Monthly Archives: February, 2015

Creepy or Cool?

February 26th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 10 comments

There I was, in the American Airlines club, awaiting a flight taking us from one event of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians to another, hurrying to complete one of these Musings. As I opened my computer, up popped a window telling me where I was and asking if I wanted to sign in. Is it creepy or cool that they knew where I was?

My life is enriched by technology. Super communication has tremendous benefits. I love ordering something online and it showing up two days later at my door. I appreciate getting back to work quickly when a computer technician shares my screen online, instantaneously pinpointing and solving a problem I’m having. I love staying in touch with overseas friends in real time. 

At the same time, these benefits come with side effects. Search online for a rug and for the next few days every time you visit a website a rug ad greets you. Go to a store’s website and get special offers from them over the next few days. You’ve surely had similar experiences. Our privacy is certainly being eroded We take it for granted that government agencies can spy on us anytime they wish and suspect that the law allows them to do so more easily than we would like.

Walt Disney most likely had no idea how much of a, “small, small world,’ we would occupy within decades of his theme park opening. Not only can we instantly be in touch around the globe but future generations will be able to access our lives in unprecedented ways

When we read correspondence between John and Abigail Adams or diary entries by those who lived through the Civil War, we gain not only historical information but human insights. Yet, these individuals or their children had the option of burning any documents that they did not want eyes other than their own to see. 

Have you ever thrown away unflattering or embarrassing photos? I have. Digital photos don’t disappear as easily and certainly items posted impulsively or immaturely on social media cannot be eliminated when wiser sentiments prevail. Being able to get a fresh start in life is increasingly becoming harder. Atonement, meaning being able to wipe away a past we consider reprehensible and start again is a vital part of a Bible-based world view.  It has saved many a life. Today’s techno-secular atmosphere makes this harder.  We walk around like Pigpen in the Charlie Brown cartoons, the aura of dirt hanging over his head replaced by the detritus of our pasts hanging over ours.

There’s a bit of both creepy and cool, a Pandora’s box and a treasure chest in what man has created. Can we be trusted to use it wisely? 

  ATR cover 1896x 2625

Love Your Neighbor – Really?

February 24th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

One of the most frequently recurring questions that I am asked is this:  “Rabbi Lapin, I try to live my life as an upright and decent person and I try to make my decisions according to the Biblical code of good and evil but I often feel exploited.  Sometimes relatives count on my good nature as they ask to stay at my home for lengthy visits while they tour nearby vacation areas.   Other times co-workers ask for favors that go way beyond normal collegial cooperation.  I am at my wit’s end because I know they view me as a God-fearing, kind and compassionate Christian.  They assume that since I love them, I must agree to their requests. Sometimes, though, I find these requests excessive and I feel resentful.  I don’t see how I can refuse without appearing unchristian but I don’t like feeling resentment. How can I reconcile my self-expectations of love with those of other people in my life?”

Let’s face it. Loving others isn’t always easy.  Even loving one’s friends and relatives can sometimes be a bit demanding.  This is especially true when things begin to resemble a bottomless pit.  Imagine your neighbor borrowing your lawnmower in the name of your love for him, then demanding your hedge trimmer before he hosts a late night noisy party, always confident of your obligation to give him endless love.  When is enough, enough?

I sympathize.  The Bible does demand much from us.  What are we to do when others latch onto our moral commitment to behave agreeably and exploit it?  Well, today I want to do more than sympathize.  I want to provide you with a solution to the dilemma created by your faith and dedication to God’s word.

Clearly the one specific Bible verse causing this consternation is:

…and you shall love your friend as yourself, I am the Lord.
(Leviticus 19:18)

This verse appears problematic because a casual reading of it could imply that whenever I love myself enough to get me an ice-cream, I need to get you one too.  And you, and yes, you too!   Does it mean that when you purchase a lovely new outfit, you should buy one for each of your friends and neighbors as well?   Upon reflection, that does seem ridiculous, but if it is what the Scripture says, well…

Happily ancient Jewish wisdom comes to the rescue pointing out that the Hebrew text actually reflects that you must love your friend just as you would expect him to love you.  No more and no less.

In other words, would I expect my friend or neighbor to buy me an ice-cream whenever he gets one for himself?  No, of course not.  Would you expect your friend to get you a pretty new dress whenever she got one for herself?  No, of course you wouldn’t.  The message is clear; do not expect more love than you would deliver in the same circumstances.

Once we learn how to overcome the problem of limitless expectations on the part of those we love, learning how to love those among whom we live is very worthwhile.  It can help us love others once we realize that loving someone else “as yourself” does not mean you ought to love him as much as you love yourself, but as much as you’d expect him to love you.  Do things for other people in the name of your love for them, to the extent that you would expect them to do the same for you.

