Monthly Archives: March, 2012

Guilt is Good

March 27th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Why are some countries rich while others are poor? Why do some countries attract immigrants while others lose citizens who flee in large numbers? Why do some countries enjoy relative tranquility while others are seething cauldrons of violence?

Posh and politically correct universities shrink from discussing these contentious questions because they fear the answer might refute their deepest beliefs.

Though largely ignored in academia, numerous books have been published dealing with this perplexing puzzle. To mention just three—The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes; Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson; and Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson. While conceding that climate, geography, and natural resources carry some influence, they along with almost everyone who has studied the disparity of societies concludes that the wealth/poverty gap is chiefly due to culture.

A culture is bound up with the language with which it communicates. We tend to associate French as the language of romance, whereas Russian lends itself to brooding epics about the darker side of human nature. As God’s language, Hebrew gives us understanding into what God wishes for us to find important.

I would like to offer one small insight which grants us a spiritual strategy with practical application in our lives. English clearly distinguishes between winning a lot of money and earning a lot of money. Not all languages do the same.


winning money = ganar dinero = earning money


winning money = gagner de l’argent = earning money

Unfortunately, I am not fluent in these languages and I am sure there are ways in which the context clarifies whether someone won the lottery or earned a fortune. Nonetheless, there are cultural implications when a language fails to distinguish between acquiring money randomly or through hard work. Is it out of the question that in some very small way, this could be linked to the launching of the industrial revolution in 18th century England rather than Spain or France?

Here is another example. What can we understand from the fact that Hebrew possesses more words than any other language for moral transgression?

Here just some of the words:

avel-(Deuteronomy 25:16); avon, chatat-(Deuteronomy 19:15); aveirah-(Deuteronomy 17:2); pesha-(Genesis 50:17); ma’al-(Leviticus 5:15); oshek-(Proverbs 14:31); chammas-(Psalms 55:10); nevalah-(Deuteronomy 22:21)

There are many more, and remember, there are no synonyms in Hebrew. Each word reflects a separate subtle nuance.

Sadly, the lofty Hebrew concept of always being alert to the possibility of sin and never straying “after your heart and after your eyes…” (Numbers 15:39) has been trivialized by comedic mocking of Jewish guilt. The truth is that feeling guilt for wrongdoing and then trying to atone is a competitive advantage and one that you can easily adopt to dramatically improve your own life.

One type of moral wrongdoing is not living up to your own goals. Imagine you set yourself a professional or a self-improvement objective; say a sales target, a be-nice-to-spouse week, or a weight-loss plan. Ordinarily, were you not to meet your aspiration, you might shrug your shoulders and move on. Or you might wallow in guilt. Either way, spiritually, your self-disappointment remains.

Once you remember the value of acknowledging and expiating guilt, you can set yourself a minor consequence or penance for not achieving that to which you committed yourself. You might run five times around the block or memorize a poem. By tying an action to your disappointment, you will find that your body and your soul smoothly cooperate in both moving on and also making it more likely that you achieve the next goal you set. If you repeatedly miss your goals, pay attention: it is a sign that deeper analysis is needed.

Carrying the weight of failed expectations can crush us. While the Torah uniquely highlights one day a year to recalibrate our internal monitors, the lessons from that day can be used year-round. Listen to my audio CD, Day for Atonement and let me know how it helps you look hopefully ahead rather than being trapped by the past. Download or order it at half-price right now.

Read this week’s Susan’s Musing: Gut-Punch: Too Old for a Transplant?



March 26th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

Years ago, my mother joined my husband and me on a lecture trip to a charming Southern town. Our host graciously showed us around and included the historic, local synagogue in his itinerary.  After a few minutes my mother opted out of seeing the whole edifice, looked physically ill. When I wanted to stay with her she whispered, “You go ahead. This building is making me nauseous. It’s opulent, decorated to the hilt and it’s clear that children aren’t welcome.” Indeed, we discovered that the dwindling congregation preferred not to see children between circumcision on the eighth day of their lives and their bar-mitzvahs at age thirteen. Not surprisingly, by the time the youth were old enough to be welcomed, they were entirely uninterested.

This synagogue was a complete anomaly. I have never before or since heard of a similarly misguided flock. But my mother’s physical reaction to an emotional stimulus is common.  Which of us did not feel sickened as we assimilated the news on 9/11, or indeed, do not feel a gut-punch upon hearing of cruel destruction and murder?

