Monthly Archives: December, 2014

Had I not Been

December 30th, 2014 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

Had I not been immersed in homeschooling and other activities in 1999, I still don’t think Sergey Brin and Larry Page would have invited me to join their startup, Google. They did invite Susan Wojcicki, who wrote on Dec. 17 in the Wall Street Journal that she was four months pregnant when she accepted their offer. As CEO of Youtube, she is now embarking on her fifth maternity leave, complete with eighteen weeks of full pay.

Her article extols the benefits that accrue to businesses, mothers and families from generous paid maternity leave. She urges federal governmental involvement in mandating and helping to pay for such leave. In her opinion, that would be a boon for those women who neither live in the five states that currently have state funding nor work for a company like Google that, in her words, “value motherhood.”   Accepting as a given that she is both a dedicated professional and a dedicated mother, I’m glad that she is working for business rather than occupying political office. 


Talk to Me in St. Louis

December 18th, 2014 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

My husband and I passed through St. Louis twice last week. We interacted with supermarket clerks, airport personnel, rental car employees and assorted people waiting on line with or sitting near us. A fair number of those people were African American. To a person, they were helpful and cheerful.

The question I wanted to ask was, “What do you think of the Ferguson riots?” that took place within a few miles of that very airport. I couldn’t think of a way to ask the question graciously in a few fleeting moments. I also doubted that an unknown stranger should expect an honest and thoughtful response.

Yet, here is my guess. I think that the hard-working people we met had not spent the previous night rioting. I think that Al Sharpton and associates embarrass them and that their sympathies are with storeowners who saw years of work destroyed rather than with looting thugs. The employees we met may very well resent having been stopped by overly aggressive police on occasion and if that hasn’t happened to them, they probably know others to whom it has. They probably have encountered unpleasantness based on their race. Yet, could it be that while they don’t think racism is dead, they might think that incidents like Ferguson increase rather than decrease their being viewed suspiciously? Could they be worried that the rioters, media and governmental response are going to make their lives worse, not better?

Why do I suspect this? Since I have no first-hand experience of racism, I can only look at the situation through the prism I do have. I know that the majority of Israelis long to live in peace with their Moslem neighbors. Polls show that 68% of Israeli Arabs oppose the recent wave of terror attacks and 77% would choose to live under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule, given the choice. Most of these same people do not feel that they are treated fairly and harbor mistrust for the Israeli government. Still, they want things to improve not to get worse.

When a long-time Arab worker attacks Jews in Israel with gun or dagger, his fellow peace-desiring Arabs lose jobs, are viewed with more hostility and are treated less well. Could we expect anything different? When one Arab boards a bus and detonates a bomb is it possible not to sympathize with the bus driver who doesn’t halt for an Arab at the next bus stop? The rules may say that he must stop, but people’s emotions have to change before rules matter.

In a less dramatic example, a Jewish woman recently made a scene when she found a swastika shape in wrapping paper put out in Walgreens for the Chanuka holiday. The swastika was not readily apparent. When I looked at a photo, I had to read instructions for spotting it before I could see it. Now, the Holocaust and Nazi Germany bring forth, and should bring forth, great emotion. I do not know this woman’s history and she may well have been psychologically impacted by having survivor parents or grandparents. Nevertheless, her isolated severe, and probably completely unfair, attack made the headlines and caused Walgreens to withdraw the paper. My response is sadness and embarrassment. It does me no good for others to hesitate to do business in Jewish neighborhoods for fear of inadvertently offending anyone. It does none of us any good when every email, remark, look and action needs to undergo censoring lest someone gets offended.

There is real anti-Semitism growing rapidly in the world. It was even loudly proclaimed among the heavily white and incredibly foolish marchers in Seattle who claimed to be protesting Ferguson. There are real racial discrepancies and problems that face the African- American community. There are real concerns about abuses in police departments and federal SWAT teams. Yet, bludgeoning others with cries of racism and anti-Semitism through false and misleading reporting, “gotcha” attitudes and hysteria leads to more problems rather than to solutions.

A small number of people, whether known as mobs, criminals or terrorists have always been able to destroy the work of the majority of decent people. Right now with the administration, universities and most media egging on bullying forces, we are in great danger of this nation splintering apart, and of hatred and divisiveness increasing as gender, race and religion are used as battering rams rather than celebrated as parts of the amazing complexity of humanity.

