Category Archives: Soul

What Is Success?

What is success? A lot of money? Power? A big house? In my experience rarely is anyone’s definition of success so simple. These are just yardsticks by which aspects of success are measured. Most people would agree that Mother Teresa was successful even though she was not wealthy and did not have a mansion. While she had great moral power, it is unlikely that having it was part of her definition of success.

What is Success?

For me, success means fulfilling what I believe is my purpose in life. As a result, it is not a goal but a process. This is why I think it is so important to have a personal mission statement.

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Ron of the Wisdom Journal lists six factors to consider when defining success. Prolific Living blogger Farnoosh lists ten questions for you to gain clarity on this issue.

What will you be resolved about?

Question – How do you define success?

You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question below ↓

Why Myths Benefit Society

Do you know the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree? My daughter, in the tradition of generations of American school children, learned it for President’s Day. It teaches the virtue of telling the truth, even when doing so may result in being punished. Is the story truth or legend? More importantly, does it matter?

Why Myths Benefit Society

When I got to the submarine squadron, I met the chaplain for Naval Base Point Loma. We had a delightful conversation that addressed many subjects, among them the place of myth in the fabric of a society. We talked about how the Bible often uses parables and allegories to explain moral lessons.

That many of these stories did not happen is irrelevant to the profound teachings they reveal. They endure because they are vivid and memorable. Perhaps it will not seem strange that we were equally fervent in embracing cultural myths. One stipulation: they must convey truth.

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By all accounts, George Washington was extraordinarily honest. That Mason Locke Weems may have fabricated the cherry tree story does not detract from its value as a lesson in civic virtue. Arguably, Weems’s myth has done a great service by making such an admirable characteristic of our first president indelible.

As we strive for truth, it is well to remember that it can be uncovered in many ways.

Question – Which myths do you find to be valuable or destructive?

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How to Beat Inflation – In Language

Remember Mary Poppins? A beloved film classic, the scene of the nannies being blown away by the wind astounded my daughter. They seemed to be actually flying. While explaining how the effect was done, I thought about contemporary movies with similar scenes, the one coming most readily to mind being Spiderman. Don’t the nannies flying in harnesses with wires look much more real than a CGI Spiderman swinging from building to building?

How to Beat Inflation – In Language

While CGI-laden movies make big money at the box office, it is interesting to note that on Box Office Mojo’s 50 all-time top domestic grossing movies, adjusted for ticket price inflation, only ten are ones that use extensive CGI. Mary Poppins is 25th on the list while Spiderman is 36th. So the awe-inspiring movie, at least as demonstrated by my daughter’s reaction, is higher on the list than a movie with a type of effects, CGI, which is routinely labeled awesome. Do you see the contradiction?

It appears people know the difference between the everyday and the extraordinary. But for some reason, they feel compelled to exaggerate.

The overuse of the word awesome is a phenomenon I call language inflation. At some point calling something good was not good enough so it became successively great, rad, and eventually awesome. Now the most mundane thing is awesome. How do we describe that which truly inspires awe? Lest you think I am picking on the word awesome, language inflation afflicts negative descriptions too. Bad was eventually magnified to evil. If the commonplace is evil what was Hitler?

If you want to communicate well, avoid language inflation:

  1. Take a beat before speaking to ensure that you are not overstating the case. For instance, when complaining about your spouse’s behavior is it really true he never puts down the toilet seat? She is always late? Always? Not only is inflated language inaccurate, it can be inflammatory, causing arguments or bad feelings that more precise words would avoid.
  2. Practice refraining from language inflation in your everyday speech. Especially in the heat of an argument, it is easy to forget that words have meaning. Make it a habit to be careful when choosing words.
  3. Expand your vocabulary to improve your communication skills and relationships. The richness of English gives you so many choices. There are numerous, free apps to help you. I use’s.

Imagine a society in which we say what we mean and do not offend people. Do I dare say it? It would be awesome.

Question - Is being well-spoken obsolete? Please leave a comment below.

You Listen, You Stay Healthy

“You will surely become weary, also you, also this people that is with you.” (Shemos/Exodus 18:18)

Jethro meets Moses in the wilderness and expresses his concern that constantly teaching and judging the Children of Israel is too exhausting.

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Yisro. In it Moses is reunited with his father-in-law Yisro/Jethro, a Mindianite priest who heard about the wonders G-d performed for the Children of Israel. Jethro recommends a leadership plan to Moses that he implements.

The Children of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai where they voluntarily accept the Torah. Then they prepare themselves to receive the Ten Commandments. Our sages bring several opinions as to what they heard. Rashi and the Rambam explain that every Jew heard all Ten Commandments in one instant but could not comprehend them. So G-d repeated them and after the first two they were so overawed they begged Moses to intercede and then teach them the other eight.

Perhaps in your mind’s ear you can hear the proverbial Yiddishe mama worrying about her boy’s health, but a Yiddishe father-in-law?

Moses was very idealistic, with seemingly limitless compassion for his people. Great as he was, it took an outsider to perceive that he needed to share his burden so as not to burn out. Seems to be an obvious lesson, yet how often have you found your life out of balance because you were so focused on your goal? Did your spouse, child, or a friend try to get you to broaden your perspective? Did you listen?

Many times while I was deployed sailors whose job performance was not up to par came to see me. Frequently they justified their substandard work by listing the many people: family, friends, and coworkers, whom they were helping. My response never varied: “How does it help them if you lose your job? No more money for financial assistance to be sure, but worse, you would become a burden.”

Selflessness is admirable. But it cannot come at the cost of your physical, mental, or spiritual wellbeing. Comes Jethro to remind you to be open to the message of a loved one to guard your health.

Question – Is self-sacrifice noble? Please leave a comment below.

Don’t Let Your Weaknesses Make You Feel Inferior

“And Moses said to the people, do not fear, stand and see the salvation of G-d that He will do for you today.” (Shemos/Exodus 14:13)

When the Children of Israel thought they were trapped between the Reed Sea and the Egyptian army they panicked, complaining that Moses brought them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness. Just days before they witnessed the miraculous Exodus. How could they have lost faith so quickly?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Beshalach. In it the Children of Israel leave Egypt only to have Pharaoh once again change his mind and chase them. G-d splits the Reed (usually incorrectly translated as the Red) Sea and the Children of Israel walk between two walls of water on dry land while the Egyptians are drowned. They sing the Song of the Sea thanking G-d for their deliverance.

On their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites complain they are hungry and thirsty and are given Manna from heaven and water from a rock.

After making the same mistake for the umpteenth time, too often I find myself lapsing into despair. The defeats weigh heavily on my spiritual fitness. So in a small way I can appreciate how the Children of Israel must have felt. Following centuries of being slaves, is it surprising that they did not prepare to defend themselves against their former masters? Though they vastly outnumbered them, as the Ibn Ezra notes, from their youth the Israelites bore the yoke of Egypt’s oppression. Such feelings of inferiority prevented them from fighting.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz commented that the same principle applies to everyone. If you view yourself as inferior or feel excessive guilt, you will be unable to combat your yetzer hara (evil inclination). Lacking faith in your ability to prevail over your oppressor, at the slightest negative impulse you will get completely discouraged.

Your task then is to view the elevated aspects of your character. Focus on your strengths, internalize knowledge of your assets, and your resolve to triumph over your weaknesses will be unshakable. You will succeed because you see yourself as a good, worthwhile person.

Question – How can you focus on your strengths but avoid becoming or being perceived as conceited? Please leave a comment below.

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