Category Archives: Scripture

The Real Reason You Should Keep Your Promises

Parsha Nugget Mattos – Numbers 30:2-32:42

Too many times I've said I would do something only to regret this commitment and sought a way out.  Could I redefine a word, find a loophole, or convince myself that since the other person didn't think I would follow through it does not matter?  Yet, let someone do such a thing to me and I am righteously indignant.  Would you be surprised that this is not the vow G-d specified in parshas Mattos?

“. . . a man, if he will vow a vow to G-d . . . like all that goes out from his mouth, he will do.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 30:3)

The Real Reason You Should Keep Your Promises

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This week’s parsha discusses how to take a vow. Then it tells about the war against Midian and its aftermath including how to make utensils kosher. Next, the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasheh ask to have their portion of land on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Once I read that when diamond merchants make a deal they finalize it by shaking hands and saying “Mazel and Bracha,” meaning good luck and blessing.  Evidently, this practice is so well established that arbitrators have upheld such deals as binding.  In our society, where many times even a written agreement will not be honored, it is surprising to me that the principle of “his word is his bond” still exists broadly in an industry.

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This is how the Torah views a vow:

Breaking your word injures not just another person, but G-d too.

Because it is so important to fulfill a vow, the Torah discourages taking one.  Even in a courtroom, you should refrain from swearing an oath.  Rather, affirm the words of the person administering the oath. In many cases, it's a sin to take an oath, similar to swearing to do something and not doing it.  Some Jews say b'lee neder before agreeing to do something. This verbalizes the idea they will do their best to follow through but are not making a promise or vow.

Remember your mother telling you to look before you leap?  Not just a physical safety rule, it applies to promises too.  Even without a vow, follow through is obligatory. And while vows can be nullified to avoid sinning against G-d, this does not mollify the other person's bad feelings.

If you are as busy as I am, be reticent when committing to do something. The fewer promises you make the surer you can be that what goes out from your mouth, you will do.

How do you avoid breaking your word?

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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!

When It’s Okay to Be a Fanatic

Parsha Nugget Pinchas – Numbers 25:10-30:1

While visiting a squadron ready room (where the pilots hang out), someone made a remark that could have been considered harassing. Not wanting to be oversensitive, I said nothing. Only after consulting with a couple people whose opinions I value was it apparent I should have followed Pinchas’s example in parshas Pinchas:

Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the Priest, turned back my wrath from on the Children of Israel . . .

(Numbers/Bamidbar 25:11)

When It’s Okay to Be a Fanatic

This week’s parsha discusses Pinchas’s reward for his zealousness, the censuses taken prior to the Israelites entering the Land, the petition of Zelophehad’s daughters, the laws of inheritance, the appointment of Joshua as Moses’s successor, and the offerings that were brought daily, on the Sabbath and on holidays.

You may be uncomfortable with the fanatic way Pinchas takes the law into his own hands. The Talmud, in Sanhendrin 82a, explains that in the face of Zimri’s public display of fornication, Moses was so shocked for a moment that he did not react. Pinchas politely reminded Moses that he had taught when someone acts as Zimri does a zealot may execute him. Moses tells him that since he remembered the principle he should be the one to implement it. So, the sentence having been pronounced, Pinchas executes punishment, stopping the plague that had killed thousands.

In the face of such depravity, how could Moses have forgotten the remedy? Evidently, G-d caused Moses’s absentmindedness so that Pinchas would have his opportunity.

But what if Pinchas had not acted? After all, the leaders of the people: Moses, Aaron, and the princes of the tribes (some of whom may have been participating in the Midianite debauchery) did nothing. Surely if these great personages were not acting, Pinchas would be blameless for standing by too. Keep in mind he was Aaron's grandson, in Yiddish he was a pisher, roughly translated as a young squirt. If he had been overawed into silence, like the rest of those who did not act, history would neither hold him accountable nor laud him.

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But fortunately for the Jewish people he did act, thereby saving thousands of lives.

The lesson is clear.

If you can sustain a life you must act.

Even if leadership seems immobilized or the eminent people of the place seem paralyzed you may not remain idle. Perhaps G-d ordained this situation to be your moment of greatness.

