Posts in Susan’s Musings

Exposed

May 16th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 23 comments

Even as I wrote it, I was disturbed by my last week’s Musing. The Musing’s premise was that we shouldn’t be surprised by hypocrisy in our politicians. I think, sadly, that this is true.  When many citizens demand that elected officials sanctimoniously parrot standardized phrases and then vote on the basis of those politically correct formulations we shouldn’t be surprised that the words of those running for office don’t match their personal actions.

This is not confined to politicians, of course. Our society keeps on pushing people to say one thing and think, believe and do another. For example, for many years now students taking a variety of exams, have been forced to choose between marking what they know to be the officially correct answer or responding with the truth according to their beliefs and, often, according to science. Recently, the MCATs, taken by aspiring doctors, added ideological questions that compel religious Christians and Jews to make exactly that deeply disturbing choice.

However writing about Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after allegations of disturbing personal conduct were made, troubled me. This resignation follows a pattern in a continuing series of stories that fling private matters into the public realm.

Let me explain.  This Saturday night marks the 3,330th anniversary of God giving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. While the Five Books of Moses do feature many oft-cited rules about charity, food, justice and sexual behavior, a surprising number of them deal with speech.

Gossip as entertainment has become so deeply embedded in our society that it is easy to forget that the prohibition against it springs from the same source as the prohibition against theft and adultery. In the Bible, there are numerous subcategories of forbidden speech, known in Hebrew as onaat devarim, sheker, rechilut, lashon hara, avak lashon hara, motzi shem ra and more. These don’t have ready translations into English and each headlines an area that has many categories. They include truthful statements and lies, positive and negative words, discussions that are seemingly innocent and words meant to wound. However, although there are rare times when one is obligated to carefully share negative information or to sound harsh, the idea of casually talking about people and intruding into people’s lives is never seen as a desired behavior. Almost all words said in private conversation to friends and other people merit protection. Without that, one enters a Soviet style world where people are afraid to speak.

While I admit to picking up People magazine two weeks ago at the dentist’s office and enjoying the pictures of the new British prince, the idea of a magazine like that, which in itself is tame compared to other media out there, is unambiguously against God’s directives. Today, newspapers that like to think of themselves as sophisticated cover stories that used to be considered only tabloid fodder. Technology has increased the reach and power of peering into others’ lives in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Our society is awash in lascivious looks and prying peeks.

Even the sanctity of marriage is threatened by a society that salaciously pants for views into private relationships. No decent person thinks that marriage allows a man to physically assault a woman. This was the impetus behind laws that emerged from the 1970s on, declaring spousal rape a crime. But our cultural definition of rape and force is changing to the point that just about everyone is liable to be guilty.

There are things each of us do for other people. I put a smile on my face when I am in the supermarket because my having a difficult day doesn’t give me permission to bring down the mood of others around me. I dress in a certain way when going to a class to show respect for the other students and the teacher. I play a game of Candyland when my to-do list is overwhelming in order bring a smile to my granddaughter’s face.

And in a marriage, husbands and wives do things that they may not particularly care to do in order to please their spouse. All those things, but especially intimate ones, deserve the sanctity of privacy. Almost every word exchanged within a sacred relationship, like marriage and family, merits titanium protection. If at a future time the marriage sours, leaving animosity in place of affection, those things should not retroactively be labelled as forced. Details being flagrantly shared should make decent people recoil with disgust.   

Having intimate relationships outside of marriage is not encouraged by the Torah, but speaking about them compounds the wrong. If a man assaults a woman, that is a criminal act. But if a man and a woman engage in an activity, it is a dangerous thing to validate the notion that in hindsight one can declare oneself to have felt forced and gain instant sympathy status by blabbing about it. For years, society has mocked religious people by saying that what two people do in the privacy of the bedroom is no one else’s business. Now, that same society is promoting the idea that, retroactively, possibly scarred, scorned and rapacious women should be encouraged to make those actions everyone’s business. I worry that last week, I might have acquiesced in that idea.

