Category Archives: Soul

How to Maximize Your Inner Strength

Using Solitary Time for Spiritual Growth

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vayishlach - Genesis 32:4-36:43

Have you seen the TV show Rawhide? Clint Eastwood gained his first claim to fame as Rowdy Yates in a 7-½-year long cattle drive. Often you see a single rider out on the plains. Can you imagine being so alone? No cellphone to contact his fellow cowboys. No iPod to feed music through earbuds. Just the noise of cattle moving and an occasional shout carried on the wind. What did these cowboys do with so much solitary time? Parshas Vayishlach answers:

“And Jacob was left alone…” (Bereshis/Genesis 32:25).

How to Maximize Your Inner Strength

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with Jacob preparing to be attacked by Esau. He defeats an angel who gives him the name Israel.  Then he reunites with his brother. Jacob settles in Shechem where the prince of the country abducts and rapes his daughter. His sons, Simeon and Levi, take revenge by killing all the males in Shechem.

Jacob travels to Bethel where G-d confirms his new name. The Almighty reaffirms He will give the land of Canaan to his descendants. Benjamin is born and Rachel dies. After reuniting with his son, Isaac dies. The parsha ends with a listing of Ishmael’s family and his death, a listing of the lineage of Seir, and the chronology of the Edomite kings.

The Source of Inner Strength

An army of 400 men doesn’t sound big by today’s standards. But it was a powerful force in Jacob’s time. As far as Jacob knows, Esau’s vow to kill him stands. Nor does he have any reason to think his brother will be merciful with his family.

Yet the night before a battle, Jacob goes off by himself. He sacrifices what may be his last few hours of life with his family. To what purpose?

Life can be summed up in two words: “emulate G-d.” The Almighty embodies all creation. In Him, the physical ∞ mental ∞ spiritual realms perfectly merge. In this ultimate unity, the G-d is unique. Jacob knew he needed the inner strength that comes from unity and uniqueness.

The Torah describes the battle between Jacob and the angel as a wrestling match. But beating an angel is a spiritual victory. It came through the innermost resolve in Jacob’s soul.

Jacob could not have mustered such spiritual strength amid the chaos of family life. He needed solitary time to model the Almighty’s uniqueness. By unifying the three realms, he became unconquerable.

Transitions Require Solitary Time

One of the best character traits you can develop is the ability to be alone. When faced with a major change in your life, you will need every ounce of inner strength. By keeping your soul focused on your desired outcome you are much more likely to achieve it.

Conversely, lack of spiritual commitment to a transition undermines your mindset. You may feel unsure of yourself. New friends, colleagues, and hiring managers you have to interact with sense your hesitancy. They get nervous about dealing with you. Each feeds on the other.

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Jacob inherited his ability to grow through being alone from his grandfather Abraham. G-d Himself called Abraham unique in his world. No one exceeded him in pursuing G-d. But you don’t have to have such an illustrious ancestor.

To gain inner unity, you need to forge your ability to be alone.

  1. Explain to your family why you need to take time away from them periodically.
  2. Find a comfortable place where you can be alone with you thoughts.
  3. Plan to do nothing, just think.
  4. Meditate on what makes you unique. Reflect on your values, skills, experiences, and your goals. How do they form you into a unified individual?
  5. Write down your thoughts. Read them back to yourself. Do they make sense? If not, clarify them.
  6. Each time you practice being alone, go deeper. Like exercising your muscles, spiritual strength comes from overcoming resistance. In this case, the hurdles come from the heart and soul.

Before the crunch of a transition hits you, build your inner strength. Get crystal clear on your uniqueness. Create the foundation for an unshakeable mindset. Take solitary time to fortify yourself for the battle to come.

Question – How can you gain the most benefit from alone time?

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

Here is the Method that Will Help You Reach Your Goals

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vayeitzei – Genesis 28:10-32:3

Periodically, Melanie argues we should leave Los Angeles. The cost of living and taxes are outrageous. Despite building a light rail system, traffic gets worse each year. Materialism pervades everywhere. But the conversation bogs down because we can’t just leave L.A. We have to go somewhere else. Until we have the clarity Jacob gets in Parshas Vayeitzei, I guess we’ll stay put:

“And Jacob went out from Beer-Sheba, and he went to Haran.” (Beresheis/Genesis 28:10)

Here Is the Method that Will Help You Reach Your Goals

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with Jacob fleeing to his uncle Laban’s house. On the way there he has an encounter with G-d. Jacob meets Rachel and falls in love. He agrees to work seven years so he can marry her. The morning after his wedding he finds himself married to Leah. So he agrees to work another seven years to marry Rachel.

Next Jacob and his wives have eleven sons, who become leaders of the tribes, and one daughter.  Jacob and Laban make a new work contract. But eventually, the discord between them becomes so great Jacob flees with his household. At the end of the parsha, Laban and Jacob reach détente.

