Years of Our Discontent

It is funny what sticks in your mind, isn’t it? Over 25 years ago, I heard my father-in-law ask in a tone that managed to be both amused and acerbic, why people couldn’t simply serve roast chicken every Friday night. At the time, my sympathies went to the woman who had innocently asked him whether a certain item only available in a specialty Japanese store was kosher. While not a gourmet cook like she was, I do vary the dishes served at my Shabbat table; my family and I would be bored with the same exact meal week after week.

My mother-in-law, like my mother and grandmothers offered no such variety. For them, being able to afford and have access to kosher chicken was in itself the special Friday night treat. How could anyone want more than chicken soup, roast chicken, and a simple side dish? They lived in different times.

I enjoy experimenting with new Shabbat recipes and while certain holidays cry out for specific traditional dishes, it is unusual for us to have exactly the same meal two weeks in a row. Yet, something I recently read made me recall my father-in-law’s lament and relate to it with greater understanding.

What spurred my realization was discovering that I had completely—I mean totally, without a clue—missed out on hearing about the trend of ‘late-in-life lesbians’. While this trend is obviously elementary compared to the politically correct idea that there are 31, no, actually 56, no wait, its 72 (the number changes almost daily) genders, perhaps the comparative simplicity of the idea caused me to laugh.

How unbelievably unhappy and confused we are. In Richard III, William Shakespeare wrote of “the winter of our discontent.” Today, we seem to be living through years of discontent. There are many real challenges in the world. Venezuelans are starving, people around the world are being killed by Islamic extremists, serious illnesses abound and too many children are born into situations that make successful living a terrible struggle, to name only a few. There are those who are born with discernible physical and genetic gender confusion.

And then, there are those of us born basically healthy and, even in difficult economic times, living shockingly well. Instead of counting our blessings, for decades now we have been busily looking for reasons to be unhappy. We don’t just seek to improve and tweak our society but to radically change: our marriages, our schools, our economic system, our beliefs, our gender…

I don’t think we can lay the blame for this on serving lemon chicken one week and potato-crusted chicken another. I plan to keep enjoying trying out new recipes. Yet, it isn’t completely unrelated either. Somehow, when there isn’t a counter-balance to the natural desire for excitement and newness, when we confusedly think that happiness can be delivered by someone or something outside of ourselves, and when we lose touch with our souls and magnify the demands of our bodies, we find ourselves on a road that has no natural end. Our rebellions may take different forms, but one warning that is very modern and up-to-date is found in Deuteronomy 32:15  explaining how instead of feeling gratitude when showered with blessings, humans tend to kick rather than kneel.

35 thoughts on “Years of Our Discontent”

  1. nice article. got me thinking about discontent as a driver of change. however, many responses driven by discontent are neurotic, inappropriate responses to their root cause. “if anything ail a man, so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even … he forthwith sets out reforming — the world.” (thoreau via eric hoffer) a huge issue with all human beings, but more so with the “progressives”, and it’s contempt for our valued traditions and “the present”, no matter what age we live in. much of this is as individuals running from our own personal issues, and distracting ourselves with the matters of others. I’m sure the rabbi has spoken regarding this, but it seems a good topic for a podcast. I’d love to hear his analysis. Btw, both of you do a great service to all.

  2. Susan, I am sorry that my post did not emphasize properly that I agree with you heartily. I do agree that many parents (including myself with our firstborn) are responsible for raising their young in such a sheltered environment that it is difficult for the (child-like) adult to understand how the world really works! This is why I mentioned the idea of “No grit, no pearl.”

    It is funny the things we recall from years before. Several weeks before I was to volunteer with Toward Tradition for an F3 event in Bellevue, I visited the Toward Tradition office with my two young children to obtain information. Rabbi Daniel Lapin was there and we greeted one another, and then I’d prompted my children to greet him nicely.
    My daughter asked, “How are you today?”
    “I have a pain in my elbow,” he replied.
    After a moment’s pause, the look on her face was blank.
    Rabbi Daniel Lapin continued (I’m paraphrasing), “You did want to know how I’m feeling today because you asked.”

