Category Archives: Resilience

How to Be Enthusiastic But Not Fanatic

The Shrewd Way to Harness Your Passion

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Yisro - Exodus 18:1-20:23

When I was a kid I once ate an entire bag of Mother’s Frosted Cookies. You know the circus animal cookies with pink and white coatings and multicolored sprinkles? I was a FANATIC for those cookies. But to this day the sight of them makes me sick to my stomach. Fortunately, Parshas Yisro showed me the way to curb my fanaticism:

“You will surely become weary, also you, also this people that is with you.” (Shemos/Exodus 18:18)

How to Be Enthusiastic But Not Fanatic

In this Sabbath’s parsha Moses reunites with his father-in-law. Yisro or Jethro, a Midianite priest, had heard about the wonders G-d performed for the Israelites. Jethro outlines a leadership plan that Moses adopts. His reward? He gets a parsha named after him - the Biblical equivalent of appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

After Jethro departs, the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai. They accept the Torah and prepare themselves to receive a message from the Almighty. The entire people heard all Ten Commandments in one instant but couldn’t comprehend them. So G-d repeated them. But after the first two they were so overawed they begged Moses to intercede and teach them the other eight.

Distinguishing Passion from Obsession

Jethro meets Moses in the wilderness. He sees his son-in-law teaching and judging the Children of Israel all day long. Jethro becomes concerned Moses will wear himself out. Perhaps in your mind’s ear, you can hear the proverbial Yiddishe mama worrying about her boy’s health. But a Yiddishe father-in-law?

Moses was very idealistic. He went to extraordinary lengths to care for his people. I suppose if you must have an obsession, this one is better than frosted cookies. But at times he was fanatic. Nothing else seemed to matter.

Before the exodus, Moses neglected to circumcise his son. His wife saved his life by fulfilling this obligation for him. Later, his sister questions his withholding conjugal relations from his wife. It turns out he acted properly. But a word of explanation might have saved his sister from a painful bout of tzaraas.

Great though Moses was, he couldn't the need to share his burden. Along comes Jethro who believed in and worshiped G-d. He renounced a high position to pursue a life dedicated to serving the Almighty. Their values aligned. But Jethro had perspective. And like any devoted father, he worried about his daughter. If Moses didn’t ease up a bit, would he burn out? Where would that leave his wife and children?

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Despite Moses’s greatness, his sons do not achieve anything of note. Would a less fanatic father have meant more successful sons?

Use Passion to Be Enthusiastic Not Fanatic

Life can get out of balance when you’re too focused on your goal. Don’t get me wrong. If you want a high paying job or a successful business you must pursue it. But that doesn’t mean you should give it all your attention. To make $100,000 a year, yet be overweight, divorced, and estranged from your children, is no victory.

Finding the balance point between enthusiastic pursuit of your goal and fanaticism will challenge you. It’s hard to see your life objectively. Ask your spouse or close friend to help you broaden your perspective.

But let’s be honest. Sometimes a spouse may sabotage your success. She may be uncomfortable with the risks you have to take. Or he may be afraid if you become successful you’ll end up leaving him behind.  A friend may feel the same way. And he could be jealous you’ll become more successful than him.

In spite of these pitfalls, seek the counsel of your spouse or close friend. If you feel their advice will hold you back, explore the motivation behind it. Are you blind to their genuine concerns? Or have they advised you out of fear or jealousy. Open, honest communication will improve your relationship and make your success more likely.

Moses and Jethro modeled productive interaction. Each had tremendous respect and love for the other. They communicated openly. Between them, Moses got a better plan for himself, his family, and the Israelites.

It’s easy to be a fanatic. Pursuing your goal can consume you. So you’ll meet your objective, but at what cost? Rather, check in with your spouse and trusted friend on a regular basis. Ask them to assess whether your passion is enthusiastic or fanatic. Let them help you keep your life in balance.

Question – Who provides you with the input to keep your life balanced?

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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. It is named after 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!

