Category Archives: Relationships

How to Rectify an Insult

There once was a man who felt sorry for insulting his friend.  Not knowing how to assuage his guilt, he decided to speak with the local rabbi.

How to Rectify an Insult

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After listening carefully to the man’s story the rabbi told him he would help. But only if the man did exactly what the rabbi told him to do without question.  The man readily agreed.

So the rabbi told the man to go to a housewares store and buy a feather pillow.  The man started to ask why but the rabbi quickly reminded him not to ask questions.  Off the man went to buy the pillow.  Not knowing what the pillow was for, the man bought the most expensive one he could find.

Hurriedly he returned to the rabbi and showed him the pillow.  He pointed out the high thread count, the durability of the ticking, and the density of the goose down and feathers that made up the stuffing.  He even invited the rabbi to rest his head on the pillow to test out it softness and comfort.

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Convinced, the rabbi agreed with his assessment of the supreme quality of the pillow. So he could barely contain his surprise and anger when the rabbi told him to go to the bluffs above the ocean and tear open the pillow.  Protesting the crime of destroying such a fine piece of workmanship, the rabbi again reminded him not to ask questions.

Resigned, the man did as he was told.  He struggled to tear the ticking, having to use a knife to make a hole.  Finally he was able to get a hand on each side of the slit and just as he pulled with all his strength a huge gust of wind blew all of the feathers over the cliff, dispersing them across a vast area.  Satisfied he had done as bidden, he went back to see the rabbi.

“All right,” the man said confronting the rabbi, “I have done as you asked.  My beautiful pillow is just a piece of torn fabric now.  All its feathers have been blown to the four corners of the globe.  And I don’t feel the least bit better about having insulted my friend.”  Calmly, the rabbi replied, “you will, as soon as you collect up every feather.”

You Can Control Only Two Things in Life: What You Say and What You Do.

No matter how young he is, you cannot control another person.  Though you can develop proficiency in altering your thoughts, your brain is too complex and outside stimulus too unpredictable to gain complete mastery over every thought that comes to mind.

Recovery from an ill-considered word or deed can be virtually unattainable, especially in these days of ubiquitous video and social media.  Next time you are tempted to lash out, do you really think the person will benefit?  Or will you have given up yet another piece of your mind to no purpose?

When did exercising restraint worsen a situation? 

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Why It’s a Blessing to Feel Another’s Suffering

Parsha Nugget Re’eh – Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

Have you noticed how much easier it is to handle a crisis when it affects someone else?  I have always thought levelheadedness in such cases was good.  Parshas Re’eh shows why I am wrong:

“See, I place before you today, a blessing and a curse.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 11:26)

Why It’s a Blessing to Feel Another’s Suffering

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In this week’s parsha we learn about G-d’s blessing and curse and the holiness of the Land of Israel. Then it covers how the Israelites must conduct themselves there including how to respond to a false prophet and a person who entices another to go astray. Next, it defines G-d’s treasured people and tithes. It ends with how to forgive loans, be generous with another person, treat a slave, and the three pilgrimage festivals.

The verse says to “see” a blessing or a curse.  "Experience” makes more sense.  The Torah doesn't wax poetic. An idea awaits discovery.

Consider, whether you've received a blessing or curse depends primarily on how you see it.  If you decide a particular event is a bad you've made it so.  You worry about it. Rather than viewing it as an opportunity for repenting, changing direction, and searching for a creative solution, you freeze.

The concept of seeing relates to another section of this week’s parsha.  In Deuteronomy 14:11-21, Moses repeats the list of birds that are not fit as food.  One commentator suggests they're not kosher because they tend toward cruelty.  But among these non-kosher birds is the chasidah or stork.  Its name means “kind one” because it gives food to its companions.

But how can the stork have a tendency toward cruelty yet be called kind one?

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It turns out the stork only concerns itself with its immediate companions.  It can't see beyond the parochial needs of family and friends.

The 20th century maggid or storyteller R. Sholom Schwadron has a relevant parable:  One afternoon, while he was sitting in his home he heard a piercing scream.  His wife ran in calling that a neighbor’s child had fallen. He was bleeding terribly from a gash over his eye.  Instantly, R. Sholom went to help his wife treat the boy’s wound. Then he carried him as fast as possible to the doctor.