    She did not expect the reply. It was a good learning experience for both of them because I think there was a brief discussion about how his elbow would get better with petroleum jelly. Perhaps your husband recalls this conversation? We did discuss the conversation in the car on the drive home. They still recalled his South African English accent when they heard him on the radio a few times or watched him on video. Our son has also watched videos featuring Rabbi David Lapin with me a few times. Y’all Lapins are well equipped to apply Torah knowledge with ancient wisdom. 🙂

    It occurred to me that your father-in-law not only pointed to the fact that though humans desire variety (it’s the spice of life, right?), they ought to be satisfied when their focus is on their relationship with God and others. So, if or when we do not have more choices for food or other wholesome things that we might enjoy experiencing, then consuming the same things routinely is satisfying in the divine variety of life itself. Additionally, when we add variety into our lives, we must make sure it is good because of the flawed human condition for temptation, learning lessons by trial can be fatal. We must be able to humble ourselves with gratitude to God, for both good and bad times, instead of lamenting our divine existence and destroying it.

    We’ll need to continue to be smart about the dark forces at work in society. I do not know if you’ve heard about the public schools in Minnesota but, statewide, it has decided that all public school children, from Kindergarten on, must implement strategies from the previous administration’s US Dept. of Justice and the US Dept. of Education on “Transgender Students.” The Star Tribune reported in the local section on July 19, 2017, “Minnesota Department of Education approves toolkit to help transgender students.”

    I know that their strategy here is coming from the Human Rights Campaign and it’s Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “Welcoming Schools.” This priority public policy supports, religious (except for followers of Mohamed) and life affirming, bigotry. To avoid more years of discontent we must, as much as possible, oppose these foundations through our pocketbooks and our voices. The Human Rights Campaign publishes an annual “Buying Guide” and I’ve been using it for about 10 years. I attempt to purchase goods from the companies or people they dislike. They also have many corporate partners including Macys, Starbucks, Shell Oil Co., and many more. I know that Target and JC Penney have been supporters of LGBT propaganda, and Ikea had a commercial with two so-called ‘lesbians.’ I know we can’t stop all of the purchases we make, but we can certainly help to buy from good companies.

    You have managed to maintain good relationships, and they’re much more important than the various dishes you serve up. My husband and I are grateful to have visited and dined with you and your delightful family; we savored both your company and your deliciously prepared, roasted chicken, thank you. (I can’t recall if I sent you a thank you note because it’s been too long ago. I should have sent one if I did not!) I hope you’ll have a wonderful week!

    PS My husband and I had heard about the ‘late-in-life lesbians’ many years ago. There are so many of these types of movements in the LGBT community and I’ve learned a lot from visiting the Human Rights Campaign’s website. I figured it’s best to know what the opposition is doing to avoid falling into their trap. The companies being bullied or states being targeted for not going along with the LGBT policies have been empowered in part by the public’s money and apathy. The economist Walter Williams smartly said something like this (I’m paraphrasing again), “If you do not want your child to learn lies then stop sending them to schools that will teach them lies.” Pull as much funding and support away from the people who are wreaking havoc on our unprepared society.

      1. I do hope that our society will not fail the young generation now, or the ones to come.

        Left-wing American society is perilously decadent, and those people holding power on the political-left do not want to admit that Pres. Trump was elected because of it. I’m amazed at how the political-left is quick to be rid of people who “betray” their sensitivities, such as our current president. Donald Trump is one of them as far as I’m concerned, but I think that he has disliked their inability to “fix” D.C.; they always promise to do so much but then after 20 and 30 years in office, it is the same old boat only in worse shape. Our daughter was reading some of the early Americans’ musings, and there are some similarities to our current civil discourse.

