Category Archives: Ethics & Values

How to Deal with Injustice

Periodically I find myself experiencing Don Quixote moments. If you’re not familiar with the title character of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, he inspired Man of La Mancha, the great 1965 musical in which The Impossible Dream is sung. Don Quixote, who jousts with windmills, longs to “right the unrightable wrong . . . no matter how hopeless.” He’d find innumerable opportunities for such futility in the navy’s bureaucracy.

How to Deal with Injustice

Hindsight often exposes the folly of many of my fights. When someone does something unjust or malicious my default is to expose the perpetrator and have him punished. After all, if he gets away with such behavior it will encourage him to do it again. But such battles take a great deal of physical and mental energy. The resulting frustration inevitably spills over into other areas of my life, impacting my spiritual wellbeing.

Reality check: Even if the person is held accountable, I’ve made an enemy for life, one who will revel in having justification for further odious acts.

Balance is key here.

My running partner and I discussed proportionality last week. Response to a provocation must be in line with the larger strategic goal not the individual incursion. So too in your life. Before you level the 16” guns, is the campaign on which you’re planning to expend so much energy worth it in light of your personal mission and goals?

I’m not going to change the stagnant and insidious nature of navy bureaucracy any more than I am going to transform human nature. There will always be people who play petty power games corrosive to morale that detract from meeting the mission. My best course of action is to navigate around them. I’ll leave it for G-d to decide the appropriate punishment.

How do you bring this type of balance into your life?

  1. Be crystal clear about your personal mission
  2. Be equally clear about the goals that support your mission
  3. When faced with an obstacle, only confront it if it serves your mission and goals

This may sound selfish, but if your mission is sound then undoubtedly you are serving humanity in your own way.

I can understand Don Quixote’s attraction to hopeless causes. Unexpected victory in such a fight powerfully supports the belief that justice will prevail. Occasionally it’s necessary to sharpen my lance and take the field against an unconquerable enemy, if only to preserve my peace of mind. I suspect you feel the same way. If so, fight a battle that even though you lose it, will give you a lesson you can use in more winnable fights.

In the meantime, save your physical, mental, and spiritual energy for those you love and who love and respect you. Your white charger won’t mind resting in his stall a while longer, unburdened by heavy armor.

What hopeless cause must you fight for? Please comment below.

Do You Do this Daily Act of Justice?

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Korach – Numbers 16:1-18:32

Almost daily at my synagogue people are there asking for charity. On occasion, after receiving several contributions, someone will take a portion of what he’s been given and put it in the charity box. At first such behavior puzzled me. He’s so poor he begs for money. Although admirable, why give away what he clearly needs to survive? Parshas Korach, explains:

And to the Levites you will speak and you will say to them, “When you will take from the Children of Israel from the tithe that I give to you from them as your inheritance from it you will set aside a gift for G-d, a tithe from the tithe.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 18:26)

Do You Do this Daily Act of Justice? 

This Sabbath’s parsha takes us from the infamy of the spies to the rebellion of Korach and his followers against Moses and Aaron. Unlike the previous complaints about food, water, and other things, Korach, a cousin of Moses and Aaron, sought to depose them and assume their roles.  He tried to take advantage of the Israelite’s unhappiness over the decree that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years. As a result of their rebellion, the 250 insurgents were consumed by fire and the Earth swallowed up their households.  A harsh punishment indeed!

Seemingly unrelated to the topic of Korach’s rebellion, the Torah discusses the tithes the Levites will receive. Then, as noted above, it says that the Levites must give a tithe from their tithes to the Kohanim, the Priests.

You would think that a group supported by charity would be exempt from having to give charity. But this might lead them to consider themselves uniquely entitled. Everyone, no matter how rich or how poor and no matter what the source of one’s sustenance, is obligated to give charity.

Korach’s mistakenly felt entitled to more because of his familial connection. He lacked gratitude, and its cousin, humility. As a result, he sought to overthrow Moses and Aaron and trample on the Creator’s plan.