Other times, a news article or video clip which might barely attract our attention on one day, grabs us on another.  Sunday, they twelfth yahrzeit (anniversary) of my mother’s death, I had such an experience. The catalyst to my nausea was a video clip discussing Vice-president Cheney’s heart transplant. There is nothing unique about this particular clip which differentiates it from other newspaper, TV and online reports of this event (not including the vicious, hate-filled ones). The comments revolve around the seemliness of a man of Mr. Cheney’s age receiving a transplant.

The entire discussion appearing in the media is suspect. I’m not the only one to think that if Nelson Mandela had needed a heart transplant at age 71, or if Bill Clinton requires one in a few years, that the question of age would be seen as immaterial. But let’s say that the discussion of age is actually an honest one.  Especially with Obamacare menacing on the horizon, that is a scary thought. Despite protestations that there will be no death panels; that is precisely what will be needed.

I cannot think of a worse way to allocate medical resources than by government bureaucratic fiat. For a panel to decide who gets what based on age, gender, political leanings, race, or how politically correct one’s illness is, is frightening. The fact that members of Congress excluded themselves from the ramifications of the health care bill shows that Americans will indeed be divided into elite and secondary status.

It is an inescapable fact of life that resources are limited. We can be thankful for a constitution which, at least in theory, does not allow the ruling class to “have a little list” as the Lord High Executioner in the Mikado did (for one rendition try googling D’Oyly Carte, I’ve Got a Little List). It is inherently unfair that money should be a deciding factor, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill, money may be the worst form of unfairness except all the others that have been tried. If insurance can be freely bought then each individual can decide how much of his or resources to allocate to that and at what age they choose to start doing so.  Each individual can concentrate as much of his or her energies as desired on earning and saving money. Each individual can choose to be self-centered or to place effort on interacting with others and building relationships so that the community surrounding him or her wants to help when money is needed.

A synagogue which decides that pristine carpets are more important than lollipop wielding kids has made a choice and it is no surprise when it dies out. A nation which allows its government to take away the natural rights granted only by the Creator, will face the same fate.



The Democratic War Against Women

March 20th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

The past few weeks have seen multiple variation on the theme, “The Republican War against Women” trotted out by Democratic Party aficionados. The attacks would be laughable were the stakes not so high. Let’s leave aside the super-hypocrisy of crying “foul” over Rush Limbaugh’s language which was pristine compared to that which is regularly used against Republican and conservative women. That providing free (i.e. people other than those using it paying for it) contraception should be the critical issue of our day is of course, ludicrous.  Setting up the straw man that any politician wants the government to make contraception illegal is demagoguery, not discourse.

But has the sexual revolution, which was facilitated by the easy availability of contraception, enhanced or damaged more women’s lives? Does even discussing this question make many people uncomfortable? Perhaps Rush Limbaugh would be more of a gentleman now if others hadn’t previously raced to erase the term ‘ladylike’ from our national dialogue.

One of life’s frustrating realities is that trying to solve a problem sometimes causes more harm than good. That doesn’t mean that the problem was trivial; it means that changing the status quo isn’t always beneficial or even benign. Early feminists were upset about a sexual double standard. In large parts of society, men who sexually experimented before marriage were given a pass while women who did the same were maligned. College boys were expected to sow their wild oats while girls who did the same were judged critically. Let’s focus on this for a few minutes.

If the problem here was inequality, then there were two ways to deal with it.  The Democratic Party and liberals could have led the legislative charge to penalize certain behaviors as they as they did to reduce smoking, for example. For those of us less comfortable with legislation being the answer to all problems, society could have unleashed social pressure to disparage the undesired behavior. It is not really that long ago when dorms were all single sex and visitors of the opposite sex were supervised. If the male dorms had less rigid rules and curfews, more stringencies could have been placed on the men rather than loosening the rules on the females. Instead of promulgating the idea that living together before marriage was normative, society could have promoted the idea that men who slept around were irresponsible, untrustworthy and immature.

Instead, the path chosen was to challenge any social standards which suggested that there was a positive value in chastity, and to encourage young women to model their behavior after that of self-centered men. That certainly solved the inequality problem, even if it did so by assuming the superiority of the male paradigm.

