Category Archives: Scripture

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!

Warning: You’ll See Greater Prospects in Your Life

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vezos Haberachah – Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12

My daughter finds it difficult to imagine what the future has in store for her. She knows she won’t actually live in Breckindale with Sophie and her friends (Keeper of the Lost Cities for the uninitiated). And I think she realizes she won’t actually become a telepath. But excluding such fantasies doesn’t help define an aspirational yet achievable future. She shares such impaired vision with many veterans. Do you see the vast potential in your post-military life? Parshas Vezos Haberachah makes clear just how far you can go:

“…his eye had not dimmed, and his vigor had not diminished” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 34:7)

Warning: You’ll See Greater Prospects in Your Life

This week’s parsha, read on Simchas Torah, completes the cycle of readings for the year. In it, Moses blesses each of the tribes individually then the Children of Israel as a group. It ends with his death and praise for the person he became.

The Greatest Person of All Time

The Bible is filled with great people. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all vie for the top spot. And don’t forget, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel whose legacy can be seen in a string of outstanding women through to today.

Moses surpassed them all. Adam was the first human created in G-d’s image by the Creator’s own hands. Moses, though born of human parents, earned an eternal radiance reflective of his matchless relationship with the Creator. Noah’s righteousness spared him and his family from the flood. Yet he didn’t even try to save his generation from destruction. Moses saved hundreds of thousands of people from annihilation despite their grave sin of idolatry.

Abraham fed passersby. But he had ready access to ordinary food. Moses fed the Israelites in the wilderness with miraculous manna for 40 years. Isaac merited being an offering to G-d. Moses met the Almighty face-to-face. Jacob overcame an angel in an Earth-based fight. Moses met the angels in their heavenly realm and they trembled.

In every aspect of his character, Moses surpassed every other Biblical personage.

Your Greater Prospects & Current Circumstances Are Unrelated

Nothing in Moses’s upbringing could have foretold his future. He was born at a time when Pharaoh decreed the execution of all male Hebrew babies. Pharaoh’s daughter raised him amidst the depravity of the Egyptian court. As a young man, he exiled himself after committing murder. He had a cleft palate that gave him such an inferiority complex his older brother had to be his spokesman.

Despite all these challenges, Moses became the most outstanding person in human history. He acquired tremendous wealth. He had a loving marriage. His community revered him. He achieved unequaled closeness with G-d. The Torah is also known as the Five Books of Moses. In this guise, it puts every Horatio Alger story to shame.

The Creator tells you the story of Moses to inspire you to follow in his footsteps. No matter how difficult your challenges, you have the potential for greatness. Where do you want to set your aspirations? Wealth? Tight-knit relationships? Soaring spirituality? You can achieve them. Begin by seeing your greater prospects.

What holds you back from seeking out incomparable life? 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!

Adversity Is the Best Friend You’ll Ever Have

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32:1-52

My daughter experienced her first major life setback last week. It caught her completely by surprise. Much to her chagrin, I cannot fix what happened. Even worse, I had to make it clear she was completely responsible. I wanted to comfort her. But I knew if I did she would not take valuable lessons to heart. Good thing Parshas Ha’azinu explains why adversity is her best friend:

“…like storms winds upon vegetation and like raindrops on grass.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 32:2)

Adversity Is the Best Friend You’ll Ever Have

This week’s parsha is the last Sabbath reading of the cycle. Moses teaches the Israelites a redemptive song. In it he calls on heaven and earth to witness all the disasters that will happen if they stray from G-d. He also describes the joy that will come with the final redemption. At the end of the parsha G-d gives Moses his final task.

G-d Wants to Bond with You

Moses spent most of his life tending to the Israelites. Starting decades earlier, he led them out of Egypt. For 40 years he shepherded them through the wilderness. Now, on the border of the Promised Land, he must leave them. He has complete faith in Joshua, their new leader. Yet despite doing his best, the future foretells disaster for his flock.

I can imagine Moses would like to make life easier for the Children of Israel. After all, isn’t that the instinct of every loving parent? But he knows a trouble-free life will mean even greater catastrophe. Hoping against hope, he reminds his people that storm winds are as necessary to life as raindrops.   Resolutely facing adversity builds resilience and an unbreakable bond with G-d.

Seek Out Your Best Friend

You probably think I’m crazy for suggesting you should seek out painful situations. Hear me out. By choosing the challenge you’ll face, you stand a better chance of conquering it.

  • You can prepare. A mountain climber makes sure he has all the required equipment before starting out. Something may break or get lost. He’ll still have to improvise at times. But he doesn’t plan on the fly. He sizes up the challenge, trains for it, and prevails.
  • You can create meaning. By choosing your test, you can select one that resonates deeply. Start with candid self-examination. Determine your vulnerabilities. Pick one. Set your first goal. Visualize the new person you’ll be when you achieve it.
  • You can get G-d’s help. You won't live a carefree life. So you can sit back and let the Almighty decide on the trials you’ll face. Or, you can initiate your own personal development. When you do, G-d will support you. Not by making the experience pain-free. But by guaranteeing it will be worthwhile.

You may need a better job. Your marriage may require renovation. You may have developed unhealthy habits. You hope your life will get better. But, these conditions will only get worse. Choose to face the storm winds on your own terms. At times life is painful. Be intentional about adversity. The more time you spend with it the sooner it will become your best friend.

What keeps you from confronting challenges? 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!

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