God Is Preparing You to Be Tough

Why Even Deep Love Can Be Painful

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Beshalach - Exodus13:17-17:16

Johnny Cash’s music speaks to me like the Beatles do to most other baby boomers. Maybe because when I was growing up my father was pretty tough on me. Men of my dad’s generation didn’t explain their child-rearing goals with their sons. But one day I heard A Boy Named Sue. Cash put into words what my dad wanted me to be. Tough. Now I could see how much my father loved me. Of course, this was before I understood Parshas Beshalach:

“And Moses said to the people, do not fear, stand and see the salvation of G-d that He will do for you today.” (Shemos/Exodus 14:13)

God Is Preparing You to Be Tough

In this Sabbath’s parsha the Children of Israel leave Egypt. But once again Pharaoh changes his mind. He decides to chase them. At the last moment, G-d splits the Reed Sea (the usual translation of the Red Sea is incorrect). The Israelites walk between two walls of water on dry land. The Almighty drowns the Egyptians pursuing them. The Israelites sing the Song of the Sea thanking G-d for their deliverance.

On their journey to the Land of Israel, the Children of Israel complain of hunger and thirst. G-d sustains them with Manna from heaven and water from a rock.

G-d’s Love Doesn’t Always Feel Kind

The Israelites panicked when they got trapped between the Reed Sea and the Egyptian army. They complained that Moses brought them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness. Yet just days before, they witnessed the miraculous Exodus. How could they have lost faith so quickly?

After centuries of being slaves, it’s not surprising the Israelites were unprepared to defend themselves against their former masters. Though they vastly outnumbered them, from their youth they bore the yoke of Egypt’s oppression. Such feelings of inferiority prevented them from fighting.

G-d had freed them from physical slavery. Now each individual had to let go of the slavery mindset. The Almighty could have reset their emotions and spirit. But then the Israelites would not have learned how to grow on their own. Like any loving parent, the Almighty wanted to prepare His children to overcome the challenges of life.

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G-d performed a miracle by splitting the sea. But only when Nachshon showed he was tough enough to move forward into the water up to his nose. Throughout their wandering in the wilderness, the Almighty brought physical miracles. But the Israelites had to show strengthened mindsets to benefit from them.

Get Tough Enough to Never Give Up

After making the same mistake for the umpteenth time, I find myself despairing. Defeats weighs on my spirit. So in a small way, I can appreciate how the Children of Israel must have felt. The part of me committed to giving up starts to get the upper hand.

Then I remember my dad. And I refuse to give in to my weakness. My father raised me to be tough. I find another way to overcome my challenge and reach my goal. Call it the umpteenth time plus one.

Pursuing a goal without positive results is discouraging. It’s worse when you don’t control the situation. Why doesn't G-d let you succeed? You focus on all the things that can go wrong. When the urge to quit hits you, it’s common to feel alone. Fear and weakness convince you to face all life's problems by yourself. That way they can enslave you with feelings of inferiority or excessive guilt.

Your task then is to view the elevated aspects of your character. Focus on your strengths. Internalize knowledge of your assets. Make them part of your purpose. Take time every morning to review them. From a powerful stance, in a strong voice, read your list of strong points. Embed the image of your unconquerable self into your being.

Then you’ll have unshakable resolve to triumph over your weak points and circumstances. You will succeed because you see yourself as a good, capable, resilient person.

You don’t need a name you detest to become tough. G-d loves you so much He’ll compel you to strengthen your resilience. And when you confront your problems with a stout heart, you might experience a miracle.

Question – How can you focus on your strengths but avoid becoming or being perceived as conceited?

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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. It is named after 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’ll Absolutely Reject This Message from Me

How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Bo – Exodus 10:1-13:16

Back during the first week of 2013, I injured my back, got bronchitis, dropped and broke my computer, and rear-ended another driver. Like other times when everything went haywire, I started wondering what G-d wanted from me? If He would let up I could get back on track. Then it hit me. I had become Pharaoh in Parshas Bo:

So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh and said to him: ‘So said the Lord, G-d of the Hebrews, for how much longer will you refuse to be humbled before Me?’ (Shemos/Exodus 10:3).

You’ll Absolutely Reject This Message from Me

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with the final three plagues that convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. G-d makes Nissan the first month of the year. He commands the Children of Israel to perform the Pesach, the Passover Offering.

Then, the Almighty brings the Exodus.

The parsha ends with the mitzvahs of consecrating first-born animals, redeeming a first-born son, and tefilin.