Maybe the real problem was not inequality but the damage caused by separating sex and marriage? If the problem was actually the casual acceptance of improper behavior among men, then promoting equally promiscuous behavior among women made the problem worse not better. What if both men and women, but particularly women, are happiest in monogamous, long-term, committed relationships? What if the psychological and emotional health of many women is damaged by treating sex casually, a contention supported by mental health professionals who serve women rather than political ideologies?  Part of today’s social gulf is between those who think that loosening sexual standards has brought greater happiness to all and those who think the cure caused more pain and suffering than it alleviated. Certainly, the utopian vision of joyful womanhood which was supposed to follow the unshackling of religious and moral chains has not materialized. It is easy and common today to mock moral positions which were normative only a few years ago. But there are millions of unhappy, hurt and suffering women, many of whom are on or have been on college campuses, who might well be leading happier lives today had those old-fashioned positions been strengthened rather than weakened.


Success You Can Smell

March 13th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

I really hope that my children think of their childhood with the same sweet nostalgia that I do. Whenever the Lapin family embarked upon a trip, it was usually with at least fifteen suitcases, all of which needed to be loaded into our van. Though I could have done it myself quite quickly, we patiently waited while our young son laboriously loaded every piece of luggage, many of which were larger than he was.

My wife always shared the preparations for the Sabbath with our daughters, assigning some children to set the table while others cleaned the house until it shone. Planning menus and cooking were group efforts as well. Especially when the kids were very young, she could have prepared the house and meals for our family and our guests far more quickly herself.

By contrast, researchers recognize that generally, American children ignore or resist appeals to help. According to a recent UCLA study, compared to other countries and cultures, and even more importantly, compared to how we Americans used to raise children, parents today are focused on what they can do for their children and don’t think about what their children can do for them.

Were my wife and I taking unseemly advantage of free labor or doing our children a favor? Let’s look at a precedent from God.

From the moment they left Egypt the Israelites grumbled about almost everything.

…Why did you bring us out of Egypt

(Exodus 14:11-12)

The people complained against Moses saying what shall we drink?

(Exodus 15:24)

…the Children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron…

(Exodus 16:2)

The people argued with Moses…give us water

(Exodus 17:2)

They gathered against Aaron…make us a god..we don’t know where Moses is

(Exodus 32:1)

Eventually God told every person to bring of his possessions and get to work building the Tabernacle. This construction project and the service therein occupied the Israelites for many years and the complaining just about ceased.

After nightfall on Saturdays my family gathers for Havdalah. With this service we bid Shabbat farewell for another week and prepare ourselves for six days of productive endeavor. During the brief ceremony, we celebrate our sense of smell enjoying the fragrance of some spices, often cloves and cinnamon.

When a festival terminates, we also conduct a Havdalah ceremony but without any blessing on smelling the spices. Why the difference?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that, amazingly, in our world, the actions of humans leave a longer-lasting impression than God’s actions. For instance, Mt. Sinai (where God acted) is largely unknown, whereas Mt. Moriah (where Abraham, Isaac, David, and Solomon acted) is still visited by pilgrims after 3,000 years. Ancient Jewish wisdom further explains that smell is the sense that most strongly links to our memories. I am sure you can think of smells that immediately transport you to images of your childhood.

Sabbath was scheduled every seven days by God but we Jews were commanded to set the dates of the festivals by our own calculation. Linking the Sabbath to a smell prolongs the sensation of that day. Since festivals have a human component, no fragrances are necessary for them to cling to us even after they are over.

We are more lastingly impacted by the things we do for God like building a Tabernacle than by the many things He does for us. The children of Israel appreciated God more, not less, by giving of themselves for His structure. Likewise, our children are more lastingly impacted when they participate in family life, rather than just being recipients of parents’ beneficence.

You can use this information to change important things in your own life. The problem is, you feel shackled to the status quo. It’s like an invisible force imprisons you, yet you yearn to escape. Passively waiting for God – or other people – to solve our problems isn’t the best way to activate change. There is a God-given solution in my audio CD Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt. We’re discounting it online this week so that it is easily accessible to help you change your life. I’d like you to take advantage of this offer now!


Alaska Under Attack

March 13th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

My email box regularly fills up with messages from businesses, but this one was different. It wasn’t advertising a sale or a new product. Instead it was informing me, along with millions of other Alaska Airlines passengers, that after more than thirty years the company was discontinuing a tradition. No longer would cards displaying inspirational verses from Psalms be given out on flights.

