Category Archives: Soul

Discover the Foundation for Appreciating Everyone

At the risk of committing an intellectual mugging (This is when, say at a cocktail party, you happen to mention you were re-reading Kierkegaard (has anyone read it even once?)) I agree with Epictetus when he said, “All religions must be tolerated for every man must get to heaven in his own way.” Being a navy chaplain has given me the opportunity to learn about other faiths. While I have found there are many profound differences, I am heartened at the extent of common ground. Almost universal is what we know as the Golden Rule.

Discover the Foundation for Appreciating Everyone

Below is a sample of how the Golden Rule is expressed by just a handful out of dozens of faiths and ethical systems.

“You will not take revenge and you will not bear a grudge against the members of your people, and you will love your fellow as yourself: I am G-d.” Levitcus 19:18, circa 1300 B.C.E.

“Zi gong (a disciple of Confucius) asked: ‘Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?’ The Master replied: ‘How about 'shu' [reciprocity]: Do not do to others as you would not wish done to yourself?’” Confucius, Analects XV.24, circa the 5th century B.C.E.

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Buddha , Udanavarga 5:18, circa the 5th century B.C.E.

“That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” A papyrus from the Late Period of Ancient Egypt, circa the 4th or 5th century B.C.E.

“Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.” Isocrates, the 4th century B.C.E.

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” Hillel, Talmud Shabbos 31a, the 1st century B.C.E.

“Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Jesus, Matthew 7:12, the 1st century B.C.E.

“The most righteous person is the one who consents for other people what he consents for himself, and who dislikes for them what he dislikes for himself.” Muhammad, the 6th century C.E.

As we strive to improve our mental fitness, it is worth meditating on the idea that the foundation exists for appreciating every human being. We need not burden our minds dwelling on unpleasant thoughts about others since surely we do not want others to harbor such notions about us.

Question – Does the universality of the Golden Rule render religion obsolete?

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Why Public Acclaim Can Harm Self-Respect

Vechol adam lo yiyeh be’ohel moed bevo’o lechapeir bakodesh ad tzeiso. “And any person will not be in the Tent of Meeting when he comes to cause atonement in the Sanctuary until his going out.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 16:17). When the Kohen Gadol goes into the Holy of Holies to perform the incense service he must be completely alone.

Why Public Acclaim Can Harm Self-Respect

This coming Sabbath we read a double Parshah, Acharei Mos and Kedoshim.  The first one tells about the confessional service (from which we get the expression “scapegoat”) and Yom Kippur, the prohibition against eating blood, forbidden relationships, and the holiness of the Land of Israel.

Kedoshim tells about a range of mitzvahs including gifts to the poor, honest business dealings, loving your fellow as yourself, forbidden mixtures, and the penalties for engaging in forbidden relationships.

Imagine: the Kohen Gadol was the one out of hundreds of thousands of Israelites chosen to perform the atonement service on the holiest day of the year. Undoubtedly people treated him with the utmost respect, perhaps even awe.

Despite being the personification of spirituality and discipline, the Torah tells him no one will be in the Tent of Meeting when he enters it. In order to properly perform the service and connect with G-d on this holiest of days he had to put aside all thoughts of honor. G-d calls on him to act as if no other people exist. By visualizing himself completely alone, he is free from seeking the approval of others.

This is a very important lesson for us. So often we get wrapped up in what other people think of us. Such endless worry or excessive self-consciousness can become debilitating. If, even for a short time, we can imagine a world in which other people do not exist we can free ourselves from this anxiety and enhance our self-respect.

Further, such concerns are illusory. In reality, people do not think about us nearly as often as we think they do. To the extent they are thinking about us it actually makes no real difference in our lives. For people who habitually judge us, in most cases, we cannot get their approval even if we tried.

Better to follow the Torah’s advice. When we feel unduly concerned about our public image, imagine a world devoid of other people and press forward with our spiritual growth, indeed all facets of our lives, free from the need to be honored. In this way, we build a firm foundation for our self-respect.

Question – What dangers do you see in being completely dissociated from public opinion?

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Do You Ever Wonder Why We Had to Study History?

History. Why bother with it? Is it merely to delight in and be inspired by true-to-life stories or be disgusted by past practices and ideas? Studying history for amusement is fine. But can or should it be more?

Do You Ever Wonder Why We Had to Study History?

Into my third decade as a lay historian, I am much better able to contextualize my life. Along with my values, when making a decision history gives me insight into the possible outcome of my choice.

