Tag Archives: core values

Do You Really Want to Be the Sovereign?

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas Mattos-Masei – Numbers 30:2-36:13

“It’s good to be king” is a line from Mel Brooks’s movie History of the World, Part 1. It’s also a lyric and song title from Tom Petty’s 1994 Wildflowers album. Both rhapsodize about the joys of holding sovereign power. A king’s life seems idyllic. He answers to no one, except the Almighty. But parshas Mattos-Masei points out the downside of supreme authority:

“For in the City of Refuge he will dwell until the death of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest)…” (Numbers/Bamidbar 35:28)

Do You Really Want to Be the Sovereign-

This Sabbath’s double parsha begins with Mattos. It discusses how to take a vow. Next the Israelites go to war against Midian. In the aftermath they learn how to make utensils kosher. Then the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasheh ask to have their portion of the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

The second parsha, Masei, reviews the journey taken by the Israelites from Egypt through the wilderness, ending at the border of the land of Israel. Then it gives instructions on how to divide the land and designate cities for the Levites and Cities of Refuge. It ends by designating who is eligible to seek safe harbor in them.

The Drawback of Being the High Priest

Few people have ever received the adulation of Aaron, the first High Priest. The Israelites loved him, especially for his ability to make peace between them. They esteemed the High Priests from Elazar, Aaron’s son, to Shimon HaTzadik. Aside from the arduousness of their duties, it seems being the High Priest was a pleasant job.

But if someone unintentionally killed another person, the High Priest’s life lost some of its luster. The killer could avoid being killed in revenge by the redeemer of the blood. He had to seek sanctuary in a City of Refuge. Once confirmed by the court, he lived there until the High Priest died.

What did the High Priest have to do with an unintended death? A person killed unintentionally reflected a lack of morality on the part of the Israelites. As the supreme moral authority, the High Priest bore responsibility. If he had been setting the proper example the death would not have happened. So he had to live knowing the killer was praying for his death so he could leave the City of Refuge.

Imagine more than one killer living out his days in sanctuary. This was not the discomfort you may experience knowing Islamofacists want to murder Westerners. It was directed specifically at him. How must he have felt knowing specific individuals and their family members prayed constantly that he would die?

How Do You Handle Being a Sovereign?

You may not realize it, but if you’re an American citizen you’re a sovereign. Not an absolute monarch like a king or queen, but part of the corporate body that holds ultimate power in the United States. The Constitution delegates authority to act on our behalf to the president, congress, and the Supreme Court. But they are agents. They do not remove sovereignty from us.

Over the years I’ve heard various people say, “He’s not my president.” They’re wrong. Like it or not, the people elected to exercise the power of their offices act on behalf of all citizens.

You may be among the many people disturbed by the choices for president. You may have pledged not to vote for one or both candidates. Certainly you have the free will to do so. Though it is the duty of a citizen to vote you can refuse.

But you still bear your responsibility as a sovereign.

You need not die to escape it. But you’ll have to terminate your citizenship to avoid it.

At times the High Priest led a burdensome life. Such is the nature of supreme authority. In some ways the load is as heavy for an American citizen.

How will you deal with being the sovereign? 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!

Being Tolerant Can Improve Your Life

Errare humanum est – To err is human ~ Alexander Pope

Spend time with navy chief petty officers and you will be treated to copious stories of colossally bad judgment and virtually an equal number of redemptive tales. Learning life’s lessons the hard way used to be the hallmark of senior enlisted sailors. These days sailors have fewer opportunities to recover from what I call the “big stupid.”

Being Tolerant Can Improve Your Life

Are you like me? As a kid I took enough foolish risks that it’s virtually a miracle I reached adulthood intact. And those were downright tame compared to ones I took as a young adult that should have landed my in jail or worse. A little less good luck and who knows where I’d have been without the ability to redeem myself. (Don’t worry Mom, I don’t do such things anymore – well except the whole navy thing but that’s different isn’t it?)

