Category Archives: Ethics & Values

How to Be Genuine in Any Situation

The Reason You Must Give Your Heart

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Yayakhel/Pekudei – Exodus 35:1-40:38

Job-hunting after military service sometimes feels like entering a foreign country. Doesn’t it? The differences in language and life experience make communicating difficult. Veterans and civilians struggle to bridge the gap. Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei will help you be genuine while creating links:

“Everyone who is generous-hearted, will bring it, a portion for G-d.” (Shemos/Exodus 35:5)

How to Be Genuine in Any Situation

Create links with civilians by opening your heart to them and letting them get to know the genuine you.

This Sabbath is a double parsha to keep on track with the annual cycle. Vayakhel reviews the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). You see the only time in Jewish history that a building campaign raised so much money people had to stop giving!

Pekudei details Moses’s accounting of those donations. Then it explains how he set up the Mishkan. You might have thought that as the leader Moses would tell others to do it. But when G-d gives someone a job it becomes that person’s responsibility. No one should feel he’s beneath anything that serves our Creator.

Get Out of Your Head and Be Genuine

G-d told the Israelites to give contributions for the building of the Mishkan. But why do they have to bring their hearts? Isn’t it enough to give the gold, silver, and other materials?

Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm says we need to give more than mere money. The Almighty wants us to invest emotion and spirit when giving. Open your heart by smiling at the recipient. Recognize him as an individual. Ask her about her experiences. By doing so you transform a simple monetary transaction into a holy act. As well, you mold your self-image into that of a useful person.

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People used to call being in the military being in the service. You were a service member. In this respect civilian and military life mirror one another. The quality of your life comes in large part from serving others. This ethos requires genuine connection with fellow citizens.

Charity Isn’t Only Money

These days charity refers to an organization that raises money to help less fortunate people. Or it’s the actual money donated and distributed.

But charity also used to mean the way you treated someone. Kindness and tolerance marked the behavior of a charitable person. No money changed hands. Rather minds and hearts connected in true understanding.

Recently, Jewish Friends of the American Military asked me to speak on their behalf. Few of the 60 people attending had any link to military life. Sea stories fascinated them. During Q&A, people wanted to know how they could support service members beyond donating to JFAM.

The answer came straight from this week’s parsha. I told them, “We’re very fortunate to live during a time when our fellow citizens thank us for our service. But for some veterans, the gratitude doesn't seem authentic. So before offering your thanks, take a couple of minutes to ask a veteran about his experience. Get to know her a bit. By connecting first, your gratitude will feel genuine.”

Whether giving money or meeting to discuss a job, bring your heart. The links you create will yield more than a short-term benefit. You’ll build the foundation to authentic, life-long relationships.

Question – If you feel you cannot invest your heart when giving to someone should you not do so?

You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question below

 

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!

How to Break Through Your Barrier to a High-Paying Job

Is Fear Preventing You from Maximizing Your Value?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Terumah – Exodus 25:1-27:19

Many veterans have told me they don’t care about making a lot of money. They just want to get by. Does this describe your perspective on wealth? It has a sense of humility about it. But is it coming from a humble place? Or are you secretly afraid you don’t have what it takes to get a high-paying job? G-d’s interaction with Moses in Parshas Terumah shows how to break through to the path to service and success:

“Speak to the Children of Israel, and they will take for Me a portion…” (Shemos/Exodus 25:22)

How to Break Through Your Barrier to a High-Paying Job

This Sabbath’s parsha details the plans for the Mishkan or portable Sanctuary. G-d rested His Presence there during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness. Such ordinary materials as copper, linen, and goatskins are turned into a holy abode.

You Can’t Give What Someone Else Owns

G-d uses a strange word when He commands Moses to ask the Israelites to donate the materials for building the Tabernacle. Usually, when contributing money to construct a building, donors say they gave money to build it. But you can’t give anything to G-d. All creation belongs to Him already.

So it makes no sense for the Almighty to tell the Israelites to give donations for the Tabernacle. But telling them to take donations makes no sense either. Only someone embezzling the donations would say he was taking them.

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It turns out when the Almighty says, “take for Me” He means, “from what I have given you to use, separate a gift in my name.”

Break Through to Take Your Money With You

So you don’t actually own your money. It’s not a part of you. You only have use of it for your limited time in this world. As a result, some people decide to spend their money indiscriminately. Or, they use it to indulge in hedonistic pleasures. But because some people abuse wealth doesn’t mean you will. So don’t avoid maximizing the value of your skills, knowledge, and experience.

While you don’t own your wealth, the Almighty expects you to use it wisely. How?

The Tabernacle teaches money transforms into an eternal possession when you use it for a holy purpose. Support your family. Develop your resilience and character. Donate it to charity. Use the prosperity that the Almighty gives you toward His cherished goal. When you take care of His children, you improve the only thing you’ll take into eternity: Your relationships with G-d.

Like money, your skills, knowledge, and experiences all become worthless when you die. But you can use them to build value in other people’s lives. Then they become tools for building the eternal possession of a close relationship with the Creator.