While you may think you earn your sustenance by working and paying for it, the ability to do so is a gift from the Almighty. The recession showed what a blessing it is to be employed. Undoubtedly you have friends who are highly qualified yet struggled to find a job. Why you and not them? There but for the grace of G-d . . .

While tzedakah is usually translated as charity, righteousness is a more accurate. Each person receives G-d’s blessing, even if only life for another day. It is only right that you demonstrate your gratitude each day by sharing this blessing with another who is less fortunate.

What is your plan for showing gratitude each day? 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!

Help Me Celebrate a Victory!

Yesterday in the mail I received my copy of Germany at War and Russia at War. While they were released a few months ago, having them in my hands internalized my accomplishing a milestone goal: becoming a published writer. Will you indulge me for a couple of minutes? I’d like you to join my celebration of this success.

Help Me Celebrate a Victory!

First, I need to thank Zac Arnold who told me about the need for writers of encyclopedia articles for Germany at War. Zac and I became friends when my air wing was embarked on the USS RONALD REAGAN and we have remained so since. At the time I set the milestone goal to have an academic article published I had no idea how I’d accomplish it. Part of the answer is: not alone. It wouldn’t have happened without Zac’s help.

Next, thank you Major General David Zabecki (Ret.) and Timothy Dowling, professor of history at Virginia Military Institute and Associate Editor of the Journal of Military History. Editors respectively of Germany at War and Russia at War, they provided leadership, encouragement, and professional guidance. What a great honor it was to work with these two fine historians and men. MajGen Zabecki convinced me that despite lacking a degree in history, I am an historian as well as a writer.

I first voiced my desire to write when I was 16. While driving my mother somewhere, she asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “I want to be a writer but I don’t want to starve.” Ever sensible, my mom encouraged me to look for a more “practical” profession. Little did either of us know that when the writing bug bites the wound never heals.

There are two kinds of objectives:

  1. Goals. Markers you set for yourself because you need to make progress in an area of your life.
  2. Milestone Goals. Achievements that change who you are.

Ideally goals are intermediate steps toward milestone goals. They assist your transformation.

It is fashionable in some circles to self-proclaim your identity. From that perspective if you want to be a writer you call yourself one despite lacking accomplishments in the field. I think you have to achieve something: an academic credential, a significant success, or tenure in the area, to merit carrying the title.

So here it is almost four decades later. I am a writer.

I hope you have had the joy of achieving a milestone or two in your life. As important, what did you do to celebrate your accomplishment? Tonight my family and I will crack open a bottle of sparkling wine over some scrumptious Thai food.

Thank you for letting me share my victory with you. More so, thank you for allowing me to be a writer.

What victories have you gotten to celebrate? Please comment below.

Want to Be Free? Be Disciplined!

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

One of the most common questions people ask me is how I can live such a restrictive life. During the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, I don't drive or ride in a car, watch television or listen to the radio. I cook meals before it begins and do not adjust any lights or electrical appliances during this time. Parshas Bo explains why:

“So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh and said to him, “So said the Lord, G-d of the Hebrews . . . Send out My people and they will serve Me.” (Shemos/Exodus 10:3).

Want to Be Free? Be Disciplined!

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with the final three plagues that eventually convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. Nissan is made the first month of the year and the mitzvah of the Passover Offering, the Pesach, is given.

Then, G-d brings the Exodus.

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

After more than two centuries of bondage, the Children of Israel go free from slavery so they can serve G-d. Many people would say, “What kind of freedom is that? To go from enslavement to Pharaoh to having to do whatever G-d commands!”

It’s one of the most common complaints against religion: too many Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots. Wouldn’t it be better to be truly free and do our own thing as long as we don’t hurt anyone else?

