Tag Archives: G-d

Are You Using Your Knowledge?

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ki Sisa – Exodus 30:11-34:35

At times I envy people who can spend their lives studying. Learning new things, even useless ones, is as diverting as it is pleasurable. Then Parshas Ki Sisa reminds me about why wisdom exists:

“And G-d spoke to Moses saying, See I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah and I have imbued him with the spirit of G-d . . . to do every [kind] of work.” (Shemos/Exodus 31:1-5).

Are You Using Your Knowledge?

This week’s parsha gives the mitzvah (loosely translated as commandment) of the half-shekel, deals with the last few items for the Altar, discusses the Sabbath, and relates the story of the Golden Calf.

Should you pursue knowledge for its own sake or for an ulterior motive? The first reason is cited as more purely intellectual and noble.

The Sages said every baby is taught the entire Torah while in its mother’s womb, meaning prior to being born, a baby absorbs the portion of wisdom G-d assigned it when its soul was at Mount Sinai. As the time of birth approaches, an angel strikes the baby on its mouth, causing it to forget what it has learned.

What a wasteful practice – wouldn’t it be better if it retained the knowledge and kept building on it?

R’ Yochanan said, “Anyone who is knowledgeable in Torah but does not put it into practice, it would have been better if he had not come into the world . . .”

To make sure I haven’t lost you: A baby gets wisdom in utero that is taken away before it is born and then is told not only to learn it again but to put it into practice. And if it doesn’t do this, it should not have been born in the first place. WOW!

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Along comes Bezalel. The Almighty gave him the wisdom of how to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) while in his mother’s womb. But the angel took it away so Bezalel had to re-learn all the construction techniques. If he had not built the Mishkan what would have been the point to the knowledge? Not using the knowledge would have left him in his unborn state. He might as well have stayed in utero.

Bezalel put his portion of G-d’s wisdom to work building a place where the Almighty could connect with His children. As I wrote about last week, the Mishkan unified the three realms of life.

Study is valuable, but only so far as you take what you have learned and apply it. You waste one of the Creator’s gifts when you acquire knowledge for its own sake.

When do you think pursing wisdom for no purpose is appropriate?

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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!

You Can Learn Things from Someone You Despise

Parsha Nugget Korach – Numbers 16:1-18:32

Once, I sat through a class that was so boring the only way I could get through it was to study how the teacher could attain the ultimate level of insipidity.  But it proved you can learn something from everyone.  Still, I am challenged to do so when I vehemently disagree with someone.  This week’s parsha, Korach, shows how to glean wisdom in such a case, or worse, when the view espoused is evil:

The fire-pans of these sinners against their souls, and they will make them hammered-out sheets a covering for the Altar . . . (Numbers/Bamidbar 17:3)

You Can Learn Things from Someone You Despise

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This week’s parsha takes us from the infamy of the spies to the rebellion of Korach and his followers against Moses and Aaron.  Unlike the previous complaints about food, water, and other things, Korach, a cousin of Moses and Aaron, sought to depose them and assume their roles.  He tried to take advantage of the Israelite’s unhappiness over the decree that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  As a result of their rebellion, the 250 insurgents were consumed by fire and the Earth swallowed up their households.  A harsh punishment indeed!

Upset by this latest tragedy, the Israelites complain against Moses and Aaron.  To chastise the people, G-d brings a plague that He stops only when Moses and Aaron intervene.

Next, the Torah reviews the Priestly duties and the gifts they will receive, then discusses tithing to the Levites and the tithe they will, in turn, give to the Priests.

Because the earth swallowed Korach and the other rebels, you might think that G-d wanted all trace of then eradicated for all time.  Not so.  For example, Psalm 82 memorializes the sons of Korach for being staunch supporters of Moses.

Stranger are the copper fire pans that remained after those who brought incense in them were consumed by the fire that they thought would burn their offering.  G-d commands Elazar, Aaron’s son, to hammer them out as a covering for the Altar.  It seems counterintuitive to use articles that were involved in sin to cover the vessel that is used to atone for sin.  But this covering would cause the Children of Israel to remember the transgression of the rebels and help keep them on the right path.