In the story of Purim, Mordechai reminds Esther of this very idea. Understandably afraid that by intervening with King Achashveirosh she is committing suicide, Esther is reluctant to get involved. Mordechai tells her that if she does not act, redemption of the Jewish people will come from another source and her opportunity for spiritual greatness will be lost. To her credit, Esther, also a pisher, courageously overcame her fear and foiled Haman’s plot.

When in that ready room I should have carpe diem. The Creator gave me the opportunity to exercise my initiative and perhaps change the outlook of some sailors. To unlock your potential for greatness you must:

Carpe Diem - Seize the Day.

When have you seized the opportunity to make a difference? How did it work out?

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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!

How You Can Determine God’s Will

Parsha Nugget Balak – Numbers 22:2-25:9

I have a clear picture of what I want from life and a set timetable for when I want it.  If only G-d would cooperate.  A friend once told me:

“Man plans, G-d laughs”

 This week's parsha, Balak, reinforces this lesson:

You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people because they are blessed. (Numbers/Bamidbar 22:12)

How You Can Determine God’s Will

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This week’s parsha details how Balak, the king of Moab, attempted to have Bilaam, one of the greatest prophets of all time, curse the Children of Israel.  Included is the wonderful story of the talking donkey, my wife’s favorite in all of the Bible.  The parsha ends with the somewhat frightening event in which Pinchas spears Prince Zimri and his Midianite lover in public at the entrance to the Tenant of Meeting.

The story of Balak and Bilaam is an archetype of how people think they can flout G-d’s will.  Balak, who saw the Children of Israel destroy Sihon and Og, was afraid that he would suffer the same fate.  He asked Bilaam to curse the Israelites so that he would be victorious in a war.

G-d does not want Bilaam to go.  But Bilaam is persistent and eventually, G-d relents telling him he can only say what He permits.  Bilaam persists in hoping either G-d will let him do what Balak wants or that he will be able to accomplish his objective despite G-d’s will.

Then Bilaam’s donkey disobeys his command to move despite being whipped.  He does not see that his loyal donkey is trying to protect him.  Miraculously she speaks to Bilaam and explains her disobedience.  Not until that moment does Bilaam see that an angel is waiting to kill him.  Despite G-d’s will being so obvious his simple donkey understands it, Bilaam’s craving for the riches Balak has promised him blinds him.

When someone acts against your wishes is your first thought to be angry with him for obstructing your progress?  Could it be that this person is G-d’s messenger who is letting you know you are acting contrary to G-d’s wishes and you need to consider an alternative course of action?

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When should you change and when should you stay the course? Here are some issues to ponder:

  1. How convinced are you that yours is the only solution?
  2. What impact will your decision have on important relationships?
  3. How much ground, if any, will you lose by changing course?

The challenge of discerning G-d’s messages in daily life can be immense.  By keeping in mind G-d’s desire that you emulate Him by taking good care of His children, you dramatically improve your ability to perceive His emissaries.

What clues do you look for in recognizing G-d’s will?

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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!

For This Small Act You May Get Great Reward

Parsha Nugget Chukas – Numbers 19:1-22:1

Do a Good Turn Daily. Meant to inculcate the habit of performing a daily kindness, for four decades the Boy Scout slogan motivated me long before I embraced traditional religiosity.  While Lord Baden Powell probably had a New Testament source, I am tempted to conclude he took the slogan from this week’s parsha, Chukas:

. . . do not fear him for into your hand I give him and all of his people and his land; and you will do to him like that you did to Sichon king of the Emorites who dwells in Chesbon. (Numbers/Bamidbar 21:34)

For This Small Act You May Get Great Reward

This week’s parsha discusses the mysterious commandment of the red heifer, Miriam’s death and the subsequent stopping of the well of water, Moses’s and Aaron’s error and punishment for disobeying G-d when supplying water to the people, the death of Aaron, the attack of the Amalekites, and the wars with Sihon and Og.

Would it surprise you to know that the greatest prophet who ever lived, the one chosen to redeem the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, seems to experience a lack of faith in this week’s parsha?  Referring to Og, King of Bashan, in the above statement G-d tells Moses the Israelites will succeed in this second battle.  Why reassure him unless Moses had lost faith?

Rashi explains the backstory for such seemingly inconceivable behavior.  Moses feared Og.