When someone tells you service to others is the path to success, they’re describing this very idea. It’s built into military life. That’s why years ago people said you joined the service. You were a service member, not a military member.

Make service your goal in civilian life. Note that getting paid well doesn’t conflict with helping others. People need better goods and services. They need new ways of understanding the complexity of modern life. Use your skills, knowledge, and experience to better their lives. Break through the fear you can't or shouldn't have a high-paying job. Then you’ll have plenty of money to take for G-d as you build an eternal possession.

Question – How does it make you feel to give money to charity?

You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question below

 

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 Respond to People with Offensive Values

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Chayei Sarah – Genesis 23:1-25:18

Freedom means encountering people and values that make you uncomfortable. As a new chaplain, I was told not to use Hebrew when giving a public prayer. I thought the person giving me this instruction was hypersensitive or bigoted. Latin didn’t bother me. Why should Hebrew bother others? I could have protested. But to what end? It would have offended people. And I would have lost any chance to impact their lives. Parshas Chayei Sarah gives a tried and true method for handling this situation:

“…also for your camels I will draw until they finish drinking.” (Beresheis/Genesis 24:19)

How to Respond to People with Offensive Values

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with Sarah dying. Abraham purchased a burial site, interred her, and devotedly mourned. Next, he ordered Eliezer, his servant, to find a wife for Isaac. Abraham remarried. The narrative concludes with his death and the death of Ishmael.

Avoid Offending People

Consider what Abraham knew about his neighbors. G-d brought the flood because most people robbed or committed sexual immorality. He lived during the time of the Dispersion when people challenged G-d’s authority with the Tower of Babel. After she gave birth, Hagar mocked his beloved Sarah’s barrenness. Efron the Hittite grossly overcharged him for a burial site even as he grieved over his wife’s death.  He probably knew that Cain murdered Abel.

Not a pretty picture.

Abraham rejected his neighbors’ values. But he did not run around protesting them. Nor did he engage in heated words or provoke them. He wore mourning garments. But only because his wife died not to show he abhorred other people's values. He continued to live his life.

Abraham knew he could not change anyone’s behavior or beliefs through confrontation or insults.

Nothing has changed in the last four millennia. You will not change anyone’s mind by offending him. You’ll only harden his position.

Secure the Next Generation’s Values

Abraham took action too. He redoubled his effort to ensure Isaac would keep his values. Eliezer received specific instructions about a suitable wife for his son and heir.

Eliezer set out for Abraham’s homeland. On arriving there, he decided the proper young woman must offer to alleviate his thirst, then that of his camels. Deep sensitivity to animal welfare does not necessarily indicate a similar attitude toward humans. But someone who responds to the needs of a stranger and then even his animals is a paragon of kindness.

Along came Rebecca. Her brother was one of the greatest liars in history. So sensitive was she to honesty, Rebecca said she would draw water for his camels. Her words implied she could not be sure they would drink. Though surrounded by selfishness and deceit, she remained virtuous. Rebecca’s strength of character qualified her as co-heir to Abraham’s legacy.

Together, Isaac and Rebecca would ensure G-d’s morality endured despite their neighbor’s depravity.

Without demonstrations, insults, or threats of withdrawal, Abraham stayed the course. As a result, his values have survived for over 4,000 years. Most of humanity continues to reject those of the Canaanite nations.

You have two choices when people’s values offend you. Abandon your own by attacking those you disagree with. Or adhere to them more closely. Become an even more shining example of how good they are. Be more diligent about teaching them to your children. Then have faith that G-d will see to their endurance.

Question – How do you engage with people whose values offend you?

Please comment on this question or ask another question below.

 

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.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Improve Your Colleagues’ Ethics

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Lech Lecha – Genesis 12:1-17:27

Americans believe that service members’ ethics rank among the highest of any profession. Yet many service members have the opposite view of their fellow citizens. In fact, there are scoundrels in the military and civilian life. Holding to such a high standard causes service members to fall into a trap. Parshas Lech Lecha explains:

“Only what the young men ate and the share of the men that went with me; Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre, they will take their share.” (Genesis/Bereishis 14:24)

How to Improve Your Colleagues’ Ethics

In this Sabbath’s parsha G-d tells Abram (later Abraham) to leave his land and relatives to go to the land of Canaan. Abram sojourns in Egypt during a famine then returns to Canaan. Abram and his nephew Lot part ways. Then G-d promises to give the Land of Canaan to Abram and his descendants. Abram wins a war and rescues Lot. But he turns down the booty that normally goes to the victor.

Next, the Almighty reiterates His promise to give Canaan to Abram and his descendants. Sarai (later Sarah) tells Abram to take her servant for a wife. Then G-d and Abram make the covenant of circumcision. Finally, G-d gives Sarai and Abram new names and the promise of a son to be named Isaac.

Stretch to Reach the Highest Ethical Standards

Abraham rejected the King of Sodom’s offer to split the war booty. His refusal seems strange in light of America’s practice of giving veterans benefits. Abraham earned his share. And it looks like he violated Henny Youngman's central tenet of Judaism, nem de gelt – get the money.

