Category Archives: Ethics & Values

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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Why Someone Calling Me a Dirty Jew B****rd Does Not Matter

Last week I ran my third Twitter promotional campaign. Over the past month, for very little money I have doubled my followers. Now more than 300 hundred people potentially benefit from my work. The latest promotion brought me something special: Bigotry.

Bigotry: Why Someone Calling Me a Dirty Jew B****rd Does Not Matter

A twitter user responded to one of my promoted tweets saying, “You dirty jew b****rd ‪@KevinBemel, keep your 'Promoted Tweets' off my timeline.” He spelled out the word in which I substituted ****. Though surprised by such invective, after a few moments reflection I shrugged it off. Here’s why:

  1. The author is a coward since his Twitter handle is an alias and he wears a mask in his profile picture.
  2. He does not understand how Twitter promotions work. I set only broad parameters about to whom Twitter promotes my tweets. His complaint is with Twitter not me.
  3. He falls under the Elvis factor, made famous by Larry Elder, that states: 10 percent of the American people think Elvis still lives, and 8 percent believe that if you send him a letter, he'll answer it. There is no accounting for lunatics.
  4. While there are Anti-Semites, they cannot prevent me from pursuing my goals unless I allow it.
  5. His comment says nothing about me but tells me something very important about him. I do not want him for a Twitter follower. He would only damage those I help.
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I've encountered Anti-Semitism before. The first: I was about 7 years old when the class bully threatened me for agreeing with our music teacher about Jews singing Oh Hanukah during the same time of year Christians sing Christmas carols. Frightened by his harshness, I told my mother about the confrontation.

My Mom, “That’s called prejudice. Did you like it?”

Me, “No.”

My Mom, “Then don’t ever do it to anyone."

Wise woman my mother. I have never forgotten this lesson. Now more than four decades later, when confronted with bigotry, it is still the only lesson that matters.

How have you dealt with prejudice you have encountered?

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When Words Speak Louder Than Actions

Being genuine about who you are and what you desire from life is the indispensable prerequisite to personal development. How can you live intentionally if your words and actions are out of sync?

When Words Speak Louder Than Actions

Thinking back to my navy training experiences, one stands out. After five weeks of Officer Indoctrination School, chaplains moved on to Chaplain School. About two-thirds of the way through the course we had AMEX, an outdoor training designed to prepare us for serving with the Marine Corps.

We went to a National Guard training camp and lived in tents. We ate MREs (meals ready-to-eat). Every day we hiked or ran the obstacle course (well, only the parts the leadership thought would not injure us). We even learned to dig a foxhole. For one exercise, in small groups, we had to run until the instructor yelled drop. At that point, we had to hit the dirt not matter what. My group decided we would purposely run through a flooded area knowing we would be told to drop in the water. When the order came we all belly flopped with our hands out, soaking ourselves but also anyone, including the instructor, who was nearby! Our actions didn't please him.

At the end of the seven days, we had a “Warrior Dinner.” After a week of MREs, we could have anything we wanted. People requested Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds. I asked for fresh fruit. The instructor’s chin virtually hit the deck.

“It’s a Warrior Dinner! You can’t have fruit!” Quietly I insisted I could, since the rules were we could have anything we wanted. After further pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth, he agreed.

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On the night of the dinner, probably thinking he'd teach me a lesson, he brought me a bag of fruit big enough to feed a platoon. After a week of highly processed food, I happily gorged on apples, oranges, and grapes

Then a funny thing happened. One by one my colleagues came by to ask me if I had any to spare. The chicken and hamburgers were fine, but the fruit was the icing on the cake.

Throughout Chaplain School the instructors preached that we had to be real with our sailors and Marines, which I took to mean genuine. Yet when I expressed my authentic desire for fruit at the Warriors Dinner, their actions pressured me to conform. Although lost on me at the time, the irony is evident now.

Even among those who advocate that you be real, they may try to mold you to their idea of what you should be. When you resist the pressure to conform applied by those who claim to support your authenticity, you will be firmly on the road to personal development and you are #LivingIntentionally.

How do resist the pressure to conform?

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What I Learned from a Bugler

Countless people castigate me for my taste in music. Yet until I finish mining the enjoyment and meaning from Nostalgia Music (a term the folks at Kings Radio in the California Central Valley minted for popular music from the 1930s to the 1950s) I feel no compulsion to listen to anything else. Case in point:

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B

So what can a bugler teach? Virtually every line of this song has a lesson for life and business:

  • Start the day off with a blast, like a bugle call.
  • “He was the top man at his craft, but his number came up and he was called to the draft.” – No matter what your place in life, the unexpected will happen. Always bring in the best to your life and business.
  • “They made him blow a bugle for his Uncle Sam. It really brought him down because he could not jam” - Even when life or your business isn't working out the way you want it to, be upbeat.
  • “The captain seemed to understand, ‘cause the next day the cap went out and drafted a band” - Great entrepreneurs, leaders, and parents look for opportunities to support their customers, people, and children by supplying what they need to be successful.
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  • “He can’t blow a note unless a bass and guitar is playing with him” – Life and business are team sports.
  • “He makes the company jump when he plays reveille” - WQe all need to inspire others.
  • “And when he played boogie woogie bugle he was busy as a bzzz bee” – Occupy yourself pursuing your passion.
  • “He puts the boys to sleep with boogie every night and wakes them up the same way in the early bright” – The way you go to sleep determines the way you'll wake up the next morning.

Don Raye and Hughie Prince wprobably just wanted to write an upbeat, popular ditty to lift America’s spirits after the imposition of the draft during the lead up to World War II. But whether I'm running, cooking, or just listening. When Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B plays on my iPod or KCEA my life immediately perks up!

What song describes life as you think it should be lived?

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