bring in to the house which has substantially crimped my impulse buying.

We travel a great deal and increasingly passengers in adjacent seats are reading on NOOKs, IPads, and Kindles. Perhaps one of those devices even has a place in my future. But as millions of parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents look for a gift to delight a child this December, I can’t help but hope that they opt to buy real books. There may be a cool factor in possessing an electronic reader, but a book with real pages to turn and a new book smell isn’t just an acquisition. One enters into a relationship with a book; it possesses you as much as you possess it.  A book that is read over and over looks and feels different than a new book. Like a well-worn pair of shoes, it exudes comfort and adjusts to the owner. Favorite pages are more worn than others; the book opens of its own accord to beloved sections.

There was a time when prognosticators envisioned the end of home-made bread. Not only did most people live within reach of a bakery, but sliced and wrapped loaves were easily accessible in supermarkets. Yet, over the past years there has been a resurgence of home baking. One type of bread is a food item, the other is an experience. Does anyone doubt which is more valuable?

I don’t think I am alone in pitying a child whose room isn’t full of books even if he can instantaneously access thousands of volumes electronically. Technology can be wonderful, but books feed the soul. The bargains in my bookstore may not have fit my immediate needs, but the hour I spent browsing reminded me of so many physical, tangible treasures I can’t wait to share.


Triumph of Will

November 29th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Late in the afternoon, April 30, 1945, the corpse of Adolf Hitler, who had just poisoned and shot himself, was burned in the garden behind the Reich Chancellery. The setting sun signaled the start of the joyful Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer (see Thought Tool Volume IV issue #20).

The war had gone badly for Germany since its defeat at Stalingrad when a million German soldiers perished. A few months later the Russians inflicted another defeat on Germany at the battle of Kursk. By December 1943, America had overcome German defenses and invaded Italy. Six months after that, June 6, 1944, Allied forces landed in Normandy and began encircling the Third Reich. Half a year later the Wehrmacht attempted one final assault launching the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. It failed. Four months later Hitler was dead and Germany surrendered.

How could Germany not have surrendered after Stalingrad? Or after the Normandy invasion? Or, at the very latest, by the end of 1944? It seems to make no sense.

Not only did Germany not surrender after the Battle of the Bulge, but the final concert of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra took place on April 12, 1945. Just four days before the Soviets assaulted Berlin, an audience listened to Wilhelm Furtwangler conducting Bruckner’s 4th Symphony. Only a week before Hitler took his own life, a major soccer match was played before a capacity crowd in a Munich stadium.

Historians have attempted to explain the secret of Germany’s extraordinary perseverance and preservation of normality till the very end. They describe German discipline and long-standing military tradition. These were certainly relevant factors but the single most important was Hitler’s forceful willpower.

In his memoirs, Admiral Doenitz wrote about how during one gloomy briefing, “I looked into his [Hitler’s] eyes and I just knew that everything would be all right.”

Gauleiter Rudolf Jordan wrote how horrified he and his fellow Nazi leaders were by Hitler’s gaunt appearance at a meeting on February 24, 1945. In his diary he described how, “Hitler then approached each man individually and looked him in the eyes, at which point the mood suddenly lightened.” The Nazi leader possessed a mighty will. And he used it for terrible evil.

Yet, a strong will can be an enormous asset and force for virtue when wielded by good people trying to succeed, like entrepreneurs and sales professionals. Willpower is obviously an indispensable asset for successful parents of stubborn toddlers and because it can be communicated to those around one, it is also vital for anyone with a calling and a mission.

Ancient Jewish wisdom cites Scripture to teach us how to develop titanium willpower.

He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man and a

master of his passions is better than a conqueror of a city.

(Proverbs 16:32)

In other words, developing superb self-discipline gives us the willpower that can influence and inspire others.

The great Hebrew transmitters explain three secrets about these words of King Solomon:

  • To become a strong man, allowing you to influence and lead others, you must first learn to control your anger.
  • To conquer cities—which means achieving your big, bold goals—you must first learn to master your passions.
  • Conquering cities is a metaphor for redirection, not destruction. Few conquerors wish to obliterate the city they capture. They wish to redirect its creative energies for their purposes. Instead of obliterating our powerful passions we must redirect them to Godly goals.

Seek small weekly victories in your struggle for self-mastery. Set yourself achievable strategies of self-discipline with feats just beyond your comfort zone, thus building up your willpower each day.

Good people need strong will; so do good societies. Evil ideas are often perpetrated by well-meaning but misguided people. Combatting evil is urgent and is what the American Alliance of Jews and Christians does. This is why I occasionally ask you for support. If helping me is not in your heart right now, no problem. I am truly happy you’re reading Thought Tools each week. But if you’re okay with reading about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and why, please click here. You’ll discover my passion and possibly yours too.