Shortly after the war Abraham and Sarah have a child. Then G-d tells them another will be coming a year later. Even though they didn’t have to pay college tuition, some extra shekels would have come in handy.

While he appears arrogant, Abraham acted with a holy motive. Not long after this incident, G-d destroyed Sodom because of its depravity. How would it have looked for Abraham to take the booty? The King of Sodom could have said he enriched him. Abraham wanted people to know his wealth came from the Almighty not the ruler of a corrupt nation.

Be the Example Not the Enforcer

That being the case, why did Abraham allow Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre to take a share? If rejecting the spoils was the right thing to do, Abraham should have had his men do so too.

Morality is not the same thing as personal ethics. As the victor in a war, Abraham had a right to the spoils. Keeping them would not have violated any Biblical principle. Abraham’s personal standard prevented his taking the loot. He wished to elevate himself above the minimum requirement.

Each person has a right to be strict with himself. But it’s wrong to force others to be more stringent than the Bible requires. As praiseworthy as Abraham was, it would have been equally inappropriate to place that standard on his men.

Human nature seems to drive people to be tough on others and lenient with themselves. The opposite will build and maintain strong relationships. And, by insisting others live up to your standard you close yourself off from opportunity, like a great job.

Be careful to distinguish between someone acting immorally and not living according to your standard. If you judge someone from the outset you preclude any relationship. Let them find their own path to loftier principles. Show you value the relationship. Then you’ll have the chance to positively influence a colleague’s personal ethics.

Question – How do you show proper regard for another person without compromising your own standards? Please comment below.

 

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.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Why You Should Care that Gene Wilder Died

2-½ minutes to read

Celebrities don’t interest me. I don’t aspire to live a life like theirs. Parties, jet-setting, and awards shows leave me cold. Most of the reporting about them falls into the category of gossip. Outwardly their lives appear glitzy. But the times I’ve seen the inside, they seem, like Thoreau’s “mass of men,” to “lead lives of quiet desperation.” That being the case, why should you care that Gene Wilder died? Let me tell you a brief story.

Why You Should Care that Gene Wilder Died

The Test of Character

On a November weekend in 1977, my friend Rose Anna and I decided to attend a preview screening of The World’s Greatest Lover. We went to the long since demolished Plitt Theatres in Century City. Rose Anna is Gene Wilder’s most ardent fan. She loved him so much she never begrudged his love for Gilda Radner.

We were sitting in the theater waiting for the movie to begin. All day I had teased Rose Anna about Gene Wilder showing up for the screening. She pooh-poohed the idea. While waiting for the lights to dim, I sat facing the back of the theatre so I could watch people enter. (Note: 30 years ago movie theaters were like regular auditoriums. You could see the whole house.) About 10 minutes before show time I shocked her when I let her know he had just walked in.

Not one to miss an opportunity, I told Rose Anna we had to go and introduce ourselves. She declined. I pressed her. She absolutely refused. Undaunted, I made my way to where he was sitting, begged his pardon for intruding, and said hello. Mr. Wilder could not have been more gracious. He stood up, shook my hand, thanked me for coming to see him. I told him about my friend and asked if it would be all right for me to bring her by after the movie. He said he’d wait for us.

After the lights came up and most of the crowd had left, there he was, still in his seat, waiting, just like he promised.

I brought Rose Anna over to him. Again he stood, gently took her hand, and thanked her for coming by. She was literally speechless. Then he looked her right in the eye, smiled, and told her, I love your tailor. Rose Anna was wearing a shirt she had made that said, “I'd Rather Be Watching a Gene Wilder Movie.” That broke the ice. We all laughed. And Rose Anna hugged him. Throughout, Mr. Wilder was kind, gentle, and warm.

Gene Wilder was a Mensch

If you’re unfamiliar with Yiddish, a mensch is an honorable person. The term can apply to Jews and non-Jews alike, so my assessment has nothing to do with Mr. Wilder being of my faith. Rather, despite his fame and success, it appears he lived his public and private lives with integrity and decency. His longtime collaborator, Mel Brooks, often said so in spite of their creative differences.

Gene Wilder was lucky to play beloved characters like Willy Wonka and Dr. Frankenstein. He was fortunate to find an epic love with his wife Gilda Radner. But he was challenged by the whirl of Hollywood and his wife’s painful death at a young age. Can you claim a less equitable mix of blessings and curses?

In the sweep of his life, Rose Anna and I were nothing. Two fans among millions. But Gene Wilder treated us as if we mattered a great deal. In this, he displayed the essence of what it means to be human. Every individual is significant. And we must treat each of our fellow human beings so as to acknowledge that significance.

Throughout it all, Gene Wilder remembered this central reality. In his last act of service, he imparts to you his example. There are no “little people” in your life. Until you can treat the most annoying person you know with respect, remember how Gene Wilder treated Rose Anna and me. I will.

How do you stop yourself from being irritated by bothersome people? Please comment below.

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