Know Why You’re Going

We know from the previous parsha that Isaac was living in Beer-Sheba. The Torah tells us Jacob went to Haran. But it also says he went out from Beer-Sheba. Umm, duh. He couldn’t have gotten to Haran without leaving Beer-Sheba. The Torah doesn’t waste words, so why does it tell us this?

Jacob needed to follow two directives. Rebecca told him to get away from the danger of Esau wanting to kill him. And Isaac instructed him to marry one of Laban’s daughters. Jacob performed both duties. By leaving Beer-Sheba, he did what his mother commanded him. And by going to Haran he did as his father commanded.

Okay, so Jacob obeyed his parents. But the 10 Commandments will make it clear we have to do that. Again there’s that repetition problem.

Rebecca’s and Isaac’s directives converged into one large goal. They wanted to ensure Jacob was fit to fulfill what G-d had in mind. If Esau killed him, he could not physically assume the mantle of leadership from Isaac. If he chose the wrong wife, he would not be fit mentally and spiritually to lead.

Give Yourself Two Motives to Reach Your Goals

Every worthwhile goal has two parts to it:

  1. Moving toward something
  2. Giving something up.

While he had to escape from his brother, the task set by his father gave Jacob direction. He could move toward finding a wife. But striking out on a new path is difficult. Esau forced him to give up his former life. Both gave Jacob the incentive to persevere.

Any goal you set must fit into your larger life’s purpose. If you find yourself not reaching a goal, examine whether it aligns with the person you want to become. Does it help you fulfill your mission?

Sometimes a goal lights up your soul but isn’t in alignment with your purpose. Do you still have passion for your purpose and mission? Yes. Change your goals. No. Alter your mission and purpose.

Jacob’s example can motivate you to get a job you love, improve your marriage, or reinvigorate your relationship with G-d. Have a passionate why, a positive motivation, and a powerful incentive to leave behind the part of yourself that previously held you back.

Question – Can you identify a goal that does not have these two components?

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

How to Put Your Negative Traits to Good Use

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Toldos – Genesis 25:19-28:9

I know service members raised in terrible circumstances who completely turned their lives around. Being in the military helped them along the way. But their transformations were not inevitable. They could just as easily have gone the other way. Parshas Toldos gets at the root of how they changed:

“And the first one emerged ruddy (red)…” (Bereshis/Genesis 25:25)

How to Put Your Negative Traits to Good Use

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with the birth of Jacob and Esau. Their respective characters become evident when Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for some lentil stew. A famine forces Isaac to move to Gerar. He wrangles with the Philistines and makes a treaty with Abimelech.

Next Esau marries two Canaanite women. Isaac blesses Jacob and Esau. Then, though he sold his birthright, Esau hates Jacob for getting the blessing of the first-born. So Jacob flees to his grandfather’s house. Before he leaves, Isaac tells him not to marry a Canaanite woman. The parsha ends with Esau marrying a third time. Who needs Dynasty?

Your Nature Doesn’t Change

Esau’s redness might have been unremarkable if Jacob was the same. The difference served to contrast their characters. Ruddiness marked Esau as a spiller of blood. He became a great hunter but also a murderer.

The famous King David also was born red. When the prophet Samuel anointed David as king, he was concerned this negative trait marked him as a murderer like Esau. But G-d told him that while Esau killed in cold blood, David would kill only to carry out the verdicts of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court in Jerusalem.

Esau and David got to choose whether to follow or defy their natures. Esau could have used his natural disposition to work for justice like David did. Esau excelled at honoring his mother and father. Rather than embracing this trait and expanding it, he chose the easy path.

He convinced himself that since nature doesn’t change he could not conquer his urges toward evil.

Both were born with the same sign. Esau opted for evil, David for good. Each exercised his free will to a different purpose. Their natures were the same. The paths they chose differed.

Turning Negative Traits to Good

On some level, you might sympathize with Esau. Exercising consistent control over negative traits wears you out. Going cold turkey may seem like the only solution. But there is another way.

If you try to go completely against your nature you won’t succeed. Rather seek to understand your character traits, both good and bad.

I call this Spiritual Jujitsu. For example, you may be hyper-competitive. Rather than trying to suppress it put it to work helping other people learn to excel.

You must always work on your self-control. But fighting your nature can be a frustrating experience. Esau and King David show that no matter what your nature, you choose the type of life you’ll lead.

Question – If people are born good, as is commonly believed today, why should you be concerned about using Spiritual Jujitsu?

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

How to Respond to People with Offensive Values

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Chayei Sarah – Genesis 23:1-25:18

Freedom means encountering people and values that make you uncomfortable. As a new chaplain, I was told not to use Hebrew when giving a public prayer. I thought the person giving me this instruction was hypersensitive or bigoted. Latin didn’t bother me. Why should Hebrew bother others? I could have protested. But to what end? It would have offended people. And I would have lost any chance to impact their lives. Parshas Chayei Sarah gives a tried and true method for handling this situation:

“…also for your camels I will draw until they finish drinking.” (Beresheis/Genesis 24:19)

How to Respond to People with Offensive Values

This Sabbath’s parsha begins with Sarah dying. Abraham purchased a burial site, interred her, and devotedly mourned. Next, he ordered Eliezer, his servant, to find a wife for Isaac. Abraham remarried. The narrative concludes with his death and the death of Ishmael.

