Tag Archives: character traits

How You Can Never Be Misled Again

Parsha Nugget Shelach – Numbers 13:1-15:41 A few weeks ago I started a minor firestorm by suggesting that the Scriptural interpretations by someone with little or no knowledge of the Bible should be discounted.  Even some experts render perverse explanations when they seek fame or have an underlying motive such as denigrating religion.  Whether done out of ignorance, animus, arrogance, or fear don't be misled by baseless exposition.  This week’s parsha, Shelach, shows the results of such a case:

. . . and let them spy out the Land of Canaan . . . (Numbers/Bamidbar 13:2)

How You Can Never Be Misled Again

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Along with the story of the infamous twelve spies that led to G-d’s decree that the Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years, this week’s parsha details the meal and libation offerings that are brought with animal sacrifices.  Nex,t it covers the penalty for desecrating the Sabbath, then the commandment to wear tzitzis, fringes, on the corners of a garment. The command G-d gives Moses to send the representatives of the tribes into the Land is usually translated as you see it above.  But a more accurate translation is, “. . . and they will tour the Land of Canaan . . .”

Tourist or Spy: What Is the Difference?

A tourist is sightseeing, getting an idea of a place and its people.  Residents of the host country expect the tourist to be well mannered and respectful of their culture and practices.  A spy is seeking intelligence, usually information that the country being spied on does not want revealed.  A spy hides his identity and purpose.  Usually, he is an expert, highly trained to fit into the culture of the country on which he is spying and give his assessment.

The leaders of the Tribes openly toured the land and made observations about its people and produce.  Upon their return, they gave an accurate report to Moses as long as they stuck to that which Moses had asked them to do: tour.

The residents were formidable.  The produce was huge. They brought some back to prove it.  Had they completed their report at this point they would have saved the Children of Israel from 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  But ten of them decided to cross over into the spy realm, saying, “we cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us!”

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This was not what Moses asked them to do.  He already knew the Children of Israel would conquer the land.  G-d had promised to give it to them and would lead the conquest.  What Moses wanted was information so as to evaluate the best invasion approach.

Tourist = Benign - Spy = Hostile

Had the tourists stuck to their touring all would have been well.  But being overawed by the residents of the Land led ten of them try to bolster their self-esteem by insisting their sightseeing gave them an intelligence assessment capability superior to G-d!  Even worse, they broadcast their opinion rather than speaking with Moses privately.  Frightened by their leaders’ fervor, the Israelites did not comprehend this expression of inferiority nor listen to Caleb and Joshua who disputed the negative evaluation. Disaster resulted.

People will challenge your faith in G-d. You must not let it fracture. While what they say may ring true at first, don't be misled when they move out of their level of expertise or have ulterior motives. Like the ten spies, even those who believe in the Almighty can steer you away from G-d’s plan out of fear or a mistake as to their mission.

What qualifications do you look for in someone helping you learn Scripture?

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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!

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons

Recently I commented to a friend that I admired his reading business books. Although they have valuable ideas, the writing is less than enthralling. You probably don't have nearly as much time to read as you'd like. But having come across a series of short books containing practical leadership lessons embedded in captivating narratives I knew I had to tell you about them. I mentioned one of them, Patton in my list of the 10 best books I read last year.

I've read five of the 14 biographies in Palgrave Macmillan’s Great Generals series. Written by some of the best military historians, such as Alex Axelrod, Donald A. Davis, H. Paul Jeffers, and Jim Lacey, all were outstanding. Each takes about 7 hours to read or listen to. They cover the subject’s early life, military career, and civilian life after the army if he had one, emphasizing the qualities each general groomed in himself, how he worked with mentors, the significant mistakes he made, and how he overcame them.

Leadership and Personal Development

While its goal is leadership development, the series is equally valuable as a personal development tool.

Rather than proclaiming their subject’s greatness, each general’s eminence becomes self-evident as his story unfolds.

Having read these, I personally recommend:

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Marshall (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Bradley (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Pershing (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Stonewall Jackson (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Patton: A Biography (Great Generals)

I plan to read the other nine, which are:

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Custer (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Washington (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Sherman (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Andrew Jackson (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons LeMay (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons MacArthur (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Grant (Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership Lessons Robert E. Lee (The Great Generals)

An Indispensable Resource on Military Leadership LessonsEisenhower: A Biography (Great Generals)

My email to Palgrave Macmillan wasn't answered, but it appears the series is ongoing so hopefully it will come to include General Henry “Hap” Arnold, General Winfield Scott, and General Matthew B. Ridgway.

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I'm curious to know if you have read any of these already and if so what you think about them.

What is your biggest challenge to reading more?

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How to Ensure People Are Tolerant of You

On duty with the navy a couple of weeks ago, the new senior chaplain made it a point to choose a kosher restaurant for lunch. It was a fine gesture. Would that the Chaplain Corps let me be tolerant of Christain practices in return.

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While stationed in Okinawa, all of the 50 or so chaplains there got together quarterly for training. As you might expect we began with a prayer. One day, a young Christian chaplain, who was new to the island, was asked to lead it. He proceeded uneventfully until the end when he said, “in Jesus's name we pray.”