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Rarely, if ever, would such critics apply this principle to other areas of life. The pianist, who immerses in study and deeply understands how to wring every last essence of music out of a piano is revered. The novice whose greatest accomplishment is plunking out chopsticks with two fingers, not so much.

The golfer who has watched every DVD about how to be a great player, practices virtually every day, and understands all the do’s and don’ts of stance and swing is admired. The Sunday duffer is dismissed.

I suspect you would agree the virtuoso pianist and the dedicated golfer have much greater freedom in pursuing their music and sport respectively. One of the great ironies of life is:

The same is true of your spiritual life. In order to be able to experience and express deep spirituality, you must study, practice, and submit to the do’s and don’ts of religion.

According to Malcolm Muggeridge, if you want to be a great sailor you must be a slave to the compass. He maintains there is no freedom on the high seas until you submit to this tyranny because of the likelihood you will get lost, perhaps founder, even be killed. Only by becoming a slave to the compass is a sailor really free.

The Torah is the compass for life. When you surrender to its dictates you prevent yourself from wandering aimlessly through the world. Through its discipline, you become ever more focused on reaching spiritually deep, fulfilling relationships with loved ones and G-d.

What do you use to guide your life, in particular, your spiritual life?

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!

Why Merry Christmas is the Proper Seasonal Greeting

Do you walk around with the strains of “It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year” and Jingle Bell Rock playing in your head? Between Thanksgiving and New Years Day snippets of Christmas carols seem to accompany my activities, despite living a robustly Jewish life. Lively and nostalgic, they enhance the celebratory atmosphere.

Why Merry Christmas is the Proper Seasonal Greeting

Last week my unit had its annual holiday party. If you are thinking which holiday we are right in tune. When the party committee was formed, I suggested it be called the Christmas party. But the prevailing attitude was doing so would be exclusionary. I disagree.

No holiday that happens in December is more important to those who observe it than Christmas is to Christians. The meaning of the day is central to Christianity.

By contrast, Chanukah is a minor Jewish festival. True, its celebration has become more elaborate over the decades. But this is due to its proximity to Christmas. It is not a major festival on the level of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or even the weekly Sabbath.

Other December holidays include:

Bodhi Day - Recognizing the date the Buddha experienced enlightenment. It is not among the sacred or most important celebrations for Buddhists.

Yule – What some believe to be the historical predecessor to Christmas, it is one of the lesser Sabbats for Wiccans. The traditional greeting is Merry Yule.

Zarathosht Diso - An ancient festival not celebrated today, it is marked by special prayers. Some Zoroastrians visit fire temples to pray.

According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, over 78% of Americans are Christians. This compares to 1.7% who are Jewish, and 0.7% who are Buddhist. Wiccans and Zoroastrians were not broken out but would fall into a category of 0.4% or less.

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While about 4% of Christian do not recognize the day, this does not diminish its significance among those who do. As well, 81% of non-Christians in the United States celebrate it. Thus, over 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas.

So, you have a 9 out of 10 chance that when you wish someone a Merry Christmas you are acknowledging his preeminent observance.

By substituting happy holidays, a false equivalence is created. This unjustly diminishes Christmas’s importance while giving the appearance that other celebrations have to be elevated to compete.

The result for Jews has been a vast increase in the expense of Chanukah with the advent of giving expensive presents instead of the traditional gifts of chocolate gelt (foil wrapped coins) and other small tokens of love. As well, the purpose of Chanukah, commemorating the triumph of religious freedom over Syrian-Greek tyranny, has been largely forgotten.

Better to let each celebration have its rightful place within the faith of its observers. Recognizing the importance of Christmas does not detract from your freedom of expression any more than congratulating someone for his success reduces your chance for similar achievement. Rather, in both cases by recognizing what is important for others, you create more solid bridges between people and exhibit tolerance.

For such universal good, perhaps the majority can be given their due. Merry Christmas!

What is the downside to wishing Merry Christmas to someone who does not celebrate it?

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