Growth comes from reclaiming yourself after you make mistakes, small and large. So the one strike and you’re out nature of zero tolerance has deleterious effects on personal development and a host of other issues:

  1. It discourages risk taking. While taking foolish risks is, well, foolish, taking calculated risks is the hallmark of dynamism that spurs you to greater success, be it professional, in relationships, or serving G-d.
  2. It inhibits heuristic (a great word that means “hands on”) learning. Think about how much you’ve learned from experience verses books and classes. Hands on learning instills the most enduring lessons.
  3. It devalues those who aren’t academically inclined. Perhaps you don’t absorb book-based learning particularly well. Trial and error is your path to success. Should you be held back by fear that you may say or do something on your road to education that has permanent consequences?
  4. It’s wasteful. There aren’t any acts that should necessarily bar you from the path of redemption. What about murder you say. Well, it’s true I don’t think Charles Manson should leave prison alive. But we have parole boards to make such decisions on a case-by-case basis. For mistakes that are not as dire, such as saying something stupid, the professional consequences can be all but permanent. Wouldn’t it be better to let the person learn his lesson and move on?
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Ironically, zero tolerance policies thrive at a time when pleas for tolerance have never been greater. I have written about tolerance before, how it’s something you give not receive. What I’m suggesting here is that it be given more generously. By being more tolerant of people’s mistakes you will create empathetic relationships.

You may have you own zero tolerance policies. Are they serving you and your family or are they holding you back?

What should absolutely never be tolerated?

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4 Questions to Ask About Your Desires

Do you have everything you want? I bet the answer is no. Further, I bet you want some things that are not material possessions. While minimalists might excoriate me for saying so, I believe the desire for more can be very positive, even noble. Here is why.

4 Questions to Ask About Your Desires

For several years before I got married, I was quite content with my life. I had a lovely one-bedroom apartment, a cat, a few close friends, a nice car, and a fairly stress-free existence. My business was prosperous and my investments were growing. What more did I need? Then one day my rabbi asked me when I was going to get married. While friends had teased me about being single, I had to take my rabbi’s question seriously. I realized I had no good reason for not being married and within 18 months Melanie became my bride.

Life became much fuller, especially since she brought two dogs with her. We moved into a three-bedroom townhouse and got more involved with friends. My discontent with my work was not obvious to me but it was to Melanie. Three years later I was a navy chaplain and we were moving to Okinawa, Japan. In every way, Melanie’s and my desire for more: meaning, happiness, adventure, and much else has immeasurably improved our lives.

Since then I have given a lot of thought to the desire for more. There are four important questions to ask yourself about it:

  1. What do you want more of? Do you want more money, a bigger house, more friends, a larger collection of toys? None of these is inherently good or bad. From the beginning of our marriage, Melanie has wanted a house of our own. To me, at the time a real estate guy, it seemed silly to be saddled with a big mortgage when the after-tax cost of renting was lower. Having been a nomad for the last seven years, Melanie’s desire looks very good these days.
  2. Do you actually want greater quantity or quality? Like with the desire for more, neither one of these is innately better than the other. Having been raised by a mother who prized quality, I find it to be my default desire though for some things quantity is clearly superior. Also, I suspect when I was a kid my preferences were the reverse like my daughter’s. When choosing ice cream at the grocery store she will always take the less expensive half-gallon over the similarly priced but higher quality pint. Now if you are a Santa Barbarian like me a little McConnell’s is much better than a lot of Dreyer’s.
  3. Why do you want them? To what end do you want more money, a larger house, etc.? Is it to impress others or perhaps you wish to have the tools to be more hospitable. Or like Johnny Rocko in To Have and Have Not, do you just want more? Can you be honest enough with yourself to get to the crux of this issue?
  4. Most crucially, are your "whys" in accord with your values? If you feel guilty about what how much you have or that you have such nice things, perhaps your spirit is trying to tell you your behavior is contrary to your principles. A re-examination is in order.
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Whether you choose minimalism, acquisitiveness, or some middle ground, do so free from guilt. When you get your "whys" and values in accord, you need not regret your desires and you are living intentionally.