It is difficult in an increasingly immoral society to cling to morality without withdrawing from that society. Withdrawal, however, means giving up and abandoning the idea of positive change or helping even a few people learn that there is an alternate, better, way of life. Like so many of you, I struggle to keep a moral compass without putting on blinders, a Herculean task.

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I’m Shocked. Shocked!

May 10th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

One of cinema’s greatest moments is the scene in which Captain Renault closes down Rick’s Cafe in the 1942 movie Casablanca, saying,  “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”  Just then, an employee approaches and hands the Captain his winnings. The fact that it makes us smile does not mean that we also smile when our own politicians fling their hypocrisy in our faces.

Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after a number of women made allegations of disgusting behavior against him, may or may not be guilty of the charges. That doesn’t change the fact that a long list of pompous and self-righteous hypocrites who allied themselves with the Me Too! movement, make Donald Trump look like a particularly virtuous choir boy.

Piously and publicly proclaiming a cause while privately acting very differently is hardly a new phenomenon. While human failing is at the root of such actions, those shrilly touting their causes may have something to learn as well.

Back in the 1800s though the early 1900s, America had a serious alcohol problem. Women, in particular, suffered as men drank through their salaries and were often violent. The high rate of absenteeism, crime, and family misery led to the passage of the 18th Amendment.  Prohibition, enacted in 1920, was an attempt to respond to real suffering. While the policy was a failure and was eventually repealed (though not before creating some serious problems of its own) it was a genuine attempt to “promote the general welfare.”

Congressmen and Senators who voted in favor of Prohibition made emotional appeals on the subject. I’m sure some were sincere, but surely others saw it as a winning political stance. Women were on the verge of getting the vote and for many women this would be the single reason why they would support or oppose a legislator. Even without access to the ballot box, women vocally and physically made their preferences matter.

Not surprisingly, soon after Prohibition was enacted, Congress had its own, personal bootlegger who was even granted a storage area in the government building to house his supply. His name was George Cassiday.  He was a veteran attempting to earn a living, and was often busy from morning until night filling orders for Congressman of both parties and all districts. When, after a number of years he was shut down in the House of Representatives, he moved over to the Senate. Eventually, he wrote an expose that appeared in the Washington Post. Although he didn’t name names, Mr. Cassiday, who was referred to as ‘the man in the green hat,’ estimated that 80% of the Congress were drinkers. His writings exposing the legislators’ hypocrisy played a not insignificant role in the repeal of Prohibition. *

Being beaten by a drunken man is not funny. Sending your children to bed hungry because their father spends the evening after payday in a saloon is tragic. But banning the manufacture and transport of liquor allowed legislators to pacify females by pretending that this was going to be a panacea for human frailty.  They could speak one way to gullible women while continuing to act as they would.

Being hit upon in a vulgar fashion is not funny. For a woman to lose her job, or not get offered a job, because she won’t sleep with the boss is an egregious wrong. But the Me Too! movement, with its hysteria and emotionalism, encourages ego-driven politicians—of both genders—to tell gullible women exactly what they want to hear without demanding that the politician have even the slightest whit of common decency.

*My thanks to Lillian Cunningham and the Constitutional podcast for making me aware of this episode in history.

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Land of Few Babies

May 3rd, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

A lot has been written about China’s one-child-policy, a draconian government edict that has, as entirely anticipated decades ago by wise people (like my husband), led to a demographic crisis. First, China is about to have the oldest population in the industrialized world. Second, there are shortly going to be over twenty million single men desperately seeking wives they can’t find because they were never born. National and international implications notwithstanding, in an article on the subject in the Wall Street Journal, one simple idea jumped out at me.

It seems that when Beijing changed its policy in 2016 to allow a second child, it did not result in a rash of new babies. One person quoted said that even if all restrictions on family size were lifted, “China will learn what many other countries have learned—that it is much more difficult to get people to have more babies,” (than the other way around).

What struck me is how our complex world has transformed what used to be a fact of life – married couples have children – into a controversy. Scientific advances allow men and women both to avoid pregnancy without embracing celibacy and to imagine, often wrongly, that they can have pregnancy on demand. Social trends present children both as parental trophies and as impediments to living a fulfilling life. Having children, like marriage itself, is no longer a normal step on the road of life.