The Reel Romney?

November 22nd, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

During the golden age of Hollywood, movie studios ‘owned’ various actors. The studios picked the vehicles for their stars guaranteeing that Mickey Rooney would no sooner be cast as the sophisticated man about town than Mae West would be as a nun. Even the stars’ personal lives were subject to manipulation with contrived romances covering up all sorts of behavior that was unacceptable to the public.

That system was long gone by the time West Side Story premiered in 1961. Yet the power of the medium still blurred and continues to blur the line between certain actors and their roles. Years later, when as a teenager I saw West Side Story (numerous times), Natalie Wood and Maria were one and the same to me. Beautiful, young, tragic and innocent were the words I associated with the actress as befit her character of Maria; I certainly didn’t think of drunkenness or domestic fighting.

Fast forward fifteen years to when my husband, parents, baby daughter and I anchored our sailboat in a cozy bay off Catalina Island. For sailors living in the Los Angeles area, Catalina is the default overnight destination.  Like so many others we were regular devotees of the small island’s charm. We bicycled, watched taffy being pulled in the candy-store window, and regardless of what was playing, saw the movie being shown at the historic Avalon Casino.  At night, the sailboat’s gentle rocking lulled us to sleep in a tranquil harbor. On this trip however, news of a night-time drowning disturbed the morning mood as murmurs about Natalie Wood’s death spread.

It felt strange this week to read about that night again as front page news. But it is a reminder that the face which people present in public does not always match the truth. At the moment we have a president whose image was protected and burnished by the media as carefully as the movie studios shielded their stars back in the days.

And that may well be Mitt Romney’s handicap. Had he been an actor in the 1940’s he might have been central casting’s choice as a politician. His good-looking and high-achieving family would have even provided the perfect backdrop. In today’s cynical times, those same features seem false. As he avoids controversy, standing to the side while other candidates self-destruct, he comes across like an actor playing a politician rather than a committed statesman. I watched several interviews with Mr. Romney yesterday and couldn’t help feeling that he was parroting lines. I could almost see the notes “sound emphatic” or “smile” on a paper in his mind. It wasn’t as bad as a certain president who uses a teleprompter even to speak to kindergarten students, but it lacked authenticity.

I have met people who have known Mitt Romney for decades, both as personal friends and business acquaintances. They believe in him as a person and as a candidate in a way that should induce trust. And it does – until he starts speaking and something is just…off. 

Like so many others, I fear for our country if Barack Obama is re-elected. I have trouble with Mr. Romney’s record, but that is not an insurmountable barrier. For the overwhelming majority of my friends in the Evangelical community, I don’t think Mitt’s faith is the obstacle the media presents it as.  I am coming to the conclusion that Mitt Romney’s real problem is a perception that he radiates insincerity. This may be far from the reality, but he is hiding behind a barrier which safeguards him from attack but simultaneously stops him from connecting with those whose votes he wants.

Natalie Wood was not Puerto Rican and gang members don’t perform ballet steps around the slums of New York. A beautifully executed movie is not reality. Can Mitt Romney step out of his script and reveal his true passions and core values? If he can’t, he should try for an Oscar, not the presidency.





Lucy, Lucy and Herman Cain

November 15th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

This time of year, cartoonist Charles Schultz used to present a recurring theme in his Peanuts© comic strip. Lucy (van Pelt) would offer to hold a football for Charlie Brown, and as he ran towards her for the kick-off she would yank the ball away. Charlie Brown always ended up falling on his back. Year after year, Lucy reassured her hapless friend that this time would be different, but invariably, it wasn’t.

Another Lucy from my childhood, this time Lucille Ball in her role as Lucy Ricardo, was constantly searching for ways to enhance her finances. In one episode, she planned to benefit from a ‘double your money back if not satisfied’ offer, buying first dozens and then thousands of cans of beans only to return them. The episode culminates when, after a hard day’s work of buying and returning cans, she hungrily opens one and discovers that they actually are the best beans she has ever eaten. Her conscience demands honesty, thwarting her dreams of riches.

Two Lucy’s; two prototypes. Though sometimes foolish and greedy, Lucy Ricardo has a moral core. Schultz’s Lucy may make for a funny comic strip, but truth is not a virtue in her life. Unfortunately for Herman Cain, America is sick of playing Charlie Brown to politicians.