Instantly every eye was on me. For a moment it felt like they thought my head was going to explode!

And the young chaplain was mortified.

In an effort to defuse the situation I said, “it’s okay, he was one of ours first.” Peals of laughter.

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Perhaps I should have been offended that he prayed in a Christian idiom with me there. But though he did so on purpose, there was no malicious intent. As the 1% minority, it seems to me intolerant that I dictate the form of prayer. Rather, I applaud the chaplain’s authenticity.

To Be Tolerant, Let Others Be Different

Tolerance is not forcing others to homogenize their expressions to be inoffensive to me. It is my being secure enough in myself to see or hear things with which I disagree or that may make me uncomfortable.

Any other definition puts my self-esteem in some else’s hands and deprives me of the opportunity to more deeply connect with others. In a pluralistic society, it's of paramount importance to be tolerant. First, you must understand what it really is. Then you must practice it.

What do you think of my definition of tolerance?

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How Technology Seduces You and How to Stop It

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities 

How Technology Seduces You and How to Stop It

Do you use Fitbit? As a runner, I find it amazing that I can track my distance and time, estimate my calorie consumption, receive periodic live progress reports, coordinate a playlist of songs, set goals, and more all for free. But it can't run for me.

While running recently using the this app on my iPhone, it struck me I was wearing on my bicep a computer more powerful than the mainframes my father worked with in the early 1970s. Think about it. You are carrying around more computational power than an engineer working on satellites had at his disposal 40 years ago. And his took up a large room.

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Yet as I write this the search for a lost Malaysian Airlines passenger jet continues. Despite advanced avionics, it disappeared without a trace. G-d willing it will be found and the passengers will be safe. If so technology will aid the recovery. But it did not prevent the mystery.

Technology Changes, People Don't

Technology does wonderful things. But often is seduces people into thinking that life has radically changed. Note:

1. Wonderful: You now have numerous means of communication including telephone, texting, social media, and VOIP. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that WhatsApp charges 99¢ per year for a service that on a cell phone costs multiple times that much per month. The means of international communication keep growing and the cost keeps declining.

But: Technology cannot tell you when to reach out to a friend or the right words to say. I had a friend leave me a phone message a couple of days ago. He intuited from something I posted on Facebook that I needed someone to reach out to me. No app can replace the human connection we share nor the feeling one of us gets that we need to initiate contact.

2. Wonderful: Advances in medical technology have lengthened the average human lifespan. Diseases that previously would have killed a baby now allow people to live into their teens and beyond. The quality of their physical life is superior to anything that a person with a debilitating condition would have experienced in past decades.

But: Technology has not improved doctors’ bedside manner. Many people, especially the elderly, continue to be engulfed by loneliness. Apps cannot replace the comfort of a robust spirituality. All of these require empathic human interaction and faith in the existence of something beyond the physical world.

Technology is the chocolate coating, delicious, making what it encases easier to swallow. But life cannot exist on chocolate alone. You have to learn to enjoy the bitter sweetness of the strawberry. The greater opportunity to express your humanity through technology comes at the price of potentially separating you from your loved ones. Technology can provide the means but does not replace the day in, day out work of improving your life.

Where else in your life does technology seem to have more of an impact than it actually does?

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Why Someone Calling Me a Dirty Jew B****rd Does Not Matter

Last week I ran my third Twitter promotional campaign. Over the past month, for very little money I have doubled my followers. Now more than 300 hundred people potentially benefit from my work. The latest promotion brought me something special: Bigotry.

Bigotry: Why Someone Calling Me a Dirty Jew B****rd Does Not Matter

A twitter user responded to one of my promoted tweets saying, “You dirty jew b****rd ‪@KevinBemel, keep your 'Promoted Tweets' off my timeline.” He spelled out the word in which I substituted ****. Though surprised by such invective, after a few moments reflection I shrugged it off. Here’s why:

  1. The author is a coward since his Twitter handle is an alias and he wears a mask in his profile picture.
  2. He does not understand how Twitter promotions work. I set only broad parameters about to whom Twitter promotes my tweets. His complaint is with Twitter not me.
  3. He falls under the Elvis factor, made famous by Larry Elder, that states: 10 percent of the American people think Elvis still lives, and 8 percent believe that if you send him a letter, he'll answer it. There is no accounting for lunatics.
  4. While there are Anti-Semites, they cannot prevent me from pursuing my goals unless I allow it.
  5. His comment says nothing about me but tells me something very important about him. I do not want him for a Twitter follower. He would only damage those I help.
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I've encountered Anti-Semitism before. The first: I was about 7 years old when the class bully threatened me for agreeing with our music teacher about Jews singing Oh Hanukah during the same time of year Christians sing Christmas carols. Frightened by his harshness, I told my mother about the confrontation.

My Mom, “That’s called prejudice. Did you like it?”

Me, “No.”

My Mom, “Then don’t ever do it to anyone."

Wise woman my mother. I have never forgotten this lesson. Now more than four decades later, when confronted with bigotry, it is still the only lesson that matters.

How have you dealt with prejudice you have encountered?

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