  3. Susan, Good Shabbos! You can’t get a pearl without grit.

    We do ourselves and our loved ones a favor when we humble ourselves with gratitude to God for both our losses and gains. Human males and females are complex creatures (mind, body and spirit), and most human beings are born with the capacity to learn how to respond to good and bad circumstances in life with knowledge and wisdom. However, some people are bored and unhappy living in this, objectively and subjectively, observable world.

    We must choose to experience happiness and joy in returning to observe and celebrate the Sabbath day even if we have to eat the same type of meal served the same way every time.

    1. LJ, don’t you think that too many parents in our generation have raised children with the idea that their happiness is paramount. As you say, learning to struggle through the grit builds us. So many kids are kept physically and emotionally sheltered that they don’t grow strong either physically or emotionally.

  4. People don’t look at how good they’ve got it. They compare themselves to other people who always have it better.

    Hyman Minsky, a famous economist, said that “stability is destabilizing.” That means during summer we should remember that winter is coming.

  5. Dear Susan,
    Your fathers comment about serving chicken every sabot reminded me of a story my father told about growing up on his uncle’s farm. It seems that every Sunday it was fried chicken period. Nothing else would even be considered. Well. One Sunday his aunt decided to try something different. She placed a bowl on the table and his uncle said “what’s that. She said it is chicken stewed in wine sauce, try it it’s good. He said I ain’t eating it. She ask why and his response was “any chicken that has to get its self all liquerd up to come to the table I ain’t Eatin.
    I know that wasn’t the point of your message, but I thought maybe a few chuckles might brighten your day.
    One a more serious note. A preacher on ask our congregation what we thought was the country’s biggest problems. Not being able to keep my big mouth shut I said toys.
    When asked to explain, I told him that in my opinion we’ve got cars and phones that are smarter than we are, more material goods, more food, better health care, more of everything than any other civilization that has ever existed. Yet no one is happy the blacks, the women, the Muslims the gays, the Christians. the farmers, the factory workers you name any group and nobody is happy. What other country has our amount of freedoms than we do? None. Yet still we are not satisfied.
    Sorry for the downer, your friend and follower,


    1. Brian, that story did give me a chuckle. Your answer is interesting. Here’s another aspect of that idea. Years ago, a retired long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal, Myrna Blyth, wrote a book called Sob Sisters about how women’s magazines pushed women to be unhappy. We now have constant news and information focusing us on the negative around us instead of the blessings in our lives.

  6. I know a couple of people, one born male and the other born female, who are in the process of changing genders. Neither of them were typical before they decided to change and they were very unhappy people, to the point of self-injuring and threatening suicide. They were basically mentally ill, even though each had loving parents and one gender typical sibling.
    Apparently 60% of those who change genders have a mental illness along with the strong dislike of the gender that they were born to. I am not sure if changing genders will improve the lives of these people. It involves a tremendous amount of medical and surgical intervention and none of these interventions are benign. Approximately 20% eventually return to their former gender and want to surgically return as well. None of this bodes well for health.
    I am not sure what percentage of people desired to change genders before it was medically and surgically possible. These people certainly are not to be envied!

    1. Leah, all of a sudden we are supposed to nod and accept that there is such an idea as trans-gender. There are rare physical birth defects where a baby is born with a problem. Otherwise there is mental illness that we are encouraging and facilitating. No one envies girls with anorexia either, who believe they are fat thought they are starving their bodies, but we don’t give them diet pills, surgery to remove body parts and encourage them to eat even less – we try to help them get better.

      1. I totally agree that we are normalizing mental illness, and I love your analogy! Thanks for all your musings. We live in difficult times for sure.

  7. What a wonderful musing! In our home live by the ‘grass is greener where you water it’ principle and it is easier said than done. We are all swept away by a society that cannot comprehend boundaries and gates. I do not recall who said it but I love it: When you open the flood gates, you cannot tell the water where to go. Thank you for graciously sharing your wisdom.

