Category Archives: Soul

Why Everyone Needs a Guide for Life

What You Have in Common with the Ancient Israelites

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Re’eh – Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

Life in the military acclimates a person to oversight. Someone supervises your work. You have standard operating procedures to take you step-by-step through processes. You have to pass a periodic physical fitness test. The military uses surprise urinalyses to prevent drug use. Training in sexual harassment and assault emphasize how such behavior impairs mission readiness and hurts your comrades. Notice anything missing?

Why Everyone Needs a Guide for Life

The Israelites Needed New Guidance

In 2013, I participated in three rounds of sexual assault prevention training. The substance varied little from one to the other. It was clear the Navy felt the first two hadn't gotten through to sailors. But, there seemed to be no point in presenting the same material yet again. Before we embarked on the third series, I sat down with my commanding officer.

I pointed out to him a glaring gap. Nowhere did the training make an unequivocal statement that sexual harassment and assault are wrong. The Navy set the rules. But it wouldn’t make moral judgments. Each sailor had to fill in the void. Was it surprising that some came to the wrong conclusion?

In Parshas Re’eh G-d makes it clear that people shouldn't make unguided moral decisions:

“Beware for yourself lest you bring up your elevation offerings in any place that you will see.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 12:13)

This Sabbath’s parsha continues preparing the Israelites for life in the Land of Israel. During their wanderings in the wilderness, G-d was close by. Moses instructed them daily. Now they would live dispersed throughout the land. Moses would be gone, G-d farther away. Making the right moral decisions would be more difficult.

Lest people come to think they could do whatever they wanted, the Almighty gives a reminder. Don't fool yourself into thinking something that’s wrong is right. The rules still apply. In fact, now that I won't be so close, you’ll have less leeway in which to act.

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In the third round of briefs, my CO began each one by stating sexual harassment and assault are wrong. I followed up by asking the question, “How would you feel if a shipmate treated your sister or mother that way?” A crusty old chief petty officer got incensed at our moralizing. But younger sailors appreciated the guidance. One said to me he had never thought about it in moral term until I personalized the behavior.

You Have to Play by Different Rules

The rules of civilian life are different than the military. I asked the members of my veterans Facebook group, Passport to Success – Military Vets (click here to join), what they learned on their first day in a civilian job. Some of the responses were:

“Using F*** every other word was not ok lol.”

“Kill is not a proper response to anything, especially when talking to ER nurses.”

“Based on my coworkers shoes, a good shine is no longer a priority.”

“Your assumptions about civilians is no better than their assumptions about veterans. We have to work hard to break the stereotypes about veterans.”

Experience is a tough teacher. Better to get a trusted advisor who can help you learn the rules of the civilian world. Some are moral. Others are practical. But they're all important to reintegrating.

Earlier today I took sexual assault training again. The Navy still doesn't say it’s wrong. Don't make the same mistake. Find someone, perhaps a fellow vet farther along in the process, to be your guide.

Who do you know who can help show you the way in civilian life?

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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!

Do You Have This in Your Marriage?

How to Strive Beyond Solid Communication…

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Eikev – Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

Have you had this experience? The other day I infuriated my wife. Then before I could apologize she did something amazingly big-hearted. I stood in awe of her. She was still mad at me. But despite her anger, she wanted to make my life easier.

Do You Have This in Your Marriage-

It just didn't make sense to me. When I’m angry with her we have to talk the matter out to clear the air. Sometimes it doesn't take very long. But once in a while, the discussion will go on for hours. Everything you read about good relationships says to work conflict through. That way you can reconnect with your spouse.

How can Melanie, even temporarily, skip that step? And even though she does, wouldn't it be better to resolve the conflict first? Doesn't her overlooking it incentivize me to do other things that might enrage her?

The Nature of True Love

Here's the rub. She’s not trying to make me feel guilty. Her actions are genuinely kind. That’s what makes them so amazing. Sitting here writing this, the times Melanie has described how much she loves me come to mind. As wonderful as they are, when she acts in spite of her anger she SHOWS me the depth of her love.

At times I live the curse of being a rabbi/chaplain/guy people come to to fix their relationships. I default to rational steps. Identify the source of conflict. Use good communication skills. Talk it through. Reach for compromise and resolution. Reconnect.

Except, that’s not how G-d does it. Two verses from Parshas Eikev explain what I mean:

…He fed you the manna that you did not know…” and “Now Israel, what does the Lord your G-d ask of you? Only to be in awe of the Lord your G-d…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 8:3 and 10:12)

Moses reminded the Children of Israel that the Almighty fed them in the wilderness no matter what they did. Then he reminded them He asked for nothing in return. So, they should revere Him for such generosity.

Bookended by these two verses, Moses recounted the story of the Golden Calf. With subtlety, he showed them the nature of true love. G-d miraculously fed you. You sinned. No impact on your food supply. Such devotion is awesome.

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The Israelites had to deal with their sin. But G-d did want to disconnect for even a nanosecond. So much for the rational process of working a dispute through in order to be able to reconnect.