As soon as we apply these reasonable limitation on expectations, we can love fearlessly.  However we must remember why we should indeed love our friends at all.  The concluding phrase of Leviticus 19:18,  “I am the Lord,” reminds us that we are all God’s children and as such, we are all brothers and sisters and by that relationship, worthy of one another’s love.

One way to show love for each other, as well as to celebrate our being created by God, is to properly use the gift He uniquely gave to human beings – speech. When we speak rudely or use foul language in a public area, we are stating a lack of care for others.  When we use profanity among our friends and family, we degrade ourselves and them. In the process, as we show in our audio CD, Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak, we damage our economic chances as well as our opportunities for lasting love. An hour listening to this CD can change your future.

Peril cover 143

Uber Ethics

February 18th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

Miami Beach, particularly in a week when cities like Boston and New York are facing bitter winter weather, boasts a welcoming, palm-tree filled sight. The Atlantic Ocean bedecks itself in varying shades of blue, a deceptively benign looking body of water  which sporadically hosts Cuban refugees attempting perilous voyages in unseaworthy vessels. Over Presidents’ Day weekend a few hundred yards east from where these aspiring immigrants hope to land, the Miami Beach International Boat Show hosts some of the world’s most expensive and elegant yachts. 

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That contrast between penniless, homeless people seeking sanctuary and prospective yacht owners examining multi-million dollar boats, is seen by many as proof of injustice and the need for income redistribution. Perhaps, it is proof of exactly the opposite.

My husband loves the Miami Boat Show. It is the equivalent, for him, of a fashionista attending New York’s fashion week or a geek attending Comdex. This year, some business meetings in Florida and fortuitously timed speeches in North Carolina (o.k., some gentle nudging helped these events fall out exactly at the right time) allowed us to route ourselves via Miami and wander the docks. As Miami is also home to many of N. America’s best kosher restaurants, we occasionally left the waterfront to eat. 

Thursday night, on a tight schedule to be on time for radio broadcasting, we hailed a cab back to our hotel after supper. A few nights later, we took the same route but this time used Uber. In between those two rides I read an article in the Miami Herald entitled, Uber debate takes on ethnic undertone. The first sentence reads as follows: 

“As debate rages in Broward County between traditional taxi companies
 and the new game in town, Uber, a disturbing undercurrent has emerged.” 

That undercurrent, the article implies, is racism and xenophobia. Uber’s drivers in Miami are more likely to be white and college educated than are taxi drivers. The implication is that Uber and its riders are prejudiced bigots.  Are they really? 

The bigot accusations stemmed from comments customers made complaining about taxi service. What terrible things were said? Passengers resented having drivers whose cars were dirty, whose English was inadequate and whose rides, they felt, were longer than necessary. All three of these criterion are subjective. Could the complaints stem from bigotry? Maybe. They could also stem from people who expect a certain level of cleanliness, who wish to communicate with their driver and who suspect that their fare was higher than necessary. 

The taxi ride we took on Thursday night cost us about $8. The taxi was clean, but we had trouble understanding what our driver said. He, whether maliciously or from ignorance, stayed in a lane where cars in front of him were stopping to make turns. The same ride with our Uber driver cost under $5, was quicker and included a pleasant conversation.

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Are we bigots? It is true that our taxi driver was a dark colored immigrant. But so was our Uber driver. In the short time we had together, he told us how, at age sixteen, he pleaded with his father in Haiti to let him leave for America. His father’s acquiescence  led to two years of labor in the Bahamas, followed by immigration to the United States. Our Uber driver, Frederick, waxed eloquently about the blessings of this country and the opportunities afforded to him. As we drove by the row of mega-yachts, he looked at them with pride, a symbol of what his children might be able to afford thanks to the free market in this country. Frederick also spoke resentfully of fellow immigrants who, he said, didn’t want to work hard as he had done.  

I don’t know anyone who is opposed to immigration. I know many people who are opposed to recruiting the resentful and the jealous, the violent and the American haters. How potential immigrants view this country’s wealthy citizens and events like the Miami International Boat Show- as enemies to be overcome or as wonders to be appreciated – speaks strongly as to whether they should be welcomed or not.  

What are the best boat tales in the Bible? Noah’s Ark and Jonah’s escape to Tarshish are two good contenders. Study them with adult intellect and find the hidden messages for your life. 

                                      OR
Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity (with lessons from Jonah)

 

 

 

 

Guest Musing: What Price Snowmageddon?

February 12th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 11 comments

A decades old stereotype exists of Jewish mothers wanting their sons to be doctors. That was never my dream. I wanted my son to stay true to his faith, finding fulfilling work with which he would contribute to the world. Ari majored in physics in college intending to enter the business world. After a few years of working in business as he was about to start an MBA he called us to ask what we thought of his going to medical school. He realized that he was most fulfilled in his volunteer activities, all of which centered around medicine.

