Category Archives: Relationships

Why Suffering is a Sign of G-d’s Love

Parsha Nugget Bechukosai – Leviticus 26:3-27:34

Many people have given up believing in G-d because too many bad things happened to them or there is too much evil and suffering in the world. I appreciate how bad they feel seeing people in pain or experiencing undeserved hardship. And I don't want to affront to their sensibilities. But their view of how G-d runs the world is too simplistic. Parshas Bechukosai explains:

"And if, during these, you will not listen to Me, I will add another seven punishments for your sins." (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:18)

 Why Suffering is a Sign of G-d’s Love

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This Sabbath’s parsha, the final one in Leviticus, gives the blessings and the curses that will befall the Children of Israel depending on whether they follow G-d’s decrees and commandments. Next, it covers gifts to the Temple. Then it deals with redeeming them as well as houses and fields. It ends with how to tithe.

Purposely Causing Suffering

A few months after my daughter was born my wife and I took her to get vaccinated. Even at such a tender age, when the needle came out she knew something bad was about to happen. I held her while the nurse inserted the needle. She wailed!

But moments later she sought comfort in my arms. How could this be? Wasn’t I the source, at least partially, of her inexplicable suffering? And of course, my newborn daughter couldn't have understood that the nurse and I inflicted pain for her own good. Despite my complicity, she knew daddy was also the source of love and succor. She saw no conflict. To her, daddy and love were one.

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Why, when we get older, do we think those who love us will never cause us pain on purpose? Any married person knows that, as regrettable as are such occurrences, they happen. In our married lives, we often have the advantage of knowing why suffering takes place. Frequently as parents, we have to do something that “hurts” our children in order to help them learn.

G-d Wants You to Grow

So it is with the Almighty. When you read the rebukes in Bechukosai, you may wonder at the notion that G-d is good and loves us. What kind of Father would wreak such suffering on His people? But to ask such a question is to reveal our lack of understanding as to who runs the world and what G-d’s plan is for us.

Annoyance and painful events in your life do not mean that G-d no longer loves you, has abandoned you, or, heaven forbid, that G-d is not good. Rather, the Almighty is giving you a dose that He knows you can handle, like my daughter’s vaccinations. You will be strengthened for greater challenges in the future. It is for you then, to seek out your loving parent, be comforted by Him, and renew your efforts to comprehend how G-d wants you to live.

Do you feel G-d ever brought unwarranted suffering to your life?

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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!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Some people dislike the “Hallmark Cards” origin of Mother's Day. And it's true we should honor our mothers every day. Still, I value having a special day each year to think about the impact my mom had on me.

My wife works hard being a good mother to our daughter. She helps me better appreciate the challenges my mom faced raising three children, for many years alone. As well, I am blessed to have a wonderfully supportive mother-in-law. So I offer this tribute, to them, and to all moms. Please click on the image:

Happy Mother's Day!

How are you honoring your mother today?

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How to Ensure People Are Tolerant of You

On duty with the navy a couple of weeks ago, the new senior chaplain made it a point to choose a kosher restaurant for lunch. It was a fine gesture. Would that the Chaplain Corps let me be tolerant of Christain practices in return.

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While stationed in Okinawa, all of the 50 or so chaplains there got together quarterly for training. As you might expect we began with a prayer. One day, a young Christian chaplain, who was new to the island, was asked to lead it. He proceeded uneventfully until the end when he said, “in Jesus's name we pray.”

Instantly every eye was on me. For a moment it felt like they thought my head was going to explode!

And the young chaplain was mortified.

In an effort to defuse the situation I said, “it’s okay, he was one of ours first.” Peals of laughter.

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Perhaps I should have been offended that he prayed in a Christian idiom with me there. But though he did so on purpose, there was no malicious intent. As the 1% minority, it seems to me intolerant that I dictate the form of prayer. Rather, I applaud the chaplain’s authenticity.

To Be Tolerant, Let Others Be Different

Tolerance is not forcing others to homogenize their expressions to be inoffensive to me. It is my being secure enough in myself to see or hear things with which I disagree or that may make me uncomfortable.

Any other definition puts my self-esteem in some else’s hands and deprives me of the opportunity to more deeply connect with others. In a pluralistic society, it's of paramount importance to be tolerant. First, you must understand what it really is. Then you must practice it.

What do you think of my definition of tolerance?