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Looking more deeply, each metal used in building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, represents a character trait.  Gold designates awe, silver indicates love, and brass, which is made of copper and zinc, represents conviction and strength of character.  Indeed Korach and his followers had such profound conviction they were willing to die for their beliefs.  Though G-d rejected their ideology:

He appreciated that they believed it so deeply.

Thus Elazar discarded the hot coals that were in the pans, which represent the dissenters’ erroneous beliefs, but sheathed the Altar with the copper fire pans, which sent the message to the Israelites to:

Stand strong in your conviction to G-d.

Here's what you can learn from Korach’s downfall:

  1. While G-d may hold the third or fourth generation responsible for the sins of their parents, you have no business doing so.  Korach’s sons rejected their father’s rebellion and were among the righteous of their generation.
  2. There is no such thing as someone who has nothing to teach you.  If you are willing to look for it, even someone with whom you deeply disagree has a message for you.
  3. You must not waver in your attachment to G-d, and like brass, stand by your conviction even if the heat from the altar becomes intense.

What have you learned from someone with whom you disagree?

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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!

Why Poor Followers Make Bad Leaders

The summer after my freshman year in college I worked at Disneyland and an Arby’s Restaurant. At Arby's, because I was 18 years old, I could work the roast beef slicer so I didn't take orders very often. But I got to observe the process frequently. To my disgust, many customers treated my coworkers contemptuously. Too bad I could not quote this Sabbath’s parsha, Pekudei, to them:

Why Poor Followers Make Bad Leaders

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“These are the accounting of the Mishkan . . . And Moses erected the Mishkan . . .” (Shemos/Exodus 38:21 and 40:18).

This week’s parsha details Moses’s accounting of the donations collected to construct the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle carried by the Children of Israel in the wilderness, and all of its utensils and the first time he set it up.

So Moses, a paragon among leaders, the man chosen by G-d to take the Israelites out of Egypt, the greatest prophet who ever lived, stoops to bookkeeping and construction. May I be candid for a moment? Surely among a bunch of Jews he could have found at least one person who knew something about accounting. And couldn't some burly youths have set up the planks and thrown tachash hides over them? After all, the parts of the Mishkan weighed a lot!

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By handling these chores himself Moses epitomized leadership and exemplified personal growth.

Leaders Welcome Accountability to Thier Followers

Many leaders think that their position entitles them to their followers’ trust. Moses knew a leader earns it by his actions. The Israelites had donated a fortune to build the Mishkan. As chairman of the building committee, Moses saw he must personally account for the contributions. Rather than feel demeaned by answering to his constituents, he felt responsible and acted in accordance.

When G-d ordered Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand that the Children of Israel be released from slavery, Moses protested he was not the person for the job. We can sympathize since he had a speech impediment and considered himself a poor communicator.

When it came time to erect the Mishkan, G-d tells Moses what to do and this time he obeys without question. Despite the daunting physical requirements of the task, Moses had faith that G-d would not have assigned him the job were he not capable of completing it.

Finally, note in both cases Moses shows that:

Part of being a good leader is being a good servant and follower

If only the nasty customers had realized there is dignity in service, whether to a fellow human being or the Almighty.

Are there things that are beneath a leaders dignity?

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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!

How Authenticity Should Drive Your Decisions

Back during Christmas time, I was driving my daughter to school when out of the blue she told me she thought we should get a tree. "Like a Christmas tree, only make it for Chanukah." Though surprised, I calmly asked her where she had gotten this idea. She said, “I thought it up daddy. It will be nice because trees are so beautiful.” Fortunately, I had the guidance of the parsha for this Sabbath, Ki Sisa:

How Authenticity Should Drive Your Decisions

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“G-d spoke to Moses . . . They have strayed quickly from the way that I commanded them.” (Shemos/Exodus 32:6-8).

