Category Archives: Ethics & Values

The Real Reason You Should Keep Your Promises

Parsha Nugget Mattos – Numbers 30:2-32:42

Too many times I've said I would do something only to regret this commitment and sought a way out.  Could I redefine a word, find a loophole, or convince myself that since the other person didn't think I would follow through it does not matter?  Yet, let someone do such a thing to me and I am righteously indignant.  Would you be surprised that this is not the vow G-d specified in parshas Mattos?

“. . . a man, if he will vow a vow to G-d . . . like all that goes out from his mouth, he will do.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 30:3)

The Real Reason You Should Keep Your Promises

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This week’s parsha discusses how to take a vow. Then it tells about the war against Midian and its aftermath including how to make utensils kosher. Next, the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasheh ask to have their portion of land on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Once I read that when diamond merchants make a deal they finalize it by shaking hands and saying “Mazel and Bracha,” meaning good luck and blessing.  Evidently, this practice is so well established that arbitrators have upheld such deals as binding.  In our society, where many times even a written agreement will not be honored, it is surprising to me that the principle of “his word is his bond” still exists broadly in an industry.

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This is how the Torah views a vow:

Breaking your word injures not just another person, but G-d too.

Because it is so important to fulfill a vow, the Torah discourages taking one.  Even in a courtroom, you should refrain from swearing an oath.  Rather, affirm the words of the person administering the oath. In many cases, it's a sin to take an oath, similar to swearing to do something and not doing it.  Some Jews say b'lee neder before agreeing to do something. This verbalizes the idea they will do their best to follow through but are not making a promise or vow.

Remember your mother telling you to look before you leap?  Not just a physical safety rule, it applies to promises too.  Even without a vow, follow through is obligatory. And while vows can be nullified to avoid sinning against G-d, this does not mollify the other person's bad feelings.

If you are as busy as I am, be reticent when committing to do something. The fewer promises you make the surer you can be that what goes out from your mouth, you will do.

How do you avoid breaking your word?

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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!

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons

Recently I commented to a friend that I admired his reading business books. Although they have valuable ideas, the writing is less than enthralling. You probably don't have nearly as much time to read as you'd like. But having come across a series of short books containing practical leadership lessons embedded in captivating narratives I knew I had to tell you about them. I mentioned one of them, Patton in my list of the 10 best books I read last year.

I've read five of the 14 biographies in Palgrave Macmillan’s Great Generals series. Written by some of the best military historians, such as Alex Axelrod, Donald A. Davis, H. Paul Jeffers, and Jim Lacey, all were outstanding. Each takes about 7 hours to read or listen to. They cover the subject’s early life, military career, and civilian life after the army if he had one, emphasizing the qualities each general groomed in himself, how he worked with mentors, the significant mistakes he made, and how he overcame them.

Leadership and Personal Development

While its goal is leadership development, the series is equally valuable as a personal development tool.

Rather than proclaiming their subject’s greatness, each general’s eminence becomes self-evident as his story unfolds.

Having read these, I personally recommend:

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Marshall (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Bradley (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Pershing (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Stonewall Jackson (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Patton: A Biography (Great Generals)

I plan to read the other nine, which are:

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Custer (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Washington (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Sherman (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Andrew Jackson (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons LeMay (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons MacArthur (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Grant (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Robert E. Lee (The Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership LessonsEisenhower: A Biography (Great Generals)

My email to Palgrave Macmillan wasn't answered, but it appears the series is ongoing so hopefully it will come to include General Henry “Hap” Arnold, General Winfield Scott, and General Matthew B. Ridgway.

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I'm curious to know if you have read any of these already and if so what you think about them.

What is your biggest challenge to reading more?

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3 Reasons You Should Not Abstain

Have you been following the news about sugar lately? Even the health press has declared it as bad as smoking. Many people I know are swearing it off.

3 Reasons You Should Not Abstain

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Indulge me for a moment. This means no:

  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Cake
  • Cookies
  • Wine
  • Liquor

Besides toothpaste, have I missed anything?