In the scheme of things, compared to a nuclear Iran or high unemployment, this notification seems minor. Yet, it cast a pall over my day and felt similar to the loss of an important individual whom I may not have known personally, but whose presence made the world a better place. Until six years ago, when the cards were given out with each meal, they were a unique touch which made flying on Alaska special. Since airlines stopped routinely feeding all their passengers the cards were reserved for First Class diners. Still, while I might not have seen them on most flights, I was glad they were there.

Knowing from some of our friends who are Alaska crew that they often got berated for handing out the cards by, “Who are you to force your beliefs down my throat?” curmudgeons, our family made a point of thanking the crew for the cards and even writing to the airline’s president on occasion to express our appreciation. My guess is that the majority of passengers either liked the cards or ignored them; it was the vocal complaining minority which triumphed.

Enough people claimed offense for the airline to withdraw the cards saying, “… we’ve heard from many of you who believe religion is inappropriate on an airplane, and some are offended when we hand out the cards. Religious beliefs are deeply personal and sharing them with others is an individual choice.” Cards with verses from Psalms on them, of course, are a far cry from crucifixes or rosary beads. It would be hard to pinpoint exactly what religion was purportedly being promoted. Universities consider the verses to be classic literature or poetry. Certainly one is handicapped reading Shakespeare or past presidential speeches while ignorant of the Psalms. It is far-fetched to think of the word offensive on the list of adjectives describing Psalms. But to some secular extremists, any whisper of an association with God, despite its being a foundational stone of life, politics and business in America, is too much.

Does this decision by one corporation have larger implications? I think it does. No matter how excited or appalled one is at the idea of a Newt Gingrich presidency, his response to the question about contraception in the Arizona debate resonated. Rather than cowering or responding petulantly he went on the offensive. The cheering audience reflected the frustration of multitudes that have endured decades watching anti-traditional and anti-Biblical values being promoted, adulated and often forced on them by law. Respect for the personal religious beliefs of candidates has been deemed less important than legislation pushed and votes taken by other politicians. Those who cleave to moral tenets upon which this country was founded are tired of being accused of hate, bigotry and dictatorial aspirations.

I am not upset at Alaska Airlines. It is hard to run a business and the cards were certainly ancillary to the core mission of the company. They held on for many years before succumbing to the secular offensive. But still, removing the cards reflects a disturbing trend, one which demands that every person of faith becomes more steadfast as well as more, wisely, but adamantly outspoken.


Football, Caucuses and the Sabbath

March 6th, 2012 Posted by Susan's Musings 8 comments

Texans are serious about sports. Decades after he stopped playing for the Dallas Cowboys, a friend of ours still attracts major attention when he walks through the hallways at DFW airport. It is reasonable to assume that Texans also treat high school basketball more earnestly than do citizens of other states. So when a religious Jewish high school in Houston recently was told to forfeit a tournament semifinal game if they wouldn’t violate their convictions and play on Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, it was big news.

I’m pretty serious about politics. This past Saturday the WA State Republican caucus took place. I didn’t attend. For Sabbath observant Jews, a Saturday caucus always presents a number of difficulties, sometimes insurmountable ones. This past Shabbat it was even harder to overcome the obstacles. The Shabbat before Purim (Feast of Esther) includes a special reading from the Torah in synagogue, and while you can play “catch up” if you must, the preferred option is to hear it on Saturday morning.

I did not feel ‘offended’ or ‘excluded’ by the WA State caucus’ timing. Had I wanted to, months ago I could have contacted the State’s Republican Party offices and brought up the issue. The chairman, Kirby Wilbur, a friend and former radio colleague of my husband, is a great guy who taught two of my children in a homeschool co-op. Our family has been guests at his home for a spectacular Fourth of July fireworks exhibition. Had Sabbath-observant Jews brought the Saturday caucus problem to his attention, I have no doubts the party would have made accommodations for us, as a number of other states with Saturday voting have done.

Similarly, when a well-known department store runs a “one day sale” on Saturdays, which means I can’t take advantage of the special pricing, I basically shrug my shoulders.  Whether you are a political organization, a business or a sports league, balancing your needs along with everyone else’s is impossible. You do the best you can and make adjustments when possible and reasonable.