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Fossil Fuel Festivities

December 16th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Around the world, Jews greet the holiday of Chanukah by lighting one flame. On each successive night of this eight-day festival we add one additional flame, culminating on the eighth night with a fully lit eight-flame menorah.

Among the miracles commemorated by Chanukah is that God made a tiny quantity of consecrated oil last for eight days until a further supply could be secured.  Since only one flame was involved in the original miracle, we could adequately commemorate it by lighting one candle each evening of the eight days.  Or if you prefer bright lights, we could light eight candles each night of the festival.  After all, my gracious Christian neighbors don’t keep adding to or subtracting from the attractive holiday lighting on their homes as Christmas approaches.

Surely kindling the identical array of light each night would adequately capture recollection of the original miracle by replicating it.  However, if you really do want to make each evening distinctively different, it would express more environmental sensitivity were we to first light eight candles and then one fewer on each successive night.  This would demonstrate our sad but inexorable progress toward a darker world.  Each night’s declining light would publicly proclaim that we are running out of the fossil fuels from which candles are made. (You do know that this is not my real belief, don’t you?)

What ultimate meaning do we derive from ancient Jewish wisdom’s requirement that we light one flame the first night, two the second, until night eight when the menorah’s eight candles cast out an incandescent blaze of light?

Darkness is the tragic default condition for much of humanity.  Even our live lives are frighteningly fragile and can all too easily turn dark.  One need only dwell on the problems that we all face for life to become overwhelming. Family issues, health and financial crises, even matters of personal faith.  If individual challenges are not enough, consider the state of the world.  That alone could envelop you in gloom and darkness.

With all that darkness, the pathway towards brightness and happiness is hard to find. Since it’s impossible to completely rid one’s life of problems, how does one dispel darkness?

The best way is by focusing on only one problem at a time.  If we chip away at only one challenge at a time and ensure that each passing day diminishes that problem, we see hope.  As the figure of speech goes, we see ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’  The key is to make each day even just a little brighter than the day before.  Herein lies the key to the infusion of hope that the Chanukah experience offers.

As my friend Dave Ramsey ( teaches, if one of the causes of your darkness is debt, select one credit card and chip away at its balance.  Make each passing day a bit brighter. This will help you shine light and dispel gloom on the next area you need to confront.

If your marital life, or lack thereof, is bringing darkness, pick one small area to start improving each day. If a health or financial issue looms darkly, again, start today to better one small area.

Trying to tackle everything at once – the equivalent of lighting eight flames each night – can quickly lead to chaos. Starting with a huge chunk and despondently recognizing that you have undertaken too much is demoralizing.  Even worse is lighting eight candles, then seven, then six. You’re moving depressingly toward darkness.  Instead, find one limited area to which you can consistently add a little more light. Needless to say, seeing that one dark area brighten up a little each day equips us to confront other problem areas with optimism—an expression of light.

Celebrating Chanukah in accordance with ancient Jewish wisdom provides an annual infusion of hope and promise.  Watching that menorah become brighter each night assures me that tomorrow can be lighter than today and offers a roadmap to bring that about.

Susan and I try to dispense cheer and guideposts for successful living on our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show. We love the mail we receive telling us how you enjoy and benefit from our work. We gathered eight of your favorite shows onto two DVDs. As part of our Chanukah celebration, get both discs for the price of one. They make great holiday gifts and provide uplifting “downtime” relaxation. (For more Chanuka insights check out Festival of Lights as well as the final day of our Biblical Blueprints sale.)
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First Fruits (and sometimes Nuts)

December 10th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Here is today’s Thought Tool quiz:

Early in 1845, Henry David Thoreau, along with about twenty of his friends, began a two and a half year-long party in a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord Massachusetts.  True or False?

In 1971 Ted Kaczynski, his wife, six children, a nanny, a tutor, and three puppies moved to an isolated mountain cabin in Montana from where he later sent bombs through the mail injuring dozens of people and killing three. True or False?

Brilliant twentieth century photographer Ansel Adams, who specialized in capturing the glory of America’s national parks and other natural wonders, left a legacy of thousands of pictures depicting happy crowds enjoying their natural outdoor heritage. True or False?

With thirty members of his Rotary Club, Chris McCandless hiked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. After being awed by nature’s grandeur, he returned home to Virginia.  True of False?