Put Process in Its Rightful Place

My wife better understands the nature of true love. I don't know if it's intentional or intuitive. But I’m well advised to learn from her example.

It’s worthwhile knowing processes for working through conflict. Disputes left to fester will destroy your marriage. But in the end, they’re tools. The ability to deal with disagreements is an interim goal for your relationship.

Join me in striving to continue to do loving acts before a dispute is resolved. Imagine the quality of your marriage if you succeed only once in a while. Awesome.

How do you decide your response to an ethical challenge?

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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!

3 Qualities to Highlight When Job-Hunting

Why It’s Not Enough to Want a Job

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Va’eschanan – Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

If I had to sum up Navy aircraft maintainers in one word it would be tenacious. Day and night, they toiled to make sure planes were ready to launch. They missed meals and skipped doing laundry. “No fly days” didn't mean no maintenance days. Often they didn't have free time until a port call. My Marine Corps fighter squadron had some of the oldest jets in the fleet. Yet they kept them flying. I called them the MacGyvers of the Air Wing.

3 Qualities to Highlight When Job-Hunting

Perseverance Not Perfection

Despite their resolve, most squadrons rarely had 100% of their planes ready to fly. Some matters were beyond their control. Material control struggled to get parts to repair older airplanes. One jet spent our deployment in the hangar. We couldn't get the parts to fix it.

I felt bad for the sailors of its squadron. Everyone on the ship walks through the hangar. They couldn’t disguise this symbol of their seeming defeat. Their plight reminded me of how G-d refused to let Moses enter the land of Israel. In Parshas Va’eschanan he makes a final, poignant plea:

“Let me cross, please, and see this good land that is on the other side of the Jordan…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 3:25)

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Yet because of one error, the Almighty decreed he would not take His people into the Promised Land. Moses didn't want to die with his mission unfulfilled. He made clear the depth of his desire in this last-ditch appeal to G-d. The answer was no. So Moses soldiered on. He did his utmost to prepare the Children of Israel for their new life even though he would not be part of it.

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The aircraft maintainers in my Air Wing inherited Moses’s determination. They turned the downed jet into a symbol of tenacity by using its parts to keep other planes flying. I’ve seen the same level of commitment among all service members. I cannot say the same thing about any other group.

Don’t Tell Hiring Managers, Show Them

Private sector employers value veterans’ perseverance. They know it’s a rare trait among today’s employees. Embedded in it are two other qualities they want:

  • Self-Disciplined. An integral part of tenacity, you’re not going to call in sick or slacken your effort when the going gets tough.
  • Overcome obstacles. You don't see them as hurdles. They’re what you have to do to get the job done.

You can tell employers you have these qualities. But you’ll have greater impact if you come up with two or three short stories highlighting them. Make them no more than two minutes long. Use this format:

Problem → Consequence of Not Solving It → Your Solution

Make sure at least one of the qualities is obvious. Here’s an example:

We’re in the Persian Gulf flying combat missions into Iraq. We couldn’t fix a fighter jet because there were no spare fuel pumps on the ship. With that plane down our squadron wouldn't be able to execute its part in flight operations the next day. That meant another squadron would have to pick up our slack. We spent the entire day contacting shore-based aircraft maintenance depots and finally found the part we needed. I coordinated with my squadron commanding officer to have it flown to the ship by 8 PM. They I worked with my crew through the night to install, test the jet, and ensure it was ready to fly by launch time.

It doesn't matter if you’re hunting for an aircraft maintenance job. The point of the stories is to prove you have the qualities an employer wants.

Take some time now to think about the times you came through in a clutch situation. Write them out as short stories. Practice saying them until your delivery is smooth but doesn't sound rehearsed.

Unlike Moses, you can attain your ultimate goal. A high-paying job is well within your reach. Companies are desperate for employees with the qualities you developed in the military. Rather than pleading for a job, give vivid proof you have them. Such confidence in your abilities will make a company scared you’ll go to work for its competitor.

When did you exhibit perseverance, self-discipline, and overcoming obstacles?

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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 Get Respect from Civilians the Easy Way

Do You See Nonmilitary People as the Enemy?

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Devarim – Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

Some veterans tell me civilians hate them. When somebody thanks them for their service it’s a lie. Private sector companies don't care about hiring veterans. It’s hard to argue the point. Some civilians despise the military and people who served in it. I don't know the people a veteran has met. Maybe they do hate service members.

How to Get Respect from Civilians the Easy Way

Do Civilians Really Hate Service Members?

I couldn’t find a study that quantifies the percentage of Americans who hate the military. I read posts on Quora (an example) and Yahoo Answers (another example) that discuss this issue. Some of the language is crude. But those who expressed negative attitudes rarely directed them at service members.

Have you ever had to tell a friend something he didn't want to hear? It puts the friendship at stake. Still, there comes a point when you have to say something. You wait for the right time. And struggle over the words you’ll use.

