Category Archives: Relationships

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Uva asher lo habayis vehigid lakohein leimor; kenega nirah li babayis. “And will come, that to him that is the house, and explain to the kohen saying, ‘something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house.’” (Vayikra/Leviticus 14:35). Depressed areas of deep red or green appear in the walls of a house and the owner seeks guidance from a kohen.

Learn How to Create Better Relationships

This coming Sabbath we read a double Parshah Tazria-Metzora. They tell about how a woman becomes tahor after giving birth; how to verify when a person has a tzara’as, baheres or s’eis affliction on one’s body or tzara’as affliction of a garment; how a metzora and a house with tzara’as become tahor; and how a zav, zavah, and niddah become tahor. Wrongly translated as leprosy, tzara’as is a spiritual affliction that manifests itself physically but is not communicable like leprosy. Like tumah, it interrupts one’s connection with G-d.

Imagine one day you walk into your house and find a portion of a wall is sunken in with a dark red or green color (presumably not the color of the paint). Would there be any doubt in your mind that something was wrong? Indeed, having read this week's parsha that describes tzara’as of a house, is seems to me you could not come to any other conclusion than that your house was so afflicted. Why does the Torah require you to equivocate and say, “something like an affliction has appeared . . ?” What else could it be?

Rashi notes that even if you are a great Torah scholar and know with certainty what it is you must still use this language. Why?

According to Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, in Daas Torah: Vayikra, whatever words you were to use, the priest will come and inspect the house. Rather the Torah is giving a practical lesson on how to speak. In the Talmud, (Brochos 4a) our Sages tell us we should become accustomed to saying, “I do not know.” Likewise, instead of speaking with certainty, we should develop the habit of saying, “It appears to me,” or “I think perhaps that.”

So often we are sure we are correct. Only later do we find out we have perceived things incorrectly, drawn a mistaken inference, or received inaccurate information from someone else. If we are conscious of how often we are in error, we will see the necessity of qualifying ourselves with “it seems to me” and similar phrases. By doing so we will find it much easier to correct our mistakes, keep our relationships intact, and most importantly retain our bond to G-d.

Question – What downside do you think there might be in speaking less certainly?

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Why a Penny Is Worth More Than One Cent

Do you stoop to pick up pennies? It hardly seems worth the effort. Proof of this attitude lays in the abundance of pennies I have seen in the parking lot of the Bachelor Officers Quarters in which I am staying while working at Naval Base Point Loma.

Why a Penny Is Worth More Than One Cent

Probably the first coin minted in the United States, the penny has been around since the chain cent was issued in 1793, two hundred and twenty years ago. In 1990, 2001, and 2006 legislation was introduced to eliminate the penny. The debate continues. Since 2007 the cost of the raw materials for making the penny has exceeded its value. As of February 2011, they were 2.4¢. In comparison, it costs about 11¢ to make a nickel.

A survey conducted last year indicated that 67% of Americans favored keeping the penny. More than three-quarters of these respondents thought businesses would raise prices if the penny were gone.

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I have more transcendent reasons for keeping the penny:

• In an increasingly digital world, the penny is tactile. And while much of our world is tangible, the penny is an object that everyone in our country can afford to have.

• Pennies are beautiful: delicately engraved, bright and shiny when new, tarnishing as they get old.

• They prompt us to remember the past, those who have done great things for our country.

• Despite our differences and disagreements, the penny brings to mind that we are all Americans. Its depiction of our de facto national motto, E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One,” reminds us to be authentic to our distinctiveness and to aspire to be united too.

• Finally, the penny reminds us that what we think about and how we treat the lowliest in our society is up to each of us as individuals. If we drop a penny on the ground it is up to us to retrieve it rather than letting it be run over and scarred. No one will come behind us to fulfill this responsibility. Also, when we find a discarded penny, even though we did not drop it, we can take a moment of our time to reach down, pick it up, put it in our pocket, and later return it to circulation where it rightly belongs.

While I am guilty of having passed by many a penny, I do not do so anymore. I stoop to pick up pennies. Do you?

Question – How would you feel if pennies were no longer minted?

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Why Few People are Actually Hypocrites

How often does a person have to fail to adhere to his professed goals or morals in order to be a hypocrite? Once, twice, tens times, more? Over what period of time do these lapses need to take place in order to qualify as hypocrisy? Does the standard vary based on a person’s position in an organization or a discipline: e.g. a layperson versus a clergyman or a laborer versus a CEO?