    1. Kirsten, I love both those sayings. I’m going to send, “The grass is greener where you water it,” to my kids.


    Miss Susan, Thank you for this gentle reminder. Yesterday I was not as grateful for my blessings as I should have been. We had a flat tire, I was not thankful that we still had an automobile that ran and was comfortable. Yesterday the power company broke our water line trimming trees and brush. I was frustrated at not having running water for a couple of hours instead of being grateful that I lived in a place where a I had clean healthy water by turning a tap.
    My mother used to say that in order to appreciate the things you have you need to do without for a while. My children have never had to draw water from a well, or use an out house in August ( a real experience in the South) or go for long periods without electric lights. I think it is good for the soul to suffer a little deprivation from time to time. I have heart disease. I have been treated by my wonderful doctors and am able to do most thing I could do when I was younger. My father also had heart disease, about the same as i have, But medicine had not advanced to the point that he could be treated as well as I have been. He died a too young an age of something I am able to live with. I cuss my inability to do some things, from time to time, but I think of my dear father and am grateful that I am alive to spend time with my children and grandchildren.
    As usual, I have run off at the mouth too much. Please forgive me.
    Thank you and the Rabbi for sharing your wisdom.
    Bill Brower

  9. Love today’s post. Gratitude is a discipline I work on in my life – trying to see the positive side of all situations (even ones that are bad at the time I’m in them), being grateful for the small blessings in life that I see and experience. And it is discipline because our natural tendency is to choose the easier path – seeing the discontent. But I think it makes for a happier and even simpler life. Thanks for the message!

    1. Claire, you are so right that our natural tendency is to focus on what’s lacking. I too, try to make a point of recognizing all that I should be grateful for. It’s a constant challenge.

  10. As usual, your musing provokes much thought. How do we learn to appreciate the vast variety of creation on the one hand, yet learn to be grateful for the boundaries the Lord has established for a blessed and fruitful life? For me, the answer is by delving into His word. And I cannot tell you how much I have been blessed by the Rabbi’s and your insights on points I had never considered.

    I view much of the nonsense in the culture as rebellion, pure and simple. Too many don’t want to be accountable to the Creator and Sovereign Lord, so they ignore His boundaries to their detriment. We are now a couple generations down the road from when it was taken for granted in this nation that families attended worship services together, said grace over meals, spend time in either the Tanach or the Christian Bible on a daily basis, prayed for one another, and so forth. Now, most people who claim to be Christians do so because their parents were Christians. They have no idea of what it really means to live their lives in accordance with standards set by the creator. They barely know the Ten Commandments and if they do, they are more likely to think of them as the Ten Suggestions. Sad.

    Thankfully, while many have abandoned the ancient paths, not all have done so. I know many families who are living sacrificially so they can homeschool their children. Many of these children are going on to win full scholarships to college and they are likely to turn college culture and the culture at large around within the next generation because they know not only what they believe, but why they believe it. Unlike most of the young people coming out of public schools, they know how to think critically. More importantly, they are bringing the values they learned and observed in their parents with them.

    Until Messiah comes to restore all things, there will always be those who rebel. The thing is to minimize the damage they do to themselves and others by modeling the Creator’s standards in a loving and joyful way.

    1. Joyce, after I posted this I was thinking how so many people are doing the right thing but the rebellious loudmouths get the attention.