Arrogance Is the Root of Most Evil

Come with me on a tour of the wreckage of Egypt. Pharaoh and his people lived through:

  1. All their water turning into blood.
  2. Frogs swarming their homes, even in their bread.
  3. Lice infesting their bodies.
  4. Hoards of wild beasts overrunning their land.
  5. Pestilence killing their livestock.
  6. Agonizing boils all over their bodies.
  7. Hail devastating their orchards and crops.

This group of catastrophes makes the worst day I’ve ever had seem outstanding. So it seems inconceivable that Pharaoh remained stubborn.  Only one force in nature could do it. Arrogance. Pharaoh refused to humble himself.

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Letting the Israelites go out into the desert meant submitting to G-d’s will. This takes humility. Time and again Pharaoh remained arrogant. All he had to do was say go and stand by his decision. Instead, his vanity destroyed his people and himself.

Use Humility to Stop Sabotaging Yourself

Arrogance takes many forms including:

  • Power trips
  • Rude behavior
  • Brooding about minor insults
  • Know it all attitude
  • Refusing to adapt

You’ve met people who suffer for their arrogance. They must retaliate for even the slightest indignity. By contrast, someone who has internalized humility treats insults like water on a duck’s back. They roll off unnoticed.

You may have a friend or colleague who insists on winning every disagreement. He rarely if ever apologizes for giving offense. The humble person asks forgiveness even for an unintended slight or wrong. Who has the better life?

When you accept inappropriate behavior or limits you’re saying:

  • I’m so smart (or stupid) no one can teach me anything.
  • I’m perfect the way I am.

A modest person recognizes his shortcomings and seeks out ways to overcome them. False modesty is a form of arrogance. It denies the inherent ability of every human being to change.

Alan Axelrod’s biography on General George Patton relates an incident when Patton was a young 2nd Lieutenant. He used the word damn to curse a soldier who had not done a job properly. A short while later he thought better of it. He gathered all the people who might have heard the curse and apologized to the soldier. This was the first of many instances for which he won the respect and loyalty of his men.

Patton voluntarily, publicly, and sincerely apologized for the infamous slapping incidents. Because he believed in G-d, Patton worked all his life to restrain his arrogance.

Arrogance closes you off from solutions to the challenges you face. It destroys relationships. But I have good news for you. If you’ve read this far you met my arrogance challenge. Some people will react to the headline by saying, “You’re right. I’m not even going to read it.” You took the road of learning and growth. Next time you confront a challenge, you won’t sabotage yourself. You know the road of learning and growth is open to you.

Question – What techniques do you suggest for curbing arrogance?

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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. It is named after 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!

Have You Unlocked the Ultimate Power of Your Goal?

How to Make Your Goal Your Destiny

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Va’eira – Exodus 6:2-9:35

The promise of a new year stretches out before you. Hopefully, you’ve already set down your plans for what you’ll accomplish. Setting goals for the New Year is so satisfying. But it comes with risk. How will you feel if you don’t reach your objective? The disappointment can be crushing. And then you have to motivate yourself again. I bet you go straight from setting your goal to working on it, don’t you? Parshas Va’eira shows you’re leaving out a step:

“And Moses and Aaron did as G-d commanded them, so they did” (Shemos/Exodus 7:6)

Have You Unlocked the Ultimate Power of Your Goal-

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with G-d reassuring Moses He will fulfill the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Nonetheless, twice Moses tries to get G-d to release him from leading the Israelites. The rest of the parsha describes the first seven plagues the Almighty brought on Egypt as He brings about the Exodus.

The Missing Step

If you read the Torah carefully you’ll notice something strange. It makes a double statement that Moses and Aaron did as G-d commanded. But they hadn’t done anything yet! They don’t even meet Pharaoh until three lines later. Why does the Torah give them credit for completing a task they haven’t even begun?

The Torah hasn’t mixed up its timeline. Rather, it identifies an essential step to reaching any goal. Moses and Aaron had accepted upon themselves the obligation to follow G-d’s command. They made an absolute commitment in their hearts. So the Torah considered it as if they had actually completed their mission.

Moses knows he won’t have an easy time convincing Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. The Almighty previously told him He would strengthen Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh won’t listen to him. To persevere in the face of such resistance Moses must commit body, mind, and soul. His failure to do so would have required G-d to choose a new messenger. In the meantime, the Children of Israel would have languished in slavery.

Make Your Goal Your DESTINY

In some ways, setting a goal is the most enjoyable part. The excitement of unlimited horizons stretches out before you. You can indulge in possibilities. In this euphoric state, the struggle of achieving the goal can get overlooked.