After a grueling two year program that caught him up on all the pre-med science courses he hadn’t taken, he entered medical school, graduating last May. He is now an emergency room resident in NYC, where he sees first-hand both the successes and failures of our medical system. He is fulfilling my dream and, incidentally, I do get to say, “My son, the doctor.” 

 This winter he and many of his fellow doctors, along with nurses and other staff, slept overnight at the hospital in anticipation of the blizzard that wasn’t. Here are some of his thoughts.   

 

New York’s recent non-blizzard and the pre-emptive safety measures taken by Mayor de Blasio have been subjects of much conversation lately. Even before we were aware of just how lackluster a blizzard it would prove to be, his panicky press conferences and predictions of doom and gloom suggested that perhaps the mayor would do well to listen to “Let It Go,” from Disney’s “Frozen,” a time or two and adopt a small part of the fortitude demonstrated by teenage Elsa’s attitude toward snow and storms. 

There is no doubt de Blasio’s precautions took government nannying to unprecedented levels. Streets were closed to non-emergency vehicles, pedestrians were discouraged from walking outside, and for the first time in the 110 years of its existence, the NYC subway system was shut down for a snowstorm. Following the anti-climactic snowfall, I noticed a widespread and disturbing viewpoint that needs addressing. In conversations among friends, interviews in the media and no small number of social media postings, I have seen and heard comments such as these:

Better safe than sorry!

Would you have rather seen people dying if the blizzard had been as devastating as predicted?

Or in the words of Mayor de Blasio himself, “Would you rather be safe or unsafe?”

(more…)

You’re a One Hit Wonder, Jezebel

February 10th, 2015 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Have you ever found yourself entranced by the video game, Angry Birds?  You might have thought that the stock of the company, Rovio, that started with the launch of that strangely addictive activity would be soaring as high as its colorful avian projectiles.  Not so; in fact it never came up with any subsequent games even remotely as popular.

That Thing You Do” was a moderately successful 1996 movie about a teen-age band in a small Pennsylvania town that achieves stardom with their eponymous hit song.  It was their first and last hit.  It was pretty much also the first and last directorial of well-liked actor, Tom Hanks.

You know those hideous rubber shoes that come in fluorescent colors? Well, the company that innovated that particular fashion accessory once enjoyed a stock price of about $70 but for years it has hovered around $10.  Those shoes apparently were the company’s only achievement. Since then profits have plummeted.

There was a time when over 4 million people had a television watching device called a Tivo, made by a company of the same name.  At its peak the company stock sold for about $60, but for quite a while it’s been down around $10.  The brains who came up with that innovative TV accessory have not come up with anything else and meanwhile viewers have fled Tivo for newer alternatives.

Let’s not even look at Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s Cubes or Pet Rocks. We’ve seen any number of one hit wonders that come out of nowhere, capture everyone’s attention, then just as quickly turn into attic clutter.  It even happens to people.

Meg Whitman took the reins at eBay in 1998, where she soon took it public and made it one of the most valuable companies on the Internet.  After ten great years at eBay she ran for governor of California, losing to career politician, Jerry Brown, in November 2010.  Hewlett Packard then picked her to head the giant computer company.  Things haven’t gone well.  HP stock is way down.  Bloomberg LP dubbed Meg Whitman the most underachieving CEO.  Another one hit wonder?

Ron Johnson was hired by Steve Jobs to create those sleek gadget-filled Apple stores.   Opening 300 stores with incredibly high average sales per square foot, Ron made Apple Stores the top American retailer.  Johnson seemed a miracle merchandiser but he was really a one hit wonder.  He next signed up as CEO of J.C.Penney. Seventeen months later, the giant retailer was in ruins and Ron Johnson was fired.

In general, it seems a far better plan to build a company on an ethos of constant improvement and innovation than basing strategy upon one individual or product with early stupendous success. It is certainly better to consistently provide attention and create good memories with children rather than providing one spectacular vacation week a year.

Where in ancient Jewish wisdom is this principle taught?  It’s time to revisit I Kings 18 & 19.

The wicked king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel led Israel into idolatry, worshipping the Baal.  God’s prophet, Elijah, challenged four hundred and fifty false prophets to have their god bring fire down to their sacrifice. They failed while God brought fire which consumed Elijah’s sacrifice.  This signaled a colossal defeat for Ahab and Jezebel which was compounded when Elijah brought a rainfall, ending a devastating drought.  This was the end of the false prophets and Israel returned to the Lord.  This has to have been the triumphant high point of Elijah’s life.

Then two astonishing things happen.  First, Jezebel sends a message to Elijah promising to kill him on the next day.  Second, Elijah falls into utter dejection.  He flees into the desert and prays for God to take his soul.

If Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah why didn’t she just do it today? Why telegraph her intentions of killing him tomorrow?  Furthermore, with his stunning success over the Baal and bringing Israel back to God, why was Elijah so depressed?

The clue is the verse that directly follows the queen’s threat.

And he [Elijah] saw and he arose and went towards his soul…
(I Kings 19:3)

 

The words are not, “and he heard,” the threats of the queen and he fled “for” his life.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Elijah “saw” as we today say, “Oh, I see…,” meaning I understand.  Elijah understood what the queen was saying.

He correctly understood her message to mean, “Elijah, I can’t kill you today because today you won. You produced an incomparable miracle.  You’re a big hero. Today.  However, if you think the effect will last, you’re terribly mistaken.  Tomorrow the people will forget what you did.  They will return to idolatry and then I will kill you.”

After a lifetime dedicated to keeping Israel attached to God, Elijah felt defeated.  He feared that Jezebel was correct and that the effects of his work would be short-lived.  He didn’t flee for his life; she wasn’t about to kill him.  He went towards his soul, convinced that his work in this world was done and ready to die.

One massive miracle that demonstrated God’s power would have no lasting impact.  Indeed, one fantastic and flamboyant triumph seldom has lasting value.  But Elijah was nonetheless wrong. His life was not just one pyrotechnic extravaganza.  It was the accumulated collection of a long list of accomplishments growing in significance.  As a result, his effectiveness lasts forever.  He never actually died.

…and Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
(II Kings 2:11)

When hiring an associate we can use this wisdom by seeking a candidate with a record of steadily increasing responsibilities and achievements rather than someone with an early meteoric rise.  When building a business enterprise we can plan for an airborne future rather than a flamboyant takeoff followed by a flameout.  When raising a child we must provide a consistent environment of attention rather than occasional extravagant treats amidst benign neglect. Avoid being a one hit wonder.

Many permanent principles like this one govern our relationship to money; making it, spending it, saving it and growing it. Fortunately over the past twenty years I gathered those many timeless truths from the Torah and now condensed them into two books, Thou Shall Prosper and Business Secrets from the Bible.

Make a change and enhance your 2015 finances by making this set a part of your strategies.  It could also bring about significant change in the financial fortunes of someone you love.  I am sure your gift would be well appreciated.

Financial Book Package

 

Hysteria vs. Hysteria

February 5th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

When I wrote about vaccinations a while back, I had no idea that controversy on the topic would shortly ignite emotional paroxysm in America. I don’t care what your views are, there is something strange about a world in which ISIS torturing, brutalizing and murdering with clear intentions of spreading their violence around the globe (that means to you and me) provokes less attention and emotion than a measles outbreak in Disneyland.

 

Last week, I suggested in my Musing that if five pro-life women sat down with five pro-choice women, they might be surprised to find their counterparts to be kind, reasonable ladies who actually could agree on more than they think. Admittedly, I think the pro-choice group has more to learn than the other way around, yet my point was that our culture currently encourages us to picture those who think differently than us as crazy extremists.

 

Little did I know that vaccination was going to take center stage in the, “I can call names, spew hatred, avoid facts and attack my fellow citizen,” category. Some liberal reporters are attempting to use this issue to marginalize conservatives based on the ‘religious exemption’ clause many states have. Some conservative pundits are attempting to use this issue to marginalize liberals based on statistic that show anti-vaccine sentiment is highest in crunchy granola territory. People who objected to homosexual bathhouses being closed in the early days of the AIDS epidemic are talking of forcibly vaccinating children and people who urged the bathhouses to be closed are adamantly supporting individual parents’ rights. (I’m not equating the issues, just pointing out a paradox.) Guess what? This isn’t a conservative/liberal issue. How refreshing!  People with Obama bumper stickers are on both sides as are Tea Party followers. Highly educated and smart people divide on this issue as do traditional believers and atheists. 

 

Since my personal feelings on the issue are nuanced and conflicted, I am standing back and watching how neither side is listening to the other. I believe that vaccines have been a public health blessing and that they are more dangerous than acknowledged. I also think they are less effective and have greater potential for harm than necessary because of the politicization of medicine as well as the millions of dollars at stake. In short, I agree and disagree with both sides and if individuals could talk instead of shout, they might find areas to compromise. 

 

Obviously, this topic hits home. Mothers and fathers on both sides feel that their children’s health is being threatened. Can we possibly move this discussion away from politics, away from name-calling and use this issue to learn how to revive the old-fashioned, pre-social media, ability to have conversation and debate? Maybe, just maybe, we’d end up with better health policy for all. 

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 It may seem like we live in crazy times – but we’ve been there before.
Use yesterday’s wisdom to get through today.
TGS_small
THE GATHERING STORM: DECODING THE SECRETS OF NOAH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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