Government interference in family life takes many forms. In China, it was harnessed to lower the birth rate, a fact the government may now be ruing. In Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia having children was seen as doing one’s civic duty by producing future soldiers. Both Hitler and Stalin awarded  medals to mothers of large families. In the United States, misguided governmental policies encourage having children outside of marriage.

What, for centuries, had been the natural order of things has ceased to be so. While health and economic issues may have presented problems with having unlimited-sized families, children generally used to be seen as expected, needed and positive additions in a married couple’s life.

Today, manipulation of the natural order is the norm, though not without consequences as China and the rest of the world are discovering. Whether the culture is encouraging or discouraging pregnancy, providing government support to have or not have babies, or socially lauding or stigmatizing marriage and family, one of the most intimate of activities is being directed by public voices.

Outside of religious communities, large families are increasingly rare. There is little reason to assume that without family or cultural ties, unrelated citizens will, economically, emotionally and physically, care for the generation that preceded it. Looking at China’s looming problems head on may not be pleasant, but it is instructive.

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Be Still My Heart

April 26th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 43 comments

“I vote with my heart,” says a supporter of Cynthia Nixon, the Sex in the City actress who is running against Andrew Cuomo for the governorship of New York State, “and Ms. Nixon won my heart.”

I assume that the above quote, appearing at it does in the April 16, 2018 edition of New York magazine, a sanctimonious liberal publication, is not meant to discredit Ms. Nixon’s supporters, but to represent the depth of their commitment to her. I am not at all a supporter of the current governor, but I find this quote cringe-worthy.

After decades of women insisting that they could be as rational as men, increasingly, scores of females happily confirm that one reason for the early 1900 reluctance to grant women the vote (because they would vote emotionally), was substantive. A school textbook from the 1980s says, “…These reasons may seem ludicrous to us, but at the time were taken seriously by a wide cross-section of women as well as men.” The assumption that the reasons were ludicrous is today being challenged daily.

President Trump’s election, cited by Ms. Nixon as the main impetus that spurred her to run for office, has laid bare many illusions. Among them are the idea that liberal-leaning voters are in favor of free speech, equal justice for all and an unbiased press. Traditional and principled liberals are increasingly appalled by the hate-filled, anti-democracy vitriol coming from those with whom they thought they were allied.

Women too have lost credibility. For years, the popular media view of supporting women has meant supporting only liberal women. Conservative women, just like conservative Blacks and Jews were rendered invisible. The 2016 election ramped up the bigotry and bias.

I too have a negative emotional reaction to the man Donald Trump. Bill  Clinton evoked similar feelings in me, for many of the same reasons. I want neither man as a friend or neighbor. That is almost completely irrelevant to my actions in the voting booth. While personality isn’t unimportant, it is a small consideration compared to policy and other factors. I am a stronger supporter of President Trump today than I was when I voted for him. Not because I find him a more attractive individual – I don’t – and not only because I appreciate much of what he’s done. Just as my disgust with  Hillary Clinton’s behavior in her political life is part of what propelled me to vote for President Trump, the hysterical reaction from so many women to his election confirms for me that he is just what this country needs. Repealing the Nineteenth Amendment may be far-fetched, but women voting as informed, reasonable and rational citizens shouldn’t be.

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The Atheist and the Rebbetzin Should Be Friends

April 20th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma, features a song that allows for a rollicking dance sequence even if it doesn’t do much for the plot. The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends  is a social commentary on the tension between ranchers and farmers in the early 1900s in Oklahoma Territory. The closing lines (after Aunt Eller stops the fighting by brandishing her gun), are:

“I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else,
But I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!”

I think it safe to say that well-known atheist Sam Harris and I (Rebbetzin means Rabbi’s wife) disagree on whether traditional Judeo-Christian morals and values are good for society or not. I think we agree, however, on allowing those with whom we disagree to present their case and the need to recognize that holding an opposing opinion does not automatically make one evil. In fact, having rational and respectful conversation is a wonderful way to refine one’s arguments, recognize flaws in one’s logic and potentially sway opinions. If you believe that your ideas have merit, there is no reason to fear such an exchange.