Viewed in this way, learning about momentous events turns out to be less important. But understanding people and the way they lived their day-to-day lives becomes a valuable tool for self-improvement. An excellent resource is ABC-Clio/Greenwood’s series of books that examine daily life in many countries and time periods.

One of my goals with these posts is to discuss historic events or aspects of life and relate them to contemporary life. Knowing from where we came can only improve our choices of where we want to go.

Question – In what areas of your life would you like to know if history has some guidance?

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Learn How to Create Better Relationships

Uva asher lo habayis vehigid lakohein leimor; kenega nirah li babayis. “And will come, that to him that is the house, and explain to the kohen saying, ‘something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house.’” (Vayikra/Leviticus 14:35). Depressed areas of deep red or green appear in the walls of a house and the owner seeks guidance from a kohen.

Learn How to Create Better Relationships

This coming Sabbath we read a double Parshah Tazria-Metzora. They tell about how a woman becomes tahor after giving birth; how to verify when a person has a tzara’as, baheres or s’eis affliction on one’s body or tzara’as affliction of a garment; how a metzora and a house with tzara’as become tahor; and how a zav, zavah, and niddah become tahor. Wrongly translated as leprosy, tzara’as is a spiritual affliction that manifests itself physically but is not communicable like leprosy. Like tumah, it interrupts one’s connection with G-d.

Imagine one day you walk into your house and find a portion of a wall is sunken in with a dark red or green color (presumably not the color of the paint). Would there be any doubt in your mind that something was wrong? Indeed, having read this week's parsha that describes tzara’as of a house, is seems to me you could not come to any other conclusion than that your house was so afflicted. Why does the Torah require you to equivocate and say, “something like an affliction has appeared . . ?” What else could it be?

Rashi notes that even if you are a great Torah scholar and know with certainty what it is you must still use this language. Why?

According to Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, in Daas Torah: Vayikra, whatever words you were to use, the priest will come and inspect the house. Rather the Torah is giving a practical lesson on how to speak. In the Talmud, (Brochos 4a) our Sages tell us we should become accustomed to saying, “I do not know.” Likewise, instead of speaking with certainty, we should develop the habit of saying, “It appears to me,” or “I think perhaps that.”

So often we are sure we are correct. Only later do we find out we have perceived things incorrectly, drawn a mistaken inference, or received inaccurate information from someone else. If we are conscious of how often we are in error, we will see the necessity of qualifying ourselves with “it seems to me” and similar phrases. By doing so we will find it much easier to correct our mistakes, keep our relationships intact, and most importantly retain our bond to G-d.

Question – What downside do you think there might be in speaking less certainly?

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What’s Your Passion?

Passions. You have to have them if you want to stay vital and mentally fit.

What’s Your Passion?

About four decades ago my father took me to a restaurant where we lived in Santa Barbara, California called Don Vito’s Spaghetti Syndicate. I do not remember how the food tasted by it had a jukebox filled with records of the Big Bands. We played name that tune and my dad knew every song. Aside from realizing that at one time he must have been cool, that evening kindled my life-long love of swing music. So in pursuit of my mania for “The Big Noise,” here are my top four places to listen:

KCEA 89.1 – Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, California. A listener-supported radio station, hands down, the best station I have found.

The Swingin’ Years – heard 6:00 to 10:00 a.m., Saturdays and Sundays on KJazz, KKJZ 88.1, California State University Long Beach. Since 1956, Chuck Cecil has hosted this radio show of original records from 1935 to 1955. Chuck, who is a heck of a nice guy, has interviewed just about every big name performer so music is interspersed with cuts from these conversations as well as background on events current to the year he is featuring.

Kings Radio KZPO 103.3 – Lindsay, California. A commercial station, it plays “Nostalgia Music,” primarily from the 1950s and 1960s with some 40s and early 70s thrown in for good measure.

Martini in the Morning – Internet radio station originating from Los Angeles. Brad “Martini” Chambers was a D.J. on the last surviving adult standards station in Los Angeles. When it went off the air he started MITM and it has been on the air for several years. The station plays classic and contemporary swing and big band tunes.

TuneIn, a website at which you can listen to thousands of radio stations from all over the world, has all of these stations. I have it on my iPhone and iPad so I can hear swing music everywhere. As well, you can listen on iTunes, which is what I am doing right now.

Like anyone with a passion I could go ad nauseam. Books I have read, bands I like, movie trivia. Regrettably I suspect most of you do not share my enthusiasm. Not to worry. If I have not sparked your interest tell me about your passion and perhaps you will spark mine.

Question – What is your passion?

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