How to Make the Most of Your Military Ethic
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Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ki Seitzei – Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
On the whiteboard in the medical department of my unit, someone wrote out the “Idea Quality Scale”:
Ain’t it the truth? At times you’d think the brass designed regulations to thwart productivity. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Lack of sufficient personnel requires long hours to get the job done. Old equipment means lengthy searches for spare parts. I’m sure you can add to this list. Wouldn’t it be nice to escape such frustrations in civilian life?
The Overlooked Source of Passion
Good luck with that. Half of Americans feel no connection to their work. So they put in the minimum effort. Another 16% hate their jobs. With two-thirds of employees discontent, the civilian workplace isn’t a haven from frustration.
I couldn't find any statistics, but I’d venture to say reverse the numbers for the military. Maybe a third of service members are indifferent or loath what they do. More important, few put in minimal effort. We have a deep passion for our service. But confusion over the nature of passion disguises it. We attribute our dedication to other factors like work ethic and service. Parshas Ki Seitzei sorts it out:
“…you will obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. Do not forget.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:9)
G-d gives such a strange command. Don't forget to remember to wipe out the memory of Amalek. Setting aside the self-contradiction, it looks like we’ve done it. When was the last time you heard someone talking about the Amalekites? At least we’ve fulfilled one of our duties to G-d.
Or have we?
Recall why the Almighty condemned the Amalekites to oblivion. The Israelites experienced the miracles of the Exodus and the splitting of the Reed Sea. They saw final destruction of the Egyptians. They ate manna from heaven in the wilderness. These experiences created a warm closeness with G-d. So the other nations of the world left the Israelites alone. Except for Amalek, who attempted to throw a cold blanket on this party by attacking them.
How do we know? The word karcha describes the meeting between the Israelites and Amalek. It means “encountered” and “cooled you.” By striking, the Amalekites hoped to cool the Israelites’ passion for G-d.
But, Amalek isn't only a people. It’s within us, attempting to cool our ardor for the Creator. This Amalek, a much more insidious enemy, we have yet to destroy.
No problem, right? Heat cures cold. Rev up your enthusiasm for serving G-d. Pray more. Take time to study. Do more good deeds. While this may work for a while, swings in your mood and energy will make your progress inconsistent. As well, your agenda may get in the way. Prayer may focus on what you want instead of seeking G-d’s will. Good deeds may curry favor with important people.
Better to fight the cool of the Amalek with ice. Ezekiel (1:22) tells about the “awesome ice, spread out over the heads of the Chayah.” An angel, the Chayah serves G-d with tremendous enthusiasm. But higher than its service is the “awesome ice.” Its devotion is steady, unswerving, a total commitment without a hint of ego. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam serve as examples. All were warm and compassionate. And they had rock solid connections to the Almighty. Heating up your relationship with G-d creates passion. Ice cold resolve steels it against swings in mood and energy.
The True Passion in Military Service
You see passion in the heat of military affairs. A drill instructor pumps up his trainees. A column runs with its guidon while calling cadence. A vocalist sings the National Anthem at an official event. But basic training ends after several weeks. The run and the song are shorter still. Then it’s back to the grind of daily life. Does the passion disappear?
It lives on in the dogged commitment to meet the mission. Endless hours working while you grumble about missing parts, meals, and family time shows passion. Your fidelity to duty in the face of stupid policies exhibits passion.
No quality has a higher value in civilian life. Most people don't lead mission driven lives. They're filled with apathy. You embody the icy passion that gets the hard, boring, but necessary jobs done. Be as mission driven outside the military as you were when in it. Such ardor creates a relationship with the Almighty. It will make your transition to civilian life equally stellar.
When did icy passion get you through a tough time?
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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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