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These are the obvious foods. Sugar is an ingredient in many others. Aside from the health benefits of wine and chocolate, I find a great deal of emotional satisfaction from having a dish of fantastically creamy ice cream or a nicely chilled martini.

Abstain or Indulge?

Undoubtedly it's the case that many people eat too much sugar. However, unless you have a serious health condition that warrants it, you shouldn't abstain. Consider its adverse effects:

  1. Indulgence and abstention are the same. They both indicate a person has insufficient self-control. If you abstain from cookies because when you eat one you eat the whole bag you're avoiding the trigger not demonstrating willpower. Self-control means you decide how many cookies you'll eat despite your urge to do otherwise.
  2. Abstention is rarely a long-term solution. Alcoholics can attest to the difficulty of renouncing liquor. According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter 50% relapse into drinking. Most often abstention works only after a serious accident or the onset of health problems.
  3. Abstention creates stress. When you abstain as the cure for overindulgence you are constantly under the pressure of suppressing your desire. Backsliding often leads to self-condemnation. In the end, you have traded the stress caused by a negative behavior with a different stress source.

The better response is to:

Use your aspiration to a healthier life as the catalyst for greater self-discipline.

Running 45 to 50 minutes burns the 600 calories contained in half of a pint container of Haagen Dazs. Use the ice cream as a reward for stepping up your exercise program.

Instead of buying a regular bag of Oreo cookies, get the 100-calorie packs. Commit to eating just one package per day.

Make a ritual of drinking a glass of wine, perhaps with your spouse or a friend with whom you can be mutually accountable.

With all of the delights in this life, why restrict yourself? As I wrote several months ago, moderation is the key. While lack of restraint is destructive, abstinence is not the answer.

In which situations do you think abstention is the only choice?

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Where to Find Holiness in Business Today

I lived through the 1960s and 1970s counter-culture movement. Even today many people think conscious altering substances lead to holiness. So people express skepticism when I assert I never used them. If you have any lingering doubts, this week’s parsha, Kedoshim, should clear them up:

. . . you will be holy, for holy am I your G-d. (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:2)

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After the opening line above, this week’s parsha launches into a long list of mitzvahs, ways of creating a relationship with G-d. They range from religious to ethical. Respect parents and elders. Give charity to the poor. Be honest in business. Observe the Sabbath. Don't dabble in the occult. Follow the famous “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” Don't take revenge or engage forbidden relationships.

Who is holy?

Is it the mystic on the mountain, the monk in the monastery, or the guru in the grotto? The eternal search for spirituality continues today unabated. The Jewish system of mysticism, Kabbalah, is in vogue. But are elevated consciousness and holiness the same?

You probably would not associate the practices in Kedoshim with being spiritual. Yet, rather than ethereal or otherworldly, the road to holiness is practical and pragmatic. You experience it more frequently in everyday activities than in mantras and metaphysics. Self-restraint, discipline, honesty, decency are the qualities that lead you to holiness. You do not need séances, incense, or even long, flowing robes. Just be a mentsch: control your passions, and behave correctly.

How Do You Achieve Holiness?

The Almighty wants you to be different from those around you. Whether it was the Egyptians and Canaanites of old or the hedonists and sensualists of today. The message is the same. Holiness means distinctiveness. You march to the Eternal’s beat. Disregard what the rest of the world is doing. Be a person apart.

How so? Celebrate the Sabbath, keep honest weights and measures in your business, refrain from lying, pay your employees on time, and don't gossip. Or do your best to love your fellow like yourself. But keep your amorous attention for your spouse.

Holiness exists when a young couple exercises self-discipline and waits patiently until their wedding to engage in marital relations. They show character and nobility. So too Married couples who work hard to keep their marriages and family life intact express holiness.

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There are many paths to G-d. But spirituality divorced from honesty, integrity, respect, honor, dignity and discipline is not one of them. Now my abstention from mind-altering materials makes sense. They lead away from holiness. A little wine or single-malt whiskey helps me relax and enhances my joy. The rest of the time, the search for holiness takes a clear mind and a steadfast purpose.

Do you have a process or activity that helps you feel holy?

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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!

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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