I know that Mr. Harris holds these views because my husband and I were in the car for an extended time this week giving us the opportunity to listen to a fascinating podcast. As a guest on the podcast Harris expresses serious concern about a society that is quick to marginalize and demonize ideas that don’t match the reigning ideology even when those ideas are based in science and fact. For that matter, in the desperate desire to shut them down, opposing ideas aren’t even necessarily presented accurately. He is one in a growing line of thoughtful liberals, including Professor Alan Dershowitz, who are waking up to discover that the ‘new and improved’ world they participated in creating, is dangerously retrogressive.

I hesitate to recommend listening to the interview which was episode #1107 on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast only because the host seems to have a limited vocabulary that repetitively features one vulgarity. The good news is that he allows his guests, Sam Harris and  Maajid Nawaz to do most of the talking. They are articulate men with fascinating experiences and while I know there are many areas where we disagree, we share a deep concern for the dogmatic silencing of dialogue taking place in the Western world today. An alliance between conservatives and the increasingly rare traditionally open-minded and thoughtful liberal is a friendship worth cultivating.

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Yet We Live

April 12th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 9 comments

As human beings, we struggle to know ourselves; no matter how close we are to someone it is impossible to completely know another person. This is particularly true for our parents.

When my friend, Naomi*, was sitting shiva (the Jewish week of mourning) for her mother, she discovered some flabbergasting news. Naomi’s father was her mother’s second husband. Not only had she been previously married, but she and her first husband had two children. That husband and those children were murdered by the Nazis.

Naomi had known that her mother was in a concentration camp, though her mother never spoke of those years. She knew that her parents met in a DP camp; she knew that she and her older siblings, named for slaughtered grandparents, were born after her parents reached America’s blessed shores. But she never imagined that her mother’s life had included a previous young family. This information explained so much. She now could see her mother’s hyper-vigilance combined with a certain emotional gruffness not as personality quirks but as the tortured expression of inestimable pain.

I was unusual among my classmates in having four living grandparents. In addition,  all four of my grandparents were in America from before World War I. My parents were born and grew up in New York City. My father even had grandparents and great-grandparents of his own living nearby. Since my grandparents never spoke of their murdered parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, I had infinitely less personal exposure to the Holocaust than my schoolmates who sometimes listened to their parents’ midnight screams as nightmares took them back to unbearable days.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want to share an uplifting, optimistic and soul-affecting video with you. Before I do, here is an introduction.

Last week, at the Passover Seder, many Jewish families like ours said the following words in Hebrew, “For in every generation they stand over us to annihilate us and the Holy One Blessed Be He, saves us from their hands.” This is often sung to an upbeat tune, which is rather odd when you think of the first part of the sentence. My friends’ parents also sang this, yet each one mourned way too many loved ones who weren’t saved. Why didn’t they reject this statement as untrue?

The verse refers to the Jewish people as a complete organism. As long as there is one Jew left to sing these words, it is a true testimony. And yes, as a people with a long history, there are many horrific examples of slaughter, yet by God’s grace we are still here.

This post-Passover time of year is associated with Rabbi Akiva, whose famous statement, “What is hateful to you do not do to others,” has become a universal credo. Rabbi Akiva was the premier teacher of his generation at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. He watched 24,000 of his students die in a plague. What did he do after such a devastating event? He chose five men and began teaching them so that the future would be assured.

As a child, I didn’t understand the greatness of those who suffered and saw their lives trampled and yet who picked themselves up and chose to have new children and new lives. Only a few survive today from that generation. Yet as this video (with English translation) shows, religious or not, learned or not, the overwhelming majority of the survivors followed in Rabbi Akiba’s footsteps. What an inspiring lesson this is for us.

*Naomi is not her real name. She is a composite of a number of my friends.