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How to Handle Disagreements with G-d

Remember how your parents set a rule and when you questioned it they responded, “because we say so, that’s why!” Yes, I hated it too. So when my daughter and I have disagreements, I steel myself for the inevitable debate, committed not to using my parents’ fallback position. In this way I hope to teach her a concept from Parshas Acharei Mos:

Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, I am your G-d. You will not do like the practice of the Land of Egypt . . . (Vayikra/Leviticus 18:2)

How to Handle Disagreements with G-d

This week’s parsha tells about the Yom Kippur service (from which comes the term “scapegoat”), the prohibition against eating blood, forbidden relationships, and the holiness of the Land of Israel.

Temporal Versus Eternal Law

You might think the spiritually lofty Temple service segment of the parsha is the ideal reading for Yom Kippur. Instead, amidst the fasting on this holiest of days, the section on prohibited relationships provides an object lesson in what is moral versus what is legal.

Secular law is a human invention. As such, people can adapt it to changing circumstances. In St. Louis, it is illegal to sit on the curb and drink beer from a bucket. When this law was established, probably in the 19th century, it made sense since a person would take a bucket to the local saloon to buy beer. Allowing people to sit in the street and drink that much beer probably led to public drunkenness. Now, since beer for off-premises consumption is sold in bottles and cans, most of us would probably agree this law could be repealed without creating problems.

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But G-d’s law is eternal. It deals with the moral fabric of society. Negation or alteration inevitably leads to a more tumultuous, coarse, even barbaric world.

Confronting Spiritual Disagreements

If you disagree with G-d, you have several choices:

  1. Seek a deeper understanding of the issue while continuing to obey
  2. Have faith that G-d knows better and accept that your assessment is inaccurate
  3. Refuse to comply with the law and seek to improve your relationship with the Almighty through other means
  4. Use disagreements as the reason to sever your relationship with G-d

Notice anything about these options? They are the same ones you had as a teenager when your parents laid down the law, with one exception. You could have tried to get your parents to change their mind.

The Eternal One’s law is immutable.

Although people attempt to redefine it, such a practice is inherently dishonest.

So on Yom Kippur we read about forbidden relationships. It might seem a more ethereal subject should have been chosen. But on this holy day, G-d seeks to uplift society. The Torah reading reminds us thatG-d’s immortal law governs proper conduct in even the most intimate aspects of our lives.

Meanwhile, I remain willing to debate human rules with my daughter. At the same time, I try to demonstrate my personal obedience to G-d. Hopefully, these show her the supremacy of His everlasting moral guidance while freeing her from the vagary of manmade laws.

What do you suggest for conveying this message?

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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!

You Don’t Think You’re a Murderer, But You Might Be

Allow me to state categorically, celebrity gossip doesn't interest me. I know that Justin Bieber did something. Thank goodness I remain ignorant about his transgression, real or sensationalized. And standing in the supermarket checkout line, the headlines of People and National Enquirer can't help but catch my eye. At such times, am I the kind of murderer described in parsha, Metzora?

"This will be the law of the metzora on the day of his spiritual purification." (Vayikra/Leviticus 14:2)

You Don’t Think You’re a Murderer, But You Might Be

This week’s parsha tells how a metzora, someone with tzaraas (a spiritual disease indicating a person’s life is out of balance) becomes tahor, spiritually pure. Then it details how a house with a tzaraas, zav, zavah and niddah become tahor.

Killing with Harsh Words

Lashon hora, or gossiping about another person, is the worst thing someone can do to contract tzaraas. The humiliation often causes blood to drain from a person’s face. Such paleness makes a person look dead. So a gossip is considered tantamount to a murderer.

Think about taking a feather pillow outside and tearing it open. No matter how hard you try you cannot gather up all of the feathers. Telling tales about someone works the same way. You cannot find everybody who has heard them and straighten out the record. So the effects of gossip can never be undone.

When a person tells tales about another human being he shows his spirit lacks balance

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A gossip thinks he can raise his image by denigrating others.

Stepping Back from Being a Murderer

Consequently, the Almighty strikes the offender with tzaraas. The lengthy investigation period he goes through gives him time to think about his behavior.He can express remorse before the Kohen definitely declares him a metzora. If not, he experiences an affliction similar to the one he caused. Tzaraas’s death-like whiteness equates to the blood draining from his victim’s face. His discomfort encourages him to repent having spoken lashon hora and never do it again.

I'm naïve to feel sorry for celebrities who do stupid things. Yet I can't help thinking there but for the grace of G-d. Still, isn’t supermarket self-checkout great? You can bypass the magazine racks eliminating one temptation that could lead to gossiping.

How do you avoid gossiping?

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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!

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