I watched the Cain news conference with a heavy heart. Separate from his presidential aspirations, our country needs to see articulate businessmen who are upright in both their personal and business lives.  We need to see more African American leaders who succeed through hard work rather than climbing upwards through demagoguery and manipulation.

It hurt to see Mr. Cain declare that he unequivocally refuted the sexual harassment accusations because he assumed that his statement would be enough. He presumed an America which no longer exists. He was talking as Lucy Ricardo while this country’s citizens view politicians as Lucy van Pelt.   We have been lied to too many times. By running for president, he became a professional comrade of Anthony Wiener, John Edwards, Bill Clinton and numerous other politicians who stared directly at the camera and falsely proclaimed their innocence.

Whether or not Herman Cain would make a good president, I am willing to consider him innocent of these allegations until proven guilty. I despise the ease with which one person can ruin another’s reputation in today’s culture and am convinced that the adage, “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” is false. However, asking to be considered as a candidate for president demands being in touch with today’s world. Sadly, that means understanding that the very act of running for office renders one’s honor and character suspect.  In some areas of business your word may still be your bond; in politics skepticism reigns supreme.





Soul Snatchers

November 15th, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

When I was a teenager, my parents sent me to study Torah in Israel with my great-uncle, Rabbi Elya Lopian.

Watching and listening to a man who was a giant of ancient Jewish wisdom opened my eyes to spiritual reality.

Large numbers of young men from around the world flocked to study with him at his yeshiva, Knesset Hezekiah. A student, on one occasion, sought permission from my great-uncle to miss yeshiva while he returned home for a family wedding.

Reb Elya inquired whether there would be young women dressed immodestly at the wedding. My friend responded honestly that there was every possibility of this. However, he assured our teacher that his spiritual level was so high that he would be immune to whatever exposed feminine charms he might encounter. He barely noticed attractive women, he concluded.

Reb Elya granted his student permission to attend the wedding on condition that before he left, he was to meet with a friend of Reb Elya’s. When the young man came to bid farewell, my uncle asked him about his appointment.

The student answered, “Well, I did call the number you gave me but it must have been a mistake since it was a doctor’s office!”

Replied Reb Elya, “There was no mistake. I am nearly eighty years old and blind in one eye, yet I am powerfully affected by the sight of women in scanty dress. Since you, a healthy young man, assure me that you are not, I know you must be suffering from a medical condition. I wanted you to be examined by the doctor whose name I gave you.”

The lesson I learned from this event is always to be profoundly aware that we humans are impacted by everything we do and by everyone we encounter. In many circumstances the effect might be subconscious but for better or for worse, each day’s events change us.

The Divine directive to safeguard ourselves is quite clear:

….and he (God) took Adam and placed him in the garden

to work [it] and preserve [it].

(Genesis 2:15)

Straightforward, isn’t it? But there’s one problem. In the Lord’s language, Hebrew, verbs indicate gender. Actions must match the gender of whatever is being acted upon. The verbs ‘to work’ and ‘to preserve’ in this verse indicate female gender. So the sentence actually reads, “…and placed him in the garden to work her and preserve her.” Yet the Hebrew word for garden, GAN, is a masculine word.

This suggests that Adam was not put in the garden to work and preserve the garden. If not the garden, what was Adam to work and preserve? We must search the Biblical text preceding verse 15 for a feminine gender noun that could be subject of the command.

We find the answer back in verse 7—Adam’s soul, NeFeSH ChaYaH—a feminine word. God gave not only Adam, but all of us a perfect soul and He expects us to work on it and preserve it. Every movie we watch, everything we do and say, and everyone we spend time with impacts our soul.

At this point, if you’re like me, you are throwing your hands up in despair. Perhaps the only way to preserve my soul’s purity is to hide in an isolated cave! Not so fast. In verse 17 God makes clear that opting out of the world isn’t an option.

…it is not good for man to be alone…

(Genesis 2:17)

Reb Elya understood that being at a family wedding was important, even if less religious relatives might be dressed provocatively. Refusing to acknowledge the challenge involved, however, would make one less likely to deal well with it.

We can all plan to maximize positive experiences and minimize the effects of negative ones. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of monitoring speech, a uniquely human attribute. We need to protect ourselves not only in how we speak, but from what we hear all around us. I urge you to include my audio CD, Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak, as part of your soul-protection arsenal. It is sale-priced online, so take this opportunity to benefit others as well as yourself.


No Turning Back

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

Several of our children have brought joy to my wife by skydiving. For you sane readers who know nothing about this activity, it is the peculiar habit of jumping out of perfectly serviceable aircraft. Of course, once you’ve leaped out into the vast blue void there is no going back. I am sure that as one’s stomach lurches with that first sensation of weightlessness, many wish they could return to the airplane. However, going back up is not an option. You are totally committed to keep going until you hit earth; gently, one hopes.