Every goal worthy of the name will challenge you. The tasks you have to complete are the easy part. The difficulties arise from having to find ways around roadblocks and getting started again after a setback. Self-doubts plague you. The comfort of giving up on your goal entices you. If you’re not vigilant, you’ll find the end of the year approaching with no accomplishments to show for it.

Between setting a goal and starting work on it, take time to internalize it. Integrate reaching your goal into your mind and soul before beginning any physical tasks. Your resolution should be so deep that you feel joy in anticipation of bringing it to fruition.

Follow Moses’s and Aaron’s example. Notice they didn’t commit to receiving the reward. They dedicated themselves to following G-d’s command wherever it led them.

To create this level of devotion to your goal:

  1. Write your goal down in detail
  2. Write a statement saying you commit body, mind, and spirit to reaching it.
  3. Sign it.
  4. Next, visualize yourself feeling self-doubt about seeing it through.
  5. Then see yourself speaking words of reassurance to yourself.
  6. Finally, what will you do when you’re ready to give up? Who will you speak with who will redirect you back on track?
  7. Whether your spouse or friend, get the person’s assurance to help you when you need it.

Now you’ve made a mental and spiritual commitment to your goal. Go out and overcome all the physical challenges.

What bad habit will you break this year?

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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. It is named after 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!

How to Perpetually Reach Greater Success

Make Growth in These Two Areas Your Obsession

2-½ minutes to read

Feeling bombarded with advice on becoming more successful? I’m hip. With Christmas and New Year over, ‘tis the season for personal development. And that’s fine. But so much of the guidance contradicts itself. These days you’re told to set goals rather than make New Year’s resolutions. But others say setting goals will demoralize you. Here’s my favorite dilemma. Should you focus on building up your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses? Allow me to cut through the static so you have simple, actionable steps to apply to your life now.

How to Perpetually Reach Greater Success

Distinguish Among the Realms of Your Life

Have you seen the movie Nuns on the Run? Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane play thieves masquerading as nuns to hide from a gang who wants to kill them. In one priceless scene, Coltrane tries to answer the question of how G-d can be One and also a Trinity. It’s like how you are one person embodying physical, mental, and spiritual domains.

As a runner, I’ve learned to achieve top performance by combining hard physical training with a determined attitude. At times, with mind and body integrated, I reach a spiritual connection to my surroundings. I remember the transcendent experience of a late summer run along Puget Sound. Running in the snow at Camp Fuji in the shadow of Japan’s highest mountain gave me a similar sense.

At the same time, there are different ways to train for physical and mental resilience.

You can increase your physical stamina without improving your mental focus. Think about the last time you did a boring activity like running on a treadmill. Likewise, you can create a distraction-free environment that will increase your focus. But it won’t increase your physical strength or endurance.

You could practice mindfulness while on the treadmill. But the need to be aware of not falling off tends to interrupt your focus. You could stand on a balance board while working at a standup desk. But staying balanced will intrude on your work.

Even though they’re not integrated, you will benefit from training that isolates the physical and mental domains.

Keep this principle in mind as we simplify personal development.

Perpetually Reach Greater Success

Perhaps as an offshoot of science, coaches seem to be looking for a unified theory of self-improvement. Some recommend you build only on your strengths. Others insist you work solely on overcoming your weaknesses. Each applies his theory to the physical, mental, and spiritual domains. By following either one, you sacrifice gains in one domain for no gains in another.

Two main areas will impact your professional success:

  1. Skills, knowledge, and experience
  2. Character

The first one is obvious. The second one includes issues such as punctuality, relationship building, and maintaining your reputation.

Unless you have a glaring omission in your skills, knowledge, or experience, focus on building your strengths. The job market pays a premium for expertise. Strive for top-level ability in what you’re best at now. This will benefit you more than middle-level ability in more skills.

With character, usually shortcomings are what hold back your career progression. If you have trouble getting to work on time or you procrastinate you need to overcome these weaknesses to succeed. Conquer them with action-taking and learning to network well.

Become obsessed with growing your professional strengths and overcoming character weaknesses. Your success will spiral ever higher each time you make ground with one or the other.

Which do struggle more to deal with - Growing your professional strengths or overcoming character weaknesses?

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