Category Archives: Soul

How to Judge People by Standards

Standards. Are they permanent or variable? Are some the former and others the latter? How should people be held accountable to them? These are not idle philosophical questions. They get to the root of how we view the past and interact in the present.

How to Judge People by Standards


Recently I finished reading several Charlie Chan novels. One of the most famous characters in detective fiction, when I saw the book on sale for $1 I realized I had never read any of the stories or seen the movies. While reading them I kept swinging back and forth between thinking the author, Earl Derr Biggers, was quite enlightened in his attitude toward the Chinese or a racist.

Researching his life, I found that Mr. Biggers was disgusted by the bigotry toward the Chinese in California during the early decades of the 20th century. While vacationing in Hawaii, he decided to write about a Chinese professional, loosely based on a police officer he met there. In the novels, Charlie Chan takes umbrage at overtly racist attitudes by other characters. He bristles at the less obvious ones. Yet at times Mr. Biggers accords to Detective Chan what today can only be characterized as grossly stereotypical behavior.

How do we judge Mr. Biggers and his work? By the standard of his day, Mr. Biggers’s portrayal of a Chinese man was enlightened. It countered the common image of the evil, conniving Chinaman. Yet by our standards, Charlie Chan appears one-dimensional, clichéd. Is it just to hold Mr. Biggers and his writing to a standard that he knew nothing about? Should his laurels be revoked because in today’s world he would not merit such praise? Or can we justify applauding him for his enlightened views on race, perhaps not even footnoting the change in societal standards?

I maintain people should be judged in the context of their own time. Stipulations based on a change of standards should the exception.

In contemporary times the issue is more complex. First, I distinguish between a settled societal standard and a popularly espoused view. Few people would assert that randomly shooting someone to death is acceptable. But what constitutes murder is open to any number of opinions. Next, I decide which viewpoints, though I disagree, fall within an acceptable range. This is tricky since the tendency is to conclude that those who disagree with me fall outside my range. I am challenged to stretch in the interest of civility while not abandoning standards.

Question – How do you decide the standard to which you will hold someone?

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

How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself

“And came Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and said to him: so said G-d, G-d of the Hebrews, until when will you refuse to be humbled before Me?” (Shemos/Exodus 10:3)

Seven plagues befell Egypt yet Pharaoh refused to let the Children of Israel go. Why?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Bo. It continues from Parshas Va’eira with the final three plagues that eventually led to Pharaoh telling the Jewish people to get out of Egypt.

The Children of Israel are told Nissan will be the first month of the year. The commandment of the Passover Offering, the Pesach, is given. The time for the Exodus arrives and the conditions under which the Children of Israel left are described. The parsha ends with G-d giving the mitzvahs of consecrating first-born animals, redeeming a first-born son, and tefilin.

I do not know about you, but when everything starts going wrong in my life: back injury, bronchitis, dropping and breaking my computer, and a car accident, eventually I ask the question: What is G-d trying to tell me? So it seems inconceivable that after blood, frogs, lice, hoards of wild beasts, pestilence, boils, and hail that Pharaoh remained stubborn. Rabeinu Bachya, commenting on this idea, notes that G-d wants a person to submit his will to His will and this takes humility. Pharaoh was an extremely arrogant person and refused to humble himself, thereby causing his own downfall.

Many people suffer for their arrogance. Minor affronts loom so large for such people they retaliate. For the person who has internalized humility, such things are like water on a duck’s back, they roll off unnoticed. One who is arrogant insists on winning every disagreement and rarely if ever apologizes for giving offense. The humble person asks forgiveness even for an unintended slight or wrong. Who has the better quality of life?

Recently I read Alan Axelrod’s biography on General George Patton. Much of what I know about Patton comes from the eponymous 1970 movie. Axelrod relates an incident when Patton was a young 2nd Lieutenant during which he used the word damn to curse a soldier who had not done a job properly. Shortly thereafter, thinking the better of it, he gathered all of the people who might have heard the curse and apologized to the soldier. He voluntarily, publicly, and evidently sincerely apologized for the infamous slapping incidents. A profound believer in G-d, Patton worked all his life to restrain his arrogance. This was the first of many instances through which he won the respect and fealty of his men.

When you allow your arrogance to gain the upper hand, any perceived retention of righteousness is more than offset by the injustices almost inevitably committed.

Question – What techniques do you suggest for curbing arrogance? Please leave a comment below.

The Key Step to Commitment: Make It Spiritual

I did not intend to take a three-week hiatus but my health chose otherwise. On the mend now, I am back to exercising, and soon my poor bashed in car will be repaired too. There is no time like the present to get back to work on spiritual fitness.

“And did Moses and Aaron like that commanded them G-d, so they did” (Shemos/Exodus 7:6)

G-d sent Moses and Aaron to be his emissaries to Pharaoh for freeing the Children of Israel.

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Va’eira. It begins with G-d reassuring Moses that the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be fulfilled. Nonetheless, twice Moses tries to get G-d to release him from leading the Jewish people then he commits. The rest of the parshah describes the first seven plagues that G-d wrought on Egypt in pursuit of the redemption of the Children of Israel.

Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote the seminal text of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch, in the 16th century. This great sage comments that at the point the above verse appears in the Torah, Moses and Aaron had not done anything. Rather, we learn that they had sincerely accepted upon themselves the obligation to follow G-d’s command. So wholeheartedly had they done so that the Torah considered it as if they had actually completed their mission.

Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, the first step is too commit to doing the task or goal. Your resolution should be so deep that you feel joy in anticipation of bringing it to fruition. At that point you are pledged both mentally and spiritually. Once you are spiritually committed, the physical challenges can be overcome.

Question - What steps do you take to make your commitments spiritual?

How to Look Better by Living with Joy

“. . . few and bad have been the days of the years of my life . . .” (Beresheis/Genesis 47:9).

This is Jacob’s answer to Pharaoh’s question as to how old he is. Not exactly what you would expect from one of the spiritual giants of history.

Get a Facelift for Free - Use Joy

This coming Sabbath Parshas Vayigash is read. In it the brothers have learned their lesson when Judah steps forward to take Benjamin’s place as a slave. Overcome with emotion Josef clears the room and reveals himself to his brothers. He convinces them to bring Jacob and their households to Egypt where he will take care of them. At first Jacob does not believe his sons when they say Josef is still alive. However, the brothers finally convince him and they load up the wagons and move to Egypt where they settle in Goshen. (It seems some hillbillies did something similar several millennia later with a truck and Beverly Hills.)

The people of Egypt spend all of their money buying food then sell their animals, land, and finally themselves so that they will live. Only the priests are exempt.

The Results of Jacob Complaining

As I noted in my post a couple of weeks ago, Jacob had a lot of challenges in his life. But why would he say so when being introduced to the King of Egypt? The Daas Zkeinim, citing the Midrash, states that for making such a negative statement to Pharaoh, Jacob lived thirty-three fewer years than his father Isaac, which correspond to the thirty-three words in Beresheis/Genesis 47:8-9.

Simply Being Alive is Reason for Joy

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz would cite this same Midrash when explaining that despite having many difficulties, you must gain a tremendous appreciation for life and live with joy. He made it clear that if you daily experience the delight of living you will be able to perceive your struggles as trivial matters.

Going further, Rav Chaim explained that the meaning of the Midrash for Eicha/Lamentations is that life itself is a sufficient reason to abstain from complaining and experience joy. As an example, if you were drying a glass and accidently dropped it you would be annoyed. But if someone at the moment you dropped it told you that you had won a multi-million dollar lottery the incident of the glass would be meaningless. The euphoria of the news would overshadow the loss. So too, simply being alive should eclipse life’s burdens.

A Smile is a Free Facelift

When you feel the inherent joy of life, complaints or annoyance when things do not go your way will be meaningless. Writes the Daas Zkeinim Paroh asked his question because Jacob looked older than his age. Hopefully, you can avoid such a fate by remembering the first words the Sages decreed should be spoken upon awakening each morning, “I gratefully thank You, O living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion – abundant is Your faithfulness!”

Question – How do you instill joy into your life? Please leave a comment below.


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. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

You’ll Almost Never Meet a Bad Person Again

And Pharaoh said to Josef, “after G-d made known to you all of this, there is no one discerning and wise like you. You will be over my house . . .” (Beresheis/Genesis 41:39).

With just one conversation the slave Josef, a prisoner, is elevated to Viceroy of Egypt. How can such a thing happen?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Mikeitz. In it we learn about Pharaoh’s dreams and Josef’s interpretation of them and his ascent to Viceroy of Egypt. Next the famine begins, resulting in Jacob sending ten of his sons to Egypt to buy food. They meet Josef, but do not recognize him and the process is set in motion through which Josef’s dreams will come true.

It probably comes as no surprise that convicts released from prison have a hard time finding work, especially at jobs requiring a high degree of trust. Yet the absolute ruler of Egypt promotes Josef to the number two position of power after just one interview. Granted he acknowledged his wisdom and discernment but how could Pharaoh have had such confidence in Josef?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelivitz notes that before interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams Josef acknowledges his own lack of power, attributing his gift to G-d. From this minor point Pharaoh extrapolated Josef’s total honesty.

Later in the parsha (Beresheis/Genesis 42:21), not knowing that Josef understood what they were saying, his brothers admitted to each other that they were guilty of causing Josef to suffer. Their honesty caused Josef to move away from them so they would not see him weeping.

These examples of the impact of honesty are models that you should adopt. If you see a paltry instance of good in a person, you can help build up the person’s self image by giving positive feedback and highlighting other positive examples, however small. Indeed there are people, even counselors, who seem to think there is great merit in focusing on a person’s faults. But virtually every fault can be viewed meritoriously. This is how the Almightly would have us relate to each other.

Most especially when we have been wronged, may we join the Master of the World weeping with joy upon hearing the contrition of the wrongdoer.

Question – How do you reframe a person’s behavior so as to judge it praiseworthy? Please leave a comment below.

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