Question – What do you want more of and why?

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Create Healthy Relationships You Can Be Proud of

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Once you have begun building a foundation of fitness in the physical and mental pillars, the profoundly challenging and rewarding task of attaining fitness in the spiritual pillar awaits.

Create Healthy Relationships You Can Be Proud of

The spiritual pillar of fitness has three realms:

  1. Family – Spouse | Parents | Children and Other Family Members
  2. G-d – Prayer | Duties | Rituals
  3. Mission - Core Values | Purpose | Life Mission

The process is similar to attaining fitness in the other pillars. First, assess where you currently are with respect to each realm. Some questions to ponder are:

  1. Do you believe in G-d and if not should you?
  2. Why is it important to acknowledge a power higher than yourself?
  3. How do you put your beliefs into practice?
  4. How often do you engage in spiritual exercise?
  5. What is the quality of your marriage?
  6. When was the last time you saw your parents and children?
  7. How productive or destructive are your familial relationships?
  8. To what system of values do you adhere, and how well can you express these values?
  9. What is your plan for upholding your values?
  10. How well do you maintain your values?

As you begin answering these questions others will arise. Especially in the spiritual pillar, this is a lifelong process. Just like with the other pillars, you may need to consult with professionals to aid your assessments. Roadblocks may arise. For example, you may harbor an aversion to religion based on childhood experiences. A brief story:

Shortly after getting married, as the cook of the house, I had prepared dinner. Sitting down at the table my wife Melanie pointed to something on her plate and asked, “What are these?”

Me: “They’re Brussel Sprouts. They’re great.”

Melanie: “No they’re not, they’re horrible.”

Me: “When have you ever had Brussel Sprouts?”

Melanie: “I was five.”

Me: “Do you mean to tell me you still hate everything now that you hated when you were five?”

Melanie: “Yes!”

Me: “Well, that’s very good information for your new husband to have ‘cause I bet you hated boys when you were five.”

Melanie tried Brussel Sprouts again and lo and behold she liked them. Your tastes change as you mature. What seemed distasteful, boring, or annoying when you were a child may be very nourishing now that you are an adult. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your dislike of religion in light of how important a factor of your spiritual fitness it can be.

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Information gathering and assessment will tend to overlap more so than in the other pillars. As well, if you are not already affiliated with a religious denomination, seeking a spiritual connection within one or outside of religion requires extensive research. Some of the resources I use or other clergy recommend are:



Aish Hatorah

Orthodox Christianity:

Discover Orthodox Christianity

Ancient Faith Radio

Orthodox Christian Network


Patheos Library

Christianity Today

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary

University of Nottingham – Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Roman Catholicism

Some of my tweets cover spiritual fitness in a non-religious context so consider following me on Twitter. My Wednesday blog post is called Parsha Nuggets, which provides food for thought from the Old Testament as you explore your spirituality. You can sign up to receive my newsletter here.

Now, start setting goals. You may think that having defined benchmarks to reach on a spiritual journey is counterproductive. But if you wish to make progress incentivize yourself. Contrary to popular thought, spiritual fitness will not develop spontaneously.

While we are spiritual beings, this does not preclude the necessity of exercising your spirit so as to make it an equal pillar. In addition to self-discipline and self-awareness, the indispensable quality required for deep spiritual fitness is empathy. Without the ability to create heartfelt, meaningful relationships with others, especially G-d, your spirit will be unprepared to support you through the vicissitudes of life.

These three aspects of self-development: self-discipline, self-awareness, and empathy, while indispensable are not exclusive to each pillar. Self-awareness will improve your fitness in the physical and spiritual realms. As well, other traits, such as being an adept communicator, will enhance your fitness in all realms. Yet note that if you are truly empathic, you will find a way to relate to those with whom you create your spiritual life.

Question – How do you build your relationship with G-d?

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