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Each Generation We Must See Ourselves

April 4th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 25 comments

We are in the midst of Passover and I am delighted to be sharing the festival with so many children and grandchildren.  At the same time, that means that my computer and I haven’t seen a great deal of each other this week. My head is full of menus and cooking timetables, leaving little room for pondering current world affairs. One main focus of Passover, however, is realizing that without continually keeping an eye on the past, present and future, humans are prone to mess up. With this in mind, I’d like to share a Musing from April, 2012 that is no less relevant today.

 

“In each generation every person must view themselves as if they left Egypt.” A few nights ago, Jews around the world recited a sentence expressing this thought at the Passover Seder. Shortly before the holiday started, my son, Ari, saw one aspect of this idea come to life.

I think most of us picture ourselves on the right side of history. Had we lived in different times and places surely we would have stood with the abolitionists rather than the slave-owners; would have joined the Resistance rather than the Nazi Party; and would have opposed Stalin rather than embracing him. We more easily picture ourselves following Moses through the sea rather than ignoring him and the God he represented.  But the majority of Jews did not leave Egypt. Eighty percent chose loyalty to Pharaoh and the status quo.  Bad choice.

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Problem or Progress?

March 29th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

Do you wear a watch? The answer to that question may depend on your age. You could say that watches are the new handkerchiefs.

I rarely iron. Nonetheless, when I was a young girl my mother taught me to do so and the first items entrusted to my care were my father’s handkerchiefs. I remember taking great satisfaction in watching a wrinkled piece of fabric turn into a tidy, pressed and folded square. Yet, the box of handkerchiefs my grandmother gave me when I was a young teen lay  unopened in my closet for decades.

While disposable facial tissues are described in an account of 17th century Japan, in the United States Kleenex were introduced after World War I, slowly replacing handkerchiefs over the course of decades. While some very environmentally conscious individuals are urging a return to the cotton square, most Americans never think twice at the idea of grabbing a tissue from a readily available box.

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Can you do it?

March 22nd, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

On March 3, 2018, Sir Roger Bannister died. As news of his death at the age of 88 hit the airwaves some might remember that this was the second time his death was publicly announced. 64 years earlier the young medical student became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. As he crossed the finish line in three minutes and 59.4 seconds on that momentous occasion on May 6, 1954, he fell exhausted to the ground. One Pathé newsreel report declared that he had died in his attempt to break the four-minutes-mile just as doctors had warned would happen to anyone who tried to do the impossible. The reporter quickly reversed himself when Roger Bannister triumphantly stood up.

One particularly amazing fact about the aspiring neurologist’s accomplishment was that his record was broken only 46 days later. In the following year, six more people broke the world record and today many college athletes run the mile in less than four minutes. Clearly, the human body is capable of doing so which begs the question as to why young Bannister was the first. He didn’t even have any particularly special training! Yet, his name is famous while the names of those who surpassed his record within only a few weeks and months have faded into oblivion.

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Don’t Like Your DNA? Change It!

March 15th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 33 comments

If you, like me, have been learning from my husband for any length of time, you will be familiar with the idea that the physical world reflects the spiritual world. The fact that our eyes project an upside-down image of whatever we see unto our retinas isn’t a failure of evolution, it is a Divine message. Our eyes can easily lead us astray whether it is when we see a decadent piece of chocolate cake, a beautiful person or a ‘must-have’ gadget.

In contrast, our balance mechanism is located in our ears. Evolutionarily speaking, this makes little sense.  Our heads are in constant motion. The only reason we don’t lose our balance when we tilt our head is the equivalent of thousands of lines of software compensating for our head’s motion.  Evolution should have ensured that our balance mechanism would be in a more stable part of our bodies like the shoulders or hips. This isn’t a failure of evolution, it is a Divine message. We process information more rationally and unemotionally when we hear or read it rather than when we see a picture.

The media is agog with the news from NASA that, after spending a prolonged amount of time in the zero-gravity environment of space, astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA differs from his earthbound twin brother Mark’s DNA. While scientists will discuss how strongly controlled the experiment was and whether the DNA changed permanently or it is only expressing itself differently, we should be asking what spiritual message we can draw from this.

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