While Mrs. Lapin was giving birth to those children in the first place, I recall thinking that it was probably a good thing that God didn’t give women in labor the option of returning to not being pregnant. Once labor begins, you are totally committed to keep going until you’ve brought your baby into the world.

Total commitment is why everyone who leaps from an airplane hits the ground sooner or later and why babies get born.

One of Scripture’s model marriages was Abraham and Sarah. It is perplexing that immediately after Abraham is plucked from obscurity to become the portal to Jewish history (Genesis 12:1) he does something quite extraordinary. He asks Sarah to lie to Pharaoh:

…please say that you are my sister…

(Genesis 12:13)

This became awkward when Pharaoh discovered the subterfuge. (Genesis 12:18)

Yet, on a visit to King Avimelech, Abraham does it again! Speaking of Sarah, he says:

She is my sister…

(Genesis 20:2)

As if that wasn’t enough, Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, repeats the same dissimulation.

And the men of the place asked him about his wife; and he said, ‘She is my sister’…

(Genesis 26:7)

Why does the Torah relate three similar scenarios?

Here are two permanent principles of ancient Jewish wisdom:

1) When a pattern is repeated three times, its spiritual significance soars way above the narrative.

2) The Torah is not a history book; it provides contemporary real-life guidance.

Two of Israel’s founding fathers announce that their brides are their sisters.

Does that remind you of anything? Does this help?

…my sister my bride…

(Song of Songs 4:9; 4:10; 4:12; 5:1)

Abraham and Isaac did what was necessary to save their lives during encounters with utterly amoral people. But the detailed accounts are to teach us a timeless truth.

The biggest difference between a wife and a sister is that regardless of circumstances, geography, or conflict, one’s sister always remains one’s sister. Unfortunately, conflict, separation, and divorce can terminate the relationship of wife. Abraham and Isaac related to their wives as also their sisters; we should make every effort to do the same.

In every marriage there are times when stress suppresses harmony and pressures banish passion. Emphasizing that one’s wife is also one’s sister—a forever commitment—greatly helps us to endure the difficult periods.

In Torah nomenclature, times when one feels trapped by circumstances and hardships are referred to as Egypt. We all experience Egypt in different ways. Marital woes are only one example. Egypt can be pressing economic stress, business reversals, an unrelenting addiction or anything which keeps one from freely fulfilling one’s potential.

When Cortez sailed to the Yucatan in 1519, legend has it that he burned his boats, teaching his soldiers total commitment. There would be no going back. When God led the Israelites across the Red Sea, He made the waters flow over the pursuing Egyptians before the Israelites had even finished crossing. (Exodus 14:28-29)

The Israelites were in fact being propelled forward by the closing waters. There was no going back. When we seek deliverance from our own Egypt, whatever its source, rule number one is total commitment to the way forward.

Other techniques for defeating personal hard times emerge from the Exodus. I teach three practical and effective strategies in my audio CD, Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt. Many have employed these powerful tools to bring deliverance into their lives and I pray you will too. Please go ahead now and take advantage of 50% off for online orders and commit yourself to reaching your own promised land.


Fairy-Tale Elections

November 1st, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

In company with past presidents, President Obama has discovered that one can get elected by making glorious promises. Fulfilling them is quite another story.

Whether it is classified security concerns that one only finds out about once in office or the reality that a president does not have dictatorial powers, campaigning and governing are completely different activities. Even star power has its limitations. To the disappointment of President Obama and his supporters, expectation that America’s enemies would be as enraptured with him (and hence America) as teenage girls were with the Beatles, were decidedly overblown.

Unfortunately, most of us fall prey to catchy slogans and starry-eyed promises. That is why you never saw the following policy and campaign slogans: “A chicken in most pots; a car in many garages,” “Fewer children left behind,” “Hope and change which you might like or might hate.”

These sayings aren’t as catchy as the ones which were actually articulated, though they are far more truthful. Yet we continue to elect politicians who run by making outlandish promises and then we are disappointed when their campaign commitments evaporate. Sometimes, even worse, the platforms materialize but don’t deliver the positive results which were dangled as guaranteed before voters’ eyes.

As a populace, generations of Americans have been raised to enter marriage with the dream of, “they lived happily ever after.” More accurate would be, “they had their ups and downs, joys and sorrows, triumphs and difficulties, but overall they were incredibly grateful to have found each other.” Perhaps reform in the political system needs to start with an electorate whose attitude to all spheres of life is firmly grounded in reality.


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