  11. Susan,
    I find myself musing at your thought process and how skillfully you take us along the paths of your musings while sifting some of the worldliest of current issues through the tried and true tests of your own Jewish experiences and traditional upbringing. Discontent is endemic in our times, and forgive me as I digress but your musings brought to mind how discontent covers such a wide spectrum, including the superficial judgments some people make of others based on outward appearances. We aren’t content picking just anyone to be on the team, we always look to the biggest, the strongest and the most handsome, or when it comes to some women’s event, we tend to pick the most beautiful rather than plain Jane, and are left with a sense of discontentment when we don’t get the one we prefered that we based on external appearances and values. I found it interesting when reading 1 Samuel 16 how God chooses and anoints those He wants. David the scruffy little shepherd boy had brothers that were taller, stronger and more handsome than he, but the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God saw a young man with a shepherd’s heart who had the nerve to even take on a lion and snatch a stolen lamb from its jaws. David would be the ideal shepherd for God’s flock Israel, which makes me wonder, what if God was not content with the boy’s looks or his stature at the time and He chose the other tall handsome brother instead? It’s probably a good thought to muse on in terms of our motives in how and why we are drawn to others. I often have to ask myself, would I have helped that lady in distress if she wasn’t reasonably attractive and instead was short, dumpy and homely looking?

    1. Mark, one of my husband’s students once came late to a Torah class – a definite no-no. He explained that it was pouring out and he stopped to give a ride to a lady getting soaked waiting at a bus stop. My husband asked, “Was she an old lady?” “No,she was young.” came the reply. “Did she happen to be attractive?” he then asked. The student got the message.

  12. My mother gifted our entire family with a reunion of sorts: all her children and their children would be gathered from their own parts of the world on a cruise ship for a very special vacation. When I told her that there was no way to properly thank her for this luxurious present, she responded that she’d like us to prepare a list of “thanks givings” each day for a year. (She was inspired by Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.) Each of my children, my husband, and I listed one thing for which we were thankful each day, and it was such a rewarding process that this exercise continued for more than a year. We’ve filled three books with our gratefulness and these have become treasures for my mother and me to read. Attitudes change with perspective.

  13. I agree with your thoughts.

    A couple a verses that I enjoy that highlight gratitude are: “[many of us have been given] houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deut 6:11-12).

    God has delivered me from many modern-day Egypts. I enjoy so much undeserved prosperity thanks to so many that went before me.

    The Lord told Joseph Smith in 1831, “[do] all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils…” (Doctrine & Covenants 46:7).

    In spite of the incessant persecution that Joseph endured, or that any of us may endure, the drinking from this “goblet of gratitude” is a happy way to live.

    One of my church leaders recently taught, “One of the ways Satan wants us to manipulate others is by dwelling upon and even exaggerating the evil in the world…[God] has given us an abundance of reasons to rejoice. We just need to find and to recognize them. The Lord often reminds us to ‘be not afraid,’ (for example, Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:13) [and] to ‘be of good cheer’ (Luke 12:32)” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf).

    Warm Regards and Best Wishes,
    Mike Harris
    Orem, Utah

  14. In an age of technology distraction…we often forget to be thankful to our Creator for our very breath, our food, water…Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    1. Ruth, my husband points out that the word “amuse” literally means a-muse; without thinking. (like atonal means without tone). Technology surrounding us definitely makes it harder for us to stop and appreciate what we have.

  15. Oh Heaven! Susan we have felt this,way too. My mom used to tell us as children “‘it all boils down to unthankfulness”. I see that that is the truest principle today. Not thankful for our spouses, get another, not thankful for who we are or our bodies? Have surgery . There is a scripture that is one I try to live by and is my favorite. After moving many times, I adopted it as mine. Ir is in the New testament. Philippines 4:8. “I have learned whatsoever state I am in, therein to be content ” thanks for sharing your heart!

    1. I see why you would choose that as a guiding verse, Susan. Our mothers were wise, weren’t they?

    2. What you write is so true! I have noted that all unthankfulness shrivels the soul!

      I notice that the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans begins his description of the downward spiral of fallen humanity with the words, “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful: but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened….”

  16. penelope w baity

    Just want to say how much I enjoy your teachings and insight on the human condition. I watch you on TCT at least 3 times a week. Thank you both very much!

    1. I would write, “Only three times a week!” except when you write those words you can’t see me chuckling. Thanks for watching and reading.

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