Tag Archives: free choice

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!

Why You Must Manage Expectations to Be Happy

If I just had [fill in the blank] I would be happy!

Maybe it is more money, the loss of a certain number of pounds, a spouse. In fact, when you look around, the people who are successful seem to have the things you lack. Would it surprise you to know that most of the happiest people I know have very little yet they are neither poor nor monks?

Why You Must Manage Expectations to Be Happy

Not long ago while visiting one of the submarines in my squadron I was asked by several of the chief petty officers to bring some perspective to a debate they were having. Concerned that morale among submariners was low, they wanted to do more for their sailors so as to improve it. They were flabbergasted to find that among surface fleet, aviation, and the Silent Service (a.k.a. submarines) their sailors’ morale was highest. Explaining that because they had low expectations about life underwater, their sailors managed their expectations accordingly.

As you might imagine, submariners have no Internet access, cellphone service, Facebook, or sunlight for that matter. For a six to seven month deployment, they can bring only clothes and personal gear that fit in a space about 6” x 30” x 72”. Can you imagine such a life? I read recently that people are so connected they check their cellphones 150 times a day. Talk about withdraw.

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Despite such deficiencies, submariners are happy not only in comparison to other sailors but in general. There is even a term for sailors whose morale is so low they seek to get out of submarines: going sad. They take pride in being happy notwithstanding such a Spartan environment.

You may be tempted to take away from this the idea that the basis of happiness is to live a simpler, less cluttered life. If that is your desire then you are right. But abstemiousness is not necessarily virtuous. It is possible to get a great deal of pleasure from things. Though I have had it for more than ten years, I still greatly enjoy driving my convertible BMW, especially along the coast.

Submariners have learned the two keys to being happy:


Living intentionally means managing your expectations: focus on your goals, believe you will achieve them, stake your happiness on your current situation. A positive outlook of being happy will help you accomplish more.

Question – How do you manage your expectation about life?

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Want to Really Be Free?

Freedom. The entire history of the United States is wrapped up in this concept. Given its importance periodically we should take time to consider its nature.

Want to Really Be Free?

When I talk to young people about freedom usually they tell me it means being able to do whatever you want. Often they will qualify this by saying as long as it does not hurt anyone else. This is a good working definition as far as it goes. But as people mature perhaps their concept of freedom needs to develop.

All politics aside, in the United States we have agreed to be restricted from doing a great many things. For example, despite the First Amendment, we cannot call out fire in a crowded theater as a joke. It is considered contemptible to use bigoted epithets. While it is true that people retain the freedom to do these things, in the former they could be criminally prosecuted and in the latter fired from their job or shunned. The penalty for exercising such freedoms is very high.

Another aspect of freedom that I rarely hear addressed is whether people are truly free if they are dominated by the animalistic or addictive sides of their nature. Are incessant womanizers really free or are they captives of their baser instincts? Can non-recovering alcoholics or drug addicts actually act in freedom or are they slaves?

Pippin, in the eponymous show, identifies the dichotomy after realizing that pursuing his hedonistic instincts has led to a hollow life: “If I’m never tied to anything, I’ll never be free.” To be truly free you must be able to make decisions unimpeded by ignoble desires and uncontrolled passions. Put another way, you need to understand your values and be able to act in accordance with them. Running your life on autopilot is not freedom but captivity and dependence.

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Some might say that such an ideal is emotionally stunted, lacking in spontaneity, devoid of joie de vivre (joy of life – sounds better in French, no?) But freedom lies in between the sterile existence these criticisms imply and the decadence of a complete lack of control. To paraphrase an old expression: act in haste with lack of self-restraint, repent in leisure having done considerable self-harm.

This mature concept of freedom requires introspection and self-discipline. It is the essence of living intentionally. If your want to benefit from the fundamental rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, it is worth considering their order. The antecedent to liberty is life. What kind of life do you want to lead: one committed to doing anything you want (as long as it does not hurt anyone else) or one in which you are free to pursue that which you have consciously chosen and value?

Question – What does freedom mean to you?

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Why a Penny Is Worth More Than One Cent

Do you stoop to pick up pennies? It hardly seems worth the effort. Proof of this attitude lays in the abundance of pennies I have seen in the parking lot of the Bachelor Officers Quarters in which I am staying while working at Naval Base Point Loma.