As he was rushing up the hill with the bleeding boy, he came upon the boy’s own grandmother. Seeing he was carrying a child, she called out, “there’s nothing to worry about; G-d will help.”  However, when she came closer and realized the child was her own grandson, her self-possession disappeared. She began shrieking, struggling to grab him.  At first, when she saw a wounded child, thinking him to be someone else's, she was very calm.  Realizing it was her own grandson, she lost her composure.

Nothing had changed.  A child got hurt. R. Shlomo had given prompt aid.  Like a stork, the grandmother only expressed alarm upon seeing her beloved grandson wounded.

You have the ability to bring blessing or curse into the lives of all of G-d’s children

Calm in the face of tragedy is admirable.  But in the midst of catastrophe empathy for the victims brings them blessing.  Whether related to you or not, feel their suffering.  You'll get the blessing of giving comfort.  When the distress of strangers disturbs you as much as that of your own flesh and blood, you will re’eh bracha, see blessing.

How do you work to see blessing in the face of a cursed situation?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

4 Reasons You’ll Go Farther with Baby Steps

Patience, I have been told, increases as you get older.  If that is the case I guess I never got much beyond 13.

4 Reasons You’ll Go Farther with Baby Steps

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I became an Eagle Scout in the minimum time possible.  But after that, having held the top scout leadership position, I got bored.  As a result, I lost out on many more lessons I could have learned from the scouts.

I became an entrepreneur at 25.  Looking every bit my age while working to convince people to let me handle their multimillion-dollar assets, I tried every short-cut to success.  None worked.  Not until I began the slow climb to mastery in my profession and in business skills such as sales did I succeed.

You would have thought that when I decided to join the Navy as a chaplain I would have been more composed.  The two years it took me to qualify were punctuated by angst at how long it was taking.

But while planning to leave active duty and go back into business, I realized I had much to catch up on from the previous six years.  My progress would not come rapidly, and if it did was unlikely to be either permanent or desirable.  The Navy taught me this crucial lesson.

For enlisted sailors bent on making a career in the Navy, their biggest milestone is becoming a Chief Petty Officer.  As the saying goes, chiefs run the Navy. It remains true today. They teach and lead enlisted sailors but also they train junior commissioned officers.

In past times chiefs had ten to twelve years or more of service, making them at least 30 years old, often older.  Not only did this give them plenty of time to become technically proficient and to develop leadership skill, they matured.  Many chiefs made significant mistakes early in their careers from which they had to recover, gaining wisdom along the way.  As a result, young enlisted sailors looked up to them.  As important, recent college graduates joining the officer corps respected these grizzled fonts of all things Navy.

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Today, when sailors become Chief Petty Officers after as little as seven years, meaning they are typically in their mid 20s, they have had insufficient time to learn the numerous small lessons along the way that make them unparalleled technicians and wise leaders capable of commanding respect.

The result is more wrongdoing.  And since accountability among leaders must be more rigorous to set the example to junior sailors, they are less likely to recover.  As a result, the reputation of Chief Petty Officers, in general, has declined.

Distilling the lessons of my time in the Navy, I have concluded:

Baby Steps are Better Than Leaps

Because:

  1. You have the chance to adjust to the new situation.
  2. You can build a firmer foundation.
  3. You can recover more easily from a small mistake than a huge error.
  4. You develop maturity commensurate with growing responsibility.

Wine is not the only thing that gets better with age.  Shortcuts do not lead to greatness.  We human beings need to slowly ripen to achieve and maintain our greatest potential.

Can you recount a situation in which you made rapid, sustained progress and maintained it?

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The Impact You Don’t Know You’re Having

My idea of military life prior to joining the Navy was a superior officer gave an order and junior officers and enlisted people obeyed.  While it works this way sometimes, for even the most junior Sailors and Marines, teamwork and collaboration are the norm.  As a chaplain, I can count on one hand the number of times I someone ordered me to do something counter to my recommendations. And I'd have two fingers left over!  One taught me . . .

The Impact You Don’t Know You’re Having

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The Navy and Marine Corps refer to a jail as the brig.  I had been the Brig Chaplain on Okinawa, Japan for about a year when a new commanding officer took over the battalion that ran base facilities.  Although outmoded today, my father, who was a Navy officer in the 1950s, taught me to make a duty call on my commanding officer.  I presented myself at the appointed time and the colonel invited me to sit down for a short chat.

