Category Archives: Soul

Sticks and Stones . . . But Words Will Never Harm You. Really?

Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never harm you. Once held to be true, in the age of speech codes and sensitivity to the feelings of others perhaps it is time to retire this axiom. Will doing so benefit you and your loved ones?Sticks and Stones . . . But Words Will Never Harm You. Really?

My daughter is a sensitive little girl. A stray look or elevated voice often reduces her to tears. She was upset for several weeks because someone called her a crybaby. While it pained me to see her distressed, I used this situation to explain to her that when a person says something mean about her such a statement means nothing – about her. It may, however, provide important information about the person who made the remark.

Movies of the 1930s and 1940s showcase a rich vocabulary of nicknames, many of which would be considered rude today. To call a fat boy Fatty or a smelly boy Stinky would raise howls of protest. But how does protecting a child from such epithets impact his ability to handle mental stress?

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Being given such a nickname can help a child learn to distinguish between good-natured ribbing and true invective. If such names are said in jest or a spirit of camaraderie, they help a child to learn humility and can serve to bind him to a group. When said to wound, like with my daughter, they teach a child how to deal with people of questionable or poor character. In either case, the child is more emotionally resilient and thus better prepared for the rigors of life.

What happens when speech is prohibited? Merely because someone is forbidden to utter something does that changed his attitude? Clearly, it does not. Is it better to know the character of a person with whom you may associate or have it hidden from you? Indeed you are probably wasting your time dealing with someone who is prejudiced against you.

While you cannot always control your feelings, in most cases allowing them to be hurt is a decision you make. Whereas if someone attempts to strike you it may be difficult or impossible to avoid or ward off the blow, you can ignore a rude remark, especially if it is false. A remark that is harsh but true can be reframed as an inspiration to change.

Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never harm you. Time to write its obituary? For the sake of your and your loved ones' mental fitness, an extension of tenure is in order.

Question – How do you respond to someone who has spoken to you harshly?

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Now, You Can Understand When to Be Aggressive

“Therefore say: Behold! I give to him my covenant of peace.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 25:12). Pinchas has just killed two people and he is given a settlement of peace. What sense does this make?

Now, You Can Understand When to Be Aggressive

The parsha for this Sabbath is Pinchas. It discusses Pinchas’s reward for his zealous act, the censuses taken prior to the Children of Israel entering the Land of Israel, the petition of Zelophehad’s daughters, the laws of inheritance, the appointment of Joshua as Moses’s successor, and the offerings that were brought daily, on the Sabbath and on holidays.

The Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin observed that the kind of impassioned act that Pinchas did could cause a person to become aggressive all the time, even when it was not appropriate. To prevent this G-d made him a kohen, the covenant of peace, so that in all other areas of his life he would act with equanimity.

Parshas Pinchas shows that your normal state should be one of peace. You will, at times, find it appropriate or even required to be aggressive. But because you can do so much harm when acting this way, you must be very careful not to let it become a part of your nature. Behavior molds you: for good or for bad. To direct your character properly, whenever you have to be combative you should go out of your way to be very kind and caring in all other areas of your life.

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Strive for the ideal of the Chazon Ish who was supremely gentle and always avoided quarrels. Even when he had to be stern, inwardly he was calm. Thus his aggressive behavior was always under control and available to be called upon only when absolutely necessary.

Life will sometimes demand that you act aggressively. The best course of action is to train yourself to do so out of kindness and with self-control. In this way, you can be sure that you will be quarrelsome intentionally and for the good of you and the other person.

Question – How do you act outwardly belligerently while remaining inwardly calm?

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Do You Make the Mistake of Equating Legal and Moral?

How do you distinguish between legal and moral? Burning ants with a magnifying glass: is this okay because it is not illegal? Taking a drug not approved by the Food and Drug Administration that may save your life: is this wrong because it is illegal? You probably answered no to both cases.Do You Make the Mistake of Equating Legal and Moral?


Over a two-month period, I monitored many sessions of the navy’s latest training on sexual assault prevention known as SAPR-F. While the presenters, both live and on video, mentioned numerous times that sexual assault is a crime, only with my urging did one presenter say that it is wrong to sexually assault a human being.

I emphasized this point when I gave my remarks at the end of each session. My question to those being trained was: how would you feel about someone who attacked your sister or mother? Do you want people to feel that way about you? The posture and attitude of those listening visibly changed. The pronouncement of the immorality of sexual assault more starkly exposed as futile whatever legal shilly-shallying they might have been considering,

Tim Cook recently testified before Congress about Apple Inc. not paying any taxes on its foreign-based profits. Yet everyone agreed neither American nor foreign laws were broken. Were the questioners implying Apple has a moral obligation to pay taxes?

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Internal Revenue Service employees targeted certain groups for greater than typical scrutiny. No adjudication as to laws broken has been made. Nonetheless, people across the political spectrum have made accusations of misconduct. Is it reasonable to conclude that those involved acted immorally?