Why Few People are Actually Hypocrites

Over the last week in several unrelated situations, people complained to me about individuals who professed to be religious but did not live up to the values they espoused. The ensuing discussions revealed that in their view it is better to be consistent than to strive for a higher level if a person cannot meet such a standard. The implication was that authenticity excludes those who fall short of their mark because they are acting in a role rather than being genuine.

The problem with this attitude is that it discourages people from attempting to improve their lot: be it professionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually. We grow and develop in different ways and there is nothing disingenuous in failing to reach the goals we set for ourselves. An essential aspect of personal development is called, “fake it to make,” recognizing that when a person acts as if the change has already been made it will be easier to accomplish.

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Whether the goal is professional success or religious observance, the hypocrite is the person who states an objective but does nothing to reach it. As long as a person is striving, effectively or not, a judgment of failure, which is what calling someone a hypocrite means, is not merited.

Also, by so labeling someone, we dis-incentivize ourselves by setting the bar at immediately actualized change rather than incremental development. Is it worth decreasing our own chances for success by diminishing that of others?

Question – What is your standard for deciding someone is a hypocrite?

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How to Make a Bad Habit Good

How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Spouse and Kids

1 minute to read

Have you ever met someone who has an infuriating habit? Perhaps worse, does your spouse or one of your children have such a habit? I don't mean something that annoys you but one that really sets you on edge. Did you analyze why it aggravates you? You may be surprised.

How to Make a Bad Habit Good

Why Does the Habit Infuriate You?

I have had a friend for many years who is a profuse thanker. When I would give her something to drink she would say thank you three, four, even five times. Occasionally I found myself commenting that once was sufficient. I started to get angry about the excessive thank yous.

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What to Do About It

One day I decided to explore why her habit made me so angry. I came up with several conclusions:

  1. Unquestionably, her thanks are sincere.
  2. She intends to improve friendships through expressing gratitude.
  3. Her habit upsets me because she is better at being thankful than I am.

The last point surprised me. I was disappointed in myself that I had created so much negativity by being jealous. The lesson:

Question – When you reacted negatively toward someone did you ever find it was for the wrong reason?

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How to Judge People by Standards

Standards. Are they permanent or variable? Are some the former and others the latter? How should people be held accountable to them? These are not idle philosophical questions. They get to the root of how we view the past and interact in the present.

How to Judge People by Standards


Recently I finished reading several Charlie Chan novels. One of the most famous characters in detective fiction, when I saw the book on sale for $1 I realized I had never read any of the stories or seen the movies. While reading them I kept swinging back and forth between thinking the author, Earl Derr Biggers, was quite enlightened in his attitude toward the Chinese or a racist.

Researching his life, I found that Mr. Biggers was disgusted by the bigotry toward the Chinese in California during the early decades of the 20th century. While vacationing in Hawaii, he decided to write about a Chinese professional, loosely based on a police officer he met there. In the novels, Charlie Chan takes umbrage at overtly racist attitudes by other characters. He bristles at the less obvious ones. Yet at times Mr. Biggers accords to Detective Chan what today can only be characterized as grossly stereotypical behavior.

How do we judge Mr. Biggers and his work? By the standard of his day, Mr. Biggers’s portrayal of a Chinese man was enlightened. It countered the common image of the evil, conniving Chinaman. Yet by our standards, Charlie Chan appears one-dimensional, clichéd. Is it just to hold Mr. Biggers and his writing to a standard that he knew nothing about? Should his laurels be revoked because in today’s world he would not merit such praise? Or can we justify applauding him for his enlightened views on race, perhaps not even footnoting the change in societal standards?

I maintain people should be judged in the context of their own time. Stipulations based on a change of standards should the exception.

In contemporary times the issue is more complex. First, I distinguish between a settled societal standard and a popularly espoused view. Few people would assert that randomly shooting someone to death is acceptable. But what constitutes murder is open to any number of opinions. Next, I decide which viewpoints, though I disagree, fall within an acceptable range. This is tricky since the tendency is to conclude that those who disagree with me fall outside my range. I am challenged to stretch in the interest of civility while not abandoning standards.

Question – How do you decide the standard to which you will hold someone?

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