This week’s parsha gives the mitzvah of the half-shekel and deals with the last few items for the Altar. Then it discusses the Sabbath and relates the story of the Golden Calf.

Despite being well known, the story of the Golden Calf is frequently misunderstood. Think about it for a moment. How ridiculous is it that the Israelites, who witnessed the revelation on Mount Sinai, would replace G-d with an idol? A person must give up his life rather than worship an idol. Surely Aaron, the future Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and one of the holiest people who ever lived, would have died rather than commit such a desecration.

To the Israelites, Moses acted as an indispensable intermediary with G-d. From their perspective, he brought about the miracle of the splitting of the Reed Sea. He miraculously provided water and food in the wilderness and gained victories in battles.

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When they miscalculated the number of days and nights Moses was supposed to be on Mount Sinai, they concluded he had died. The Golden Calf replaced him.  Aaron, who knew they were wrong, nonetheless felt it was better to acquiesce. Soon Moses would return and the truth would be evident. Only a tiny percentage of the people, about 3,000, actually worshiped the Calf as a god. These were Egyptian “hangers on,” that left Egypt with the Children of Israel.

Authenticity Is the Hallmark of a Strong Bond

The story of the Golden Calf demonstrates you do not need an intermediary to connect with G-d. You have the ability to have a direct relationship with the Almighty.

As well, while the facts of a situation may appear to be quite clear, they do not always tell the full story. Many times you must look more deeply. Consider mistakes or misinterpretations that people have made, before jumping to what may seem to be an obvious conclusion.

Finally, be wary of adopting another faith’s practice due to a lack of understanding of that faith or yours. I agree with my daughter that trees, especially Christmas trees, are beautiful. Yet while the origin of this practice is debated among Christians, there is no denying it is not Jewish.

As I explained to my daughter, G-d does not want us to borrow the practices of others. We serve Him by following the path He created for us. Others must do the same within their traditions. The Almighty desires authenticity in relationships with his children.  We'd do well to emulate this with our family and friends.

What do you think about faiths adopting each other’s rituals and customs?

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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!

Two Ways Life is Like Olive Oil

Earlier today I was thinking about what my life would have been like if I had not embraced my faith 20 years ago. With no spiritual dimension, what would matter to me? When I started on this path, no one told me that I should strive to be like olive oil. The parsha for this Sabbath, Tetzaveh, will explain:

 How Life is Like Olive Oil

“And you will command the Children of Israel and they will take for you olive oil, clear, crushed, for illumination, to light a lamp continually.” (Shemos/Exodus 27:20).

This week’s parsha explains the mitzvah of the Ner Tamid (continually lit lamp). Nest, it describes how to make the vestments for the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and the Kohanim.  Then it details how to inaugurate them.  It ends with the mitzvah of the korban tamid (continual offering) and how to build and use the incense altar, the Holy of Holies.

The Menorah in the Mishkan had to remain illuminated continually. When lighting it, Moses had to use absolutely pure olive oil. Nothing could be mixed in it, not even sediment that remains after pressing the olives. This purity brought kidushah, or holiness, to the oil and the lighting of the Menorah.

Oil is an interesting substance. When spilled, it freely flows everywhere. A towel will quickly absorb it and become saturated. But, if oil is poured into water, only vigorous shaking will mix the two. Even then, once the shaking stops the oil quickly settles on top of the water.

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One of the keys to life is to be like a towel, not water. Soak up every drop of holiness possible. Integrate into its existence. Don't “wear” oil like an outer, separate garment.

Pressure Purifies Olive Oil and You

The metaphor continues. You press and filter oil to reach its required purity. The pressure of processing forges its holiness. Like oil, the tests you face squeeze out impurities leaving you a better person. But strain out the sediments of past mistakes and traumas to cleanse your mind and spirit.

No amount of secular success or material accumulation could have created any emotional or spiritual growth. Only through continual, conscious engagement in all three pillars of life – physical ∞ mental ∞ spiritual do challenges mold your best self. And through this process your life becomes illuminated.

Can spiritual growth happen without struggle?

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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.

 

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