Which is why I was disturbed by the way in which the Texas situation was resolved. In response to a lawsuit brought by the parents of some of the basketball players, a judge issued a ruling and the game was rescheduled. While on the surface this seems fair and equitable, in my view, it was an unfortunate outcome. As I see it, legal action tends to damage relationships. It is ever so much better when these things get resolved – even if it takes longer and there is short-term pain– by neighbors acting out of concern for each other.   When people voluntarily make changes out of a desire to be inclusive, communities are strengthened. When the law forces accommodation it only emphasizes “otherness.” When courts get involved rigid lines are drawn which frequently end up causing unanticipated and more severe problems down the road.

I hope that in four years there will be a non-Saturday option for the WA State caucus. I wish the Beren Academy basketball team success in making the semifinals once again and for the scheduling to allow them to play. More than either of those outcomes, however, I wish for a less litigious society, where human relationships flourish and the legal system is called upon only rarely and in extreme cases.  


Robots are Rational

March 6th, 2012 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

After several pointless provocations by your teenager, you finally lose patience and threaten, “If you do that one more time, you’ll be grounded for two weeks!” And she goes and does it again! Why did she do something so silly? It only hurt her.

In 1986 an obscure group of environmental extremists in London distributed a pamphlet filled with melodramatic allegations against McDonalds. Though only a few hundred copies were released, the fast-food company sued a pair of the penniless protestors. After eleven years of litigation, McDonalds was awarded forty-thousand pounds, a small fraction of the four million dollars McDonalds spent on legal fees and which they never even collected. What they did collect, however, was a decade’s worth of destructive publicity and wide-spread attention for the slanderous pamphlet. Why did McDonalds do something so petty? It only hurt them.

“Go on!” urged his friend, “Jump across to the other balcony.” The twenty-one year old male tried, missed and plummeted four floors down. Why did he do something so foolish? It only hurt him.

After assassinating corrupt Visigoth King Witiza, Roderic viciously dispossessed his heirs and followers. They crossed the Straits of Gibraltar inviting Sheik Tariq bin Ziyad to invade Spain which he did in 711. Roderic’s impolitic folly and the revenge by Witiza’s people caused terrible times for Spain over several hundred years. Why do leaders engage in such recklessness? They end up hurting their countries.

During a dispute over a $100 worth of fence repair the man yelled at his neighbor, “I’ll see you in court!” Why did he threaten something so ill-advised? It only hurt him.

They all acted while in the grip of emotional intensity.

Consider ancient Jewish wisdom’s comparison of Joseph and Esther’s lives. Both of them, while isolated from their families, rose to positions of prominence and power and saved their people. Both were described as very good looking and both were descended from Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel.

The four critical moments that transformed each of their lives were punctuated by decisions made under emotional intensity.


(i) His brothers hated him. (Genesis 37:4-5)

(ii) Potiphar’s wife felt scorned by him. (Genesis 39:13-15)

(iii) Potiphar felt anger toward him. (Genesis 39:19)

(iv) Pharaoh blew up at the butler and baker. (Genesis 40:2)


(i) King Ahashverush was angry at Vashti (Esther 1:12)

(ii) Bigtan and Teresh became angry at the king. (Esther 2:21)

(iii) Haman became enraged at Mordechai. (Esther 3:5)

(iv) King Ahashverush was furious at Haman. (Esther 7:7)

Neither Joseph nor Esther ever acted themselves under the grip of intense emotions but others in their lives did so. God used those moments of instability to change the course of history. If you ever see an opponent of yours act while under the influence of strong emotions, be happy. You may be close to deliverance.

Have you ever been motivated by emotional intensities like hate, pride, obstinacy, arrogance, or anger to do something really silly that only ended up hurting you? Of course you have; who hasn’t?

One of the messages of Purim, the Feast of Esther which begins tonight, is that while we all are subject to emotions, acting upon those emotions is always a bad idea.

Biblical Persia is, of course, modern day Iran. I heard a TV news anchor comment on Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s promise to launch a nuclear attack on Israel. She said, “It’s just an empty threat; why would any head of state do something so irrational?” I ask: Why would any news organization keep on staff someone with so little understanding of how the world really works? Humans are capable of doing really irrational things while in the grip of their emotions. We can work on building our characters so we don’t fall into this trap.

Emotions often lead people to spend money they don’t have. My good friend, Dave Ramsey, is a master at helping people eliminate debt. Increasing your income is one vital step you can take. My Income Abundance Set teaches you effective strategies which will boost your earnings. In honor of my appearance on Dave’s radio show today, the three part set is on sale right now.

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