Category Archives: Scripture

Why Poor Followers Make Bad Leaders

The summer after my freshman year in college I worked at Disneyland and an Arby’s Restaurant. At Arby's, because I was 18 years old, I could work the roast beef slicer so I didn't take orders very often. But I got to observe the process frequently. To my disgust, many customers treated my coworkers contemptuously. Too bad I could not quote this Sabbath’s parsha, Pekudei, to them:

Why Poor Followers Make Bad Leaders

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“These are the accounting of the Mishkan . . . And Moses erected the Mishkan . . .” (Shemos/Exodus 38:21 and 40:18).

This week’s parsha details Moses’s accounting of the donations collected to construct the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle carried by the Children of Israel in the wilderness, and all of its utensils and the first time he set it up.

So Moses, a paragon among leaders, the man chosen by G-d to take the Israelites out of Egypt, the greatest prophet who ever lived, stoops to bookkeeping and construction. May I be candid for a moment? Surely among a bunch of Jews he could have found at least one person who knew something about accounting. And couldn't some burly youths have set up the planks and thrown tachash hides over them? After all, the parts of the Mishkan weighed a lot!

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By handling these chores himself Moses epitomized leadership and exemplified personal growth.

Leaders Welcome Accountability to Thier Followers

Many leaders think that their position entitles them to their followers’ trust. Moses knew a leader earns it by his actions. The Israelites had donated a fortune to build the Mishkan. As chairman of the building committee, Moses saw he must personally account for the contributions. Rather than feel demeaned by answering to his constituents, he felt responsible and acted in accordance.

When G-d ordered Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand that the Children of Israel be released from slavery, Moses protested he was not the person for the job. We can sympathize since he had a speech impediment and considered himself a poor communicator.

When it came time to erect the Mishkan, G-d tells Moses what to do and this time he obeys without question. Despite the daunting physical requirements of the task, Moses had faith that G-d would not have assigned him the job were he not capable of completing it.

Finally, note in both cases Moses shows that:

Part of being a good leader is being a good servant and follower

If only the nasty customers had realized there is dignity in service, whether to a fellow human being or the Almighty.

Are there things that are beneath a leaders dignity?

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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. It is named after 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!

Why You Don’t Care How You Dress, and Why You Should

Earlier today while spending a few minutes on Facebook, I came across a post showing a woman shabbily dressed. It had a caption that said, “To the parents who see me every morning as I drop off my kids at school: I am not a real hobo.” I have a question for the woman in the picture: “Then why do you dress like one?” This Sabbath’s parsha, Vayakhel, explains my attitude:

Why You Don’t Care How You Dress, and Why You Should “He made the Laver . . . from the mirrors of the legions who massed at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” (Shemos/Exodus 38:8).

This week’s parsha reviews the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle that accompanied the Israelites during their travels in the wilderness. It also relates perhaps the only time in Jewish history that a building campaign raised so much money people were told to stop giving!

The Priests washed their hands and feet in the Laver before performing the Temple service. Instead of plain copper, it was made from polished copper mirrors donated by the Jewish women.

Moses was reluctant to use them since the women had used them to entice their husbands. But he had the wrong perspective. G-d makes it clear the mirrors were used L’Shaim Shamayim (in the name of Heaven).  They ensured the survival of the Jewish people. Exhausted from the physical and mental toil of slavery, the Jewish men would have abstained from marital relations. By taking the initiative the women made sure that the next generation was born.

Despite greater ability to control our environment than ever before, the criteria for everyday dress is comfort and convenience. A writer I follow on Twitter extolls Mark Zuckerberg for wearing a hooded sweatshirt while promoting Facebook’s IPO. As it turns out,

G-d Wants You to Dress Attractively

Of course, He wants you to dress appropriately too. The Talmud encourages wealthy young women to share their dresses with less affluent friends so they can charm young men. Hobo garb may be okay if you are riding the rails, but I do not know any people using a freight train to take their children to school.

Have you ever seen pictures of everyday life from the 1930s through the 1950s? People dressed beautifully, whether at their offices or the grocery store. You might think they are crazy for getting so dressed up. But this week’s parsha makes it clear.  Just like the Mishkan brought G-d’s presence down to Earth, when you dress nicely, especially to charm your spouse, you elevate the physical to heavenly heights.

What do you think about the way people dress today?

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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. It is named after 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 Authenticity Should Drive Your Decisions

Back during Christmas time, I was driving my daughter to school when out of the blue she told me she thought we should get a tree. "Like a Christmas tree, only make it for Chanukah." Though surprised, I calmly asked her where she had gotten this idea. She said, “I thought it up daddy. It will be nice because trees are so beautiful.” Fortunately, I had the guidance of the parsha for this Sabbath, Ki Sisa:

How Authenticity Should Drive Your Decisions

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“G-d spoke to Moses . . . They have strayed quickly from the way that I commanded them.” (Shemos/Exodus 32:6-8).

This week’s parsha gives the mitzvah of the half-shekel and deals with the last few items for the Altar. Then it discusses the Sabbath and relates the story of the Golden Calf.

Despite being well known, the story of the Golden Calf is frequently misunderstood. Think about it for a moment. How ridiculous is it that the Israelites, who witnessed the revelation on Mount Sinai, would replace G-d with an idol? A person must give up his life rather than worship an idol. Surely Aaron, the future Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and one of the holiest people who ever lived, would have died rather than commit such a desecration.