Ready for the answers?  All four statements are false. (I am sure you hardly needed me to tell you that.)  Thoreau was alone at Walden Pond.  The Unabomber lived in lonely isolation for nearly thirty years.  It is difficult to find any Ansel Adams photographs containing even one human image.  In his book, “Into the Wild,” Jon Krakauer relates how McCandless hiked alone and died alone, tragically and unnecessarily.

While it is true that many families and crowds of friends enjoy the outdoors in companionship, we each tend to experience nature in our own individual way.  To some it’s the sunrise or sunset. To others it’s lambs gamboling behind their mothers in the spring.  But whichever way you experience nature, it can resemble a museum which evokes awe more than camaraderie.  I might visit an art gallery with a group of friends, but the experience is essentially lonely.

It is not a coincidence that far more money is made, and far greater wealth created, in the crowded confines of cities than in the open spaces of nature.  Almost by definition, the great outdoors is uncrowded while making money requires considerable contact between humans.  I make money when other people who know me, like me, and trust me invite me to serve them with my good or services.  That is certainly more likely to happen when my focus is people and connection than when I revel in the splendid isolation of the wild.

This helps us understand a perplexing puzzle found in Deuteronomy 26.

We’re told that when Israel enters its land everyone should bring his annual first fruits to Jerusalem. There, he should place his basket before the priest in the Temple. He then recites a proclamation.

Wouldn’t you suppose that in appreciation of nature’s bounty the grateful farmer might recite verses praising nature and its miraculous processes? For instance, you might have expected those who brought their first fruits to articulate verses like these from Psalms.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving sing praise upon the harp to our God who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass grow on the mountains.
(Psalms 147:7-8)

Yet those bringing their first fruits to Jerusalem must utter a different passage:

An Aramean tried to destroy my father, who then went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous; But the Egyptians dealt harshly with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us terrible slavery.  And when we cried to the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression and brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesomeness, and with signs, and with wonders.  And he has brought us to this place, and has given us this land, a land that flows with milk and honey.  And now, I have brought the first fruits of the land.  
(Deuteronomy 26:5-9)

Why a condensed history lesson rather than a song of nature’s bounty?  History bonds us to those who came before us and to those who will follow us.  Moreover, emphasizing shared history bonds us to others as we gather to celebrate anniversaries, holidays and memorial observances.  If we are celebrating the sustenance we enjoy, then it is far more appropriate to celebrate our connection to people, both living and long gone, than to sing of nature.

Yes, nature provides valuable solace and rejuvenation. However, as a model for existence, God wishes for us to live among others. Keeping our histories alive is a sure way to retain the nourishment of connection. Not surprisingly, God blesses those who follow His wishes in this respect with the enormous blessing of sustenance and abundance.

Next week, Jews will gather to celebrate Chanuka. It is a blueprint for the present as well as a history of the past, with important life lessons for all of God’s children. We collected some valuable insights in our audio CD, Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life. You can get it alone or enjoy substantial holiday savings and hours of life-enhancing learning when you order it as part of our Biblical Blueprint Set. And yes, listening with others amplifies the benefits.

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December 4th, 2014 Posted by Susan's Musings 5 comments

 A lot of anger has erupted on the streets of America. Do you have the feeling we’ve been here before? I was too young to pay much attention to the Watts riots of 1965 in Los Angeles or the campus demonstrations of 1968, but between last year’s Occupy movement and the mayhem spurred by events in Ferguson, MO, it does seem that we’re replaying old history. That suggests that the billions of dollars for ‘programs’ and the gallons of ink spent on writing legislation has been useless. Perhaps, in some ways it has even caused more harm than good. Surely, that is a reason for well-intentioned people to pause.

Maimonides, a great rabbi, physician and philosopher of the 12th century, wrote an examination of character traits. He states that we should search for the golden mean, recognizing that each trait taken to an extreme is harmful. For example, he sees stinginess and generosity as two sides of a spectrum. Being too stingy is clearly undesirable, but being too generous is equally harmful. That tends to lead people to ignore their own needs and those of their families while worrying excessively about others, or even to mistakenly think that they can be generous with other people’s money. According to Maimonides, we should aim for moderation in all traits, recognizing the tug of the extremes and delicately balancing between them.