Explaining my major responsibility to him was looking after the staff and prisoners at the brig, I outlined a program to allow personnel to take classes that earned them college credit.  To my surprise, the colonel was dead set against the prisoners participating, even though staving off their boredom would make discipline easier for the guards.  Despite all of my justifications, he would not change his mind.  Resigned to the demise of my program, our meeting ended.

As a sidelight, in the sometimes labyrinthian ways of the military, it turns out the colonel did not have authority over such a program.  Staff and prisoners alike got to take college credit classes, albeit through others’ efforts.

For the next few months, I saw the colonel once a week at his staff meeting.  Never one for idle talk or praise, cordiality marked our relationship.  I always gave him my candid assessment of the matters in my purview but never had to make another recommendation.  When another chaplain took over day-to-day battalion matters, my contact with the colonel ceased.  But my inability to convince him of the obvious benefit of educating incarcerated young men continued to bother me.

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A couple of years later it was time to move on to my next billet.  Customarily, you get what is known as an “end of tour” award, meaning a medal based on your rank and how well you did your job.  The award I received did not surprise me. The presenter did.

At the ceremony, the battalion colonel gave me the most treasured compliment of my Navy career.  In front of all of my colleagues, he commended my work as a chaplain and as a staff officer, unafraid of giving frank recommendations.

Talking about the experience later with my mentor, I learned that the colonel, who was one of the people who had to approve the award, asked to be the presenter.

We Go Through Life Mostly Unaware of How We Affect Other People.

Often we do not realize the influence we have on our family and closest friends.  I would never have guessed about the impact I had on the colonel.  His example of integrity continues to serve me well to this day.  Most importantly, I endeavor to positively touch people’s lives every day while accepting that rarely if ever will I know the fruits of my labor.

When have you had an impact that you did not find out about until long after?

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How to Honor an Imperfect Father

You probably never met my father.  Candidly he was not a great man.  He struggled all his life and made many mistakes.  For periods of my life I refused contact with him and rejected the idea that he had anything to teach me.  But I was shortsighted to think he was, to borrow a Woody Allen joke, “so insignificant his hearse followed the other cars."

How to Honor an Imperfect Father

You're Responsible for Having a Relationship with Your Father

Fortunately during my first few years in the navy we strengthened our relationship. No one empathized more with my complaints about military SNAFUs, Situation Normal, All Fouled Up (or another choice term for F). During the five years since his death and the countless times I abortedly reached for the phone to get his advice, I have distilled the lessons he taught me.

  1. A Man Must Be a Man:  When I transitioned from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts he found a troop led by tough army veterans that would kick my wimpy behind.  Surviving hazing from the older scouts strengthened my character and deepened my humility.  At a young age, he indoctrinated me to Sunday football while drinking one beer from a can.  A man excelled in sports.  His pride showed when I won a starting position on my soccer team.  Even more important to him was the poise I showed when I broke my collarbone during my first and only start.
  2. Responsibility Earns Freedom:  With my dad, privileges came after you demonstrated mature behavior.  The first time my older sister damaged the car we thought my dad would kill her (no I did not root for this, she drove me too many places).  But, since she had handled the situation properly he treated her like an adult.  In high school I never had a curfew because I let him know my plan in advance and called before making alterations.
  3. Treat Women Courteously:  A man opens doors for all women, not because they cannot but to demonstrate your respect for them.  You do not use profanity in front of women, not because they would faint at hearing it but to demonstrate respect. Period.
  4. A Man’s Word is His Bond:  My father knew of no snake lower than a man who broke a promise. He repeatedly related stories highlighting his father’s honesty in business.
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From his lifetime of challenges and mistakes, these are a few of the axioms I distilled. They represent the character my father developed as a Boy Scout, lifeguard, firearms instructor, navy officer, engineer, businessman, husband, and father. When my sisters and I were grown and out on our own he rarely missed the chance to tell us how proud he was of how we turned out, conscientiously never taking credit for our success.

Learn from His Flaws

Did my dad always live up to these ideals? Frankly, no. Unfortunately his failures ate away at him, indirectly teaching me another principle:  Learn from your mistakes and move on.

He taught me his final lesson shortly after his death when I was helping a Marine reconcile himself to his own father’s death. I realized there comes a point when a father is confident his son can handle himself and so he exits life’s stage thereby telling his son: You have the conn.

Dad: I love you, miss you, and pray you watch over me and help me as I steer this ship called my family’s life.

What did your Dad teach you?

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