Category Archives: Soul

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!

How to Improve Your Colleagues’ Ethics

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Lech Lecha – Genesis 12:1-17:27

Americans believe that service members’ ethics rank among the highest of any profession. Yet many service members have the opposite view of their fellow citizens. In fact, there are scoundrels in the military and civilian life. Holding to such a high standard causes service members to fall into a trap. Parshas Lech Lecha explains:

“Only what the young men ate and the share of the men that went with me; Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre, they will take their share.” (Genesis/Bereishis 14:24)

How to Improve Your Colleagues’ Ethics

In this Sabbath’s parsha G-d tells Abram (later Abraham) to leave his land and relatives to go to the land of Canaan. Abram sojourns in Egypt during a famine then returns to Canaan. Abram and his nephew Lot part ways. Then G-d promises to give the Land of Canaan to Abram and his descendants. Abram wins a war and rescues Lot. But he turns down the booty that normally goes to the victor.

Next, the Almighty reiterates His promise to give Canaan to Abram and his descendants. Sarai (later Sarah) tells Abram to take her servant for a wife. Then G-d and Abram make the covenant of circumcision. Finally, G-d gives Sarai and Abram new names and the promise of a son to be named Isaac.

Stretch to Reach the Highest Ethical Standards

Abraham rejected the King of Sodom’s offer to split the war booty. His refusal seems strange in light of America’s practice of giving veterans benefits. Abraham earned his share. And it looks like he violated Henny Youngman's central tenet of Judaism, nem de gelt – get the money.

Shortly after the war Abraham and Sarah have a child. Then G-d tells them another will be coming a year later. Even though they didn’t have to pay college tuition, some extra shekels would have come in handy.

While he appears arrogant, Abraham acted with a holy motive. Not long after this incident, G-d destroyed Sodom because of its depravity. How would it have looked for Abraham to take the booty? The King of Sodom could have said he enriched him. Abraham wanted people to know his wealth came from the Almighty not the ruler of a corrupt nation.

Be the Example Not the Enforcer

That being the case, why did Abraham allow Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre to take a share? If rejecting the spoils was the right thing to do, Abraham should have had his men do so too.

Morality is not the same thing as personal ethics. As the victor in a war, Abraham had a right to the spoils. Keeping them would not have violated any Biblical principle. Abraham’s personal standard prevented his taking the loot. He wished to elevate himself above the minimum requirement.

Each person has a right to be strict with himself. But it’s wrong to force others to be more stringent than the Bible requires. As praiseworthy as Abraham was, it would have been equally inappropriate to place that standard on his men.

Human nature seems to drive people to be tough on others and lenient with themselves. The opposite will build and maintain strong relationships. And, by insisting others live up to your standard you close yourself off from opportunity, like a great job.

Be careful to distinguish between someone acting immorally and not living according to your standard. If you judge someone from the outset you preclude any relationship. Let them find their own path to loftier principles. Show you value the relationship. Then you’ll have the chance to positively influence a colleague’s personal ethics.

Question – How do you show proper regard for another person without compromising your own standards? Please 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!

How to Stand Out When Comparing Yourself to Others

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Noach – Genesis 6:9-11-32

You hear it all the time. Don’t compare yourself to others. Such advice sounds so good. “You’re unique.” “The only real contest is the one you have with yourself.” Yeah, yeah, talk to the hand. If you’re a competitive person, winning matters. So you have to measure yourself against others so you know whether you'll stand out. Parshas Noach explains how to do so effectively:

“…Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations.” (Genesis/Bereishis 6:9)

How to Stand Out When Comparing Yourself to Others

The parsha for this Sabbath is Noach. G-d chooses Noah to save humans, animals, birds, and creeping things from destruction in the flood. Rain falls for 40 days and nights. The waters churn for another 150 days. After they recede, Noah brings an offering to G-d. Then he degrades himself by planting a vineyard and getting drunk on wine. As a result, we learn the true characters of his sons.

Next, the parsha lists Noah’s descendants who formed the 70 nations. Then, as a result of building the tower of Babel, the Almighty disperses the nations. It ends by recording the ten generations from Noah to Abraham.