Even Moses had to plan for how and when to set the Children of Israel straight in Parshas Devraim:

“You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘Because of G-d’s hatred for us did he take us out from the Land of Egypt, to put us in the hand of the Emorite to destroy us.’” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 1:27)

As he approached death, Moses pointed out the Israelite’s mistakes. Among them, they said their troubles came from the Almighty hating them. But, the charge doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. G-d took them out of slavery. He split the Reed Sea to prevent their annihilation. He fed them in the desert with manna and water. G-d helped them defeat Sihon and Og. And he promised them the land of Israel.

That’s quite a record of generosity.

The Israelites’ complaint stemmed from their hatred of G-d. As good as they had it, life was still painful at times. A child who doesn't get his way will scream at his parent, “I hate you.” The Children of Israel were too sophisticated for such immature behavior. But no matter his age, a person can project feelings onto someone else. It’s a matter of self-protection. Face responsibility, which is difficult, even painful. Or blame someone else. The second course of action is easier.

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Steel yourself. I’m pulling off the Band-Aid, NOW. Unless a civilian has said he hates you, he doesn’t. His failure to hire or promote you doesn't mean he hates veterans. You’re projecting your frustration onto him.

Get Candid Feedback on Your Performance

It’s tempting to blame others when after twenty meetings you still didn’t get a job. Or you’ve seen younger people with less time at the company get promoted. It sure can seem like there’s some anti-military conspiracy keeping you down.

Believe that and you’re sunk.

The military has taught you a lot of valuable skills and lessons. Among them is you’re responsible for the safety of your colleagues and success of the mission. Somehow it seemed easier to accept that responsibility when you could take for granted being respected. Now, when you can't be certain people respect you, it’s harder.

Don’t give into the urge to point the finger at civilians. Recognize they want to help you. Often they don't know how. They’ve learned through experience to navigate civilian life. But that doesn't mean they can explain it to you. Much of how they behave is instinctive.

The Israelites projected their negative feelings on G-d. It led to 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Avoid their mistake. Get to know some civilians well so you can see firsthand they respect veterans. Instead of blaming them, ask for their help. They may be reluctant to tell you the way you interact with people feels wrong. Assure them you’ll take critical input positively. When you project that you respect civilians you’ll feel they respect and want to help you.

What makes you feel like you don't fit in?

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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 Take Advantage of Not Fitting in

Employers Value What Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas Mattos-Masei – Numbers 30:2-36:13

Transitioning to civilian life can seem like walking in a barren wilderness. Few of the familiar touch-points of daily life exist. Nobody asks you to verify your identity to access your workplace or computer. You don’t hear the recording of the Star Spangled Banner each morning. Lack of a muster might even make you feel nostalgic. At least it seemed like someone cared if you showed up for work.

How to Take Advantage of Not Fitting in

How You Benefitted from Rootlessness

When I first left active duty, I found civilian life devoid of meaning. Part of it stemmed from my working from home and being alone much of my workday. In the military, you're never by yourself. There’s always someone to meet with or check on. Counterintuitively, the nomadic nature of military life builds roots. They aren’t place-based. They’re deeper, in the people and mission that require constant attention.

At 2.1 million active and reserve duty personnel, we’re similar in size to another famous, nomadic group. During their wanderings, summarized in parshas Mattos-Masei, the Israelites found meaning amidst upheaval:

“…and these were their journeys, according to their goings forth.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 33:2)

Events, at each location the Children of Israel visited, had meaning. In the Wilderness of Sinai, they learned G-d would fill their needs when He gave them manna from heaven. But most of the gifts they received were spiritual.

Kivros Hataavah is a case in point. There, many Israelites died because they gave into their craving for meat. Kivros refers to the word kever, a grave. Hataavah means desires. A person who gives into his desires gets rewarded with an early burial.

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The sum total of their wanderings was an enduring set of values. These would see them through their transition to a settled life in the Land of Israel.

Tweak Your Presentation to Be More Effective

While in the military you moved every two or three years. But each new duty station reinforced the values you learned in basic training. On time is late and ten minutes early is on time. Stand at attention no matter where you are when the National Anthem plays. Address superiors respectfully.

Rarely do you see these values in a civilian workplace. That we continue to hold them post-military is part of what makes us feel out of place. Yet private sector companies prize our punctuality, dedication to duty, and respectful treatment of others.

Learn to convey your work ethic and mission commitment in a way that engages civilians. Show up ten minutes early. But rather than waiting for latecomers, help the meeting organizer get set up. Don’t criticize millennials’ lack of commitment. Be the employee who helps them learn the value of mission. Speak with respect to every colleague. Leave off the sir and ma’am. It’s not too different from what you did in the military, is it?

The Israelites had to adapt from a nomadic to a settled life. Many faced culture shock. They had to give up longstanding practices, like bringing sacrifices on private altars. But their values remained steadfast. Only the way they expressed them changed.

The same plan will work for you. Alter your behavior a little. Learn to express your values in a way that doesn't shame your civilian colleagues. You’ll always feel a little uncomfortable. But that tension is your greatest asset. Use it to build a successful civilian life.

What makes you feel like you don't fit in?

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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!

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