None of the above would be troubling if it were clear that the standard of moral conduct expected from people is different than the standard of legal conduct. But with the proliferations of laws and the inclusion of codes of ethics in statutes the impression is given that the law trumps all. If that is the case, there is no reason to be concerned about ethical behavior. Further, and more important for the future, children need not be schooled in the difference between legal and moral.

Most damaging about the equating of legal and moral is it teaches you to suppress your conscience in favor of an external source. Bereft of an internal gyroscope, your ethical decisions are more easily manipulated. You do not need to search far to find societies that, their people having relinquished their moral compasses, are convinced that murder, assault, and destruction are defensible, even meritorious.

Finally, when legality and morality are deemed the same, there is no standard by which to judge the justice of the law. The law cannot simultaneously establish the benchmark for right and wrong and be adjudicated by this criterion.

Instinctively you know there is a profound difference between what is legal and what is moral, and that the latter must guide the former. This correlation needs to be sustained for the maintenance of your mental and spiritual fitness and that of society.

Question – Which do you think is the higher arbiter of good: law or morality?

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6 Questions for Overcoming Bad Habits

“On this the poets will say: Come to Cheshbon; let it be built and established, city of Sichon.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:28). The Torah reflects on the history of Chesbon. History is nice, but why this lengthy elucidation?

6 Questions for Overcoming Bad Habits

The parsha for this Sabbath is a double one, Chukas and Balak. Parshas Chukas discusses the mysterious commandment of the red heifer, Miriam’s death and the subsequent stopping of the well of water, Moses’s and Aaron’s error and punishment for disobeying G-d when supplying water to the people, the death of Aaron, the attack of the Amalekites, and the wars with Sichon and Og.

Parshas Balak details how Balak, the king of Moab, attempted to have Bilaam, the greatest non-Jewish prophet of all time, curse the Children of Israel. Included is the wonderful story of the talking donkey, my wife’s and my favorite in all of Tanach. The Parsha ends with the somewhat frightening event in which Pinchas spears Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, and his Mindianitess lover in public at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

The Talmud (Bava Basra 78b) interprets the above verse as, “‘the poets’ refers to those who rule over their impulses. ‘Come to Chesbon’ means come and make a calculation of your behavior.” Indeed in everyday parlance, a chesbon is an accounting of your behavior.

Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto noted that a person should work on overcoming negative habits and traits. Just like a businessman carefully tracks his investments, so too a person should make an accounting each day of his behavior so as to improve himself.

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Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What did I accomplish today?
  2. How far have I come in meeting my long-term goals?
  3. What are my strengths and weaknesses
  4. Did I accomplish what I intended?
  5. How am I going to improve for tomorrow?
  6. What is holding me back from growing or what will help me grow more?

It need not take a long time. I spend about 10 to 15 minutes making my daily accounting. Having done so for about a year now, I find that I am repeating mistakes less often. While it is not as rapid as I might like, nonetheless I am improving.

Most importantly, when you identify your progress be joyful about it. Find encouragement in your ability to improve, to reform your character despite whatever faults you have and mistakes you repeat. By focusing on the positive you will motivate yourself to ever greater accomplishment and refinement.

Question – How do you motivate yourself to keep improving despite setbacks?

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Right and Wrong Way to Express Caring – And How to Tell Them Apart

“If like the death of all men’s deaths, will be accounted on them [Korach and his co-conspirators] the accounting of all men, it is not G-d who has sent me.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:28). Moses lets Korach and his followers know that they will soon die unnatural deaths; harsh language from the most humble of all humans.Right and Wrong Way to Express Caring – And How to Tell Them Apart

The parsha for this Sabbath is Korach. From the infamy of the spies we now go to the rebellion of Korach and his 250 followers against Moses and Aaron. Unlike the complaining for food, water, and other things that went on before, 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 with Moses 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 their households. Indeed, a severe punishment.

The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Alshich, brings the analogy of a doctor who needs to amputate a hand or foot in order to prevent the spread of a disease. Although such a cure may seem cold-hearted, even cruel, it is actually the kindest course of action since it will save the person’s life.

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Moses saw that Korach had already infected 250 people with the spirit of rebellion. In an act of compassion for the rest of the Israelites, he had to take severe steps to stop its spread. Yet Moses was not hasty in this action. He pleaded with the conspirators to change their ways. He “fell on his face” (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:4), pleading that G-d would not punish them and the people the way He had the spies. His entreaties were to no avail. Only then did Moses act so strictly.

When you find yourself in an intractable situation, especially with your children, you must try every technique to convince them to do the right thing. But no amount of love or compassion should prevent you from imposing stern measures for the recalcitrant. This is the true meaning of Proverbs 13:24, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Frequently taken as a license to strike a child, rather it is an adjuration not to shirk from using strict discipline when necessary.

Moses took a tremendous risk when carrying out G-d’s commands that led to the destruction of Korach and his followers. The Israelites might have rejected him, ceased loving him. Yet his love for them was so great he did what was necessary to save them. In the final analysis, this is the truest test. Will you risk losing love in order to save a loved one?

Question – Should spanking be among the punishments used to discipline children?

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