Is Noah Praiseworthy or Not?

Does the Torah give a favorable account of Noah? If you’re not sure, never fear. Bible commentators have argued about it for millennia. Some view Noah’s righteousness as praiseworthy. Even if he had been in a generation of virtuous people he would have been among the greatest. Others conclude if Noah had lived during the generation of Abraham he would have been insignificant.

After thousands of years, wouldn’t you think that we’d have a definitive verdict about Noah? Why the ambiguity?

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God wants it that way. He has plan for how you should compare yourself to other people.

Comparing Versus Learning

When you base your standard of performance on others, the yardstick constantly changes. You’re subjected to what society and history think in the moment.  You may look great if your contemporaries or successors were lousy people. But if they’re stellar performers, you may look bad. There goes your self-esteem.

Instead use an unchanging standard, God and His Torah. That way you have a lofty goal to aim at. You’ll always have room for self-improvement. Each day, note your progress. How did you behave or perform better today than you did yesterday?

Make no mistake. Competition is good. But when people think their performance or behavior is superior to others, they tend to get conceited. Or they feel defeated when they do not measure up. Both are counterproductive to steady improvement.

When comparing yourself to others, look for an admirable trait or the kind of success you desire. ‘Examine how the person got it. Then copy what he did. At the same time, keep in mind others are comparing themselves to you. What kind of example are you? Knowing people model your behavior can motivate you to improve.

The disagreement about Noah’s character points out a key choice you need to make. Are you striving to be better than the people around you? Or are you aiming to stand out because the quality of your character transcends the generations?

In such a competitive society like ours, how do you capitalize on its benefits while maintaining your integrity?

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. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Strong Relationships Require Place and Faith

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Bereishis – Genesis 1:1-6:8

The word friend today means something different than in times past. I have hundreds of friends on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Some I’ve never met or even spoken with. For a close relationship, place comes to mind. You know you can’t have a strong marriage when you’re never home. Relations with your kids suffer when you have to be away. Likewise, in your relationship with G-d, Parshas Bereishis shows place matters:

“In the beginning of G-d creating the heavens and the earth….” (Genesis/Bereishis 1:1)

Strong Relationships Require Place and Faith

The parsha for this Sabbath, Bereishis, begins a new cycle. It tells the story of creation and how Adam and Eve sinned and got thrown out of the Garden of Eden. The conflict between Cain and Abel explains we are our brother’s keeper. It ends by enumerating the ten generations between Adam and Noah. Isn’t it wonderful to be reading the great stories of the Torah again?

Judaism and the Land of Israel

The Torah contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Other names include the Five Books of Moses and Toras Chaim. The second one means rules for life. Not a history book, the Torah instructs you on how to have a relationship with G-d and other people.

So why does it start with a lengthy narrative about the creation of the world? Surely the Creator knew this story would cause a bitter argument among His children. Quarreling about whether it’s literal or allegorical won’t build relationships.

Rather, this parsha and the rest of Beresheis prove the Jewish people’s title to the Land of Israel. Many mitzvas (ways of relating to G-d) depend on living there so it is crucial to establish this claim. Like trying to sustain your marriage without a home, without the Land of Israel, G-d’s relationship with the Jewish people weakens. Were the Land lost forever the relationship might die.

Out of Contention Comes Faith

Still the question remains. Did the Almighty create the world in six 24-hour days or over billions of years? This dispute underlies a crucial principle for understanding the Bible. The question is more important than the answer.

No matter the time period of creation, the Almighty challenges you to have faith in His eternality and omnipotence. He could have created the universe in six days or six eons. The difference is indistinguishable to Him. But faith is indispensable for establishing your relationship with G-d. The same applies to your spouse, children, and friends. Sometimes they’ll make mistakes or disappoint you. Without faith in their love and good intentions your relationship will not survive.

Creationism versus cosmology makes a lively discussion. Remembering why the Creator opens the Bible with such a contentious story will give you enduring relationships.

Question – Which do you find a bigger challenge to your marriage: place or faith? 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!

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