Maimonides exempts one character trait from his advice. Anger. He insists that while we sometimes need to seem angry, such as a parent admonishing a child, we should never be angry. Being angry causes us to lose control and traps us in an emotional maelstrom. Anger destroys us and works against our achieving our goals. Does tearing down neighborhood stores (as in Ferguson, MO) or forcing the closure of ambulance service in a community (as happened in NYC last night) really help anyone? Actually, it does. It helps demagogues and those whose power and income increase when Americans hate and distrust each other. It helps media personalities who need something passionate and visual with which to fill airtime. Violence is ever so much more colorful than peace. However, it certainly doesn’t help most people – those of all colors, races and genders who seek to provide for and raise families in peace and dignity.

Goading people to anger is easy, especially when facts are expendable. When anger takes center stage, true issues are ignored.  If we take away the cloud of rage (outrageously encouraged by this administration) and courageously but calmly look for truth, what will we find?

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Sunflowers, Science and Society

December 2nd, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…   What comes after 55?  That’s right! 89 is the correct answer.  Each number is obtained by adding the two preceding numbers.  This series of numbers is called the Fibonacci sequence and is a little different from common arithmetic or geometric series like 3, 6, 9, 12… or 2, 10, 50, 250…

Amazingly, Fibonacci numbers provide a bridge between mathematics and nature.  The way that branches are arranged around the trunk of a tree corresponds to this series.  Similarly, the arms of a spiral galaxy and the number of right-handed and left-handed spirals in the sunflower correspond to Fibonacci numbers, as do the spirals on many mollusk shells.

Western training has carried specialization to such an extreme that poets and physicists barely share a common language.  We assume that God and faith have nothing at all to do with biology and chemistry.  We assume that law and justice have little to do with morality and certainly nothing to do with God.  Yet, a curious juxtaposition of verses in Deuteronomy seems to suggest an entirely different model.

The sixty-eight verses from Deuteronomy 16:18 all the way to Deuteronomy 19:21 detail God’s model of a functioning judiciary.  John Locke, one of the most important philosophical influences on the American Founding, depended heavily upon this and other passages in the Torah, which he studied in the original Hebrew.  Much of America’s legal system is based on these very ideas.

This passage contains directions on setting up courts of law as well as law enforcement agencies.  It warns against bribing judges and specifies the laws of evidence. It mentions the role of a monarchy and the independence of the judiciary.  It describes how a civilized nation deals with murder in its midst and it differentiates between accidental homicide and premeditated murder.  It deals with land laws and boundary disputes and it discusses perjury and its punishments.

Yet, in the midst of such secular sounding topics come words that seem completely out of context.  Just after we read the inspiring words “Justice, justice shall you pursue… (Deuteronomy 16:20) we find this:

You shall not plant for yourselves an idolatrous tree—any tree—near the altar of the Lord your God…You shall not slaughter for the Lord your God an ox or lamb in which there is a blemish…
(Deuteronomy 16:21—17:1)

One can almost hear the cries of outrage from modern western legal scholars.  “Church and state should be rigidly separated,” they yell.  “We’re talking about laws and jurisprudence; don’t drop in verses about idolatry and sacrifices to God.”  One can almost hear their point.  After all, why would we intersperse important principles about judges and witnesses, murderers and thieves, with ritual rules about altars and blemished sheep?

The connection between religious ritual and legal structure is quite consequential.  The entire legal authority of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish people’s Supreme Court that only functions when situated in the Temple, comes from these words:

And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather me seventy men from the elders of Israel…take them to the Tent of Meeting and have them stand there with you.  I will descend and speak with you there and I will increase some of the Spirit that is upon you and place it upon them…’
(Numbers 11:16-17)

We can now more clearly understand why the sixty-eight verses about law and justice contain references to how the litigants and the plaintiffs in a lawsuit must appear not only before judges, but also before God and priests. There is a seamless unity linking law and faith, joining judges to priests and connecting jurisprudence to God.

Grasping these connections accustoms us to question western training that compartmentalizes everything.  With this insight, it becomes so much easier to see how a friend’s tattered relationship with God impacts behavior.  Recognizing the role of religion in marriage becomes simple. Today, society urges us to think that God and our personal and legal interactions with others aren’t related. They want us to pigeonhole things just as before Fibonacci, flowers and mathematics were viewed separately. That is not how the world really works.

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