Avoid Offending People

Consider what Abraham knew about his neighbors. G-d brought the flood because most people robbed or committed sexual immorality. He lived during the time of the Dispersion when people challenged G-d’s authority with the Tower of Babel. After she gave birth, Hagar mocked his beloved Sarah’s barrenness. Efron the Hittite grossly overcharged him for a burial site even as he grieved over his wife’s death.  He probably knew that Cain murdered Abel.

Not a pretty picture.

Abraham rejected his neighbors’ values. But he did not run around protesting them. Nor did he engage in heated words or provoke them. He wore mourning garments. But only because his wife died not to show he abhorred other people's values. He continued to live his life.

Abraham knew he could not change anyone’s behavior or beliefs through confrontation or insults.

Nothing has changed in the last four millennia. You will not change anyone’s mind by offending him. You’ll only harden his position.

Secure the Next Generation’s Values

Abraham took action too. He redoubled his effort to ensure Isaac would keep his values. Eliezer received specific instructions about a suitable wife for his son and heir.

Eliezer set out for Abraham’s homeland. On arriving there, he decided the proper young woman must offer to alleviate his thirst, then that of his camels. Deep sensitivity to animal welfare does not necessarily indicate a similar attitude toward humans. But someone who responds to the needs of a stranger and then even his animals is a paragon of kindness.

Along came Rebecca. Her brother was one of the greatest liars in history. So sensitive was she to honesty, Rebecca said she would draw water for his camels. Her words implied she could not be sure they would drink. Though surrounded by selfishness and deceit, she remained virtuous. Rebecca’s strength of character qualified her as co-heir to Abraham’s legacy.

Together, Isaac and Rebecca would ensure G-d’s morality endured despite their neighbor’s depravity.

Without demonstrations, insults, or threats of withdrawal, Abraham stayed the course. As a result, his values have survived for over 4,000 years. Most of humanity continues to reject those of the Canaanite nations.

You have two choices when people’s values offend you. Abandon your own by attacking those you disagree with. Or adhere to them more closely. Become an even more shining example of how good they are. Be more diligent about teaching them to your children. Then have faith that G-d will see to their endurance.

Question – How do you engage with people whose values offend you?

Please comment on this question or ask another question 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!

How to Disagree So People Will Listen

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vayeira – Genesis 18:1-22:4

In the military, we speak bluntly. We take pride in our words not needing sugarcoating. But you’ve probably noticed civilians prefer less direct communication. Veterans speak to me about their frustration over how sensitive their coworkers are. Bridging this cultural divide will help smooth the transition to civilian life. In Parshas Vayeira, Abraham models how to be direct and diplomatic:

“…and Abraham approached and said…” (Beresheis/Genesis 18:23)

How to Disagree So People Will Listen

The Sabbath’s parsha begins with Abraham receiving three guests who reiterate the promise that he will have a son. Then he learns about the fate of Sodom, where his nephew Lot is living, and Gomorrah. G-d destroys the cities but saves Lot and his daughters. After having relations with their father they give birth to Moab and Ammon. Abimelech abducts Sarah but releases her when he finds out she’s Abraham’s wife. Isaac is born. Abraham sends away Hagar and Ishmael. Then he makes an alliance with Abimelech. The parsha ends with the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac.

Stand Tall with Confidence

Abraham was at the most painful stage of his recovery from being circumcised. G-d chose that time to tell him He will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Despite feeling awful, Abraham knew he must intervene.

The Torah uses the word vaiyigash to describe how Abraham initiated the discussion. From how the Bible uses the same word in other places, we know it means he approached for battle. In other words, Abraham prepared for conflict with the Almighty. While he pled for mercy on Sodom and Gomorrah, his bearing projected confidence and resolution of purpose.

Most people respect self-assurance. You can convey it through your body language. Communicate friendliness and a desire for mutual understanding. Sit down and invite the other person to join you. Monitor your tone of voice.

People Will Listen to Calm Words

Abraham spared no argument trying to convince G-d to pardon Sodom and Gormorrah. He pointed out, “it will be a sacrilege to You” since people will say that “this is what G-d does! Just as He did to the generation of the flood, so He did to the generation of the Disunion.” He questioned the justice of the Almighty’s plan. Then he negotiated with G-d, trying at least to save the righteous residents.

Abraham’s bearing communicated directness so his speech could be diplomatic. He used respectful and humble words when speaking to G-d.

As long as your bearing conveys strength, your words can be gentle. The person you’re talking to will get your point. Whether a co-worker, your spouse or child, when you disagree think firm but gentle. People will listen. And, you’ll maintain the relationship.

Do you find it difficult to bridge the military-civilian communication gap? What issue challenges you?

Please comment on this question or ask another question 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!

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