Why a Penny Is Worth More Than One Cent

Probably the first coin minted in the United States, the penny has been around since the chain cent was issued in 1793, two hundred and twenty years ago. In 1990, 2001, and 2006 legislation was introduced to eliminate the penny. The debate continues. Since 2007 the cost of the raw materials for making the penny has exceeded its value. As of February 2011, they were 2.4¢. In comparison, it costs about 11¢ to make a nickel.

A survey conducted last year indicated that 67% of Americans favored keeping the penny. More than three-quarters of these respondents thought businesses would raise prices if the penny were gone.

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I have more transcendent reasons for keeping the penny:

• In an increasingly digital world, the penny is tactile. And while much of our world is tangible, the penny is an object that everyone in our country can afford to have.

• Pennies are beautiful: delicately engraved, bright and shiny when new, tarnishing as they get old.

• They prompt us to remember the past, those who have done great things for our country.

• Despite our differences and disagreements, the penny brings to mind that we are all Americans. Its depiction of our de facto national motto, E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One,” reminds us to be authentic to our distinctiveness and to aspire to be united too.

• Finally, the penny reminds us that what we think about and how we treat the lowliest in our society is up to each of us as individuals. If we drop a penny on the ground it is up to us to retrieve it rather than letting it be run over and scarred. No one will come behind us to fulfill this responsibility. Also, when we find a discarded penny, even though we did not drop it, we can take a moment of our time to reach down, pick it up, put it in our pocket, and later return it to circulation where it rightly belongs.

While I am guilty of having passed by many a penny, I do not do so anymore. I stoop to pick up pennies. Do you?

Question – How would you feel if pennies were no longer minted?

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How to Look Better by Living with Joy

“. . . few and bad have been the days of the years of my life . . .” (Beresheis/Genesis 47:9).

This is Jacob’s answer to Pharaoh’s question as to how old he is. Not exactly what you would expect from one of the spiritual giants of history.

Get a Facelift for Free - Use Joy

This coming Sabbath Parshas Vayigash is read. In it the brothers have learned their lesson when Judah steps forward to take Benjamin’s place as a slave. Overcome with emotion Josef clears the room and reveals himself to his brothers. He convinces them to bring Jacob and their households to Egypt where he will take care of them. At first Jacob does not believe his sons when they say Josef is still alive. However, the brothers finally convince him and they load up the wagons and move to Egypt where they settle in Goshen. (It seems some hillbillies did something similar several millennia later with a truck and Beverly Hills.)

The people of Egypt spend all of their money buying food then sell their animals, land, and finally themselves so that they will live. Only the priests are exempt.

The Results of Jacob Complaining

As I noted in my post a couple of weeks ago, Jacob had a lot of challenges in his life. But why would he say so when being introduced to the King of Egypt? The Daas Zkeinim, citing the Midrash, states that for making such a negative statement to Pharaoh, Jacob lived thirty-three fewer years than his father Isaac, which correspond to the thirty-three words in Beresheis/Genesis 47:8-9.

Simply Being Alive is Reason for Joy

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz would cite this same Midrash when explaining that despite having many difficulties, you must gain a tremendous appreciation for life and live with joy. He made it clear that if you daily experience the delight of living you will be able to perceive your struggles as trivial matters.

Going further, Rav Chaim explained that the meaning of the Midrash for Eicha/Lamentations is that life itself is a sufficient reason to abstain from complaining and experience joy. As an example, if you were drying a glass and accidently dropped it you would be annoyed. But if someone at the moment you dropped it told you that you had won a multi-million dollar lottery the incident of the glass would be meaningless. The euphoria of the news would overshadow the loss. So too, simply being alive should eclipse life’s burdens.

A Smile is a Free Facelift

When you feel the inherent joy of life, complaints or annoyance when things do not go your way will be meaningless. Writes the Daas Zkeinim Paroh asked his question because Jacob looked older than his age. Hopefully, you can avoid such a fate by remembering the first words the Sages decreed should be spoken upon awakening each morning, “I gratefully thank You, O living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion – abundant is Your faithfulness!”

Question – How do you instill joy into your life? 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!

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