Og, or one of his ancestors, was the refugee from the war of the kings who informed Abraham that King Chedarlaomer captured his nephew Lot.  Moses was concerned that because of this act of kindness, done so long ago, G-d might protect Og. After all, he helped Abraham rescue his nephew (an especially important mitzvah). Not a baseless concern.

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But Og’s motive was selfish.  By telling him of Lot’s capture, Og hoped Abraham would attack King Chedarlaomer and be killed.  Og could then take Sarah, whose beauty he coveted.  Note that this justifies Abraham’s fear about being murdered because his wife was so stunning.

The main point bears repeating. Despite Og’s tainted motive, Moses knew:

One Act of Kindness Can Merit G-d’s Protection

And so G-d reassured Moses.

What an astounding lesson in the power of chesed or act of loving-kindness. Og’s long ago, small, selfish act potentially protected him.  If Moses’s fear signaled lack of faith, G-d would have punished him like He did for his mistake in the incident of the water earlier in the parsha.

You can never know why you were protected from harm, but even a tiny kindness may safeguard you.  Knowing this can inspire you to take every opportunity to be more considerate of and helpful to your family, friends, and other people.

What is your plan for doing a daily kindness?

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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!

You Can Learn Things from Someone You Despise

Parsha Nugget Korach – Numbers 16:1-18:32

Once, I sat through a class that was so boring the only way I could get through it was to study how the teacher could attain the ultimate level of insipidity.  But it proved you can learn something from everyone.  Still, I am challenged to do so when I vehemently disagree with someone.  This week’s parsha, Korach, shows how to glean wisdom in such a case, or worse, when the view espoused is evil:

The fire-pans of these sinners against their souls, and they will make them hammered-out sheets a covering for the Altar . . . (Numbers/Bamidbar 17:3)

You Can Learn Things from Someone You Despise

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This week’s parsha takes us from the infamy of the spies to the rebellion of Korach and his followers against Moses and Aaron.  Unlike the previous complaints about food, water, and other things, Korach, a cousin of Moses and Aaron, sought to depose them and assume their roles.  He tried to take advantage of the Israelite’s unhappiness over the decree that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  As a result of their rebellion, the 250 insurgents were consumed by fire and the Earth swallowed up their households.  A harsh punishment indeed!

Upset by this latest tragedy, the Israelites complain against Moses and Aaron.  To chastise the people, G-d brings a plague that He stops only when Moses and Aaron intervene.

Next, the Torah reviews the Priestly duties and the gifts they will receive, then discusses tithing to the Levites and the tithe they will, in turn, give to the Priests.

Because the earth swallowed Korach and the other rebels, you might think that G-d wanted all trace of then eradicated for all time.  Not so.  For example, Psalm 82 memorializes the sons of Korach for being staunch supporters of Moses.

Stranger are the copper fire pans that remained after those who brought incense in them were consumed by the fire that they thought would burn their offering.  G-d commands Elazar, Aaron’s son, to hammer them out as a covering for the Altar.  It seems counterintuitive to use articles that were involved in sin to cover the vessel that is used to atone for sin.  But this covering would cause the Children of Israel to remember the transgression of the rebels and help keep them on the right path.

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Looking more deeply, each metal used in building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, represents a character trait.  Gold designates awe, silver indicates love, and brass, which is made of copper and zinc, represents conviction and strength of character.  Indeed Korach and his followers had such profound conviction they were willing to die for their beliefs.  Though G-d rejected their ideology:

He appreciated that they believed it so deeply.

Thus Elazar discarded the hot coals that were in the pans, which represent the dissenters’ erroneous beliefs, but sheathed the Altar with the copper fire pans, which sent the message to the Israelites to:

Stand strong in your conviction to G-d.

Here's what you can learn from Korach’s downfall:

  1. While G-d may hold the third or fourth generation responsible for the sins of their parents, you have no business doing so.  Korach’s sons rejected their father’s rebellion and were among the righteous of their generation.
  2. There is no such thing as someone who has nothing to teach you.  If you are willing to look for it, even someone with whom you deeply disagree has a message for you.
  3. You must not waver in your attachment to G-d, and like brass, stand by your conviction even if the heat from the altar becomes intense.

What have you learned from someone with whom you disagree?

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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!

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