To the Israelites, Moses acted as an indispensable intermediary with G-d. From their perspective, he brought about the miracle of the splitting of the Reed Sea. He miraculously provided water and food in the wilderness and gained victories in battles.

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When they miscalculated the number of days and nights Moses was supposed to be on Mount Sinai, they concluded he had died. The Golden Calf replaced him.  Aaron, who knew they were wrong, nonetheless felt it was better to acquiesce. Soon Moses would return and the truth would be evident. Only a tiny percentage of the people, about 3,000, actually worshiped the Calf as a god. These were Egyptian “hangers on,” that left Egypt with the Children of Israel.

Authenticity Is the Hallmark of a Strong Bond

The story of the Golden Calf demonstrates you do not need an intermediary to connect with G-d. You have the ability to have a direct relationship with the Almighty.

As well, while the facts of a situation may appear to be quite clear, they do not always tell the full story. Many times you must look more deeply. Consider mistakes or misinterpretations that people have made, before jumping to what may seem to be an obvious conclusion.

Finally, be wary of adopting another faith’s practice due to a lack of understanding of that faith or yours. I agree with my daughter that trees, especially Christmas trees, are beautiful. Yet while the origin of this practice is debated among Christians, there is no denying it is not Jewish.

As I explained to my daughter, G-d does not want us to borrow the practices of others. We serve Him by following the path He created for us. Others must do the same within their traditions. The Almighty desires authenticity in relationships with his children.  We'd do well to emulate this with our family and friends.

What do you think about faiths adopting each other’s rituals and customs?

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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. It is named after 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!

Two Ways Life is Like Olive Oil

Earlier today I was thinking about what my life would have been like if I had not embraced my faith 20 years ago. With no spiritual dimension, what would matter to me? When I started on this path, no one told me that I should strive to be like olive oil. The parsha for this Sabbath, Tetzaveh, will explain:

 How Life is Like Olive Oil

“And you will command the Children of Israel and they will take for you olive oil, clear, crushed, for illumination, to light a lamp continually.” (Shemos/Exodus 27:20).

This week’s parsha explains the mitzvah of the Ner Tamid (continually lit lamp). Nest, it describes how to make the vestments for the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and the Kohanim.  Then it details how to inaugurate them.  It ends with the mitzvah of the korban tamid (continual offering) and how to build and use the incense altar, the Holy of Holies.

The Menorah in the Mishkan had to remain illuminated continually. When lighting it, Moses had to use absolutely pure olive oil. Nothing could be mixed in it, not even sediment that remains after pressing the olives. This purity brought kidushah, or holiness, to the oil and the lighting of the Menorah.

Oil is an interesting substance. When spilled, it freely flows everywhere. A towel will quickly absorb it and become saturated. But, if oil is poured into water, only vigorous shaking will mix the two. Even then, once the shaking stops the oil quickly settles on top of the water.

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One of the keys to life is to be like a towel, not water. Soak up every drop of holiness possible. Integrate into its existence. Don't “wear” oil like an outer, separate garment.

Pressure Purifies Olive Oil and You

The metaphor continues. You press and filter oil to reach its required purity. The pressure of processing forges its holiness. Like oil, the tests you face squeeze out impurities leaving you a better person. But strain out the sediments of past mistakes and traumas to cleanse your mind and spirit.

No amount of secular success or material accumulation could have created any emotional or spiritual growth. Only through continual, conscious engagement in all three pillars of life – physical ∞ mental ∞ spiritual do challenges mold your best self. And through this process your life becomes illuminated.

Can spiritual growth happen without struggle?

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

 

Even Your Good Impulses Need Balance

For many years I raised money for a variety of nonprofit organizations. As a volunteer leader, I felt compelled to make a leadership-size gift. However, early on in my business career, I did not have the money to pay for them. These debts weighed on me for years. Too bad I had not internalized the parsha for this Sabbath, Terumah:

“. . . the length of one panel twenty-eight amos, and width four amos for the one panel, one measure for all the panels.” (Shemos/Exodus 26:2).

Keeping Your Life in Balance

This week’s parsha details the plans for the Mishkan or portable Sanctuary in which G-d rested His Presence during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness. Such ordinary materials as copper, linen, and goatskins became a holy abode.

Perhaps you noticed the great detail given about the design of the Mishkan and its utensils. Material specifications are exacting and measurements are quite precise. If even one board or socket was too long or too short the whole structure would be out of whack, perhaps even collapse.

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The Hebrew word for a measurement is midah. Interestingly, the same word, midah, also refers to human character trait. Could this be the source of the phrase, “the measure of a person’s character”? In the building of the Mishkan there is an important lesson for each of us.

A Character Trait Out of Balance Is Bad

It is well known that being charitable is an important midah to have. You shouldn't be stingy when giving money to the poor. Equally bad, perhaps worse, is the person who gives so much money he impoverishes himself or goes into debt as a result. Proper development of the midah of being charitable keeps giving in balance with your means. Otherwise, like the Mishkan the whole structure of a human being may collapse.

I struggled for many years to pay my pledges. How much more productive would I have been by being more measured in my largesse? Free from the worry and embarrassment of owing money I could have focused my mind more fully on business. I need not have felt uncomfortable around friends and business associates, most of whom knew nothing about my plight, but who had fulfilled their own pledges.

Make yourself a Mishkan, exacting in your middos, deriving holiness from humble materials, a shelter for all from the harsh rays of life.

Do you think someone can overdo a good trait?

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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. It is named after 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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